Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hola, hola!

I've been at my new job for a little over two months and just when I was beginning to think that I would never make friends at work (besides my boss), I got invited to join a book club. Then on Monday the same girl - my new friend - came to my cubicle and gave me a goodie bag with Christmas cookies! That is almost as good as a Facebook friend request for friendship confirmation right? I mean only friends get holiday cookies? I will take your scrolling as a yes. Anyway she gave me these delicious shortbread cookies and it got me thinking about what I usually do for new friends or co-workers around the holidays.

Normally, when the holidays came around I knew exactly what to get. The perfect gift was a tin of my Tia Nelly's alfajores (delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, Peruvian cookies). These cookies were ideal for thank yous and for holiday and birthday gifts. We always had a batch for the dessert table on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter (and really any occasion we could pass off as "special" or "holiday-like"). It was my Mom's go-to gift for my Dad's doctors, her Chanel makeup girls, or for the people who do our get the picture, I could go on forever about these being the ultimate gift.

However, this year will be a little different. Tia Nelly passed away the Sunday before Thanksgiving. (I know... a little heavy...kind of like those movies you think are going to be really funny, but then someone gets sick or dies or whatever..... but aren't blogs here for people to express all types of emotions?)

When my mom moved to the U.S. from Peru, she left her family there. So, she built up a new network of family members who would be our substitute aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Tia Nelly was not blood-related, but I knew her since I was born, and blood does not a family make.

My aunt was the queen of reinvention. She was a wife, a widow, a Spanish teacher and a business owner. She was strong and positive, hilarious and generous. Whenever she called her voice rang out with a sing-songy, "Hola, hola!" right before she went off telling you a long-winded, hilariously over-the-top story about her business, her cat, Sushi or her dog, Reina. Every time she came over, she would tell us a new beauty remedy she was trying out (lathering up her face with Crisco to reduce wrinkles) or bring over samples of a new recipe she was trying out (all just as delicious as her alfajores).

She was a grab-life-by-the-balls kind of lady and never apologized for who she was. And although her company and her cookies will be missed, the lessons she's left behind will keep her alive in my heart forever.

That being said, I like to think of her making bank up in heaven, selling her cookies to everyone. :)

P.S. And in honor of my aunt's business savvy and her love for a good plug, regardless of where it was. Her website is still up so you should check it out and see if you can order them from her children:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let the rain sing you a lullaby. ~Langston Hughes

As a fledgling New Yorker I know that preparing for a rainy workday means setting my alarm clock at least 10 minutes early, getting my dusty wellies from the back of my closet and looking for one of my 50 umbrellas (that always seem to go missing when I know rain is coming). But as a native Long Islander I see rainy days as perfect reading days.

Imagine waking up, the sky is a crisp light grey, you can hear the fat raindrops splashing on the roof, tapping on the windows, swirling off the tires driving by your house; you are cuddled up in your warm bed wrapped in a fluffy down comforter, snuggled with your perfectly placed pillows. It is the ideal morning for a steaming cup of tea and that book you've been putting off because of your busy schedule. Days like these are gifts from the biblio-gods. It is an opportunity to excuse yourself from your hectic life and slow down.
What I love about rain is that it has multiple layers that peel away with each season. Fall is wet and cold, damp autumn leaves crunch under your shoes. Winter is cold, protective icicle-armor forms on tree branches. Spring is wet and warm, re-birth breezes through the tentative leaves. Summer is hot, the humid sky sighs forming puddles to cool us off. Each instance is unique.

Heavy downpour = sexy rain kisses like in The Notebook.

Summer rain = warm day and cool raindrops; flashbacks to running up and down my street with friends when I was younger.

Thunderstorms = cuddling and candles....or hiding under the covers.

Sleet = harsh winds and achy bones

But regardless of the type or style of precipitation, next time it rains (and it isn't a work day, even though we all know how hard it is to get out of bed when it's raining), don't curse the weather gods, curl up in a comfy chair or your warm bed, and let the melodic drip-drops lull you to lose yourself in those pages and relax.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts." Author Unknown

I've only read two David Sedaris books: Me Talk Pretty One Day recommended by my sister and, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim recommended by a girl at my new job, who invited me to join her monthly book club. ( Yes, you read it right! I was invited to join a book club!) Both times I was quickly sucked in by Sedaris' self-deprecating wit and both times he re-kindled my interest on my own family stories.

When I read Sedaris, my immediate train of thought was: "Couldn't I also exploit my family's crazy quirks and hilariously unique anecdotes and get paid $$$$$$$$$$ to do so?"

So many times, after hanging out with any one of my many family members, I've opened up that blank word document, fingers poised on my ergonomic keyboard anxiously waiting for the words to flow. I sit there as the glowing screen taunts me, challenging me to write something reader-worthy. It is a staring contest that can go on for hours, until my eyes blur over and I am the first to blink, leaving my victory for another day.

Then I ask myself, does everyone think their family is worth writing about?
Why do only some share their stories with the world?
Is it just that some are writers and some are readers or is it actually that David Sedaris' life is more interesting than mine?

With two foreign parents and four older siblings (the youngest, only 8 years older than me), you'd think that my writing would be overflowing with exciting and embarrassing stories. But even if inspiration hits, as soon as I open up that word doc. my creativity shuts down and I am left staring in frustration; grasping at the disappearing wisps of revelation. But I will not lose faith.

Maybe I can put this on my list of New Year's resolutions for 2010. So far, I've got:

1. Write on my blog more often - if not everyday, at least every other day.

And now...

