Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

[5 stars]

You by Caroline Kepnes is creepy . . . and riveting.

My book club discussed this gem last night, and we had a lot to say about the characters, as well as the topics of stalking and social media.

Readers are in the first person viewpoint of Joe, who directs his narrative at “you” (his obsession, Beck). Joe is clever, interesting, and charming. He’s also a nutcase stalker. He sets his sights on Beck and determines to make her his own, no matter the obstacles. He uses social media (easily) to track her, watch her, and manipulate her.

Beck is not a total victim, however. That’s what I love about this book. The characters are complex: Joe is both relatable and a complete psychopath. Beck is both naive and devious.

In an interview, Kepnes describes the pair perfectly: “Joe is living adamantly analog, selling paper books. Beck, meanwhile, is using Twitter to construct a version of herself that she might become were she not preoccupied with the presentation. Neither way works.”

My book club discussed the arc of the story, and the means by which Joe orchestrates his relationships (both romantic and platonic). I loved how Kepnes gives us just enough of Joe’s background regarding past obsessions and childhood memories to help us understand him a bit — but not enough to fully explain away his behavior.

Without giving away any details, I will just say that this book is an engrossing trip through Joe’s warped brain. Kepnes does an excellent job of creating a character so real that I feel like I might bump into him on the street. Her creation of character depth in general is so perfect that I think about and reference ancillary characters (Peach, Ethan), like they are real, too.

The ending was also completely satisfying for me, which is hard to manage with a plot like this. And I really don’t want to compare other books to Gone Girl, but I will say I felt the same sense of, “How does a sweet-looking author such as (Flynn/Kepnes) come up with such sadistic (and amazing) stories?”

Overall: Completely enthralling and wonderful. 5 stars.

Book Review: Stitches by David Small

[5 stars]

In an interview, Small noted something that really struck me:  he said that children live an in innocent world — a world that simply does not understand the hypocrisy of the adult world.

His point was that he has to look at his parents’ actions through the perception of adult eyes. To his younger self, his parents were psychologically abusive, and his innocent self could not comprehend such behavior.

His adult self, however, can logically understand that his parents wrestled with their own demons, and that was why he was treated the way he was.

Writing Stitches: A Memoir, Small said, was his therapy.  It was his attempt to reconcile his adult understanding with his damaged self.

The result is both harrowing and heartening.  In his memoir, Small has brilliantly captured through drawing and prose his childhood and teen years living in a home where he was emotionally and physically silenced.

To cope, Small turned to his more imaginative side and leapt into the world of art and imagination:


 But after enduring a surgery to remove a growth on his neck (a surgery that left him voiceless for nearly a decade), Small required more…


Inspiring in its brevity, this graphic memoir left an indelible impression, and has reminded me of how much can be said in the seeming silence of image and negative space.

The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler

[5 stars]

Gendler achieves with The Book of Qualities something truly amazing: she captures the ineffable.

I had no idea this little gem (published in 1988) even existed — until my mom gave me a copy. I read through the entire list of qualities, and then went back and annotated and pondered each one.

Each page is poetry, helping us understand truths about ourselves in unique and inspiring ways.

“Fear” was a particularly interesting one, with his “large shadow” that belies his actual smallness. I love how Gendler paints fear as insecure, but with a “vivid imagination.” The cure for fear, she hints, is to “talk to each other” about him.  Thrusting fear out of its hiding place and exposing his fragility is empowering. “Startle him,” Gendler writes, but ultimately “win his respect,” and he will “never bother you with small matters.”

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Another favorite is “pleasure,” and how Gendler paints her as both “wild and sweet” and not necessarily something to be afraid of or to deny yourself, but something to cherish. Pleasure is nurturing, not distracting, and something to be valued:

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I feel like I “get” Gendler’s style, and I find so much joy, wisdom, and truth in this little book. It’s a comfort to turn to in happy and difficult moments.

I loved it so much, in fact, that I quoted snippets of it in my speeches to my graduating seniors this year<3

Book Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

[5 stars]

What an amazing reading/viewing experience.

Deceptive in its simplicity, Blankets portrays in subtle, black strokes an incisive tale of the author’s childhood and teen years.

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To label this novel a YA only—or a “first love” only—story would discount the complexity of the memoir, and how expertly Thompson balances prose with pictorial to convey the heart wrenching details of growing up in an oppressively religious family, enduring abuse (non familial), and grappling with the euphoria (and anguish) that comes with love.

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Thompson expertly conveys the tenderness and rawness of each moment, and how these moments beg a present mind, even as they simultaneously push toward big picture growth.

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I was a little sad as I turned the last page — I wanted to know more about the author’s life — I wanted to see more of his life, more of his ability to grow and accept and adapt. But at the same time, I was also supremely satisfied in the narrative arc that Thompson provided, and the unidealized nature of the final few pages.

