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.

Book Review: Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell

I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Cordell’s first novel, Contempt, earlier this year. I was excited to receive this new galley not only because I had enjoyed his earlier book, but also because it was a paranormal thriller and it’s just the perfect time of year for that kind of read.

Cordell spends the first couple of chapters setting up the premise of his book. There are two brothers: Matthew and Jake. They share a special psychic connection even though Matthew had chosen to leave Nebraska and make a life for himself in New York, but has found it to be a dismal existence in recent years with dead-end jobs that cause him to struggle. The bond isn’t severed despite their distance and seems to become heightened when Jake dies, alerting Matthew that his brother is dead and has to come home in order to face his past and the mess that his brother has left behind.

While Matthew had been struggling in New York, Jake had been choosing a difficult life that came with very powerful enemies. Once Matthew returns home, he really begins to come into his own and is determined to right the wrongs of his brother while trying to solve his murder. He also wants to make a mends with his mother and Casey, the girl he left behind all those years ago. It also becomes quite clear the further Matthew delves into the mess his brother left, that his brother is in fact his real life evil twin who is paying for his life of pain in an even more hellish afterlife…and no matter how hard he tries to distance himself from their connection, it only seems to come back stronger leaving you with an unsettling, anxious feeling through out this thriller.

As the story unfolds and the action amps up, Cordell makes for many well-written, uber creepy scenes that show the dark side of humanity even in the most pious of people– the confession made by the Catholic priest made my jaw drop. Overall, it is a interesting take on the supernaturalness of sibling bonds, especially twin bonds, and the power of forgiveness and redemption. I finished the book with a few days and had I not had kids that do not allow for much free time, I probably could have finished this in a night that is how invested I was in the novel from the very beginning. It was a creative take on old themes and I enjoyed it.

Book Information

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell was released on October 15, 2021 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 978-1631611537. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│And We’re Back…

I think it was Stephen King who either wrote about or talked about the importance of having your desk where the life of your house is. During virtual teaching last year, I shoved my desk in our spare room because all I could think about was having the ability to close a door and keep my loud kids out when I was working.

Only now, we are back in school and my desk has sat unused since I went on leave in May. Funny, how that works. I took a break from everything this summer and I am glad I did. I focused on my kids and my husband, having time together as a family enjoying those fluid summer days, staying up late, watching movies, getting ice cream and going on adventures. We even took the kids to Pennsylvania this summer to go camping. We made memories and that is exactly what I wanted to do.

Now, I am back at work in my physical classroom and I find myself struggling when it comes to using that office space for what I need it to be for. I am writing a new book that I am so excited about. I think this one will be one of the best ones I have written to date and I just want to edit it and publish it. However, I struggle to find the time to get up to that desk after working all day and then immediately coming home and wanting that time with my boys.

I told my husband I think it’s time I moved my stuff to the “adult living room.” We have two living spaces. Our “adult living room” is our main floor living space and we did not put a TV in there. It is a place where we play board games, sit around our fireplace with cocktails (sometimes) and read. Our kids are always in there which is funny because in our family room, we put all of their toys and the TV, but they too favor our adult room.

In my mind, I know moving down there will allow my kids to get into everything of mine I don’t want them to, but I am also hoping by doing so I will be able to finally finish writing this and get my work out there again. It has been five years since I published a novel and most of that time I was spending on growing our family and finishing my doctorate so I don’t really view it as “lost time,” but I do view the time as now if I want to get back into my own dreams for my life.

Book Review │Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop

“Fourteen-year-old Peter Green woke up knowing only three things: the proper way to put on a tie, that lemon custard was disgusting, and that he was dead.”

Peter has died and he has no memory of it or his life before his untimely death. He has found himself with a ticket to a special school of dead orphans just like himself: Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls. There he finds many kids just like him– dead and forgetful of their life before. Now, as supernatural beings, all of the children are figuring our what their powers are as is Peter, but Peter can not seem to shake the feeling of having forgotten something extremely important. Is is someone that he loved? Is it someone who was important to him in life? Or, is it something more sinister…like someone that he has forgotten is in serious danger?

