Angela Amman

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

Miss Mabel's School for Girls

 

Witches hold a strange sort of power in stories. I can remember playing The Wizard of Oz with my friends when we were kids, taking turns being Glinda, because she had the prettiest costume. Abbey’s Halloween costume this year was the Wicked Witch, but she was more interested in the oversized shoulder pads and giant emerald brooch than any of the witch’s actual misdeeds.

One of the interesting things about Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross is that this story’s “wicked” witch is stunningly attractive, her maliciousness buried inside a beautiful package. There’s a danger in writing about something so universally popular, like witches, because there’s a need to balance a sense of the familiar with an original story.

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls has many of the things you’d expect from a story about a girls’ school for witches — spells, jealously, some clairvoyance and an uneasy threat of danger lingering in the very place that should be safest for the girls. There’s also a great deal that shows Cross’s foresight in world-building, with a governing body in place for the witches, grumblings of past revolts and talk of border disputes.

Cross does a really wonderful job with the pacing of the story. There are secrets lurking within Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, and the reader knows not all of them will be revealed this story, as it’s the first in a series of books. However, readers won’t be disappointed at the end of this book. Many of the questions that arise throughout the book are answered by the conclusion, though — of course — more are raised.

Cross’s characters truly come to life as the book progresses. Bianca Monroe, the main character, has been raised knowing she would eventually have to face the powerful witch who cursed her family long ago. Her tenacity and single-mindedness are nicely balanced by the more relaxed personality that comes through when she becomes friends with two of the girls in her class.

Leda and Camille are interesting characters in their own right — one knows exactly what she wants and has the ambition to get it, and the other is unsure where her talents lie. Camille’s uncertainty is a welcome addition to a young adult story, because that feeling of not being exactly sure what to pursue is so relatable. The trifecta of friends manage to balance each other very well in this first story, and readers will be interested to see how the friendship plays out in future books.

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls brings an original voice to the story lore of witches, and readers who enjoy YA will especially want to start this series before Cross’s next book arrives.

Do you have a favorite witch series? (I love Harry Potter and the Mayfair Witches, as different as they may be!)

The Tipsy Lit Book Club is discussing Miss Mabel’s School for Girls Friday, July 31 at 8:30 p.m. EST. Like the book club page on Facebook and join us to chat!

The Interestings – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

The InterestingsFor a brief period in college, I obsessively looked at applications to be a counselor at a sleep away camp. After having a rollicking good time for two summers as a day camp counselor, I wanted to take the job up a notch. Deterred by bugs and logistics, I took a job at The Gap instead, and after reading The Interestings, I’m glad I did. Meg Wolitzer’s novel proves what I suspected back when I was a sophomore in college — summer camp can be transcendental for the campers, but counselors are just background players.

One summer in the 1970s, six friends bond over vodka and Tang cocktails in their summer camp teepee. Their lives and their paths are knit together that summer, and The Interestings follows along as they broach young adulthood and drift into middle age.

Jules Jacobson is born that summer. She previously lived as Julie Jacobson, a girl who might have been happy doing anything at all until she met her lifelong best friends Ash and Ethan and discovered she has an interest in comedic theater. Each of the six friends finds themselves in varying degrees of interest in artistic fields, from animation to dance. Of course, their levels of talent vary as well, and Wolitzer doesn’t gloss over the struggle between talent, ambition and practicality.

Not all of the six friends will end up doing what they dreamed of that first summer. In fact, not all of them will end up remaining friends at all, and the friendships that thrive also wade through the emotional waters of envy, jealousy and questions about whether people really change from their teenage selves — even if everything changes.

I adored The Interestings, and I could ramble about it for many, many words — anyone want to chat about it? Since I doubt anyone’s interested in a dissertation-length review, here are three specific reasons it settled into my “must purchase*” list.

I have a mild 80s obsession, and there was something compellingly voyeuristic in watching the friends navigate 1980s New York City as young adults.

Wolitzer’s ambitious scope, sweeping through the years and varying points of view of the characters, worked for me in a visceral way. I felt like I could understand each character’s motivations, even when I cringed at some of their actions and emotional reactions throughout their lives.

