Orphan Train Reveals a Relevant Story about Love and Loss

Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels, and has received praise and acknowledgment for her newest release, Orphan Train. Chosen as “One Book, One Read” by over fifty communities and campuses and published in 35 countries, Kline delivers a work of fiction that is rich in history, emotion, and truth. By shedding a light on an often-overlooked period of US history, Orphan Train pays homage to the 200,000 children who were shipped on trains in the Midwest between the years 1854 and 1929.


The Children’s Society was the so-called “perfect solution” to children who, from one way or another, had become abandoned and homeless. Children were transported on trains from major cities such as Boston and New York to Midwestern states, where they were placed into new homes. With a possibility of being brought into the hands a loving family, there lied a greater possibility of being taken as a form of cheap labor, and in the worst cases, ruthless abuse.

Like many children during the time, the protagonist of the novel, Niamh is an Irish Catholic immigrant who is brought to America with its promise of endearing hope and abundant opportunity. The Lower East Side of New York City sharply contrasts with her homeland, the small Irish village of Kinvara, but she is optimistic and willing to adapt to her new surroundings. Two years later, however, she loses her family in a house fire. With everything she has grown to know and love now gone, she is sent on a train to Minnesota, her fate bleak and unknown.

Niamh’s journey is a remarkable one, and it is one she reflects upon later in life as Vivian Daley, now 90 years old and residing in an old house in Spruce Harbor, Maine. Vivian shares her story with seventeen-year old Molly Ayer, a troubled teenager who has spent most of her years in foster care. For a community service requirement, Molly helps Vivian clean her attic. As they uncover the various memorabilia that Vivian has accumulated throughout her lifetime, the two build an unlikely and worthy friendship. Molly relishes in Vivian’s experiences, as Vivian is living proof that hope exists even for an orphan such as herself.

Kline succeeds in beautifully connecting the lives of seventeen-year-old Molly and ninety-year old Vivian. Vivian confides in Molly and reveals a tale of everything she has endured -loss, suffering, heartache, and a quest for a sense of belonging. While she doesn’t find it at every doorstep, she finds it in a few of the lives she encounters along the way, and finally, she is brought back to one particular person who had been waiting for her all along. “My entire life has felt like chance. Random moments of loss and connection. This is the first one that feels, instead, like fate.”

Brimming with equal portions of fiction and history, Kline delivers a fantastic plot to her audience.  I found myself impelled to turn each page, transfixed by the characters embark from a black and white world of despair into a world saturated in hope. Each leg in her journey is accompanied by poetic, vivid descriptions of character and setting that exemplify the writing of Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre. “Mrs Scatcherd stands at the front of the car, holding on to two leather seat backs, the arms of her cape draping like the wings of a crow.”

While Vivian’s story pushes the reader forward, I found myself losing interest in the subplot. Undoubtedly, Molly’s only purpose in the novel is to uncover the compelling past of Vivian Daley. And, towards the end of the novel, her role shifts into helping Vivian piece together the remaining mysteries of her past and find closure. Alas, the story of an angsty, troubled teenager who wears a lot of black is not at all interesting in comparison to Vivian, a character who is chock-full of amazing life experiences.

“I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left behind.” Orphan Train reflects not only the human desire, but the human need for love.  Vivian’s story will haunt you long after you have finished reading. Kline’s beautifully crafted language will enchant you, its dialogue will entice you, but its relevance will captivate you.


Right Behind You: A Stirring Psychological Thriller by Lisa Gardner

In the world of crime fiction, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner is one of the most recognizable voices, and it’s no wonder why – her books are filled with psychological suspense, precise research, and most of all – unexpected twists and turns.

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Right Behind You is Lisa Gardner’s newest release and addition to her FBI Profiler Series, which follows the lives of crime-fighting partners/ husband and wife duo, Pierce Quincy and Loraine “Rainie”. Rainie is a homicide investigator and Quincy is a now-retired FBI Profiler residing in Bakersville, Oregon with their soon-to-be foster-daughter, Sharlah.

A child of trauma, thirteen-year old Sharlah has difficulty expressing her emotions. But there is one thing she is sure of – she is grateful for Rainie and Quincy and everything they have done for her. As she looks forward to starting a new life with her new family, however, she finds herself asking questions about the family she has left behind- her only living relative, her older brother, Telly.

Sharlah and Telly grew up in a troubled home characterized by addiction and rage. Sharlah’s happy recollections of those years were sparse, but they include all of the times that Telly spent taking care of her – feeding her Cheerio’s, taking her to the library, and reading her Clifford books. But on one particularly horrible night, Telly murdered his parents as an act of self-defense. With both parents’ dead and Sharlah left with a broken arm, the two are placed in separate foster homes.

Eight years later, Sharlah misses her brother dearly and can only hope that he, too, has found love and happiness with his foster parents. Then, Rainie and Quincy get a call about a double-shooting at a local gas station. Video surveillance shows a young man who is soon identified as Sharlah’s brother, Telly Ray Nash.

The investigative team is determined to find answers about Telly’s wherabouts. But when Telly’s adoptive parents, Frank and Sandra Duvall are found slain in their home, a new question arises : Who is Telly’s next target?

To Rainie and Quincy, the answer is frighteningly obvious. Sharlah. Telly’s cellphone is filled with recent photos of Sharlah, as if he has been stalking her. Is he looking for revenge ? Is he jealous? They do not know what his motive is, but they will do anything to ensure Sharlah’s safety.

Sharlah, however, thinks differently. She has trouble believing that Telly is the monster responsible for all of these murders. She remembers him as the brother who loved her, cared for her, and most importantly, saved her life. She feels guilty for not trying to reach out to him after all these years, and decides to start looking for answers herself.

As with any of Lisa Gardner’s books, readers must be prepared expect the unexpected. Right Behind You is an intricate mystery filled with twists that are both equally tense and thrilling.

Gardner successfully delivers a plot that is not only driven by suspense, but by heart.  She has crafted a set of characters whose stories are memorable and whose words come alive on each and every page. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Rainie, Quincy, Sharlah, and the family they have become. Emphasizing the power of forgiveness and the importance of family, the narrative is deeply captivating.

