Friday, February 26, 2021

Book Spotlight: Gerta

Happy Friday, lambs! I hope you have a good one and that you have a pretty good weekend lined up. I don't have much planned, Olivia is doing a school thing for a good part of the day tomorrow and Matt is working so I think I'm going to do crafts and... clean my office?  

I know, I'm living a thrilling life, calm down. 

I also need to get more reading done. If you are also in that boat, and you are a fan of historical fiction, here is an incredibly interesting book that needs to be on your radar. 

Gerta - Katerina Tuckova

1945. Allied forces liberate Nazi-occupied Brno, Moravia. For Gerta Schnirch, daughter of a Czech mother and a German father aligned with Hitler, it’s not deliverance; it’s a sentence. She has been branded an enemy of the state. Caught in the changing tides of a war that shattered her family—and her innocence—Gerta must obey the official order: she, along with all ethnic Germans, is to be expelled from Czechoslovakia. With nothing but the clothes on her back and an infant daughter, she’s herded among thousands, driven from the only home she’s ever known. But the injustice only makes Gerta stronger, more empowered, and more resolved to seek justice. Her journey is a relentless quest for a seemingly impossible forgiveness. And one day, she will return.

Spanning decades and generations, Kateřina Tučková’s breathtaking novel illuminates a long-neglected episode in Czech history. One of exclusion and prejudice, of collective shame versus personal guilt, all through the eyes of a charismatic woman whose courage will affect all the lives she’s touched. Especially that of the daughter she loved, fought for, shielded, and would come to inspire.
Full disclosure, I am not finished with this one yet but I wanted to give you some insight as I go because though I'm not always a huge historical fiction fan, sometimes one just grabs me. Obviously the story of a young mother being herded away from home gave me visuals of the migrants at the southern US border. I pictured the women who were pregnant, with children already, walking miles and miles for some kind of safety and as I read this book that is what I'm picturing it. At least in the US, this piece of Czech history isn't touched on at all and I know I know a small amount of history of that region as it is but it is heartbreaking to know that things like this affect an entire family for generations after. 

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will really enjoy this book. If you're just a history buff in general, I think you'll be greatly interested in this and it may inspire you to learn more about this time. The book is a translated version and so far, it has been done incredibly well. I'm roughly 240 pages in and I've only had a few bumps but it might be more me and my cognitive issues than issues with the actual translation. It does flip back and forth between time periods, which I think keeps you more invested throughout. I do think we've got a lot of different perspectives happening at once and I'm having a hard time holding all of these strings in my mind as we go, seeing how they weave together. I do hope this gets easier as the book goes on. 

Thank you to Over the River and Amazon Publishing for gifting me a copy, I am trying to push myself into reading things I think won't be in my wheelhouse and so far, I've been pleasantly surprised. This is also my second book this year that has been translated and they both have a beautiful rhythm to them, I imagine an audiobook version would almost be soothing to listen to. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Book Review: Eastern Lights

I feel like I was doing so awesome on my reading in January, but now that I'm approaching March I'm wondering where my gumption went. I do have an ambitious March, so cross your fingers that I can get my mojo back, lambs. 

Eastern Lights - Brittainy Cherry

I once met a man on a cold Halloween night. He dressed as a superhero, and I dressed in red. For one night, I was his break from reality, and he was the temporary fix for my broken heart.

Two years later, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to become a senior editor at one of the biggest magazine companies in the world. The only catch? Nail an exclusive interview with New York’s finest bachelor: Connor Roe.

To the rest of the world he was becoming one of the wealthiest men in New York City. To me, he was simply my once upon a time superhero.

My job was to get an exclusive interview with New York’s hottest bachelor. Never in my life did I expect him to want an exclusive with my heart, too.

The only problem with my growing feelings for him? I was set to marry his new business partner. 
You know I am a huge Brittainy Cherry fan. I will read anything she gives me and I have yet to find one I am not in love with. Not a shocker, I completely loved this one, too. 

The best thing she can do is write a story that pulls you in and also breaks your heart, but makes it all better again. I mean, if there was ever a one line description of literally every book she has written, that would be it. She always writes the best characters and Connor in this one was right up there. He is a solidly great guy and he's every guy we want. I absolutely loved him. I also really loved Aaliyah and sometimes the gal gets a little meh for me, but I really liked her. 

