The Beginnings of an Edible Garden

It's seems that plans for my at-home vegetable garden are growing with each year. Before moving out of my parents' home, I was a garden novice with little interest in or knowledge regarding the care and maintenance of edible plants beyond that of the most basic herbs. Two summers ago, in my own house complete with modest backyard, I planted a simple array of squash, tomatoes, herbs, and greens. This past summer I expanded my edibles repertoire to include broccoli, string beans, cauliflower, and strawberries, though most of these newer additions didn't make it to harvest on account of a new puppy with a penchant for digging.

This year, I've decided to expand the garden both in size and scope. Inspired by both Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates project and my dog's unavoidable canine instincts, I have planned an edible garden that includes both my front and back yards. And I've challenged myself with the task of maintaining edibles that operate on different growing schedules, with some late harvesting pumpkins and some double sowers including arugula and spinach. My first batch of compost will also go into this year's vegetable-growing efforts once its time to transplant. And from colorful swiss chard to radishes, lavender, peppers, and stevia, this year is sure to be a diverse and delicious one.

For now, I've got sowing schedules planned out, garden layouts designed, and seeds well on their way in  peet pots. Patience is not my forte and it was hard to resist starting those seedlings until the requisite eight to ten weeks before Maryland's last frost. But the pure excitement of growing my own food has already kicked in just days after that first batch of seeds was planted - some sprouts popped up over the weekend.

I never thought I'd be a gardener as it was always a hobby I associated with soccer moms, Martha Stewart, and retired folk (though I am quite the Martha fan). I guess I'm still far from your average gardener; I'm much more likely to spend a good ten minutes debating between two varieties of tomato seed than picking out ornamental plants for purely decorative purposes and I subscribe to the trial-and-error variety of garden knowledge more so than the scientific precision professional growers utilize. But there's something truly awe-inspiring about growing your own food. To start with just a mere handful of tiny seeds and then round out the summer having reaped a harvest plentiful enough to feed an entire family is pretty incredible. And the sighting of these baby sprouts are just the start of it.



It's a rare treat these days to settle down with a good book and read purely for pleasure. Between working two jobs, attending grad school, and all the other demands of running a modest rowhome complete with husband, cat, and dog, I haven't been able to indulge in fiction (or pleasurable nonfiction for that matter) nearly as much as I'd prefer. But in the midst of all the bustle, I completely relished my reading of Alexis M. Smith's debut novel Glaciers, a delightful book that took barely two hours to finish. It was a perfect treat in fiction form.

Glaciers is all about Alaskan-native Isabel, a twenty-something living in Portland, Oregon who collects relics from the past. But Isabel's affinity for thrift stores and vintage clothing is not the stuff of a passing trend; it is indicative of her enduring desire to explore the quiet histories of simple people, to forge a useful meaning out of long-forgotten items, to amass a collection of personal treasures. Much as she likes to dwell in the past, both her own and that of an era long before she was born, Isabel's affection for a coworker at the Portland library is the present she most passionately wants to create. Glaciers is a novel about storytelling and memory, about the importance of what we make of both past and present.

Though Isabel's story is a simple one, it is beautifully and poignantly told. Smith's narration is straightforward and unpretentious, her characters effortlessly drawn and achingly real. Glaciers was reminiscent of Vendela Vida's Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name in that I was completely captivated for those few short hours required to finish reading and also the film Spooner in that it was so unassuming and unaffected, a piece of art that never tried to be more than it was.

I've heard quite a lot of good buzz about Glaciers and am so glad to have made the time to find out what it's all about. It's a thoughtfully crafted novel, but compact and precise enough to finish in just a day. I anticipate many more novels to treasure from Alexis M. Smith in the future and am sure to revisit the delightful Glaciers again soon.


Anniversary Tunes

Today marks three years since Mike and I started dating! In just a few years, the two of us have traveled all over the country, moved in together, become husband and wife, adopted a kitten, adopted a puppy, embarked on new career ventures, and so much more. At times I can't believe that we've only been together for three years; at others I can't believe that these few years have passed so quickly.

Here are a few songs that we've grown to love together over the past few years and/or ones that I can't hear without thinking of my husband. It's quite an eclectic but nonetheless special mix. I hope you find something you like on this little video playlist. Enjoy!

