A Reading Nook to Wish For….

Who doesn’t want an amazing READING NOOK?!? If you’re a reader, you’ve surely imagined your ideal nook for your favorite activity: reading.

Perhaps you’ve created a Pinterest board, like me, with ideas of what that reading nook might look like. Perhaps you’ve scoured furniture and antique shops, keeping in mind all the while how a certain piece might or might not fit into that dream nook taking shape in your mind. It’s true, the possibilities are endless, but there are times when we have to start making decisions about which pieces to choose for our nook.

Peter Hess

There are several kinds of reading nooks I would absolutely love, but in this post, I’m sharing with you a handful of pieces from the gorgeous furniture supplier, Arhaus, that would work flawlessly for my nook!

The first essential piece for my reading nook is an excellent chaise, and I found an example of one here:

 

Of course I’ll need a bookshelf or two near my reading nook so I can have easy access to my titles.

This Telegraph Wide Bookcase in White from Arhaus is lovely–I haven’t completely decided exactly where it would be positioned in relation to my chaise, but it’s not going to be far.

Some reading nooks might not even need a chaise because the “ledge” of the window seat provides the seating. You can find some examples here.

As we readers know LIGHTING is so important for the perfect reading nook. I adore this Pendant Lighting choice:

I have to say, though, that I am also drawn to this Sconce in Antique Rust. It would add a fantastic dimension to my nook. There are a whole host of lighting possibilities you can find on the Arhaus website. If you are seeking out lighting possibilities for your own reading nook, I suggest you look here.

After taking a look at some of the Vintage Furniture on the Arhaus site, I realized that I wouldn’t mind this coffee table to be positioned not far from me. I love a good coffee table and one is essential for book displays!

Lovely, isn’t it? You’ll find even more table options for your nook on the Arhaus website. There are plenty of options to choose from to make sure you have the perfect piece on which to display some of your books in your nook!

I can’t end this post without at least one more comfy chair I would absolutely adore for my nook. Check out this Leather Tufted Chair in Bronco Whiskey. It looks so cozy I could just sink into it this very moment!

If you’d like to see even more ideas, you can check out my pinterest board here.

What about you? What pieces would make up your ideal reading nook and where would you begin searching? Online? Antique shops? A new furniture shop? A used furniture shop? Or do you already have pieces in your home that would create the ideal nook? Do tell!

What Katie Read

If We Were Having Coffee (Valentine’s Day Edition)

Hello, Friends! It’s been awhile, but I’m incredibly happy to share a new blog post with you today. And I hope you’re excited because….we’re going out for coffee.

**The “If We Were Having Coffee” feature came from Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner, who actually discovered it on another blog.

If we were having coffee, I would hope you had chosen a coffee beverage you really enjoy and that you would have ordered it in a cup “for here.” I would also hope you had a slice of cake to go along with your coffee.

I would ask you if you were enjoying the snow. I would mention that I don’t mind the cold so much, because growing up in Northern California meant that our winters didn’t always bring snow. I like the four seasons, and I appreciate the wardrobe change. I’d ask you how you were coping with the colder weather and what you thought of the notion of these bits of fluffy cotton falling from the sky…

If we were having coffee, I would ask you if you had an upcoming winter break, like I do. I would mention that I’m visiting Italy with friends for the week, and that it’s my fourth trip to that beautiful country. Though I have been to Florence before, it was only for a few days. I’m pleased to be returning for longer. Florence is that magical kind of place you imagine you could visit periodically for the rest of your life. The last time I was there I tried to imagine what it was like for Lucy Honeychurch to encounter George Emerson in Room with a View. I plan to re-read E.M. Forster’s classic while in Florence. I’d ask you if you’d been to Italy or other European destinations. I’d wonder if there were places you return to again and again. 

