Little Paris Bookshop: The Power of Books

It has been awhile since I have had a book club selection post, in case you are new, From Left to Write does not have traditional book reviews. We read books and then we use the book as inspiration to write a post. We might take a theme from the book or even talk about a memory that the book pulled out for us. In any case, these are not your typical reviews, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them!

Disclosure: This post was inspired by the novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, where Monsieur Perdu–a literary apothecary–finally searches for the woman who left him many years ago.. Join From Left to Write on October 8th as we discuss The Little Paris Bookshop. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. {I actually received my copy of this book from NetGalley over the summer, but because of B2’s birth it took me this long to read it, so it was great timing that this was the From Left to Write book club selection for September}

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While I struggled a bit with the length of the book, what I didn’t struggle with was the underlying message. Books have the power to pull us in and help us heal, they can help us through a dark spot or even a bright one and give us a new a fresh perspective.

I remember the first time a book helped me heal. When I was in 6th grade one of my very close friends passed away suddenly. He wasn’t sick, it wasn’t expected, it was incredibly hard on our entire grade, over 20 years later I can still remember how hard the wake was, how a classmate fainted at the funeral. Kids have a hard time dealing with the everyday stuff that goes along with being a pre-teen, adding a death into that mix was something that none of us was prepared for.

I was always a voracious reader, piles of books littered my room, but after the death of my friend I struggled with the happy books I usually read. After a visit to the library and book store I found the book “Say Goodnight, Gracie“. The book was very similar to what I was going through, it helped me process my feelings.

Eleven years later my best friend passed away, again in a tragic accident, he wasn’t sick, it wasn’t expected. He was one of the brightest people I had ever known. I don’t mean in a smart way, although he certainly was very smart. I mean bright in the fact that he always lit up the room he was in, he could make you laugh when you were in the most terrible mood. He even predicted that I would end up with Nick, long before we even started dating.


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Since I transferred to the college that we went too, I ended up taking 4 years to graduate, because a lot of my credits didn’t transfer. 95% of my close friends had graduated and moved an hour away to Boston. I felt pretty isolated, no one that was still in the city with me really or truly understood what I was going through. Again, I turned to books (and food – but that is a post for another day). The one book I read over and over again was “Say Goodnight, Gracie”. This time I related very strongly with the main character, and to this day I still miss Jack very much. I missed him at my wedding, and I wonder who his wife would be, if our kids would be best friends?

I’ve read books since his death that have struck a chord with me, and related to the friendship that we had. While books don’t take your pain away, the help you heal in a way that maybe wouldn’t happen otherwise. I will always be thankful for books that have helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life.

What books have helped you through a tough time?

The Mapmaker’s Children: Small Town Living

This post was inspired by The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy, a novel about two women are connected by an Underground Railroad doll. Join From Left to Write on May 19th as we discuss The Mapmaker’s Children. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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There are very few books that I’ve read for the book club that I haven’t liked, but this book stands out as one of my favorites! I love how the book weaves bits and pieces of history with two fictional storylines, it makes you believe that the whole novel could have happened.

I also feel like I could have taken this non-traditional review in a myriad of directions, but I feel like I’ve talked about a few of them a lot (miscarriage) or recently (teaching history).  It would be easy for me to take one of those topics, so let’s go with something that I haven’t really talked about. Small Town Living vs. Suburban Life.

I grew up in a very small town, so small that my high school was made up of at least eight different towns and our graduating class was still in the 200’s.

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As soon as I graduated high school I went to a small private college in northern Vermont, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I ended up at a college in Worcester, MA, maybe not the best city, but it was certainly more entertaining than anywhere in Vermont. After graduation Nick and I ended up in Somerville, MA, just outside Boston. Even though we moved around a bit in that area, we eventually ended up in a suburb 15 minutes north of the city.

I don’t have any qualms with small town living, there are tons of perks. I never needed to lock my car doors, I didn’t think twice about working third shift at a convenience store (although maybe that was a bit naive), and I was pretty trusting of the majority of people. BUT everyone knew your shit, and I mean everyone. Nothing was a private matter, and people would gossip endlessly.

Obviously, suburban or city life can be a bit more intimidating. The closer you are to an urban area the more likely there is for dangerous things to happen near your home or town. I believe you can find pockets of  communities that mimic small town life. Neighborhoods with lots of kids, school communities, etc… I also find that people aren’t always poking in your private business and spreading that gossip around, at least that’s been my experience.

