Stay Tuned

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In between reading holiday novels, I decided to check out another novel set in the world of television news, Lauren Clark’s Stay Tuned. 

Melissa Moore is 39 years old and works as a senior producer at WSGA in Macon, Georgia. When the station’s evening anchors are fired, Melissa is called upon to temporarily anchor while continuing to produce. She thrives in the new role, but her personal life is not as great. She’s experiencing an empty nest with her only child off at college, her husband’s work schedule has put their marriage on shaky ground, and her aging mother is suffering from dementia. Melissa must find a balance between her new professional responsibilities and her personal life.

Earlier this year, I reviewed Stalking Susanwhich focused on a reporter protagonist; this novel’s protagonist is a producer. The producer is the major backbone of a news broadcast. They are in charge of deciding when and what stories will air, coordinating the graphics, writing the script, and more. In other words, fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together. In Melissa’s case, it was interesting to see her character navigating being both a producer and anchor and occasional reporter. It really illustrated how someone in the news business can switch between roles.

One of the major messages of the novel focuses on how the news business is more than just a numbers game. As Melissa observes in chapter 34, “News wasn’t all about ratings, or a catchy headline, or scooping the story. It was about a friend’s college student, the safety of a neighbor’s child, the viability of a local farm… Reaching for a higher purpose. Being a better person, every day. Finding a solution.”

The story also reflects how difficult maintaining a personal life can be due to a demanding job. Melissa’s best friend Candace proves to be a confidante, but Melissa herself has to figure out whether the new opportunities at work are worth sacrificing more free time with her family.

I recommend this novel because it offers insight to how the news business connects people to others in more ways than one.

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A Sugar Creek Christmas

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No holiday season is complete without watching the pleasantly clichéd holiday movies on Lifetime, Hallmark, and even Netflix. The tropes include estranged family, workaholic protagonists, and long-lost love. However ridiculous or unrealistic these films are, they can offer a nice escape from the sometimes stressful holiday season and be a guilty pleasure to share with your friends and/or family. Holiday novels can offer a similar opportunity. Having really enjoyed Jenny B. Jones’ other novels, I decided to go with her book A Sugar Creek Christmas. 

Thirty-one-year-old Emma Sutton has enjoyed a successful career as a TV news personality in New York City. When a viral video of her saying how terrible Christmas is puts her job on hold, Emma travels back to her hometown of Sugar Creek, Arkansas to fill in for the town’s event planner during the holiday season. There, she’s reunited with her ex-fiance Noah Kincaid, now the mayor of the town. Emma struggles to coordinate the town’s busy holiday schedule, cope with her estranged father’s return and reconnect with Noah.

While I was at first skeptical of why Emma didn’t like Christmas, her backstory offers some insight. Emma’s mother passed from cancer when Emma was just eight years old. Her father, overcome with grief and unsure of how to be a single parent, chose to focus on his job as a singer, pulling Emma along with him until she went to live with her Grandma Sylvie as a teenager. It’s a good example of how grief can overwhelm a parent and the lifelong effect it can have on the child. Even years later as an adult, Emma struggles to cope with her father’s absence in her life and the Christmas memories of her mother. Reading a protagonist’s story of losing both of her parents in different ways can make one realize just how important it is to spend time with them.

I also liked the theme of Christmas in a small town. The theme has been done plenty of times before, but this reminded me of my own hometown. Now that I live in D.C., there are endless ways to get in the holiday spirit- the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, the Capitol Christmas tree, and more. Having so many options can make you feel excited but even a little indecisive at what to do or where to go. A small town’s holiday happenings can offer a more unique and personal experience, and less crowds.

I recommend this novel as a nice read about how a small town Christmas can offer one a break from city life and emphasize the importance of family and other loved ones.

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The Lies About Truth

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After reading Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens, I decided to check out her second novel, The Lies About Truth.

A year after being scarred in a bad car accident that killed her best friend Trent, Sadie Kingston is trying to rebuild her life. She’s withdrawn from school, has fallen out of touch with her close friends Gray and Gina, spends her days at the local junkyard and her nights going for runs along the Florida coast. However, Sadie finds solace through her emails with Trent’s younger brother Max, who is overseas due to his family’s temporary relocation. The two bond over their shared grief, and Sadie finds herself falling for him. When Max and his family unexpectedly return, Sadie must navigate their relationship in real life, learn to forgive her friends and begin to heal.

The themes of this novel include grief, relationships, and of course, truth. Like most people in her situation, Sadie wishes things were different, but continuously thinks I don’t have a time machine. This is a major truth for life, plain and simple. However, there are several more truths Sadie’s afraid of telling her friends because of what might happen, a common feeling that we’ve all felt one time or another. She writes a list of goals for the year, something she has worked on with her therapist. I wish there were more scenes between Sadie and her therapist, because it highlights the importance of how talking about your feelings and emotions with someone can be beneficial.