The students at Mrs. Battiworth’s won’t be allowed to have their memories back until the graduate, however. Peter’s adventure unfolds with magical creatures, teachers who are snakes and enchanted objects like the chalk…that BITES!Together with his unique group of friends, Pete is off for an adventure through his life in purgatory or is it his death? Either way, this novel is full of magic and adventure.

Even though Pete is 14 years old at his death, the character reads as several years younger than that. The novel does not explore big coming-of-age things or even romance that older middle and younger high schoolers tend to gravitate towards, but rather, it focuses on the friendships and the experiences that Pete and his friends undertake in the afterlife. Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is best suited for early middle school to upper elementary, in this teacher’s opinion.

Be prepared for a large cast of characters and a lot of action throughout the novel. Even the slow parts weren’t all that slow and this made for a nice Friday night read.

Book Information

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop was released on November 18, 2018 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610643. This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Lights of Sugarberry Cove

As a teacher who has survived virtual school and as a real estate professional who navigated her own buy/sell in this crazy housing market, I can safely say I am tired. I am looking forward to a simple summer with my kids and a very long break from teaching. I am also looking forward to those summery, fun reads that take you to new places that have that coziness to them.

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove takes us to Alabama and to Sugarberry Cove, a lakefront community that holds a yearly lantern festival. It is a lush and magical backdrop of the story that unfolds for us. Sadie Way Scott, a content creator, almost drowned in the lake years ago and has avoided coming home since, but circumstances push her back to Sugarberry Cove. She has spent the last eight years running from her accident and searching for meaning in her life.

It is a stark contrast from her sister, Leala Clare, who is married to her workaholic husband and a mom to her toddler-son, Tucker. She is the antithesis of her own mother, being a stay-at-home mom to her young son who may even slightly air on the side of over protective. She is questioning her own life choices as she finds herself unfilled and unhappy in her marriage.

Susannah Scott, their mother, is the over of the bed and breakfast where Leala almost drowned years ago. She has put her business before her own daughters constantly and it has caused a divide among the women because of it. However, Susannah has also had a recent heart attack which has left her reviewing her own life and perhaps pushing her to a life lesson: the importance of family over business.

All three women are questioning their life choices and what they want to do to move forward as they face the reality of lost dreams, bitterness among family and the burn of old love. This steamy story is set in a cozy, summer spot that grabs you from the moment you start the book. Just picture a southern lake, the mysterious magic of a humid southern summer and a lantern festival where Lady Laurel of the Lake will grant your wishes if you believe.

Step into the shimmering magic of Sugarberry Cove with Heather Webber’s latest novel.

Book Information

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove by Heather Webber will be released on July 20, 2021 from Macmilian/Tor: The Forge Imprint with ISBN 9781250774620. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Although a fictional recreation, Miss Austen gives us an explanation as to a question that have puzzled Austen academics for years: why did her younger sister burn all of her letters after her death?

Hornby creates for us a believable adventure that centers around these letters and the life of Jane’s sister, Cassandra. We are taken through the years before and after Jane’s death as Cassandra settles into a life of routine in a rural English cottage. She goes on to visit a family member at a vicarage that is about to be cleared out for its new occupant. The mother of the vicarage has in her possession letters that were written between Jane and Cassandra and they are ones that she prefer not to give to the world.

Cassandra takes possession of the letters and begins to read them as she is drawn back in time to the events and emotions that are present in the letters. Hornby beautifully weaves together the fictional retelling of the letters with events and the loves of both of the Austen girls. While the plot is not outlandish and over the top, Horny has a talent for creating realism in her historical fiction that lifts the family of Austen off of the page, endearing them to the reader.

This was a charming take to read that made for an intriguing take on the famous Austen letters and a plausible reason as to why Cassandra chose to destroy them rather than allow the world to have them. Any Austen fan will love to curl up with this well-written novel as they daydream about bonnets, pinafores and endless English county sides.

Book Information

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby was released on April 7, 2020 from Flatiron Books with ISBN 978-1250252203. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home │It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…It Was the Stove-less Times

We went through the ringer in getting into our forever home during the insanity of this pandemic and for that, I say a prayer to God every night because it really was through divine intervention that everything fell into place and we got our house. We had crazy buyers for our beach house that just caused all kinds of drama and delays on top of everyone else being so overwhelmed in this market in trying to get our own new house to closing, that by the end I was surprised that I hadn’t drank more wine during the entire ordeal.