2. Write a least one story about one of my family members each month.
(Two working titles are: The Year of the Pineapples* and Brunch.)
Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Austen meets Book meets Girl

Confession: When I was in high school I was a bona-fide theater nerd. I loved singing and acting (sometimes dancing, even though I can't dance to save my life, unless booty dancing is legit, and if that's the case I should probably join the New York City Ballet).

I loved the costumes, the makeup, the incestuous camaraderie and most of all, I loved the moment right before the lights came up for the first scene.

First, the audience members shift quietly in their seats, people backstage frantically whisper to each other on their headphones and make sure everyone is in place, and you stand there trying to remember your first line. But then the atmosphere changes, always just seconds before the bright lights illuminate the stage and bring you to life; the audience settles, those people backstage pause and you all take in one deep, collective breath.


I think that's why I liked this book so much. It kind of reminded me of being on stage; getting to transform into a different person, creating layers and diving into an alternate world.

When Jane Hayes' great-aunt dies, she leaves Jane an all-expense paid trip to a resort in England where she leaves her modern crap behind and immerses into an Austen world; trading in her cellphone for a trunk full of empire waist dresses. Jane realizes that this is her last chance to find her Mr. Darcy before she tucks that fantastic dream away forever.

Those who work at the resort are actors paid to deliver the most authentic Austen experience. At first this place seems like a dream come true, Jane's last hurrah before turning over a new Darcy-free leaf; however, we all know how that ends. Jane of course falls for the wrong guy, when the right one is right under her nose! It's one of those really frustrating chick-lit books that you know who she should (and will eventually) end up with, but she still does not heed your telepathic advice.

I always find that when I read these "predictable" books, I am torn between knowing that in the end everything will work out the way it should and wanting the ending to surprise me and be drastically different. The most annoying thing is that the action always happens in the last 100-50 pages and the really important part, a.k.a when the two people finally realize they love each other and need to jump through a million hoops to reach one another, takes place within the last 10-5 pages. I can't help having a love-hate relationship with this chick-lit template. I love knowing that there will be a happy ending, but what happens after they make out at the airport? Do they get married? Does he turn out to be a douche-bag?

We don't get to see the real part. The part after the honeymoon months....but maybe that's the point. These books are meant to help you escape the mundane, every-day seriousness that is real life, right?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Believe It, Be It

You know when you meet celebrities, you always hope that they are as cool as you've made them out to be in your head?

Well, Ali Vincent was even cooler and nicer then I imagined she would ever be! How did I meet her, you might be asking yourself, well let me start at the beginning...

To tell you the truth, I did not watch Biggest Loser until Season 5 when I totally fell in love with Ali and Brittany.* They were cute and fun and nice and committed and let's face it, they passed my ultimate celebrity test: I could see myself hanging out with them on a Saturday night talking about things you only talk about with your best friends.

So, since they were my new best friends, I was dedicated to watching their show and cheering for them on the sidelines. When Brittany was voted off, I continued my rally for Ali. I mean it was definitely destiny that brought her back to the show and eventually what helped her become the FIRST FEMALE BIGGEST LOSER!!! (Destiny and a massive amount of dedication and strength --- I mean, she was JACKED at the end of the show).

Imagine my surprise when I found out that we had published her new book Believe It, Be It! I was so excited. When I started my new job, it was the first book I set out to read "to familiarize myself with our merchandise" (more like I totally freaked out and neeeeded to read her book. helloooo, she is my best friend).

Anyway, enough of my being a superfan. Believe It, Be It is unlike any memoir I've read. Her voice was threaded throughout the whole thing. She was open and honest about everything. She did not hold back on admitting her faults or her insecurities. She is strong and truly inspirational for any woman. Even though it was a book about her journey on Biggest Loser, I wouldn't categorize it as a weigh loss book. You can draw inspiration from her for anything you are striving to achieve. Ali has an uncanny ability to put her mind to anything and come out at the top. And that is what I took from her story; the strength to accomplish any goal. When you want something bad enough, you will get it.


Ali is genuine when it comes to the stories in her book and she is genuine in real life. There was no "I'm a celebrity, so back up" air to her when I read the book or when I met her, on our way to her first book signing.

Honestly, she was exactly how I thought she would be, just better. Of course I had to keep my fan-ness in check before I met her, because let's face it, I pride myself in being a calm and collected New Yorker who acts like seeing a celebrity is "the norm" (please see NYC Prep Episode where they go to the fashion show and the public school girl freaks out because they see Amanda Bynes, you'll see what I mean). But it wasn't that hard because, she was so down to earth. It felt like I was sitting at home, talking to one of my sisters, that's how un-pretentious she is.

Example: As we pull up to B&N, she gets this huge grin on her face and says:

"This is my first signing! I am so excited. I am getting that same exciting
feeling I got when I first won Biggest Loser."

So I offer to take her picture with the sign announcing her book signing.

And you know when you go see your friend in a concert or in a show and you take a million pictures so that she will remember that very special moment in her life. Well, I was that friend for Ali. Picture of her signing her first book, picture of her talking to the awesome fans that came out for the signing, picture of her sitting at the signing desk, picture of her walking around, picture of her first microphone malfunction at her first signing.....need I go on? And I loved every minute of it.

The only picture I didn't get was one with her at her first signing, because I am an idiot and totally forgot my camera. When I asked her if she would mind taking a picture with me in the office the next day, she looked at me:

Ali: "We didn't get a picture last night?"
Me: "No, I forgot my camera"
Ali: "Why didn't you just use my camera! Come on!"
Me: (Stunned into silence, because how COOL IS SHE?) "Because I'm stupid"

Believe It, Be It.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment." - Jane Austen

For our 11th grade summer reading, two of the books we were assigned to read were Beowulf and Pride & Prejudice.