I also liked the book’s exploration of a long-distance relationship, one that forms over electronic communications. Writing words to each other is a form of getting to know each other, meeting in person can prove to be much different and getting used to.

I recommend this book to those who like to read stories about reconnecting with friends and realizing that you don’t always have control over the truth.

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A Weekend in Washington (original poetry by me)

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In college I took a poetry class that required us to write different forms of poems. One was a sonnet, which is a series of fourteen lines where each line has ten syllables. The lines are written in iambic pentameter, or when an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. This is a series of five sonnets that I wrote about Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2012 based on a trip I took there to visit my brother. Little did I know I would actually end up moving here…

A Weekend in Washington

I.

The monument towers over the crowd.

It’s tall and white with brick and gleaming stone.

Summer tremors that came were very loud.

The damages make travelers postpone.

 

Yet still the people look and admire.

The history is there for all to learn.

Evoke and think imagine; inspire.

A symbol of the strength the nation earned.

 

Origins date to 1840s time,

in honor of first president’s success.

But then the Civil War made us entwined

and stopped the start making no such progress.

Resulting halfway up the colors switch,

but still it has the power to enrich.

 

 

II.

The metro comes and goes all day and night,

serving public and visitors alike.

A substitute for cars and skates and bikes,

the cut in time lessens the stress and fright.

 

The train roars down the track with lights so bright

and sends the air around to sudden spike.

People, careful, stepped back, prevents a strike.

They sit on seats with bags and books, and write.

 

The map’s colors are green and red and blue

and orange, they indicate the routes plainly,

to shops and stops to see and view, brand new

The train then halts at stops in the city.

Escalators bring people up and through.

A signature of Washington, D.C.

 

III.

Buildings are built as rectangles and squares.

But this is one that is not either shape.

Unique in size, stature, extremely rare.

People look up, surprised and stare, agape.

 

Rising from ground, it’s grey, circled, adorned,

part of Smithsonian’s places to see.

Museum’s name: Hirshhorn, after Joseph Hirshhorn.

Collected art from the two centuries.

 

 

It’s filled with art, antiques, from years ago

On three levels in hallways all around.

Sculptures, paintings, pictures, with Picasso

Artists from all countries, meant to astound.

 

Outside fountain, sits center and its spray,

shoots high into the air to show the way.

 

 

IV.

The view from steps confuses those who look.

Instead seeing reflection, water’s gleam,

the pool in front of Lincoln’s seat they took.

Construction is upon this sight it seems.

 

A sign out front is telling what is near.

In order to avoid a standing pool,

reroute Tidal Basin’s current to here.

And then water will flow and fuel.

 

Pictures taken show how progress has been

At first was dirt and now cement is there

Results are close, are coming soon and then

people will walk upon the pool’s new flair.

 

For now people just stand and stare a bit

and lean against the fence surrounding it

 

 

V.

Across Potomac’s stretch is Arlington.

Walking across the bridge we look and see

the hill, national cemetery,

commemorates veterans and not just one.

 

A tribute for soldiers who fought in wars.

The rows of stones are white and all the same,

except for fronts and backs who bear the names.

The years are there to see and look for more.

 

Seeking somebody’s grave we know is here,

we walk down roads across the huge landscape.

We talk and look, the Pentagon is near.

My dad’s old friend is somewhere in this place.

And then we reach the spot and it’s all clear.

Robert L. Cook, the name that slows our pace.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

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Handwritten letters, despite not being as popular anymore, have become a trope in several different novels. A novel I recently reviewed, Keep Me Posted, uses them as a central plot device, as does the popular YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. As indicated by the title, Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes focuses on letters as well.

Seventeen-year-old Virginia “Ginny” Blackstone has idolized her Aunt Peg for most of her life. Unlike Aunt Peg’s sister (Ginny’s mother) who settled down and had a kid (Ginny), “Runaway Aunt Peg” spent her life residing in New York City as an artist and traveling the world. When Peg dies unexpectedly of a brain tumor, she leaves a package of 13 blue envelopes full of instructions for Ginny to read and follow. The letters take Ginny all around Europe, where she meets diverse people and explores different places.

The international aspect of this plot was pretty accurate. Ginny being unfamiliar with the customs and language of multiple countries, meeting random people along the way and staying in hostels reflects the experiences that overseas travel brings. Being to some of these cities myself, it was easy to visualize the places where she went.

However, the rest of the plot was a little confusing and left me with a lot of questions. First of all, there’s no mention of Ginny’s parents. How on earth would they let her travel to Europe alone at 17 with no phone or form of contact whatsoever? The lack of communication with her parents is apparently part of the “rules” stated in the letters. But even when I studied abroad at 19, I made sure I let my parents know that I was safe by phone, email, Facebook or some other way.