The Proclaimers "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

Blind Pilot "3 Rounds and a Sound"

The Swell Season "In These Arms"

Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give Up"

Ryan Adams "Come Pick Me Up"

George Harrison "Here Comes the Sun"


Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Chestnuts

Much as I love food, it isn't unusual that I come home from the grocery store or farmer's market and find myself in a food rut. I'll buy all my favorite ingredients but, come dinner time, won't have the slightest idea how to put them all together into some new and delicious dish. Though my old standby recipes are tried and true, they have become so tired that prepare them yet again would be pure torture to my husband Mike.

In such situations, I turn to my trusty cookbooks. Although I often search for recipes on the internet when I have a vague idea in mind of what I'd like for dinner, there's nothing like flipping through a cookbook (preferably one full of color photos) to reignite my passion for food and to spark my culinary creativity.

The Kitchen Garden Cookbook is one such collection of recipes that I know will never fail to get me thinking outside the box no matter what I have on hand. This is a great cookbook for seasonal eaters, backyard gardeners, and amateur canners alike. Food-lovers, vegetarians, and carnivores can all find something to learn from editor Caroline Bretherton's quite brilliant cookbook which lists recipes by major ingredient and has preserving tips along with unbelievable recipes.

So when I found myself with a butternut squash and not the faintest clue as to how to create a delicious meal out of it, I turned to my trusty cookbook. The Kitchen Garden Cookbook offered me a simple and surprisingly innovative side dish recipe that I completely adored. The Squash with Cranberries and Chestnuts recipe spoke to my love of fall-flavored dishes and holiday feasting foods. Though I don't much like chestnuts (and actually omitted them from my creation), cranberries figure so largely into my diet that they deserve their own separate food group designation. With a touch of warmth courtesy of some cinnamon and allspice, plus a little added sugary sweetness to balance out the tart cranberries, this squash dish is composed of the simplest and most obvious ingredients, but I doubt I would ever have thought to add fresh cranberries into roasted butternut squash on my own. Easy to make and super satisfying, this dish is a shoo in for my family's Thanksgiving potluck this year and a great new go-to side or vegetarian main dish.

You can see the recipe here using Google books. Just go to page 274 to learn how to make this delicious butternut squash side dish and take a flip through the rest of the book's incredible tips and recipes. Be prepared to do some major salivating!


The Tiger's Wife

Though Tea Obreht's novel The Tiger's Wife wouldn't be classified within the fantasy genre, her debut novel is quite magical, a story ground in reality but elevated by her the mysterious and intriguing workings of her imagination. Set in an unspecified Balkan nation, Obreht weaves a dynamic tale of family, loss, and mystery against the backdrop of a war-torn country. Natalia is a young doctor, heading to an orphanage on the coast with her ballsy friend Zora to administer much-needed medical care to the children in residence at the orphanage. Natalia's journey is marred by the news of her grandfather's recent death. Though Natalia was the only family member privy to the knowledge of her beloved grandfather's illness, his mysterious passing in a coastal village just an hour's drive from the town to which Natalia is headed further confounds the young grieving doctor.

As Natalia works through her grief and confusion, she revisits the routines which she shared with her grandfather and the many unbelievable stories he shared with her over the years. Trips to the city zoo with her grandfather's well-loved copy of The Jungle Book always stowed in his jacket pocket are at the center of her reminiscences, while stories from his childhood in Galina and of repeated encounters with a deathless man are crucial pieces of the puzzle that is Natalia's memories of her grandfather.

The fantastical narratives that Natalia relates as shared by her grandfather offer irrefutable evidence of Obreht's storytelling talent. There is the tiger's wife, the deaf-mute girl whom Galina townsfolk accuse of having relations with a tiger that inhabits the nearby woods after a bombing destroys the zoo walls that for so long bound the tiger's world. As a boy of nine years old, Natalia's grandfather was enraptured by the mystery and danger of the tiger, seen by so few but feared by so many. But even more so, he was enamored with the tiger's wife, a mere girl with such vast power as to tame a feline beast. And then there is the deathless man whom Natalia's grandfather meets with much skepticism at multiple points over the course of his life. Natalia's grandfather, a doctor, is first called to examine the deathless man after he asks for water from the bed of a coffin, only to remain unbelievably but undeniably alive after two bullets to the head. The doctor enters a bet with the deathless man, unable to comprehend such blatant immortality, placing his weathered copy of The Jungle Book as a wager. Natalia recounts and explores these stories in an effort to better understand her grandfather and the circumstances surrounding his death, circumstances to which no one was fully privy or able to fully grasp.

