The Book Review: “Street God” by Dimas Salaberrios

 

“One day Tank and I became so desperate to get high that we robbed his next-door neighbor’s house. Talk about risky! I didn’t care where I sold, as long as I had enough money to replenish my supply and enough crack for myself to smoke. In fact, I was about to hit rock bottom”. – Dimas Salaberrios 

 

Advance Reading Copy Disclosure:

Thanks to Tyndale Momentum and the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I have not heard of Dimas Salaberrios before but what drew my attention to this book the most was the description. This does not affect my opinion of the content or the book of my review.

When I read the description of the book I thought that it will be an awesome read. I would like to share a little insight about me before I start the review. I worked for the German Federal Police for several years before I joined the United Nations Security Department in New York and I can proudly say that I have seen it all. From drugs, to homicides, to suicides and back. Unfortunately nothing was left out for me. I also finished an Associates Degree at LaGuardia Community College (right next to the Queensboro Correctional Facility – and yes, they offer programs for detainees to attend classes at the college or to finish their GED!) and transferred to John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I finished with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice/Forensic Psychology in 2012.I have been at Rikers Island Jail with one of the Corrections Classes I have taken which was a very intense experience) John Jay College offers a plethora of great Criminal Justice Programs. One of my favorite professors throughout my four year college experience was Professor Peter Moskos. He is a professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration. He has also written three books that I have all read. My favorite was “Cop in the Hood” because I simply could relate to so many things he wrote about. Having all this background and reading “Street God” was very interesting because it had been written from the perspective of the “other side”; the criminal side. 

Let’s dive into the book review. 

I love memoirs. This is most likely one of my favorite books to read because the individuals write about themselves and it is usually very intimate. The book starts out pretty rough by Salaberrios’ description of his early life in the drug world of Queens/New York. Even though is parents are considered as “normal” (his mother is an elementary teacher and his father works in a correctional facility) This was probably the most shocking part to realize that Dimas had a great childhood and “good” parents. Dimas wanted to be the Street God; the best known drug dealer with power and money.  He starts dealing and even consuming drugs to the extend where he almost hit “rock bottom”. I thought his description of the drug dealers and gang life was pretty interesting, especially if I keep in mind that I lived a couple of minutes away from where he lived. The further I kept on reading I was more and more surprised how he ended up surviving living this crazy drug life – specifically after taking drugs himself. 

When you read Dimas’ story and you think it cannot get worse, everything changes but I don’t want to give the plot away here. I think it is just an amazing story that is difficult to put down because of Dimas’ honesty. I recommend this book to parents and teens to simply read and try to understand how the inner city life really is. I think the book is a great leaning experience and full of love and forgiveness. 

Thank you for reading my blog. You want to read the book? Order it here. Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Book Review: “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr

“He sweeps her hair back from her ears; he swings her above his head. he says she is his émerveillement. He says he will never leave her, not in a million years.”  ― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

This was a book I picked up because it simply popped up in any of my book recommendation newsletters, online, in bookstores and friends recommended it. I needed to know what all the hype is about – with books I do make an exception. My first thought was that the book is really thick – to let you know from the start, “The light we cannot see” comes in 530 pages. Usually, if I start a book like that I know out of experience that there will be a plethora of details, many people interact and get involved so it is not a easy breezy read. However, I started the book and was done with it in no-time. The chapters are very short and it makes you interested enough to keep reading. Besides that, it is a unique story and very beautifully written. 

The book starts out by introducing the two main characters; a blind French girl – Marie Laure and Werner who is a radio expert in the German army who cannot leave the city when WW II starts and the Allies begin shelling Saint-Malo; a French city. Marie Laure and Werner are both very young in the beginning of the story and they author jumps back and forth between those two’s perspectives on the war and their life. Here you really have to focus and pay attention, otherwise you loose track of the story. It is not a war novel so to speak but a plot brings both characters together which is also described by Doerr in very rich, precise and elegant language.  

