Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: The Deep Limitless Air

The best part about Friday is the fact the ice cream truck is going to come and that is always the highlight of my week, if we're being honest. I also have dedicated reading time marked for this weekend, a grad party to go to, and I am going to do some crafty stuff because I feel like it. I need to get better about doint self care things and making time for myself. So let's talk memoir. 

The Deep Limitless Air - Mary Allen 

*For the first time ever, I don't have a back cover blurb to share with you. Hopefully my review below does enough justice that you kind of get what the memoir is about.*
When we talk about complicated family relationships, most of us will talk about dumb arguments with parents or siblings that we let kind of dictate our long term relationship. Maybe nobody wants to say sorry and thus begins a lifetime feud over stuff that could (and should) have been resolved at the time. Mary Allen can't say that's the case in her family. Her mother dealt (not always well) with mental illness, and though Mary's relationship with her sister was OK (though this didn't end well either due to ALS), Mary often felt safer anywhere but home. Later in life her fiance passed away, and she was present when a shooter came into her workplace and murdered four people of a research group. Granted, literally any of that would be hard for any of us over our lives, but Mary has worked diligently to really make peace with life. 

I liked hearing about her experience with EMDR, I was so hopeful that was something I could participate in, but for various reasons that's not in the cards for me. But it's promising for those struggling with different forms of mental illness as a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Mary has had a widly interesting life from beekeeping, to her stint in a monastery, she's really taken the concept of live your life to the fullest to heart. I really liked the humor Mary used throughout, even during dark times, because that's something I do and people always think its insensitive. I've gotten to the point where if you don't laugh you're going to cry, and sometimes I just don't have tears left. 

Thank you to Blue Light Press and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour, I didn't realize how pertinent this memoir was going to be for me given the journey I'm on. I definitely enjoyed this one. 

*this post contains affiliate links

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Book Review: The Witch Haven

Do you ever walk through a bookstore and impulse purchase a book solely based on how it looks? I do. I actually do it a lot because I'm that girl.  

The Witch Haven - Sasha Peyton Smith

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
I have been on some weird witch kick and there was a few weeks last fall that I bought a bunch of witch books but had no idea until I started shelving them at home. I've been reading this one for months and that right there should tell you about it. 

It begins with Frances, who has no idea she's a witch with powers, suddenly discovers her abilities after killing a man (I mean, it happens to the best of us, am I right??). She is quickly ushered from certain incarceration and brought to Haxenhaven, a school for girls to learn about their powers. Her world is suddenly turned upside down but it's really just the start. 

I believe this is going to be a duology, and because I read this one I feel compelled to read that one because there is something wrong with me. This one also ends with a sort of cliffhanger and I am a bit curious to find out what that's about. The story otherwise though, fell flat for me. It was alright, it wasn't anything special, it's pretty much like every other YA series out there. I will say though, I do appreciate when an author injects LGBTQIA characters into the story and there are several within THE WITCH HAVEN

While I was often bored with this one, there were some random twists towards the middle to end of the book, but I really wish there were more. I also wish the majority of the book kept reminding us that Frances' brother died tragically and far too young, and I understand grief has no end, but it was just way too much in this one. It felt more like the author didn't have any other real purpose for Frances (though there are SO many opportunities) so really relied on his death to keep her going. 

Overall, it was alright. It wasn't terrible but it also wasn't great. This is one I'm likely going to forget that I even read. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Book Review: The Friendly Mouse

Happy Thursday! I get to pick Jackson up from his college prep thing tonight, a day early, so I'm ready to hear his stories of the first week. I feel like I'm starting to get into some kind of groove with Pep and Lu by myself during the day, and I'm trying to keep myself busy all day otherwise my depression starts taking a dive, and that's not good. One of the things we've been doing is reading books. Lots of books.... all of our books. I was SO grateful to have something new to add to the mix, that's for sure! 

The Friendly Mouse - Sophia R. Tyler
A Small Mouse with a Big Heart Changes the World One Friend at a Time. . .

Mouse is a field mouse who loves living in the country, but works in the city. This leaves him with a major problem: he is constantly late for work. In the face of losing his job, Mouse makes a bold, faith-filled choice that could cost him everything.

