Summer Read- America for Beginners

Is there anything better than lazing around in full sun with a book and cold drink in your hands? It’s probably one of my favorite past times… especially if I find myself on a beach with sand between my toes (and everything else that sand gets stuck between).

I’ve been very strategic this summer to ensure I have adequate time to delve into as many books as I can! Let me tell you, I have read some amazing books lately too! Some of them are simple books with good stories, and others are thought provoking, journeys through very serious subjects.

We are quite a ways off from the end of the year, but I have this feeling America for Beginners may go on my list of BEST BOOKS I’ve read this year! I’m really not exaggerating, this book has a little bit of everything… from the road trip to clashing cultures, you honestly won’t be able to put this book down!

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

I actually sat down in studio and talked with author Leah Franqui recently about her debut novel and asked her to tell us what America for Beginners is about:

But here’s the deal, American for Beginners is SO MUCH MORE.

The novel follows the story of a Bengali widow, Pival, who begins a road trip through America with the ultimate goal of finding her son. Pival books her trip through a tourist company that specifically caters to Indians and markets their business to Bengali’s. She is assigned a young tour guide who is actually Bangladeshi and has just recently immigrated to America and is now tasked with escorting not only Pival, but her hired female companion, Rebecca, around the United States. Their journey from New York to Los Angeles will be one road trip you won’t forget.

Franqui’s writing and expert storytelling come together to form a novel with a very strong message that truly needs to be heard more often. In America, we are in the midst of an uphill battle in regards to racial and cultural discrimination and a very important issue within America for Beginners is the prejudice between Bengalis and Bangladeshis. I asked Leah if she could explain this a little more.

She’s right! Honestly, I’m not well versed in Indian culture and this prejudice was news to me and it played a crucial role in the story as did cultural differences in general. America has always been seen as a melting pot but we are becoming more aware of our own culture’s lack of understanding of others. I asked Leah a little more about these contrasting cultures.

Which reminds me, I totally social media stalked Leah Franqui before I interviewed her because that’s how you prep for an interview, right?! Anyways, on a few of her social media accounts she has these great videos in which she’s talking about her novel. In this one:

In the video she describes America as a land in which people have “the opportunity to reinvent their self” and I’m not sure there has ever been a better way to describe the current image of America. I asked Leah what drew her to this idea…

And America may be described as a melting pot but we can definitely say we’re a culture that is not entirely open minded. In Leah’s novel, her characters struggle with their own ideals and their acceptance of different ideals and morals is not something that comes easily for each other.  However, they don’t completely shut out the idea of change and instead they learn a very valuable lesson in acceptance. Leah talked to me a little more about how important it is to have open conversations and being amenable to other opinions…

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If you want to check out the article on Trevor Noah she mentioned I have conveniently linked it below.

Really, can Leah be any more wise?! Seriously, I feel like this conversation was inspirational. Case in point: “No one likes being told that they’re wrong… we need to be able to let go of that feeling which is almost impossible.” Wisdom we can use every day in almost any situation.

Let’s go back to the characters in the novel. Not only do we follow them on their tour of America but we also get a glimpse into their backgrounds and how they each came to be within the story. Leah’s characters are multidimensional and very realistic, each with their own real-world problems. I asked Leah how difficult it was to create characters so intricate.

And truly, America for Beginners is very complex but you’re immediately drawn to Pival, the main character who is a widow travelling to America from Kolkata, India. Part of Pival’s background is very shocking for anyone who isn’t versed in Indian day-to-day life. I would personally imagine that travelling from the U.S. to India would be a HUGE culture shock and even more so if you aren’t sure what to expect.

But Mumbai and Kolkata are VERY far away from each other even though they’re in the same country. I was curious why Leah chose Kolkata as the home town of Pival.

But Leah experienced the cultural differences first hand. She currently lives in Mumbai with her husband, and I wanted to know what it was like for her to live in India as an American woman.

HOW GREAT WOULD IT BE TO LIVE IN MUMBAI?! Indian culture is truly beautiful and sadly we only get to see an Americanized version of it. Can you imagine being lucky enough to live in the midst of a culture you’re writing about?

Leah’s first hand experience actually helped her write America for Beginners in more than one way.

Honestly I could have asked Leah questions ALL DAY. She is truly so fun to talk to and she is fascinating! Leah is actually from Philadelphia, has lived in New York, graduated from Yale, has a Masters from NYU Tisch, operates 2 blogs, is a playwright and that really isn’t even the end of the list. From her list of qualifications and hobbies it is abundantly obvious and she has a passion for writing. I asked Leah if there was a specific moment in time in which she cam to the realization that writing was what she wanted to do.