Right Behind You is not your average piece of crime fiction. There were so many aspects of this story that made it impossible to put down. Through varying perspectives of both Sharlah and Telly, Gardner provides readers with a valuable insight on the true aftermath of trauma, as well as the impacts that never truly disappear.

As an avid reader of  Lisa Gardner, her writing never fails to impress me. This book however, left me especially speechless. Powerful and thought-provoking, Right Behind You is well-worth the read.


Lisa Gardner, a #1 New York Times crime thriller novelist, began her career in food service, but after catching her hair on fire numerous times, she took the hint and focused on writing instead. A self-described research junkie, her work as a research analyst for an international consulting firm parlayed her interest in police procedure, cutting edge forensics and twisted plots into a streak of internationally bestselling suspense novels. With over 22 million books in print, Lisa is published in 30 countries. Her success crosses into the small screen with four of her novels becoming movies (At the Midnight Hour; The Perfect Husband; The Survivors Club; Hide) and personal appearances on television shows (TruTV; CNN).

For more information on Lisa and her books, please visit http://lisagardner.com/

Purchase Right Behind You on Amazon

The Best New & Upcoming Beauty Launches of 2017

With every new year  comes new beauty products to look forward to. From eye-shadow palettes to lipstick palettes, this year is definitely going to be one for the books.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Pro Lip Palette No. 1

Anastasia Beverly Hills has done it again, producing possibly the most-hyped beauty product of 2017. First announced by beauty blogger Patrick Starr, the palette features eighteen highly pigmented matte shades.


The best part? It comes with a dual-ended brush/spatula and a mixing plate that allow you to mix the colors and create endless color options. Or you don’t have to mix – some of these shades are completely stunning on their own.

Will it live up to the hype? Time will tell, but has Anastasia Beverly Hills ever let us down? I’m confident that this palette will be AMAZING – and ideal for creating your own customized lip shade!

Kylie Cosmetics’ Royal Peach Palette

Original, Kylie. The title of this palette instantly reminded me of the well-known Sweet Peach palette by Too Faced . As far as we know, Kylie’s palette isn’t peach scented, and her packaging is entirely different – no cute peaches, just Kylie’s eyeballs- but a few of the shades are pretty similar.

But this wouldn’t be the first time Kylie got, um, “inspired” by another existing beauty product. Kylie Cosmetics first eye shadow launch, The Kyshadow Palette, was almost identical to the Shaanxo palette, an exclusive eye shadow palette sold by BhCosmetics and designed by the New Zealand based, Youtube blogger Shannon.

One thing that this palette features that is unique is the royal blue shade. It’s definitely unexpected – and it’s beautiful.

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Should you be excited? Out of all of Kylie’s eye shadow palettes, this one offers the best bang for your buck, with 12 shades instead of nine as well as a brush for $45. So, if you’re a fan of Kylie Cosmetics, this looks like it could be a great addition to your collection. Jefree Star, beauty blogger and founder of Jefree Star Cosmetics was the first to review the palette and give it his approval, and you can watch his review  here.

Stila’s Heaven Hue Highlighters

This winter, Stila released the Star Light, Star Bright Highlighting palette which features three silky, beautiful highlighters – Transcendence, Kitten, and Bronze.

Now, you can buy each of these highlighters individually . Amazingly pigmented, a little of this product goes a long way.

Transcendence – This one is my favorite!

Worth the buy? Each highlighter is $32 , but for just $7 more,  you can purchase the Star Light, Star Bright Palette, which features all three shades. I love everything about this palette, but if you don’t see yourself using all three shades – Transcendence is a opalescent pink, Kitten is a beautiful champagne nude, and Bronze is shimmery gold – then perhaps you are better off purchasing individually.

Kat Von D’s Pastel Goth Palette

To close of 2016, Kat Von D released an eye-catching highlighter palette Alchemist Holographic Palette, and now the beauty world is buzzing over her newest eye shadow palette.

Bright shades for dark souls – The limited edition Pastel Goth palette features eight matte pastel shades. It retails for $35 and will be released online at Sephora on January 12th and in stores on January 27th.


LOVE IT OR HATE IT? Beauty blogger Jeffree Star couldn’t help but share his opinion. In one comment, he stated “Honestly, where’s the pastels?” Hmm, good question. These colors look very bright to be considered true pastels.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of the palette’s title – or its color choices – Kat Von D is known for her signature matte eye shadows – So if one thing is for certain,  the formula of these eye shadows will not disappoint.

Huda Beauty Highlighter Palette

In 2016, the Middle Eastern beauty sensation and social media phenomenon Huda Kattan released a line of beauty products called Huda Beauty, sold exclusively at Sephora. The beauty world instantly fell in love with her  matte lipsticks, lip contour pencils, false eyelashes, and of course, The Rose Gold eye shadow palette.

All About Texture : The combination of 3D Metal, satin, and matte shades are really what made this collection stand out among any other shadow palette in 2016.

Today, Huda announced the release of a new addition to her beauty products. She posted this video to her Instagram account, with the caption “Something’s coming, just wait til you see the inside.” The video displayed the outside packaging to her brand new highlighting palette. Neither Huda or Sephora has yet to release  an image of the palette itself, or any information regarding its date of release.

What can we anticipate from the Huda Beauty in 2017? Huda Kattan’s brand is unique not only because of the extensive experience she has as a Hollywood-trained MUA – but her ability to bridge the gap between American beauty and the beauty trends of Dubai. Much like the city, her cosmetics line can be characterized by glitz and glamour. Each of her products are high-quality and truly one-of-a-kind. Out of all new and upcoming beauty brands in 2017, Huda Beauty is one to pay close attention to.

Urban Decay x Ulta Nocturnal Shadows Box

After just releasing the AfterDark eyeshadow palette and revamping their collection of skin prep and care products , Urban Decay has announced their excitement for 2017 with the launch of an Ulta Exclusive.

The Nocturnal Shadows Box features 12 shades ideal for all different skin tones – check out this swatching of the shadows on PopSugar.