An unexpected story about how a little mouse overwhelmed with his own struggles finds himself to be the miracle prayed for by another.
I'll tell you, Pep and Lu really liked this one, they picked up on the moral of the story without me asking. Throughout the book we follow a hard working little mouse who works at a cheese factory, but happens to have a gruff boss named Mr. Roo. Mr. Roo doesn't come off very nice at all and he makes it hard for mouse to get through his day and mouse doesn't really know what to do to make things better/easier. 

Which brings us to the main point of this book, compassion and kindness. The rest of the story unfolds and we see different situations where mouse received kindness and then practiced kindness onto others. The Golden Rule, treat others as you wish to be treated, is shown in several examples, easy for children to understand and practice showing you their comprehension. The story is wholesome, but I will let you know that it does touch on God and the power of prayer, so if that isn't something you practice at home, this may not be the book for you. It would make a great story for a church children's room or as a story during vacation bible school this summer. 

I really loved how the last page of the book features 11 comprehension questions for children to answer and expand upon. You wouldn't even need to go through each question afterwards, you could easily pick one or two to talk about because each one would definitely lead into other stories because you know kids always go off on tangents! Overall we really enjoyed this story and Penelope loved the illustrations. She's been busy trying to copy some of the drawings (as she does with all books, it's how she's teaching herself some drawing skills this way). 

Thank you to PR by the Book and Tiger Lily Publishing for sending me a copy for review! You can learn more about The Friendly Mouse on the website dedicated to it, and it is available as a hardcover (my favorite for children books) on Amazon: 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Summer 2022... kind of.

I have gotten really bad at being a blogger and have not been great at updating literally anyone. Ever. 


I'll get better. Someday. At least I'm pretty sure. Until then, let's talk about what has been happening around here lately. I feel like it's so much that it is hard to keep up but I'm really trying. 

1. Kindergarten Graduation

Lucy officially graduated kindergarten and she was so excited. She had a pretty good school year and could not love school more. She's starting to read books, mastered her sight words, is a whiz at addition and substraction, enjoys art, has adorable handwriting (though she writes her 'y' backwards and it's the cutest), cannot rhyme anything to save her life, and make great strides in speech therapy. 
This was also the year that she started physical therapy and has been doing such a great job. She has some progress to make, but she LOVES going to 'exercise class'! She will continue with speech therapy next year and already misses her kindergarten teacher, her speech teacher, and her friends. 

2. School is out.... for summer
I don't post about the bigger kids much because 1. they hate it and 2. they are literally busy all the time and I don't always get pictures. I need to really try harder because I'm finding my memory is starting to slide a little more. 

But.. Olivia finished 10th grade with amazing grades. She did so great in AP World History, she loved biology, but her journalism class was by far her favorite. She learned a lot from her teacher who I hope becomes a mentor for her because that was a great last minute change to her schedule back in the fall. She's working two jobs this summer, flying through books at breakneck speed, and getting her license as soon as we have time to do it. She even managed to go to Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston for school. Jackson finished eighth grade and is literally chucking deuces at the hell hole that is middle school and is heading to the high school next year. He learned to crochet, play Dungeons & Dragons, and is literally the funniest kid of our bunch. He has my sarcastic personality and I always have a good time hanging out with him. Him and I are doing the DC/NYC trip next spring break (same one I did with Liv), so we at least have that to look forward to. Penelope finished first grade like a boss and is an amazing reader and is excellent at math. She's hoping for "harder math" in second grade. She gets that from her dad because math is the absolute worst. And we already talked about Lucy. 

3. We all scream for ice cream
You know summer has officially started when the ice cream truck starts it's weekly visit. We planned last week entirely around it coming and it was worth it. 

4. Plans?

Normally I have some kind of plan for our summer, but this year I'm stumped. I really WANT to go on a roadtrip but honestly, we need to work on paying down debt and putting money away. I'm really struggling with the "be a responsible adult" versus the "we only get 18 summers, they grow so fast, life is short so take the trip" argument. In my head, of course. I haven't settled it and I really need to make a decision soon so we can appropriately plan and people can take time off. 

If we don't do a roadtrip (which really would be a bummer), I guess we can do some short day trips on the weekends or something. I don't know. I just hate being the only one really delegated to any of this because of our group, I'm literally the last person who should be in charge of anything. I can't make decisions, I can't organize thoughts, and god knows I can't remember anything. The thing about cognitive impairment is that learning to live with your newly acquired shortcomings is really hard and incredibly frustrating. It's like running into a table as you walk by, multiple times and knowing full well that if you just move over a little you would be fine, but you continue to run into the table and it makes no sense. 

