Book Review: One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan

parisWhen I was in my early 20’s, I broke up with my high school/college sweetheart and packed up my life for a semester abroad in Paris. I am all about books that take me back to Paris, especially those that are about a newly single woman navigating her new world in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I was so excited when I received the galley for Sarah Morgan’s One Summer in Paris.

Morgan’s novel focuses around two women from different worlds: Grace and Audrey. Grace is an American who was looking forward to celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband whom she books a trip to Paris for. Only, he really surprises her when he tells her that he wants a divorce. Grace packs up her life and her heartbreak for Paris where she finds herself in an apartment of a bookshop. It is here she meets Audrey, a teenage Londoner, who is also working through her own heartbreak. Audrey with her limited French language skills begins to work in the bookstore and forms an unlikely friendship with Grace. Together, the two become their own sort of family.

Inevitably, David, Grace’s husband, decides that he doesn’t want to be with his mistress, Leesa, and wants to reconcile with Grace. This is where the story lost me a little. He is still sleeping with Leesa, but has decided that he rather be with Grace. I felt like he didn’t suffer enough to make up for his crimes and it was here that I was a bit turned off.

Overall, though, this novel is a light summer kind of read that will make you laugh out loud at the scenes between Grace and Audrey. The premise that landed them both there as well as how a small town part time teacher could afford to buy a summer aboard left me guessing, but if you can get past those plot holes, you will definitely enjoy this quick read about heartbreak, female friendship and the power of moving forward in your life even if your heart is broken.

One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan is scheduled for release on April 9, 2019 from Harlequin with ISBN 9781335507549. This review was created after reading an advanced electronic copy of the novel from the publisher.

 

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Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.

My Baby is Turning Me Into a Nut Job

Today my pregnancy app told me that I would probably feel kicks soon and that this may make me feel more attached to my baby.

I’ve been feeling the butterflies from him for a couple weeks now and I saw his little face that looks like a baby already just two weeks ago. We’ve named him and began a room for him, so Ovia, I think attachment comes way before feeling a kick.

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I can trace it back to even first finding out I was pregnant. I hadn’t even been to a doctor yet and my husband pretty much told the world we were pregnant. I remember sitting across from someone and listening them talk about miscarriage and it was even then, before I even saw his little heartbeat or evidence of his little blobby fetal pole– I wanted to claw her eyes out. You want to talk about MY KID er, fetal blob, being miscarried? It’s scary how quick that becomes a new facet to your personality.

The worst so far has been when we shared that we planned to name him Logan. Wooo chiillddd, some of the comments from friends and even family, again made my mom claws begin to bulge. I am amazed with how much commentary people want to give you on things that are about your kid.

I fear when the time comes and I push him out of my body and into the world, because I think then, I am really going to be like full-on mom-clawing. I already cringe at the idea of a smoker even looking at him let alone touching him, I don’t want people other then me or his dad watching him, especially for overnights that will not happen for years. He’ll probably be like 10 before he’s free to have that. I hold my breath when I’m forced to walk by people that are smoking and I distance myself from anyone that even smells like smoke, because, did you know that 3rd hand smoke can heighten the chance of SIDS (and probably fetal death) significantly? Looking back at my 20’s now, I really don’t know how I ever smoked. But the worst for me is,  the idea of someone kissing my kid, after I read an entire article about adults making babies deathly ill from kissing them before vaccines, makes me want to punch anyone that even gets close enough to my kid to remotely even look like their lips may touch his perfect little baby body.

My new level of neurosis has made me begun to question how I am going to go back to work after having Logan. I planned to be back in September as of now, but the more I think about it the more I just want to be home making sure evil smoking kissing people are nowhere near my kid.

It’s definitely begun.

The Kind of Mom I Want to Be

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, especially over the last couple of days about the kind of mother I don’t want to be.

I spent a lot of my dating life looking for my other half and within him, making sure that he was going to be a good father who loved me and his children and most importantly was someone who wanted to be involved in the life we built together. That was always extremely important to me and I know that I had found that in my husband. Phil is with me without being asked to every doctor’s appointment and ultrasound. He only has ever missed one appointment and that was because he had class, but he sat there texting me the entire time and got teary eyed when I played him the video of our baby’s heart beat.

