Friday, August 30, 2019

Book Review: Mackenzie's Mission (Mackenzie Family #2)

I think I only have two more Linda Howard books unread in the stack I currently own and just a few more to find. I should probably make that list and figure it out soon! Earlier this week I reviewed Mackenzie's Mountain, which was about Wolf but this one is about his son Joe. Joe is all grown up now and thank god because I'm here for it. I actually liked this book even more than the other one just because I really liked Joe and I knew his back story.

Mackenzie's Mission - Linda Howard
Night Wing — the revolutionary test plane with a top secret weapons system — was Colonel Joe "Breed" Mackenzie's number-one priority. And weapons expert Caroline Evans was his number-one distraction. True, the stubborn blonde was giving him the cold shoulder, but Joe hadn't become the best of the best by giving up. Then he discovered someone on the inside was sabotaging Night Wing, and with her late hours and specialized expertise, Caroline seemed the obvious choice. Now Joe had to choose between allegiance to his country and love for his prime suspect...
If you're familiar with Linda Howard books, specifically in this time period (late 80's, early 90's) you know that her go-to trope was domineering/over the top dominant male with an incredibly smart/independent/virgin female. Even still in some of her more recent (mid 2000's) that's something we still see but I can tell she's trying to shy away from it and I'm glad because sometimes that trope makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Of course, plenty of authors use this trope (look at E.L. James with Fifty Shades, she's a millionaire because of it) so I know people like it, but I don't. It's not always one I enjoy.

With that being said, that's the trope used here but I actually really liked this book. Is it cheesy? Of course it is. Could I figure out the who-done-it angle? You bet I did, as soon as the character was introduced, I knew. I saw the entire story set up a million miles away. Did I care at all? NOPE, because that's what I expect out of a Linda Howard book. Knowing that over time her writing would get more sophisticated makes it all the more fun to read these and watch her try to figure out how to do a romance with a small thriller element. For me, that's the best part of reading a favorite author's back catalog, you can see how far they've come and how they're writing style has developed over time, and that's what this book is for me.

In this book we meet the adult version of Joe Mackenzie. In Mackenzie's Mountain we meet him at a hard working, incredibly smart, but also sixteen year old gentleman. He's calm, cool, and collected. As an adult he is still all of those things but he's older and wiser, he's bigger, and he's *ahem* more experienced. As soon as he meets Caroline, who is assisting in the Night Wing project (which is essentially his baby and his entire military career has come to the development of this aircraft and his ability to fly and master it), while she's beautiful, her brains tops her beauty. He sees other men in the workplace circling her and he decides to get the best of both worlds (keep her safe but also spend time with her) he comes up with a plan in which they pretend to be a couple.

(Stop right there, I know you're like, "this would never fly in the #metoo movement!" and you're right, it wouldn't. Everything about this screams "workplace sexual harassment" and I'm with you. When I think about the late 80's/early 90's, I don't think of a workplace that actually gives a damn about any of that so yeah, I could see this happening.)

While the tactic works, it also becomes an excellent opportunity to set Caroline up to look like she's committing treason once some of the key systems fail, someone gets seriously hurt, and the program is almost scraped. In between all of this, Caroline and Joe actually start falling for each other and I'm kind of completely here for Joe. All in.

Overall? I flew through this in a day and I really enjoyed it. The book comes in a 250 pages, it's a light/fun read, and if you like the dominant male genre, also the military romance genre, this might be your jam. Just go into it knowing you'll hit some eye roll moments and just enjoy it for what it is. I'm going to give this a 4.5 start, rounded up to 5 for Goodreads.

This post contains affiliate links which help keep this blog going at no cost to you. High five! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: Mackenzie's Mountain

You probably don't know, but one of my *guilty pleasures* is anything by Linda Howard. I don't remember which book of hers hooked me for life, but I remember her book Open Season was featured in the back of Cosmopolitan magazine or something and there was an excerpt. I wasn't really a reading fanatic like I am now, maybe only read 5 books a year, and the excerpt was good enough for me to run to Target and buy the trade paperback. I loved the book so much I had to read everything. Over the years I've picked them up at yard sales, library sales, second hand bookstores, online if I could find them, and these aren't easy to find when you're looking for a specific one.

Anyways. So I came across this and one other in the Mackenzie Family series so I picked them up. I love how completely cheesy this cover is.
Mackenzie's Mountain (Mackenzie Family #1) - Linda Howard

A small Wyoming town is about to learn a few lessons -- from a new schoolteacher with the courage to win the heart of a man who swore he had nothing to give....

