Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Graduates.. wherein I brag about my kids!

The school year FINALLY ended for us yesterday. Phew! And what an eventful end it was. BOTH girls graduated their respective schools in the last two days!

Here is where I exercise my bragging rights to the full extent of my freedom to do so. You have been warned! ;) ...

Our youngest daughter, Anna, graduated from middle school (8th grade) on Monday night and will be starting high school in September. I can't believe my baby is going to high school! She finished her middle school career with a Presidential Award for Educational Excellence having earned high academic achievement measured with GPA of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale (90 or above on a 100 scale) for her entire middle school years (6th-8th) and having also achieved high scores on state and national standard achievement tests. She also earned High Honors in Literature and Process Writing this year. Separate from her academic achievements, Anna earned her Girl Scout Silver Award this year having completed a long term community service project of improving the visitation rooms in a local DYFS [Division of Youth and Family Services] office where children in the foster care program are now able to reconnect with their parents in cheerful, inviting rooms that are uplifting and conducive to healthy interaction and playtime. We're so proud of her!

Our oldest daughter, Maria, graduated from high school last night.. I cannot believe we are the parents of an 18 year old high school graduate! Where did the time go? I didn't think I was going to get emotional at her graduation, but at one point my husband whispered to me that he just saw her yawn and when I looked at her, she did look kind of sleepy (I think the heat was getting to everyone--it was pretty hot sitting out there in the football field wearing those graduation gowns!). I was instantly flooded with memories of her as a baby falling asleep in my arms or sleeping alongside me in bed as a toddler and I couldn't stop the tears from welling in my eyes. I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the quick passage of time and at the same time filled with so much pride in the intelligent, conscientious, responsible, compassionate and beautiful young woman she has become.

Like her younger sister, Maria also graduated with excellent academic standing. She was a member of the high school's University Program since freshman year, a member of the National Honor Society and graduated in the top 10% of her class with a GPA above 4.2. Her senior research project was on the sexual exploitation of women in the media, a suitable subject for her as it combined her passion for photography and other visual arts with an important social issue. She was also active in several clubs, community service projects and a member of the swim team for one year and the girls volleyball team all four years. In September she'll be attending Rutgers University (my Alma Mater), possibly double majoring in photo journalism and women's and gender studies. Naturally, we are very proud of her.

Now for some photos!

Anna and her friends dressed up for the 8th grade semi-formal dance. Anna is in the black and white dress at the bottom right.

8th grade semi-formal
Maria and Nick going to senior prom. Don't they look great? These two have known each other since kindergarten and started dating halfway through their freshman year in high school. He'll be going to an art school in NYC in September where he plans to study graphic design. Interestingly, Maria and Nick were named female and male 'Best Artist' in their high school this year--Maria for her talent in photography and Nick for his talent in all fine arts, painting is forte. He even received 1st place in a private art show in our community last spring. Anyway, they had a really nice time at the prom. Maria said the sweetest part of the night was that Nick willingly danced with her all night even though he doesn't like to dance. Aw.. very sweet.

Maria & Nick
Senior Prom
I don't have any photos of Anna on her 8th grade graduation - my husband has them on his computer. But she wore the same pretty white sundress for her sister's graduation last night, so I figure that works! My best friend from childhood (from when we were 4 years old!), who is also Maria's godmother, came to Maria's graduation last night. Her presence really made the day special. Here are all of us girls walking to the graduation site:

Me, Anna, Maria and her godmother Angela
Here's a photo of my two Class of 2013 graduates.. high school and 8th grade:
Maria and Anna
Finally, the proud parents... 
My husband and me
Certainly an eventful time in our household! May the academic achievements, personal growth and simple enjoyment of life continue for everyone! xo 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Austen In August

Confession: I have never read a book by Jane Austen. O_o
But that's going to change this summer because I plan to read at least one Jane Austen novel in August. I joined the Austen In August event hosted by Adam who blogs at Roof Beam Reader, I've decided to finally crack open the single volume collection of seven Jane Austen works that I own. I bought this tome several Christmases ago for myself and it still sits on our bookshelf unread. Now the question is which book should I read first?

Have you read Jane Austen? If so, which book is your favorite?

In other words, which of the following Austen books do you suggest I read?

Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey
Lady Susan

To join Austen In August, visit Adam at the Austen In August Sign-In.