I am truly excited that Leah followed her passion… mostly for selfish reasons such as my future reading her books. Also, I tried to suggest a future Franqui fashion line, but alas, no luck. No, I’m not kidding! Just go to any of Leah’s social media pages and look at the dresses she is wearing. SHE MADE THOSE HERSELF. I am in awe of them and truly, in the back of my mind, I had wanted to ask her where she was getting her dresses. They are so flattering and fun… and then I realized she had a sewing blog! So I actually asked Leah what got her into sewing…

So who wants to give me sewing lessons?

Not only is Leah Franqui’s debut novel amazing, but she is truly an interesting and FUN person! I am so excited that I had the opportunity to interview her over the phone and I hope one day I can run into her in person!

America for Beginners is out TODAY and you can purchase it at your local bookstore or online!

If you want to follow Leah Franqui you can follow her

on Twitter @leahfranqui
Instagram @leahfranqui
Facebook @leahfranquiauthor

OR check out her blogs
strugglesewsastraightseam.wordpress.com
sorryimnotsaree.wordpress.com

Fun Read- Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Sometimes you just need a book that isn’t too heavy and emanates a positive attitude. I’ll be honest, I read a TON of books that are, without a doubt, depressing. I’m not sure why but these are the types of stories that feel real to me and in their own way, they feed my soul. But reading these books back to back, I have to find something a little lighter and refreshing every once in a while and thanks to one of my fellow podcasters, Martha Steele, I found exactly what I needed!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Overview:

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? follows a small family who you could easily describe as eclectic. Bee is a student who is highly intelligent and doesn’t quite fit in with her peers at school. Her mother, Bernadette, is borderline agoraphobic and was previously a highly-acclaimed architect. Bernadette’s husband, Elgin, works for Google and is very devoted to his career. When Bee receives perfect grades on her report card, it’s decided that the family will celebrate with a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette utilizes her virtual assistant that lives in India to aide in preparing for the vacation but just before the trip, Bernadette disappears.

My thoughts:

I have to say, this story is so different from what I usually read and it’s also comedic. The story itself is told throughout a series of various documents ranging from letters to official records of investigation and even Bernadette’s correspondence with her virtual assistant. Occasionally, Bee even chimes in with her own commentary on the circumstances. The innocence and mystery of the story will definitely transport you to better days and you won’t be left feeling angry or shocked.

If you are looking for a light hearted, feel good story with a little humor and adventure, you definitely need to check out Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  It’s a perfect read for your own summer adventures or maybe those lazy days by the pool.

Check it out here if you are interested:

Review: Good Neighbors

Have you noticed the amount of books that have recently been published that have a strong theme revolving around neighbors or a neighborhood? It’s fascinating! I’m definitely not a psychologist but if I had to guess, I would honestly attribute the success of the rash of this specific them to our current cultural climate! (That’s sounds pretty corny and a little too sophisticated for me, but roll with it, I’m going somewhere with this!)

In years past, the United States has had an idealistic and semi-unrealistic view of close-knit, white picket fenced, humble neighborhoods in which neighbors are agreeable and cordial in all things neighborly. They wave to each other. Deliver food to each other. Invite each other over for pot roast and mashed potatoes. People were perfect. Houses were perfect. Everything so perfectly pretentious.

Enter the year 2018. Our society has evolved into a highly cautious, revealing, REALISTIC environment. Children can no longer run freely. Alarm systems are in almost every house. AND GOODNESS, we all know they every episode of Forensic Files involves a “quite neighborhood where everyone kept their door unlocked.” And social media has become a social standard. We literally air our dirty laundry out to the internet, but hide from our neighbors. Of course, there are still towns that are quaint where neighbors are cordial and inviting, but I think these places are becoming less and less prevalent.

It’s exactly our lack of intimacy with our neighbor that plays into our fascination. We hear and see news stories, terrifying the audience with murders next door, kids being held hostage and the neighbors in shock, break-ins and robberies, and I could literally keep going on and on. BUT it’s so depressing! We are intrigued with what we know and we are terrified of what COULD happen. Right next door. It truly makes a very compelling theme.

Joanne Serling definitely knew what she was doing when writing Good Nieghbors and the story plays on all aspects of the unknown next door.

Good Neighbors follows the story of four families who have nothing in common other than they live several hundred feet away from each other. They have continued to have neighborhood get-togethers in an attempt to become more familiar with each other and to form a community. During one of these events, Paige divulges information that her and her husband are planning to adopt a child from Russia. When Paige and her family returns with their newly adopted, adorable Russian orphan, the neighbors quickly realize that the adoption is not as simple as expected and that maybe they don’t know as much about each other as they thought.