Mary Elizabeth Potter is a self-appointed spinster with no illusions about love. But she IS a good teacher -- and she wants Wolf Mackenzie's son back in school. And after one heated confrontation with the boy's father, she knows father and son have changed her life forever.

Still paying for a crime he didn't commit, Wolf Mackenzie has a chip on his shoulder the size of Wyoming. But prim-and-proper Mary Elizabeth Potter doesn't see Wolf as the dangerous half-breed the town has branded him. Somehow she sees him as a good, decent, honest man. A man who could love....

Wolf's not sure he -- or the town of Ruth, Wyoming -- is ready for the taming of Wolf Mackenzie.

Before I start my review I have to remind you that my copy says it was published in 1989 so the cover is cheesy as hell (LOVE) but also this one did not age well. If this was written today not a damn chance would it get published because of some of the derogatory descriptors used by characters, like the main character Wolf repeatedly refers to himself as Indian, half-breed, and white people as Anglo. One character is referred to as "maybe retarded", so just go into this as if this is your grandma with dementia reading it. (But as an aside, it was just really interesting to think of the progress we've made when we talk about people because in my mind, 1989 isn't forever ago, I was only 7, so... 30 years ago. OK, that sounds a lot longer, but really- it's not forever.)

You should also know going into this that I kind of adore cheesy romance novels, so while this one is a four for me, you might think I'm completely crazy. 

I don't care because I love it.

In this book we have Mary, a new to Wyoming teacher, who comes with basically no prejudices. While preparing her class she realizes one of her star students has seemingly quit school, determined to find out she attempts going to his home. Of course, having never driven in snow, she gets stuck and needs to be rescued by Wolf, who is the student's dad. Things get a little fired up between the two of them because he isn't really sociable and nice (for good reason) but before she leaves she manages to talk the student into beginning private tutoring in an effort to get him into the Air Force Academy.

Nobody in town can believe that a white woman would date socialize with the Mackenzies, who are Native American, and Mary sees absolutely nothing wrong with it. Soon enough, she begins to fall for Wolf and that's when all heck breaks out. We have a serial rapist on the loose, prejudices running amok, and Mary trying to get everyone to screw their heads back on to figure out what is really going on in this sleepy town in Wyoming.

It couldn't be anymore cheesy if it tried and I loved every second of it. I have another one in the series so I'm going to talk about that one another day, but I really enjoyed this. Sometimes I need to get away from the books that make me feel like I've been on an emotional tilt-a-whirl, and just read something steady. This was perfect.
This post contains affiliate links so use these to purchase so I can buy more books. #thecircleoflife

Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review: The Fire Between High & Lo (Elements #2)

Oh man. I honestly don't know how to do this review without spilling my guts about everything because I have SO MANY THINGS TO SAY. I'm going to tell you now that if you aren't reading Brittainy C. Cherry you are absolutely missing out.

(Yes, I know it's Monday and I should have a weight loss post for you but I don't and you're going to live and it's going to be fully OK. Swearsies.)

The Fire Between High & Lo (Elements #2)

There once was a boy, and I loved him.

Logan Francis Silverstone was the complete opposite of me. I danced while he stood still. He was quiet, and I was always running my mouth. He struggled to find a smile while I refused to frown. 

The night I saw the darkness that truly lived inside of him, I couldn’t look away.

We were broken together, yet somehow whole. We were wrong together, but always right. We were the stars that burned across the night sky, searching for a wish, praying for better tomorrows.

Until the day I lost him. He threw us away with one hasty decision—a decision that changed us forever.

There once was a boy, and I loved him.

And for a few breaths, a few whispers, a few moments, I think he loved me, too.

A couple of things before I get into this review:

  1. Logan is maybe one of the most messed up characters Brittainy C. Cherry has ever written, and honestly, I can't think of another character off the top of my head that gives me such a love/hate feeling. 
  2. I have never wished for a character to die in a book as much as I did this one and I feel like a really bad person for wishing it but I feel like it needed it. 
  3. If ever there was a character perfect for me, it would be Logan. Not because I've got a thing for drug addicts but if you're a person who believes you can fix people, LOGAN IS YOUR GUY. 
I know I have a track record of having an issue with the lead female character most of the time but not here, you guys. I really, really liked Alyssa. She was just so kind and so great and she never judged Logan no matter how messed up he was and loved him almost to a fault. I think the most annoying part of this book for me was Logan and his hope for his mom. I can't tell you how that ends but I'll say he's a better person than I because I don't know if I could keep putting myself in that situation. 