I'm going to tell you right off this was a 5 star read for me, and I am over the top excited for the next two books in this series. Eastern Lights is book two in the Compass series, but they are all completely stand alone, so you'll be fine no matter where you jump in. (You'll remember that Connor was in the first book, but he was the assistant... and in this book he's all grown up and making moves.)The only, and I mean ONLY thing I wish were just a *little tiny bit more* was their relationship. I mean, I know what happens, but I wouldn't have hated a little more romance. My other issue? I feel like the steamy scenes aren't as.... present in Brittainy's more recent books? I'm not saying sex sells but... I'm saying she writes it well and I wouldn't hate it if there was just a bit more to the scenes. The added drama towards the end was just... I'll be honest and say that kind of thing in romance books is basically part of the formula and I'm kind of over it. Even though that's that... 

I still loved this book. I laughed, I cried, I swooned (kind of a lot), and I had an audible sigh at the end. Now I can't wait for the next book because that is Damian's story and I am DYING FOR IT. 

I really want to talk about some of the details in this (including how Connor and Aaliyah's story started) but I feel like I'd be giving out details that you need as this rolls out. I just loved this. Have I mentioned that yet? The reoccurring theme in this series is a chance childhood/teen/young adult friendship that later on morphs into a lasting romance... so know that going in. Brittainy Cherry can literally do no wrong for me and she is 100% an auto-buy for me. 

Thank you to Social Butterfly PR for having me on this tour and indulging my love for everything Brittainy Cherry. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Neurology is full of adventures

I posted on my Instagram last week but I feel like I'll just recap it here to stay consistent. I'm nothing if not consistent, guys. 

If you've been following for awhile you would know that neurology is just one of the many specialties that I visit, but I don't go very often. This summer I went for migraine follow up because my medication just wasn't working, and that's when I discovered that the super great neurologist I've had was now gone. I've gotten information that she is at one of two places in town but to be honest with you, she bounces around to different practices every couple of years and I just can't keep up. I was reassigned to another guy who really wasn't helpful at all. 

He wasn't even that nice. 

I had specific questions about my memory, if it'll get better, what should I be concerned about, etc. and his actual response was, "Oh... that's interesting" and he left the room. That was the end of my appointment. In this appointment notes he indicated that I was just depressed. 

To say I was angry is a complete understatement. I decided right then that I was going to get a second opinion, from literally anywhere else, because that's just terrible. 

Fast forward to last week.. or the week before? I honestly can't even remember when this was now. I had Matt come with me though because I feel like doctors take me more seriously if I have him with me. I don't get brushed off and they actually ask me questions versus make assumptions just to get me out the door. 

We met with a very nice nurse practitioner who stated that most of the people she sees with my issues are elderly, so quite frankly, I'm kind of an anomaly, and she is a little out of her wheelhouse. The point of the appointment was to gather information to see if I needed to see a neurologist and which one, OR if another specialty would be better suited for my issues. 

We spent over an hour answering questions, she actually took a copy of my two pages of notes, she went through things one by one. I felt like she was taking me seriously and treating this like it was something to be looked into. After almost two hours, the game plan going forward is: 

  • A new MRI. She suspects there has been some kind of change in my brain, so a new MRI is being ordered and it'll be compared to the ones I've had in 2018 and 2016. If there is no change, that's a whole other ball of issues we'll deal with if we get to it. If there is a change, then I guess we deal with that. I honestly don't know if I'm hoping there is a change or not at this point. 
  • A sleep deprivation EEG. I am absolutely exhausted every day. I know a lot of you are like, "Ugh, same!" and no, no it isn't the same. It isn't even close to the same. I know what kind of tired you're thinking of and this is not that. Have you ever stayed up for 36+ hours and then had to drive a long distance and then go to work? You're so tired even your hair hurts because your entire body is screaming to shut down already? That's me on a good day. I have many days where out of nowhere, it feels like my body is literally shutting down. I have to get to a bed, or a couch, somewhere that I can lay down and I will fall asleep for hours. I can't do anything to keep myself awake, it really feels like I have no control of my body shutting down. Frankly, it is kind of scary. But because I'm in this utter exhaustion state 95% of the time, my brain just isn't working well. Almost all of my issues get worse the more tired I get, which makes sense. She wants to see what my brain waves are doing, but specifically when I'm tired. 
  • Neuro-psych testing. I'm a little nervous for this one because on the one hand, maybe I've gotten better in some areas and that would be reassuring. On the other, what if I'm worse? I don't know if I want to know, to be honest. I've put off retaking this for a couple of years but it turns out that I can't put it off anymore. So I'm a little nervous. 
Once all of that is done, I'll meet with a neurologist in June who will go over everything and what it means. Some concerns are that I'm getting worse, certainly. Another option is I've not gotten worse but I also haven't improved at all, which means the chances of me getting better are diminishing to nothing. The other possibility is that I may be having seizures or on my way to developing them. Some of what I call my "brain blinks" sound like possible seizure activity to her. The other possibility is that I am a repeat stroke risk and that we need to look into that. 