I don’t hate small town life, it molded me into part of the person I am, I do know that I could never go back to that type of living.

Are you a small town lifer or do you prefer to be near an urban center?

Spinster: Women Supporting Women

This post was inspired by Spinster by Kate Bolick, who explores singledom with famous women who fashioned life on their own terms. Join From Left to Write on May 5th as we discuss Spinster. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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From Left to Write is one of the best things I have ever found via blogging. It has opened many a door (erm or maybe a book) for me, but I have to fully admit with the end of B1’s first year in school, a pregnancy that has been rougher on me than I expected, and a tight turn around on three books for the book club, I just haven’t been able to finish the last one or this one. I know my posting has been sporadic at best, and I have no expectation that it will get better once B2 is here, but I am going to make an effort to write quality content when I can, thank you for sticking with me.

Now, back to the book post!

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t really relate to the “spinster” title. Nick and I have been together since we were 20 and we’ve been married for most of that time. What I can relate to with this book is that women are expected to do certain “life moments” in a particular order, and they get questioned all the time, while men don’t.

Over time the mentality of society has changed, you don’t necessarily need to get married right out of college, and then have kids after that. There is much more acceptance for the woman who wants to travel and not settle down. Or the women who wants to focus on her career instead of having a family. While you will probably still have that relative that will ask you at the family get-together what you are doing with your life and when you are going to get married or have babies, etc… the general acceptance in society is there.

I have found however, at least in the north-east, that the woman who decides that she does in fact want to get married young and have babies young is judged. It’s as if she (or I) is being judged for not helping other women break ground in changing the ways society view women and what their roles should or shouldn’t be.

For me, I have friends that have married young, have had babies young, friends that never want to get married, friends that don’t want to have children, friends that want to travel the world before the settle down, friends that want to travel with their partner, friends that want to travel with their kids, etc…

This life would be pretty boring if we were all the same, I hope that someday women can just find it in their hearts to support the woman standing next to them, whether or not their lifestyle is one they would want.

Under Magnolia: Home Is What You Make It

This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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If I am being honest, I am having a hard time getting through this book, and I haven’t finished it yet. I haven’t read anything else she has written, but I love reading memoirs so I had high hopes.

I think one of the themes that I kept circling back to when I was thinking about what I was going to write about was the idea of “Home”.

I’ve only lived in a few places, but for many years, I never felt like I was “home”. Life was chaotic to say the least, then of course came college. I don’t know that anyone feels at home when they are in college. Moving from dorms, to a sorority house, to apartments, I never really felt settled in one place.

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After graduation, Nick was in a lease, and I ended up squeezing in his apartment for one extremely cramped and again chaotic month. Finally, Nick and I had our own place, but it wasn’t really ours, we were renters. Finally, we bought our condo. Along came B1, and we very quickly outgrew that space, and now we have been in our house for almost 3 years. Which is perfect for us and will be perfect when B2 comes along.

I’ve started to realize though, it’s not the physical home that makes it a home. It’s the people. That apartment that I crammed in with Nick and his 3 roommates? Not the ideal living space, but it has made for some of the most hilarious memories with some great friends.

Getting ready in that sorority house with my best girlfriends, having talks about life long into the night with those girls have made for lifelong friends.

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That roommate in a college dorm, is someone I will always treasure, and will also be a lifelong friend.

My husband and children, who have made me incredibly happy and proud, the best things to ever happen to me.

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B2 is in this picture too ;)

It’s not the building that makes the home, it’s the people in it.

Dead Wake: Teachable Moments

This post was inspired by Dead Wake by Erik Larson, a thrilling account of Lusitania’s last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the U-boat that attacked it. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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If you aren’t familiar with my From Left to Write book club posts, we don’t write traditional reviews. We read the book and write a review about a topic that the book inspired in us. The third book club selection for March is a historical non-fiction book, I tend to read a lot of these types of books. Prior to B1 coming along I was a history teacher, mostly 8th graders, and I loved it. There is so much to learn and so many ways to make it fun, and this book definitely made me miss it.

I loved this book, Larson was able to weave not just the perspectives of the passengers of The Lusitania, the Captain of The Lusitania, the German U Boat captains, Woodrow Wilson, Room 40, etc… but also heavy historical information and a tragedy that helped bring The United States into World War I without making the book read like a text-book. I will say it wasn’t a short read, but definitely a worthwhile one.

