Monday, August 31, 2015

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen

I absolutely love when books just show up to my house and I don't know where they are from initially. Luckily for me, I got an email a few days later explaining, but what a nice surprise of a very lovely book.

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen - Katherine Howe
The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen
It’s summertime in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic’s in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie.

As they start spending time together, Wes finds himself falling for her, drawn to her rose petal lips and her entrancing glow. But there’s something about her that he can’t put his finger on that makes him wonder about this intriguing hipster girl from the Village. Why does she use such strange slang? Why does she always seem so reserved and distant? And, most importantly, why does he only seem to run into her on one block near the Bowery? Annie’s hiding something, a dark secret from her past that may be the answer to all of Wes’s questions .

I don't know that I've had a contemporary romance in awhile but that's exactly what this is. Also, I am a Katherine Howe virgin and I am so glad this is the book that popped the cherry because it is stunning!

The book centers around Wes, young and girl dumb, aspiring filmmaker and new to big city life. At the beginning of the story he finds himself helping a friend with the sound for his film in a seance where he spies a variety of characters but there's a girl who stands out. He tries so hard to get her attention, talk to her, but she seemingly vanishes. He sees her again outside a few days later and again, he's stricken by her beauty and this inexpiable need to help her, talk to her, something. But again, she vanishes. Then she appears to him, in his room no less, asking for help and he's sold. He's all in. But also he has Maddie, who doesn't disappear quite like Annie but she's peculiar- a self described fregan and squatter, he doesn't know why but he feels drawn to her too.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Annie is a ghost but Wes doesn't totally get it. But to his defense, I mean, would you really come to that as your first conclusion when a weird girl who seems kind of out of it keeps popping up and disappearing? The story does flip between Wes in modern times, and then Annie in the past shortly before her untimely death. While she's trying to figure out what happened to her, because she does seem especially confused on how she died, she realizes she only has so much time in order to figure this out. Meanwhile, Wes finds himself falling in love with Annie and I think we know how totally impractical that is going to be. And even still.. we have Maddie. Maddie never leaves us and I don't know why, but I kind of love her because she's funky and a little bit odd, and Wes is absolutely the perfect clueless boy who has zero game when it comes to girls.

Overall? I loved this book. It does start out a little slow for me which is what holds me back from giving it 5 stars. I didn't really get into the book until we flash back to Annie the first time, which is maybe when you get to about a third into the book. Somewhere in there. Once you get there it really picks up and the story flows really well. Katherine is a spectacular writer that keeps you engaged and she did such a fantastic job at crafting these characters. So much so that I really want to read what else Katherine has out, so I'll be combing her website to see what I've missed. Katherine is also on Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Twitter!

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen will be available on September 15, 2015, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Happy reading, lambs!

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Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Try It Sunday: Cheesy Chicken Broccoli

It's that time, friends! I'm linking up with Stacy Homemaker and her Food Stars Weekly Link party where we share what we're trying this week and hopefully you'll find a whole ton of new dinner ideas for yourself! Last week's party was so great and there were so many amazing recipes that I'm already adding to my next shopping menu.

This week we are making my Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli dinner and I make this in the crock pot. Anyone who stopped by my house a few days ago commented on how great my kitchen smelled. The nice thing about being home with it is I get used to it so I don't necessarily smell it.

That is until I take the baby for a walk and come back and it's torture because it smells so good.

There are quite a few variations of this recipe but this is the one that's the easiest to make, it's stuff you already have on hand and it's a dump and go recipe. I cannot emphasize enough how easy this is AND it's a one dish meal.
 You're going to need:

  • Chicken
  • 1 can of Cream of Chicken soup
  • 1 bag of shredded cheese (I used colby jack because that's what I had on hand)
  • 2-3 cups of instant rice (I used white because again, it's what I had.)
  • One large chopped onion
  • Some frozen broccoli (I used like two handfuls)
  • If you don't like broccoli, or don't have it on hand feel free to use whatever vegetable you want! Another good option is using a broccoli and cauliflower medley. 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First up, put your chicken in your crock pot. Toss in your onion and spoon the cream of chicken soup on top of it. Let this cook in your crock pot on low for about 6-7 hours or so.
Once that's done, add your cheese, rice, and veggies. If you feel like it's not liquid enough to cook your rice then add a splash of chicken stock. I didn't have any issues with mine, but my chicken was also partially frozen so perhaps the moisture from that helped out.

Put the lid back on and let it cook another 20-30 minutes, just enough that your rice and veggies are cooked.

And THAT'S IT! Seriously! It's so delicious, your chicken is moist, and honestly, I thought cream of chicken soup and cheese would be a gross combination but it's really delicious. The best part? Both of my kids ate it, including Olivia who hates melted cheese. No, I have no idea what's wrong with her either.

Did you love this? Check back next week and I'll be sharing my Chicken Taco recipe that again, is so easy even a moron can do it. Seriously. You really cannot screw that one up! Follow me on Bloglovin' so you don't miss a post!
Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Crafty Saturday: end of summer, use up those scraps!

It's Saturday, so that means I'm spending a lot of time in my craft room/office/library. I try to finish up a few thank you or birthday cards each week because it seems I'm always in need of those, but that means I accumulate a lot of scraps. Every couple of weeks I try to go through my scrap bin and use those up because when paper is $.60 a sheet (or more.. yikes!!) I don't like to waste it.