Well my classmates were not shy in voicing their opinions, or those they had heard through the grapevine. Consensus was, Beowulf was great and P&P was bo-riiiing.

Poor Jane Austen, how was I to know that my classmates were bereft of any good sense or taste?

All things considered, I had to prepare myself for anything. Since I was going on a month long trip with my parents, I threw in my Stony Brook School provided paperbacks along with the saving grace of any lazy high-schooler: Cliffnotes. I wasn't going to waste my time reading P&P if I didn't like it after the first 50 pages!

I know, I know, my dedication to my studies must just revolutionize your world.

Well after lugging my books and bathing suits on the 12 hour flight to Greece, I was ready to hunker down and make my way down the summer reading check-list, one excruciating page at a time.

Do you think that I read P&P first, you know, to get the pain over with?? NOPE! I decided to leave it for last, avoiding Austen at all costs. Finally, when I had no where else to go, and no other book to read, I settled into my beach chair, careful not to get any suntan lotion on my beloved Cliffnotes and began:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Ok, I can dig that, whatever, this book was written in the late 1700s, published in 1813. This book is famous for its first sentence, but that isn't where Jane hooked me.

"However, little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

This woman is hilarious. Any rich and single man was considered "rightful property to some one or other of their daughters"? Hold on, there were gold diggers even in the 1800s????? That is priceless.

This is probably around the time that I decided Jane Austen was to be my best friend.

Needless to say, it took me one afternoon to read the whole thing, including Cliffnotes (just in case I missed anything).
Ever since then, I have been unable to quell my infatuation with anything Austen. From Pride & Prejudice to Persuasion I have left no Austen page unturned. I took a Jane Austen class in college, I've seen almost every movie adaptation and if I see any fiction novel that has "Jane" or "Austen" in the title, chances are I have read it or plan on reading it.
Some may say this is unhealthy, but really? I don't drink coffee, I don't smoke cigarettes....should I really be ashamed of this vice? Perhaps you could even call it a virtue.......

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where's the beef?

When I read Julie & Julia all I wanted to do was cook. I just finished reading The Butcher and the Vegetarian (by Tara Austen Weaver) and all I've wanted to do was eat a big juicy steak.

Even though Weaver taught me about the cruelty inflicted on those poor cows and pigs, it still did not turn me off to thinking about eating a huge hamburger with avocado and cheese accompanied with bacon and maybe some fries.

I didn't know what to expect from this book when I first picked it up. What would you think if you saw a big leaf of lettuce cuddled around a large piece of raw steak on a book cover?

Not only was the book full of humor, but it was interesting and informative on all the different aspects of a vegetarian vs. a carnivorous lifestyle.

I was so inspired by this story that I even toyed with the idea of experimenting and cutting back on my own meat consumption......but I decided to have a dinner party instead and cook up a mean meat dish that finally satisfied the primal craving that bubbled up inside me when I cracked open this delectable book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The one that got away?

Thank goodness that my reader's block went away! I thought I was seriously broken!

You ever wonder about the one that got away? Honestly, if you say no, everyone knows that you're lying, unless you married your first love and you are one of thooooose people ;)

The first book I read by Harriet Evans was Hopeless Romantic. Her writing style was similar to that of Sophie Kinsella's and it was one of those books that gives you that extra spring in your step because it reminds you that love is possible and waiting at the turn of every corner.

The Love of Her Life was exactly the kind of book that I needed to get me back in the reading ring. It was full of love, mix-ups, self-deprecation and secret trysts. Yes, I know these books are predictable and some may say shallow. But don't you remember the days when you would day dream about fairy tales and really think that prince charming was going to come and sweep you off your feet? So, why not bring a little of that magic back into your adult life? I know I'm tired of the cynicism that comes with age regarding love.

Being 20-something, we're bombarded with new ideals on how love should be, how we should meet, how we should act, how we should live, etc. Why can't we stop texting and emailing and facebooking and barhopping long enough to jolt a little romantic magic into our lives? Even if it is through fiction. I am not saying we should stop everything, hole up into our reading nooks and never come out because we'll never meet anyone like the guys in the books. All I'm saying is that sometimes I feel like romance is low on the list of thing we look for nowadays.

Maybe I'm wrong, and should listen to my sister when she tells me that I won't find the guy of my dreams by bumping into him in a bookstore or spilling coffee on him at a Starbucks. Maybe I should just suck it up, buy a slutty Halloween costume, pay the $25-$50 cover charge and prowl Manhattan on Oct. 31st like the rest of my co-eds.

Am I expecting too much or too little?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pull up a chair...

Picking the right place to read is a very important decision.

When I was younger, I had two favorite spots. In the winter, it was my laundry room and in the summer it was my hammock.
The laundry room in my parent's house is a tiny little room under our staircase, that houses our washer/dryer and boiler. In the winter it was the perfect place to crawl into with my pillow and wrap myself up in one of the toasty, and freshly-laundered blankets waiting for me in the dryer. It was the one place where I could tune out whatever commotion was going on upstairs (and with a family as big as mine, commotions were easy to come by). I loved the floating smells of Tide and Bounce dancing in the air, in tune with the boiler's lulling hum. It was my safe haven; my winter retreat.

