Angela Amman

Sleepy but happy

– Posted in: Joy

Detroit coffee housesI rushed into The Great Lakes Coffee Company for the first time when we were working on Listen to Your Mother. Our second day of auditions took place there. I was running late in the way I tend to be when juggling child-free scheduling — not exactly late but sliding into where I need to be with only breaths to spare.

I ordered something lavender that morning, thinking it sounded calming.

Angela — one of my partners-in-LTYM, not myself in the third person — ordered a Sexy Mexican, and I’ve ordered the spicy, warm coffee every other time I’ve gone there. We stopped for a coffee before attending the Fathers and Figures show from The Secret Society of the Twisted Storytellers. Wine and beer are on tap there, too, but with a 10K in the morning and all sorts of plans the rest of the weekend, we sipped coffee and ate dessert and finally managed to get to a Twisted Storytellers show with time to spare.

Our weekend was crammed full in the way weekends tend to be in Michigan. With a winter that practically froze us permanently into puffer jackets and a spring that threatened cold with every gust of wind, we soak in our summers around her. Barbecues and road races and storytelling shows and a book signing by one of my favorite authors.

Sunday night found me with heavy eyelids and tired legs, but Friday was filled with sparkling expectation for the days ahead. We settled into chairs, wrapped hands around mugs, and took the time to laugh at the shorthand for our orders. For thirty minutes or so on Friday night, we both boasted Sexy Angela mugs, and it felt amazing.

Summer schedules are my favorite — family time and friend time wrapped in lazy mornings. I have one child who gets dressed immediately and another who needs to be dragged out of pajamas, but we’re all working with an implicit understanding that we won’t complain about the heat.

My workout awaits me in the morning, so I’ll let my eyes close tonight. I’m already looking forward to my coffee mug in the morning, even if I know it won’t be calling me sexy.

Do you have a lot planned for the summer?

That Night – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

That Night

His eyes twinkle before he delivers a punchline, even the ones he doesn’t fully grasp. Jokes are currency in our house lately, peppering dinner table conversation and distracting kids when they’re toeing the line between afternoon and melt-down. Only recently did Dylan begin to understand not every joke began with a “Knock, knock,” — even now, he’ll forget and preface a non-knocking joke with a perfectly timed, “Knock, knock.”

Those extraneous words let you know the joke is coming, and That Night by Chevy Stevens plays on that concept. The reader knows Toni has been convicted of her sister’s murder — and that she’s not guilty of the crime. As I read through the novel, I bounced between enjoyment and feeling like Stevens gave the reader too much information, too soon.

That Night dances between mystery novel and revenge story. The reader wants Toni to be vindicated for her conviction, especially as details emerge through flashback about how she was treated by family members and a group of mean girls in the time leading up to her sister’s death.

A small negative in the story is how much of the plot is given away by the simple teaser on the cover and the first few conflicts in the plot. Readers who are accustomed to mysteries and thrillers will begin to piece together the mystery surrounding Nicole’s death from the beginning of the story, which makes parts of the novel anticlimactic. Each time Toni interacts with her sister, with her parents, with the mean girls who make her life miserable, the reader knows what lies in wait for Toni and Nicole. Connecting with the characters emotionally can be a little problematic when their fate is fairly clear from the beginning pages of the story.

Despite the slightly heavy foreshadowing, there’s a lot to appreciate and consider in That Night. I found myself particularly interested in the family dynamics Stevens portrays. With one daughter dead and another accused of the crime, the girls’ parents handle their ongoing relationship with Toni in very different ways. I found myself thinking about the possible limits of unconditional love when one of your children hurts another. Readers with sisters might have an opinion about the way the relationship between Toni and Nicole is portrayed — there’s definitely a sense of jealously and conflicting loyalty between the two of them, particularly when Nicole begins to spend time with Toni’s tormenters.

Later, Stevens repeats the struggle between mothers and daughters with a tense relationship between one of the mean girls and her own daughter, bringing another layer of complexity to the emotional relationships between the characters.

Another relationship that weaves through the story is that between Toni and Ryan, her high school boyfriend. From the time they meet, Toni is unwavering in the belief that their love was strong enough to withstand anything. As That Night progresses, Toni’s feelings for Ryan remain steadfast, despite their time in prison and the conditions of their respective paroles. The final question I was left with was whether Toni’s feelings are truly abiding love or simply a failure to mature past her high school years.

That Night has a tightly woven plot, despite containing some easy connections for readers who are familiar with the genre. With all of the questions about the relationships between the characters, Chevy Stevens’ novel would be an interesting choice for a book club looking for a quick read with lots of discussion possibilities.

Have you ever participated in a book club? How did you select the books you read?