I think these papers came in some kind of pack but I only have random pieces of them left. Plus this is one of my favorite stamps from Stampin! Up and I think I've gotten the most use out of this one out of all of the stamps I own. Same with these scallop punches- well worth the price I paid for them!
Another stamp company I absolutely love is the Unity Stamp company and this is their "what's shakin" set. Again, some random gold glitter looking paper and pretty polka dots and a super easy card.
I also have a small hoard of washi tape and Matt says I have to use it before I can buy anymore. So pretty much every card is being decorated with washi tape because A) I like pretty envelopes too and B) it's an easy use of it for sure.
I bit the bullet and bought myself circle punches because after over 10 years of making cards and scrapbooks, I'm finally sick of finding different sized circle things I can trace. You see I used more washi tape so Matt can stop with his "you have too much" argument. But I grossly underestimated what a pain it was going to be to color in the strawberries. PAIN. But cute. I'll give them that.

In the coming weeks I'm going to try to start making some Christmas things and maybe, just maybe, I'll get my rear end on Pinterest and find something that I'm actually going to make.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Language of Miracles

I just have to start out by saying this cover is as beautiful as the story. So great.

The Language of Miracles - Rajia Hassib
In the Language of Miracles
Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy appear to have attained the American dream. After immigrating to the United States from Egypt, Samir successfully works his way through a residency and launches his own medical practice as Nagla tends to their firstborn, Hosaam, in the cramped quarters of a small apartment. Soon the growing family moves into a big house in the manicured New Jersey suburb of Summerset, where their three children eventually attend school with Natalie Bradstreet, the daughter of their neighbors and best friends. More than a decade later, the family’s seemingly stable life is suddenly upended when a devastating turn of events leaves Hosaam and Natalie dead and turns the Al-Menshawys into outcasts in their own town.

Narrated a year after Hosaam and Natalie’s deaths, Rajia Hassib’s heartfelt novel follows the Al-Menshawys during the five days leading up to the memorial service that the Bradstreets have organized to mark the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s death. While Nagla strives to understand her role in the tragedy and Samir desperately seeks reconciliation with the community, Khaled, their surviving son, finds himself living in the shadow of his troubled brother. Struggling under the guilt and pressure of being the good son, Khaled turns to the city in hopes of finding happiness away from the painful memories home conjures. Yet he is repeatedly pulled back home to his grandmother, Ehsan, who arrives from Egypt armed with incense, prayers, and an unyielding determination to stop the unraveling of her daughter’s family. In Ehsan, Khaled finds either a true hope of salvation or the embodiment of everything he must flee if he is ever to find himself.

Writing with unflinchingly honest prose, Rajia Hassib tells the story of one family pushed to the brink by tragedy and mental illness, trying to salvage the life they worked so hard to achieve. The graceful, elegiac voice of In the Language of Miracles paints tender portraits of a family’s struggle to move on in the wake of heartbreak, to stay true to its traditions, and above all else, to find acceptance and reconciliation.

Yes, very lengthy book description. I don't know what else to say about this book that isn't fully covered in that other than the story is exquisitely well written. It's a bit wordy in some spots and again, much like a book reviewed earlier this week the dictionary app on my phone was my friend for sure. But the story just flowed so well and it felt smooth when you read it, if that makes any sense to you at all. But as much as the book is beautiful, it's equally horrific in some aspects. 

What got me was similar to other books where you have a teenager or child who commits an unspeakable act, all of the other characters look to the parents for answers. What did they do wrong? How did they screw a child up so badly that their child does this? In this book, not only do the parents have that kind of attention to them but throw in the fact they are immigrants and basically outsiders. Everything feels exponentially worse when they don't really have anything solid to lean on. And it's not just that they are immigrants, they are post 9/11 immigrants and we all know immediately following 9/11 that if you are not American born and you even tip toe to the line of tragedy, people will turn on you and it's not fair. Then to compound it even more, not only did their son kill someone he kills himself so they are left reeling with the pain their son caused another family but also mourning the death of a son they loved. It's hard to reconcile that. The public paints your child as this terrible person forgetting that he was loved and wanted, but at the same time, you don't condone his actions at all. 

Truly, this might be up there in my top 10 books of the year. I just love how it was written, I love the story, I love how the author gives you every angle and you see every point of view so clearly. Truly, for a subject so heavy in sadness and disbelief, Rajia Hassib did a phenomenal job writing it all the way to the end. I cannot wait to see what she does next. 

You can pick this book up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, of course. In the meantime, visit Rajia's website to learn more about her and the book! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Come Away With Me and GIVEAWAY!!!

You guys? NO WORDS. Honestly, it's up there for Book of the Year for me.

Come Away With Me - Karma Brown
Come Away with Me
One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it. 

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

DEBUT novel, folks. Debut. I would not have believed that at all if someone on the street told me that, but it's clearly a debut and holy cripes- it's amazing. I don't care who you are, if this book doesn't punch you in the gut repeatedly? You are a dead soul. You are dead and just nobody I want to know. I'm going to tell you I was doing JUST FINE until chapter 53 and then... then I had to stop drinking liquids because I started choking and started with the full on ugly cry to the absolute end of the book. 

WHAT KIND OF PLOT TWIST IS THAT, KARMA?!  I feel like a page before chapter 53 that says, "Stop reading here unless you can commit to finishing the book in one sitting. Stop reading if you are in a public place, wearing eye makeup, eating/drinking, or have small children who will be concerned when you start sobbing." 