I would mention that it is only recently I could even get excited about going to Italy. My job in the School Library has been so busy this year–so many classes to teach and an entire library to manage! You would think that being surrounded by so many books would mean you could get loads and loads of reading done, but it’s not exactly like that. It has been challenging at times to keep up with my reading and, as you know, to update this blog. I want that to change! You wouldn’t believe the amazing books I’ve been reading over the past few months. I think you’ll also be excited about all the wonderful titles I picked up from ALA Midwinter in Atlanta in January.

To be honest, I don’t even like saying I’m “busy.”  I want people to think they could ask me to sit down for a coffee at any time. Or even that they could drop by and I would have a pie made from scratch to offer.

That doesn’t seem the norm—this is a busy culture and sometimes it seems you have to plan a coffee meeting weeks and weeks out. How I miss the days of hearing a knock on the door and seeing a friend! I would ask you what you thought of spontaneous coffee outings, and if you had any strategies for navigating our busy culture.

So, if we were having coffee, I would tell you how happy I am you took the time to sit down and talk. I would appreciate being able to tell you what’s happening with me, and I would be thankful to hear what’s going on with you. I would ask you if you needed a refill of your coffee.

I would tell you that recently I’ve been wondering why I chose to live so far away from my family. For some reason, it has felt more difficult, and it seems as if those 3,000 miles might as well be 30,000. I would reflect that you can’t really get the California out of me. There’s a bit of London there too. I would mention that I’m thinking about Londoners right now, in the swirl of winter, and that I so enjoyed speaking with my dear friends in Oxford (along with their dog, Bramble, barking in the background) on Sunday afternoon. I would ask you if you’ve ever lived in another country or state and what it was like leaving that place.

If we were having coffee, I would ask you what you were reading. I would say that I have so many good books lined up to read, and that I recently read a historical novel called When We Meet Again, by an author I met at ALA this past summer in Orlando. I would ask you if you knew that German prisoners of war had been sent to work on farms in Florida after WWII. I might mention that there were probably many German soldiers in the war that didn’t really support Hitler, but were caught up in a horrendous world event that would send them far, far away from where they were born. I would ask you if your perspective about people changes when you read historical fiction, and what you think about the power of literature to change people’s hearts and minds. I would ask you if you love history and what historical period you would go to, should you be granted the ability to time travel.

If we were having coffee, we might be figuring out our next coffee meeting. I would mention that it should happen again sooner, rather than later.

As we were finishing our coffee, I would mention that I really miss blogging. I remember when I blogged almost every day, when I was working from home. I miss those days of sharing my thoughts about every book I read and participating in the Top Ten Tuesday every week. I would share the ideas I have for blogging in 2017, and you would know I’m really excited about it. I would mention that instead of just writing book review posts, I hope to share my thoughts about some other subjects….such as a research project I’m planning with a favorite video game. I would ask you what you think of stories in different mediums, and whether you were currently playing any intriguing games.

So, go ahead….tell me! Grab your coffee and take a break from receiving all those roses and chocolates (or giving them) and let’s catch up. I’m excited for the weeks ahead on the blog, and I can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to and reading!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Falling in Love with Books: The Secret Keeper by Kate MortonThe Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Published by Pan on January 1st 1970
Genres: Adult, Historical
Pages: 602
Goodreads

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.
Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

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Welcome to Callie from Of Life and Literature, who is joining us for Falling in Love with Books today. She has a very special choice for her book today–ENJOY!

Let me start by asking you a question.

When someone says the words historical fiction to you, what do you imagine?

Give it some thought.

The historical fiction genre, for me, conjures up a plethora of images in my head.

From sword wielding soldiers, medieval castles, tales of war to an insight into the domestic times of days gone by. Historical fiction encompasses so many different types of stories that it can be difficult to pick a book out of the swathes on offer, feeling confident that it will be the read you are searching for.

Step into any bookshop and you could spend hours searching the shelves, baffled by the options before you.

Three years ago I was in that very situation.