It sounds like a LOT, and it is, but I also left there feeling hopeful. I mean, having seizures and maybe a future stroke sound awful, but I guess at least I'd know? I can prepare for it? I guess it would be better than being surprised and terrified. I don't like surprises, but at least this might help me feel less scared? I don't know. I say this now but I'll probably be terrified if it happens so ignore me. 

That's my scoop. In March I see rheumatology and endocrinology again, and I think I am going to bring Matt to endocrinology for sure. I don't think that guy takes me seriously at all. Now that gastroenterology has basically given up and said it is either auto immune related or my adrenal insufficiency not being well managed, I feel like I am starting all over from there. 

I'm just crossing my fingers I can get some solid answers, either way. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Book Review: Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found

Happy Tuesday! I didn't get near enough reading done this weekend, but fortunately I finished this on Friday, so hopefully I can really get myself motivated this week to keep myself on track. 

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found - Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

Kingston has just moved from the suburbs back to Echo City, Brooklyn--the last place his father was seen alive. Kingston's father was King Preston, one of the world's greatest magicians. Until one trick went wrong and he disappeared. Now that Kingston is back in Echo City, he's determined to find his father. Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City's magic with him. Now Echo City--a ghost of its past--is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who've stayed behind don't look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had. When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there's more to his father's disappearance than meets the eye. He'll have to keep it a secret--that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing. 
I feel like I have already read more middle grade books in 2021 than I did in all of 2020... but maybe not. I don't know, but this was pretty fun. I think my son would have totally loved this a few years ago, and it was definitely a quick read. Even better? This book features a strong, intelligent, and diverse cast of characters, in a not-used-enough setting of Brooklyn, New York. It's exactly the kind of book we need on library and classroom shelves. 

The hard thing about reading and reviewing middle grade as a grownup, a mom no less, is that the choices characters make often drive me nuts. I also realize that these are children making the choices so they are bound to be dumb, but King makes some pretty cringeworthy decisions so that drove me a little batty. I'm not big on fantasy and such, so I can't tell you how well that aspect was done, though I will say I didn't totally understand the "echoes". I am fully cognizant that I am old and uncool, so take that with a grain of salt. I really loved the greater story of loss and grief, especially for this age group, which I think is such an important topic to normalize in middle grade books. 

I also had a hard time because in some parts King is in the now and present, but then he's in a different realm. Full disclosure though, this isn't because of poor writing, it is completely because I have a hard time with following that thanks to cognitive impairment. The book started slow, but once I got the rhythm of the writing and the story, I felt like it took off for me. Overall, this was fun and definitely different from my usual fare, but I'm glad I gave it a try. It's a solid 3 for me. 

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Valentine's Weekend- that's a wrap

I feel like the weekend went by so quickly and I feel like I'm not at all ready for this week. I don't have a whole ton of things going on but I am going to a neurologist appointment on Wednesday, which is kind of a second opinion/please help me kind of appointment. Matt is going to come with me and I hope this helps, but I'm still really nervous about it.  

Let's talk about the last few days. I know that these posts are not thrilling, but I've been looking at these like a memory book of sorts for me, and it helps. So let's do it. 