The book was full of moments, where I would shake my head and think this tragedy could have been avoided not just once, but many times. Instead of using these moments and learning from them, the Cunard Line and Winston Churchill tried to blame the The Captain of the Lusitania for the tragedy. They wasted their time trying to pin blame instead of trying to solve the problem that caused the sinking of the Lusitania. Instead of trying to use the information from Room 40 to their advantage the war lasted longer than necessary and many innocent lives were lost.

I don’t want this to turn into a political post, however I feel like the world is still struggling with this. Many problems within countries and country vs. country have happened before and unfortunately could happen again. The teachable moments that we could all learn from, it seems that no one actually learns from.

Do you love learning about history or hate it?

The No More Excuses Diet: Controversy Sells More

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This post was inspired by The No More Excuses Diet by Maria Kang who shares her no excuses philosophy that motivated her to become more fit. Join From Left to Write on March 12th as we discuss The No More Excuses Diet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I remember the first time I saw Maria Kang’s photo on Facebook, posted by friends who are into fitness, posted by moms, posted by those whose careers are in the fitness and health field. If you went on any form of social media, I’m sure you saw the photo, and commentary. People who thought that it was a shaming moms who didn’t have six-pack abs, and those who agreed with her that no excuse is above your health and fitness.

The multiple times I have had to get back into the swing of things, when I first started living a healthy & active life and after my first pregnancy, I have appreciated the no BS attitude any fitness professional has had with me. This is what I need to make myself accountable and to make sure I succeed in whatever it is that I need to do to lose weight or kick the unhealthy habits I was partaking in. Logging my food, including the junk and treats, making a training schedule and following it. Having someone question when I don’t follow through with my plan, writing this blog and showing you all what I have or haven’t done. These are the things that keep me accountable.

However, I don’t believe that no excuses and an all or nothing attitude are beneficial for those who are starting out on the journey to healthy living. I have excuses just like everyone else, and I won’t hide the fact that they are excuses, but I also won’t feel bad for them either.

We don’t have any family nearby, if I want to get a workout in it has to be first thing in the morning, or for now the two times B is in school during the week. If it doesn’t happen then, then it won’t happen, end of story. Some times I wake up 5 times in the night and getting the extra 2 hours of sleep will make me a better mom that day then going to the gym, and sometimes it is the opposite. Nick’s disability also adds a layer of difficulty to things, not a complaint, but something I need to acknowledge. Leaving a 4-year-old and an infant with him alone just won’t be happening for a while, not an excuse, that is LIFE. Can I go for walks and try to get at-home workouts in? Of course. Will it be the same as getting my butt handed to me in a sweat-drenching workout at a local studio? No, and I don’t expect it to.

Maria Kang knew exactly what she was doing when she posted that photo, she stirred up controversy in the mom and fitness world. Controversy sells, hard work and honesty? Not so much. I am not saying that she hasn’t worked hard, she has. Her book is proof of that, and it is definitely tool I will be utilizing post-baby. Would she have gotten a book deal if she hadn’t posted that controversial photo? I don’t believe so. It reminds me of the saying “any PR is good PR”. The photo was posted, there was a ton of conversation regarding it, both good and bad. Then she received a book deal and her business picked up even more.

I think Maria Kang has a great approach to fitness and healthy living, she doesn’t belive in the all or nothing diet, fad diets,etc… she has a natural approach to dealing with treats and indulgences. Not something the average person would get from her initial photo.

What do you think? Does a controversial spark sell more than straightforward honesty?

The Matheny Manifesto: How Parents are Ruining Youth Sports

This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children’s team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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I know that my title seems a bit harsh, but I think it is 100% true. I am not saying that ALL parents are ruining youth sports, but I think a large amount of parents are doing more harm than good when it comes to youth sports.

“That set the tone for hockey. Every game we went to, parents were yelling. They yelled at their own kids. They yelled at the other team. They yelled at the coaches. They yelled at the referees. I wanted nothing to do with all of that.”

-The Matheny Manifesto

Nick and I used to always joke around (prior to having children) that if our children played organized sports that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend any games because I have a short temper and a loud mouth.  Now that we have one child and another on the way my opinions have vastly changed. Part of my opinions had changed because of how I felt about being a parent, but there is a part of my mind that has been changed because of this book.