Now, I want to make sure that I am the kind of mother that I want my children to have. I think most importantly is that I don’t want to be the kind of mother that manipulates and plays games with her children. I don’t want my love to come with contingencies. I also want to be present in my children’s life and I want them to always know that they could come to me with anything and not have to go through their lives alone. That’s the biggest one for me, I think, because I have always felt I was going through life alone which I think made me the sort of driven person that I am, but at the same time it would have been nice to feel like I had that kind of support where I could have gone to someone without judgement and contingencies had I really needed to, especially with the big stuff.

I have also become really fixated on the idea of buying a new house and selling our townhouse. I would like to find something that is our forever house and becomes something that we can eventually hand down to our kids. I always have liked the idea of a house that is shared among generations of the same family. I guess I can no longer deny how much of an old soul I really am…oops.

Anyway, as I stress over all of this like I do with anything in my life, my husband looked at me as I was hand painting the name plate that we picked out and out together in AC Moore for our son, and told me that I was the most loving person he had ever met and how many people would sit there knitting baby blankets and hand painting name plates for a baby that wasn’t even born yet? Not many, I guess. He reminded me that if I love our kids and am present for our kids, our kids are most likely not only going to be okay and successful in their lives, but also will love me back just as much and have solid relationships with me. I mean, I know they will be total monsters during their teen years, but once the hormones of adolescence calm down and they become normal people again, I would love very much to be close to all of my kids.

I’d like to be the kind of mom that makes her kids Halloween costumes and birthday cakes. Whose kids have memories of baking cookies every Christmas and watching A Christmas Story on repeat. And when life got hard or uncertain that they had a mom (and dad) that they went to and who made things better for them.

And it all starts this summer with our first born, Logan Philip. I’m slowly getting ready for you, my little love. I am in love with your name and am relieved that your dad and I finally agreed upon a name and it’s a really good name too:

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The Week That Was: Oh Baby & Doctoral Comps

My week started off with a trip to the ultrasound place. We both were looking forward to it for a week because we would have gotten the envelope that had the sex of our baby in it.

Only, baby had other plans. The moment that she put the wand on to my stomach, we looked up and saw that our baby is very much, in fact, a boy. Phil’s heart had been set on a gender reveal party next weekend, but after that, we pretty much called and told everyone our news.

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I knew he was a boy from the moment I found out that I was pregnant. Sometime in my late teens/early 20’s I had a dream that I was in a room with all of these babies. They all looked too small to even walk, so I was shocked to see them running around. I followed them up a flight of stairs until one fell backward and into my arms. I was amazed by how beautiful he was with his soft blond hair and huge blue eyes. A voice from behind me told me that his name was Dylan and that he “wasn’t ready for me yet.” Then I woke up.

I knew I had met my future son, and I knew eventually he would be ready for me. I just knew that this was him when my 5 pregnancy tests all turned positive. Only, Dylan never really fit him and for the longest time, I wanted to name my son John Dylan, John for my grandfather and Dylan for the dream. Phil is on this Phil the third thing, but I really feel that it’s too much to put on a kid and kids need their own names and their own identities.

We’ve been kicking around John Philip which I really love because it honors both grandfathers who are no longer with us and it gives our son his own identity. We have time to decide, but I’m really rooting for the latter choice. I was very close to my grandfather when he was alive and I know that I was his favorite. I took his death really hard in high school and in a lot of ways, I think losing him really put me on the path I took as an adult. He would be nearly 100 years old today. I wonder what he would think of all of this and how he must be up there smiling thinking about becoming a great-grandfather.

I thought this was going to be my big news for the week, but it seems that life also had other plans. Yesterday as I checked my phone for the time, I saw a gmail notification from my university. I didn’t breath the entire time the e-mail loaded. Coming in a whole FIVE DAYS before I was supposed to receive my results, it was the email containing my pass/fail notice on my doctoral comprehensive exam.