Summer called for a different atmosphere. A light breeze, wind giggling through the leaves and a lazy lullaby slightly creaking in the background. Attached to two perfectly spaced trees, my hammock swayed me to another world. The smell of grass and suntan lotion always perfuming the air. It was the perfect place to imagine the adventures I was gobbling up with every turn of the page.
Nowadays, the places I choose to read are dependent on where I am.
Commuting on the LIRR into Manhattan gives me a glorious 1hr:15 min there and back to fully immerse into my book of the moment (it's also a really good time to catch up on sleep, but we're not talking about great places to sleep, are we?!)
Any couch or comfy chair where I can put my feet up and potentially take a nap in between chapters is always preferable. In my opinion, the perfect chair has to be one of those overgrown armchairs with a matching ottoman; you can curl up or stretch out and maybe even cuddle with your fellow reading buddy ;)
Oh, and don't forget that the perfect reading place is not complete without the perfect lighting. Living in a house with, shall I say, "Dad's bad lighting", finding a place that is bright and welcoming at the same time is very important when I am looking for a place to settle with my book. The light can't be too harsh because then it kills the mood, but it can't be too dim because then all I hear is my grandmother's voice "You're going to go blind!" And since I'm already pretty blind (a.k.a. contacts and reading glasses) I can't take any chances.
So put away your straight-backed wooden folding chairs and invest in a chair you'll boast about at your next book club meeting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading is overrated anyway

I assume you've heard of writer's block. But have you ever experienced reader's block?

I have not been able to pick up a book since I finished The Glamorous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder by Holly McQueen. This has happened to me once before this past year. It was after I read The Reader by Bernard Shaw.

Sometimes it happens because the book was too good, sad or thought provoking so my brain will go on strike, as if saying, "I will not let you cheat on this book and throw away the perfect relationship you've created." OR it will happen because the book was so bad that my brain will go on strike, as if saying, "Really? You think I'm going to trust you to pick out another monstrosity to read? I don't think so."

And it's not for lack of material, either. I have piles of books in my apartment, just waiting to be thumbed through, turned, folded and loved by me, but my mind is not having it!

What can I do???

I am carrying around How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson (an ironic joke played on me by the Fates, I'm sure) hoping that at some point the words will just begin to melt away the barricade.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hello, Goodbye

I did not want to wake up this morning because I knew that it would be my last day walking the halls of my awesome job at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. But alas, I dragged myself out of bed and faced the music.
Working at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum has been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I have had the honor of being a part of. It has been an incredible journey and I have appreciated every thing everyone has done for me. I have learned so much from all these wonderful, smart and caring people.
I am sad that I will be leaving today, but I am excited to start a new adventure in Publishing.

I will miss the new friends I have met, but I am confident that this is not the end but only the beginning!

Now, it is time to PARTY!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Have I gone too far?" - KG

I kind of have a major girl crush on Kathy Griffin. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that she says whatever she wants and doesn't really give a s**t about what other people think.

And, yes some may say that she takes it too far, but for some reason when Kathy says "Suck It Jesus!", I laugh and when Kanye West says something equally offensive it is just not on the same level. Where I want to punch Kanye in the face, I just want to ask Kathy over for brunch and mimosas on Sunday so we can laugh about it all day.

With that being said, when I saw that Kathy was going to be signing copies of her new book at the B&N a few blocks away from my job, I thought,


I mentally prepared myself for the adventure ahead of me. Took my regular 7:04 a.m. train from Ronkonkoma to Penn Station and prayed that I would get to the B&N before 9 a.m. and before all the krazy Kathy fans got there and bought up all the books and all the wristbands...

Oh, what wristbands, you ask? Good question.

You couldn't just buy a book at any B&N and just walk in expecting to see Kathy in all her glory. You had to go to the B&N on Warren St in Tribeca, buy the book and then get a purple wristband that guaranteed you a seat! And there were only about 150 seats!

Anyway, I rushed from Penn Sta. to get to Tribeca before 9, and I got there just in time. There was a long line of ..... 10! 10 people? Wait a second? Why aren't there more people?

"Excuse me Miss, the signing is today right?....Oh, it is?...Good.....Where are all the people?"

But, HEY, I'm not complaining I got two books, two wristbands! Then left work early (at an embarrassing 4 p.m.) to get in the line, so I would get a great seat, and thank God I got there when I did or else I wouldn't have gotten a the front row because there were only about 12 people waiting in line. It got busier as the night wore on, and once it hit 7PM, it was a mad house. But I got a front row seat!

She did not disappoint with hilarious anecdotes about her day. She was wearing a really fantastic outfit, too. Navy blue, silk dress and high silver pumps, very classy.

One problem: When I meet celebrities, I try so hard to be "cool", but I end up blurting out something ridiculous and then wanting to shoot myself.

Example: "Kathy, you look great today, really great! I love your dress and your shoes, and your......face!" Really? Her face? Am I hitting on her? I hang my head in shame.

But you all can suck it because I have a signed copy of her book and you don't and she now knows that I love her face. So that's more than any of you can say!

PS. The book was great. It was funny, emotional, enlightening and something completely different than any of her stand-up and even her TV show. She definitely shows you a side of herself that you are not normally privy to. BUY IT!

KG in Tribeca

Kathy Griffin Book Signing
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"You can't explain love, that's how it gets ruined."

pg. 169, Love Begins in Winter

For some reason, I tend to shy away from (read "avoid like the plague") short stories. I don't really know why; could it be residual from my high school English classes, where A Story and Its Writer was a runner-up to the Bible? Who knows?!

All I know is that up until now, an overwhelming feeling of dread overcame me every time I saw the words, "compilation" or "collection" paired with any title.

However, the short stories in Love Begins in Winter rid me of my aversion and satisfied my unknown need for an unique definition of everyday "love".

Things I liked (excuse my over analysis since, I was an English major):

1. Each story is a love story between strangers

2. Since the title is "love begins in winter", it is fitting that the stories are not typical girl meets boy (boy meets boy; girl meets girl), fall in love and live happily ever after. Spring is the time for rebirth, new life, new love. It makes sense when a pair falls in love with the flowers in bloom and the birds chirping. But winter is different. Winter is cold and dark. The sun does not come out to remind you that love is in the air or that your day is full of possibilities. Van Booy broke that stereotype and made love happen when there was nothing but the minimum nourishing it.