My friend Shirley told me this was going to be rough and I wasn't even a quarter of the way in and I just had this sinking feeling this would end badly. Then Part 1 ended and I was full on SOBBING and I had to stop reading for a little bit. The next day I had to forge ahead because I need to know what the hell happens to Alyssa and Logan and man... it was so tough to read and know that a person has to hit rock bottom on their own and you can't pull them up before they get there, it doesn't work that way.

It's an emotional read and I'm not even going to sugar coat it. With all of that, I have to tell you I'm giving this five stars. I know I told you I wish for someone to die (alright, two. I wished for two people to die, I'M SORRY.), and there were a couple of spots in the plot I wish were done a little differently, the overall story was so good that I could overlook all of those blips. It's that good.

If you STILL haven't ordered everything Brittainy C. Cherry has written, I'm not sure what the hell is wrong with you but you need to fix it.

This post contains affiliate links.

More importantly: please, please, PLEASE- if you read this book, I need to know what you thought. Immediately. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Book Review: All Grown Up

I normally would be all, "I'm sorry this week is mostly book reviews" but no, I'm not sorry. You know why? Because I'm giving you solid reading material and you all need to catch up so we can talk about these books. Get with it, lambs.
All Grown Up - Vi Keeland

When I first encountered Ford Donovan, I had no idea who he was…well, other than the obvious. Young, gorgeous, successful, smart. Did I mention young? If I did, it bears repeating. Ford Donovan was too young for me.

Let’s back up to how it all started. My best friend decided I needed to start dating again. So, without my knowledge, she set up a profile for me on a popular dating site—one that invited men ages twenty-one to twenty-seven to apply for a date. Those nicknamed Cunnilingus King were told they’d go straight to the top for consideration. The profile wasn’t supposed to go live. Another point that bears repeating—it wasn’t supposed to. 
Nevertheless, that’s how I met Ford, and we started messaging. He made me laugh; yet I was adamant that because of his age, we could only be friends. But after weeks of wearing me down, I finally agreed to one date only—my first after twenty years of being with my high school sweetheart. I knew it couldn’t last, but I was curious about him.
Though, you know what they say…curiosity kills the cat.
My legs wobbled walking into the restaurant.
Ford was seated at the bar. When he turned around, he took my breath away.
His sexy smile nearly melted my panties. 
But…he looked so familiar. 
As I got closer I realized why. 
He was the son of the neighbor at our family’s summer home. 
The boy next door.
Only now…he was all man. 
I hadn’t seen him in years.
I left the restaurant and planned to put the entire crazy thing behind me. 
Which I did. Until summer came.
And guess who decided to use his family’s summer home this year?

I am really late to the Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland boat, but if you remember a few months or weeks ago, I read and reviewed their joint venture, Dear Bridget, I Want You. I really enjoyed that one and it was an older woman dating a younger man and it was great. Imagine my surprise/kind of annoyance that this was basically the same trope.

I was kind of bummed out, but I went with it. It has been all over my Instagram and everyone is loving it and who can honestly say no to the cover? I mean, maybe a lesbian, but even then I have to think they could appreciate this cover. So I read the book and I liked it. I really liked it, and I liked the ending, and Ford's character is so perfect to me in so many ways.

You know who I didn't like? Valentina. She was really "woe is me" and she leads people on and then drops them like a hot potato. She is so completely worried about what other people think that she is willing to lose an amazing thing, and that really drove me nuts because Ford is a CATCH. He's so perfect and he adores her, completely. He's solid and perfect. Have I even mentioned how perfect he is?

Anyways, I really loved his wooing because that's what carried this book, no question. I think Valentina liked  him but she would almost flippantly insult him and frankly, she is lucky he stuck around to even try to make it work. Also, there were a few things that kind of felt unfinished to me- her ex-husband, for one. I know him and Ford "meet" but it felt like more was going to come (a confrontation or some sorts maybe?) and I don't feel like that angle for me.

Overall? This was a solid 3 for me. It was a fast read and worth reading but it's not one I'm going to rave about at the end of the year.
Another day, another dollar, friends! This posts has affiliate links but it isn't sponsored because Matt bought this book for me, he just doesn't know it. Ha! 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book Review: The Gravity of Us (Elements #4)

I know you're probably wondering if this is going to be an entire week of Brittainy C. Cherry fangirling, but it isn't. I will probably have more next week though. Sorry, not sorry.

The Gravity of Us - Brittainy C. Cherry

Graham Russell and I weren’t made for one another.

I was driven by emotion; he was apathetic. I dreamed while he lived in nightmares. I cried when he had no tears to shed.