For book event discussions on twitter, follow the hash tag #AustenInAugustRBR.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Happy Summer Solstice, northern hemisphere people!
Happy Winter Solstice to those of you in the southern hemisphere!

I'm so happy summer is finally here and today's weather in the NY metro area is a perfect way to start the season.. the sun is shinning, it's 81º F with no humidity (ahhh!) and a gentle breeze is blowing. It doesn't get much better than this. It would be nice if it stayed this way, but I'm sure hot and humid is right around the corner!

Two more half days of school for my girls with a graduation ceremony each night and we are done!

First, I have exciting Reading Challenge news to share with you. Well, exciting to me, anyway. ;) I actually succeeded in completing my goals in Carl's Once Upon a Time VII Reading Challenge! Woohoo! I chose to participate in the third quest, which was to read five books from any combination of fairy tale, folklore, fantasy and mythology genres and read Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. And I did it! This is what I read:

1. Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs  ... GN Urban Fantasy
2. Wild Invitation by Nalini Singh                         ....  Paranormal - PNR
3. MirrorMask by Neil Gaiman                         .... Fairy tale
4. Stardust by Neil Gaiman                                .... Fantasy
5. The Dark-Hunters, Vol. 1, 2 & 3 by Sherrilyn Kenyon    .... Manga - PNR 
5. Hearts of Shadow                                              .... Folklore - PNR
6. "Falling for Anthony" by Meljean Brook     .... Paranormal w/mythological/biblical elements
7. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness     .... Fantasy - folklore
8. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness              .... Fantasy - folklore

9. Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream Graphic Novel

Congratulations to me!

Now let's talk about summer reading! My summer reading plans include reading some Japanese Lit, Jane Austen and The Guardians series by Meljean Brook with several other spontaneous choices thrown in along the way.

I'm already signed up for the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza that I posted about last weekend. I'd like to read at least two books before we travel to Japan in a few weeks.

I've also signed up--but not yet posted about-- the Austen In August reading event hosted by Adam who blogs at Roof Beam Reader. I'm really excited about it! I want to post more about it in a separate post, so look for that very soon.

Finally, I am determined to catch up in The Guardians series by Meljean Brook this summer in preparation for the release of the final book in that comes out in August, including re-reading a few of the earliest books I read many moons ago and then reading the more recent releases that have been languishing unread on my TBR shelf. I'm pretty excited about this reading project as I'm a huge fan of Meljean's writing prowess. Her world building and character development are phenomenal. The writing is really smart--I just love it.  If you enjoy fantasy and urban fantasy, I think you'd like this series. Well, the series is technically marketed as paranormal romance, so expect some sexiness.

In addition to those three more specific reading goals, I'll be reading a bunch of other books, too. Some will be the monthly book picks for book club, the TBR Challenge and whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

What's on YOUR summer reading list?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

REVIEW: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Published February 2011

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian is 'RITA Award nominees or winners' -- pick a book from your TBR or To Be Read shelf that was either nominated or awarded a RITA Award in the past. For those of you unfamiliar with the romance genre, the RITA Award is an award given by RWA [Romance Writers of America] to recognize excellence in published romance novels and novellas and is named after RWA's first president, Rita Clay Estrada. [] A list of past RWA Award recipients can be found here. I was surprised at how many books on my TBR shelf that I could choose from for this one and in the end, I went with a more recent RITA winner, First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, which won the Best First Book RITA Award in 2012.

I won this book in a giveaway by the publisher last year, I believe through a goodreads giveaway. I received no compensation for writing this review.

I had the feeling this book was going to be a fun one as soon as I read the author's dedication. Check this out:

"For Annette.

My beautiful sister.

You are like sunshine: 
and oddly irritating at times.

But what else are sisters for?"

Isn't that great? I truly think this was the first time an author's dedication sold me on reading a book!

So about the book. First Grave on the Right the first book in a paranormal suspense series featuring Charlotte 'Charley' Davidson. Charley is the grim reaper, helping lost souls cross to the other side. Sometimes when someone dies for nefarious reasons like murder, the dead seek Charley's help in solving their crimes. It's usually these times when Charley works as a private investigator with her Uncle Bob, often consulting with the Albuquerque police department to help solve murders. The cops aren't always so nice to Charley--most people respond negatively to her unusual ability to see and speak to dead people, but at the same time they can't seem to help needing her often enough to ensure justice is served. Thank goodness Charley has such an awesome sense of humor and a great best friend to help her get through all the craziness!