Obreht is considered quite a find among literary types, especially in light of the fact that she was a mere 26 years old when The Tiger's Wife was published. Her novel is unlike anything I've ever read before, beautifully jumping between Natalia's present bewilderment, the magical and timeless stories of her grandfather, and the circumstances the structured his upbringing so many years ago. Completely enrapturing, The Tiger's Wife is not an easy read but was one I consumed rather quickly on account of its beguiling storyline and masterful storytelling. Tea Obreht is definitely a name to keep in mind and The Tiger's Wife is certainly not to be missed.


Slow-Cooker Cranberry Glazed Ribs

I'm usually not much of a meat eater. I owe this fact largely to Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer whose books have challenged the way I always thought (or more accurately, failed to think) about the meat I was eating. The reasons I maintain as much of a vegetarian diet as possible are far and vast, from my health to that of the animals providing meat, from the environment to my own wallet. But sometimes I do crave something thick and meaty. In such rare cases, I try to make the most of my carnivorous meals and choose my meat as ethically and wisely as possible.

Recently Mike was dreaming of devouring a nice rack of ribs and he got me in the mood for some as well. I had come across an interesting recipe for cranberry barbecue ribs just a few weeks before and decided this would be the perfect way to prepare an indulgent and meaty meal. Better yet, I came up with a way to do it all in the slow cooker, leaving me with very little clean up and even less prep work.

Six hours of low heat in the crock pot made the meat tender enough to just fall right off the bone by dinnertime. The interesting combination of sweet cranberry and tomato-y barbecue made these ribs even more decadent and delectable, though maybe not the healthiest of meals.

I wasn't too precise with my measurements when throwing everything in the slow cooker, but this recipe is highly adaptable and easy to alter to your particular taste. If you don't have enough cranberry sauce on hand, strawberry jelly or blueberry jam would both make for delicious substitutions. Play around with whatever flavors you like and enjoy every last bite off the bone of these ribs!

Slow-Cooker Cranberry Glazed Ribs


  • 1 rack pork ribs
  • 3 cloves garlics, minced
  • 3/4 cup jarred cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup strawberry jelly
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut ribs to fit in slow cooker (I cut the rack into multiple two- to three-bone sections).
2. Place ribs in bottom of slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients on top of ribs
3. Cook on low setting for 6 hours. Enjoy!


The Virtue of Pets for Live-In Couples

Attempt #1 at a Finazzo Family Christmas Photo

While taking my dog Louie on one of her late night walks, I found myself feeling an unmistakeable inkling of what I like to call happiness. It's not that happiness is a necessarily unusual emotion for me to experience, but barreling through the 30 degree weather after my first 8-hour work day for many months just after the excitement and leisure of the holiday season ends isn't exactly a recipe for happiness. There were plenty of factors that could have easily contributed to my joy. The bliss of newlyweddedness, my recent meditation practice, and having just begun to read a jewel of a Haruki Murakami novel were all potential factors. But the present company seemed a pretty good reason to feel in good spirits too and I attributed the burden of my cheerfulness to her, or more accurately, to what Louie has done for my marriage.

Mike and I were never a dysfunctional or volatile couple, but when we first moved in together, the transition wasn't without its fair share of challenges. Not only was I working my first full time job back then, I was doing so for minimum wage with AmeriCorps. And this was also my first time truly living on my own with rent to pay, bills due, and a whole host of chores to finish at the end of the day. Navigating the world of independent adulthood is a transition in itself, but doing so with a significant other can be a stressful and trying experience. I watched in horror as my free time was drastically diminished and I felt the true burden of housework like I never did when living in a dorm or at my parents' house. Though it was great to live with Mike, there were times in those first few months when our roles as roommates far overshadowed those as boyfriend and girlfriend.

It was exciting to be around one another so often, but difficult to achieve a working balance between our other relationships, our personal time, and the time we shared with one another. I felt guilty when I was at home but not physically with Mike, when I just wanted to read by myself or watch a chic flick in which he would have no interest. I imagined that I was the one doing all the housework (which I wasn't) without a bit of help from him, because that's often how it felt. And having our finances wrapped up required some adjustment as well on account of the fact that we have very different attitudes toward and tendencies regarding money.