The observations about art, artistic expression, talent and economic advantage are fascinating. As a writer who always wanted to be a writer but who has taken several side steps along the way, the challenges of making a life out of something you love resonated in a way few stories do.

The Interestings layers storytelling, characters, social commentary and nostalgia in a way that makes me excited to read more of Meg Wolitzer’s books. My only regret is that it took me so long to find her work.

Do you think you’ve changed, fundamentally, since you were fifteen?

*Disclosure: I borrowed The Interestings from our library.

After I Do – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

After I Do ReviewWho knew extra-curricular decisions for six and four year olds could be complicated? (Well, fine, all parents of older children who have warned me about it, but… ) The circular thoughts about over-scheduling and what we think they should do versus what they’ve shown an interest in doing and what about when they’ve shown an interest in every single possibility under the sun are tiring.

Something so inconsequential — and truly, extracurricular choices for a first grader are inconsequential — can reverse the clock until I feel like a kids wearing mom’s shoes and play acting at this whole parenting thing.

Marriage can feel like that, and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s After I Do is an authentic, tightly written look at what happens when two happily married people realize they’re just… not.

Lauren and Ryan fell into their relationship with the easy affection of people who fit together in an undefinable way. They took a traditional, if modern, path through their relationship and were in love with each other until they inadvertently inched apart.

Faced with the possible failure of their marriage, they make a decidedly non-traditional decision about how to spend the next year. During that year, their contact is non-existent, except for a certain matter of an unchanged email password that leads to a bit of angst-inducing — but soul-searching — voyeurism.

After I Do isn’t only a novel about marriage, though the relationship issues between Ryan and Lauren are real, poignant, and achingly relatable. I imagine most couples find themselves at odds with each other in the way that Lauren and Ryan do, though that drifting can be caught before anything as drastic happens as it does in the book.

Reid’s story is also one about self-doubt and searching for an adulthood that feels like one’s own and not one that’s been defined by other people’s rules. Many of Lauren and Ryan’s issues seem to arise from the way they acted with each other in order to keep together the kind of relationship they had at the beginning, and one they thought they should have based on preconceived notions about marriage.

When Lauren is forced to define herself as a person and not just half of a couple, she begins to discover parts of herself she’s forgotten — and parts that quietly morphed into a person she wasn’t necessarily happy becoming.

After I Do is sharply written, with tight dialog and the kind of complicated, nuanced relationships that exist in most of our real lives. Reid’s novel is a fun read, but it’s one that has stayed with me, especially during those moments — and there are more than I’d like to admit — when I don’t necessarily feel like I’m one of the adults in the house.

Do you find yourself trying to fit your adult life into previous ideas instead of defining it on your own? 

Disclosure: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid was strongly recommended by a friend. Reid and her publishing company have no clue I’m reviewing this, and all opinions are my own.

 

Boundaries and spaces

– Posted in: challenges

The polar vortex came to visit Tuesdayboundaries, at least I think that’s what all of the weather people mean. All I know is I’m wearing a sweater right now; the blast of cold air when I left the gym this morning cooled me down and woke me up more than my run.

The air doesn’t feel like July, but my tired yawns, wrapped around an empty coffee mug, do.

Mid-July is the point of the summer where the ennui settles into our bones. Unlike some parts of the country, our school start date is still comfortably in September — the Tuesday after Labor Day — so we’re cozily tucked into the arms of summer vacation.

The kids entertain each other more than they ever have, though the flip side is they annoy each other with a mastery they have yet to display for anything else.

A special type of gravity pulls them together lately. I find them sleeping in Abbey’s bunk some nights, heads on opposite sides of the bed and blankets askew as though they fell asleep mid-conversation. They follow each other around the house, and if one of them cries out for a little alone time, it lasts about three minutes before they’re together again — even if their together involves an argument over completely-invented-by-them chess rules.

Camp couldn’t have come at a better time — a two and a half hour respite from each other, though the overlapping start and end times mean I barely have a chance to notice the silence. They tumble back together, words spilled over each other’s as they jockey for position to tell me about what they’ve done in their little slice of separated time.