Despite his frozen heart and my readiness to run, we sometimes shared seconds. Seconds when our eyes locked and we saw each other’s secrets. Seconds when his lips tasted my fears, and I breathed in his pains. Seconds when we both imagined what it would be like to love one another.

Those seconds left us floating, but when reality knocked us sideways, gravity forced us to descend.
Graham Russell wasn’t a man who knew how to love, and I wasn’t a woman who knew how to either.

 Yet if I had the chance to fall again, I’d fall with him forever.
Even if we were destined to crash against solid ground.

When I started reading this one I immediately thought I was going to really hate Graham and that I probably wouldn't even like Lucy. He's too grumpy/mean and she is too hippie. As it turns out, I'm and idiot and I need to just go with the flow because I loved them both. Despite all of it, I loved them both.

So in this book we have Graham, famous author and a really awful wife but it's not about love it's basically an outlet for sex and she feels the same. Except she got pregnant and so they are reluctantly dealing with that. They get in a fight, baby comes and has problems, wife takes off and leaves him with baby.

Enter Lucy, the wife of his sister (that he had no idea about because he thought she was an only child) and since Lucy is incredibly selfless and kind, she decides she can't leave Graham to flounder so she decides she's going to basically nanny and help him learn how to parent and take care of a child.

Over time though, things become a little more blurry when they both start to develop feelings for each other but it isn't as simple as just get together. She feels weird about taking up with essentially her brother in law and he isn't a guy who is capable of loving and that's a deal breaker for her.


Obviously some major plot twists happen and makes Graham and Lucy drift apart and kind of look at things from afar and make some decisions.

My friend texted me and said just to tell her if there is a happy ending, because I promise you there is a good chunk of this book where I was in such emotional turmoil, I was crying while cooking dinner, I couldn't sleep even though my eyeballs hurt from reading, I will tell you that it is a LOT and this is coming from someone on a lot of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. If I'm a wreck I don't know what that bodes for you.

Just know this: I felt.... relieved and at peace with the end. I need a break from Brittainy C. Cherry but I also can't quit her. My emotional well being is at war with itself. All that to say this book was SO DANG GOOD. So good. It couldn't have been better, I literally have not one quip to give it. So good.
Another book off my own shelf and from my own money, but you should use the affiliate links to keep my blog going but also keep my addiction going as well. Books are life. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Book Review: The Silent Waters (Elements #3)

It was two weeks ago that I told you about another book by Brittainy C. Cherry (The Air He Breathes) and I believe I told you to just run and buy every book you can find by her. I haven't heard if any of you actually did that, but my friend Shirley is as obsessed with this author as I am.

I promise you, if you are in a reading slump, or you just aren't finding anything that gives you feels and makes your girl parts excited, Brittainy C. Cherry will get you there. You will be a mess at the end but it's the best possible mess. I just got book two and I am SO GLAD I didn't wait to read these in order because they are in no way connected so you can read them at whatever pace you want to. Just do it. I swear.

The Silent Waters - Brittainy C. Cherry


Our lives are a collection of moments. Some utterly painful and full of yesterday's hurts. Some beautifully hopeful and full of tomorrow's promises.

I’ve had many moments in my lifetime, moments that changed me, challenged me. Moments that scared me and engulfed me. However, the biggest ones—the most heartbreaking and breathtaking ones—all included him.

I was ten years old when I lost my voice. A piece of me was stolen away, and the only person who could truly hear my silence was Brooks Griffin. He was the light during my dark days, the promise of tomorrow, until tragedy found him. Tragedy that eventually drowned him in a sea of memories.

This is the story of a boy and girl who loved each other, but didn’t love themselves. A story of life and death. Of love and broken promises.

Of moments.

OK. I honestly don't know how to review this without random squealing and wanting to give you alllllll the details.

It's that good you guys.

In this book we have a young girl, madly in love with her brother's friend. She decides they are going to get married and on the evening of the "wedding", she sees something so horrific she becomes mute for ten years. I mean, there's more to it, but that's the basics. In those ten years she slowly watches her parent's marriage crumble, her sister hates her, her brother loves her but is busy with his band that also has his friend Brooks (the kid she was supposed to marry). She still loves him and though he blames himself (this wouldn't have happened if he wasn't late to the wedding), she knows he's the one that legitimately saved her. Over the years he constantly visits her and they become each other's person.

Eventually the band Brooks is in makes it big (with her help) and he has the opportunity to go. He's willing to give it all up for her and she encourages him to go because just because she's unable to go out into the world and she doesn't speak, doesn't mean he should have to be in her prison, too. He goes off and becomes famous, and lives move on but neither one of them are happy.