Don't get me wrong, we loved living together and our roles as live-in boyfriend and girlfriend gradually became easier once we figured out one another's expectations, quirks, and responsibilities. But I don't think we have ever been as happy as when we found ourselves owners of an adorable runt of a tuxedo cat and a rowdy pit-boxer puppy made of pure love and solid muscle.

Digby came first when we thought we couldn't afford to buy a dog. He was the very smallest kitten on offer for adoption at the Petsmart and, though we had a tough time deciding between all the adorable and tiny cats napping behind the glass, we were certain we had made the right choice once we brought him home. Though the little guy hid beneath our futon and behind a shelf lined with DVDs for the first few days, he gradually emerged and began to make himself at home in our laps, in our bed, and on our laptop keyboards (there's something about the warmth of a computer that he finds so appealing). I was never a cat owner previously and I think I played a little more roughly than I should have with young Digby because I was so accustomed to interacting with rowdy puppies. Digby has grown into a one and a half year old crybaby, a whiner who loved nothing more than to be held but would just as often purr in your arms as attack your hands with his itty bitty teeth and piercing claws. He loved to play in a more violent way than most cats, but I loved him just the same, though I think Mike, despite being a self-proclaimed cat person, has become much less fond of Digby's ways than myself.

Despite Mike's reservations regarding the cat, introducing a feline into our home was a good thing. Digby offered a place to direct our attention, a cute and cuddly plaything to take care of and foster together. It was, in some ways, a trial run for parenthood, but also a bonding experience of sorts. I think our relationship improved after Digby's entrance into our family. Though time itself could explain the general upward trend in our relationship's quality, Digby was a project of sorts in which we were both invested that strengthened our connection, offering us something positive to focus on rather than all those little aggravations that can develop into big arguments when you have too much free time on your hands and too little with which to concern yourself. And of course, owning a cat together was sort of emblematic of our commitment to one another (even if we were already engaged) because if we split up, then one of us would have to give up Digby and that just wasn't happening.

When Digby was just under a year old, Mike and I got married and decided it was due time to get a dog. We felt bad for the cat, away from his owners during our week-long honeymoon and then having his world altered by the introduction of this new rambunctious animal in his home. But Louie very quickly became a part of the family that even the cat grew to love (and fear too).

At first, I wasn't entirely sold on Louie given that she was still a six month old puppy with plenty of training and attention requirements that we may or may not have been able to meet. She also had some pit bull in her which was a little cause for worry given that we didn't know her history. At six months, she could have been inculcated with the beginnings of a fighting mentality if her early days had been spent in the hands of the wrong owner. Luckily we discovered that she was the friendliest pup we could possibly have chosen. Louie's musculature and solidity belied a sweet and playful nature towards both humans and canines that we quickly grew to love. Though she required two hours of walking a day, constant playtime, and thorough training efforts at first, these doggie duties were ones we enjoyed. In fact, we playfully bickered over them, vying for the best Louie chores. Our division of pet-related labor was so equitably split that I couldn't possibly argue that I was doing everything as I so often had previously. We each wanted to be the one to spend an hour walking Louie, procuring her affection by divvying out her daily dose of kibble, or releasing her from the confines of her cage in the morning with a barrage of wet kisses and a violently waging tail. The responsibilities that came with having a dog were fun to us and so we split them quite fairly with little argument or resentment (although I did begrudge Mike a bit when Louie started acting up on walks with me but not with him, a clearly demonstration in my eyes that Mike was her preferred walker).

Beyond feeling good about our equitable division of dog owning responsibilities, Louie required even more attention that Digby, once again displaced our focus from the small things that, without canine or feline distractions, could have erupted into greater disruptions for reasons too silly and petty to understand. Mike often says that having a dog is more work than having a child and, though we can't speak to the amount of labor required in raising a baby, we were happy to expend any amount of effort required to be excellent dog owners. Louie makes us happy, and we love nothing more than to make her happy in return. We lavish toys and attention on her, improving the lives and temperaments of everyone involved. Though I don't think she singlehandedly improved our relationship (a series of increasingly improved job situations for me and Mike's newfound comedy habit definitely helped with our own personal happinesses), Louie's presence joined us in a strong commitment to providing our dog with a great life. She was a common hobby, a shared interest, a source of laughter and conversation, and even a source of entertainment. To put it quite plainly, Louie was the best thing that happened to me and Mike, our sanity, and the state of our relationship.