OK. *calming breath*

The book is about Tegan. Tegan is happily married to what is easily the best guy in all of the world, Gabe and currently 6 months pregnant with their first son. The chapters flash back to "before the accident" and "after the accident" because that accident is the catalyst for the entire story. Tegan and Gabe are driving to his parents house, running late, and they hit black ice. It's a horrific accident that it's amazing there were any survivors. Tegan loses the baby and subsequently undergoes an emergency hysterectomy to save her life. Upon learning that, Tegan spirals into a world of pity, depression, and immense sorrow. Friends and family are deeply concerned that she's never going to come back to normal. When she's hit the absolute bottom, Gabe asks her to bring out their Jar of Spontaneity, which is full of things they wanted to do in their shared life together, to be done when things were feeling dull or stressful during married life. Reluctantly she does so and it starts their six week journey to Bangkok, Italy, and Hawaii. They meet amazing people along the way and Tegan struggles to mourn the life she thought she would have and figure out what life is going to be now. 

All along the way, Gabe talks to her and reassures her that she can do this. She's not sure and you just feel absolutely awful for her. And then chapter 53 happens and you feel like you've been punched in the face. So much so that I had to go back and RE-READ the entire first 52 chapters and I could not believe I was that stupid and missed all of the clues. 

Seasoned reader here missed ALL of the clue. 

Slow clap, Karma Brown, slow clap. 

I cannot tell you any more. I can't. It ruins it for you and I swear to you this book is something you need in your life. I think what else drew me to this book was I identified with Tegan. Her and I feel like kindred spirits and one section of the book early on sealed the deal there: 

I'm a beacon for the talkers. It's as if I have a flashing sign that reads, "I want to hear all your stories, especially about your pet or disgusting medical issue!" No matter where I am, whether on the "L" train or walking through a shopping mall or sitting at a picnic bench in the park, the talkers flock to me. "It's your eyes," Gabe says by way of explanation. "You have curious eyes."

Then, at the end of the book, Tegan's dad says something to her and it encompasses everything I believe about marriage: 

"I don't love your mother any more that I did all those years ago, but the way I love her has changed." 

And isn't that just the truth? I feel like having this printed on little note cards so that every time an idiot says, "I love him, I'm just not "in" love with him" I can throw the card at them. That phrase is the basis for so many divorces because people don't get that love changes. No matter what happens to any of us in life, the way we love changes. 


I highly recommend this book. I can't recommend this to enough people. Go buy it right now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If you know me at all, you know one of my favorite authors of all time is Susanna Daniel because she is just amazing. Her books are in my heart forever and I have a feeling Karma Brown will be there right with her. This book... gut wrench but amazing. 

But you are in LUCK! One reader (US/Canada only) has a chance to win a copy for themselves! If ever there was a time to knock a person out, it would be right now fighting for this book. So in order to win a copy for your very own, what are 3 bucket list items of yours? Leave me a comment with that (and include your email!!) and I'll draw a name on Monday, August 31! 

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Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I am on such a roll of amazing books and for that I am truly grateful. It's always terrible when I get into a rut and literally liking nothing in my stack. Yay for great reads!

Avelynn- Marissa Campbell
One extraordinary Saxon noblewoman and one fearless Viking warrior find passion and danger in this dazzling and sensuous debut

Marissa Campbell's debut novel is a winning combination of romance, history, and adventure sure to appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon.

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn't yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it's more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?

Yet another stunning debut I've read this summer! Marissa Campbell is making me love historical romance and I really never thought I would be into it, yet here I am, eagerly waiting for her next book. I finished Avelynn in one day, friends. ONE DAY. It's been in my to-read pile for a couple of weeks and I had a break in review action and I thought I'd just give this one a whirl when my kids were gone for the week and man alive, I devoured it.

In the story we have Avelynn, a Saxon by birth and she's part of a socially well placed family. She is on the edge of 18, which means she should have been well and married by now but she doesn't want to settle. She's a romantic at heart and she's holding out for a guy who gives her butterflies. Her very practical father thinks this is ridiculous (though hypocritical because Avelynn's mother gave him the butterflies and vice versa, but her mother has long since died so he doesn't see Avelynn's reasoning), and commands her to marry Demas. Which, from the word go, you realize Demas is a skeez and a total dirt bag but the height of his depravity doesn't really hit us full force until the second half of the book. But Avelynn is also a practicing witch destined to be a high priestess, which is strictly forbidden during this time. Basically, if anyone accuses her of being a witch her death will not be easy nor swift.

I want to share a passage in the book that just struck me as relevant to even now, if only in a different perspective:

Ten generations ago, when Goddess ruled the land, a woman was free to choose her mate, even casting him aside if the whim overtook her. But when the Christian church grappled England to her knees, a woman's rights began to vanish. I could own land, and my oath was respected, but decisions such as marriage were at the sole discretion of my father.

Sure, we might not be forced into marriages in most modern societies, but women's rights are challenged daily in different arenas. So from that perspective, maybe that's what got me hooked in the book, so much of the book could be compared to modern politics. If you aren't necessarily a fan of historical romance, if you go into it with that mindset, you might end up really enjoying this book.

Anyways, on a trip to Avalon to visit her mother's grave and do a ceremony to give her guidance on what to do about Demas, she's interrupted by Viking's, who are not fans of Saxons. Just as she's about to be attacked, the Viking goes down and there stands... Viking Alrik.

Commence butterflies.