I give ever book the chance of fifty pages to get me hooked. If this does not happen I put it down usually. With “The light we cannot see” it took me exactly forty pages to figure everything out and then I could not stop reading. So honestly, it did not hit me right away. You wonder about the title of the book? This is what Anthony Doerr explained in an interview:

“The title is a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” 

Overall, I would recommend this book. It has a lot of details as I expected and I think that some characters were not really necessary but simply filled pages. WW II was just insane and you get some good ideas on how these people must have felt during the war. This book will make you feel emotional at points and you will probably see for yourself that there is a lot of light under the surface of history that simply has not been revealed. 

Thank you for reading. Enjoy this book if you read it and share your thoughts. 

The Book Review: “American Housewife” by Helen Ellis.

Advance Reading Copy Disclosure: 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I have not read anything else by Ellis before but what drew my attention to this book the most was the cover. This does not affect my opinion of the content or the book of my review. 

“You are so bad?” is Southern Lady code for: That is the tackiest thing I’ve ever heard and I am delighted that you shared it with me. “No, you’re so bad!” is code for: Let’s snitch and bitch. “She is a character” means drunk. “she has a good time” means slut. – American Housewife, Southern Lady Code – Helen Ellis. 

If you like to pour yourself a glass of wine (or two), you love to laugh and you are basically a woman who stays at home you will love this book. This small collection of twelve short stories all talk about women who either work at home or from home. Some stories as “Dead doormen” have some dark humor and others are hilariously funny – “Southern Lady Code” for example. While I read it I caught myself saying many times that “this is so true, she is right on”. 

Helen Ellis always puts a little twist or surprise at the end of every story and the women are not who you thought they were which keeps you reading and enjoying this book so much. I definitely enjoyed the book and had a smile on my face. The book is not expected to be released until 12 January 2016 but you can pre-oder it here. I will pick up one of her other novels next: “Eating The Cheshire Cat: A Novel”. Ellis has a unique style that is at points imaginative, funny and smart and simply a pleasure to read. There will be also all sort of advice for example if you plan on staying at home to write full- time and let your husband finance it all. Ha! 

The Book Review: “Just Kids” by Patti Smith

“There were days, rainy gray days, when the streets of Brooklyn were worthy of a photograph, every window the lens of a Leica, the view grainy and immoble. We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed. We lay in each other’s arms, still awkward but happy, exchanging breathless kisses into sleep.” ― Patti Smith

I saw the book “Just Kids” by Patti Smith by chance on my way out of Barnes and Noble and the cover caught my eye. I never heard of Patti Smith before but I thought I give it a try. Needless to say I was hooked after two pages. This book is awesome. Let’s dive right in. 

The story is about two young artists who grew and learned together. Patti moved to New York in the 60s at a very young age to try to make it on her own. On her journey she met struggling artist Robert Mapplethorpe under funny weird circumstances. Both were inseparable every since – at point it seemed that they become ONE.  “What will happen to us?” I asked. “There will always be us,” he answered. There was this initial naivety I felt from both characters initially but they never lose their idealism so it seems okay how they live their lives together almost in poverty. What I loved about their story was that they never gave up on their dreams. And  if you want the real story of the starving artists in NYC back in the 60s? Read this book. 

The book will guide you through the spiritual art world of the 60s and 70s in New York City and you will “meet” these great artists who Patti and Robert met throughout their journey. Patti Smith wrote her memoir in very specific details when it comes to her intellectual encounters. They knew Sam Shepard, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin by simply running into them on the street going out for a cup of coffee. You will find out about other artists, poetry, musicians and of course how she met my beloved Allen Ginsberg in a café when she was was starving and had no money to purchase food. 

“I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.”

I love how clear and catching Smith writes this memoir. Her use of words and the way she describes her love for Robert made me tear up occasionally. Patti and Robert act like each others muse while they wander the streets of New York City and create art. It is also interesting to read that most artists struggled at that time. Smith wrote that Gregory Corso made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to won, encouraged and chilled me. Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing thorough the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university.” which I thought was amazing. I wish I would have lived in the 70s in the city. 