Is it a must-have in 2017? With all of the blockbuster palettes that have been released by Urban Decay – the Naked palettes, the Shadow Boxes, and so much more – this one certainly has a lot to live up to. But the selection of colors is ideal for that day-to-night transition. A long-time fan of Urban Decay, I’m excited to see what else the brand has up its sleeve for 2017.

TheBalm Cosmetics Highlight N’ Con Tour

On par with their signature cheeky  packaging, TheBalm Cosmetics recently released a highlighting and contour palette with eight shades.


In 2016, everyone fell in love with TheBalm Cosmetic’s selection of highlighters, including the Mary-Lou Manizer  and then theManizer Sisters Luminizers Palette. So we already know that the highlighters in this new palette will be incredible.

My favorite thing about this brand is the packaging – its retro, cute, and funny. How can you resist?

The Final Verdict The Highlight N’ Con Tour palette retails for just $36. If you are in need of a contour palette, this product is the most affordable one you will find. Most contour palettes only come with one highlighting shade, while this one comes with four. And, with TheBalm Cosmetics, you will never compromise price for quality.

Motherlines Takes Readers on an Insightful and Spiritual Journey

This year,  I have a few personal resolutions for myself, including a new year’s resolution for reading. I will venture towards two literary genres that I have yet to fully explore. One of these is memoirs. In the past, I have enjoyed reading memoirs because of the personal connection that is created between the reader and the author/protagonist.  Although I know I’ve read more than a few, the only memoirs I can  recall reading are The Glass Castle and Eat Pray Love.

When I came across Patricia Reis’ memoir, Motherlines : Love, Longing and LiberationI was deeply intrigued. The first page presents  a black and white photograph of the author at age two and a half years old standing beside her mother. In the image, they are wearing matching floral-print dresses. The mother is handing her a flower, but young Patricia’s attention is elsewhere.  Years later, Patricia analyzes the power of this simple image, reflecting on her strained relationship with her mother and their differences. She evaluates her own ambitions and her “profound resistance” to the expectations that have been placed upon her as a Catholic woman while growing up in the 1960’s.

Patricia is headstrong, independent, and eager.  She is everything that her mother, Sylvia is not.  While Patricia is attending college and sharing  an apartment with her boyfriend, Sylvia poses a question that arises from her deep disapproval of her daughter’s lifestyle choices. “What about your spiritual life?”. Patricia argues,  “I don’t need a spiritual life!”

At the age of 25, however, Patricia finds herself in search of her own spirituality and in desire of a maternal connection. She reaches out to Sylvia’s sister, Ruth, an unconventional Libertarian nun. Within weeks of exchanging letters, Patricia leaves her Midwestern town and purchases a one-way ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica to visit Ruth.

In Costa Rica, Patricia is compelled by Ruth’s free spirit and the energy of the sisters. The women are courageous, compassionate, and free of judgement. Patricia emerges from the experience energized and inspired. Ruth continues to do her mission work throughout Latin America, and Patricia enters her third divorce and pursues her MFA in  at UCLA. As their lives change and move separately from one another, they remain deeply connected by the beautiful letters they exchange – revealing their innermost thoughts, dreams, and revelations.

As Patricia strives to find meaning throughout the years ahead, her journey is characterized by uncertainty, painful loss, and awakening. She seeks contentment in the places she visits, the lives of those she encounters, the books she reads, and the artistic pieces she creates. Inspired by Ruth’s community, she even spends time as a New Age nun. But rather than providing her with a sense of belonging, she is left feeling smothered, dissatisfied, and once again, in search of something more.

“How many times have I unraveled what I’ve made only to begin again in a new place? I am almost forty-two and still do not recognize the shape of my life, nor do I know how to make it into something of lasting value.”  In Motherlines, Patricia Reis accurately presents the inevitable challenge that we as humans face.  Weighed down with the pressure we force upon ourselves to find our “place”, we often undervalue the virtue of the journey itself.  As a reader, I found Patricia’s voice equal parts distinct, refreshing, and thought-provoking. Sharp and honest, her words allowed me to reflect on my own spiritual growth and self-development.

Through beautifully crafted and intimately detailed letters, Patricia Reis shares the connection that exists between two unlikely women and explores their power to inspire one another. As they exchange words and visits with one another, Patricia feels compelled write a book about Ruth’s life journey. All the while, however, the most powerful story she could possibly tell was her own.

Motherlines reveals one woman’s extraordinary pursuit for fulfillment. Reflecting deeply on the impact of the experiences we create and the lives we encounter, Patricia Reis makes a statement about the value of staying true to our unique selves. This year, I invite you to challenge yourself in your reading. Read books that inspire your ability to ask questions. A powerful read, Motherlines will nourish your mind’s potential and awaken your heart’s intent.

Patricia Reis is a writer and author of the memoir Motherlines, Women’s Voices (with Nancy Cater,) The Dreaming Way, Daughters of Saturn, and Through the Goddess, and the creator/producer of the DVD, Arctic Refuge Sutra. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin in English Literature, an MFA from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in Sculpture. In 1986, she earned an MA from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Depth Psychology and has a private psychotherapy practice. Patricia Reis has held positions as faculty, lecturer, and dissertation advisor and has mentored and facilitated many artists and writers in bringing their work to fruition. She appeared in the film, “Signs Out of Time,” by Starhawk and Canadian film maker, Donna Read, a documentary on the life of Marija Gimbutas. She divides her time between Portland, Maine and Nova Scotia. For more information, please visit find.mainewriters.org.

Read Patricia Reis’ piece The Talking Cure and The Writing Cure

Visit Patricia Reis’ website here

Purchase Motherlines : Love, Longing and Liberation on Amazon

Top 15 Beauty Products I’m Thankful for

This Thanksgiving, I am extremely grateful for a lot of things my family and friends, my good health, the experiences I have had over the past year, and so much more.

But there are also some beauty products I’d like to give thanks for. I have always loved makeup because it allows me to express myself, and makes me feel more confident. Makeup is empowering. I believe empowerment should always be embraced.

I have compiled a list of 15 beauty products that I cannot live without and are often part of my every-day beauty routine.