This is the start of what really is a star-crossed lover situation. Avelynn has to go back because war is looming so they set up a series of rendezvous. In the meantime, Avelynn learns about her family (a start of a family history at least), the losses she experiences are tremendous and your heart just breaks for her, war breaks out, she makes terrible decisions, she puts her life in danger, ends up in the arms of not-so-nice Vikings, all hell breaks loose, someone's penis gets hurt (yes, that happened and I cringed on his behalf), and romance. Swoon.

I have zero complaints about this book. When I first finished it, I demanded a sequel like RIGHT NOW (is there a sequel?! I have no idea but I kind of  hope so!), but even if there will not be a sequel, it gives you a fantastic ending. It got dicey, I wasn't sure if I would need to be resuscitated at the end but all is well, I'm alive and breathing. And so ridiculously in love with this book And this author. I'm all in, whatever Marissa Campbell throws at me, I'm all in.

OK, so the book is available on September 8, 2015 so in the meantime, pre-order this! You can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I'm told fans of Diana Gabaldon would absolutely love this and I can't say because I've not read anything by Diana Gabaldon (I know, don't judge! It's on my to-read list, CALM DOWN.). But I do know this is a solid historical romance book and you will love Avelynn. I have to give this book 5 out of 5 stars. You know how stingy I am with my stars but I'm not kidding, I am in love with this book.

If you loved this review, share it! If you aren't following me on Bloglovin', I suggest you do so you don't miss any of my upcoming reviews and antics. Happy reading friends!
Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

The working poor. You'd think we'd at least get like, a ribbon or something.

Do you remember how I was mentioning that Matt and I had to sit down and come up with a monthly budget? Well, we did that. And it sucks hard because you can't really continue with your denial when you are looking at all of the numbers point blank. It's depressing and honestly, I feel a little overwhelmed by it all.

We also had to look at our budget and decide if I can go back to work. You're like, obviously! GO BACK TO WORK, Sara! And I want to. I really, do. The problem is child care.

The reason I took the job at the school my kids go to was so I would have all summer off and any day they don't have school, I don't work. It's easily the most ideal job ever if you have children. But I would have to put Penelope into daycare for about 17 hours a week figuring in drive time because I would only be working 15 hours a week. Of the places that actually had an opening for an infant, I'm looking at a minimum of $172.50 a week. I don't even make that in a week. That's a full time rate because I couldn't find anyone with a part time rate and an opening. The total cost of day care is almost $700. Again, I don't even make that in a month.

So, I could get a full time job so I could pay that and have some left over. Except what do I do when there is no school? I can't afford three kids in day care for those days.

After lots of math and different scenarios, it was kind of obvious that while losing my little bit of income sucks, it makes more sense for me to quit. Yes, I'd be getting out of the house and that's nice, but it's not worth going into the hole every month.

And that sucks. Because I'll be honest, staying at home is nice because I get to bond with Penelope unlike what I was able to do with my older two, but I feel myself getting dumb. Every day I feel a little dumber. I'm not being mentally challenged every day. My days consist of laundry, cooking, cleaning the house, and watching a baby. That's it. That's literally all I do. My house is clean, we have home cooked meals every night, but I am bored. I now live for Hot Bench and Dr. Phil in the afternoon. I find myself talking to my mailman for fun, through the mail slot. Yesterday he just put my mail on the step and kind of ran back to his truck. I feel like maybe our friendship is over now.

Matt said I should see if, in the meantime, we qualify for any kind of assistance. We of course, don't. For a family of 5, the government thinks we're rich. Which makes me want to give them my bills and tell them to figure out to pay all of them, save some, and have a slush fund. I love how everyone wants your income before taxes. If Matt actually brought that amount home, we'd be just fine. We'd be fixing things in our house that need repair, our roof wouldn't leak, Matt's truck would have the muffler it needs, the kids would have gotten new clothes versus yard sale clothes for school, and I wouldn't be worried about having to say no to sports when they come up over the year. But no, that's no reality. Reality is a LOT comes out of his check for taxes, then we pay our insurance, and then some goes to his retirement, which is a joke because at this rate he won't ever get to retire, and then we've got this measly pot I'm supposed to move mountains with.

I'm worried about kid activities. I'm worried about Christmas. I'm worried about winter utility bills. I'm worried about the hospital bill for me from having Penelope I still haven't gotten yet.

So the hope is that once school gets started, maybe I can get an evening job a couple nights a week. Weekends are out because he works 12 hours on Saturday so that means Sunday is the only day where we are all together for more than an hour. Especially once school starts up, it's the only day where we aren't running one kid to one thing, fighting over homework, etc and I get to hang out with my kids and hear about what's happening at school and with friends. Sunday is a very important day for our family and I'm not willing to sacrifice that for the sake of being able to buy myself a pair of pants that fit.

I feel like, if we can just hang on until after the holidays, things will ease up. A few things will be paid off by then and maybe that'll help. Every little bit helps, right?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bright Lines

Seriously, I am on such a roll with book reviews, it's ridiculous. It's kind of great Penelope goes to bed for the night around 7:30 because that means my marathon reading sessions at night have started again!

Bright Lines - Tanwi Nandini Islam
Bright Lines
A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, Bright Linesfollows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past.