Also, some of Ginny’s decisions seem a little questionable. Her choices include following a random guy back to his apartment and instantly forming a crush on another guy a mere day after meeting him. Granted, she is only 17, but applying common sense to some of these decisions wouldn’t be too difficult.

I did find Ginny’s recollections of Aunt Peg to be a good element. Although Peg has passed away, Ginny doesn’t like to think of her as deceased. I could relate to this, as there are several family members that I know are no longer here, but live in my memories.

Overall, this book is a nice, quick read but lacks a solid plot.

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Educated

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For most people, schooling begins at about age three with preschool, usually followed by kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and then college. Being in school for almost 2 decades gives you plenty of education and knowledge. But imagine not setting foot in a classroom until age 17. This is what the life of Tara Westover, PhD, was like, as described in her memoir Educated.

Dr. Westover was born in September 1986 in rural Idaho as the youngest of seven children. She was taught to read and write at an early age by her parents and would study religious books and write in a journal. However, this is the only form of education she would get. Tara’s mother worked as a midwife, while her father owned a junkyard. He also believed at the government had infiltrated most of society’s institutions, including school and doctors. This lead to Tara and her siblings never being enrolled in proper school, never going to a doctor and some not even having official birth certificates. Days were spent working at the junkyard, breaking their horses and doing other chores on the family farm. As Dr. Westover described in an interview with the Economist, “the thing about being a child is, whatever life you have, as far you know, that’s normal. And so whatever world your parents build for you feels like the world the way it should be.”

But as she grows up, Tara’s attempts at being normal amongst others and discovering there’s more to life outside the farm begins to have repercussions on her life. She’s also verbally and physically assaulted by one of her older brothers. Motivated by another brother’s actions of going to school, Tara decides to get educated. She schools herself with textbooks and is admitted to at Brigham Young University when she is 17. It’s there she expands her knowledge and becomes more aware about the world. She ultimately would go on to attend Harvard and Cambridge and earn a PhD in History.  All the while, she maintains a strained relationship with her family.

Dr. Westover’s observations about your life being what you considered normal fascinated me the most. As someone who grew up in a small town, it was normal to do certain things- go to church, hang out with friends, go on dog walks, and more. It wasn’t until I got to college and met people from other places that I discovered how many different lifestyles there are, that people don’t have the same perceptions towards situations. College not only offered an education on academics, it can teach you how to handle the real world.

In a way, Tara’s story sort of reminded me of Jeannette Walls. While Walls did go to proper school, she and her siblings learned to take care of themselves, and eventually found their way out of the dysfunctional lifestyle of their parents and succeeded in the real world. Jeannette had a distant relationship with her parents as she got older, similar to how Tara does.

I definitely recommend this memoir because if shows how one can overcome obstacles and become successful and the importance of education, no matter how you are.

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Big Little Lies

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Nowadays, many television shows and movies are based off of book series, with some authors being involved in the production. I had first heard about Big Little Lies as an HBO series and saw some clips. Then I found out it was a book by Australian author Liane Moriarty, and decided to check it out.

This book is the story of three women- Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Celeste White and Jane Chapman. They all live on the fictional Pirriwee Peninsula in Australia, and have children who go to school together. The first chapter tells of a murder that occurred during a trivia night fundraiser. It then flashbacks four months before the night to the beginning of the school year. Through the third person narrative, we learn about the three women’s lives. Madeline has just turned 40 and is dealing with her teenage daughter from her first marriage wanting to live with her biological dad (Madeline’s ex-husband) and stepmother. Celeste, the same age as Madeline, is busy raising her twin boys, but is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband Perry. Meanwhile, Jane, much younger than the two at 24 years old, is new to town and grappling with single motherhood and where her life is going to go.

I liked this book because it shows how not everyone’s life is the same. Despite being the same age and married, Madeline and Celeste have completely different issues. Madeline is dealing with her ex-husband, while Celeste must cope with being abused by Perry. I found the domestic violence part to be extremely important, because it highlights a very realistic problem and how a marriage and relationship can seem perfect from the outside. It also shows how an abusive spouse can affect the children’s life as well.

Meanwhile, Jane, a single mother and much younger than the two, is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life and get back onto the dating scene. She is able to form a friendship with Madeline and Celeste even though they are several years apart. I didn’t find this unusual, as my friends range in age from early 20s to mid-30s. Madeline and Celeste are able to offer guidance to Jane. Being the visual person that I am, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the actresses as the characters in the book- Reese Witherspoon as Madeline, Nicole Kidman as Celeste and Shailene Woodley as Jane. The major difference is that the novel is set in Australia, whereas the TV series sets in Monterey, California.

I recommend this book because it tackles a lot of real-life subjects through the dynamic of families and friendships.

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