Robert was the artist of her life as she stated even though they went hungry several times and were constantly looking for a new place to live it seemed. Whatever they needed to do, they had their common ground. I have to admit that I never heard of Robert Mapplethorpes before either. I do know many artists but for some reason …. well shame on me I guess. I will most certainly read a biography on him because now I am hooked. His polaroids are controversial at points but simply amazing. “I don’t think,” he insisted. “I feel”. Here is one of his artworks that I loved:

 

It rarely happens that a book moves me to tears but Smith did a great job of simply describing her story with such honesty, clarity, directness, sincerity and tenderness that I could not help but share her book here with you besides wiping away a tear or two. 

If you want to read great prose, pick up Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids”. 

Enjoy if you read it and please share your thoughts. 

The Book Review: “Dry” by Augusten Burroughs.

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“So that’s what I’m here to become. And suddenly, this word fills me with a brand of sadness I haven’t felt since childhood. The kind of sadness you feel at the end of summer. When the fireflies are gone, the ponds have dried up and the plants are wilted, weary from being so green.” ― Augusten Burroughs

Do you know this awesome feeling when you discover a new author and you want to read all his books? This is what happened when I first picked up “Dry” by Augusten Burroughs If I love a book I will finish it in one day – usually no matter what. This is what happened with “Dry”. I think Burroughs is simply amazing. Let’s dive right into the book review. 

Augusten Burroughs was my man and caught my full attention after reading the first page of the book. He is candid, very poignant and sharp with words at the same time. The book is about him being an alcoholic, and his long path and struggle to sobriety. He worked at a advertising company and was very successful but he drank. He came to work drunk almost every single day and was just a huge mess. But even describing all this, Burroughs has managed to make me laugh out loud many times while being so self-deprecating and honest. The story was very interesting to me because of his battle with alcoholism. Even though I do not suffer from this disease I can understand or somewhat relate to him. His story kept me interested the entire time by never becoming monotonous or boring. All the people he meets and the descriptions of other addicts along with stories about his work made me read on. 

The book was full of balance from his own struggles to all the stories and dialogues he had with his best friend Pighead, handsome Foster, his colleague Greer who is very funny as well as many others. As a German, I loved when he described how he worked with an advertising client from Germany. 

 “This man has a way of making every sentence sound like a street cable being stretched to the point of breakage.” [“Ve still have to meet viss ze pee-ahh – P.R. as in public relations”]

What impressed me the most was all the insight to love another person despite hopeless flaws and repressed emotions. It all makes the reader in turns fascinated and awed what he had been through when he drank on a daily basis. (1 Liter of Vodka and a couple of cocktails plus once in a while a hit of coke) It made me wonder how much abuse you can do to your body and still live? How much can the human body take? If you read the book you will learn a lot about how rehab clinics work; how AA meetings and therapies will  help him throughout his struggles. This book is just real. I recommend it to anybody who tries to seek understanding of alcoholism. This book will take you from laughs to sadness and back to laughs then sorrow and hope and back to sadness. Burroughs is awesome and original and while reading you have to keep in mind that it shows how crazy his condition is but at the same time he is unafraid of what is. “Life is just a question mark!” 

He brings up many other stereotypes in a funny way. Sort of like nobody gets away. I get this feeling like, “Should I really laugh about this now?” but I do. 

“It’s like walking on eggshells. Like in one of those cheese interracial movies forth seventies where nobody ever mentions that he white girl’s boyfriend is back, but everyone is highly aware of it. Then somebody says ‘watermelon’ and everybody sort of grips. This is how I feel right now.”

All these questions that you will ask yourself like “will he relapse? Will he get sober?” are just constantly present.  His love towards Pighead made me tear up occasionally. It’s not pretty, but it’s necessary and eye-opening and a very funny and deep portrait of a recovering addict. 