Very highly recommend — especially for those new to the whole graphic novel / graphic memoir genre.

Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I finished You by Caroline Kepnes quite some time ago, but I am waiting to review it until after my book club discusses it (although I will say that I absolutely loooooved it).

I then started a graphic novel kick. First, I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel:

[4 stars]

One of my AP English students was recently accepted to Duke University and her summer reading list includes Fun Home. I was intrigued and read it over the weekend.

I can see why Duke has incoming freshmen read this particular story: it’s like the graphic equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s “Waste Land” — rife with literary allusions begging analysis and discussion.

Bechdel is a sophisticated storyteller and cartoonist, and I very much enjoyed the combined aspect of artwork and prose. Overall, I was fascinated by the author’s childhood, and her ability to portray in ways both subtle and glaring the dynamic of her family. I couldn’t put it down.

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That said, Bechdel does something a bit different with her memoir. Instead of just recounting memories, she provides an insane amount of reflection.  I’ve never read anything quite like this, with such a high level of self-reflective understanding (or attempt at understanding). Kirkus noted that Fun Home is “penetratingly insightful,” and I have to agree.

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At the heart of the memoir is Bechdel’s relationship with her father–a man who may or may not have committed suicide, but was most definitely “a barely closeted homosexual” (Kirkus) who was both high school teacher and funeral home (or “fun home”) director–and how this dynamic shaped Bechdel as a writer, as a thinker, and as one who herself identifies as homosexual.

Bechdel expertly weaves a non-linear tale, acutely conveying the many parallels that exist between her and her father, and the tragedy inherent in their inability to ever connect and commiserate over shared passions and struggles.

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While I thought the final literary allusion and parallel between Bechdel/her father and Homer’s The Odyssey was a bit heavy-handed, I do think Fun Home is a brilliantly crafted story worth telling and worth reading. 4 stars.

More graphic novel reviews a comin’….Which graphic novels are your favorite?

10 Months Old, Still Reflux Free

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Those cheeks are finally coming back :)

It’s been over 7 months now since Zoey’s reflux symptoms started. I think back to those days when she was in so much pain and losing weight by the hour and I am so so grateful for where we are now. She’s gaining weight, she’s hungry for food, she asks for her bottles and, most importantly, she’s happy.

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When I first started the Nat Phos 6x regimen (and in effect did the opposite of what her doctors were telling me to do by not putting her on Prilosec), I was petrified that I was making the wrong decision. 

Now, I am so glad that I went with my gut instinct and provided Zoey with the natural route. Who knows where we’d be if we started the PPI drugs.

In our case, I think Zoey suffered from horrible silent reflux that she just needed to grow out of (most do, whether at 6 months, 2 years, or somewhere in between). Now, at 10 months old, we’ve been able to switch her to regular formula instead of hypoallergenic, and she eats all foods without issue (even tomatoes or tomato-based sauces or soups). It was as if once she hit the 9-month mark, all of her issues (reflux and milk/food allergies) calmed down. It’s amazing to see her reach for her bottles and actively ask for food!

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Weight-wise, she’s still on the lighter side, but that has less to do with reflux and more to do with illnesses, as she has struggled with ear infections as well.  But, since she’s been both illness and reflux free for a good few weeks, she has been noticeably chunkier :)

I can’t believe she’ll be a year old in less than two months. I am so grateful and so happy to be reaching this huge milestone with her smiling and pain free!

Happy World Book Day!

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I was an undergrad student when I happened upon this copy of Amy Hempel’s work. I was in a random bookstore and felt compelled to buy it even though I had never heard of Hempel before. My life was forever changed. I read the entire compilation in one day and felt an intense desire to share it with others. When asked for book recommendations (especially for short stories), I without hesitation recommend Amy Hempel. I have been teaching her for years to my high schoolers and I’m always amazed at each student’s unique interpretation of the stories. I think Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he wrote, “You go there, and almost every other book you ever read will suck.” He’s talking about Hempel’s story “The Harvest,” and I could not agree more.

Happy reading & happy World Book Day :)

Review: The Noticer + Next Book Club Pick

This month, we discussed The Noticer by Andy Andrews.

I would categorize The Noticer as a mix of allegory and inspiration. The tag line of the book is “A new story of common wisdom” — and I couldn’t agree more. This is common wisdom. Nothing in this little story will blow you away, but it does its job in terms of reminding you of the little things — and it provided a nice basis for some great book club discussion.