Having spent a good few months ploughing my way through the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George. R. R. Martin I was more than ready for a break from the bleak world the Stark’s and the Lannister’s. I needed something that would offer me a different kind of escape to that of the fantasy realms of King’s Landing, Winterfell and the danger of the Wall.

So I visited my local Waterstones and spent a few hours wandering its many floors. One book caught my eye and I kept going back to it. It had a dazzling green front cover, the promise of escape entwined within its depiction of a young lady hiding herself from view in a picturesque garden and the title ‘The Secret Keeper’ gave the novel an air of mystery that I just couldn’t resist. The author was Kate Morton; a writer I was familiar with. I had enjoyed her book ‘The Forgotten Garden’ so I was sure that ‘The Secret Keeper’ was going to be a good choice.

I took it home and I read the book in three days. I adored it. I thrust it into my Mum’s hands straight away and recommended it to every person I could.

‘The Secret Keeper’ follows the journey of Laurel Nicolson as she tries to unravel her elderly mothers past. It is sparked by a catalyst in Laurel’s young life, an event that she had managed to hide away in her mind until she realises that, with her mother’s health deteriorating, she may never get the answers she needs. What follows is a mesmerizing journey through the life of Dorothy Nicolson, with so many twists and turns that I can promise you just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you won’t have.

Kate Morton is an exceptionally talented writer. She has a knack of drawing you in and making you fall completely in love with her characters. Her books are typically set in different eras, with each section flitting back and forth in time. She brings each time period to life in such a beautiful and nostalgic way that you cannot help but feel a connection.

And that is why ‘The Secret Keeper’ is the perfect book to make any reader fall in love with historical fiction. It strikes the perfect balance between historical, mystery, romance and family saga. It encompasses all of these different genres with the historical aspect lying at its heart.

This book is for anyone who wants to escape to a different time but doesn’t want the heavy, fact laden tombs that are normally attributed to the genre. Morton paints the 30s and 40s in ‘The Secret Keeper’ in a way that belies the in-depth research she puts in to every single one of her books. Whilst you are reading it, it almost feels as if you are staring through a window, watching the events unfold. The past doesn’t feel as though it is held at arms-length as it can with some historical novels. You feel as though you are surrounded by history, transported to the time period, with the characters as real to you as the people you know in real life.

What’s even better is that Morton’s novels are full of twists and turns. The jaunts back to the past inform what is happening in the present. She showcases just how important the past can be whether it is on a large or more personal scale. You cannot help but keep turning the pages, urging the story on as there are twists and turns in every section. Morton keeps you hooked until the very end.

‘The Secret Keeper’ by Kate Morton is a perfect representative for the historical fiction genre.

Once you pick it up you won’t be able to put it down.

Thank you, Callie! As many of you know, I adore Kate Morton and all her books, and I was very excited when I discovered that Callie chose to highlight THE SECRET KEEPER for her guest post! What a wonderful glimpse into the delight of THE SECRET KEEPER. If you enjoy historical fiction and you haven’t encountered Kate Morton’s books, you simply must sit down with one of her stories ASAP!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: The Sugar Queen & The Lumatere Chronicles

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Welcome to Amanda and Holly from Gun in Act One. You’re in for a sweet surprise today!

Thanks Katie for having us!! When I asked Holly if she wanted to participate she started sending me book poems – so obviously that’s how we had to share our book love today.  All rhyming credit goes to Holly!

From Amanda:

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The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Roses are red, violets are blue,

If you like magical realism,

The Sugar Queen is the book for you!

This book will give you the feels

but is it magic or is it for realz?

There’s a fairy in the closet

and sweet candy deposits

and that’s just some of the appeals!

From Holly:

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Finnikin of the Rock

Froi of the Exiles

Quintana of Charyn

For fantasy where you’ll fall in love,

And also feel all the rages,

Please read the Lumatere Chronicles,

All fifteen hundred pages.