Disclosure: I received a copy of That Night for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

Online book clubs

Summer break

– Posted in: Guest Posts, Joy
summer break

pool party for a great friend’s birthday!

Abbey’s last day was Thursday, and Dylan’s been done since the end of May, but today finally feels like the start of our summer vacation.

Our break is shiny and new today, and everyone is excited about reading logs and barbecues and having to join me at the grocery store for the seventh time because I can’t remember everything the first six times I go.

It seems fitting that I should be doing a little visiting today, and I’m over at The Writer Revived. Elizabeth is a gifted essayist, and I’m happy to be sharing some of my words in her space.

Please join me for “Climbing out of limbo,” a piece about finally feeling at home in our new house… and can I still call it “our new house” when it wasn’t new when we bought it and have now been here nine months?

Under the crabapple tree

– Posted in: challenges

kids growing up Venturing from our back deck to under the crabapple tree still seems like something they need permission to do, and I let them ask every time they want to wander out of eyesight. I can hear them when the kitchen windows are open, voices mingling together in a familiar lilting hum blending together sibling conversations to which I’m not privy.

When the evening breeze chills the kitchen tile, I push the windows closed and walk onto the deck to see them playing under the low-hanging branches.

A year ago, I wouldn’t let my eyes leave the kitchen window when they played in our postage stamp backyard. Cars zoomed down Main Street, and even the cruising speed limit seemed like playing a game of chicken with a three-year old who couldn’t remember how to walk when it was more fun to run. I’d trip over myself in the galley kitchen. I’d measure the inches between their bubble-blowing giggles and the expanse of driveway leading to the street. I’d abandon dinner prep seventeen times to rush outside if they breathed too close to the invisible boundary between safety and danger.

I called them into the house before I actually needed them, my nerves a taut wire strung between their desire to be outside and my need to grab something in another room.

Other days, food simmered in the crockpot, barbecue sauce filling the crevices of our little house. I’d relax in an oversized iron chair or on the porch swing, wrapping myself in a sweater to combat the slanting shadows criss-crossing our backyard near dinnertime. Her voice overpowered his a year ago, dominating the conversation. He’d climb into my lap and settle into the imaginary worlds she’d build for us all.

My feet pushed us into a comfortable rhythm. Neither of them could stretch their legs to the ground to push harder or higher than I wanted to swing.

We’d walk into the house together, shoes jumbled on steps as I angled my body against the entrance to the basement. We never fit onto the landing comfortably, their growing limbs jostling and tripping each other into the kitchen.

I pressed my eyes closed against pre-dinner bickering in those last days. Contracts were signed, and the bittersweet ache of missing a house we’d outgrown had begun to press into my bones. Books passed between hands as the crockpot beeped into warming mode. Dinner waited for one more story, and I tried not to think how soon we’d leave the first place we called home.

Linking up with Ann’s Rants for #WhereILivedWednesday
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The Shadow Year – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

The Shadow Year Abbey’s kindergarten year is petering to a close. These last few weeks seem to drag like an anchor through water, trying to catch hold of summer break. She’s too little to be done with kindergarten — in some ways I feel like the year passed in fast forward, but these last days are never-ending.

Dylan’s preschool ended weeks ago, and in sibling time, this could be a year. Without dance classes or preschool, I lose my place in the week. I need to look at the calendar to keep track of where we are in this countdown.

In The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell, a group of five college graduates spend their first year out of college trying to forge their own world in a dilapidated cottage near a lake that shines like glass in the sunshine. Their days tumble onto each other, so that their May Day celebration may or may not take place on May 1st. Lines become blurred without the trappings of the society they left behind.

The novel tells the story of two women: Kat and Lila. Kat is one of the graduates, and Lila is an interior designer bequeathed the small cottage by a mysterious letter from a lawyer, a letter that comes when she is adrift in her life.

The stories parallel each other and weave together, with each of the woman seeking and finding something in the cottage, and Richell delicately lets the connection between the women unfold without rushing the story. I read the book twice. I was initially drawn more to Kat’s story, but at the novel’s conclusion, I felt like I needed to dive back into Lila’s half of their tale.

Kat is desperately in love with Simon and searching for the family she’s never had as she makes a life with her friends. Simon is charismatic and basks in the role of leader of their small commune. Kat’s sister, her only real family, wanders into the life the friends are creating and interrupts their equilibrium with her gentle artist’s presence.

Lila is questioning her commitment to her marriage and the life she’s built with her husband after an accidental crisis shatters her plans for their future. The cottage becomes a refuge, bolstered by her burgeoning friendship with William, a man in whom she can confide some of the feelings that remain locked in her head when she attempts to communicate with her husband.

Lines blur between so many of the relationships in The Shadow Year, and the concept of love becomes as dangerous as the hemlock found in the woods surrounding the cottage. 