Basically, we have the narrator, whose life was once changed by a mysterious man named Jones. This Jones character wanders around town and seems to appear at the exact moment he’s needed. A character is in some sort of crisis, and Jones appears. They talk, wisdom is imparted, and then boom — that person is changed forever. All it takes is a little change in perspective. The book is one story after another of Jones changing lives, as reported by the framing narrator.

I probably would’ve enjoyed this book more if the characters were fleshed out, realistic, and didn’t immediately have their “ah ha!” moments, followed by a “happily ever after” deal. It was hard to connect to any story, and the anchor narrator flits in and out amid the shallow tellings of others’ encounters and subsequent life-changing epiphanies.

Buuuuut, I am also aware that I am asking a lot of a book that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to character depth and complexity. The very fact that the stories were super simple made it easy for our club to discuss the issue (and imparted wisdom) and not just the character.

A few of the “wisdom nuggets” that really resonated for me included the discussion of love dialects and how couples may better understand one another once they figure out their partner’s “dialect”. One person, for example, may like to be shown love by physical touch (you hug me and kiss me a lot, so I know you love me) and the another person may like to be shown love by completed tasks (you took care of the cleaning today, so I know you listen to me and care about my needs).

Another great reminder: “Most people think it takes a long time to change. It doesn’t. Change is immediate! Instantaneous! It may take a long time to decide to change…but change happens in a heartbeat!” There’s a big difference, as Amy Poehler says, between talking about the thing, and actually doing the thing.

Also: the reminder to be grateful. Instead of waking up and thinking about all of the tasks on your to-do list, think about all of the things that you are grateful for. This is a big one for me and something that I am constantly working on — I want to be more present, more aware, and more grateful in all aspects of my life.

Had my book club not discussed The Noticer, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have given the reading experience another thought — which is a shame because even though the delivery is a bit juvenile, I did very much enjoy the conversation that it sparked :)

And now . . . on to the next book club pick. It’s my turn to choose, and I’m REALLY excited, as this novel has been on my to-read shelf for some time now:

You by Caroline Kepnes has been heralded as a “beautifully crafted thriller” and was Suspense Magazine’s Best Book of 2014.

Fingers crossed it lives up to the hype!

Easy Low Carb Shepherd’s Pie

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We needed another low carb go-to meal for the week, so my husband changed up our standard Turkey Cauliflower Casserole and made a faux shepherd’s pie.

Man is this delicious! And versatile — you can sub in broccoli for the green beans, add in the optional bone broth to the meat for extra nutrients and fat, or use ground turkey instead of beef.

And at only 5 net carbs per slice, this is a perfect lchf recipe and I am eating a slice for lunch everyday this week :)

Easy Low Carb Shepherd’s Pie


  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 3 lb ground beef (we used 73% lean)
  • 2 Tbsp Bavarian seasoning (brown mustard, rosemary, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, and sage)
  • 2 C beef bone broth (optional)
  • 2.5 - 3 C cut green beans (or one 12 oz frozen bag pre-cut beans)
  • 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz jack cheese


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. De-stem cauliflower and food process (or mash) until fine. Set aside.
  3. Brown meat on med/high heat and add seasonings. Add optional beef bone broth and combine.
  4. In a large casserole dish, add the cream cheese and green beans to the warm beef mixture.
  5. Layer all of the Jack cheese on top of the beef.
  6. Layer all of the cauliflower on top of the Jack cheese.
  7. Layer all of the Cheddar cheese on top of the cauliflower.
  8. Place in heated oven and cook for approx. 30 minutes, or until warm throughout and cheese is golden.
  9. Once cooled a bit, cut into 16 squares.


Nutrition (per one square, without broth): 425 Calories / 35 Fat / 21 Protein / 5 Net Carbs

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Safe Beauty Products for Pregnancy

As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I was hyper aware that everything I was ingesting or putting on my body was getting to the baby, too. I had no idea how many harsh chemicals were in most of my beauty products (even those claiming to be natural or mineral) until I researched the toxicity level of each ingredient.

I used a website called Skin Deep to do a lot of my research, and when I didn’t see a particular product’s rating, I painstakingly looked up every single ingredient. I was very surprised to learn that most of my products had ingredients linked to hormone interruption and birth defects.

It took a lot of time and effort, but I finally found a list of products that are non-toxic. By trial and error, I narrowed my list down to the ones that are not only pregnancy-safe, but also enjoyable to use.

Here is a breakdown of what to avoid while pregnant, as well as a list of affordable and easy substitutes that you can use throughout your entire pregnancy (and beyond!).