Enjoy it if you decide to read it! 

Book Review: “The Colossus of New York” by Colson Whitehead.

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“No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, That used to be Munsey’s, or That used used to be the Tic Toc Lounge. You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” – Colson Whitehead. 

Yesterday morning the probably friendliest postman in Norwalk brought our mail and I received this book sent by my husband. I would say a nice start of the day. I fished the book yesterday. Yes, I am reading quite a lot and I am usually up way too late because I take advantage of my son’s sleeping rhythm these days. Last evening I took my son to bed, put some comfortable clothes on, made myself a cup of tea and curled up on the couch. Is there anything better? Not much 🙂 Let’s dive into the book review while it is still so fresh on my mind. 

If you love New York and think that this crazy, hectic life mixed with a lot of dirt and smelly streets and the occasional homeless person this book is for you. I have never read anything by Colson Whitehead before but I love how strong his writing is and how this book is somewhat a love letter to New York City. Whitehead takes you from “City Limits” all the way to “JFK” with a total of 13 essays or short stories. You walk with him through “Central Park” after surviving the “Subway” ride when the “Rain” starts to pour down and washes the streets of New York clean. Not all of his stories are directly about New York – more about living (or surviving) in the Big Apple. 

“It stops. From the river you can see the clouds haunch over adjacent boroughs. What transpired is a problem of sewers now, out of sight and out of mind. Snapping the umbrella open and closed as if it will scare the water off.[…] They walk out of the movie theater and say to teacher other, Did it rain, pointing at puddles. Yes, they are sure of it, something happened and they missed it.”

Once experienced, you will always remember the umbrella-war walking through the streets of New York when it rains. It all does not matter because it makes me want to go back there and do it all over again by just reading the essay “Rain”. I think Whitehead writes in a real clever language that was at first a bit difficult for me to understand I have to admit. Sometimes his writing seems like a long poem of some sort. He has this great skill with language that makes you just want to read more and more by him to appreciate his sharp observations. 

The book is short and sweet (158 pages) and at points I felt like I just spent a weekend in New York walking around and taking it all in again. His style of writing is as fast-paced as New York is so get ready to read some sentences twice or three times. Simply a wonderful read that makes you want to go back to New York City. 

I am fortunate that this city of yellow cabs is just a short car or train ride away. 🙂 So my son and I will explore this city that never sleeps together while walking and walking and trying and see some of it through Colson Whitehead’s eyes for just a New York- minute or two. 

Enjoy! Let me know your thoughts if you pick up the book! 

The Book Review: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” by Haruki Murakami

“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language” – Haruki Murakami. 

Murakami – I have read three books by him so far (this, this and that) and I must say I am impressed with “Colorless Tsukuro Tazaki” because it is simply so different from everything else I have read by him. It is just written under a complete different light; however, it possesses most of Murakami’s essentials. If you are a Murakami fan you know what I mean: the sexual fantasies, consciousness and subconsciousness of the characters, real symbolic dreams and of course a lot of classical music and jazz. 

The story: Tsukuru Tasaki is part of a group of five friends who all represent a color [their Japanese names], a talent or a quality. Except for Tsukuru [who is just ‘the builder’] – or this is how he feels almost throughout the book. An event happens and none of his friends want to see or talk to him again without explaining to him why. He is very affected by this, depressed and suicidal and decides to leave to Tokyo where he starts school to become an engineer to build train stations which is his true passion.

“Because I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. I have nothing to offer. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside….” 