For as long as she can remember, Ella has longed to feel at home. Orphaned as a child after her parents’ murder, and afflicted with hallucinations at dusk, she’s always felt more at ease in nature than with people. She traveled from Bangladesh to Brooklyn to live with the Saleems: her uncle Anwar, aunt Hashi, and their beautiful daughter, Charu, her complete opposite. One summer, when Ella returns home from college, she discovers Charu’s friend Maya—an Islamic cleric’s runaway daughter—asleep in her bedroom. 

As the girls have a summer of clandestine adventure and sexual awakenings, Anwar—owner of a popular botanical apothecary—has his own secrets, threatening his thirty-year marriage. But when tragedy strikes, the Saleems find themselves blamed. To keep his family from unraveling, Anwar takes them on a fated trip to Bangladesh, to reckon with the past, their extended family, and each other.

Not the strongest debut novel I have ever read, but it certainly is not the worst. The biggest thing I took away from the writing alone is that this author tried so hard to sound smart and poetic. Which sounds like I'm digging on her, and I'm truly not. I clearly do not have a grip on the English language as much as Ms. Islam does because I basically sat with my dictionary app open on my phone so I could refer to words. At least one on every page and I'm not even kidding. But that aside, really interesting book. 

The story centers around Anwar and Hashi, parents of Charu. Charu is very much an American teenager torn between American norms and her traditional parents. So we have all of the obvious drama that you would imagine. Then enters Ella, who finds herself orphaned and sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents are murdered. Eventually Ella goes to college but she comes back she finds Maya, basically taking up residence in her space in the home. Maya has run away from an incredibly abusive and oppressive home because her father is an Islamic cleric. 

The three girls spend an entire summer basically learning more about themselves, each other, and finding a place they identify and belong to in America. But it can't be that easy because while they are off busy doing all of that, Anwar is tempted by a tenant above them while his marriage is a bit... boring. Anwar and Hashi each have secrets of their own and when Anwar brings everyone back to Bangladesh to reconnect with family, even more secrets come out. 

High provocative, very interesting, and certainly anyone who has immigrant parents would most certainly identify with the story. The book does start off a bit slow for my liking but it does pick up a few chapters in. If you can stick with it, I do think you'll end up liking it. The characters were well developed and I really kind of felt for Ella. And most certainly I felt for Maya, I can't imagine what it would be like to live with a parent such as hers. I think Anwar understood the needs of the girls when they were in America but Hashi really just wasn't having it. To me, she came off as more traditional and strict than Anwar did and I guess I assumed that the father would take that role on. So that was something unexpected for me. I'll have to give this a solid 3/5 stars. Not bad for a debut. 

The author does have a website you can visit and you can find this book on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Try It Sunday: Pizza Pasta Bake

If you are like me, you have a couple of picky eaters (myself included) and dinner time can be... a struggle. I'm also on a budget and don't like to make things that require a lot of ingredients or time so that narrows down my cookbook, for sure. This week I'll share one of our favorites, and a favorites of the kids I've watched this summer, pizza pasta bake!

 So my ingredients vary depending on what I actually have. But ideally, this is what I use:

1 package of sliced pepperoni
1 1/2 pound of italian sausage  (or ground beef, but Matt prefers sausage)
1 diced green pepper
1 large diced onion
1 bag of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 package of pasta (any kind you like, I prefer a short cut, but I'm using a long cut today)
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce
1 jar of tomato sauce (kind of optional, I use that to stretch the sauce out a bit)
favorite pizza/pasta seasonings

*basically whatever you like on your pizza, throw it in. I've done different peppers, olives, mushrooms, etc- it's a great "dump" recipe with no real measurements, just whatever you want to add.
I cook my sausage and pepperoni together. You don't have to cook the pepperoni, but I kind of like mine cooked up a bit. 

Drain that out, return to your skillet. 

Start adding your veggies to soften them up a bit. Add some salt and pepper, and I sometimes throw in a little of this Italian seasoning blend I got at a kitchen store. 

Add your sauce. This is where I add more veggies if I feel like it isn't chunky enough. 

Let that simmer and get warm. Meanwhile, cook your pasta HALF WAY through. Don't cook it fully because we are baking this and you don't want your pasta to get mushy. 

Once your pasta is done and you've drained it, mix your meat and veggie sauce with the noodles. Give it a good toss. 

Spread it into a 9x13 pan. 

Layer with mozzarella cheese. You can pretty much use any kind of cheese. I've been known to use up anything I've got, mixing cheeses as I go. I don't feel like you can ever have too much cheese. 

Bake at 350 until it's bubbly. Remember, everything is basically already cooked, you're just warming it up and letting cheese melt. So maybe 20 minutes tops. 

And devour! 

This is so good as a leftover dish, and I'm not even a fan of leftovers! 

If you loved this, share it! Also follow me on Bloglovin' so you don't miss anything. Next week I'll share a new favorite, cheesy chicken and rice. MMM. 

Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Crafty Saturday: Back to School Teacher gifts

Yes, I am "that mom" who has a back to school gift for teachers. I also have one at Christmas, one for Teacher Appreciation Week and one for the end of the school year. I used to be that person who thought teachers got paid really well for about nine months of work in a year, they had their summers off and it was glorious.

Then I started volunteering at my kids' school and then got a part time job there and let me tell you something: they are not paid near enough. In just a six month span of working at the school I got to interact with every child from Kindergarten through fifth grade. Yes, the majority are sweet children who are eager to learn and make you feel like you are giving them the world.

