BOOK REVIEW│The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin

Motherhood in the suburbs is an adventure unto itself. Social systems are constructed on your children’s achievements, your helpfulness in your community and your popularity among your fellow soccer moms. It can be a boring existence and it can be one that is easily shattered when you step out of the Stepford Wives Club.

For Lara Love Hardin, her step out comes when her million dollar home on a quiet cul-de-sac is met by the police who are there to arrest her and uncover what she has been doing behind the Stepford Wives façade. Hardin has been stealing her neighbor’s credit cards to fund her heroin addiction and now she faces being charged with 32 felonies and a lengthy jail sentence as she goes from soccer mom to inmate S32179.

Hardin quickly discovers that much like the intricacies of suburban soccer mom life, prison life also offers it’s own social system where candy is currency and tampon boxes make furniture. Also, there is the sad realization that not even prison can quell the adolescent behaviors that permeate through mom social life. Hardin quickly learns what it takes to climb the prison social ladder and becomes “the shot caller.”

In a memoir of falling from soccer mom social status to numbered prisoner, Hardin shows that even rock bottom doesn’t mean it is the end of your life. After her stint in prison, she goes on to become a ghost writer, writing her way through healing and redemption in a memoir that has you laughing, crying and cursing your way through as Hardin shows you that the hardest part of all is forgiving yourself. Powerfully raw–this memoir made me struggle through her journey with her, as a mother myself, I found it hard to sympathize with her and her return to drug use despite the damage it was doing to her young children. However, what kept me reading and loving her writing and her journey was that she told it with humor and humility and ultimately by having her darkest secrets discovered she was able to find herself, find forgiveness and build a new life.

Book Information

The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin will be released on August 1, 2023 from Simon and Schuster with ISBN 9781982197667. This review correspond to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│A Perfect Vintage by Chelsea Fagan

Lea Mortimer specializes in restoring French Chateaus into boutique hotels. She relishes in the fact that she is a single, untethered woman who excels at her job and works well with the often aristocratic families that she often finds herself working for.

Only this summer is shaping up to be a little different for Lea. Sure, she still has a hotel to open…on time…but she has also invited her best friend, Stephanie, who is struggling through her own divorce and her daughter to accompany her to the Loire Valley. It was her friend’s one request when she called her on a rainy day to tell her that she had, in fact finally left her husband. Only Lea wasn’t exactly ready for that one request. Their presence shakes up Lea’s sophisticated world and threatens to make her miss her mark on her hotel opening and on landing the prestigious award that was just within her grasp. Even more shocking is the romance she soon finds herself in with the son of the estate’s owner that she is working to open as a hotel.

What flows is a secret romance that Lea and her handsome love interest are struggling to keep a secret, a lot of delicious French wine and a chateau that is about to experience its own rebirth. There is nothing to not like about this fun, summertime novel– the tasteful romance, the beautiful scenery and the friendships kept me reading even when I had other responsibilities to tend to. It has been sometime since I was able to lose an afternoon to a book and not feel too guilty. Fagan transported to my own time spent in gorgeous French chateaus drinking too much Beaujolais and falling in love. It also didn’t hurt that Lea’s friend, Stephanie, was figuring out her own life in none other than Morristown, New Jersey. From one Jersey girl with a love of France to another perhaps fictional one…I was hooked.

Overall, a delightful and airy debut novel from Chelsea Fagan. I hope she sticks with this genre, I would like to read more from her.

Book Information

A Perfect Vintage by Chelsea Fagan is set to be released on June 6, 2023 from Orsay Books with ISBN 9781662938627. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home │Life Got Away from Me

There was a time where I was reading and reviewing books every other day here and I LOVED it.

Paris, 2007.

Then, I got pregnant again and over the summer we welcomed our first daughter, Violet. She came fast and fiercely into this world and totally shook up our house after two boys. They just love her and I know even after I am gone, she will always have two older brothers watching her back.

And then I went back to work even though I reached the end of wanting to teach full-time. Never thought it happened, but I would have made a deal with the devil himself if it meant I could be home.

And THEN, I finished writing my novel that I have worked on and off with for years. I just could never get it right and then suddenly it poured out of me in a couple of weeks.

And THENNN, I got offered a publishing contract and now I am in the middle of contract negotiations, trying to hire a publicist and sitting back looking at how my life blew up again.