The Shadow Year is a coming of age tale, though it might sound strange to say that about college graduates and a married woman. However, each of the characters make decisions throughout the course of the novel and discover things about their pasts that irrevocably change the course of their futures.

Honesty, both the abstract concept and the plant, play a crucial role in Richell’s novel. As the thread connecting Lila and Kat becomes more clear, the novel becomes darker and more fraught with emotional consequences that reverberate long after the reader has closed the book. The Shadow Year, despite its warm beginnings stretched out through summer’s heat, is not a book about the comfortable shift into adulthood. It’s not about redemption. Some choices, once made, can’t be undone and some come at a cost to those who never had a say in their making.

The Shadow Year is both haunting and beautiful, and it makes a gorgeous read — as long as the reader isn’t seeking solace in the belief that love is a healing salve on past or present wounds.

Have you ever taken a break or sabbatical?

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Shadow Year for the purposes of this review as part of the She Reads blogger network. All opinions are my own.

Online book clubs

 

Jaspar’s War – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

Jaspar's War review

Monsters hid under my bed when I was a child. I’d swing my feet onto the cool metal bar that surrounded the box spring before catapulting to the floor at least a foot from my bed. It sat high above the ground — I knew I could fit under there with a flashlight to read, so the darker corners of my imagination painted something unthinkable lurking there as I slept.

As a mother, the monsters are more defined. My chest tightened as I read about the disappearance of Jaspar’s children in Jaspar’s War. For the rest of Cym Lowell’s novel, my thoughts were that of a mother molding herself into someone who would find her kidnapped kids.

As Jaspar morphs into “Jas,” a warrior molded by the assassin-for-hire, Nul, the action in the plot climbs with each page. There are shoot-outs and chases through alleys, and an attack that involves stripping down to nothing that — to be completely honest — I felt was strangely unnecessary.

As someone who doesn’t typically read action thrillers, I found myself questioning some of those sequences, but I kept reading. The promise of the ethical pull of a mother looking for her children propelled me forward through the story. I needed to know how things would end for Jas and her kids.

For readers looking for action and adventure, Jaspar’s War has that bursting from its seams. There’s a healthy shot of sexual tension between Jas and Nul that I couldn’t buy into completely. So much of Jas’s identity centers on her family, including her relationship with her husband, that even when he’s presumed dead I had a hard time believing she would work through even the beginning stages of grief in the time it takes for her to feel attracted to someone else on even a visceral level.

I found myself focusing on the lengths to which Jas would go to save her children. Seeing an intelligent, fit mother turn into a human weapon works for an action story, but I was more interested in the mental transformation she undergoes.

I would have loved to see Lowell explore the link between her Catholic faith, her innate morality and her desperate desire to bring her children back to her. Those themes are touched upon throughout the book, but they get a little lost in the game surrounding world finances, political maneuvering and copious amounts of bullets.

Do you enjoy action novels? Do you find yourself looking for motivation behind the action?

Disclosure: I received a copy of Jaspar’s War for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

No Alligators in Sight – A review

– Posted in: Book Reviews

No Alligators in Sight

Eight days.

Abbey has eight days of kindergarten left, and it’s mind-boggling that she’s suddenly going to be in first grade. Our routine won’t change all that much next year — first graders line up right next to the kindergartners before school, so our line location doesn’t even change. Something about the number “1″ instead of the letter “K,” though, feels like another milestone racing by as I struggle to keep up.

No Alligators in Sight begins with a daughter finding her mother’s old journal, with the mother thinking about how difficult times sometimes lead to the most beautiful. The story Kirsten B. Feldman tells is that of the mother, the plot unfolding through journal entries and the events that take place the summer she’s thirteen.

Leticia desperately wants to be called Annie, a name gleaned from her confirmation name — after Saint Anne — and one that seems so much more normal than Lettie. Wanting her name to be normal is only the surface of what Annie would like to change. She’s a quasi-adult: a thirteen year old girl who takes care of her nine year old brother and functioning alcoholic of a father, budgeting money and accepting favors and dealing with the bubbling anger and apathy that characterize her relationship with there dad.

When Annie angers Joel, her father, he flies her and her little brother down to the Florida Keys to see how their lives would be different if they lived with their mother. Gertrude is a wispy concept of a mother in their minds. She left Massachusetts six years before to pursue her art career, and Annie can’t help but vacillate between anger towards the abandonment and hope that she’ll be able to find the normalcy she craves in her mother’s love.

No Alligators in Sight made me incredibly sad at first, which is exactly the reaction Annie’s daughter has when she finds her mom’s journal while looking for fairy wings in the attic. I clung to the idea of those fairy wings — and the mention of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays — and hoped that a story ending in the search for fairy wings couldn’t be all sad.

