What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

First line: Keith, the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn.

Summary: A young mouse named Ralph is living in a knot hole in Room 215 when a small boy comes to stay. Ralph loves to watch the guests, especially children because they are always dropping food around the hotel. As he watches Keith he sees him playing with his toys cars and a motorcycle. Ralph has always wanted to ride a motorcycle. When the boy is not in the room Ralph gets his chance. However, it does not work out as planned. He falls into the trash can. Keith soon discovers the small mouse and they quickly become friends. With Keith’s permission Ralph is allowed to ride the motorcycle all over the hotel. This is when the adventure Ralph has been craving truly begins!

My Thoughts: This was one of my all-time favorite books as a child. I loved everything I read by Beverly Cleary but Ralph definitely holds the top spot. His adventures were lots of fun and quite funny too. And to have one of your favorite novels also be a movie was so cool! I spent many a summer day watching the movie version of this book as well.

When I just reread this charming story I realized that Wichita is mentioned in it. How cool is that?! The teachers who are staying at the hotel are from Wichita and consider taking Ralph home with them to live in their classrooms. I thought this was a fun little tidbit to find as an adult.

On my most recent trip to Oregon I stopped in Portland for a few hours. While looking for things to do I learned that the Multnomah County Library in Portland has a Beverly Cleary Children’s Library. I immediately added it to my itinerary. We stopped into this beautiful library for a short visit. As a fan of Cleary’s and a librarian I was in heaven. If you get a chance go and check it out.

FYI: If you are looking for a bit of nostalgia then this book is perfect.

Lit Pairings – Jaws by Peter Benchley

I think you would probably be from a different planet if you said you hadn’t heard of Jaws before so instead of a synopsis I’ll just include this bit of info…

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in the early 1970s, he meticulously researched all available data about shark behavior. Over the ensuing decades, Benchley was actively engaged with scientists and filmmakers on expeditions around the world as they expanded their knowledge of sharks. Also during this time, there was an unprecedented upswing in the number of sharks killed to make shark-fin soup, and Benchley worked with governments and nonprofits to sound the alarm for shark conservation. He encouraged each new generation of Jaws fans to enjoy his riveting tale and to channel their excitement into support and protection of these magnificent, prehistoric apex predators.

I’ve always had a weird fascination with sharks. For some reason the adults in my life didn’t see anything wrong with 5 year-old me watching this terrifying movie. But hey, it was the 80’s and I don’t think the parents of that generation or the generations that came before were too concerned with parenting. So little me had a hard time even getting into swimming pools, let alone large bodies of water for several years without being certain I was going to be ate by a shark! With all that being said I’m not sure why I felt it would be a good idea to take this book with me to read while I’m vacationing ON AN ISLAND!!! I’m sure the rest of my summer will be filled with that old terror while I sit poolside certain that if I get in the water it will end with death by shark.

All death scenarios aside the summer food on the east coast is super yummy. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life a Lobster Roll would be on top of the list. I can also always get behind a Oyster Po’boy. I think you could finish off either of these delicious sandwiches with some homemade Ice Cream.

Whether you’re going on vacation this summer or maybe just planning a staycation I think you should pick up Jaws and make one or all of these amazing recipes. Happy Summer!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

First line: Maybe the machine could see the words she never spoke.

Summary: Alex and Suzette are the parents of a beautiful seven-year-old girl named Hanna. With her father she is his sweet little girl. For her mother she is complete opposite. After having been expelled from several schools in the last few years Suzette has had to home school Hanna but as the months pass the tension between mother and daughter continues to escalate. Suzette truly does love her child but she also fears her a little bit. Whenever she tells Alex about Hanna’s behavior he thinks she is overreacting. How can his perfect little angel be as bad as Suzette says?

My Thoughts: There is something truly wrong with this child. I could not decide between a 4 or 5 star rating mainly because I did not know if I could say I loved a book about such a scary little girl. I was completely terrified of her. Even though I was cringing and shocked by the events of the story I could not stop reading.

In alternating chapters we see the perspectives of Hanna and Suzette. I kept telling Suzette (in my head of course) to leave. Just leave. How can a person live in a house with a child who seems to want to kill her mother? Suzette though tries everything she can think of to try and help her child. I think what makes it even scarier is that Hanna does not speak. She cannot or will not tell her parents what is bothering her.

FYI: Not for the faint of heart. I have to say that I had to put this down several times in order to breathe a bit.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Mistake

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

First line: “Sophia, let’s go,” I call out from the hall.

Summary: Alice’s life is beginning to come back to normal. She has remarried after the death of her first husband. She has two beautiful daughters and a successful business. But when her husband, Nathan begins acting strangely she turns to her best friend, Beth. As they talk about the situation Alice begins to wonder who she can trust anymore.

My Thoughts: This by no means is anything groundbreaking or new to the genre but it was a lot of fun to read. It went by very fast and kept me interested the whole way. I liked how it was divided into sections for each of the women. We got a look into each of their lives and pasts which helps build up to the conclusion. I had so many theories flying through my head as I read. Each became more twisted with each passing page.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a fun thriller. It is a perfect summer read!

FYI: Sandie Jones’ first book, The Other Woman, is fantastic as well!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Summer Country

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

First line: “Emily!” Adam shouted.

