Little Do We Know

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Thank you to Disney Hyperion for providing me with a copy of this arc!

This was a touching and compulsive read. It’s told from the dual POV of best friends Hannah and Emory, who have drifted apart due to a fight. The description states that there is a boy caught in the middle, which originally lead me to believe that Hannah was interested in her BFF’s boyfriend (or they would soon become involved), so I was glad when it turned out to be that Hannah and Luke were simply friends in their own right. It was refreshing that Emory and Luke’s romance was more of a subplot and that the main story focused on Hannah and Emory’s friendship.

Both Hannah and Emory grew as characters throughout the novel. Hannah questioned her Christian beliefs, specifically whether or not they were hers or her parents’, and Emory confronted a traumatic event that happened with her mother’s fiancé and struggled with the decision of whether or not to tell her mother. The novel ultimately revolves around this event and the miscommunication between Emory and Hanna that occurred immediately after, but Luke’s subplot tied the story together and gave the two friends a reason to make up (which is why he referred to himself as “the glue”). I enjoyed the element of mysticism/religion in Luke’s story, how he died but came back to life and it shook his entire belief system.

The subplot I found problematic and felt didn’t add to the story was the budding romance between Hannah and her teacher (or teacher assistant? Doesn’t matter). He was 23 or 24 and had already graduated from college, and she was in senior year, so either 17 or 18. Even if she was 18, he was still her teacher she was still in high school, so I found it creepy he would be interested in her. I think the book could have done without that romantic subplot, since the friendship between Hannah and Luke provided enough substance to carry her story.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a YA book about friendship, the ways we can grow and change but find our way back to each other.

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Luckiest Girl Alive

I read this book in two days (which is saying a lot when you’re at home with a preschooler and a toddler and the toddler is on a nap strike!)

TifAni FaNello has reinvented herself as “Ani” following a terrible high school experience that put her in the news. She is engaged to a good looking man with a solid career, and she has her own solid career as an editor at a well known magazine in NYC. When a director approaches her to be in a documentary that will shed light on the events fourteen years ago, Ani jumps at the chance to tell her side of the story and clear her name. However, participating in the documentary forces her to relive terrible events and face a part of herself of which is she ashamed.

The narrative structure of this novel is unique in that it felt like reading an adult novel and a young adult novel at the same time. The first chapter takes place during present day when Ani is 28, engaged and successful. The second chapter takes place fourteen years earlier, when Ani begins to attend the prestigious Bradley school where her life as she knows it will begin to unravel. As the story progresses in the present, more of the past is revealed, with Jessica Knoll deftly revealing just enough new information to keep up the suspense.

What impressed me was how authentically Jessica Knoll handles the aftermath of sexual assault. Not just in terms of the victim’s and perpetrator’s feelings of guilt, but Ani’s uncertainty as to whether or not a crime had actually been committed against her when both parties had been drinking. To the reader it’s obvious a crime was committed, but to fourteen year-old Ani, it isn’t quite so clear. The characters and their actions were so realistic that it often felt like reading a work of non-fiction rather than fiction. I struggled to like Ani sometimes due to her downright b!tchy personality, but overall I understood her edge (and at times, her cruelty) because of everything she went through and the lack of support she received. She was raw.

I suppose the only aspect of the book I didn’t enjoy was Ani’s preoccupation with the world of privilege. I got a bit tired of the name and brand dropping, as well as hearing about the “rules” required to fit into New York’s “elite”. It felt like a page out of Gossip Girl.

I recommend this book and will definitely be checking out other books by this author!

Teaching Kids and Toddlers to Ski

Trenton and I love skiing. The winter before I got pregnant with Owen, we went skiing every second weekend, both on day trips and ski trips with friends. So it was quite a change after baby when we could no longer go! We’ve been super excited about the idea of introducing the kids to something we love, and in the last month it finally happened!

It’s been a pretty cold winter, but a week after Owen’s fourth birthday, it was finally warm enough to take him out. The wait was worth it–we went on a beautiful bluebird day, warm enough to do a few runs on the bunny hill and then have lunch together on the patio, and Owen loved it! Friends have told us it’s worth waiting until kids are at least four years old to teach them, and I can see why. Owen was already coordinated enough to get on and off the magic carpet by himself, and because skis are longer and more stable than skates, he thought it was way more fun than his skating lessons.

His little bro, however, will not be able to wait! Max wanted to try so badly, he was climbing onto Owen’s skis! So we went back to Sport Chek and bought a second pair of used skis in the smallest size we could find, and the smallest boots they make. Of course he’s not really skiing at this point, just being held between Mom or Dad’s legs as we sloooowly make our  way down the hill, but it’s still good for him to get used to the feeling. Most importantly, he was stoked to be part of the action!