In First Grave on the Right, Charley is called in on a murder case involving three lawyers all from the same firm. Soon one of their clients is found dead and Charley is key in solving the murders, thanks to her ability to communicate with the dead lawyers. In the meantime, Charley's trying to figure out who is visiting her every night driving her crazy in her dreams. Although these dreams are so vivid these visits might just be real. Not only that, but she's starting to think this guy in her dreams is someone "other" like her who reminds her an awful lot of a guy named Reyes she met one disturbing night when she was a teen so she sets out to investigate whatever happened to that guy all those years ago. All of this investigating while still helping lost souls go into the light keeps Charley very busy and keeps those pages turning one after another.

This book is a hoot. Charley is very funny--her sharp wit and sarcasm add a lighthearted, humorous tone to a story that would otherwise be rather grim and depressing. There are definite serious moments to the book, but overall it's a fast paced, quirky, fun read.

As much as I prefer not to compare books in a review, I can't help but mention how much First Grave on the Right reminds me of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, only better and with a supernatural twist. The funny lines and moments in First Grave on the Right are laugh out loud funny and the seriousness of the plot has quite a bit of depth to it. Around the middle of the book I debated whether I would seek out the subsequent books in the series.. I mean, I was having fun reading the book and I liked it, but I wasn't sure if I really liked it enough to invest more time and money on it. Then the revelations in the last twenty pages or so were just too intriguing and now I just have to read the next book!

I thought I was going to give First Grave on the Right 3 or 3.5 stars, but in the end, I'm going with 4 out of 5 on goodreads.


Do you read the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones? What's your take on it?

Next month's #TBRChallenge theme is 'a romance classic.' What book do you consider a classic in the romance genre?  

I already have a book from my shelves in mind for next month, but I'd love to hear what you think is a romance classic!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Japanese Literature Challenge 7

While attempting to tackle over 1200 unread posts in Feedly the other day, I came across a new reading challenge on Harvee's blog Book Dilettante that I'd like to join. This one's for Japanese Literature! I'm pretty excited about this one because it will expand my literature horizons a bit, plus 2013 has become the Year of Japan for me, highlighted by our upcoming trip there later this summer.

Hosted by: Dolce Bellezza 

Link: Japanese Literature Challenge 7

Time Frame: June 1 2013 - January 30 2014

Goal: Read a number of works in Japanese Literature

Readers can chose to read a variety of genres in Japanese written works, including children's books, short stories, mystery, biography, sci-fi/fantasy, manga and poetry with an optional monthly theme. June is children's literature.

I recently read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami for the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge, The Big Book Challenge and The Wind-Up Bird Read Along hosted by Ti at Book Chatter. I'm looking forward to sampling some more Japanese literature in the coming months.

I'm planning to read at least five Japanese books. I'll keep a running list of the books I read for this challenge here, editing this post as I go along. Below is a list of five books I'm strongly considering, which is open to change as I discover more about Japanese literature.

1. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
2. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
5. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki [Japanese-American author]

I know it doesn't really count because it's not written by a Japanese author, but I also plan to read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Come to think of it, I'm not certain A Tale for the Time Being technically counts, either.

Have you read Japanese Literature? If so, what do you recommend?

**** EDITED ****
Books read to date: 

1. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruiki Murakami 
2. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki [Japanese-American author]
3. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Friday, June 14, 2013

Library Loot LXIX

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

My second post this week! Hopefully this is a sign of more blogging to come. This week was crappy.. nothing terrible, just a few little sad things and few other things going wrong. Everyone seems kind of cranky and the weather's been lousy. Have you ever read me write so many negative things in one paragraph on my blog? I really try not to. Hoping to press that reset button over the weekend. :)

Here's a look at the books I've brought home from the library (libraries) since my last Library Loot post.

Borrowed from the library:

Travel books:
Hong Kong 

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A Midsummer Night's Dream graphic novel

Health & Cookbooks:
Meatless from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart
The Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomroy 
(I'm doing this now! Will post more soon..)
Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr
(I reviewed Crazy Sexy Diet HERE.)

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This is the second book in the All Souls Trilogy by this author, which I'm greatly enjoying. I finished reading A Discovery of Witches for May's book club pick and promptly sought out its sequel. I really love Harkness' writing and the story is complex and enriching. I'm halfway through this one now then I'll have to wait with everyone else for the final book expected sometime this year or next, I suppose.