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And…I PASSED!!! I am officially a doctoral candidate and am now only waiting for my university to assign my doctoral mentor and committee before I plunge into dissertation. If I follow my plan, I will be done in a year and a half. I really can’t wait. I even hope I get there sooner because I am ready to be done and moving on with my life and career.

Pretty crazy week, eh?

The End of Doctoral Comps?

I am 15 weeks pregnant.

And I just submitted my doctoral comprehensive exam.

All 50 pages of its 13,000-word glory which I wrote when I spent much of the writing period in bed battling the worst flu I think I have ever had.

Getting sick when you’re pregnant is kind of one of those sick jokes. You can’t really take anything, other then Sudafed (does nothing) and Tylenol (never does anything, but when you can only take ONE pill, it REALLY does nothing).

Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and straight up brain fried.

I won’t know for another 10 days if I passed. My university will forward my exam to 3 faculty readers and they will each score it. I will need to have at least 2 of the readers mark each criterion as proficient or distinguished in order for me to be passed and fully moved into dissertation with a mentor.

I thought I would be biting my nails raw, but I think I’m just going to enjoy those 10 days where I won’t have to be writing or researching…or worrying. I have some for fun books that I want to get through, even though I definitely did not make my 100 book challenge. And, I’d like to shop for my baby.

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The Secret to Success as an Urban Educator

I saw a status from someone who began teaching around the time that I was deciding to commit to teaching myself. She wrote that her former students were shocked that she had had a baby and that just because she has high expectations and wasn’t a “nice” teacher doesn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person in life.

Seeing that, just dumbfounded me. Particularly because we both teach in inner cities and teach special education populations, her more so than me as I am not a special education teacher, but for the majority of my years in the inner city, I had volunteered to be the general education teacher in inclusive classrooms for my grade level.

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And there is a side to teaching wherein if you want to be successful, meaning you help students achieve academically in your subject area, then you have to have high expectations, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love your kids as well or that you have to be “a not nice teacher” to communicate those expectations. With city kids, that means being consistent in your judgement, consistent in your love and your criticism as well as being flexible and truly listening to what these kids have to say.

The majority of the students I have taught remain in contact with me, updating me on their lives and their dreams. They visit sometimes and when they do, it’s always with big hugs and excitement. That is how I know I am successful in what I do. Sure, I have years of data that back me and show my administrators that I am successful in teaching kids how to read and bringing them towards career and college readiness, but that’s not all there is to teaching.

I remember the first time a student called me mom. Continually. Later, when I asked them why I had become their mom I was told it was because they knew that I was there for them, even when they were acting a fool. They knew that they could come to me with anything and I would do my best for them. That was when I knew that I was on the path of becoming the kind of teacher I knew that urban kids needed.

Urban kids are different from your suburban kids that come from nice homes, with semi-intact families and better financial support systems. Urban kids are often starting school well below their suburban counter parts because of the environments they are raised in, they often have parents or grandparents working multiple jobs meaning they’re home alone more times than not or in state-funded daycare. Urban kids are also semi street smart, because really, kids are also kids in any environment and come into school with an attitude more times than not because they feel like they don’t fit.

However, if you hold these kids to a high expectation of achievement as well as give them them the empathy and love that so many just need, then you are not only going to have success in their academics, but you’re also going to have success in helping to raise a better future in that, your love and acceptance may be what sets that kid up for an entirely different path in life.

Within urban education, I firmly believe all students need it. Some more than others, specifically kids with difficult home lives and worse yet, the kids that have spent their lives in and out of the system. If you pursue your teaching career in an inner city district, you have to become an educator with clear expectations as well as someone who will become another mother or father towards the kids that you are working to educate.

And I carry that belief with me in everything I do. For instance, the college class I am teaching this summer is at the city campus. It took me less than 5 minutes to e-mail the students who missed the first class to just remind them that class was today. Within 30 minutes, I even had one show up late to class.

Sometimes, you just have to be that person for other people. If you want to be a successful teacher, you need to remember that you have chosen a profession where you are in service to others.