What a creative idea from Amanda and Holly at Gun in Act One for Falling in Love with Books! Two books they hope you’ll give a chance in these short and sweet poems. I love it! Thank you, Amanda and Holly for giving us a taste of these two–and in fact, since one is a series, we actually get a glimpse of four books!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: The Sherwood Ring

Falling in Love with Books: The Sherwood RingThe Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Evaline Ness
Published by Houghton Mifflin on January 1st 1970
Genres: Adult, Historical, Mystery
Pages: 272
Goodreads

Newly orphaned Peggy Grahame is caught off-guard when she first arrives at her family's ancestral estate. Her eccentric uncle Enos drives away her only new acquaintance, Pat, a handsome British scholar, then leaves Peggy to fend for herself. But she is not alone. The house is full of mysteries and ghosts. Soon Peggy becomes involved with the spirits of her own Colonial ancestors and witnesses the unfolding of a centuries-old romance against a backdrop of spies and intrigue and of battles plotted and foiled.

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Welcome to Lory, one of my favorite bloggers, who blogs at The Emerald City Book Review! You may remember that she participated in Falling in Love with Books last year, and I’m so happy she’s back with another book she loves and wants us all to fall in love with as well! Enjoy!

Are you allergic to historical fiction?

Maybe the mere mention of the American Revolution brings on yawns induced by your school days, and you can’t see how any book that includes George Washington as a character could possibly be interesting. Or perhaps you just prefer romance, or fantasy, or mystery, and find enough to satisfy you in those genres without having to dig into the dusty past.

Well, in that case I hope you’ll consider trying a romance/fantasy/mystery that also happens to be partly set during the American Revolution, because if you do I’m quite sure you’ll find it a charming and delightful experience that might even change your mind about George Washington. The Sherwood Ring opens with a young woman of the present day (more or less – the book was first published in 1958) coming to an old house in upstate New York after the death of her father has left her an orphan. While her eccentric uncle tries to defend the estate against the scholarly advances of an attractive neighboring Englishman, Peggy tries to unravel the mysteries of some of her ghostly ancestors, who relieve her loneliness by sharing their stories.

There are no supernatural horrors here, as all the ghosts are benign, but there is suspense and human drama and, yes, a certain amount of history.

Although really it just serves as an atmospheric backdrop for some marvelous characters, most notably a romantic couple that will steal your heart: the dashing British rogue who’s causing trouble for the American rebels, and the clever young lady who is more than a match for him. There are two other couples to be paired up in the course of the novel, but this is the one that makes it memorable.

So please, do try The Sherwood Ring, and see how much fun historical fiction can be. And I hope you’ll move on to Pope’s other book, The Perilous Gard, a Tudor-era historical novel which is even better. You might even find you’ve fallen in love with a new genre, and that would be a wonderful thing.

I don’t know about your, but I had never heard of The Sherwood Ring before Lory mentioned it. I’m definitely going to check this title out as I am an avid reader of historical fiction. Thank you, Lory, for sharing this book with us, and I sincerely hope we have some readers who begin to fall in love with historical fiction after encountering The Sherwood Ring!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: Anna and the French Kiss

Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

We have a real treat today: My New England blogger friend, Andi from Andi’s ABC, is guest posting for Falling in Love with Books! She’s sharing a book that is perfect for Valentine’s Day, and yes, she wants you to fall in love with:

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Enjoy!

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When Katie was doing sign-ups for this she tweeted me and said she hoped I signed up because she knew what book I would do. Anyone that knows me knows which book I would do. I’m pretty predictable when asked to do a guest post about a book I love and want other people to love. I consistently pick the same book and I’m not the least bit ashamed by this. What book is it you ask?

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I first read Anna back in December of 2010 as a suggestion from a friend. To say I fell in love is a huge understatement. I devoured the whole book in about a day and it just made me feel good. It made me smile and it made my heart ache and it made me yearn for that kind of crush and that kind of friendship and that kind of love. It transported me to Paris and made me feel like I was a part of their lives and I am so grateful to Stephanie Perkins for that.