Then we have the other kids who are challenging. They just are. Maybe they have a terrible home life. Maybe they aren't taught to value education because so many kids in this world don't have the opportunities we have. Maybe they are genuinely dysfunctional and grow up to be dysfunctional and that's just who they are. Whatever the cause, they make it really hard. I've seen kids spit, kick, punch, scream, talk back, etc to teachers and assistants. I've seen parents come and just give zero cares in the world that their child, yes THEIR child, is a disrespectful, ill behaved little punk. Because yes, as a parent it's your job that they don't behave that way. Teachers aren't paid to discipline and parent your children.

*off the soap box*

So every time I make a gift, I inevitably have someone ask me why do I bother, it's not a big deal. Well I think it is. I want my children's teacher to know from the get go that I respect them and I will do everything in my power to make sure my child isn't the one that makes them question their career choice. I let them know that if at any time during the year they have any kind of issue- call me, email me, snag me in the hallway, send a pigeon carrier, whatever they have to do and let me know because I will not tolerate bad behavior from my child, no questions asked.

But also this year, I'm on a bit of a budget because we are broke. So I had to get a little creative. In the past I've gotten gift cards to a coffee shop and maybe a gift card to a place that can deliver lunch. I've done bookstore and craft store gift cards, mani/pedi gift cards, etc. I don't just give the gift card, I usually pair it with one or two smaller things so it's like a real fun package. This year, I went with a kind of "survival kit":

I made personalized blank note cards. 

I found these great wooden boxes in the dollar spot of Target a few months back. This acts at the "wrapping" of the gift. 

Inside I have the notecards, a little pack of sticky notes, hand sanitizer, lotion, a couple of candy bars, a small tube of Advil, and a couple of packets of water enhancer with caffeine. 

It's not a lot, but it's still a fun little box to get on the first day back that they can stick in their desk and dig through as they need it. The nice thing about Bath & Body Works is that they always have the coupons for free travel size items. I always use those and store them in a box in my bathroom closet to add to gift bags as a little extra. Each box only contains $8 of purchased things, the Bath & Body Works freebies, and then the cards I made. It looks like a lot for very little, always a win! 

If you liked this post- share it! Follow me on Bloglovin' to get blog updates, as well. Check back tomorrow, I'll be sharing my cost saving recipe for Pizza Pasta Bake! 

Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hearts of Fire

I have to say, I've had my reservations about The Bookworm Box subscription but so far, of the two boxes I've received, all four books have been over the top great. This book came out of the second box I've received and it was partnered with Kyland. Which was so great. I'll be honest, when I saw my two books revolved around hillbillies and circus folk... I didn't know what to expect. Thankfully, I am pleasantly surprised and absolutely hooked!

Hearts of Fire - L. H. Cosway
Hearts of Fire (Hearts, #2)
My house burned down when I was just a boy, robbing me of both my parents.

Now I breathe fire, eat the poison that almost killed me.

Crowds come to see me night after night. Men for the spectacle, women for the thrill. I’m an oddity to be stared at and desired. With each flame I spit, I risk my life.

I wear scars on my body that will never go away, but the scars inside my head are far more difficult to overlook.

My brother doesn’t know me, and if I have it my way he never will.

Life was going exactly the way I’d planned until Lille came along. She wanted to run away with the circus, have an adventure, but this world was never meant for her.

I try to keep her safe, because she doesn’t know the dangers that are out here on the road. She doesn’t know the monsters that lurk behind the bright lights of the ring. In truth, I could be considered one of them.

We were fashioned from different cloths, never intended to mix. So I watch her. I try not to touch, even when her eyes invite me.

Join us in the Spiegeltent and let us give you a show. Allow my Lille to draw a picture for you in paint and sweat and skin.

The truest love is always the hardest to let in.

Yes, this is book 2 in the Circus Spektakular series, but it's a full stand alone. In fact, I didn't even know this was the second in a series until I checked on Goodreads, that's how good of a job the author does at making this a stand alone. I usually text my good friend Shirley while I'm reading books and she was fully skeptical when I told her this was about carnies, basically. I don't know if she's read the other book I recommended about hillbillies, but she SHOULD. I think she's refusing to acknowledge My Bookworm Box is pretty solid. Immediately, I feel in love with Lille, but even more so with Jack. I was hooked on this book right from the beginning, when Lille spots Jack staring at her from across a restaurant. 

Lille lives at home, and though she is 21, her mother is extremely controlling, to the point where she can't even pick what degree she works towards in college. Her mother has her whole life planned out. Secretly, Lille is making a little bucket list for herself and is bursting at the seams to do something for herself. She's approached by Marina, who is the owner of the circus and is offered a job painting faces and basically working with the circus. It's guaranteed adventure and travel, full of opportunities. Jack is abrupt towards her and tries to intimidate her into not coming. She throws all caution to the wind, makes a friend in Lola and joins the circus. 

Almost right away she learns that it's not all adventure and fun, it's also dangerous. Thankfully for Lille, though he's abrupt and she doesn't know where she stands with him, Jack often comes to her rescue. The undeniable chemistry between them is almost too much, and as Lille learns more about Jack (far more than anyone else knows about him) she understands his obsession with fire.... basically in every scenario. Because oh yes, there is sex in this book and it is stellar. When you read what Jack's little fetish is, I'll be honest, even I was taken aback a bit. If Matt ever suggested that... I'd have to seriously question is mental stability. I was kind of surprised because although I was taken aback, after a little while I was totally OK with it. 