A more authentic and chaotic family portrait attempt

And this is what was running through my head after my first full day on a new job in the dead of winter when the world lies dormant for months lie until spring, when the festivity and fun of the holidays have ended, and the trees are bare, and the world feels dismal and dreary. I was quite happy and not just because of a good first day. It was a larger and more general happiness, one that had become a steady undercurrent in my life, rather than an occasional pattern popping up every now and then.

Pet ownership is a rewarding experience in itself - no animal-lover will argue with that. But doing it with a significant other is even more gratifying, for it lends a larger sense of purpose, commitment, joy, and love to already positive and strong relationships. True, there are days when the last thing I want to do is take my dog for a walk in the below-freezing winter night and Mike still gets on my nerves from time to time. Adopting a dog won't solve your relationship issues and often time is the best avenue to identifying solutions to these problems in the world of love. But adding an animal to the home you share with a live-in significant other can do wonders for a relationship that you thought couldn't get any better. Digby, Louie, Mike, and I are living proof.


Chocolate Cinnamon Pots de Creme

It's a rare night that I don't crave a little bit of chocolate after dinner. But it's an even rarer event that I actually proceed to prepare a chocolatey dessert. I was recently feeling unusually ambitious and decided to finally give Martha Stewart's Chocolate Pots de Creme recipe a try. I'd been salivating over the photo of her smooth and dainty teacups of chocolate custard topped with fresh whipped cream for quite some time. 

Though my pots de creme didn't turn out quite as pretty, I amped up the dish by switching out the espresso powder for a little bit of cinnamon - reminiscent of the flavors found in mexican hot chocolate - and a topping of peanut butter whipped cream. The subtle warmth of the cinnamon makes for an interesting flavor combination and will fill your whole kitchen with the most temptingly delicious aroma while baking. 

Of course you can never go wrong with the chocolate-peanut butter combination. And your extra peanut butter whipped cream is great for topping hot chocolate or as a dip for all sorts of sweets (Oreos, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies are all made even more scrumptious with a a little spread of peanut butter whipped cream on top!).  

Though the two small pots of fluffy chocolate custard may not look very substantial, they're rich and filling. All the heavy cream in these gorgeous desserts quickly adds up, but using the individual custard cups serve as an excellent portion control measure. 

These are an elegant but super simple dessert to make. Though the recipe recommends letting the custards cool on wire racks for one hour and then refrigerating them for another four, I enjoyed them at room temperature after an hour-long cooling and they were perfectly delightful. And the recipe which follows is for just two custards but it can easily be increased to four or more for a dinner party.

Cinnamon Chocolate Pots de Creme
adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, February 2012


  • 3/4 cups heavy creams
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup) bittersweet chocolate (70%), finely chopped
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter, melted


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bring 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream, the cinnamon, and vanilla to a simmer; pour over chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Let sit for three minutes (this is important so you don't get scrambled eggs in the next step!); whisk until smooth.
2. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg yolk, sugar, and a pinch of coarse salt; add warm chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Strain custard through a fine sieve into a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Let cool completely, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
3. Place 2 teacups in the center of a baking dish. Divide custard between cups, and fill pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the teacups. Cover tightly with foil; poke several holes in the foil. Bake until custard is set around edges but wobbly in the center, about 25 minutes.
4. Remove cups from water bath, and let custards cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days. Before serving, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons cream to soft peaks, folding in melted peanut butter just before serving. Dollop peanut butter whipped cream over pots de creme.


The Sounds of February

I posted a random selection of songs that I was crazy about during the month of January, but I still had more songs to share, so here's my February collection of tunes and videos I currently dig.

J.D. McPherson "North Side Gal" - J.D. McPherson is one of the most unique modern artists, primarily because his sound is so reminiscent of early rock'n'roll with touches of doo wop. Though his musical aesthetic is definitely influenced by the likes of Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Chuck Berry, McPherson puts his own stamp on this tried and true musical sound that is sure to get your feet tapping.

Damien Rice "Wild and Free" (skip to about 1:45 to bypass Damien's guitar tuning and get to the music) - I was ecstatic to find some new (at least to me) Damien Rice songs. His music is reminiscent of, or maybe more accurately a precursor to, that of The Swell Season and Mumford & Sons. Though Rice has released a few excellent albums, it's been quite a while since I've heard anything new from him so the simple and gorgeous "Wild and Free" was quite a treat to find!