So that's my life. 

Hopefully yours is going better, or you at least have any kind of idea of what's happening next. That would be nice. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Book Review: Lucky

It feels like I'm just falling off the blogging wagon, am I right?? I'm really struggling with depression right now and though I have medication for it, I feel like I'm on one end of the spectrum today, but tomorrow I will be flung clear across to the other side. If we could find me some consistency in the middle, that would be greeeeeaaaaat. 

Lucky - Rachel Edwards 

Someone is watching Etta. Footsteps in the night, the security light coming on at strange hours … is it all just her curtain-twitching neighbours, who seem to monitor her every move? Or is her little online problem making her paranoid?

Because Etta needs to win big. She joined a gambling website to get a bit of cash, hoping to convince her boyfriend Ola that they can afford to get married. And she was so good at it … until she wasn’t. Luckily, she’s made a friend who hit the jackpot and if she plays her cards right, he could lend her the money to win everything back. Easy. So why does she feel so afraid? 
This was an absolute shit show Etta has managed to get herself into. It felt like that show Bridezilla, but before they get engaged, and she's just super desperate to get married, so she's like, I need a plan! Responsible partner Ola is like, "slow down girl, we need money for a house so we can be financially responsible" and she's like, "ugh, FINE".  (Don't get me started on Ola because Ola is a loser she needs to kick to the curb as it is, and I'm over here thinking there isn't a dang thing in this world that would convince me he's a good mate for anyone. I understand wanting to settle and do the wedding and baby thing, clocking ticking, blah blah blah, but a loser? Really? Is this what we're coming to?! I digress.) What does a normal person do? Get a job and save? 

If you're a loser! 

Etta isn't a loser (though I started to really doubt my opinion there for a bit), she's smart and smart people do what they do, turn to onling gambling because that NEVER fails, am I right?? Except, as it turns out, it goes bad fairly quickly. Once she gets WAY in over her head, and she spirals into gambling addiction. Honestly, I don't think I've ever read a book that focused on gambling addiction, so this was pretty wild. I could feel the panic Etta feels onces she realizes how royally screwed she is, and she starts making even worse decisions that she thinks will get her out of the hole she's dug, except that goes to hell as well, because now she's in debt but with some really awful people after her. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and even though I was getting so annoyed and literally yelling at my book because Etta is an absolute moron who makes ridiculously terrible decisions, it is an absolute ride. Twists come at you out of nowhere, and through it all, the author makes you as a reader feel the panic and fear, just as Etta does. It puts a glaring spotlight that no matter what situation you get yourself in, there is no such way as the easy way out, there are no shortcuts, the only way out is hard work and making sacrifices, but also putting your wants aside until the end goal is reached. (Also, don't gamble, y'all. I know people have a good time, which seems like insanity to me, but you're flushing money down the toilet. If you really hate having money, let me just give you my email and you can just send it to me because I currently have a whole stack of bills here...)

Even though she got on my nerves with her terrible choices, this book was a wild ride and I enjoyed it. I loved all of the emotions the author got me feeling, I loved watching this trainwreck run completely off the rails, and it was a book I binged in a day. Loved this one. A huge thank you to Harper360 for sending me this for review, I can't wait to see what Rachel Edwards does next!

(Side note, I read Rachel's first book, Darling, and one of my comments was that there was room for growth in the writing.... I'm not saying I influenced that, but she nailed it! She definitely grew and I am so impressed, she is definitely an author to watch and quickly becoming an instant buy for me.)
This post contains affiliate links. Help a girl out, because I am not a good gambler. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Book Review: It Takes a Villa

I have so many great books I'm waiting on to arrive for summer reviews, I think you are going to really love them.

It Takes a Villa - Kilby Blades

For the reasonable price of $1, Natalie Malone just bought herself an abandoned villa on the Amalfi Coast. With a detailed spreadsheet and an ancient key, she’s arrived in Italy ready to renovate—and only six months to do it. Which seemed reasonable until architect Pietro Indelicato began critically watching her every move…

From the sweeping ocean views to the scent of the lemon trees, there’s nothing Pietro loves more than his hometown. And after seeing too many botched jobs and garish design choices, he’s done watching from the sidelines. As far as he’s concerned, Natalie should quit before the project drains her entire bank account and her ridiculously sunny optimism.