Serling’s writing is a little different than most stories in similar genres. You get a sense that something is going to happen however, Serling uses this to continue building and shaping the characters, keeping you interested because you feel like a fly on the wall. You are never quite sure what opinion to form of the neighbors, but you understand that everything is not always as it seems which is a moral that is played on heavily through this story.

I very much enjoyed reading Good Neighbors and I loved the twist at the end that really makes you think twice about the opinions you form.

If you want to give it a shot, check out the book here:

Review: The Woman in the Window

I love mysteries, I love suspense, I love Forensic Files (even though it completely creeps out my boyfriend that I watch it all the time). I don’t actually know why I am so enthralled with murder mysteries but they are so intriguing and leave me terrified enough to ensure all my doors are locked.

So when The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn came out, I definitely had to get my hands on it! Although, I have to admit, I was a little nervous because of all the mixed reviews! While many people seemed to love the book, others have proclaimed their extreme hatred for the story!

The Woman in the Window follows Anna Fox, a woman you immediately find to have some serious issues. Anna has agoraphobia but she is also a former psychiatrist. Since she can’t leave her house she has very few hobbies which includes people watching from her window, talking to other’s with agoraphobia online, drinking mass amounts of wine, and visiting with her therapist and physical therapist when they make house visits. You quickly learn that she also has a husband and daughter, but you are left wondering why they no longer live with her.

Through Anna’s people watching, she finds that she is getting new neighbors. For the first time in a while, two of her new neighbors (a mother and son) come to visit and she gets a little giddy at the thought of people who may visit her once in a while… until she sees the woman get murdered through the window. But no one believes her because she is an agoraphobic alcoholic!

I have to say, I understand why some people didn’t enjoy this story line, however I did enjoy it! I was interesting throughout the whole novel, the story kept my interest and there were several surprises along the way not to mention the complete plot twist at the end.

The main character, Anna, definitely has her own issues and you find yourself very frustrated with the situation that she has put herself in and she continues to hurt her own case! Because of this, many have compared the novel to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which is actually referenced multiple times through The Woman in the Window. However, there is something about Anna that ensure you just can’t write her off!

But is The Woman in the Window the greatest mystery or suspense novel of all time?

No.

Is it a good book to read with an interesting story and an intriguing plot?

YES.

I honestly enjoyed reading this book! It’s perfect for a long commute to work or when you’re stuck on an airplane for way too long or when you are sitting on a beach and need something that isn’t too heavy but will still keep your attention.

But give it a shot if you are looking for your next read!

Review- Little Fires Everywhere

Another book I can check off my never ending list of books to read! Little Fires Everywhere seems to have struck a very important chord throughout the literary loving world and all the talk revolving around it definitely caught my attention. From Reese Witherspoon’s future adaptation of the novel to every major literary review publication raving about Celeste Ng, if you haven’t heard of Little Fires Everywhere by now… you have probably been living in a cave.

I, however, have been wading waist deep in a pile of books I can’t wait to read… but every time I finish one I feel like 10 more are added to the pile. Which actually speaks wonders for the literary world! All of these amazing books just keep coming!

But let’s go ahead and talk about Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng!

Honestly, before I grabbed this off the shelf, I had no idea what it was about! I just knew that everyone loved it and after delving into the story, I completely see why!

Little Fires Everywhere follows two families living in the impeccably planned and incredibly proper community of Shaker Heights. The Richardsons’ are a wealthy family, living a very average and normal life that is sharply contrasted by the Warrens’, a family consisting of a mother and daughter who have never called any town HOME for very long. Pearl Warren quickly becomes friends with the Richardson children, intertwining the lives of these two very different families. As you read, you learn that each character has a past and no matter how hard they may try to keep secrets, the past will effect their futures.

There is a very strong and compelling theme of motherhood and the difficult family dynamics throughout the story that will fascinate the reader. Personally, I have always tried my best to see things through the eyes of everyone involved and Celeste Ng has done a wonderful job allowing you to understand the actions and motivations from the eyes of each character. Each character has their own faults and imperfections, yet each one is so real and vivid. And while the town is given a definitive tone of perfection, you realize that Shaker Heights is hiding both racial and political unrest deep in its underbelly.

Trying to appreciate the reasoning behind someone’s actions that you may not agree with is one of the most difficult acts of empathy for humans. But I hope that is something readers take with them from Little Fires Everywhere. 

Just click the book below if you want to give it a read!

New Release!