Can we give Jackson the award for best brother? Because he really kind of is. Lucy absolutely adores him and he lets her "do his hair" which is mostly just her aggressively brushing your hair. Sometimes she hits you with the brush and she randomly sticks things in your hair and calls it good. Regardless, a good time is had by all. 
Lucy had a Valentine party at school on Friday and I'm so glad that they could still do them despite Covid because that brought her a ridiculous amount of joy. She opened every Valentine and said, "they like me!" and honestly, if that doesn't warm your dead heart, nothing will. Penelope is going to have hers tomorrow and she is ridiculously excited. 
I took Olivia and Jackson to Target this weekend, they have gift cards from Grandma for Christmas and they decided they wanted to get some things for their room. Jackson ended up getting a hamper and a bed set, and Olivia got this cube shelf and put it together on her own. It is still so weird to go up to her room because it still feels like my room. It's also weird that she unknowingly has her room set up almost identically to how I did. I get a lot of weird vibes from it. 
Matt and I spent some time together on Sunday, so that was nice. I had to go get my headshot done for Duluth Moms Blog done so I felt like, it's Valentine's, I'm wearing real clothes AND makeup, we should do something. Well, we ended up going out to lunch at a restaurant, which was weird but also really good, and to Sam's Club because we needed lunchbox things, so that's what we did.
Matt did get me flowers AND they were delivered on Friday. I am a sucker for delivered flowers, and they smell so damn good too. My friend Tammy also sent me a huge bouquet of tulips and irises, and they smell amazing, too. My office/library/craft room smells so great AND reminds me of spring and lifts my spirits because I am freezing. 
I also glossed over my head shot stuff, but I did do that and can we just appreciate how nice my hair looks? I used a curling iron and I didn't burn my face, hand, or wrist. All of the planets aligned for that AND for me to use eyeliner and not get it in my eye. Also- I used the outfit I got from Loft a long time ago (maybe even over a year) that I had yet to wear. I felt like I had my entire life together on Sunday. 

Fast forward to today and my hair looks like a sad version of this, I'm not wearing a bra, and I grocery shopped looking like I'm on a bad bender. I'm just really tired, cold, and everything hurts. So, you know, I'm loving life over here. 

How are you? Are you frozen to death? Don't die. At least not from cold, that would suck. 


Friday, February 12, 2021

Book Review: Love in Moments (Love Distilled #2)

I wish TGIF shows were still a thing. When did we just collectively decide no more wholesome family TV? I've been thinking about that lately.  

Anyways. Today is Friday and I'm so grateful for it. Not that I have an exciting weekend ahead, but I do have a virtual meeting with a friend on Saturday, I have to get my headshots done for Duluth Moms Blog since I no longer look like mine at all, and then I'm hoping that I can have lunch with Matt after and call it our Valentine's date. What are your plans? 

Love in Moments - Scarlett Cole

Swedish hockey player, Anders “Iceberg” Berg, is counting the days until he’s an unrestricted free agent and can land the contract he’s worth. Yet, instead of recovering and resting at home so he can play to impress his dream organization, he’s in Denver for his brother’s wedding at a gin distillery, watching the pretty brunette who organized the whole thing.

Olivia Dyer can’t wait to put the year behind her. Her father died, and the event hall she ran at her family’s distillery was destroyed. The cost to the business and her mental health more than she could ever afford to repay. Rebuilding both takes all her effort leaving little time for anything else. Except for a single night of fun with the hot hockey player who’s been watching her every move.

When a kitchen catastrophe throws Anders and Liv together, it ends with an evening neither of them can forget. It was only meant to be one night. But when Anders is unexpectedly traded to see out the rest of his contract with the Denver Rush, and his plans to leave as quickly as possible are disrupted by the sultry brunette who defines courage, their only option is to give to the attraction they feel for one another.

Yet with Liv stuck in the past and Anders firmly focused on the future, can they put aside their differences and allow themselves to find love in the present?
Full disclosure, I did not read book one and I will tell you that I don't think it matters. Maybe book one talks more about the PR nightmare that is referenced in this book but honestly, for as much as Liv obsesses over it in this book, you won't need it. 

With that, let's just get into it and say that Liv was kind of annoying for me. Let me back up a bit though, OK? Olivia owns/operates a distillery with her two brothers and through a series of bad business decisions on their dad's part before he died, there was a pretty awful incident that became a PR nightmare once people started bombing the company's social media pages with 1 star reviews just because they could. It was pretty awful and a lot of the comments ended up being directed to her and it was a full mob mentality thing, and rightfully and expectedly so, she had a bit of a breakdown. Well, kind of a big one. 

Fast forward to now, a year later, and she's trying really hard to get back into things and kind of find her way but also be confident in what she brings to the table. She has some real PTSD from the entire incident but my problem in this book is it was OVER. THE. TOP. Like, we get it, we understand your issues, let us not beat the poor horse because he is dead. He's a bag of bones kind of dead. 

One night during another mini disaster she meets Anders, a famous hockey player also kind of at a weird crossroads in his career. He has plans but the universe isn't lining any of it up and he isn't able to see that he can really achieve greatness where he is, he doesn't have to be where he thinks he deserves to be. He has some commitment issues but suddenly when he meets Olivia, he realizes she's really too good to pass up. 