The circumstances of them reuniting, and the big event that changes everything? I'm going to seal my lips because it was big and I had legit screaming, furious texting to my friend, Matt thought I went nuts, and I couldn't sleep. I had to finish the book and that's just what I did and I loved it so much.


With that said, I have a couple of (teensy, wincy) things that kind of bothered me that are keeping me from giving this five stars. (But I'm going to tell you know, I think this is my being picky and you should completely ignore me and read it.)

1. I kind of hate mutism in stories. I feel like I'm fairly open to a variety of weird psychological things but mutism is one I don't get. I never have and I probably never will. I spent a lot of time saying, "Just say something, dammit!!!!" of course, she didn't hear me.

2. I kind of didn't love Maggie. I kind of hated her name, I didn't really like her, and I get she had a traumatic thing happen but it never seemed like she tried to get better. In the book she doesn't speak but instead writes things on her white board and why would you never write out what happened to you? Or at least give a generalized idea? Her parents were kind of stupid as well and they say they had specialists come but did they? Because I have to think at someone point a psychologist would have been one of them and they'd be able to identify mutism and work with her but what the hell do I know?

If I had to be nit picky, that's what I've got. I want someone else to be reading this because Shirley and I are blown away by this author and it's got us looking at our husbands like they need to step it the hell up. Ahem.

As I read these, I will report back on how amazingly perfect they are (of course), and just know this blog has affiliate links. But! This isn't a sponsored post, this is a book I bought with my own moola so there you go. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: Castle of Concrete

A fair warning, the rest of this week are book reviews and they are ALL VERY GOOD, so just get your credit card out because these are worthy of your purchase. Also, Christmas is coming. (And I feel like a jerk saying it but #facts.)

Castle of Concrete - Katia Raina

In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia--her life's dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country's and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away--her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn't always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her "rescuer" at a construction site she calls "castle." So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?

In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be "sisters" and the People brothers," what does one's nationality have to do with anything?

All the while, Sonya's mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?

I'm going to tell you right now this is maybe one of the best YA novels I've read this year. Not even kidding. I'm not even a fan of books with a setting in places I'm not familiar with/don't know much about, and this one is set in a Soviet Union that no longer exists, and while that was a big part of the story, there was so much more happening that it wasn't really a focus for me.

What really pulled me is how despite being the early 90's, this book is so timely. Sure, we're not dealing with the Soviet Union and the dramatic shift the change was, but a lot of the themes and moving pieces in this book are current to 2019 United States. We have Sonya, who isn't sure where she belongs, what world to identify with: Russian or Jewish. She's both and this is a time where choices need to be made, further complicated by choosing between two boys. One is.... a bad boy of sorts but his problem is that he's basically an anti-Semite and the other guy is really good and sweet and I think we all understand that that's kind of.... boring.We watch a young girl struggle with that choice, so that's the romance element.

I did not read it as a romance though, I was reading it for the historical value and comparing it to today but even knowing that- that ending. That ending got me. I don't know if it's because I have a teenage daughter who has big feelings like Sonya, or if it was just way past my bedtime, but I cried at the end of this and I finished torn on whether I want a sequel or if the ending should just be what it is and that's it, it's up to us to think of the rest. I think because everything under the sun gets a sequel, I want this one to stay as it is.

Overall? I'm giving this one a solid 4 stars. My only critiques are it kind of lags a bit in some parts, and I had a hard time keeping track of characters (which is a personal issue so probably wouldn't be an issue for a normal functioning brain). I really liked Sonya's character even though she makes terrible choices, I just kept rooting for her because she's a regular teenage girl, flawed an all but trying to do the right thing.

I highly suggest this one if you have a kiddo really into YA literature, but this would be a good addition to a school and/or classroom library!

I received an ARC of Castle of Concrete and a big thank you to TLC Book Tours and Young Europe books, as well as Katia Raina for my copy. This post does contain affiliate links and when you shop from them I make a couple of cents and that helps keep this blog moving, and you pay nothing extra. 

Happy reading! 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Weight Loss Journey: Holding Steady

I haven't done a weigh-in in a few months and that's because I haven't really moved, BUT I started at like 212 and I've been holding steady at 209.

Obviously, I'd like to not be stagnant, but I'm going to take it because at least I'm not going up and I feel pretty OK with where I'm at.

To be honest, I didn't do a DANG THING at all last week and that's because of two things. One, I had done SO much activity the week we were in Missouri, and two, the big kids (all but Lucy) were gone for the entire week to my in-laws so I really didn't have anything to do.

Well, that's not entirely true.