Since that first reading I have read Anna in print and audio a total of 10 more times.

It is oddly gratifying to find a book that you love that much, that can make you feel that much. Honestly I love a good reread. It’s something I have done for years, but I have to really truly love a book to want to read it as much as I read this one. I have to feel something to really want to immerse myself in the world again and again and Anna and the French Kiss does that to me and I think it will do that to you too. Between the characters, the romance, the setting and the story telling you will fall in love it. I can almost guarantee it.

And to show you just how much I love it, here is a look at my current collection:

collection

Thanks, Andi! Now that sounds like a book worth falling in love with! I adore Andi’s collection, and my collection of Anne of Green Gables editions is growing…I wonder if I might reach this standard of excellence…

Have you read Anna? Are you planning to? I have to admit that I am going to start reading this book on Sunday…It will be my first read! And it’s going to be freezing here on Valentine’s Day so I anticipate reading, sipping coffee, and maybe eating chocolate cake…

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake

Genres: Adult, Historical

Welcome to Day 2 of Falling in Love with Books 2016! I am so pleased to host Isalys on the blog who is an expert on all things Historical Romance related. At least that’s what I think…So enjoy today’s romantic post from her today!

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Title: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake
Author: Sarah MacLean
Genre: Adult Historical Romance
Release Date: Published March 30th 2010 by Avon
ISBN: 0061852058
(ISBN13: 9780061852053)

A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen’s club.

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she’s vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she’s been missing. But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile. If she’s not careful, she’ll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.

Historical romance is my comfort food!  I get so excited every time someone asks me for a recommendation or better yet, tells me they’re new to the genre.  If you do ask me for a recommendation, my first choice will always be Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean. In all the books I’ve read, it’s still one of my absolute favorites!  I also think it’s the ideal book to start with if you are new to historical romance.

Calpurnia – aka Callie – is not your typical heroine.  She’s not a perfect specimen of femininity, in physical appearance or temperament. Do not doubt that she is a proper lady, but even proper ladies need to have fun, right? In her quest for fun, she makes a list of nine unacceptable things she’d like to do; things ladies do not do.  After all, if she’s going to be a spinster, she may as well get her kicks while she can.  In pursuit of these nine things, Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston gets sucked in and hilarity & romance ensues. 

Gah, I loved these two!  Callie was committed to completing her list and Gabriel, honorable rake that he is committed himself to keeping her out of trouble! Together they were fun and sexy and romantic and everything I look for in a romantic couple.  I loved that she had real insecurities but didn’t let them slow her down and I loved that he was able to see past those insecurities to the strong, playful, sexy and beautiful woman that she was.

“I’m not a wife, or a mother, or a pillar of the ton,” she waved her
unharmed arm as though the life she was describing was just beyond the
room. “I’m invisible. So, why not stop being such a craven wallflower
and start trying all the things that I’ve always dreamed of doing? Why
not go to taverns and drink scotch and fence? I confess, those things
have been much more interesting than all the loathsome teas and balls
and needlepoint with which I have traditionally occupied my time.” She
met his gaze again. “Does this make sense?”
He nodded seriously. “It does. You’re trying to find Callie

I loved that he understood her and ultimately, isn’t that what we all want from a great romance, to be loved & understood?

Now we are quite a few years into the future from the time this story is set in so the things that are off limits and therefore considered rebellious for Callie to do are probably every day occurrences to us. However, wouldn’t we all love to go on a few adventures and try different things.  If we could make our own list of nine things, what would our lists include?

Below is mine and as a fun little twist, I created it based on some of the adventures a few of my other favorite heroines have been on. (Below each item, I included the title and GR link the the book I referenced to you can add it to your historical romance TBR).

 
 

 

I love that you can find such empowered heroines in this genre, especially when set in times of such class and gender-based adversity. As my awesome friend Ang at @Ang_Writes puts it “strong females facing social challenges during interesting parts of history. What’s not to love?”