I really liked them together, I felt like they were a good balance for each other. Not quite opposites attract, but kind of? I loved that he was able to help her bad experiences with men in relationships and sex were just that, a one off, that all men aren't like that. He makes her feel again, and that piece was done really well and I loved it. 

I also realized I am not reading near enough hockey romance because I love them and I always forget about it until I'm elbow deep into one. I liked the steam level in this one, it felt adult but also maturely done. The romance isn't over the top, again, it feels like it was maturely and intelligently done so it feels more honest. I loved his Swedish terms of endearments throughout, too. 

I think if you're open to reading a sports romance (hockey) with a not overly romantic, but just enough guy, a girl with some depression/anxiety issues, and both of them finding themselves but not at the same pace, this is going to be a great read for you. I can't quite give it 5 star, but it was a solid 4 for me. I flew through the book and I would definitely read more from Scarlett Cole again, no doubt. 

Thank you to Social Butterfly PR for having me on this tour and sending me an ARC for review! 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Review: Never After

I started this week determined to have a good one, and so far, it isn't so bad. I mean, we're two days in so I don't want to get cocky, but it isn't so bad. It IS ridiculously cold where I am so I am completely over winter and wishing for spring and summer, though. Guess what I have for you today? A book review! I'm sure you aren't at all surprised, but this one is another fun one from this author, who brought us The Descendents, so you know this is bound to be good. 

Never After - Melissa De La Cruz

Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho's sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there's no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent--he's real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more. 
I am here for this turning into a series because too many fantastical things were introduced in here that it would be a dang shame to leave it to just one book! If you are in the market for a solidly middle grade book, which no shame if you're an adult who loves them because sometimes we just need something that doesn't crush our souls or make us think too much. 

Filomena is the little book nerd in all of us, over the top excited for the newest installment of her favorite series, and is crushed when she finds out it doesn't exist because her favorite author died years ago. 

Frankly, I think we've all felt the grief of a beloved author who just up and dies on us. Also, I think we all can agree that our first (or maybe second) thought is always, "Is there one last book?!" because that is just who we are. We want the next book. 

What makes this day less of a bummer is she discovers that she is being stalked by a boy named Jack, who swears he's the actual hero from the books because the books are real and she is the one to save it all. (Side note: if Edward Cullen followed me, saying the same thing, I think we all know that I would do an abrupt about face, ditch my life, and skip along with him knowing I'll probably die at the hands of vampires but you only live once, am I right?). 

You know what I loved about this? Filomena is the girl I wish I was in middle school. She's brave when she needs to be, even when she doubts herself. She has insecurities but she's a strong female hero that is a perfect character for young girls (and boys) to read about. Even better? She has a normal family, she's a good kid, she has nice/normal parents that she gets along with, she's willing to learn from her mistakes, and she recognizes the strength in others. 

As an adult reading this I recognized a lot of classical characters from nursery rhymes, which kids will make the fun connections with. I loved that amazing creatures are included in this story, making way for future fantasy readers. (I am a firm believer that every kid can grow up to be a reader if we take the time to introduce them to different genres, and this book is a great way to do just that.)

My only complaint is that I solved the mystery almost immediately. It sounds ridiculous to even list that as a complaint, so feel free to ignore me, because I am an adult so I'm obviously better at you know, solving crime and such. Do I think it will be lame for a kid to read it? No, not at all, I think they'll enjoy picking up the clues and trying to piece it together for themselves. 

Overall, I'm giving this one a solid 4 stars. If you're a fan of Melissa De La Cruz, you'll recognize her writing style and imagination, definitely a fun book to have in a school library or classroom, but also in your home library. I'm excited to see what will come next! 

Thank you to Roaring Book Press for sending me a copy for review, this was a fun, quick read. 

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Review: Guide to National Parks and Secrets of the National Parks

If you know me at all you know that I love a good road trip! I love traveling in general, but I love seeing the ultimate tourist attractions, and what could possibly be more of a tourist attraction than the National Parks of the United States? Let's talk about some books that you need when you plan your next trip. 

Guide to the National Parks of the United States

Secrets of the National Parks

Guide to the National Parks of the United States: There's simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the country's 62 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, from Maine to America Samoa. Profiled in this all-new ninth edition of National Geographic's enduring and informative guide, you'll find expert travel advice, candid tips for hiking and wildlife spotting, and detailed maps to help navigate your way through America's great outdoors.  Updated throughout with the latest information from park rangers and National Geographic's own acclaimed travel writers, this fully revised and comprehensive guidebook includes the newest additions to the United States park system-Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arch national parks. Whether you're looking to explore the underground world of Mammoth Caves or make your way through the mangroves of Everglades National Park, you'll find a destination that suits your needs, and inspiration to plan your next wild adventure. In addition to park details and descriptions, this sparkling new edition features week-long regional road trip itineraries s so you can visit multiple parks in one vacation. Filled with more than 300 dazzling photographs and 80 full-color maps, this inspiring book reveals the best the United States has to offer-right in its own backyard.