I did clean stuff that was neglected the week we were gone, I did laundry, cleaned the suitcases because even though I unpacked I feel weird being at places so I clean them out, and Lucy and I hung out. Which was incredibly nice and quiet, and I realized this school year is going to be AMAZING because I'm going to be ALONE for like three hours every day.

I can't even wait.

But that three hours cannot be wasted and I want to do something active so I don't slide into my natural slug ways. I said when Fitbit came out that I absolutely wasn't going to jump on the fad but it's a bazillion years later and....

I need to jump on the fad.
Photo illustration credit: TechRadar and Fitbit

So what do you suggest? I've gone over a lot of articles online and I've probably read this one a solid ten, maybe even eleven times, but it's all nonsense to me. My cognitively impaired brain isn't understanding 80% of it and so I need to know what regular people suggest.

Do you have a Fitbit you love? One you hate? Tell me why you love it, and tell me why you hate the other ones.

Ideally, I'd like one that is waterproof (because kids, but also because I forget to take things off when I get into a shower and it's been a problem that I'm not getting into), I don't swim for sport so I don't need it do that. I'd like it to track my steps and my heart rate reliably. I'd like something that can connect to my phone (iPhone) and I'm on the fence about GPS (Like, what's the benefit to seeing your GPS on the thingie versus your phone? Does it even matter?)

Or does Fitbit suck completely and I should go with something even COOLER and BETTER?


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: The Beginner's Guide to Winning an Election

Kind of a perfect read for right now with all of the elections gearing up, right? It's not quite that kind of book, but it's a cool young adult book that looks at elections in high school and brings up similarities to our adult elections. It's a good read for your kids but also a good perspective for adults, too.

The Beginner's Guide to Winning an Election - Michael R. French
In 2025, the “youthification” of democracy has inspired younger candidates to challenge the ineffective and hypocritical gray-hairs in Congress. Running for student body president at an Indiana high school, political novice Brit Kitridge takes on incumbent Matthew Boltanski, who, with help from a mystery backer, already has his eyes set on Washington. Brit gains courage and insights from a wise history teacher on how to win, but ultimately finds a maze of deceit and corruption in her school. Is exposing the truth enough to win the election?

I'm going to give you full disclosure- I'm a grown up, a parent, and I was the PTO President at my kids' elementary school for years. I know how hard it is to get something done in a school so in that way I had some feelings throughout this book so I maybe have a different perspective. Though, I am not in a school district that has corruption like this, so perhaps it's not the same at all, but I know there are areas where this level of awful exists. Also, this book takes place in the future so they refer to stuff like #metoo and #neveragain in the past tense, so that was kind of cool- so think about kids learning about all of our current stuff in the future. I just hope we come out OK.

In this book we have Brit, the do-gooder kid who is running for student body president under the principle of being honest, unlike her opponent. She went in knowing that her opponent was a liar who would do anything to win, but what she didn't anticipate was everyone around him being in on it. During the race she uncovers serious issues, discrepancies, and serious corruption and she makes attempts to uncover it all, but quickly realizes that sometimes knowing the truth and bringing it to light doesn't even matter if people think they'll benefit from all of the corruption. (I could turn right here and make comparisons to our current political climate but I won't because my fingers cannot physically handle the task.)

My favorite line in the entire book which I have thought about a lot since reading it was on page 151:

Brit couldn't believe how much Nathan was revealing. "Does it bother you that Mr. Barnes and PTE pull your strings?"
"Not really. No one gets anything done alone anymore. The age of individualism is pretty much dead. Everything and everyone is interconnected. To survive, you have to be on a team, the stronger the better." 
Is that not that absolute truth, though? They always tell you to follow the strings and that sums it up right there, and that's really what this book is. It's like a weird kaleidoscope that shows the small world of high school politics expands to the teaching staff, then the school board, and so on and so on all the way up to state politics.

My favorite character in the whole book though? Mr. Wilson. The teacher that led the revolution (kind of) and was a lasting impression in every student's educational journey, someone that they learned life lessons from that they would keep forever. His arc in the story is kind of rough and I thought he was going to have a terrible ending but the very, very end of the book gave me a good feeling and that's the best.

Overall? I really, really loved this book. My 14 year old is reading it right now, I plan to gift it to my friend who teaches in a high school for her to read and share with her classes. It made me realize how big of a job high school teachers have. They are the last learning stop before kids go out into the world. Sure, some go to college and that's a continuation but high school is where most everyone learns the core beliefs they have and that's where you learn to question things and keep learning or just put your head in the sand and go with the flow.