What To Avoid:

  • Anti-acne anything (prescription acne meds, salicylic acid)
  • Anti-aging products that contain retinoids, retinols
  • Phthalates (scary chemicals that cause birth defects because they interfere with the functions of hormones)
  • Fragrances (for the same reason as above — any ingredient lists that has “fragrance” in it should be avoided. A good rule of thumb: If it smells strongly, avoid it!)
  • Skin lightening or bleaching products
  • Lauryl sulfate (popular surfactant found in shampoos and has been linked to birth defects)
  • Parabens (found in a lot of makeup products, they too interfere with hormones)
  • Petroleum, silicone (dimethicone), and chemical preservatives
  • Methylisothiazolinone (found in hand creams and shampoos, primarily)
  • Toulene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) — all common in nail polishes

The difficult part is that the above can sometimes be hard to spot on ingredient lists because they also go by different names. And there are many loopholes that companies use to get the “natural” or “organic” label on their products, even when they contain very harmful chemicals.

Which brings me to my list of safe beauty products for pregnancy…No research (or huge pocketbook) required :)

Disclaimer: I absolutely love all of these products and was so happy to find safe, affordable alternatives to my beauty regimen. I have personally used every single item in this list, and if you happen to purchase anything from the links, I will receive a small commission–which will go toward anything this website (or Zoey) needs. Thank you!!

Skin Care

Acure Organics
I love Acure’s philosophy and how they are big into skin care and anti-aging benefits from all-organic sources, like chlorella. I was so excited when I first read their ingredient lists and could pronounce and recognize every single ingredient! Read their” filthy fifty” and all of the chemicals they avoid here.

Argan Oil + MInt Cleansing Creme –I went through a LOT of other natural cleansers before I found Acure. I hated how many of them were too watery and didn’t get any of my makeup off. On a whim, I picked Acure’s cleanser out, and the rest is history. The consistency of this cleansing creme is the best I’ve found and, most importantly, it gets off ALL of my makeup so that I don’t need to use any additional makeup remover. They also have a sensitive version that works just as well at removing makeup and dirt.

Such as:

Argan Stem Cell Brightening Facial Scrub — An amazing scrub that gets rid of dead skin cells and impurities and brightens the face while promoting new cell regeneration. I use it 2-3 days a week.

Lilac Stem Cells + Chlorella Moisturizer — The best moisturizer I have found for pregnant skin, since it controls moisture but still has amazing anti-aging and smoothing benefits. I used it everyday after applying SPF. For sensitive skin, I’d use this moisturizer. If you don’t need moisture control, I’d use this day cream.

Argan Stem Cell + Chlorella Night Cream — The same anti-aging and smoothing benefits as the day cream. Also a great night solution because it’s lightweight and rubs in easily. I was pregnant during the heat of early summer, so I was super grateful to have something that didn’t feel sticky and thick!

For sunscreen protection, I wanted an alternative to the chemicals found in mainstream brands and loved this one by Badger. I found it at Whole Foods, but I buy it on Amazon because it’s cheaper:

Badger Balm Lavender Sunscreen — The scent is mild but great and they use zinc oxide for the SPF 30 sun protection. Bonus: This lavender version also doubles as a moisturizer, so you can just apply and go!

Need a specific anti-acne approach? Try:

Nail Care
There are many brands out there now for nail polishes that do not contain toulene, formaldehyde, or dibutyl phthalate (DBP) — but they can be very expensive (like the Scotch Naturals brand).

I buy the more affordable Natural Fusion brand, which is non-toxic and has a wide variety of colors with lasting power. When getting a pedicure at a salon, I just bring my own polish, and ask them to use my non-toxic base coat and top coat too.

Favorite colors:

When I wanted to splurge a tiny bit more, I also bought Zoya polishes, as they were a bit cheaper than Scotch Naturals, and they also have a wide variety of colors.

Hair Care

Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo — Acure brand shampoo is great because I know they use the same high quality, organic ingredients as they do for their skin care. I like this argan oil one the best, but they also have a great Clarifying Shampoo, as well as a Pure Mint Shampoo.

Moroccan Argan Oil Conditioner — Pair with the Argan oil shampoo. Or use the Pure Mint Conditioner, which is nice, light, and refreshing.

And for hair styling, I use Andalou Naturals Perfect Hold Hair Spray. It’s the best hairspray I’ve used, pregnant or not, and I love the smell.

I had to be super careful about which hair products I purchased — and I made sure to look everything up separately, as some brands have some great products, but not every single item they sell will be free of harmful chemicals. So far, Acure is one of the few brands that never scores above a “3” on Skin Deep.

A great affordable choice for basically any makeup item you’ll need is 100% Pure. None of their products rate above a “3” on Skin Deep, and I love that they use natural sources like black tea and peach for pigment. I especially love their Pure Fruit Mascara, black eyeliner, and concealer. Plus, a little goes a long way for all of their products, and I basically used the above basics throughout my entire pregnancy.

Hope this helps! What are your favorite toxin-free beauty products?