Ultimately, we closed on the sale of our house by the ocean on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and moved into our forever house on Black Friday and rented it until we closed the following Tuesday. The house needed work. I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near our beach house when we bought it– no heat or hot water, brown walls everywhere, dirty, gross– on and on I could go about that place, but our new house needs love more than total rehab like our first house did– it needs to be decorated, painted and updated. Unlike our little house by the ocean, I am taking my time with our forever house and picking things I really like and working hard not to take on debt while I do it. In this pandemic life, I fear debt because I saw how quickly our income was impacted by all of this. I lost out on some and my husband lost his job completely. It definitely was an eye-opener on how quickly life could change last March. I started with the kitchen because there were renters in here for awhile and renters don’t clean and care for a house the way an owner would, so I made sure we got a new microwave and refrigerator to start.

Then, on Christmas Day, as I was cooking my family our small feast, the stove decided that it too was ready to be replaced. It takes twice as long to cook anything in the oven and we are down to one burner that too does not heat up completely after the knobs starting popping off in my hand. Since it was a rather cheap electric stove, we have been pretty beat as we waited to get money together to buy a new one and then wait forever for it to be delivered.

This will be my last appliance that I ever buy from Home Depot. Our fridge delivery was stressful, the microwave had to be delivered twice and the guy that put in the one that stayed broke our cabinet. We had a plumber come out to tell us how it would be over $4,000 TO START, to pipe gas into our kitchen. We already have it in the house and I was floored by that because, I was thinking maybe $600? He gave us this elaborate story about how there is not ENOUGH gas to power all of our stuff and then the stove so they would have to re-do it with larger piping, but since we live in the Pine Barrens with very sandy soil, digging could start and then re-start as the trenches gave in. It was very believable.

So, I ordered an electric stove and was really bummed out about it. I love cooking and I love to bake so an electric stove just sucks, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford thousands of dollars to redo gas piping plus lose all of our landscaping only to eventually replace that as well. Home Depot then pushes our delivery out for another three weeks. In the middle of the wait, I was telling one of our friends about our gas saga and he’s looking at me like, that guy was just trying to swindle you out of a lot of money because none of this makes sense and he clearly saw you as a woman who just bought a new house and would go for it. Which annoyed me greatly because he seemed very trustworthy and we had already been through it with moving companies trying to get us to pay thousands of dollars to move, because they all were trying to make money on this crazy housing market too. Can’t anyone just be honest anymore?

He looks at it. We don’t need to re-pipe a gas line and surprise! There was already gas to the kitchen, but it was nubbed off because they moved the stove to the other wall. Awesome. Easy fix! I cancel the electric stove and order the gas stove that I had really wanted. Only that too took two weeks to get my money back for before I could get my order through on the gas stove because “it needed to be sent back to the warehouse.” In the age of Amazon Prime when things are delivered in hours if you order it at the right time, where the hell is that warehouse that it will take that long to get back to? I digress…

We are now 3 months out from the start of all of this. I had to get up an hour early today, excited for the delivery of my new stove. I was working and waiting for the arrival of it between 7AM and 11AM, checking every so often to see where I was in line. It started off with only three ahead of me, then we got to two and we stopped moving. At 11:15, I called to check and was told they were still coming but delayed. 11:30 they call me and tell me some BS story about the truck breaking down which by that point had to be hours ago, so glad I was kept up and waiting around for a stove for four and a half hours. They can’t deliver it until next week.

So somewhere in this fine state, my stove was jostled around to be put on a truck. Left on a broken down truck. Jostled around back to a warehouse to only be pulled out again next week. To add to my petty frustrations, our couches did not fit in our family room so I had to buy a new set. We have not been able to watch TV since we moved in because we have no place to sit other than kid chairs and we did do that on NYE with the kids because we wanted to watch the ball drop on the weirdest ball drop ever. I ordered a set back in December. When are they coming? Mid-April, because there is a furniture shortage.