604214643703_b6Urban Decay’s B6 Vitamin Infused Prep Spray

Before I do anything – even before putting on my primer, I spritz this over my face. Its light, refreshing, and soothing. I also spritz my eye-shadow brush with this spray before dipping into an eyeshadow to make the color even more vibrant and pigmented.

Stila’s One Step Correct2220677

I cannot stress enough just how important it is to prime before you apply. My fair complexion reddens very easily, and this primer  helps even out those cool undertones It is also perfect for moisturizing dry skin.

To create the most flawless finish, I swear by this Kat Von D liquid foundation

20005Kat Von D’s Tattoo Lock-It Foundation – Light 46

Although some argue that the formula is too heavy for every- day use,  I consider this product the holy grail of all liquid foundations. This shade matches my skin effortlessly, the coverage is amazing, and it lasts a long time. I have purchased this product time and time again. For every-day use, apply a thin layer  with my Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge for every-day use.

s1604925-main-heroTarte’s The Sculptor – Park Ave. Princess

Contouring can be tricky, and this product truly makes things simple. This bronzing stick is perfect and can be blended out perfectly with an oval brush or blending sponge.



Lorac’s Pro Contour Palette

On days I have a little more time to get ready, I prefer to contour with a powder. With six shades – beige highlight, yellow highlight, shimmer highlight, light contour, deep contour, and medium contour, I have a lot of options – and even the darker shades are extremely easy to blend. As if this kit isn’t amazing enough, it comes with the most perfect contouring brush!

Urban Decay’s After Glow Highlighter – Sin

The After Glow highlighter gives me the perfect daytime /nighttime glow.

To make sure my highlight is “poppin'”, my absolute favorite highlighter is the Urban Decay 24/7 Highlighter in the shade Sin.  The color is subtle, but it is extremely pigmented and can be easily built up if you want a more extreme glow.

Unlike loose powder highlighters, it does not have to be applied with a fan brush – I just swipe the product with my finger along my cheekbones,underneath my brow bones, and above my cupid’s bow and I’m good to go.

This mascara is a game-changer. I discovered this one in my November Ipsy bag, and it’s a game changer. With just two quick coats – not ten – it lengthens and thickens my lashes perfectly.

Tarte’s Picture Perfect Eyelash Curler10

This eyelash curler just might be the best invention of all time. To give my lashes that extra lift, this is my absolute favorite.

Tarte’s Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Blush – Glisten

On days I feel the need to add a little bit of color to my cheeks, this blush is my go-to. It is a peachy-pink with the slightest bit of shimmer.

The Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Blush by Tarte really brightens my complexion.

NYX’s Eyebrow Gel Blonde  The formula of this product is comparable to the Anastasia Beverly Hills dip brow, and doesn’t rub off easily like other brow products.

Soap & Glory’s SuperCat Eyeliner – Carbon Blackeyeliner

I first discovered this product while shopping at a Boots store in the UK. And this British beauty brand is now sold at Ulta! The marker tip makes it easy to create a flawless winged eyeliner.

The Carli Bybel Palette, with swatches on my skin of each eye shadow.

BH Cosmetics’ Carli Bybel Shadow and Highlighting Palette

Carli Bybel is one of my favorite beauty bloggers/Youtubers. She worked closely with BH Cosmetics to curate this beautiful palette, which consists of four highlighters and ten eyeshadows – 5 shimmery shades and five matte shades.

Bliss’ FabuLips Sugar Lip Scrub

With the amount of matte lipsticks I own and wear every day, I have to treat my lips with care. To target mild dryness, I exfoliate with this lip scrub several times a week.

Kat Von D’s Everlasting Liquid Lipstick – Lolita

Lolita looks amazing with just about any look!

Out of all the lipsticks I own, this one is most ideal for every day use. The matte formula isn’t too drying, it stays put, and it lasts for a long time without constantly reapplying. This shade, Lolita, is a deep chestnut rose and looks amazing on both fair and darker skin tones.

Urban Decay’s De-Slick Makeup Setting Spray

Lastly, I cannot walk out of the door without applying this setting spray first. My makeup stays put through all conditions.

I have a lot of makeup, so the ones that made it to this list are more than great – they are amazing and I use them pretty often.  What are some of your favorite beauty brands and products?










The Literary Chic : 5 Most Stylish Writers in History

Although most of us know better than to judge a book by its cover, it is fascinating to observe the way people dress and ponder what influences their fashion decisions. For a writer, there are numerous factors that come into play. Some writers are concerned with comfort rather than trend, however, there are others whose style of dress is just as influential and spectacular as their literary talents.

I have compiled a list of five writers and their contributions to not only the literary world, but the world of fashion.

Oscar Wilde

“One’s style is one’s signature,” Wilde once said. Wilde believed clothes were not gender biased and that people should be able to wear whatever they like. He wore lots of silk, velvet, hats, and capes.

Wilde’s writings in fashion, including his essay The Philosophy of Dress have been collected in Oscar Wilde on Dress, which was published in 1885. He was also editor of Woman’s Fashion World. In his work, Wilde states that fashion is a feminist art. In a time where women’s fashion was dominated by frills and corsets, he was a fashion activist who believed that fashion should liberate women, not restrict them.

He predicted that women’s fashion would adopt many male styles – pants, sewing pockets onto skirts, and sporty jackets. And he was right. Many of these styles were later introduced by designer Coco Chanel, who like Wilde, also believed in the liberation of women. In fact, one of Chanel’s most famous quotes is an allusion to Wilde. “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”  Wilde wrote “Fashion is ephemeral. Art is eternal.” Great minds think alike.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway took the literary world by storm with works such as Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man and the Sea. But writing wasn’t always his main focus. He once said, “My boxing is everything, my writing is nothing.”

As much as Hemingway was a writer, he was an adventure-seeker. When he wasn’t busy writing, he was participating in a fishing tournament in the Gulf Stream, hunting on an African safari, bullfighting in Spain, and of course – boxing in the Key West.

His wardrobe consisted of classic brown, gray, and black hues. For formal attire, he wore loose-fitted, less structured suits. During the summer, he often wore a simple button-down linen shirt with shorts.