3. In their brief encounters, these strangers find connections with one another through personal experiences and memories.

4. The stories were authentic; the perfect mixture of jade and happiness.

Maybe I liked it because it was realistic. I mean, don't all relationships start off this way? You meet a stranger and then as time passes you become acquaintances and then friends.

I know; So perceptive and deep. It surprises me too sometimes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Post Script:

According to Jane pg.223

"Your soul mate could not be genuinely happy without you. You deserve someone whose eyes light up when he sees you across the room, someone who'll rub your shoulders when they're aching just because he wants to relieve your pain. Someone whose heart never stops beating for you."

It is a truth universally acknowledged....

Typically, Lady Luck is not on my side. I don't win things in raffles or sweepstakes. And unfortunately, this is not a success tale, where I tell you all how I won a car or a trip to Italy.

Have you heard of or These websites are awesome! They are kind of like virtual libraries where you can organize your books into categories (books you've read, are reading now, and want to read). I guess you can say it is like facebook in the sense that you can friend people with similar book tastes, ask for others' opinions on books you want to read and join groups that discuss books/genres that you are interested in. friend* entered a contest on goodreads and ended up winning According to Jane by Marilyn Brant. Funny thing is, out of the whole list of books that she tried for, that was the only one she chose thinking that I might like it because it had something to do with Jane Austen. Heehee...

(Personal Note: I love anything Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books. I can't turn down any book that has Austen in the title. As an example of my weird addiction; currently I'm waiting for the books Austenland and Jane Austen Ruined My Life from my library. Yes, it is that bad.)

She received an uncorrected proof with an inscription by the author. Very cool.

After the glow of winning wore off, she told me it was my job to read it as fast as I could and write a review of it for goodreads so that she could be in the good graces of the goodreads gods (say that 3x fast!).

So, here are my efforts towards being a critic:

"According to Jane is an intriguing spin on a typical piece of chick-lit. For those hard-core Austen fans, like myself, it will cause you to instantly be jealous of Ellie, the lucky protagonist who has the honor of being the vessel in which Austen's spirit decides to reside. Austen is depicted as I would have imagined; sharp-witted, slightly stoic with a dry sense of humor, and, at times, dark and ominous.
The relationship that grows between the two women, starting from when Ellie is in her early teens until she reaches the ripe age of 34, is similar to any other friendship. There are ups and downs, fights and calm discussions, proclamations of admiration,a genuine love for each other's company, and respect for their advice and role in each other's lives.
Marilyn Brant's juxtaposition of Austen's Victorian ideals and Ellie's "modern" decisions is brilliant. It gives Brant the opportunity to show how ahead of her time Austen was even with her reservations and tight-lipped warnings.
Yes, it is a little weird and far-fetched that a famous author would somehow take up residence in a person's mind, and that person does not end up being a bag lady mumbling to herself in the middle of street. But it was fun to suspend reality and think, "What if?"
All-in-all, this book was a great read, not only for the Austen fan, but for any fan fond of friendships, true love and self-discovery."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Here's to the ones we love. Here's to the ones who love us. Here's to the ones we love who don't love us. Hell, screw them all, here's to us!"

Cassie Moore, Type-A personality, follows a "PLAN" that she created when she was 17. Step-by-step her life is planned out into a neat checklist.

At 28, she had most of her list checked off: she had a great job, a drool-worthy apartment and a loving fiance. But, as we all know, all that can change in the blink of an eye, or in this case, in the turn of a page...

Cassie goes into work early one day, gets called into the boss' office and instead of getting promoted gets FIRED! She gets home to find that she is being EVICTED from her apartment! And walks in on her "loving" fiance cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend!

Three strikes and you're OUT!

So she does what any sane 20-something would do. Calls her friends and drinks herself into oblivion. And let's admit, we've all had our share of blackouts, but did yours involve waking up the next morning to 13 missed phone messages from her mom, a flight booked to Buenos Aires and an apartment rented for six months. Talk about a blackout.

First thought: Where did she get the money to do this?
Second thought: Why don't I have this kind of money to do this?
Third thought: God, I need money
****Pity Party****
Fourth thought: SNAP OUT OF IT!

Cassie goes from control freak, to Argentinian fling-er, to even more rigid control freak, to finally, letting loose, throwing out all the plans and falling in love with the right guy (the guy who's been under her nose the whole time).

Lessons learned:
1. Do not ASSUME anything about anything/one
2. Allow for spontaneity
3. Life and Love are messy, so stop trying to tame/clean them up.

A deliciously intricate self-discovery book that reminded me that not everything is made to fit into a checklist or spreadsheet. A tough lesson to learn, being a control freak myself, but a good one nonetheless.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Be careful what you wish for!

I have been reprimanded for using my friend's, let's call her "T", ideas and opinions without duly noting her in my blog. Therefore, in lieu of being sued I will share her kind words with you now:

"I don’t like being the observant friend…..and I’ve never said you needed rehab. It’s just you call yourself a reader and that you are sick of chick lit but you loooooove it

And that one serious one funny one serious combo is so mine… know I can sue. Taking my ideas and not giving me credit. I’m always this weird mention. As opposed to the back bone of your reading frenzy and material.
But, whatever. Maybe I'll start a blog talking about that."

So there you have it readers, now you know my secret. Maybe you too can get your own "reading/material backbone" and take all the credit?

I also take her jokes and tell them to people as if they were my own...... I am living on the edge!