Secrets of the National Parks: The iconic landmarks in America''s national parks draw hundreds of millions of visitors every year, from Yosemite''s famous Half Dome to Yellowstone''s Old Faithful. But beyond these well-known wonders lies a world of hidden treasures--if you know where to look. This exceptional guide reveals these lesser-known gems, along with insider knowledge about the parks'' main attractions. With vital tips from rangers, experts, and travelers, readers can have Acadia''s massively popular Sand Beach and Jordan pond to themselves, or be one of the 10 percent of Grand Canyon visitors who go beyond the rim. Fully updated and redesigned to include the newest national parks and featuring expert advice from rangers, park managers, frequent visitors, and locals, this authoritative book will help you get out of the parking lot and off the beaten path to find interesting outlooks, challenging hikes, wildlife watching, and more. With brand-new entries for Pinnacles National Park, Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve, this book will be your go-to guide on road trips, camping getaways, and day hikes, allowing you to enjoy the rich opportunity in the country''s vaunted national parks.
I am going to review these both at the same time because they really work best as a team, depending on what kind of trip you have time to plan. I suggest using Guide to when you are planning out your trip, but using Secrets of if you think you may have some extra time to explore a little more. 

I don't think I have to tell you that both books are full of incredible pictures that will make you pack up the car right now, it's what we've come to expect from National Geographic and boy, do they deliver. The biggest complaint I have with a lot of travel books is how they are organized, they often make it really hard to plan a trip because the sections you need are often at different parts of the book and you spend more time bouncing around the book than you do actually on the road. Thankfully both books are very well organized and done by region, then by park. I found that incredibly helpful. 

ESPECIALLY helpful? In the Guide book it gives information about campgrounds/lodging, entrance fees (because who wants to be surprised by those), excursions (added extras nearby that might add to your experience, like monuments, for example), and if you'll be able to get more than one park in the same trip. 

Each park area has a detailed map and so much information that you will have no problem organizing a trip, even on short notice. In 2019, our family visited Missouri with the purpose of seeing the Gateway Arch. I knew little to nothing about the area and spent hours researching and you know what? Our trip was terrible because the information we found online wasn't actually helpful at all. Had I used this book I could have saved us a ridiculously out of the way walk because I could have used this map, and I could have found some other things to do. The closest park to me in the book is probably Voyageurs National Park, in the northern part of Minnesota. I've actually never been there because I've always been told that's a trip you plan for, and thankfully this book just might get us there! In the "How to Visit" section is says to plan for at least a two day trip, and if I'm not bringing or renting a boat, I need to look into ranger-led boat tours. Let's be honest though, I should look into that regardless otherwise our family will get lost. It's basically a guarantee. It tells me the best time to visit the park and great information about the visitor centers. It's everything you need to know when planning. If I pull out my Secrets book it tells me how to avoid crowds on the waterways and other tips to make the trip a little extra fun. Lots of parks have gorgeous driving loops and you can find information about each one throughout the book. 

Overall? I know it seems dorky, but both of these were 5 star for me. I have a hard time knocking any points off of a National Geographic book in general, because I learn so much from them. These are the books I have out on a table and someone always ends up paging through it, too. If you are trying to plan out a summer trip, whether for pleasure or educational, these are a couple of great books to pick up. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for having me on this tour, but also sending me books for review. I'm already looking at some places in Michigan since it's not too far from us, but far enough to feel like a vacation. Stay tuned for our travels!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Book Review: Widowish

Hi, how are you? I'm kind of meh right now, and I'm just trying to get through each day. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen a video I posted about some shakeups with my medical team and things going on and yeah. 

I am overwhelmed and just totally over it. 

You know what I'm not over with? This book. 

Widowish - Melissa Gould

When Melissa Gould's husband, Joel, was unexpectedly hospitalized, she could not imagine how her life was about to change. Overwhelmed as his condition tragically worsened, she had to believe that while Joel’s loss was permanent, so was their love.