And THEENNNN, I was offered all of these college-level writing courses to teach which I was so excited to take, but also made me realize that I wasn’t done with full-time teaching completely, but I was just done teaching middle school all day. It’s exhausting.

So I am in the midst of focusing on the part of career that gives me joy and releasing my first novel in seven years. While keeping tiny humans alive and eventually working my way back towards sharing all of the books I love on here.

I am alive. And busy. And grateful.

Hope all is well with you!


The early 2000’s was a great time for art history books. Of course there was Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code but you also had Tracey Chevalier writing Girl with a Pearl Earring and several other art historical novels. I couldn’t put those books down and in many ways, they helped to further my passion for art history and complete my undergraduate degree in it. I was immersed in their worlds almost immediately and the luscious of the art history periods they were covering just drove me further into the story.

When I first picked up Linda Moore’s Attribution, I was immediately transported into her story the same way I had been in the early 2000’s with other art history novels. Moore starts off her tale by showcasing the misogyny that can plague art history departments if you allow it to. I remember it well as an undergraduate– male professors always loved to tell you you didn’t have what it took, but you overcome it. Moore’s Catherine Adamson is struggling through a similar departmental struggle with her dissertation chair who never is happy with where she is going and inwardly she fears being let out of her graduate program which is why she doesn’t argue with him when her chair sends her down into the basement of the department to catalog any and all works that she finds.

While there, Catherine stumbles across a forgotten room and a stashed away canvas that by the pigment alone tells her is much more valuable than its current surroundings. At first, Catherine is unsure of what to do– leave it? Share the find with her chauvinistic professor? Find a way to catalog it? Catherine is not given much time to decide as her discovery is followed rather quickly by an unnerving meeting with her chair that leaves her rattled enough to forget the painting. Only then, she’s suddenly outside with the painting and unable to get back because the building has gone into lockdown…something very valuable has been stolen!

At first Catherine thinks of the painting, but how would anyone know it was missing since it was uncovered in a secret room, buried in a long forgotten chest? Circumstances and chance quickly push Catherine into the heart of the mystery as she finds herself on a plane to Madrid instead of one home to Michigan for Christmas.

In the vein of Katherine Neville’s The Eight, Moore quickly engulfs us in the mysteries of the past, of women who struggled long ago and of Catherine’s own journey towards her future. Her plot is rich in art world references and lush prose that intrigues you to keep reading. It is an art history fiction that leaves you thinking as Moore teaches us the importance of truth and honesty, even if it was forgotten to the past.

Book Information

Attribution by Linda Moore was published in October 2022 by She Writes Press under ISBN 978-1-64742-253-0. This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

An Open Letter to My School Board and Superintendent

Dear Board of Education & Superintendent; 

      I am writing to you today as an experienced city educator, a mom and as someone who holds a PhD in education. I have worked in the area for 12 years. I also teach at a college that services a large portion of our graduates.  

      Our students enter schools behind their suburban peers and often graduate behind them as well. When you add the shutdowns, the year of virtual school and now, the continuation of masking and COVID protocols that prevent me and my colleagues from performing many needed intervention strategies, we are setting our students up to fail even more. I have taught 8th grade for the last nine years. This year, my reading scores are showing the lowest growth if there is any at all. Socially and emotionally, most of my students present more like 5th graders—the last year that they had in school that was normal for them. They are struggling in ways I haven’t seen before.  

      I was shocked to hear you announce that we were going to be continuing with these measures, especially when Mercer County is listed in green—which purports no need to wear a mask. As the body of research grows in terms of how covid protocols, including masking, have affected students and driven learning loss while the pandemic went on, there are already studies that show the impact on student literacy and the impact on their reading abilities and effects on their education: 

There is also growing research on how masking has affected younger students in their language skill sets and have caused speech and language delays in pre-school students—many of which do not know a world without the pandemic:

  • Study on nonverbal communication and children:

  • Study on cognitive decline, speech and language delays in children 0-5 due to COVID restrictions (including masking):

While we had to learn what COVID was and what the best ways to fight the virus would be, we sacrificed in many other areas, including our children. However, we are now at a time where we know how to prevent and treat. We are also in a much different position than we were two years ago, and it is time to start addressing how to begin supporting our student’s growth forward following three school years of disruption, loss of services and the side effects of masking.  