Despite the squabbling, I love that the line between them is infinitesimal.

I hope that it remains so, always.

Speaking of boundaries, I wrote about the man who claimed a kingdom so that his daughter could be a princess. I’d love if you stopped by to read that particular article.

Saturdays

– Posted in: Favorites, Joy

childhood memoriesMopping wasn’t in my plans, but a storm of home improvement dust coated the surface of the tiles. A bucket and mop would take the place of whatever I’d expected to be doing for the next thirty minutes. Unplanned for cleaning left me a bit grumpy, but I paused. Steam intensified the scent in the warm house, permeating my bones and stoking memories.

I’d smelled the same hot, soapy scent every Saturday of my childhood, our kitchen chairs building a quasi-boundary between the carpeted family room and linoleumed kitchen. My mother scrubbed the floor, every inch, on her hands and knees. Hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap seeped into her skin as she reached into crevices my own mop can never quite reach.

She is a better housekeeper than I — better than I’m every likely to be. My own intentions never quite translate to her attention to detail. Her vacuum lines are precise where mine cross over each other as I spot another Rainbow Loom band across the room.

We watched TV in our east-facing family room while she wiped the week away from the floor in exact, sweeping strokes. The Smurfs and The Adventures of the Gummi Bears helped my brother and I believe in magic as Murphy’s Oil Soap slowly dried in the diffused light. Even now, I sing the Gummi Bears theme song with my children while dispensing vitamins at breakfast.

Later, I slept through the beginnings of the floor washing, the wet tiles at the bottom of the stairs warning me not to descend until they dried. Those drying tiles were a demarkation between cartoons and the books I devoured while waiting for the floor to dry, still wrapped in blankets while sounds from the TV drifted up the stairs.

I wonder, sometimes, what our children will remember, what smells and sounds and colors will paint the pictures of their Saturday memories.

Some Saturdays I’m running when they awake, my return couched in sweat and quickly juggled combinations of oatmeal, coffee, and the unrelenting conversations of loquacious, rested children. Other Saturdays are spontaneous pancakes. My helpers heap flour and sugar  and sloshed milk into the mixing bowl, asking why each ingredient matters. I search my brain for the physics of baking powder and let them touch a bit of sugar to their tongues.

And some Saturdays I mop. I fill my bucket with the hottest water I can coax from the kitchen tap. The scent is stronger in hot water, the bubbling bucket of memories soothing my worries as it cleans the dust from our tiles.

What scents remind you of childhood?

Take a seat – LTYM videos are here!

– Posted in: Joy, Writing & Blogging

Listen to Your Mother videosBedtime was already ticking past its expiration. Three rousing games of Zingo — red card, then green card, then red again — and a patience-straining room pick up meant the sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon. Still, we read.

Stories are a balm in our days. They soothe our bad moods and calm the over-excited energy that kids muster for just about everything.

Stories connect and stories heal and now the Listen to Your Mother stories are here in video form.

My — absolutely unbiased, of course — suggestion is to start with the Metro Detroit show. Don’t stop there, though! The Listen to Your Mother 2014 season is rife with talent, from the hilarious to the heart-rendering.

The 2014 Listen to Your Mother videos.

Watch them.

Hear the stories.

You won’t regret it.

Suzanne Davis Gets a Life – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

Suzanne Davis Gets a Life

Abbey has determined that when she becomes an adult she will be a veterinarian. Also, she wants to add ballerina, artist, writer, pediatrician, and lifeguard to that list, depending on her mood when you ask her. Though that seems like a lot, it might be more manageable with her proposed living arrangement, which is to stay here with us. She’s happy about the plan, because it means she’ll have help with childcare, and she really wants at least one girl — even if she has to have ten boys before she has one.

At least she has a plan.

Suzanne Davis has a plan, too. Also? Suzanne Davis is infuriating — she rationalizes why she can’t do charity work, complains about her studio apartment on West 76th Street and is so wrapped up in her own ideas about how life should look that she misses a few big things on her journey. In other words, she’s exactly the type of person most of us are — sometimes, at least — a little self-absorbed but trying really hard to wrangle our expectations back to manageable.