Hemingway wore a lot of denif3362fd282af7ae59b8dc2eca9707981.jpgm and khakis and was even featured in one of Gap’s Who Wore Khaki’s Campaign.

So although he may be known for his iconic style of writing, one can also note his timeless style of dress – one that embraced quality and durability; essential for the true sportsman he was.

Ernest Hemingway has left a lasting impact on both the literary world and fashion. The Ernest Hemingway Collection produces apparel and home furnishings that capture the spirit of Hemingway, his enthusiasm for adventure, and the essence of his lifestyle. Check it out here.


Mary McCarthy

Novelist, critic, and political activisit Mary McCarthy is often characterized by her wit. She wrote as a critic for The New Republic, the Nation, and the Partisan Review and made satiric and often controversial commentaries on politics, marriage, sexual expression, empowerment and more.


She had a voice that could not be ignored. Her book, The Group was set in the 1930’s and tells the story of eight women who have just graduated college. With descriptions of sex, contraception, and breast-feeding, the novel created a huge scandal at its time of publication in 1963.

hbz-literary-babes-mary-mccarthy-gettyNot only did McCarthy want to be heard, she wanted to be seen. In her autobiography, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, McCarthy wrote: “It was the idea of being noticed that consumed all my attention. The rest, it seemed to me, would come of itself.”

McCarthy’s style is influenced by Parisian culture, as she spent much of her time there. She was a wearer of the iconic Chanel suit.  This piece, designed by Coco Chanel, consisted of a tweed jacket with matching pants or skirt, and symbolized taste, elegance, and luxury.

McCarthy loved clothes – so much so that she brought eight suitcases with her when travelling to Vietnam. But no matter what she was doing – whether it be writing, critiquing, or travelling – she was tailored, stylish, and perfectly put-together.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is characterized by her somber writing reflective of her own struggles. Her only published novel, The Bell Jar, has been noted for the parallels between the life of the self-destructive protagonist, Esther, and the author herself.

She is also known as one of the greatest contributors to confessional poetry – this style of groundbreaking poetry emerged in the 1950’s and dealt with personal subject matters and experiences such as death, trauma, and depression. In her poem, Apprehension, Plath writes “Is there no way out of the mind?”

Much like the honest style of her writing, Sylvia Plath signature look was simple and free of frills. She incorporates both feminine and masculine pieces into every-day looks – clean-lined blazers, collared blouses, and pleated skirts.

She accessorized with wide belts, pearls, patterned headbands, and flats. She steers away from ornate clothing, and instead uses fashion-forward colors and prints.

Years later, Sylvia Plath continues to shine for the beautiful poet she is, and readers today continue to resonate with her work.

Maya Angelou

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Maya Angelou’s legacy began with her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as the first nonfiction bestseller by an African-American woman. But she didn’t stop there. This book was only the first in a series of six autobiographies.

As much as she was a writer, she was an activist, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. In 1993, she recited her poem, On the Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s inaugural speech, calling for peace and unity of all people.

627fcc9d6849f4834c0c1ed6c262937a Even before her days as an award-winning writer and influential civil rights activist, Maya Angelou was an icon. Studying dance and singing in night clubs in New York City, she was seen sporting sultry yet sophisticated attire. She was vibrant in a  strapless floor-length dress and daring in her one-piece jumpsuit. Throughout the years, her style continued to flourish. She was always well accessorized with a statement necklace, hoop earrings, or a patterned head wrap.

Maya Angelou had a free-spirited attitude that translated into nearly every aspect of her life, even her wardrobe. What she wore said it all – her confidence, her determination, and most importantly, her ability to inspire the world.

As writers, we possess the ability to use written words to craft a story. But our clothing can also tell an interesting story. What story will you tell?

Author-Illustrator Q&A with Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Crafting words and images that will capture the attention of a child can be challenging. It can be even more of a challenge to generate a purpose that will stand out, resonate with readers, and most of all, make a difference.

Children’s author Maryann Cocca Leffler has  written and illustrated numerous  books for children. Last March, she released Janine, a story that encourages both children and adults to embrace the differences amongst ourselves. The main character is based on her own daughter, Janine Leffler and her life growing up as a child with disability. To further raise awareness, she has developed Janine’s Party, a website with relevant resources such as films,writing, and poetry to promote awareness, acceptance, and tolerance.

Most recently, she has released Janine and the Field Day Finish, a sequel to Janine.  Paired with lovely illustrations, the story captures young Janine, a one-of a kind character who is determined, upbeat, and inspiring to her classmates. After reading the book, I felt compelled to learn more about her work. I decided to ask her a few questions.

LISA: In a previous blog post,  Embracing Disabilities in Books and in Life, you wrote “I have been wanting to write this book for 25 years, but the timing was not right until now,” referring to the  publication of Janine. What do you mean by that?

MARYANN: Ever since my daughter, Janine, was young, I wanted to write a children’s book using her as the main character, (she is now 31!). I had to wait until now. Let me explain; Janine was born with a variety of disabilities including CP (Cerebral Palsy) and a vision impairment. Even as a young child, she never let her challenges get in the way. She was a spunky, happy child who always saw the bright side of every situation. Though she had difficulties doing lots of things other kids do, she always tried her best, was optimistic and supportive to others. Janine was also an avid reader. Every child wants to see themselves in books, but back in 1990, there where not many books, (if any) that portrayed children with disabilities as strong main characters. I promised myself I would write one, but I realized that this was not my story to tell…I had to wait until Janine grew up.

LISA: What made you decide to finally share Janine’s story with the world?

MARYANN: As Janine’s parent and advocate, I watched Janine’s life unfold. I celebrated her accomplishments, cried with her through times of exclusion and bullying, helped her fight against discrimination, and watched her embrace her disabilities and grow up to be her own advocate. Now as an adult, Janine, a college graduate, works for an organization that helps adults with disabilities. I had a few book ideas based on events that happened in Janine’s life and I asked Janine for her permission to write these stories…and she was ‘all in’. It was time.

LISA: Now that you have released Janine and Janine and the Field Day Finish, what are your thoughts? Did you ever imagine you would have come this far in sharing Janine’s story and inspiring others? What kinds of feedback/support have you gotten in response to your work? What challenges did you face along the way?