Summary: Emily Dawson has inherited a plantation on the island of Barbados from her grandfather. When she arrives at Peverills it is far from what she dreamed. After the slave uprising forty years before it has sat in ruins. On the invitation of the Davenant family of Beckles, she and her cousin stay at the neighboring plantation while Emily decides what to do with her inheritance.

Forty years earlier Charles Davenant returns home to run his family plantation, Peverills. The home he knew as a child has changed and so have Charles’ views on life in Barbados. As tensions rise on the island he must decide where he stands.

My Thoughts: This is a what great family sagas are made of. Big family secrets with dark turns around every corner. I loved the intertwining narratives and how closely they connected. The characters are so well done. I went in expecting to like some and hate others but Willig does a great job of proving you wrong on your first impressions. I am not much for a romance novel but this was a beautiful love story in the midst of so many challenges.

And the history is fascinating. I had never read or heard anything based on the island of Barbados so the storyline was completely fresh for me. Lauren brings it to life. The heat, the smells, and the lifestyles come through in her writing.

FYI: I highly recommend Willig’s Pink Carnation series!

From Reader to Writer: Morning Pages

I’ve never been much of the diary type. I have a crate full of journals and a moderate journal-buying obsession, but if one were to scour the contents of these books, they’d find mostly random thoughts, embarrassing poetry, and doodles of rose vines and cats. While I always have a journal with me to record ideas or to regurgitate intense emotions, I’ve never been good at keeping a daily journal. I always start with good intentions then either forget completely or make excuses for not continuing.

Back in 2016, I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it revitalized my creative process. It challenged me to reflect deeply and to make a practice out of writing. One of the vital elements of Julia Cameron’s method is to write morning pages every day. Recently, I’ve decided to go through Cameron’s 12-week process again and have been reminded of the importance of doing the morning pages as often as possible.

What Are Morning Pages

Morning Pages are three, long-hand, stream of consciousness pages of writing done every day, preferably in the morning right when you wake up. They can literally be about anything. They should never be shared and really, you shouldn’t read them for at least eight weeks. Most people destroy them after writing them.

Why Would You Do This?

I see it as a clearing. It sweeps away all of the things that clutter your head. From anxieties that you need to let go of or ideas that you don’t want to forget, the morning pages give you a space to exist in written form. Writing long-hand instead of typing on your phone or computer is a way to ground and re-center you without technology. There is something comforting about putting pen to paper and just letting the words flow in any way.

This is excellent training for writing a first draft. First drafts are tough. It’s important when starting out that you just get the ideas on paper. Revision and critiquing comes after the words get down, but it’s hard to turn that filter off even when writing the first time around. Morning Pages trains your brain to turn off that internal critique and let the words flow.

I’m not going to lie. I only get my morning pages done about half the time, but when I do get to them, my brain feels so much clearer. As I keep going through The Artist’s Way program in hopes of re-invigorating my creativity, I definitely am working to make morning pages a habit for both my mental and creative health.

Would you ever consider writing morning pages? Perhaps maybe give The Artist’s Way a try? Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep you posted as my writer’s journey continues.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

First line: I almost went back for her.

Summary: Littleport, Maine is a small coastal town that spends half the year catering to the wealthy visitors on summer vacation. The Loman family is the richest and most prominent family in the area. One summer the Loman’s daughter, Sadie develops a friendship with a local girl. They become inseparable. As their friendship grows, Avery is brought on to manage the family’s local rental properties and other business ventures in town. Then one summer everything changes. Sadie is found dead. The police rule it as a suicide but Avery feels like things do not add up. Who could want to hurt Sadie and why?

My Thoughts: This is a perfect read for summer vacations. It is set on a coastal town with beaches, bungalows and bistros. While reading it I desperately wanted to be sitting outside with a cold drink.

Miranda does a great job a spinning a tangled web. The story jumps back and forth between the summer Sadie died and the next one without her. But at the same time we get glimpses farther back into Avery’s past as well. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the ending. I was shocked by the big reveal at the end. The last 50 pages fly by so fast. It was hard to put down.

FYI: My favorite Megan Miranda books is All The Missing Girls. It is fantastic. The story is told in reverse. You would think it would give away so much but it does not. Both of these books are perfect for your summer reading list!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

Lit Pairings – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

I’ve been in a reading slump for quite awhile now. Do you ever get in those? No matter what genres I picked up nothing could keep my interest! So what made me think a 692 page book would be the right thing to pull me out of my slump??? Well first of all NOS4A2 has been adapted into a TV series on AMC that started on June 2. The previews looked amazing and I hate to watch a movie or TV show that’s been adapted from a book without first reading it. And second the author Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’ve never read Hill before, but he’s been on my list for a long time and I’d heard great things about his writing style. NOS4A2 didn’t disappoint! It was just what I needed to get myself reading again. Now I just have to hope the TV series does the book justice.

I know you’re thinking this is an odd book to pair food with. And you would be 1000% right about that, but I loved the book so dang it I’m going to make it work! Instead of doing the obvious Christmas themed treats I want to focus more on Vic’s summertime at Lake Winnipesaukee. At the diner “Terry’s” she and her parents would have Frappes (you can’t call them milkshakes). This article will explain the difference between the two and give you a great recipe. I don’t think any summer diner experience could be complete without a really good burger. This recipe is great for those yummy thin burgers that are cooked on the griddle and get all kinds of crispy around the edges.

This is one of those books that you can enjoy in summer or around the holidays. I hope you decide to give it a read and maybe get inspired to make one or both of the recipes listed above.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.