It seems throughout the book that he did not only lose his four friends but that he is also unable to make new friendships simply because he is afraid of rejection. So he lives his days by going to work and back home, following a somewhat steady routine. So far it made me think if there was a time in my own life when I struggled to fit in. When I had this feeling of not belonging or this feeling that I am not good enough for this group of “friends” I was part of. It reminded me of a particular time in high school so I could relate to Tsukuru and his struggles.  When I started the book I was shocked how simple the story and language are; there was just nothing complex in it at all. But I think that it is not so much about the plot or said language. It is more about making the reader feel how Tsukuru suffered. How lonely and desperate he felt up to the point of wanting to killing himself. When you read the book you do not have to overanalyze or try to find explanations for everything. Reading the book makes you go with the flow of this relaxing soft melody that continues throughout the book and lets you experience Tsukuru’s misery, feelings, thoughts and love. 

I mentioned jazz and classical music before which are so significant for Murakami work. Throughout the book he mentions this classical piece by Franz Liszt called “Years of Pilgrimage – Le mal du pays”.  Usually when I read a book and the author mentions a song I google it and let it play in the background while I read this certain passage. I did the same with this book. It is magical. This is how the author felt when he wrote this part of the book or this is how the person described in the book feels right here and now I believe. 

One thing I want to mention without giving too much of the story away is that besides depression and loneliness Tsukuru met Sara, who becomes a really good friend, guide and someone who makes him realize that he can love and trust again and open his hearts to something new even though he has been hurt so badly. Sara helped him to confront his fears which was a wonderful thing to read. What was also beautiful is how he describes Finland – yes, he travels there but you have to find out for yourself why. (It definitely makes me want to fly there and discover this awesome country where it is still bright outside at 10pm). 

“The air felt purer here than in Helsinki, like it was freshly made. A gentle breeze rusted the leaves of the white birches, and the boat made an occasional clatter as it slapped again the pier. Birds cried out somewhere, with clear, concise calls”. 

Murakami is in my opinion a genius writing about all these emotions that make you suffer with Tsukuru. I don’t know what color I would represent in Murakami’s book but I do know that life is just this continuous search of experiences and dreams to make our life on this planet earth as colorful and awesome as possible. 

 

The Book Review: “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” –  E.L. Doctorow

I love to write. English is not my first language but reading a lot and consistently improving by writing a lot is a good training. I have read that “Bird by Bird” is just an awesome book for any writer to get new ideas and inspirations so I purchases it and read it in one sitting.

I was always into writing. As a child I had a diary and wrote something in it daily. I also loved writing assignment and research papers in college. Writing in English however is challenging for me. In my working life I was able for a while to write, analyze and assess but I could not really live out what writing ability I may possess. At some point I thought it give it a try with my own blog. I love to read other blogs and follow some on a daily basis but I thought I could never start my own. Then again, why not? I love to read so I can definitely write a review about any book.  Who else than Anne Lamott can describe and advice how to go about the whole business of writing? I have read many other books on writing but none of them left this deep feeling of “yes, I can do this!” 

I connect with any book I read. Some great books I cannot appreciate however because of where I am in life at that moment but when I read them again under different circumstances it changes my entire take on the book. Do you have this feeling sometimes? I just want to kick my writing up a notch and Lamott helped me just getting more confident. “Bird by Bird” is just full of wisdom if you want to start writing but are afraid of having no ideas or if you are just uncomfortable. She describes and offers advice in a very funny way which I love. She tells you what to do if you are stuck (writers block). Lamott also states that almost all good writers started out terribly. Sometimes I thought that a writer just sits down and types along until the book is done. Of course they all have drafts that they rewrite the next day because it simply sucks. Lamott gives writing lessons as well and this book is basically what she teaches in her class.

She offers a plethora of tips and ideas if you just want to write more generically or don’t want to start out with a novel.  You get a great idea on structure of writing and to simply keep your readers interested and entertained.

Lamott describes how difficult and painful writing really is. It is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong but it is hard. Especially if you doubt that your stuff you put out there is good. She is a great teacher who lets you know that with a lot of discipline you can do it if your true passion is writing. The book is a pleasure to read if you are feeling depressed or down (about writing.)

Enjoy!

 

The Book Review: “Where the Wild Things are” by Maurice Sendak.

“Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.”  – Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are [“Wo die Wilden Kerle wohnen” – the German translation of the book] 

I heard about this book a long time ago, however I did purchase it at STRAND Bookstore for my son two weeks ago. And of course a little bit for myself as well. This book is just awesome. The illustrations and drawings entwined with the story is just really well done by Sendak. I want to share the story here and why I love it.

Max is the main character and he just loves to scare things by putting on his wolf suit. His mother calls him “Wild Thing” and one night just sends him to bed without dinner. That night (is he dreaming or not) a huge forest begins to grow in Max’s room and ocean built up to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king and then the craziness. As soon as he sent the monsters to bed and everything is quiet he is feeling so lonely that he decides and realizes that it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him no matter what.

Now Max gets hungry and goes back home where his mother had left his food still warm for him. First I thought, “Okay, leave the supper out for me before  my room is becoming a freaking forest inhabited by monsters and then put me to bed”. What do you think I am gonna do that night? Sleep? Nope! All I would do is hide under the bed with a knife, my husband’s flashlight and simply just hoping that if THIS is the night it all goes terribly wrong I have the courage to look all these monsters directly in the eye and not peeing myself. Any other kid would probably made a nest in his bed or a fort protected by a teddy bear and some pillows and did not sleep but stayed quiet until the next morning. But not Max.

This is the story I read to my son last night and I think it is just awesome. Hands down! It feels like reading through intimidation and fear. Sendak’s message that even if you misbehave sometimes, there will be dinner waiting on the table is just great. Interpretations of unconditional love as well as that it is just not that good to be a king who has all the power over these wild creatures is my take on the story. And in the end Max still misses his home. Simply a subversive masterpiece.

And while doing a little more research I found this! However, this movie is a lot  different than the book with so much more story added.  Enjoy!

 

On Why reading to your child is important

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

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I wrote an article on reading where I described my son’s favorite book and my passion for reading to him. Also how I want to get my son interested in books. I do order books constantly when I am not in a bookstore to browse which is actually one of my favorite things to do. I ordered some books for my son but somehow they have gotten lost and mixed up. A few weeks ago a package arrived out of the blue in my mailbox. This is why I love to order online. Every time you receive a package it seems like a gift to yourself from yourself! Awesomeness!

So I unwrapped the envelope of my lost order and out fell The story of Babar”. Instantly a thousand memories flooded back into me when I saw this book that I actually did not have ordered but was so happy to have received. I remembered the entire story almost by heart having read it so many times to my sister and brother when they were kids. And my mom read it to me almost every single day when I was tiny. I remember Babar was our friend. My siblings and I used to love this story so much. Babar was definitely our friend way back then maybe because the story was just so sad and we wanted Babar to feel better. If you haven’t read the story yet (and I recommend you do) here is a little insight. Babar’s elephant mother is killed and he is chased by hunters and escapes to a foreign world of the city. He returns to his community and finally becomes king of the elephants. Enough, this is not supposed to be a book review! 🙂

When this book arrived the other day I just realized again how important children’s books really are. And how important it is to read to your children. I forgot about this book I have to admit after all these years. But it finally arrived here. Back with me. I was so happy – all these dreams, love and forgotten memories came back up. Having been through so much reading I know how a single book can make you happy. How a single book can guide you and simply this magic that comes for a fairytale like this can inspire. So I want my son to know this as well. I want to help him to find the pages and words that he needs to make sense of this beautiful world – the same chance I had in life.

I will read Babar to my son when he is ready. These days we are more into “Where the wild things are” by Maurice Sendak and “The very hungry caterpillar” and a plethora of Pixi “Connie” booklets in German.

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Since my second address is either Barnes and Noble or The Strand Bookstore my son’s address is the same. Our next goal is; besides discovering our neighborhood,  to go to the Public Library. Reading fairytales to my son will help him make sense of this big world outside – just in time. And of course I am proud and honored to be his mother who is reading to him all these great stories  while he listens in wonder.