MARYANN: I am thrilled to see these books in print and very grateful to my daughter who bravely allowed me to tell her story. Luckily, times have changed, both in attitudes towards people with disabilities and in the publishing world. Now there are many books that highlight a positive main character who happen to have a disability. (We have a list of suggested books at: www.JaninesParty.com.)

When I submitted the first book, Janine, in 2014, a few publishers rejected it, but ultimately I sold it to Albert Whitman & Co in Chicago, who has a great reputation for championing social issues. One challenge during editing was the question of whether or not to mention the character’s disability in the story. (We don’t). This question was the center of many editorial discussions. From the beginning I thought it was important not to mention the disability. First off, every person, child or adult, wants to be seen as the person they are, not a label. Secondly, in reality, kids don’t care! They relate to each other as kids. Every child has weaknesses and strengths and everyone needs help now and then.

The reviews and feedback have been very positive from the beginning, with the first book, Janine, selling out of the first printing within 2 months. Through our school visits, letters from teachers, kids and parents, we can see that we are touching people’s lives. There’s more work to be done in the area of kindness and inclusion, and we hope to continue to inspire.

LISA: Not only do your Janine books raise awareness, but they have teachable lessons. These include kindness, friendship, and positive thinking. Janine’s optimism and confidence teaches readers to be proud of themselves and who they are, and her interactions with other characters teach us to view our peers as equal. How important do you think it is to instill these values into children at a young age? What advice do you have for parents and educators?

MARYANN: The lessons of kindness, friendship and being positive are so important to every child, but our message of inclusion and loving yourself are key themes to these books.

-BE SPECTACULAR! Is our message in the first Janine book.

-BEING A WINNER IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT BEING NUMBER ONE, is our message in Janine and the Field Day Finish. We want kids to know, it’s not always about

winning…it’s about trying your best, kindness and inclusion.My daughter, Janine says it the best:

JANINE: “I hope by sharing my story I will inspire others to be more tolerant and accepting of people’s differences and to inspire children who have disabilities. In the Janine books one of the big lessons is self-advocacy—standing up for yourself and loving who you are. Another is standing up for those who are being treated unfairly. These are very important messages to share with students in any age group since bullying is such a prominent issue these days.

I grew up with various disabilities and challenges. Instead of being down on myself, I have spent my whole life focusing on being positive and thankful. When people had doubt in me, my faith in myself has remained strong. Someone recently asked me, “If you could erase your disabilities, would you?” My answer is a big NO. Sure, I’d like to be able to drive, but my disabilities have made me the person I am, and I don’t want to change. In the words of “book Janine:” I LIKE ME!”

Our advice to Parents & Educators: Encourage every child to love themselves and be who they are. Show examples of inclusion and kindness everyday.

LISA: The pages of your book, Janine and the Field Day Finish come alive with bright illustrations that further contribute to the beautiful story. What inspires your art and how do you craft images that are appealing to your audience?

MARYANN: As an illustrator, I spend much of my time creating characters which will appeal to kids. This project was a little different because unlike an imagined character, when I write and draw the Janine books, I need to be true to my then eight-year-old little Janine. I keep asking myself: how would “kid” Janine handle this? What would she say? What would she wear? I look to my daughter Janine for character guidance, but as her mom, I can bring myself back in time to visualize her spunkiness and her quirks, and pay homage to this courageous, happy child.

The medium for the illustrations is gouache and color pencils and a bit of collage. (I do not work digitally).

LISA:  What have you learned about yourself and your audience throughout the years of writing and illustrating? What has been the most rewarding part of your work?

MARYANN: Big question. One thing I have learned about myself is that I HAVE to create. It is part of who I am. Making “something” out of a tiny spark of an idea is very rewarding, whether a story, an illustration or a play. Secondly, I learned that I am not a quitter. Once I set a goal, I follow through and follow my dreams. The most rewarding part is then sharing my work with others and hopefully inspiring them.

LISA: What advice do you have for aspiring writers and illustrators?

MARYANN: Have thick skin. There’s lots of rejection in the publishing world. Take criticism and learn from it, but be true to yourself. Learn the business by understanding contracts and rights, and of course, keep improving your craft. (And don’t give up.)

LISA: What are you looking forward to/ what do you hope to accomplish next?

MARYANN: I have a few picture books in the works, but I’d like to try a different genre and I am currently writing a Middle Grade Novel. We’ll see. Also, after publishing over 50 books, acting as my own agent, I’m toying with the idea of handing over the business end, and finding an agent. Either way- I’m not planning to stop creating anytime soon.

 Be sure to join Maryann and Janine this Saturday, November 19th at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH from 1pm to 3pm as they share, sign and discuss Janine and the Field Day Finish. Maryann will also be signing copies of her seasonal books including “Thanksgiving at the Tappleton’s”, “A Homemade Together Christmas”, and her latest, “What I Love About Christmas: an interactive holiday board book”.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler is the mother of Janine Leffler, the inspiration behind the courageous and optimistic character, JANINE. Both Janine and Janine and the Field Day Finish were based on real events as Janine grew up with the challenges of disabilities. Maryann is the Author-Illustrator of over sixty books for kids, including; A Homemade Together Christmas and Bus Route to Boston. Also a playwright, Maryann’s award winning play Princess K.I.M. The Musical is based on her Princess KIM books. This National New Play Festival Winner can now be licensed worldwide through StageRights.com. Maryann creates books in her home studio in New Hampshire.

Janine Leffler is the inspiration for the character JANINE. She lives her life focusing on the positive, despite the fact that she has many challenges in life. She has become a role model to children and adults, as she encourages them to focus on abilities, not disabilities. Like her character in Janine and the Field Day Finish, Janine never won a trophy or came in first place in any sporting events, but she was always number one in her gracious sportsmanship and unyielding focus on personal best. Janine has a BA in Communications and visits classrooms speaking about inclusion and tolerance. She lives and works in New Hampshire.