      Respectfully, I request that you please think over your decision to continue this mandate next week. Many of my 8th graders were looking forward to taking off their masks, some even exclaimed they were ready to burn them or cut them up—never wanting to see them again. They are hungry for a normal school life…one where they can see their friends and teacher’s faces. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  

Dr. Katherine Kuzma-Beck Hart, PhD

Book Review│Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly

Whitney Whitaker and her cousin, Buck, are back at it flipping houses in this fourth installment of Kelly’s house-flipper mysteries. This time they have their eyes set on an old church. Whitney is drawn to the abandoned church with its beautiful stained glass and is eager to make the abandoned space come alive again. They want it to become an entertainment venue.

Only, the owner of the farm next door, Nolan Sibley, is not too supportive of their plans and asserts a legal claim over the church property that puts Whitney’s and Buck’s flipping dreams in jeopardy. As the legalities play out, Whitney and Buck decide to move ahead with renovations despite the harsh welcome they received from Nolan– greetings with a cattle prod and a church full of horses! Things only get worse when Whitney’s cat, Sawdust, finds a body in the bell tower. It is the body of the man who had only recently delivered their replacement windows.

Whitney’s boyfriend, Colin, is assigned the case, but it becomes a complex case to solve after a second murder occurs nearby. This mystery will definitely keep you guessing until the very end while still maintaining the cozy-mystery feeling that the earlier books have done so well.

Book Information

Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly will be released on February 22, 2022 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250816030. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Island House by Amanda Brittany

Get ready to be immersed in a atmospheric, Gothic-esque tale of a young girl who is struggling to remember the early years of her life and the lives of two siblings, Verity and Hugh, living in their strange island home with their ventriloquist/magician father who has hired a trail of nannies to care for them, only they never last too long…

In the vein of And Then There Were None, Alice arrives on the island following the hit and run death of her mysterious father. She is eager to solve a family mystery and purposefully travels back to her family’s old home, now a hotel. Only, once she arrives everything falls apart. Guests start being murdered one by one and a storm sweeps in, trapping the survivors in the hotel. This creepy and anxiety-filled setting lends well to the mental state of the main character as she navigates surviving as well as uncovering her family’s story as well as their lives.

The story moves from the present day back to the story of Hugh and Verity and their upbringing at Flynn House. Their story lends well to the creepy, dark feeling of the hotel, the island and the murder mystery unfolding before us.

This was definitely one I could not out done and eagerly finished in one sitting after I put my kids to sleep. It’s a perfect locked-room mystery for a quiet Friday night with a glass or two of wine.

Book Information

The Island House by Amanda Brittany was released on August 11, 2021 with ISBN 9780008362898 from HQ and HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins UK. This review corresponds to an electronic galley supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home │Thrice is Coming!

I meant to share our news over a month ago, but life has just had a way recently of going faster than I would like it to. It doesn’t help that I feel like everyday I am fighting a battle for my kids and trying to keep my own sanity together as I am faced with growing uncertainty over being able to teach in this state…a PhD in education and I am wondering if my teaching career will go beyond the next couple of years because of state politics.

Despite of that, the sunshine of this year will be getting to welcome out third baby this summer. We are beyond excited.

Government Mandates are Causing Speech and Language Delays in Children

What this pandemic has done is take a group of people and have given them all of the power to harm some of our most silent victims: our children.

My older son was 18 months old when lock downs began. This is a pivotal time for speech and language development and it has harmed him immensely. While I have kept his story quiet out of respect for his journey and ours, I feel it is time to share it because something needs to change in this state.

My son has been called “retarded, “slow” by “family” and we were spoken about among the same ignorant group of “family” that we were bad parents. Meanwhile, quietly, we were waiting up to 6 months to get our son seen for a myriad of tests that I didn’t even want him to go through because I already knew the outcome: he would be negative for all of it.

And at the end of it? He was negative for all of it. And part of me wanted to have a billboard made and put up with the headline “NOT AUTISTIC AND NOT RETARDED” since it took a lot of self control not to lose my mind on these women who should have been large, supportive facets in my son’s life but instead showed me what they truly are and what they truly think of me and my family.