With Natalie determined to move forward, the gorgeous architect reluctantly agrees to pitch in, giving her a real chance to succeed. But when the fine print on Natalie’s contract is brought to light, she might have no choice but to leave her dream, and Pietro, behind. 
I love, love, love actually coming into a series on the FIRST one, it almost never happens because I am forever out of the loop. I also love finding new authors, and Kilby Blades is completely new to me and I am really looking forward to reading more from her. 

I love a trade paperback romance, something about them just feels more fun, a little more like an indulgence for me. Stupid? Maybe. Can I just say, I really wish someone would offer me an entire house/property for $1????? Like where are my long lost relatives dying to leave me a legacy or something?! Why don't I ever find these amazing real estate deals? Because they sure aren't listed on Zillow, I'll tell you that. 

With all that aside, this was a fun little book. I loved the old vs. new when it came to renovating this place, I loved both of our main characters, Natalie and Pietro. The only thing I did not love is the drama as we are coming to the end. I am finding that with romances especially, the drama just as I'm allllllmost to the end, and then boom- done. I mean, I know this is going to be a series, but I didn't expect there to be such a quick ending, it almost felt like it was written in a rush. I mean, yeah, at least we get an ending, but I was hoping we'd get a little more, you know? The steam factor is a meh, it's a slow burn romance and you get a little something, but this is a very PG book, so I'll have to keep that in mind as I read others from this author. Overall though, a pretty good book, perfect for summer reading  in the sunshine! 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Entangled Publishing for sending me a copy for review as part of this tour! I've yet to read a book from Entangled that I didn't love, and this is a perfect fit. 

*this post contains affiliate links. 

Book Review: 100 Great American Parks

Whoa boy.... I have had a really rough last... five days, I guess I'd say. It's just been a lot of awfulness with my health in general, but then I'm dealing that at the same time my mental health is taking a massive nosedive. You can imagine what that's feeling like and you'd likely be pretty spot on. I'm trying to keep my head above the water, but I'm really struggling.  

All that to say I am really behind in life in general, so be patient as I try to catch myself up. 

100 Great American Parks

National Geographic

Discover diverse and breathtaking natural landscapes in this beautifully illustrated collection of America’s 63 national parks, as well as 37 state, recreational, and city parks and green spaces.

Nowhere in the world is there a park system like America’s. The National Park System was the first in the world and is a collection of the country’s best national treasures. For Americans, these places are part of our cultural DNA. Filled with beautiful National Geographic photography, wisdom from experts, need-to-know travel information including the best scenic overlooks and hiking trails, and practical wildlife-spotting tips, this inspirational collection takes readers to all 63 national parks, as well as 37 state, recreational, and city parks and green spaces.
With a park in every state, this beautiful collection highlights the top experiences in stunning destinations from Yosemite and Sequoia to Biscayne and Mammoth Cave. You'll discover the beauty, diversity, surprises, and wonder of each park, including
  • The mountain peaks of the Tetons
  • Hawaii’s constantly erupting volcanoes
  • The crystal-clad underworld of Carlsbad Caverns
  • The steamy swamps and mangrove forests of the deep South
  • Hidden gems tucked in bustling cities like New York’s Central Park
And so much more!
One of my most favorite things to do is go on roadtrips. Coincidentally, one of my favorite things to do as a mom is bringing my kids to new places so they can see the country beyond our tiny little speck on the map. Not for nothing, we do live in a beautiful area that also has some opportunities and ultimately is a great place to raise a family. So while I don't regret settling down here, I do wish I had more chances as a kid to see other places because maybe I wouldn't have been afraid to leave our town, you know? So I really want my kids to see other places and maybe one will stick with them and they'll be excited to leave here and go on their own and thrive. 

Of course, if they stay here, I won't hate that either. But knowing what there is out there has always been a goal of mine as a mom. Bottom line- our family loves a good roadtrip. 

What better roadtrip to plan than one involving a state or national park, right? I am obsessed with National Geographic books in general, but their travel ones are always stunning and I always find myself filling the book with sticky notes as reminders of places I want to see as I plan our next family roadtrip. This book is going to be a huge asset because we do love a good park. 