"One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes a long time." G.K. Chesterton

So, I have been gone for a while...We're almost done with September and I don't even have one post. SHAME ON ME!

I could riddle you all with excuses for my laziness, but that is just it, there are none. I have just been too lackadaisical to bring myself to the precipice of my keyboard and spew out insight on the wonderful books I have been devouring during this time.

Do you want a quick re-cap??? Ok, here you go:

1. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
An amazing tale of two friends, spanning three decades. Have you ever forced yourself to read a book really slowly, just so you wouldn't have to give up having the characters leave your life so quickly? (No? You should try it with this book, The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger) This book was about 450 pages long, and even with my prolonged reading, it ended too fast.
I can remember what it was like to be a young girl who felt out of place but was kept afloat because of my great friendships with people who got who i was and accepted me all the same. This book reminded me that a good friendship is like a good marriage. You're in it for the long haul, you accept each other's faults and strengths and love each other unconditionally.
The tangled relationship that Katie and Tully have is something to envy. Even with some harsh words and painful events, they overcome them together. This book broke my heart, but only in the best way. An easy friendship is one that you work hard at effortlessly. Or at least that's what I think.
As you can tell this book bubbled up some intense sentimentality for me. It made me think of all the friendships I've had over the years and which ones have withstood the test of time/college/pubescent attitudes, etc. And I am thankful that I have friends from every walk of life. From when I was 3-years-old to when I braved the streets of Boston for 4 years. Those that can pick up from where we left off, be it hours, days, months or years. Those are the friendships I am thankful for and appreciate the most.

2. Breakfast at Stephanie's by Sue Margolis
After I finished sobbing over Firefly Lane, I knew I would have to counteract that lovely, familiar, literary pain in my heart with something light and predictable. Chick-lit can take me out of even the most terrible funk.
Stephanie is a single-mom and an aspiring singer. She has a close relationship with her grandmother and gets into some mischief when she's faced with picking between her son's father and a colleague of hers from the past. Of course she ends up with the right guy and with a wonderful career as the book comes to a close. I loved following the standard chick-lit plot, and even though I knew how it would presumably end, I still got that flurry of anticipation and anxiety when there were catastrophes and unforeseen hurdles to get over.
It was a fast and easy read, nothing too deep to furrow your brow over. I loved it.

3. The Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
This book was surprising, because although it did have that classic Kathy Griffin humor, it was also sprinkled with serious anecdotes about her family and her rocky career path as a comedienne. It is definitely something that you should consider reading. Those of you who do not like Kathy may get to see a side of her that you can actually identify with.
(Merits its own post, so more to come later)

4. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

I try my best to switch from reading something light to reading something a little more serious. It keeps me grounded and more importantly gives me street cred with my annoyingly observant book-loving friends. I have more often than not been told that I am a chick-lit junkie and that I should seriously look into some sort of re-hab clinic. As you can see, my venture into "serious literature" does not travel far into the bowels of Truman Capote or a historically accurate account on the Cold War. It is something more substantial and thought-provoking. A book about knitting and self-discovery. I know, truly ground-breaking stuff here, people.
Regardless of its ranking on the gravity scale, I really liked the story. Jo Mackenzie, is on the brink of a divorce when her soon-to-be, cheating ex-husband dies in a car accident. Left with her two young sons, she moves out of London and back to her small sea-shore hometown and takes over her grandmother's wool shop. This book is a mixture of small-town quaintness and paparazzi-worthy panache. Along with acclimating her family into a new environment with meddling old biddies, Jo manages to befriend a celebrity, stage a "knit-it" to save their public library and found a "Bitch and Stitch" club for the women of the town.
Jo's story was fun to follow; however, the only thing that I found a bit off-putting was the intense British-ness of the book. Don't get my wrong I've read my share of dry-humored, wit-filled British novels, but normally the authors tone down the British-isms so that you don't trip over their colloquial phrasing. But, Gil McNeil did not hold back. Even with the over use of "cuppa", all in all it was a pleasant read.
Shall we delve into my private psyche for a moment? Okay.
Whenever I read a book about knitting, I instantly get inspired and come up with a million projects that I want to tackle in a day. But, hold on, let me take out my last knitting efforts since I read one of these books...oh here we are, scarves for all my friends for Christmas, five little squares knitted in an attempted to make a blanket and a half finished throw with colors that would put my own grandmother to sleep (really? teal, white and cream...sounds like it could be nice, but alas, it is not)
But I am not one to look adversity in the eye and walk away! I will not be put off by my embarrassing last efforts! I am absolutely positive this time will be where did I put those needles?

5. The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club by Jessica Morrison

(Post to follow)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bringing Home the Birkin

I love biographies that read like fiction. Bringing Home the Birkin (by Michael Tonello) is full of crazy anecdotes from a man who uprooted his life, moved to Spain and then decided that he could make a living by selling everything Hermes on eBay. A real entrepreneur if you ask me.

At first, Michael hooks you with his naive ignorance of the most coveted Hermes handbag. As his story unfolds and he becomes well-versed in everything Birkin (with help from his eBay friends)his bold and courageous personality lands him at the Fauborg store in France with his first (of too many) Birkins.

How did he do it? How could someone from a small town in Massachusetts get himself thousands of Birkin bags when so many women and men have been on the Hermes waiting list for years?

You'll obviously have to read his book to find out his Birkin buying "formula", but let's just say he had to drop an insane amount of cash to get the sales associate to even look at him twice to then drop another insane amount of cash to get what he actually went into the store to buy.

Every page of this book is full of hysterical encounters and a running tab (thousands of dollars just thrown about with the motto of , "Spend money to make money") that made my stomach turn with nerves and a twinge of envy. Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to transport myself to some of the most beautiful cities all over Europe. This got me thinking about my completely valid and totally realistic dream of moving to my own little city in Europe and finally starting my wonderful life as a glamorous and artistic ex-pat.