I hated the idea that a thirteen year old had so much responsibility to shoulder, that she had so little room for mistakes teenagers are supposed to be making and from which they are supposed to be learning. I felt guilty knowing Annie’s life is a reality for so many kids, guilty for not being able to wave a wand and fix things for all of those thirteen year olds.

But along with a tough situation, Annie has a spirit formed of sarcasm and intelligence — and a fierce sense of love and loyalty she doesn’t even quite understand herself until it’s tested. I loved watching her learn about her family, about herself, and about the changes people can make when they have the right motivation. As the summer winds to a close, Annie begins to see that shedding her name and her life for something “normal” might mean sacrificing a crucial part of herself.

No Alligators in Sight is a quick read that will appeal to a lot of readers, and reading it with your favorite tween or teen will provide a lot of conversation fodder for summer evenings.

Can you think of a particular summer in your life that changed the way you think?

Disclosure: I received a copy of No Alligators in Sight for consideration for review. All opinions are my own. 

Finding words

– Posted in: challenges

Independent reading Rain pelted the ground today. After yesterday’s glimpse into summer’s humidity, the breeze accompanying the downpour should’ve felt refreshing.

It just felt cold — heavy and cold.

I didn’t intend to write about Maya Angelou’s death, at least not tonight. Scrawled notes about productive ways to spend my evening work time were abandoned in the margins of my planner. I pulled on a sweatshirt and let my mind wander, and I wondered about the weight on my chest.

Angelou’s words tore through my social media streams today. Some of her iconic words have buoyed me in the past, have awoken something inside my heart to remind me to find beauty and strength in the very air around me. She’s left wisdom and hope for a world that can seem hopeless. I love that she spoke truth without self-indulgence, light without ignoring the darkness, strength without apology.

Still, tears threaten at strange moments: listening to my sweet girl reading, feeling the heaviness of a not-so-little guy trying to get comfortable on my lap, closing windows against the cold after waiting so long to welcome spring air.

The foundation of this unexpected sadness is gratitude. The words she left us are accessible in books and websites and recordings of her voice that leave goosebumps trailing down my skin.

Her light will be missed, I’m sure, by those who knew and loved her. For the rest of us, who cherished her from afar, I hope we can take a glimmer of that light and find our own strength and hope in the face of any darkness that comes our way.

Thank you, Maya Angelou, for sharing your spirit with us all.

Visit me at Mamalode

– Posted in: Guest Posts

essay at Mamalode
Do you know Mamalode?

Mamalode is a site and a print magazine that collects moments in motherhood, in womanhood, that piece together the common emotions flowing through our different circumstances. The stories there tug at my heart in expected and unexpected ways, and I’m thrilled to have my first piece published there today.

I lived with my parents for the first seventeen and a half years of my life. After that, my time in “my” house was intermittent — college breaks and post-graduation and this summer when I moved in with our little family of four.

Follow me to Under the Canopy at Mamalode to see what happened when I went to sleep in my childhood canopy bed.

Breeze

– Posted in: challenges, Joy

Relaxing with spring The weekend was the kind of busy that will likely creep into our lives more and more as the kids get older. Social commitments and extracurricular activities and choices about what to do when overlapping times became impossible to share.

By Monday, we were all exhausted.

The alarm rang, I’m sure. I reached to turn it off who knows how many times until Ryan groggily told me Abbey needed to leave for school in twenty minutes.

Routine trumped exhaustion. She chose clothes; I reminded about tooth brushing and started the countdown to when we had to leave, the minutes so many fewer than we’re normally counting.

Food crowded the island already crowded with recital flowers, and a few lingering blooms from Mother’s Day and Listen to Your Mother. As I twisted to pull Tupperware lids toward me, I paused.

A mother deer and fawn stood outside our window. The baby was impossibly small, the size of a medium dog, tucked between his mother’s legs. She munched on leaves, head startling a bit each time a car revved an engine on the oh-so-close suburban street.

Minutes were ticking, pushing against everything I still needed to organize and pack before we could rush from the house.

But they couldn’t miss this.

I walked to the stairs, calling their names gently, not knowing how skittish the mama deer would be if she heard us through the window. My own little ones tiptoed on the wooden stairs, gently treading on the ones that creak, looking to me for reassurance that the deer were still grazing.

Abbey forgot her brush upstairs but remembered to keep her squeal of delight to a whisper. Her fingers splayed against the window pane as though she could feel the delicately spotted coat or wobbly legs through glass and space. I smoothed her hair with my fingers instead of insisting on a brush and kissed their heads longer than I needed to before making the quickest lunches in the history of kindergarten.

When we stepped outside, the breeze that pushed against our faces was finally warm and smelled of grass and the promise of the lazier days of summer.

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