We’ve only gone twice so I’m in no way an expert, but here are some tips for teaching kids to ski, some of which have been passed on to me by other parents:

1. Take breaks BEFORE the kids get tired so that the experience stays positive. Do a few runs and then have a snack. Then if the kids are up for it, try a few more runs afterward. Introduce skiing slowly and keep it fun!

2. Some ski hills have free bunny hills, which takes the pressure off. If you feel like you’re skiing for “free” (minus all the gear!), you won’t be tempted to keep trying even when kids are tired. And they’ll feel more comfortable learning at their own pace. We love being in the mountains, so even if we only do a few runs, it’s worth the drive just to be out in the fresh mountain air with the kiddos.

3. Find the smallest pair of secondhand skis possible. We didn’t do this with Owen, and he’s learning on 100cm skis. I’ve definitely noticed this makes it tougher for him to learn how to pie! However, they will last longer, so maybe it’s a tradeoff.

4. Use a “wedgie” to keep ski tips together. This will help your child get a feel for making a pie. At first Owen went straight down the hill, but now he’s learned he needs to do a pie to slow himself down, and the wedgie is a huge help.

5. To use a harness, hula hoop, or nothing? This one is personal preference because I’ve heard advantages and disadvantages to all options. There are harnesses with handles that allow the straps to be adjusted to different lengths so that Mom or Dad can basically “steer” the child down the hill and teach them to turn. Some parents have said harnesses prevent kids from learning on their own because the harness holds the child up, so a hula hoop is the best option. Other parents say put the wedgie on the kids skis, tell them to put their hands on their knees and make a pie, and then ski backwards or walk down the hill in front of them. We’ll probably try everything! The first time we went I wore boots and Trenton wore skis so we could try different approaches.

6. Enrol your child in ski lessons. Sometimes kids learn better when someone else (anyone else besides their parents!) teaches them. Private lessons can be good for the one-on-one help, but I think it could be good for kids to see other kids learning and succeeding because it makes them want to try too. At least, it worked when Owen was learning how to put on his own shoes! We’ll probably try a lesson next month.

Keep it fun is probably my best advice. The most important thing is that everyone is outside being active and having fun together!

The Importance of the Ending

I recently finished reading The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, and rather than write a review of the novel, I thought this time I’d write a quick post on the importance of a strong ending. Obviously I can’t do this without giving away the ending, so spoiler alert!

First let me start off by saying I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend The Privileges. Jonathan Dee is a fantastic writer with strong prose and the ability to write morally ambiguous characters with emotional depth. However, I felt the ending was disappointing.

The Privileges starts out strong with a wedding scene told in present point of view and dances between the characters like a film camera. We move from the bride waking up at her mother’s house and avoiding the step-sister she was forced to make a bridesmaid, to the groom waking up in the hotel and itching to call his bride, to the nervous best man practicing his speech in the shower, to the groom’s father sitting at the bar criticizing the bride’s family for planning an extravagant wedding, etc., etc. I was immediately invested in the characters and what would happen to them–would the best man blow his speech? Would the bridesmaid wreck the wedding somehow? Would the two families fight?

In fact, I felt that the entire novel was building toward a big disaster, and I kept turning the pages to find out what. Cynthia morphs from a blushing bride to a bored stay-at-home mom to an overindulgent mother who tries too hard to be her kids’ friend. In order to give Cynthia the life she wants, Adam starts insider trading, makes more money than the family knows how to spend, and as often happens, starts getting sloppy, leading me to believe that one day he will fall–only he never does.

Neither do his children, even though April starts doing drugs and gets into a nearly fatal accident, which her mother just shrugs off. On his search to discover a new outsider artist, Noah ends up in the apartment of a convicted criminal, and though we never learn what crime he committed, we assume it involved physical assault after he hits Noah on the head and locks him in the apartment. Noah escapes and on the drive home begins concocting a lie to tell his family and girlfriend about his whereabouts to save face, and that is how the novel ends. 

When I closed the book, I was left with the impression of having just read a series of events–interesting and engaging events, no doubt–rather than a story. In a way, I felt that there was no point. I think one of the reasons writing endings can be so hard is that they have to be larger than life. Sure, in real life Adam might get away with breaking the law without any repercussions, but in a novel I want to know that his actions had an affect–on himself, on his family, and on others if he gets away with it.

The ending is the reader’s final impression. Authors can do everything else right, but if the ending is weak, that is unfortunately what the reader will remember. This is why endings are so tricky to write! It’s so important to tie up all those loose end subplots and tell the reader exactly what happened to the characters they’ve fallen in love with and invested time reading. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! Now that the holiday high is over, are you feeling nostalgic or excited for a new year and all the possibilities?

I’m currently paying for slacking off over the holidays. My deadline for my grant project is looming, and I admit writer fatigue set in when December hit. There were days I sat at the computer for close to five hours and only wrote 1000 words. Ouch!