Great news! I have been reading. A LOT. Which is great. Because it is for YOU and YOUR benefit. Just kidding, I really just love reading. This week I have a NEW RELEASE to tell you all about!

But this time when I say new release, it’s so new that you can purchase it tomorrow, March 20th! Which makes me feel a little special… because I read a book that isn’t available to the general public yet… even though the only special thing I did to get the book early was sign up for the Book of the Month club. Which is awesome btw.

So let’s talk about Broken Girls by Simone St. James!

I chose to purchase this from BotM because I had already seen several people posting about this novel and how great it was. I read the short synopsis and decided that it definitely seemed to be right up my alley and I didn’t realize that it hadn’t even been published yet. . . until someone told me last Friday. Oops.

But nevertheless, I delved into this book and I did have a few expectations due to the description but I was also excited about the story. And again, there was no disappointment here!

Broken Girls follows two separate timelines. The first follows Fiona, a journalist in Vermont that has a heartbreaking past. Her 20-year old sister was murdered when Fiona was 17 and while the murderer has been caught, Fiona has always had questions about the case that have never been answered. But when she finds out that there are plans to renovate the all-girls school, which is where her sister’s body was found, Fiona decides that a story on the renovations would be a perfect cover for her to dig deeper into the mystery she has been obsessed with.

The other timeline that Broken Girls follows, is that of four girls in the 1950’s who attend an all-girls school that everyone hates. They are considered troubled kids along with the other girls in attendance and they are not given much thought. But the longer they stay at the school, the more they realize that there is something for them to be afraid of. When one of the girls is found dead, they take matters into their own hands to get to the bottom the case.

Eventually, both stories collide in a way you will never guess as you read through this dark and haunting novel. I love the complexity of the story, the historical tones, and the mystery will keep you guessing!

Simone St. James did an amazing job and now I am going to have to add her other novels to my TBR list! My list is going to start over flowing soon!

But if you want to grab this book just click on the picture below!

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Poetry. Every sentence of Jesmyn Ward’s novel has its own poetic license to it. Maybe that’s why I found myself unable to put down Sing, Unburied, Sing even though it is so realistic that it slowly breaks your heart over the course of its 200+ pages.

Sing, Unburied, Sing follows Jojo, a young boy who lives on a pallet beside his mother’s bed inside the house of his grandparents. His grandparents have essentially raised him but his grandmother is on her death bed from cancer and his grandfather is trying to keep everything from falling apart while still caring for Jojo and his baby sister. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, is heavily into drugs and his white father has been in prison for three years…

And then his father is released from jail so a road trip ensues. Leonie, against her father’s better judgement, decided that Jojo and his sister needed to make the trek to the prison along with her and her untrustworthy best friend. Along the way, Jojo has to take care of himself and his sister as learns that the world is not quite what is seems and he also brings an unexpected and unwelcome souvenir back from the prison.

I wish someone would have told me to read anything and everything written by Jesmyn Ward a long time ago. Her writing is beautiful in the best of ways. The strength of her words is awe-inspiring. The political and socioeconomic undertones she is so realistically able to portray need to be heard more often.

Jesmyn Ward needs to be hear more often! Seriously, I am buying all of her books, I can’t help it!

If you want to read Sing, Unburried, Sing just check out the link below!

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Big Little Lies

I know I am jumping on this train a little late… but with all the hype around Reese Witherspoon’s “book club” and all of the publicity lately surrounding Big Little Lies, I just couldn’t help myself! I went in completely unaware of the plot on this novel because I was avoiding false expectations and I haven’t even seen the HBO show yet (although that’s mostly because I refuse to pay for cable.)

But let me start out by letting you know Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is NOT a disappointment. It is a fabulous novel. One that I even recommended to my mom!

Essentially, the book follows 3 main characters, all mothers who meet as they are taking their kids to pre-school. And while the women have several things in common, they also are nothing alike. You have Jane who is very young and a single mother of a son named Ziggy. Madeline who is a middle-class mother, and Celeste, a mother of twin boys with a very rich husband. Moriarty does a wonderful job letting you see these characters in their own light and ensuring that you understand each character is going through their own struggle. As they all evolve through the novel, so does their relationship with each other and you then see how their secrets come to light in a way that you completely don’t expect.

Big Little Lies will hook you with its drama and continues to reel you in with the likability of the characters but as soon as you get comfortable, you get thrown for a ride you weren’t expecting.

If someone had told me that Big Little Lies was a book about a bunch of moms with secrets and drama, I honestly would have thrown this to the DO NOT READ list… but I am so glad that I did read it! The characters are portrayed so realistically and there are so many important undertones to the story I truly understand why everyone loves it so much!