I am tired, couch-less and stove-less. In the grand scheme of everything we all have lived through, it is also a petty inconvenience, but compiled with everything this year brought from a pregnancy that my husband was shut out of midway through because he couldn’t come to appointments anymore, to laboring in a hospital with a dumb nurse that was more worried about a mask than me, to selling and buying and having people trying to rip you off as you go…it’s just been enough big and petty stuff to last me years.

I don’t know about you all, but I am tired and I would just like to cook a meal for my family in a timely manner on multiple burners while they get to watch TV in our family room on comfortable couches.

Don’t mind me…today, I am just frustrated with petty inconveniences and needed to vent. This year has been hard and we have survived it, but I just miss life when it was easier to get things done and didn’t require masks, and wait times and so much red tape for something as simple as buying a couch or a stove.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Book Review│The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby

This is the 11th book in Crosby’s Wine Country Mystery Series…and my oh my, does this one have it all!

Lucie Montgomery runs the vineyard that we have fallen in love with throughout this series. She is still engaged to Quinn and in this segment, both of her siblings have returned home for the season. Mia takes the front seat in this installment when she becomes suspected of murdering a man found in the Vineyard after he had trashed a local gardener’s methods. Her grandfather is due back to celebrate Cricket’s 90th birthday and with his arrival, the past and present begin to collide.

This all swirls around the intrigue that has been created around a very famous Jackie…that’s right! Let’s say for a minute, that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had had a lover before she met JFK and when she had that secret lover, someone had kept a few journals about the affair and now someone had their hands on it! All of this had been set into motion because Jackie, while study abroad years ago and having a fling, also bought small portraits of Marie Antoinette by a little-known 18th century female artist and those paintings were now going to be sold. Then, when Lucie’s grandfather visits from France, he confirms his knowledge of the journal and is also holding onto a huge secret of his own, casting this cozy mystery into the fringes of this sub-genre. A mix of the lore of Camelot and powerful, rich people with secrets that are capable of undoing generations if all goes to plan…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eager to pick up the ones that have come before it in this series. This was great as a standalone novel as I had no prior knowledge of the series, but it also made me want to go back and delve into the earlier books. This was a great read on a weekend when I wanted an escape into a world of wine, intrigue and people with a lot of money and too many problems. If you are a fan of the Agatha Raisin series on Acorn TV, you will love this book.

Book Information

The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby will be released on April 6, 2021 from Severn House with ISBN 9780727891013. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│I Wrote This 13 Years Ago Today

Facebook reminded me of this private note that I wrote myself 13 years ago today. It was my senior year of college. I was accepted into several graduate programs, one that was going to take me abroad for two years. My high school/college boyfriend of 5 years and I had broken up for the last time, it was such a period if change and coming into my own. I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I had gone, but then I look at my two little boys and my husband and realize my life is really good so how can I ever think about changing it? This reminded me though of that after college life and that promise of all things new and exciting:

***

“Graduate School”

I think back to my Sotheby’s interview (still nothing from them or Christie’s) and I remember walking through the streets of New York and feeling like this was going to become my world be it at Sotheby’s or elsewhere. I just felt it all fitting and making sense to me for the first time since I was at the Louvre in a tiny room with a cute curator who asked me what I wanted from life and art.

I never dreamed then that a year later I would be preparing to move to Paris. After all, I was the girl who loathed French class after freshman year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted nothing to do with it until I found art history and got accepted into Gopin’s class for the summer. It was like finding an old lover that knew me better then anything else I have dared to reach for in my lifetime.

It knew me. It knew me from the moment I stepped off my hellish flight from London and now I’m going back to be a EuroLush for two more years. I can only wonder what this is going to bring me. Will I fall in love? Will I meet the man I’m supposed to marry? Will I meet a best friend? Will I want to live there for the rest of my life? Will I be offered a position at the Wallace Collection or some other swanky auction house? Will I find where my soul lies?

I’m swaggering on the promise of a life about to be reborn away from anyone I have ever dared to love and it does upset me, but at the same time it brings with it such a sweet and lasting freedom. I have always lived in the past, afraid of letting go of old relationships and memories, but I feel as though that fear is slipping away and I am becoming the woman I always dared to be.

And I am doing this in Paris, London, Florence, and Brussels. I am living. I am living more so than I ever thought that I would.

View from my flat in Paris. Summer 2007.