To learn more about the author, please visit www.maryanncoccaleffler.com

For information and resources, please visit www.janinesparty.com

To learn about Princess Kim, an Original Play based on the children’s books by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, please visit www.PrincessKimTheMusical.com

For editorial inquiries and requests,  please contact LisaAllard02917@gmail.com.

Raising Awareness: The UnSlut Project

                On Wednesday, October 19th, Emily Lindin visited Southern New Hampshire University to present her movement, The UnSlut Project. Seeking to raise awareness and put an end to slut-shaming, or sexual bullying, her project is part novel, documentary, blog, discussion forum, and much more.

Slut-shaming is an ongoing issue that has recently gained momentum in the public eye. In 2015, supermodel Amber Rose founded The Slut Walk, a series of protest marches that aimed to put an end to rape culture. Netflix recently released a documentary called Audrie & Daisy, which shares the heartbreaking stories about the impact of sexual assault and bullying on young women and their families.

Slut-shaming, however, isn’t anything new. In Lindin’s novel, Unslut : A Diary and a Memoir, she shares unaltered excerpts from the pages of her own diary written between the ages of 11 and 14.

These detailed accounts provide insight on the severe psychological impacts of bullying. The Unslut Project is unique in the way it has given a voice to women who are suffering and it has given them the courage to step forward.

When I discovered that Emily Lindin was presenting to my college campus, I knew I had to meet her and learn more about her mission, something that she is truly so passionate about. By posting this interview, I hope that I, too, can make a difference through my writing and raise awareness about an issue that is important to me.

LISA: Tell us a little bit about your project and how exactly it began. How did your own personal experiences, beginning at a young age, trigger this movement?

EMILY: When I was about twenty-six years old, I was in the middle of receiving my PHD and living in Santa Barbara. While I was loving my life, I realized I had been seeing a bunch of different headlines and news stories about girls committing suicide. They were being sexually harassed by their classmates, or in the worst cases, they were being sexually assaulted and had been labelled as a “slut.” It reminded me of my childhood. I realized that what happened to me in the late 90s was still happening to girls today and there is this whole other layer of the internet that has made it a lot worse.

LISA: You kept a diary where you expressed your emotions in regards the bullying and harassment you endured. Do you believe that your writing helped you to cope? Have you always considered yourself a writer?

EMILY: Definitely. The first place I shared my diaries as an adult was on WattPad, which is a community of young writers, many of whom are adolescent girls. I thought my diaries would not only reach them with their content and message, but as a demonstration on how you can write through trauma.

When I received feedback on my middle school diaries, I found that many people were surprised that it was written by an eleven-year-old girl. I have become a good writer because I practiced so much and developed that skill. I have been able to transform my writing – something that I used as a coping mechanism and distraction – into a career.

LISA: Your story can resonate with readers everywhere, especially young girls who are being bullied. What’s even more amazing is that you journaled these emotions, and now you can reflect on them. If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

EMILY: It would be to stop worrying about other people’s opinions of me. Eventually, I got to define myself and other people adjusted to that reputation I decided to have, which is not “just a slut.”

LISA: What power do you think your writing, particularly the publication of your book, Unslut: A diary and a Memoir have in sharing your story? What kind of statement do you hope to make, not only for young girls and women, but people of all genders and ages throughout the world?

EMILY: The most powerful story I heard was the impact of a mother sharing my book with her daughter. I heard first from the mother, who came to a book signing. Then, weeks later, I got an email from whom I later found out was her daughter. In sharing the book, the mother and daughter started a conversation. I would like to see relationships become strengthened and supportive, whether it is between a mother and a daughter, a teacher and students, or a group of friends.

LISA: What advice do you have for parents and what can they take away from your book?

EMILY: Parents often ask me, ”What can I do for my daughter?” But if you ask this question, you are on the right track because a lot of parents don’t even believe this is an issue. Parents should lay the groundwork early by having ongoing conversations with their children as soon as they become curious about anything with their bodies or sex.

LISA: Further embracing the power of your writing, you have created a movement that embodies the passion you have for the cause. How important do you think it is for writers to be passionate about what they write?

EMILY: If you are writing about what you are passionate about, then the right audience will find it. People could tell that I was so vulnerable and that I cared so much about what was at stake, and young girls could find what I had written and connect with it.

LISA: How do you plan on further progressing your movement and its outreach?

EMILY: I spoke at Amber Rose’s SlutWalk on October 1st. I continue to speak at schools throughout the US and Canada and do workshops with middle schoolers and high schoolers. (Side note: Emily will be making an exciting official announcement soon about a further development in the UnSlut Project!)

LISA: Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

EMILY: I might. The UnSlut Project is becoming a lot less about me as a leader, and more about you- everyone who is getting involved and making change in their communities.

LISA: How can people get involved in your movement?

EMILY: The most important ways are to share your story through the UnSlut Project website and to also start conversations with people who are in your everyday life. Take every opportunity to note slut-shaming when you see it, and call them in to the conversation. I also encourage people to connect with me and spread the word through social media.

Powerful and moving, her words and presentation made myself and my peers stop and think. What can we each do as individuals to create a society where everyone feels comfortable to be their selves? How can we empower one another and respect one another? How can we thrive from this empowerment?

Visit the UnSlut Project website

Purchase “Define Slut’ T-shirt  – a great conversation starter!

Share your story

Purchase UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir

Watch the Unslut Documentary

Follow Emily  on Twitter

Follow Emily on Instagram

The Island of Beyond is Heartwarming, Engaging, and Remarkably Relevant

Last winter, I had the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Atkinson’s heartwarming story, The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. The middle-grade author has released her newest title, The Island of Beyond, a charming story of adventure, friendship and so much more.


Eleven-year old Martin is perfectly content spending his summer playing video games or perfecting his toy soldier town of Martinville. But his father has other ideas. He believes that Martin should be “more of a boy.” Go on adventures, explore the great outdoors, and most importantly, try new things.

Which is exactly why his parents have decided that he will be spending his summer with with his great aunt on the island of Beyond.

“Listen to me, Martin. This is a chance of a lifetime. You’ll get to spend an entire month doing all kinds of amazing things- learning to climb the highest tree and catching enormous frogs and holding your breath for two whole minutes while you explore the bottom of the lake.”