Bought for a total of $8 at my library's used book sale: 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller 
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Záfon (duplicate copy for my shelf) 
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Záfon 
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten 
The Shack by William Paul 
Young Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier 
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey 
His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander 
The Christmas Thief by Mary Higgins Clark 
All Through the Night by Mary Higgins Clark 
Dashing Through the Snow by Mary Higgins Clark 
Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark 

I've never read anything by Mary Higgins Clark, but since these were novella-sized books and Christmas themed, I thought they'd make a nice addition to my collection of holiday books. 

Have you read any of the books above? 

And then standing upright on the right in the photo, all by Anne Rice:

The Tale of The Body Thief 
Angel Time 
The Vampire Armand 
The Queen of the Damned 
Interview with the Vampire 

Some of these Anne Rice books are duplicates to books I already own, but my copies were in less pristine condition or missing their book jackets. I almost have a complete set of her Vampire and Witch books now. I think I need just one or two more, all of which I am determined to find in hardcover format at used book sales. Not sure if I'll ever read them all, but I do love how they look on the bookshelf. 

What have you brought home from the library recently?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I'm learning Japanese!

Konnichiwa! Today I started an audio course to learn how to speak Japanese!

image made using iphone app
Beautiful Mess

I'm learning Japanese because we are visiting Japan for part of our vacation this summer! I'm SO EXCITED! Well, a little nervous, too .. even though I love to travel, I get a lot of travel anxiety before a trip. But I'm working through it and I think starting this Japanese course is going to help me get psyched to go.

We're also going to the Philippines which is my husband's native country. He immigrated to the USA back in the 70s as a young boy and hasn't been back since! I'm excited finally visit there after learning so much about the country, its people, food and customs over the last 25+ years that we've been together. I think it will be an invaluable experience for our daughters to see the country from where half their heritage comes.

We'll also be spending a couple of days in Hong Kong between visiting the Philippines and Japan. Phew! It's going to be another whirlwind trip abroad, but that's the way we do it.

I've only done the first two lessons in the Japanese audio course and so far I know how to say, "Excuse me, may I please have some ice cream?" and "Excuse me, may I please have some coffee?" You know what? ....  I think I'm set! ;)

Have you been to The Philippines, Hong Kong or Japan? 

If so, do you have any travel advice?

Monday, June 10, 2013


Hey everyone. It's been more than two weeks since my last post. So much for finding my blogging groove, huh? I feel so out of touch with everyone, too.. I have no idea what's going on with my fellow bloggers. Now I feel that I'll never catch up. Please know that I hope you're all doing well.. keeping busy and having fun with whatever you love to do. 

Things have been pretty busy in our household lately. I know I mentioned in my last post all kinds of great things going on with my daughters. Most of the big stuff is done.. 8th grade semi formal, 8th grade overnight trip to Boston, dance recital, senior prom, etc. Now we're just riding out the rest of the school year for graduations--we've got two this year. Our youngest daughter, Anna, graduates 8th grade on June 24th and our eldest daughter Maria graduates high school on June 25th. I swear we have got to be the last school districts in the country to still be in school this late. We have Hurricane Sandy to thank for that for shutting down schools for almost two weeks last October. Anyway, lots of changes in store for us come September as Anna goes on to high school and Maria goes to college! It's all kinds of wonderful and scary. 

A few months ago.. 100 days ago to be exact ... I joined the 100 Day Happiness Project that my friend Mari started up on her blog. You can read more about the project on her blog HERE or visit my post about it on March 1 of this year HERE. Basically I posted a list of projects that I wanted to work on over 100 days from March 1 to June 9 that would make me feel good and spread happiness. I didn't do even half the things on my list. I only did two. Yes, procrastination is thy middle name. Along with distraction. I'm easily distracted by spur of the moment projects and other life events with my family. That's life. It's happening! [quoted from Mari].

Despite my project failure, I do not feel this project was a waste of my time. Not at all. The thing is, I did do a lot of things over the last 100 days that were productive and happy. Some things were new things and that's great! Some things were things I do all the time. Things that make me a better person and the world a better place. So I made a new HAPPINESS list:  

Made with
Photo of rose taken by me with iPhone 4S
This is a list I strive to live by every single day. Some days are better than others and I'm okay with that.

You know.. I think I really love this list.

What do you think?

"Rules for Happiness:
something to do,
someone to love,
something to hope for." 

-- Immanuel Kant