Left to raise their young daughter on her own, and to act as if she could resume life without her beloved husband by her side, Melissa found that she didn’t fit the typical idea of widowhood or meet the expectations of mourning. She didn’t look like a widow or act like a widow, but she felt like one. Melissa was widowish.

Melissa’s personal journey through grief and beyond includes unlikely inspiration from an evangelical preacher, the calming presence of some Real Housewives, and the unexpected attention of a charismatic musician.

A modern take on loss, Widowish illuminates the twists of fate that break our world, the determination that keeps us moving forward, and the surprises in life we never see coming.
Some of you might recognize this book as being one of the Amazon First Reads from January 2020 or December 2019, I can't remember. I would have picked it for sure but lucky for me, I received a copy for review from Little A, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, and I am SO GLAD because this was a five star read for me. Easily. 

This memoir follows Melissa Gould as she navigates her husband's death not long after his diagnosis of MS and watching that deterioration. I can't tell you much about what transpired that led to his death because you really need to go through that as Melissa does in the book. One of the best parts about this book for me was how she describes Joel's entrance to the emergency room and how quickly things go downhill, how she's getting information, and just... what it is like to walk out of a hospital like, "alright... so now I'm alone.... now what?", it just.... it gave me a different perspective that I didn't have. 

If you've followed me for awhile on this blog, you'll know that I died briefly in August 2016 when I gave birth to my youngest daughter
Obviously I survived, but for days, Matt was being advised that I might not make it, he was being made to answer some questions that we hadn't really talked about because we're young, we're too young to die, and while I survived... that's traumatic for Matt. I think about what would have happened if I didn't survive? How would Matt have picked up and carried on as a single dad to four kids? 

Fast forward to now, and I am riddled with a ton of health issues, including memory and cognitive issues, and I'm disabled. I'm unable to work, I rely 100% on Matt to take care of me even though I look totally normal/fine, I'm very much not. What would happen if he died? How would I take care of four kids? 

Needless to say, I devoured this book. The book is rather short, only 202 pages, and once you start you will not put it down, so just reserve a day for it. Melissa takes you through her and Joel's incredible love story, becoming parents, his MS diagnosis, his death, and her learning how to be a widow. Or widow... as a verb? I mean, is widowing an action? Maybe, depending on who you talk to, I guess. 

I really couldn't stop reading this, I cried because I tried to imagine what I would do if this was Matt and I, and I won't like, it triggered my PTSD and panic attacks because I am still really focused on death and dying and I don't know if I ever won't be. Who knows. I loved Melissa's humor and self deprecating personality because she speaks about the types of people you encounter in the grieving process and I totally understood it. To this day, I'm four years out, but I get people who ask how you are and they don't really want to hear, they'd much rather hear that you are totally fine an grateful, that you know you're blessed, because they will know they've done the socially expected act of wanting to care, but they don't want to be obligated. Instead, if you tell them how awful things are and that you're struggling you'll get one of two responses: the look of a caged animal not sure how to escape or the "well, at least you're alive!" faux chipper response, both of which are just awful.  

I totally related to that and I just wanted to hug her because I feel like nobody gets it.... and she does

I also really liked how she talked about trying to parent while grieving and making sure that you're helping them get through the grieving process whole, nobody wants to be responsible for screwing them up. I totally got that, and I really loved her candor. Overall? I really liked this book and if you are in the market for a good non-fiction, this should be at the top of your list. 

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Book Review: Happy Girl Lucky

Happy pub day for Holly Smale! This adorable book is officially out into the world, and it is really a fun juvenile fiction. Honestly, these books are so much better than most of what was offered when I was a kid, I feel kind of cheated. 

Happy Girl Lucky - Holly Smale

Sisters Hope, Faith and Mercy have everything: fame, success, money and beauty. But what Hope wants most of all is love, and it doesn’t matter how far she has to go to find it.

Except real-life isn't like the movies. Even if you're a Valentine .

If you have a child in the 11+ age range looking for a new series to get into, I strongly suggest this one! Happy Girl Lucky is the first one, but I can only assume the others will be just as fun. I remember a lot of books from back in my day, ahem, were mostly fluff aside from The Babysitters Club, which I never could get into. I am loving that the books aimed at this middle-grade/young adult age group are coming with some grit to them because this is the tik-tok generation, let's keep them engaged. 

Stepping off my soapbox now, mmkay? 

Hope is our main character, she's part of a Hollywood famous family, The Valentine's. Her family has raised her largely in the shadows of fame, but she has been waiting for her 16th birthday, because that's when she can be introduced to the world. Hope thinks this is going to be amazing and glamorous, that all of these doors are going to open for her and of course, it doesn't quite turn out that way. 