Away We Go: Where Life Puts You Down

There’s this Ben Okri quote in The Famished Road, a really great book that I read from the optional reading list when I took Art of West Africa as an undergraduate student at Rutgers. It say, “This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down.” As a clueless 20-something at the time, I appreciated the sentiment, but it has only been recently that I have really gotten it.

For most of my life, I had a plan for myself and though it changed and diverted in places I am reaching the end stages of that early adult life plan: become a teacher who writes books and travel, get married to someone you love with your whole heart, and finish your PhD. Of course, at the time I thought it would be a PhD in art history and that I would be an art history professor, but the way it has turned out has made me happier than I would have been had I followed the original path. Life had other plans and I grew into them because it’s where I was put down.

 

Again the tides are starting to change and with them, I am beginning to feel the feelings that signal change and uncertainty. In 2015, I took a huge leap of faith and commitment. I left my apartment in Bordentown and bought a house at the Jersey shore where I would move to with my boyfriend. I have never lived with a boyfriend and really never thought I would, but that’s the path life was taking me and instead of second guessing everything like I always do, I went with it and in doing so, I made one of the best decisions of my life: I began my own family with the man of my dreams and in 5 months, we’re going to be husband and wife.

Which has led us to a whole new set of adventures and life questions. After this year, we’ll be married and God willing, my PhD will be completed which means I will begin to look for administration positions as well as full-time university positions. We’ve begun to discuss many things, but the biggest one is: How committed are we to a life in New Jersey? And, where do we want to live?

We’ve outgrown our tiny seaside house with just us and the tiny zoo. Both of our dogs are full grown now and they would be so much happier with a lot of space to run around in. With the concern over honeymooning in Ireland, which, I think is also fed into by when we were in France/England in 2014 and were existing via Calais to Dover to Heathrow and they put the terror alert to red as we walked through lines of migrants, riot police and a crazy airport, it was all very unnerving. The world has only gotten crazier. With all the talk of what to do for a honeymoon and what our plan is for the next steps in our lives, I started to suggest maybe a road trip? What if we just drove around to all the states we always wanted to see and experienced them for a little bit? We could be like John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go, and maybe figure out the next place that we want to venture to or at least try to, before life puts us down again.

Let’s Skip the Honeymoon

Is a honeymoon mandatory? I would think not, but as I began to plan my wedding, I realized how quickly people were willing to give you both solicited, but really mainly their unsolicited advice and opinions on what you should do on your day.

We had been dating for 2 1/2 years when Phil had asked me to marry him. We had talked about marriage often and about starting a family as well as all of the other things we wanted in life. We had done so probably since the third or fourth month of dating. My mom always told me that when you meet the right person, it was all going to happen quick and effortless. Looking back, I would have to say my mom was pretty right about that.

Within a few days we already knew what date we wanted to be married on and where. Planning started quickly and by spring of this year, our wedding was pretty much together. We just had to pay for everything. We wanted to honeymoon in Ireland.

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I have always wanted to go there and Phil, being the gigantic fantasy nerd that he is was all for the castles and the history. It’s really the perfect spot. However 2017 is turning out to not be a very kind year politically and I really feel like the world is spiraling out of control. I am almost scared to bring kids into this world, because I do not think that it’s going to get better any time soon and for it to get better, it’s definitely going to get much worse.

Suffice it to say, we will not be going to Ireland on our honeymoon. After this latest attack in Manchester, I believe that Europe and us will be separated for some time which is a hard realization to reach since I love Europe and could spend so much time there happily.

We kicked around cruises, Hawaii and even weekend trips like Maine. However, as cool as Hawaii and Maine sounds, it wasn’t Ireland. And cruises? I never understood them. You spend days just hanging on this boat spending money and only a few days in the place that you’re sailing to. It’s been a big discussion.

Until today when Phil texted me and said, “Wanna just spend the days together after getting married and not do anything but relax and be married?”

I couldn’t type yes fast enough. This year has been one of big changes and working really hard to pay this wedding in full and in cash.

After this marathon we’ve been on since Christmas, there’s nothing I’d like more than to just be home, and be married with my husband and our tiny zoo.