To Martin, this sounds like a complete nightmare.  While he has lived in the comforting suburbs of Delaware his whole life, Beyond is more than just a change of scenery for him.  Aunt Lenore’s house is one of the very few left on the island, and with no cable or cell service, there is little connection to the outside world. Not only has the house itself begun to fall apart in time, but Aunt Lenore has become senile and forgetful with age. So although his father claims to have spent the best years of his own childhood here, he isn’t quite so sure.

His first couple of days on the island are anything but pleasant.  That is, until he meets Solo, the mysterious local boy who he has been warned about. Martin is deeply intrigued by Solo – perhaps because this boy is everything that Martin isn’t – he is brave and fearless, independent, and totally at ease with himself, the wilderness, and the world. He finds himself looking forward to their daily adventures together.

During his summer, Martin learns that not everything, or everyone, is always as it seems.  Solo isn’t just a wild boy who can teach him how to canoe, swim, and climb trees. His unexpected friendship with Solo is unique and special ; allowing for Martin to grow, to gain a sense of wonder for the world, become more confident in himself, it even teaches him how to love. And as for old Aunt Lenore – she isn’t crazy at all, but surprisingly intuitive. Aunt Lenore tells Martin that he has it – a genuine curiosity for the world. He’s smart and eager.  He’s different than other boys at that age. Nothing like his father was at his age. And that’s a good thing, she assures him.

Martin finds something he has been searching for for a very long time -Acceptance. “I had never felt more like myself than I did here. No one acted like I wasn’t normal. I could be whoever I wanted to be.” Middle-age readers can resonate with the protagonist’s desire to fit in, as well as his quest to conquer some of his deepest fears. However, readers of all ages can relate to Martin’s quest to accept himself for who he is.

Atkinson’s ability to craft beautiful stories with an underlying message is what truly makes her stand out as an author to me. She understands her audience perfectly -their strengths and weaknesses, even their biggest fears. She knows what they want to say and puts into words for them.

Younger readers will surely appreciate the mystery and unexpected twists of the story. For the child who could benefit from pausing the video game, The Island of Beyond is a book that will surely entertain. But with its captivating message, the novel will appeal to readers far beyond its middle-age audience.

You can purchase her book on Amazon.

For more information about her books and author visits, visit Elizabeth Atkinson’s website.

Dear Juliet : My Journey to Verona

While in Italy, I decided to take a little trip by myself to Verona,  Italy.

Verona is where Shakespeare’s beloved novel, Romeo & Juliet took place. I was especially intrigued to visit Verona after learning about Club di Giulietta, or Juliet’s Club.

People from all over the world write to Juliet to share their stories of love and heart break and to ask for her advice. For more information about Club di Giuletta, I encourage you to take a look at this article  here.

So although my journey may not be one of heartbreak or love I  decided to write this blog post in letter form to Juliet. Happy reading.

Dear Juliet,

As much as I love to travel, I will be the first to admit that the idea of traveling alone is a little frightening. This summer, my brother spent two weeks backpacking through Europe by himself. When he first proposed his idea to me – an intricately planned journey through England and Iceland – I thought he was crazy!  But when he came back home with so many amazing stories, I was truly inspired.

As ready as I was to broaden my horizons and set my foot in a new country, I had my doubts. The idea of studying in Italy sounded exciting but the idea of leaving everything I knew behind was a little frightening – and it was a huge step for me.

I have always loved to explore new places, but not often on my own. Just the thought made me incredibly anxious. But while studying abroad in Italy, there were places I wanted to visit. And there just wasn’t always someone to visit these places with.

So rather than wait around and find someone to go with, I decided that Verona was one of the places I would visit on my own.

Verona is located only two hours from Florence by train. Although I wasn’t traveling a long distance, I was doing something that I truly wanted to do and not letting anything stop me.- not any of my doubts, and certainly not my anxiety.

On a rainy Friday morning, I stepped foot in Verona. I checked into my hotel , I received a map from the concierge and headed to Piazza Bra. 

Located right in the middle of the piazza is Arena di Verona, a conserved roman amphitheater. It was fascinating to witness something that had been so carefully preserved after years and years.

Then, I  headed towards my main destination, the Club di Giuletta,  hoping that I could finally respond to at least a couple of the many beautiful letters that are sent to you. Just for one day, Juliet, I was hoping to be one of your personal secretaries!

But my destination was actually a lot more difficult to find than I had anticipated.I asked people on the street for directions,  and most of them had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, or they thought I was looking for the house of Juliet. Nobody knew anything about this  so-called”club”.. So here I found myself lost in the middle of little Verona.

Yet being lost was an experience in itself that I actually do not regret one bit…

I met quite a few interesting people, and every one of them tried to help me as best as they could. I met one really friendly young Italian woman who spoke English was more than happy to help me. I told her what I was looking for,and as we walked we talked for a while. She was also living in Florence and was currently visiting Verona for the wine festival.

She led me to the House of Juliet. Although it wasn’t what I was looking for, it was really nice of her to take the time to walk me there.  I saw the wall where thousands of people have left notes and pictures for you. And of course, your statue that is believed to good luck. 13487299_1394084887274034_565166881_n

We agreed we would stay in touch, and after we parted ways, I was still determined to find what I was looking for. Later during the day, I wandered back to the street where my map had first led me, and sure enough, I found it! I must have missed it because it was almost hidden, set back from the rest of the street in a stone alcove. I had made it there just ten minutes before it closed!

So unfortunately, while I did not get the opportunity to respond to any of the physical letters, one of the secretaries informed me that the club receives thousands of emails written to you, Juliet.After I told her about how much I loved to write, she encouraged me to leave my email address with her so that she could send me some of these letters and I could respond to them.

I was mostly inspired to visit Verona because it’s where your story took place.As I am beginning to discover new things, people, and places on my own, I couldn’t be more content.

Thank you Juliet for giving me this opportunity to venture out on my own and truly enjoy every moment in Verona.

Yours truly,


P.S. Of all the places I have visited in Italy,  Verona remains one of my favorites. “Parting is such  sweet sorrow.”











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