If you're looking to fill up a school library, a classroom library, have some books on hand for your kids to read, add this one to the list. It would be really interesting to hear a high school, or even middle school, student's perspective on this book.
A big thanks to Michael R. French, Moot Point Productions, and TLC Book Tours for my copy! All thoughts are my own, and affiliate links are used in this post to help keep this blog going. If you pick up a copy of this for your child(ren), I suggest you give it a quick read too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Missouri. Conquered.

I'll be honest- this might be the longest post I've ever written. I really could break this up into two parts, maybe even three but I'm too lazy to do that so here we go. 

We went to Missouri. It was (mostly) an OK time. I don't think Matt really enjoys road trips or dealing with people in general so these are kind of taxing on him but the kids and I really love it and honestly- a summer road trip is what I look forward to all year. I really spend MONTHS planning these trips out so when people start acting pissy, I take it personally. But..  more on that later. 

We left our house at 4:13 a.m. on Sunday morning, the day after we did Lucy's birthday party. Crazy? Not to us. Olivia and Jackson each had a backpack with everything they needed. If it didn't fit, they didn't bring it. I had our one suitcase for Matt and I, plus Penelope and Lucy for the whole week. I had a blue Rubbermaid tote that had all of our dry stuff (cereal, disposable bowls and spoons, snacks that were pre-bagged into baggies, extra juice boxes, cookies, and some other stuff) and our small cooler with water, our lunches for travel day, and some juices. Also had my laptop bag and cpap machine but those are small so they don't count. The good news is that we now know we can all travel, with our stuff, in the Explorer. That was a hotly contested argument and I won because I am an amazing packer. 
We got the big kids up at 4 to help us load things. We woke Pep and Lu up at 4:10 a.m. and got them right into the car and then we left. It's 100% easier to do it this way, trust me. (Everyone went to bed in their outfit for the next day.) 
I drove the first leg which SUCKED because I didn't know how foggy it gets between Duluth and Hinckley in the morning. So much so that I couldn't see anything and it was like drying into an abyss. I almost hit my first deer, too. It was just hanging in the road and thank god it saw me first and ran because I missed it by two inches at most, and I would have totaled the vehicle. No question. I've never hit a deer but I had no time to brake or swerve, nothing. So that was fun.  
Not quite to the MN/IA border we stopped for breakfast. I had muffins and juice for us, and mini donuts if they were still hungry but it ended up being perfect. 
Got back on the road and everyone was excited for Iowa because we've only driven through a small portion of it once before years ago and nobody remembered it, so I was excited to see stuff.  
We saw nothing. As it turns out, Iowa is an incredibly boring state.  A lot of corn and a lot of soybeans. Bonus though is there is almost no traffic so we had a good drive. Oh! What was cool is we saw a sign saying I-35 is a monarch butterfly path so we say hundreds of butterflies the entire way. That was actually really cool.  
Stopped for lunch at a weird little state run rest stop. They still had a working pay phone and Olivia and Jackson had never seen one. So that was kind of hilarious.  
Sandwiches, fruit, and chips for lunch in this nifty meal prep containers I found at Walmart was a total win.  
By the time we got to Missouri I was getting a little sick of the road but we had to get to Branson that day so it was a solid 14 hour driving day, which is basically our max.  
At least the kids were mostly in good spirits. Jackson slept through most of it but the girls were just fine. I'm going to interject here and tell you that in true Strand Six Vacation fashion, we had no technology. The kids had their phones but have no Wifi because we disabled it so they were basically useless. Matt and I had our phones for GPS backup and looking up nearest bathrooms and gas stations. No technology for fun. This is the second long road trip we've done with no technology and it works fine. No crying, no whining. I will do another post sometime showing you what I brought for boredom busters but we managed just fine.  
Finally, we started seeing signs for Branson so everyone kind of perked up.  
Mostly because it was BEAUTIFUL. Rolling hills of trees and rock formations and just absolutely gorgeous views.  
My favorite part about road trips isn't the activities and people, it's the scenery. It's really fun to see new places and compare it to where I live. I live in a pretty area, but this was absolutely gorgeous.  
We knew we were close when all of the Jesus stuff started popping up everywhere. The best way to describe Branson is.... it's like the Wisconsin Dells but with Jesus. The Dells has water parks EVERYWHERE but  Branson has Jesus everywhere. 
Our hotel wasn't really on the "strip" where everything was at, but it turned out to be pretty darn close so I'm glad I picked this one. And, it had 3 queen beds. I'm finding that hotels that let six people stay in one room is really, really difficult. I don't love the idea of paying for two rooms but I think that's going to be our future soon and that really sucks.  
By the time we got there it was past our normal dinner time and nobody wanted to get in the car and go anywhere so Matt went and found fast food and we called it good.  
Oh! I forgot to post this on FB or Instagram, but how amazing is my shirt? It's pretty perfect and I got lots of compliments from older people at gas stations. I'm a little disgusted the younger folk have no idea why this is funny or amazing.  
Our first full day was going to be Silver Dollar City. An amusement park with a "old America feel", so everything is set to late 1800's basically. 
We had a hot debate on whether we pay the $50 to park near the door or park in the free lot. Matt was driving so we ended up in the free lot and while that sucked in the morning because we had to walk at least a mile uphill through a barren parking lot, the walk back to the car at the end of the day was downright brutal. Usually I'm fine with him being cheap but that day I was pretty pissed off about it.  
The day was really fun though and Olivia and Jackson have already said that if there was every a chance to go back, they'd really like to go back.  
I will say that if you have smaller kids, Silver Dollar City has a lot of areas and rides for smaller kids and that was perfect for  us because Olivia and Jackson don't want to hang out with us the whole time.  
I wish I had gotten more photos of them on rides because their faces are absolutely hysterical.  