Damien Rice and Melanie Laurent "Everything You're Not Supposed to Be" from Laurent's album En T'Attendant - I adored Laurent when I first saw her opposite Ewan McGregor in last year's Beginners. And just like McGregor, Laurent has quite a set of pipes. Some of the songs off her 2011 debut album were produced by Damien Rice and he performed alongside Melanie on "Everything You're Not Supposed to Be." Though the sound is definitely a departure from the typical Rice tune, I really enjoy this lovely and refreshing duet. It makes me think of warm spring days and sunny skies which is always a nice treat around this time of year.

Ingrid Michaelson "Can't Help Falling in Love" - Since it's February, the month of Valentine's Day, I thought it'd be fitting to end this one with a love song. Though I had heard Ingrid Michaelson's version of "Can't Help Falling in Love" many years ago, it wasn't until I saw the trailer for Like Crazy that I really fell for this song. Come to find out, a lot of people are also crazy about this song as Ingrid's version is listed before Elvis' when YouTube suggests videos from the song title. I've long been a fan of Ingrid's vocals and I think this stripped down cover highlights her talent better than nearly any other songs of hers.


Vaclav and Lena

Haley Tanner's debut novel Vaclav and Lena is a particular brand of boy meets girl story that was a true delight to read. Vaclav and Lena are both Russian immigrant children living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. They meet when placed in the same elementary school ESL class. On a trip to Coney Island, an outing that marks their first real foray into friendship, the two find themselves unable to board a single ride on account of their short stature.

But a quick trip to the sideshow is within their budget and bars no restrictions on short or young patrons. Vaclav and Lena are transfixed by the magic show and spend the rest of their afternoons perfecting their magic act at Vaclav's house until his mother sends Lena home after dinner. Vaclav the Magnificent and his assistant the Lovely Lena anxiously await the day they can take their own act to the boardwalk at Coney Island.

Lena's is a heartbreaking story. She never knew her parents and so lives with her aunt, a woman who works as a stripper and only agreed to take custody of her niece for the monthly check Lena's presence brings in. Vaclav's mother Rasia takes pity on the poor girl, doing her best to care for the motherless girl. But when her desire to do right for Lena leads Rasia to take matters into her own hands, Vaclav's mother's actions put an untimely end to her son's relationship with the young girl. Nine year old Vaclav is unable to comprehend why his mother would make such a decision that serves to remove Lena from his life. But after a seven year separation, the two childhood friends find themselves reunited under sensitive circumstances.

Though the true crux of Tanner's story is Vaclav and Lena's reunion, it isn't until the final 70 pages of the book that we are even introduced to their teenaged selves. But this late placement is far from detrimental to the book as it allows readers an opportunity to really get to know both Vaclav and Lena. Tanner narrates with an authentic voice, describing with alarming clarity the unique situation in which these immigrant children find themselves. Though Lena has lived in the United States for as long as she can remember, her exposure to the English language has been rather minimal, wrecking havoc in her school life and loading an overwhelming degree of anxiety upon young Lena's shoulders. Quiet and subdued, Lena often follows behind Vaclav and remains practically invisible among groups of adults, so frightened is she of speaking incorrectly and embarrassing herself.

Though Vaclav has picked up on the English language more readily than Lena, his is still an outsider among most of his peers. In fact, before Lena's entrance into his life, Vaclav had no friends to speak of. For both Lena and Vaclav, magic offers a welcome respite from the real world and all the fear, misunderstandings, and confusion it brings. Though this magic act is the source of their tight bond, it is a worrisome hobby in the eyes of Rasia who imagines that Vaclav and Lena's performance will only end with the two subject to further ridicule and embarrassment.

Tanner's novel is as unforgettable as Vaclav and Lena are to one another during their teenaged years apart. Unpretentious and honest, Vaclav and Lena was a fairly simple story, both in narrative style and structure but completely affecting nonetheless. Tanner's no frills writing, paired with a unique imagination, delivers a stand out debut novel that I highly encourage readers of all sorts to try.

***While seeking out more information about Haley Tanner, I found this piece from the New York Times about Tanner and her husband who was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma just months before they met. The article provides some brief background and the video clip is pretty moving as well. The piece offers some interesting insight to Tanner after completing her novel.
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