Reasons For Why I Dream About Moving to Europe:

1. Italy:
a. Hot Italian sex
b. Perfect my Italian
c. Eating all the gelato that boot can hold
d. Meet a sexy Italian man and live happily ever after

2. France :
a. Acquire a kick-ass job as an art conservationist at one of the museums in Paris
b. Become an artist
c. Perfect my French
d. Meet a sexy French man and live happily ever after

3. Spain:
a. Become a food critic
b. Move into an amazing Dali-inspired apartment with a beautiful terrace overlooking a gorgeous view
c. Meet a sexy Spanish man and live happily ever after

4. Greece:
a. Live in Santorini and become a volcano observer
b. Get fat on feta and tomatoes
c. Meet a sexy Greek man and live happily ever after?

I think you get my drift.

However, like every story that is filled with decadence and materialism, fiction or non-fiction, the person eventually has what Oprah likes to call an "A ha! Moment". He realizes that $8,000-$35,000 handbags could be the be all, end all of a person's life, but that it certainly wasn't going to be the case in his. When he first moved to Spain, after leaving his beloved P-town in Massachusetts, his need to make money was what propelled him to work with one of the most coveted handbags in the designer world. As his story progresses, this need consumes his life. But things like those are ephemeral, fleeting. You can lose sight of the important aspects that kept you going way before you had that perfect pair of shoes or that bag that everyone wants.

But even with the lesson learned, I think I'll book my next trip to Epcot Center in Disney soon and maybe catch the 6 train down to Chinatown for my own adventure in the world of designer handbags.

Very Superstitious

"...The way to succeed was to believe you wouldn't, that only someone convinced of failure had a chance of success." Julian, from Matrimony pg. 103

When your friend says "I'm so happy there is no traffic on I-95!" and all of a sudden your car is crawling in bumper to bumper traffic.

When you're having a barbecue in the summer "Weather Channel said there was a chance for rain, but look how sunny it is!" and then the clouds roll in.

When you go for an interview and you're thinking, "Man, I did great!" But you don't want to say it out loud because you know that will jinx it.

It is there when you knock on wood, or throw salt over your shoulder. Superstition and luck are interlaced in your everyday life. Whether you're aware of it or not. It may be unnatural for you to sit there and hope for the worst. Weird even, to think that you'll fail so that you don't. However, even though I try my hardest to be positive, I have that voice in the back of my mind saying, "Don't get too excited. Don't want it so bad. Just be cooooool!" (Is it just me? Oh man, that would be embarrassing).

I liked walking through the development of Julian's artistic self-esteem in this book. We meet him when he's starting out in college, taking his first Creative Writing workshop. With the necessary encouragement from his professor, he accepts his lot as a writer. We are with him when he struggles through his writer's block. We celebrate when he finally finishes his novel and is confident in himself and his art.

What I found interesting, is that writers don't feel like writers until they get some kind of recognition. Could it be a chicken and the egg thing? What comes first, being a writer or getting published (which then makes you a writer?). I kind of like what Julie's husband says about this in Julie & Julia. He tells her that she was always a writer and just because she wasn't published or recognized yet, that didn't change that important fact.

But then again, maybe I just want to believe that because then even I can call myself a writer?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bon Appetit!

I had a movie date with my mom on Thursday and I went to see Julie & Julia.

First, I must say that Meryl Streep is a genius. She goes from Devil Wears Prada to Mamma Mia to Doubt to Julie & Julia. Is there a role this woman cannot do?

Julie and Julia (the movie) was entertaining. The Julia parts were funny and endearing. I loved the relationship between Julia and her husband, Paul. They met later on in each others' lives, but they were meant to be together from the start. The love is palpable and original. It was a testament that love is out there for anyone and it can come into your life at any moment. A scenario where "better late, than never" is definitely fitting.

It was a little weird seeing Streep and Stanley Tucci as lovers, after seeing them work together in Devil Wears Prada. It was hard for me to really get that out of my head during the movie, but they are both such exceptional actors that it was easy to appreciate their performance nonetheless.

Amy Adams was very good too, but the Julie in the movie was a little different from the Julie in the book. A bit darker and a tad more self-pitying. Now, I must admit, I love to read; but like the Standardized Testing people know, my Elementary school English teachers know and my friends that I force to read books in my none-existent book club know --- my reading comprehension kind of SUCKS. But reading comprehension aside, I don't remember Julie being so sad and cranky. High strung and stressed, yes. Maybe the Julie in my head is like the Julia in her head? Sweet, quirky, and supportive. Happy that she is doing something that she loves regardless of the challenges.

Just another reason why I like books better than movies. I can create my own version of the characters in my head and they can be as nice or as mean as I want them to be. However, this time the Julia in the movie surpassed even my greatest leaps in imagination. She was charismatic, optimistic and a real spit-fire.

I think that what I liked the most about the juxtaposition of Julie and Julia was that even though they were different, they were still similar in a way. Both women inspiring to cook, to love, to live, to commit to a project until the end; both igniting something from within.

AMBITION: Find my life's "bread and butter".

Oh, and read My Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud'homme)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Diary,

When I was younger I kept many diaries. It was there that I would go to write out my frustrations and exclamations about the day. These were private "I hate it when..." or "I have a crush on..." notes that I know would never be read by others.

Unless you take one of your journals to a Girl Scout overnight at an aquarium and some, let's just say, nosy girls decide to read it (Ok. It was not the smartest idea to bring it along to the overnight, but you live, you learn.)