I love Hope so much because you're reading this and you want to be her friend. You want her to be your daughter's friend. She reminds me of me, doing the quizzes out magazines, finding my love match based on my horoscope, etc. She holds fake auditions for a potential boyfriend and it reminded me so much of high school and giving boys code names so nobody knew who we were talking about. Through memory loss and brain injury I still remember my friend's was Turtle and mine was Ernie, and I still remember exactly who they were. HA! One of my favorite things about this book, which is becoming a real life reality to me as a mom of a teenager on the cusp of driving, is that eventually teenagers drift from their parents' lives and it becomes their life. They have to make decisions and as a mom who knows it all, I could see Hope veering off and all of the potential consequences, but Hope couldn't... because she's only a teenager. It was a bit of a splash of cold water for me realizing Hope is kind of like my daughter, and I know what is coming down the road and as a parent you want to steer them away from all of it, but you know we all have to hit those bumps so we grow as people. 

As a parent, this was actually a fun and quick read that reminds you what it was like to be a teenager, and maybe put things into perspective as your children grow. As child, easily a relatable read that is both fun and entertaining, but keeps you engaged, especially if you are reading a book for a dreaded school assignment. I promise you'll enjoy this and get through it quickly. 

A big thank you to Harper Collins for sending me an ARC for review, I hope that you get a chance to pick this one up for your child. I'm all about books in Easter baskets, just saying.

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Monday, February 1, 2021

Book Review: Roomies

How was your weekend? Mine was alright, we didn't really do a whole lot, but that was just fine. I organized my desk (again, don't judge me) and I was able to get the Valentines made for Penelope and Lucy's class and helped Penelope make her Valentine box. I did get some reading in so I can stay on top of my Goodreads goal this year so I'm not reading like a maniac at the end of December. Like last year. Gulp.  

Roomies - Christina Lauren

Marriages of convenience are so...inconvenient.

For months Holland Bakker has invented excuses to descend into the subway station near her apartment, drawn to the captivating music performed by her street musician crush. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, fate steps in one night in the form of a drunken attacker. Calvin Mcloughlin rescues her, but quickly disappears when the police start asking questions.

Using the only resource she has to pay the brilliant musician back, Holland gets Calvin an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he’s in the country illegally, his student visa having expired years ago.

Seeing that her uncle needs Calvin as much as Calvin needs him, a wild idea takes hold of her. Impulsively, she marries the Irishman, her infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves and Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway—in the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting—will Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?
Normally I am a big fan of Christina Lauren, they are usually funny and/or steamy, and reliably good. Unfortunately.... I didn't love it. I think my problem is that I've discovered after this book that the friend or stranger getting married in order to solve a problem trope is not my favorite. I don't think I even like it at all, in fact, so I know now to just take a pass on those ones because yeah... not my thing. 

In Roomies we have Holland, who becomes mildly obsessed with a man named Calvin who plays music in the subway. She almost dies but he saves her, only to mysteriously vanish when police come around. Once she finds him again, she gets him an audition but soon after she learns that he isn't a legal US citizen and because he has gone past his Visa requirements, he will be deported. 

Unless he gets married. 

Naturally, obsessed Holland is totally on board, and Calvin reluctantly agrees. They have to make their relationship believable for the immigration inspector, so it becomes a very crash course in getting to know you that honestly, nobody with half a brain would believe. 

On face value, this sounded fun and interesting, but as we get going I realize Holland is a bit much. She wasn't likeable for me at all and I can see how Calvin is reluctant, she would be difficult to get rid of. But, he moves in with her because you know, you have to look like a married couple, and in my head I'm like- who agrees to marry a stranger AND move in with them? I listen to enough crime podcasts to know statistically, this usually doesn't work out well. Holland in general was just... I definitely wouldn't want to hang out with her and I'm not sure if she was supposed to be immature and awful or her character just wasn't developed enough, but I just couldn't like her. Calvin was alright and honestly, I wanted him to run and never look back. Shack up with anyone else other than Holland because she is seven shades of nuts. 

I know this was supposed to a comedic, "isn't this a hilarious but also fun 'how you met'" story, but I just didn't think it was funny. I felt oddly uncomfortable through it, and I am a fan of romance novels and can generally get through one in a day but this one took me weeks. For real. Weeks. 

If you're looking for a fun and light romance, keep looking because this isn't the one.