Growing up I played soccer in the fall, spring, and summer. Practices were attended by parents, but the basically associated with each other, and weren’t scrutinizing the coaches. During games they would cheer, but I don’t remember much booing or yelling. Now, our soccer team wasn’t exactly state competition level, but my sister was on the Field Hockey team that won states year after year, in fact they won all 4 years that I was in high school. I wasn’t at the practices, but I went to a fair amount of home games and I remember cheering and encouragement from parents, but again, not really a lot of yelling.

In between being in youth and teen sports and becoming a parent I feel like SO MUCH has changed. I have witnessed parents screaming and yelling at other parents, players, umps, refs, etc… at games AND practices. What’s just as bad is the parent who singles out their child shouting words of encouragement during a game or practice. These types of behaviors make the child feel incredible amounts of pressure to perform and succeed, and if they don’t…I can’t imagine how they would feel, probably like they let down not only the coach and the team but their parent(s) as well.

I think there are other factors at play as well, and Matheny talks about these in length in his book, one of the major ones is parents going behind the childs back and asking the coach “why isn’t my child playing this position?”, “why isn’t my child a starter?”, “why doesn’t my child get as much playing time as x,y, and z?” “my son/daughter is the best, why do you let the other kids hit so much?”, you get the idea. If we want our kids to respect coaches and figures of authority then as parents we also need to do that. Our actions speak much louder than our words, and frankly I would be mortified if I found out my parents spoke to my coach like that behind my back.

Another factor is trying to make your child a one sport superstar when they are very young. I have always said I would let my child do what ever they want to do, and if they didn’t like it then they would finish out the season, out of respect to their teammates, but they don’t have to go back to the sport or activity. On the flip side, parents see that their child is excelling at one activity and they push them to become better, even to the point of burn out. A lot of professional athletes participated in multiple sports, even in high school, and it helped them not burn out and to become great team players.

I am not saying I am the perfect parent, and I have it all figured out. I have a hard time observing from the sidelines during B’s soccer and swim practices and not saying “you’re doing great” and other encouraging behavior. I know that I do need to real it in especially if my children want to participate in youth sports in the future.

The best thing I can do for my children? Be 100% supportive, respect the coach, teammates and other parents. Let my children have fun and enjoy what they are doing.

If you have a child in youth sports, I highly recommend reading this book!

Do you agree or disagree, are parents ruining youth sports?

If I Fall, I Die: The Fear of Raising Kids

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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I really loved this book, it was a frustrating read, just because you wanted the mom to get better for the sake of her son, but at the end of the book I understood her fears. She doesn’t want her son to go outside because of her own fears, and he admits to doing things to ease her anxiousness, but he does eventually go outside.

This is the quote that resonated with me:

“But the shadow that love can’t help but cast is fear: fear they won’t stay alive or around-fear they’ll be reckless, or doomed, or just walk away and not consider you ever again. With love, you’re scared it will disappear. With fear, you’re scared it never will”

When I was pregnant with B the scary pregnancy dreams were so intense I would wake up with tears in my eyes. Dreams that I wouldn’t be a good mom, that I would lose my child, that something bad would happen to him, you name it I dreamt it. After B was born I hoped the dreams would stop, but they didn’t. They were less intense and vivid, but they still happened. Eventually they slowly started going away, I’d have one occasionally, but it wasn’t taking such a toll on me.

In the past year or so they started coming back, not just dreams, but you know in those moments before you fall asleep, I’d have images of someone breaking into our house and harming him, carjacking us, etc… The worst things racing through my mind, and then I would be awake and completely unable to go back to sleep.

Now that I am pregnant again, the dreams are back in full force. I try to use meditation to calm myself down (the Headspace App is wonderful) and talk through what I would do if this situation was to actually happen.

I think what I wasn’t prepared for as a mom is the constant fear and worry. Are we doing the right thing? Did I pick the right pre-school? Is my kids getting bullied? Are we giving him the right foods? I can’t imagine that this is going to get easier as the kids get older, only harder. I don’t even want to think about driving or college!

I have to believe in myself as a parent. I have to raise my kid with love and respect, but also with rules and consequences.

How do you deal with the anxiety and fears of being a parent?