I really think you will to! Check it out it you want! Just click the book below!

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International Women’s Day!

I know you probably aren’t living under a rock but in the event you are, I just want to let you know that today is International Women’s Day!! It’s a wonderful day to celebrate the momentous achievement of women all over the world and it has been so inspiring and motivational to read so many stories of women who are real and who have struggled and persevered and lived!

So, in celebration of #IWD, I wanted to share with you someone who has inspired me, left me in awe, and satisfied my philosophical soul because she is AMAZING and I hope she AMAZES you as much as me.

Her name is….

MARTHA GELLHORN

I know, you have probably never heard of her unless you have studied journalism or enjoy HBO movies… Specifically the movie titled Hemingway and Gellhorn. Maybe you’re a Hemingway guru and knew that she was his third wife, although that didn’t last long.

When I first began researching Martha Gellhorn I had formed a mental analysis of her as a person. I pictured a woman who was bigger than everyone around her, a woman who knew her strength, importance and her talent, and she was completely aware of her purpose. I felt that she was the type of person who was positive of what they wanted and was willing to go to great lengths in an attempt to achieve it. I felt that there must be reason and logic to her life, that she used every event advantageously, consistently planning her next moves and consequently, she came out on top as a person to be reckoned with.

In so many ways, the Martha Gellhorn that I conjured up and filled my skull with and the Martha Gellhorn that actually walked this planet are complete polar opposites, yet they share so many similar characteristics. Gellhorn was a woman that contained a passion for writing that was so fierce it left a charred trail behind not only in her mind but also in her personal life. She was determined to the bone. It was an attempt to change the world, to gusher a spark of humanity during in the midst of war. She was married to her aspirations.

I always had it in the back of my head that Martha Gellhorn was a person who was past the frivolities of the average woman. I imagined her to be as logical and serene as the wisest of men. I pictured a woman who had detached herself from the average emotions of the human body in order to overcome the hardships of life that she saw on a regular basis. I was wrong. She was just as frivolous and giggly as a school girl and her emotions ran wild and hot. She was real, and when you read the letters that she has written, it’s proof that she contained a form of humanity that so many people desperately lack. She fell in love just as easily as she fell out of love, she was easily annoyed with those who she deemed as simple or drab. Many described her as the life of the party, mentioning how well she could hold her drink and how she could cuss with the best of them and they always remembered the joy and laughter that she thrived around.

But what no one does mention is the almost constant and ever persistent melancholy that she could never seem to shake. And as so many others, she always felt the need to do better, to improve and achieve perfection.

Gellhorns career and personal life are both immensely interesting and I find it hard to tear myself away from her words. She was a truly amazing person full of flaws and self doubt and strength and courage and so much more.

I have read several of her books and I plan to read more this year. Check out two of my favorites. I LITERALLY keep The Letters of Martha Gellhorn on my phone and read it whenever I need a little soul food.

 

“But if you have no part in the world, no matter how diseased the world is, you are dead. It is not enough to earn your living, do no actual harm to anyone, tell no lies (so as not to be responsible ever for any treachery however small), help a few people with money or kindness when the occasion presents- and without too great hardship to oneself. It is not enough. It is okay. It is not dirty. But it is dead.” -Martha Gellhorn

 

 

The Secret History

Let’s talk about Donna Tartt for a second. Is she not the best?! But really, she has already written my all time favorite novel, The Goldfinch, and every time that I pick up one of her books I am in awe. Well, to be fair I have actually only read 2 of her 3 novels but alas, both are genius and both are genius for different reasons.

I recently picked up a copy of The Secret History. This is another book that I remember being highly publicized, however I never got around to reading it until this week and now I am utterly disappointed in myself for not reading this sooner!

The Secret History follows a young boy who goes off to a fancy college on a scholarship to the great disdain of his parents. He ends up in a semi-elitist group of highly eccentric kids studying Greek and the classics under a professor who elicits an air of mystery. Essentially, the more involved he becomes with this group and the more he finds out about the more he realizes that he doesn’t really know them.

I don’t want to say anymore about the plot, as I don’t want to give anything away and the mystery of the story is what makes it! BUT OMG, Donna Tartt! I could literally analyze this book front to back and give you every example possible of how she uses every literary trick and it works so perfectly and harmoniously to give you this story. She literally uses foreshadowing in the most blunt, provocative way possible and gets away with it because it makes you read FASTER. But she does so much more.

Donna Tartt is my official author crush. If I ever become an author I hope my novels are as intelligent and sophisticated as The Goldfinch and The Secret History, because these are both truly works of literary art.