Now, imagine those naive, overly dramatic, pubescent entries being read by millions of people?
That is what I kept thinking when I was reading The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel. Florence Wolfson, the original diary writer, had kept a daily account for five years in a red leather diary gifted to her when she was 14.

Some entries were full of typical teenage angst, but more often than not I would forget that I was delving into the mind of a girl. Ahead of her time, the Florence from the diary would have been at home in the 21st century. She was an artist and a writer. An independent thinker who did not worry herself with judgments from her peers. I admired her for surrendering to her desires. And it didn't hurt that the New York she described kind of reminded me of what I think Paris is like. Art and sexuality rounding every corner.

What I enjoyed the most was Florence's passion. When you're young, the world is like a blank canvas, waiting to burst with the life you choose. I don't think it's a secret that I am aspiring to be one of those artistic types (lots of fine arts classes in college, but I still can't shed my obsessive need to be organized). But I always have that nagging feeling, "Yea you like to do all of this, but are you any good at it?" I was thinking about this while envy crept in, when Lily Koppel said something that stopped me, "My feelings of uncertainty about whether I had it in me to become a writer, my striving for recognition and search for love, connected me to the young woman of the diary (pg. 277)." I felt relieved. I wasn't alone in my self-doubt.

At 14, Florence was fearlessly reaching for her dreams and succeeding. I really don't think my blubbering diary entries about my mother's injustices of the day or my boy crush of the moment were sprinkled with poignant advice or enticing sexual encounters when I was 14. I think I was still into the Spice Girls, so the only thing you might have learned from reading my diary would have been awesome lyrics or French curse words (they couldn't be Spanish my mom understood those).

Read this book, it is surprising and unique. And maybe go through your old diaries, censor what you must, because you never know who will get their hands on it and make it into a best-seller.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is this your first time??

My first literary tryst was in the first grade, with a dark humored and captivating lover known to the masses as Roald Dahl. His flirtatious pages beckoned me from behind the yellow book cover with the petite and brilliant Matilda waiting to be met at the precipice of what would be my long journey into full fledged bibliophilia (actually I consider myself more of a bookworm, than a bibliophile, but that doesn't really roll off the tongue does it? "full-fledged bookworm-dom", "bookworm-ia"? Well, you get the point.)

It was my first time experiencing a kindred connection with a character who came from the inner workings of someone's mind. I read and re-read those 140 pages every year until I was 11, intrigued by the young girl intoxicated by her love for books.

In retrospect, I can say, this book was full of what we in the '90s liked to call "girl power", but that wasn't what drew me to those well-thumbed pages every year. It was that I could put myself in Matilda's shoes. I could identify with her need to gobble up every book in sight. She was this small frail girl who had no fear. And I was super jealous that she read ALL the books in her library!

Back to the point... I know I had a point in here somewhere....oh right.

Nowadays, I get made fun of for choosing chick lit as my #1 go-to genre, but it isn't the predictable storylines that get me to go to that brightly colored table at the bookstore. It's that one character or scene that I can identify with right from the first chapter and it stems from the first time I saw myself in Dahl's pages.

The saying goes, "Don't judge a book by its cover", but you also have to remember: Don't judge a reader by her book. I read the classics, I know the serious best sellers, and the hidden gems that only the true "literati" know about; but reading isn't about rattling off facts from those "impress-your-friends" books. It is about fulfillment. For some it is intellectual. For most, it is just catharsis. It is that human nature that begs us to find a healthy way to renew and revitalize ourselves.

From the moment I stepped into this world of words, I couldn't look back. Stories only go forward, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. There are never regrets, just well placed challenges and kind hearts to help you along your way.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To blog or not to blog?

As I was sitting on the LIRR train, reading another "book turned movie", I thought about all the books I've decided to read just so I could go to the local Loews, pay $12,000 and get completely disappointed when the movie didn't live up to my imagination. So many times, the silver screen isn't big enough for the imaginings of the author and it is just a complete disaster. (Read and then see "Nights in Rodanthe", you'll know what I mean).

It was then that I made my decision to enter the blogosphere. My brain had been turning around the idea after I had finished reading "Julie & Julia". Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that "Oh my God, I could become famous just like Julie Powell, get a book deal and then make a movie!" It was more, "Hmm...sitting down and writing the great American novel seems a bit daunting right now, but blogging about stuff? I might be into that."

That is when I started badgering my friends:
"If I were to write a blog, what would it be about?"
"Would you read my blog?"
"Are blogs stupid?"
"What do you think about writing a blog _________?"

Then when that was too hard it went to:
"What should my blog name be?"
"What should the title be?"
"No, that's a stupid title."
"No, that's a stupid title!"
"No, that's a stup....HEY! Where are you going? I need your heeeelp!"

I definitely wanted it to be about books, because (un)fortunately while everyone else is out going to bars and living the life of a normal 20-something-year-old, I like to cozy up under my self-knitted afghan and read. (I don't really have a self-knitted afghan, not for lack of trying, it has more to do with my inability to knit something harder than a scarf -- ask my friends, Christmas circa 2007. I just thought it would add a touch of crazy cat lady that you guys would appreciate.) But I digress.

My ideas ranged from writing about books turned into movies, to writing a blog titled "A Year in the Life of a Bridesmaid" while incorporating my book du jour. Anyway, I just wanted to start writing. So many people just jump in, not caring whether you're going to think them egotistical for writing about themselves everyday or getting up on their soap box and telling you why their opinion is right. I'm here, just wanting to share my opinion about life, love and books and hoping I'll have some readers who will learn from me, but most important, people who I will learn from too.

So here I am, no project in mind. Just a hope that the world is still a good place where strangers can learn a little from each other one post at a time :)