Suzanne Davis Gets a Life by Paula Marantz Cohen begins with the aforementioned Suzanne trying, some might say desperately, to find a husband with whom she can procreate and move on to the next stage in her life.

Readers will love Suzanne, even if it takes a few chapters to warm up to her particular type of lovable. She’s smarter than she’d like to admit — studio apartment aside, her work from home job writing press releases for a fairly boring association seems like a pretty enviable job. She’s kinder than she thinks — she might be looking for a husband, but she makes some solid friendships along the hilarious way. She’s willing to admit when she’s wrong — in fact, she relishes being wrong and explaining why she is and changing her opinions with grace and humor.

Sunshine and shenanigans aren’t the only things you’ll find in Suzanne Davis Gets a Life. When Suzanne’s plan for finding Mr. Just Fine is derailed, she reacts with the type of optimistic self-deprecation that highlights the importance of truly being flexible in one’s life plans.

Cohen’s novel is my favorite type of chick lit: smart, funny, and light without being overtly formulaic. Readers will find themselves cheering on Suzanne, and even though the book’s setup helps shift the possibility of a happy ending into almost-certainty, no one will be exactly sure of how Suzanne’s life — once she gets one — will fit into her idea of what it should be.

Has a major life event ever thrown your goals and plans off track?

Disclosure: I received a copy of Suzanne Davis Gets a Life for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

A Good Year for the Roses – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

summer book recommendations

Molly Taylor curses in her head — rather frequently, in fact. Often, those exasperated sighs are directed at a bit of ridiculous imagined by one or more of her three sons, particularly once the four of them take up residence with her eccentric Uncle Bertie. Uncle Bertie is a retired Admiral in the British Navy and the husband of Molly’s deceased aunt, and he’s a little like a boy in that he derives great delight from his cursing, biting pet parrot and wanders away from the house to shoot off his cannon — blank powder, thankfully, and no that is not a euphemism.

Molly, Uncle Bertie, and her sons are only three of the characters in the delightful A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil. Perhaps it’s because my kids are deep in the part of navigating summer where they’re pecking at each other more than normal, but I loved escaping into Molly’s crazy, topsy-turvy life, complete with the countless “bloody hell”s that peppered her internal monologues.

Molly is rather newly divorced and needs to move out of her marital home when she inherits a family estate from her Aunt Helena. Harrington comes with her Uncle Bertie, a small but loving staff, and a fledgling bed and breakfast business that needs to be expanded if Molly and her boys are going to truly make Harrington home.

Oh, and there are roses.

Helena was a rabid gardener, and each section of the book details another type of rose found in the Harrington gardens. I enjoyed reading about the roses, much like I loved learning about the flowers in The Language of Flowers. Roses remind me of my grandma and the care with which she moved through her garden — though it was nothing like the one found on the grounds of Harrington.

There’s so much to love about McNeil’s story: the characters are quirky but utterly authentic, Molly’s struggles seem like legitimate issues one might have when moving to a place where social status is determined by something with which she’s barely comfortable owning, and romance dances around the edges of her life but clearly takes lower priority than her relationship with her children, her friends — including the fashionable whirlwind best friend everyone will be dying to have — and ultimately her journey to become the “Lady of the Manor” in the re-imagined Harrington estate — or at least its outlying buildings.

A Good Year for the Roses is an excellent read for summers, especially for moms who adore their children beyond comprehension but still scratch their heads at the intricacies involved in sibling relationships and figuring out how to move from parenting stage to parenting stage. Despite Molly’s thoroughly British swears, her love for her boys and loyalty to the people she loves comes through beautifully, and I know that’s a feeling so many of us can relate to as we traipse into July.

How would your family react to a move to the country? (I might not survive it, for the record, though a proper British estate might help… )

Disclosure: I received a copy of A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

A sneak peek – My Other Ex

– Posted in: Writing & Blogging

My kids chose the ringtones for my new phone. I still startle at some of them. The chirping and beeping are so unlike the sounds I’d become accustomed to with my previous phone, but I know the text message tone.