I digress. He now has two diagnoses and a medical exemption for the mask. He qualifies for service through public school. We are now in week two of him not receiving services because the supervisor of special services along with her board physician want to deny my son’s exemption even though it works within the governor’s mandate and they will force him to be bothered all day by adults putting this magic fabric over his face. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be for a 3 year old? He doesn’t understand why people wear them, we tried to have him do it at home– doesn’t work–all the while you are already so frustrated with trying to get words out of your brain through your mouth and not being able to, and now you have these people who you really don’t know touching your face and putting this fabric over your mouth every time you take it off. I even wanted it amended into his IEP because of his inability to understand and all I got met with is the usual “for my safety” and “oh we’ll work with him.” Even though, if this was written into his IEP, he would not have to wear a mask per the EO. And for any teacher that cites “safety”…let me ask you, do you mask yourself and your own children when you go to Target? Grocery shopping? Out to eat? I highly doubt it.

In the same breath, once the lawyer I hired got involved I then get an email from the superintendent saying how they’ll work to accommodate him and the board attorney will be in touch. That was a week ago and there is no response from their side. My son still does not have adequate services and it is now going to be some back and forth because these adults just want to cite a mandate that I am not even working to challenge, but ALLOWS for this and scream FOR MY SAFETY as they go. All that this is doing is discriminating against children and people with disabilities.

My son is not the only story. There is a huge increase in childhood delays and in speech delays. We had to wait months to get in for private speech therapy and then even longer for him to get ENOUGH private speech therapy on top of all the trips to doctors, specialists and hospitals. Even now, it has been choppy service privately as well as the place opens and closes for COVID exposure. We have really good insurance and even with it, they will only cover 30 sessions which is nothing. After that? We can look forward to a $600 bill a month to continue the support that he needs with a therapist that he loves. Now, imagine, someone who does not have good health insurance and has absolutely no way of covering a $600 a month bill. What happens to their child? Only further behind do they fall. It’s exhausting and we are failing these kids.

If I enrolled my son where I work, they would have immediately taken his medical exemption and worked with it. If we lived a town over and took him there, they wouldn’t even allow him to have speech therapy without a mask on. How many kids have to suffer before something changes? Language is a continuum and by isolating and masking young children, we are taking away their ability to learn language within social settings and among their peers and teachers.

When does the nonsense end? When does this governor get these powers removed already? We are two years into this and the ScIEnCe is even showing how ineffective and overall DAMAGING this is to kids. Just yesterday, I was reading an article that cited a study that claimed a 350% increase in childhood speech delays. They are so far behind and the longer it goes the worse it will be. Now, when I listen to the radio and you have this governor saying he’s thinking about ending masking, but in the same breath just mandated BOOSTERS for healthcare workers and I am sure is gearing up to do the same thing to teachers? Please, when does the mandate get removed? My money is on or about June 1st so he can appease NJEA elites and think he’s going to win favor with parents who are ready to stand up and fight this insanity?

NJEA and this governor are the virus in New Jersey and it needs to be stopped, we are damaging generations of children for many years to come both through so much disruption to their education, the masking and also with forcing parents to pump them full of an experimental gene therapy to allow them to stay in school. Only to then again move even that goal post and say, whelp, now they need their booster! Even though none of this stops the spread or transmission of the virus. What is the point? We have really entered the point of it all being political control so those that have money can make even more money on all of this and it is disgusting and at the expense of our most vulnerable, often silent victims: our children.

The Hart Home │ And She’s Off!

It’s a strange time to be teaching and it’s an even stranger time to be working on getting your research on education and curriculum out there in this semi post-COVID world. This was my goal though, for the past two years, to begin to start getting my research out on integrative instruction. The shut down era of COVID pretty much killed that dream dead, but now things seem to be better aligning to move forward again with that dream…at least for now before the insanity begins again which I am sure it will since this state likes to shoot itself in the foot constantly and reelect idiots, but that’s a rant for another post.

I am excited to be sharing my paper, A Renaissance in Storytelling: Finding the Place of Literacy in Visual Arts Curriculum and a slightly tweaked presentation, A Renaissance in Storytelling: Finding the Place of Literacy in the Urban Visual Arts Classroom at two conferences in the coming months. The first will be at the Honolulu Education Conference and the latter will be at the Plain Talks Literacy Series at the Center for Learning and Literacy in New Orleans.

Due to travel restrictions in Hawaii, and Japan since this is being hosted by a Japanese organization, the conference has been moved to a completely virtual platform. You can register here if you would like to. You will hear my presentation as well as many other international educational leaders presenting their work.

As of now, the New Orleans conference is still in person and it is selling out FAST! You can sign up here and listen to my presentation as well as many other educational leaders presenting their research and best practices on literacy instruction.