But it’s a new year, and I’m back in the swing of things and going full tilt. Yesterday and the day before I wrote 3000 words per day! I’ve gotten back into the story and I’m enjoying the research process, which has largely consisted of scouring Pinterest. Check out this skoolie interior – doesn’t it make you want to hit the open road?

I especially love the trough bath! It’s hard to see in this picture (thewaywardhome.com), but it looks like the faucet at the kitchen sink can detach to fill the bath or be used as a handheld in order to shower. I’m also a huge fan of the barn doors on the kitchen cabinets, since it’s a tight space and kitchen cabinets that swing out could present a few problems.

It’s January 4th, and I’m dreaming of summer, and road trips, and camping… Time to stop looking at Pinterest and get back to work!

Vegas, No Baby!

Last weekend Trenton and I went on our first kid-free trip in four years (five if you count the time I was pregnant)! We chose Vegas because it’s a quick 2.5 hour flight, the weather is warm enough to go to the pool during the days, and it’s a surprisingly mellow place to visit as a couple.

I know, the words “Vegas” and “mellow” don’t belong in the same sentence. What we like about Vegas is that there was always so much to do, so many restaurants to eat at and shows to see, that we didn’t really didn’t even have to think—a win for exhausted parents.

Leaving the kids was hard. Not just because I knew I was going to miss them, but because the logistics of going on vacation without your kids takes just as much preparation as bringing them along.

To get my family on board and disrupt their schedules as little as possible, we brought the kids to them, which involved the following: setting up a playpen at my sister’s, dropping toys and bikes off at my parents, teaching everyone how to install car seats, packing individual bags for daycare on Friday, a suitcase for their weekend clothes, and yet another bag full of toys they picked to take. I wrote a group email with a “schedule” that included when my sister would pick them up from daycare, when she would take them to my parents’ the next morning, Max’s nap time, Owen’s skating lesson time (including what to do with Max in that half hour), sleeping routines, and fun activities they could do together to fill up their time.

We were asleep by the time the plane left the runway.

Just kidding. We were pretty pumped to be on a plane and actually able to watch a movie. The novelty of it! Such luxury!

Before we took off, I admit I was nervous. I stood at our gate scrolling through pictures of the kids. “Look, here they are in their matching pajamas! Aren’t they adorable? Does anyone else at the gate want to see this picture of my kids sitting all cute together in their matching pajamas, not even hitting each other or crying?”

After we took off, we went back in time. We didn’t worry about the kids but fell easily into our old life as a couple. Since it was a special trip, we splurged and saw a show every night: KA, Absinthe, and the Vegas Strong benefit concert, which included a variety of Vegas acts with proceeds going to the families of victims of the October 1 shooting.

On the last night, we tried gambling and tripled our money before losing it all. (Which really means we put a dollar into a slot machine in Caesars Palace and our money shot up to $3.08, but then we cashed out and moved to a bad luck machine. Boo!)

It was such a fun trip!!! The perfect first quick getaway. To any parents reading this who feel guilty taking time away from your kids, I can’t tell you what to do, but do it! As long as they’re being well taken care of while you’re gone, it’s okay for you to have time to yourself, and you will come back a more relaxed parent.

Here we are at Absinthe:

Winning at the slots:

Relaxing by the pool:

Two cuties in matching pajamas:

I have an agent!

I’m super pumped to announce that I now have an agent!!! I’ll be working with Hilary McMahon at Westwood Creative Artists, and I couldn’t be happier.

I had a terrible cold over the weekend, so when I woke up to Hilary’s email, I thought I was dreaming. Or hallucinating. I ran downstairs to tell Trenton (who is the best husband ever and was taking care of the kids so I could sleep in), and we all broke out into a happy dance. Even Owen, who had no idea why were celebrating but who never turns down a good dance party!

Exciting times ahead! Thank you for reading 🙂

“Make Good Art” – Neil Gaiman

This morning I watched Neil Gaiman’s speech “Make Good Art”. I’d recommend this video to everyone, not just people who consider themselves “artists”. After all, we’ve all been artists at some point in our lives and in various fashions. The child forced to participate in a school art class is an artist. The adult picking out their outfit for the day is an artist.

Neil said he doesn’t think of himself as having a career because that would have implied he had a career plan, and he never did. Rather, he had a “bucket list” of what he wanted to do: “write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, and write an episode of Doctor Who“. He says he didn’t have a career, he just moved to the next thing on the list.

When we were in grade one, we didn’t think about everything we should have accomplished by grade three. We accepted the grade we were in at the moment, and then we moved to the next grade. That’s what Neil’s list reminded me of: feeling content with our present developmental stage rather than beating ourselves up for not being bigger and better.

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed balancing a few projects: working on revise and resubmits from publishers, writing an adult novel through a grant process, compiling ideas for self-help sites that asked me to contribute, and beginning work on a technical writing contract I recently picked up. Now I recognize it’s all a journey, and I don’t need to do everything at once–I can simply make my way down the list.