But the romance between Jack and Lille isn't all we're reading about- we also have the unsolved mystery of sexual attacks within the circus, as well as Julie (who is deranged and completely psychotic), and of course, the unresolved situation with Jack's brother. 

Overall? I loved this book. I'm so invested in this series I have the others on my to-buy list for payday. You can find this book on Amazon. Seriously, give carnies a change- you'll love it. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Again and Again

Here is another book I feel like you need to add to your reading list if only to contemplate the dilemma in this book. The longer it is since I've read it, the more I want to go back and re-read it to see if I look at any of it differently.

Again & Again - Ellen Bravo
Again and Again: A Novel
If sexual shenanigans disqualified candidates for Congress, the U.S. would have no government. But what if the candidate was a pro-choice Republican supported by feminist groups—and a college rapist whose secret could be exposed by a leading women’s rights advocate? 

Again and Again tells the story of Deborah Borenstein—as an established women’s rights leader in 2010 Washington, DC, and as a college student, thirty years earlier, whose roommate is raped by a fellow student. The perpetrator is now a Senate candidate who has the backing of major feminist groups . . . which puts Deborah in a difficult position. Torn between her past and present, as the race goes on, Deborah finds herself tested as a wife, a mother, a feminist, and a friend.

It's not quite a Sophie's Choice situation, but it really is a catch 22 for Deborah who has much to lose with either decision. There won't be any real winners no matter what she decides and it seems like she's the only one who can see both sides of the coin. 

First up, I picked this book because it covers the topic of college rape. No parent wants to send their daughter away to college and worry that she's going to get raped and that a college would basically do nothing for her and essentially stand by the guy. Yet we hear about this in the news all of the time, Dateline has had several specials on it, and it's just a really scary situation. But let's say you were raped in college, and that scenario happened, and your friend knew. You grew up, things happen, and that friend ends up being a go-to person at the forefront of women's rights. The perpetrator is now running for Congress and everyone likes him. He's a favorite, he's pro-choice, feminists think he's just this great guy, totally on their side. Deborah has an arsenal of things that could expose him for the dirt bag he actually is, but if she does that, it's a huge wound to the greater good of women's rights. They lose a huge ally that they basically need. What do you do? 

The victim, Liddie, was Deborah's first real life long friend and college room mate. Deborah obviously has to tell Liddie that not only could the rape become public fodder but also that her identity could be revealed. Liddie spent years trying to recover and heal from her attack and clearly does not want to be the poster child of rape and asks Deborah to stand by her on this. But it isn't cut and dry on this because Deborah's husband, who is a total asshole and reminds me of Cyrus Beene on Scandal, is the campaign manager of the guy running against the rapist. So he obviously wants Deborah to expose what a dirtbag Will (the rapist) is because that means his candidate will likely win and he's very much anti-women's rights. 

You see the catch 22? No matter what she does, someone is unhappy and/or angry with her. There is a line in the book where Andrew asks Deborah why she's letting Liddie act like a victim and be weak, when Liddie very much has PTSD from the attack. Deborah fires back about would you say that about a war veteran with PTSD? Of course not, but there is the double standard. 

Without saying more and potentially ruining the outcome for  you, excellent book. I've been on a kick with books revolving around the political and justice system and I'm always left feeling a little bit jaded. Like maybe none of our voice actually matters because it's really behind doors deals and conversations that make this country go round. *sigh* 

But I highly recommend this. I think you'll really enjoy it, and when you read it, let me know your thoughts! You can find Again and Again on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. Also check out Ellen Bravo's website and Twitter

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Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaos

Book Subscription Boxes... your complete break down.

You know for the last two months I have been paying and receiving The Bookworm Box monthly book subscription. It's pricey and I've been on the fence because the swag has been consistently lame but the books have been amazing. That box has run about $47 after shipping and you get two signed by the author books and swag. Well their Facebook page recently said they are suspending the program because whatever companies they use to facilitate the payments coming in and shipping are not working for them. Which, I'm sorry, is a bit ridiculous. I don't know how every other book subscription company is doing it but The Bookworm Box cannot.

So in the meantime, I have been researching some other book subscription services not only as a replacement but because I've gotten some questions on whether or not any of them ship internationally. Hopefully this break down will help you pick a subscription that works for you.

Bookcase Club: This box runs about $9.99 per month, but promises two books and you get to choose the theme. US only.

Bookcase: You have two choices (Casual, $8.95 or Bookworm $17.95) to pick from depending on how much you like to read. Casual gives you one book and Bookworm gives you three books. It's a steal of a deal considering shipping is only $4.99 for your bundle and this is cheaper than buying something at a store.

Fresh Fiction: $24.95 per month, but promises one new paperback novel, 4-6 ebooks (comes as a QR code or coupon code for an online retailer), and swag. This one does ship internationally with additional shipping fees.

Owl Crate: $29.99 per month and up, but promises 1 YA book, 3-5 "bookish" swag, and it's a themed box each month. They do ship internationally, but there is a wait list. You can join that list to be notified when more subscriptions open up. I signed up for the wait list, we'll see if/when I get in.

Uppercase Box: This one is a bit different, it's $23.00-29.00 per month, but you only get 1 YA book, 1 book accessory, and a personal explanation of why they chose that book for you. It only ships to US/Canada.

The Book Drop: Interestingly, this one is run by a small, independent book store. It runs anywhere from $13 to $16 per month, and in return you get 1 book of their choosing, 1 signed book plate OR your book is signed, and/or a swag item.