This book is separated into five main parts: The West & The Pacific, Off the Mainland, The East & Mid-Atlantic, The South, and The Midwest & The Plains, which makes it really easy to go to wherever general area of the country you want to go. Of course, if you know right off which state you're going to, there is a chapter for Parks by State, which is mostly handy for me once I decide which state we're focusing on for that summer roadtrip. For instance, I am really thinking Indiana is going to be our destination this year, so the first thing I did was look for anything in Indiana. The first one I found was Indiana Dunes National Park, which I had written down on my initial itinerary ideas, but I know next to nothing about this place, let alone the fact there are even sand dunes in Indiana (I really thought this was mostly a beach thing). That page talks about the general history/overall view of the park, and some basic information such as size of the park, the best time to go, and some in-park accomodations. Interestingly, the Indiana Dunes is "fourth among US national parks for its biodiversity, home to more than 1100 plant species", so that's actually pretty cool. 

The following page talks about the Iown Effigy Mounds National Monument, which if you remember from last year, was one of the places we actually saw. (We also almost died during that hike while our then six-year old Penelope shamed all of us and reminded us that she had no problem with the hike, what the heck is wrong with US?! Fun times.) The Gateway Arch National Park is also featured, which was a highlight of the Strand Family Roadtrip to Missouri in 2019. Wisconsin only has one park listed, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (which is absolutely beautiful if you are ever here), but we hiked those ice caves one winter and we also tried to kayak once (and NEVER again). 

Overall, I really loved this book. It's full of amazing photographics that will inspire you to get in the car and go. Go off and make some family memories, this country is stunning and you need to see it. Thank you to TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review. If you are itching for adventure, definitely pick this one up, or any of their travel books!

*this post contains affiliate links

Friday, June 3, 2022

Book Review: Remember Whose Little Girl You Are

Happy Friday! We officially only have two days of school next week and then all four kids are off for summer break! Well, kind of. The younger two are signed up for summer school, it runs about a month and is half days, mostly doing fun stuff. The older two are signed up for marching band, but that's just a week basically to get ready for the parade. My oldest is going to work her two jobs, and my favorite boy is doing the Upward Bound program at UWS for six weeks and living on campus. I know he's nervous and not super thrilled, but I think it'll be good once he's there. Plus, they get to go to Seattle and I am ridiculously jealous because that is a bucket list trip for me! 

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are

 Ellen Nichols

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are captures the flavor of the Deep South like no author since Eudora Welty or Flannery O'Connor. Ellen Nichols captures the tenor of small-town Southern life in the fifties and sixties, with its vicissitudes and hilarity. One is captured with her openness and drawn deeply into the dialogue-so much as to, according to one reader, sometimes feel guilty of spying. 

Read it and see if you want those times back-or are just relieved they're gone. 
Are you super behind in your Goodreads good? Grab this one, it's only 116 pages and you will absolutely fly through it. It's a memoir too, so I really loved this one, it was fun and sweet in all the right places. Everything you think of when you think about Alabama during the Civil Rights era is absolutely in this book, and I loved it. 

I went to college, but I never lived in a dorm, so I really enjoyed reading about Ellen's time in college and just how different it was to now. Trigger warning though, this book does feature mentions of suicide, so if that's a thing for you, heads up on that. Despite her father being a Methodist reverend, they were rather liberal, which was far more progressive than the south was at the time. I also love how much Ellen was trying to really defend/stick up for people and really fighting for the rights of marginalized people. I'd like to think I'd be doing the same had I grown up during that volatile period. 

One of my favorite lines in the book? 
" I proved that I was a Soul Train girl, not a namby-pamby American Bandstand girl."
If ever there was a time I identified with a memoir, that line is it. HA! I loved that the "chapters" are named after characters that I have come into (and sometimes left) her life, and I felt like that was a pretty clever way to format the book; whereas most memoirs go event by event in their lives and it can feel tedious and slightly boring. I think it made this one a quick read and who doesn't love that? 

I really enjoyed this one, and it's a great read for us youngun's, but if this time period is your jam, you will really like this one and perhaps feel a kinship to Ellen. A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour, and thank you to Ellen Nichols for sending me a copy (and these GREAT socks!!).