J: Safety in Ignorance

This post was inspired by the novel J by Howard Jacobson, about a world where collective memory has vanished and the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited. Join From Left to Write on November 20th as we discuss J. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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I’ll be honest, it has been a crazy month. I didn’t even attempt to read the first book club selection this month, so I figured I’d have plenty of time to read the second selection, J. Wrong, the book arrived late, life has been crazy, etc… I am about halfway through and hopefully will finish by Thanksgiving!

I love a good dystopian novel, and I think a lot of the ones I’ve read have a common theme. There is Safety in Ignorance. I can’t say that I disagree with this phrase. Now I am not saying not knowing our world history is smart, I think that it is essential to know our world history so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. However, I do think not knowing the what-if’s about certain situations makes me more rational.

When I was pregnant with B it was excitement (and nausea) ALL THE TIME. I think you are always nervous about pregnancy because you can’t control it, but for the most part I was excited. I shopped way earlier than I should have, every appointment brought excitement.

With my second pregnancy, I had no reason to not feel the same way. Obviously, that didn’t end the same way, and I felt let down by my body.

I know that when another pregnancy blesses me that I will be a nervous wreck, counting the days until I get past the 8 week mark, then again until the 12 week mark. Honestly, after having frank discussions with women who have been through the same thing, I won’t be able to breathe easy until I have a living and breathing healthy baby outside of my body.

It’s not a way I would ever choose to carry a pregnancy, but I know that I will only be able to ever think about the what-ifs and worst case scenarios. I know it is not healthy to be stressed and anxious, but until you’ve been through it, I think there is no other way to feel.

Do you ever think that there is safety in ignorance?

The 13th Gift: Surviving Loss

This post was inspired by The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith, memoir about how  random acts of kindness transformed her family’s bereavement and grief during the holidays. Join From Left to Write on October 28th as we discuss The 13th Gift. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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I knew when I signed up to review this book that it might be a bit hard for me to read, I think the one thing that allowed me to actually sign up was the fact that it is based on a true story, I knew there wouldn’t be some unrealistic story line or fairytale ending. That being said, this is hands down one of the best books I have read via my relationship with From Left to Write. If you are feeling a little down with the holiday season approaching, please read this!

In case you are new to the blog, From Left to Write bloggers don’t write traditional reviews, we take a piece of the book we are inspired by and write a post from that theme.

Grief is something that I unfortunately have a decent amount of experience with. My maternal grandfather passed away shortly after the new year when I was very young, and a few months after that, right around Easter, my maternal grandmother also passed. They lived in California and I was in Vermont so while I have some really great memories, I didn’t have a close relationship due to distance.

This past holiday season was incredibly hard for me, it’s no secret that I had a miscarriage last September, but while everyone was getting excited for everything holiday related, I was finding it hard to get off the couch and put up any decorations. I wandered aimlessly through the stores. I bought B any toy he pointed out that he wanted (always a bad idea). My MIL ended up coming and helping with the tree and the decorating, and I didn’t want B to ever have any memories where Christmas didn’t have this magical spirit about it.

IMG_3783I decided I needed to pull myself out of it, I needed to surround myself with loved ones and to make these wonderful memories with my family. While B wouldn’t be getting a sibling, he would be getting involved in these traditions that he could one day help me show to a sibling.

The first was participating in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap (only a few days left to sign up this year). B helped me with the baking, and both he and Nick helped with the taste-testing.

The second was creating trays of cookies for our neighbors. This is something that my neighborhood used to do every holiday season and my sister and I loved it. I knew when I was an adult I wanted to continue this tradition, so I did. Baking makes me happy, delivering delicious treats was my way of passing along that feeling!

The last thing I did was host a cookie swap at my house for my girlfriends (and their kids if they have them). This is one of my favorite holiday traditions. I started when B was 5 months old, and I hope to continue for many many years to come.

Although it seems like cookies helped me with my grief, and I will fully admit that I ate entirely to many last holiday season, there was also plenty of time spend with our families and closest friends. Closing myself into my house was not something I should’ve been doing, and I am grateful for the people who made sure I didn’t.

These things didn’t change the fact that I was sad and grieving, but it helped remind me of the important things and people in my life, that they were still here, and while the loss was incredibly hard and sad, there will always be people there for you to pick you up when you are down. Let them pick you up.

What are some of your holiday traditions?