So if YOU are new to the genre, or maybe you’re not but just haven’t gotten around to reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake, I really hope that you do!  And if you do, I hope you love Callie & Gabriel as much as I do.  Tweet me @IsaBookSoulmate if you wanna tell me all about it.

But before you go, what’s on YOUR list???

What a delightful post from Isalys! I love the suggestions she makes at the end of her post and all the books you can add to your Goodreads. So fun! Feel free to tweet Isalys or leave a comment here, and let her know if you have read or plan to read any of these books. See you tomorrow for the next post in Falling in Love with Books!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love with Books: After I Do

Falling in Love with Books: After I DoAfter I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by Washington Square Press on July 1st 2014
Genres: Adult, Realistic
Pages: 352
Goodreads

From the author of Forever, Interrupted—hailed by Sarah Jio as "moving, gorgeous, and at times heart-wrenching"—comes a breathtaking new novel about modern marriage, the depth of family ties, and the year that one remarkable heroine spends exploring both.
When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.
Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?
This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.

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Welcome to the 2nd edition of FALLING IN LOVE WITH BOOKS! This year I have a delightful lineup of posts for you with books that readers want you to fall in love with! First up is Danielle from Bookish in Texas! She’s sharing her love of AFTER I DO by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I recently read one of Reid’s books, MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE, so I’m really looking forward to hearing more about this one from Danielle. Let’s Welcome her to the Blog!

After I Do is an amazing contemporary novel that I can’t recommend highly enough. Even if contemporaries or “chick lit” novels are not normally your thing, After I Do is such an emotional and heartwrenching novel that everyone can relate to it.

We always get books about the falling in love part — the meeting someone amazing, the staying up all night talking, the non-stop laughter. But what happens a couple years down the road? What happens when you’re up all night because you’re fighting, or when that person just doesn’t make you feel happy anymore? This book tackles all that and more, in such an honest way.

This isn’t a novel about a crappy couple who just argues all the time. It’s about a wonderful couple who is so in love — they just haven’t been feeling that way for a while, and decide to take a year apart. The only rule for their separate year is that they cannot contact each other whatsoever, and hope that through taking some time apart they are able to re-discover their love. Their year apart is full of ups and downs and a lot of self-discovery for each of them, but they find that they just can’t stop thinking about each other.

“Ryan and I are two people who used to be in love.

What a beautiful thing to have been.

What a sad thing to be.”

As someone in a serious relationship (that I hope one day leads to marriage), this book was an eye-opener to me. It was so realistic how so many little things could easily add up to a mountain of important things, and can drive such a wedge between two people. This book makes me want to value love, and my relationship, while I have it — not just if I might be on the verge of losing it.

After I Do is overall just a phenomenal book about love, relationships, and making things last even when things look horrible.

Thank you, Danielle, for kicking off this Special Feature with your love for what sounds like a wonderful story by Taylor Jenkins Reid!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s guest post…you won’t want to miss it!

 

What Katie Read

Bookish Journeys: Entering The Secret Garden at Great Maytham Hall

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If you had the key to my storage unit in Northern California, you would be able to gain entry and discover many boxes, mostly of books. If you happened to rummage through the right container, however, you might feel curious enough to open a small dark box, about the size of your palm, made in Poland, which houses several tiny items I have no intention of ever giving away.

In fact, you might find an important keepsake from my visit to France Hodgson Burnett’s home in England.

This item is a smooth, round, dark acorn picked up from the ground under one of the massive trees planted near the entrance to Burnett’s British home, Great Maytham Hall. A home which inspired the writing of one of my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden. Yes, I had permission from the host of my class’s visit to the great estate to pocket the acorn. I was 22, beginning a Master’s program in Children’s Literature in England, and I was delighted that I would have something tangible by which I could remember my own special Secret Garden “visit.”

That acorn traveled with me from the U.K. back to California, and then across America to the East Coast for several years, and then back to California yet again.