Lit-Cube: I'm going to be honest and tell you right now I'm signing up for this one for sure. It's $34.99 per month after shipping but you get at least one book, sometimes two, loads of swag, sometimes you get t-shirts, and each box is themed. If you follow their Facebook page you'll get as excited about the swag as they are because they hype their boxes up! Unfortunately, it only ships to US/Canada right now. They also have a Lit Cube Junior option for younger kids so you and your kids could be getting fun mail.

BotmBox: I know nothing about this! It's just starting out, their website asks you to enter your email address to get on the newsletter list and it looks like sign up's happen in September. Something to maybe keep your eye out for? With very little information on the site about what you would be getting and the fee associated with that, I'm nervous.

Now, if you are looking for fun mail each month but you're worried you won't like the books chosen for you and you really just want fun book related items, here are a couple of options you might enjoy:

Bibliobox: A little off shoot of Cratejoy, these boxes are $18 per month and offer you 3-5 book inspired, hand crafted items. You never know what you'll get but it definitely sounds interesting. They do ship internationally!

Bookish Box: A little bit pricier at $29.99 per month, but it offers 1 shirt and 3-5 home/beauty/fashion items.

My thoughts? I think if you like e-books, Fresh Fiction Box might be the one to try considering the reveals I've seen show items totaling over the $24.95 you are paying, and that's kind of nice. I really want to try Uppercase Box but I'm afraid it's over priced for what I would get. I'm on the Owl Crate waiting list and I'm for sure going to sign up for Lit Cube on Friday. I'm also signed up for the BOTM (Book of the Month) newsletter list so we'll see. As over priced as The Bookworm Box was, I miss the book selections. I cannot emphasize enough how spot on amazing all four of the books I received was. I also like getting more than one book in the mail and I'm not a fan of ebooks so it makes it hard.

White Dresses

I've been a reading fool all summer and I have so many book reviews coming for you. Truly. Just... start squirreling money away to go on a book buying binge. But also- think Christmas! (Shut up, you know it's coming, none of us can fight it.)

White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters
A poignant memoir of three generations of women and the white dresses that adorned them

As a successful journalist at Good Morning America, Mary Pflum Peterson's persona is at odds with her complicated childhood, where she watched her brilliant yet emotionally vulnerable mother, Anne, unravel before her eyes. But their love of white dresses always united them—from their baptism dresses to their wedding gowns, white dresses embodied hope and new beginnings.

After her mother's sudden death, Mary dug deep to understand the events that led to Anne's breakdown. At twenty-one, Anne entered a convent, but lengthy periods of enforced fasting, isolation, and constant humiliation drove her to flee almost a decade later. Hoping to find new purpose as a wife and mother, she married, and was devastated when Mary's father revealed himself to be gay.

Anne retreated into chaos. By the time Mary was ten, their house was cluttered with broken appliances, stacks of mail, and teetering piles of assorted "treasures." But in spite of everything, their bond endured. Through the white dresses, pivotal events in their lives were celebrated, marking the journey through loss and redemption as Mary tried to save Anne from herself.

Now, when I started reading this I was certain I would end up giving this a lame 3 out of 5 stars. It was such a slow start for me and I didn't love the writing style. I found as I went through it that I started to love it. I really thought this would end up being a different type of mother/daughter memoir, something I could use to reflect on my own relationship with my mother, and even the relationship with my daughters. It turns out, not so much. But what it did do was turn what could have been another episode of Hoarders into a personal love story. 

It is essentially the story of Mary, but more so her mother. Her mother led a truly extraordinary life. When I think back to the era her mother would have lived, when she became a nun and then later left that to marry a man and have a family, I can only imagine what that kind of controversy would feel like to a young woman who is clearly so desperate for love and acceptance. Anne (Mary's mother) had a difficult relationship with her own mother and the story of how she took Anne's beloved security blanket away? I'll be honest, I cried. I understand that back then parents just did the best they could with very little guidance on how to parent but I can imagine that incident was a catalyst for Anne's future hoarding. Then when she does get married, the guy ends up being highly abusive and then ends up being gay. Which, again, when you look at the time period I wonder if he was angry that he had to live a lie and as a way to express that anger he abused the woman who loved him as some kind of punishment? I tell you what, if you are at all interested in family dynamics or psychology and psychiatry, this is going to be the best book you've read all year. Easily. 

Then poor Mary. Despite growing up in a tumultuous environment and the piles of stuff suffocating her, she becomes the perfectionist. Oddly enough, it's similar to the way Anne tried to be to get the love she needed from her own parents. Well, as Mary excels at school and makes plans for college, her mother retreats a little each day, eventually becoming hostile once Mary does move away for college. Anne tries to make Mary feel guilty for leaving her essentially alone, knowing full well what that house was like. But what struck me the most was that no matter how bad it got for Mary or for Anne, they loved each other. A lot. They maybe didn't understand each other and maybe didn't see eye to eye, and certainly didn't know how to communicate the love they had for each other, but they had the white dresses. The white dresses were always a silent way to say I love you. So at the beginning, when Mary is trying to desperately find these dresses I didn't understand why it would be a big deal. As soon as I finished the book I understood. Every one of us lose people significant to us in our lifetime- it's inevitable. We all wish we could say we loved them one more time, but Mary can. She has these dresses and being able to look at them is like a visual reminder that her mother loved her more than she can imagine. And really, that's maybe the best thing any of us could wish for. 

You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course. If you liked my review, share this post!