I can ignore the email one a lot of the time — I get notifications from store mailing lists and news updates and all sorts of things that don’t need immediate attention — but I’ll grab the phone when I hear a text arrive. With busy schedules and kids who grow exponentially louder when I’m talking on the phone, texting has become my primary way to chat with my friends.

Some days, a few words from a close friend smooth the edges of frazzled nerves or the words of a new friend make me laugh.

This fall, the creators of The HerStories Project are releasing a book about the flip side of women’s friendships — the breakups, miscommunications, confrontations, and quietly hurt feelings that break bonds. (You can pre-order the book now.)

I wish I could say all of my sister-friends have stayed in my life or have slowly drifted into warm, fuzzy nostalgia. I wish I could say I’ve always conducted myself with grace and good decisions regarding my friendships. I wish I could say I never took a friendship for granted.

But I can’t.

I’m one of the writers sharing my story of friendship gone badly in My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. While I’m not proud of the way my friendship with a close friend ended, I’m glad my words have found a safe place to land. Even fifteen years later, the frayed edges of that friendship aren’t completely healed, but I hope they’ve taught me a little bit about authenticity, love, and maybe even a little bit of grace.

Read more about the other fabulous writers contributing to My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends.

(And just in case I didn’t mention it, you can pre-order the book, directly from the following link. I might have talked about that already, huh?)


Buy this on Selz
Sell digital downloads on Selz

Hannah, Delivered – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

Hannah Delivered book review Neither of my deliveries went the way I planned.

I’ve written about them, cried about them, reflected on them, and in the end I find myself in a place of gratitude for how each of them ended. I know, though, not all women feel the same way after falling down the rabbit hole of hospital births and medical interventions.

Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew is a novel about birth — the births of babies, the birth of a midwife, and the birth of a movement toward more thoughtful and deliberate birthing practices in the United States. It’s also a story about expectations, dreams, and knowing which ones to chase and which ones we need to let back into the universe to become something else entirely.

Hannah is a reluctant midwife, a woman who’s spent so much time doing what’s expected of a Lutheran pastor’s daughter that she isn’t sure how to recognize what she truly wants — let alone how to assert herself enough to get it. Her training in New Mexico is intense and life-changing, yet she sets up practice in her home state of Minnesota, in the town where her father still preaches on Sunday and her deceased mother’s presence dances on the air surrounding Hannah.

Andrew has crafted a beautiful tale, both in plot construction and in language. I wasn’t sure Hannah, Delivered would resonate with me, my birth experiences and actually my expectations of birth varied so much from the stories told in Andrew’s novel. Interestingly, the passages about birthing and midwifery were my favorite: Hannah stresses again and again that the midwife’s role is to bring peace and safety to the birthing mother, and Andrew’s words perfectly wrap the reader in the calmness that can be achieved from allowing a woman’s body to progress at its own pace, to open itself and welcome new life into the world.

As Hannah navigates and builds her practice, she encounters complications from clients and from the hazy laws surrounding midwifery in Minnesota. I found myself (perhaps irrationally) angry at the way we’ve allowed litigation and fear to morph birth into something that’s regulated and managed instead of facilitated with grace. There’s a vague sense of blame placed on doctors, but my personal experience makes me think doctors would be more willing to work towards birth with less interventions if not for stringent regulations and fear of malpractice issues.

Hannah, Delivered made me (almost) wish for another chance to experience birth, and it provided hope that we’re moving closer to a day when midwives and doctors can work closely to bring birthing back to mothers’ bodies.

If you’ve given birth, did you have the type of birth you imagined?

On the topic of hospitals, birth, and expectations, I’d like to direct your attention to a project I’m proud to support. Jessica Watson, my wonderful friend and one of my LTYM team members wrote a children’s book about the journey preemies and their families go through between birth and their homecoming. Her book, Soon, is in development, and she needs our help to bring it to life. Visit her Kickstarter page to donate and spread the word about this much-needed story. (Also? I have another friend connected to the project. Go see who it is!)

Disclosure: I received a copy of Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

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