Whenever I take it out, to touch its smooth and shiny exterior, I’m taken back to that morning when I encountered Great Maytham Hall for the first time. Occasionally I wonder whether touching it frequently might spark my own creativity or instantaneously transport me to the grounds of Great Maytham Hall itself.)

Frances Hodgson Burnett lived at Great Maytham Hall between 1898 and 1907. Though it’s quite different than Misselthwaite Manor, it’s certain that this place inspired Burnett’s writing of her classic book. There she basked in the beauty of the natural world within the estate’s gardens, and befriended a robin. In fact, one of the gardens at this house inspired the actual Secret Garden in the book.

“Great Maytham Hall – geograph.org.uk – 228926” by Stephen Nunney. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You can imagine my delight that those of us embarking on the graduate program in children’s literature at The University of Roehampton were taken to this particular place at the start of the term.

Tea and coffee were waiting for our group of fifteen or so avid students of children’s literature, and the estate’s caretakers gave us permission to wander the grounds in the early fall sunshine.

Before stepping out of the grand house and into the back garden with the others, I stood for a moment with my still warm cup of tea. I looked through the open French doors, wondering what it would have been like had Frances Hodgson Burnett been alive, and perhaps waiting to meet our group. I imagined how it would have felt to wake up each day and know that (weather cooperating) I might sit and write in the garden, expecting a certain robin to show up for a chat (there’s a lovely true story about Burnett and the robin she befriended called “My Robin.” It’s actually in my annotated edition of the book.).

It was magical to view an area of the garden where we were told Burnett had spent time writing her story.  You can imagine our awe and wonder at that fact. An immediate hush fell over the group, the only sound the cheerful chirping of the birds. Though Burnett was no longer there, I’m certain that many of us were picturing her, peacefully writing stories that would delight readers for generations.

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“Great Maytham Hall Garden – geograph.org.uk – 228928” by Stephen Nunney. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

I remember that day as a day of dreams coming true—seeing up close the place where the writer of several of my favorite childhood books (I also loved A Little Princess) lived and wrote. We were a group of graduate students embarking on our own journey of discovery into the great world of children’s literature, and a trip to Great Maytham Hall was the perfect start to this adventure!

It was a magical day, to say the least. And this is really how I felt. (Also a tap to Wendy Darling who helped push me to write this post.)

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Burnett appreciated and loved the natural world, and I could understand how the beauty of her walled garden at Great Maytham Hall inspired her. As I thought about it more, I realized that she and L.M. Montgomery were similar in that both were in love with the beauty of the natural world and an appreciation of this beauty is reflected in their books. Perhaps that’s one reason why both women are two of my favorite authors.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

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“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever.”

I’ll save my thoughts on the actual book for my next post, but I hope you’ve enjoyed a glimpse of this bookish journey I can never forget. Of course, thank you to ladies over at The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along for reminding me how much I love this book!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love With…The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey (Elisabeth from The Dirigible Plum)

Falling in love with books finalHappy Friday! For Day 14 of Falling in Love With Books, I’m absolutely delighted that my friend Elisabeth from The Dirigible Plum jumped in with a book she has fallen in love with and that has affected her life in multiple ways. Trust me, you want to read this post, and look for this book. You’re in for a treat today…

Kendall Hailey changed my life.

I still remember pulling The Day I Became an Autodidact off the shelf at the bookstore where I worked part-time after school.

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I was a high school senior with a very bad case of senioritis. But not learningitis. I couldn’t bring myself to go to my own classes, but I accompanied my mom to her college night classes in English whenever she’d let me. I read her textbooks. I skimmed her lecture notes. I sat in the hallway and read Bacon’s essays and Donne’s poetry.

The only thing I wanted to do was read. Everything. All the time. I couldn’t even get to sleep at night because there were too many books to be read.

I worked part-time in a bookstore, but the job was mostly an excuse to use my employee lending privileges to check out brand-new hardcover books that my library wouldn’t be purchasing for months and to exercise my organizational OCD (which only comes out at bookstores) aligning the edges of book stacks so they match up just so and spotting misshelved titles.

That’s how I met Kendall.

I was organizing the self-help section when I saw it. The Day I Became An Autodidact. The rainbow print writing on the spine intrigued me, as did the word “autodidact,” which I had only just recently learned.

I slipped the book off the shelf, correctly identified it as biography/memoir, but I didn’t shelve it in its proper place. Instead, I took it home with me, where it’s lived on my shelves ever since.

I knew I had found a kindred soul after reading the first few paragraphs, which find Kendall horrified to receive a letter from school during the summer and even more horrified when she discovers it contains a required summer reading list.

“I read (rarely skimming) everything school tells me to from the middle of September to the middle of June, but the summer is mine. And being told what to read during the summer suddenly made me realize that I don’t really like being told what to read during the fall, winter, and spring either.”

And so Kendall resolves to get herself through high school as quickly as she can and to embark on a project of self-education. She uses summer vacation to “get a head start on reading everything ever published,” starting with Anna Karenina.

The book recounts three years of Kendall’s journey as a reader, writer, daughter, sister, friend, and autodidact. She reads voraciously (mostly a self-chosen curriculum of what we generally considered the “great books”); she watches a lot of old films and goes to the theater (her father is a well-known playwright); she talks writing shop with her mother (novelist Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey); she travels; she paints; she bickers with her sister; she writes; she struggles to write. And always, she reflects, trying to figure out what it all means.

“I have been given the chance to live my own best life, but no instructions were included with the chance. So I haven’t been exactly sure how to do it or if my efforts have been any good….But even if the struggle to get the most out of my freedom is sometimes hard for me, I don’t want to stop struggling.

I know that for certain now. I’ve seen too much of life, and even if I haven’t loved all I’ve seen, I’ve loved being able to see so much. I don’t ever want the days to slip together in some terrible way and I’ll look back and life will be gone. I want to feel something every day, even if occasionally it happens to be a little misery. Even if at times I feel a little lost, I want to find my own way.”

What keeps me returning to The Day I Became an Autodidact twenty-five years after I first read it is Kendall’s voice. Fresh, funny, immediately engaging. There is a sweetness and charm to her voice that could be mistaken for naivete but really, it’s nerdiness at its finest.

Kendall Hailey was the original nerdfighter.

As John Green so eloquently explains in “Harry Potter Nerds Win at Life”, the great thing about being a nerd is that you can be “unironically enthusiastic about stuff,” and Kendall is so incredibly enthusiastic about everything. She is wide-eyed with wonder at the world.

She is no Pollyanna. There is suffering here too. There are hard things in every life. Her father’s illness. Her uncle’s illness. Her aging grandmother. Her own struggles to write. But everything in life is worth her close attention. Everything is worth writing about, wondering about.

When I was sixteen, The Day I Became an Autodidact became both invitation and permission slip. It was too late for me to graduate early from high school, as Hailey managed to do, but it wasn’t too late to take time off before college.

And that’s what I did. One year turned into two. I stayed up late reading and slept through the mornings. I haunted libraries and bookstores. I watched great films and wrote hundreds of letters and started writing (but never finished) at least twenty novels. I traveled. Like Kendall, I had the chance “to live my own best life” and to discover for myself before I even turned 18 what I needed in this world to be content.

And for the past twenty-five years, that hasn’t changed very much.

When I first discovered The Day I Became an Autodidact, I thought it was misshelved. But it’s turned out to be the best self-help book I’ve ever read.

Elisabeth, thank you so much for this fantastic glimpse into your life and the impact of this book on your younger self. I so appreciated reading about your “journey.” One thing I can say is–Wow, twenty novels! I really like the idea that you mention comes up in the book–that everything is worth writing about. What an important reminder…

Have any of you heard of this book? Feel free to ask Elisabeth questions in the comments below, and Happy Weekend!

What Katie Read