I even rode a couple of rides and that's a big deal because I get the worst motion sickness now but I mostly rode with Lucy who doesn't like fast rides, or anything that spins.  
I made the big kids go on this frog ride with the littles because I knew I wouldn't be able to fit and they had to have bigger people to go with them. This was SO FUNNY because they didn't know the frogs "hop" so when it started they burst out laughing and trying to hang on.  

Favorite part of the day? Jackson being forced onto this ride. He went up there to help Penelope and Lucy onto the ride and the person working it made him get on, so he rode the entire thing like that.  

Matt went on a few rides. I convinced him to do do this one and all five of them came out soaked head to toe. It was funny, though I don't know if he thought it was funny.  
Overall? It was a fun day. What they don't say ANYWHERE is that Silver Dollar City is basically on a mountain You are walking up and down hills all day and none of the paths are flat, it's all uneven surfaces so I wish I had rented a power scooter. I'm not even kidding. My calves were screaming by lunch time and we spent eight hours there and I had drank so much water and only peed once, so that's not good.  
At the end of the day I was so exhausted so when we went to the parking lot and I realized we had to walk alllllllllll the way to the trees? I could have collapsed right there. Matt was pissy, the kids were pissy, I was pissy, and it was just so dang hot. We made it. Barely.  
That night though we had to eat and we didn't want fast food, so we decided to try a place called Pasghetti's.  I'm a fan of pasta and so is pretty much everyone, so we thought this would be great. 

Spoiler: It was not. It was so over priced and for a place that touts "home made", it's the spaghetti you'd make at home.  It's generic sauce, frozen meatballs, frozen breadsticks you bake in 5-7 minutes and just completely disappointing. 
So we decided we would get happy with ice cream, so we stopped at this place. I know it's a tourist town but really- does everything have to be so completely over priced? Anyways, it was alright but it wasn't good enough to go a second time.  
One of the must-do items on our Missouri list was to go to a cave. Jackson and Olivia had done this before but they wanted to go again. Originally, I had found a cave in Springfield that was a ride through cave. You get in a cart thing and they guide drives you around in the cave. At this point I was trying to think of ways to slow down on spending so I saw billboards for this one right in Branson. It was $20 cheaper on the total cost and we wouldn't have to drive an hour and waste the gas, so it seemed logical to just do this one.  
You know what we should have done? Spent the money and gone to the other one because doing an hour long hike through a steep and narrow cave with two kids under five is pretty much the worst experience ever. We had whining, we had kids touching walls and me repeatedly saying, "You're killing the cave, stop touching, use the RAILING!!!". It was mean trying to not fall on my ass because it was completely wet and slippery and the concrete rail is virtually useless when it's wet and how I left there without a broken ankle, I will never know. Oh, and it was 265 stair steps and so steep. I was literally huffing by the time we got  back and that next group looked concerned. One woman asked if it was bad and I said, "Well I can barely breathe but I'm sure you'll be fine".  
To kill time we bought expensive bags of dirt and let the kids find rocks and stuff and that ended up being a two minute activity and a complete waste because they are all scattered in the bottom of my vehicle. Yay.  
My wishlist item on the trip was the Showboat. I have wanted to go on a showboat since elementary school when I had to watch the musical. I don't know why I love it, but I do and I booked the tickets before we went because I didn't want it to sell out and miss it. That was smart because the boat did sell out but we were lucky enough to get all six seats in the same row next to each other. 
It was the dinner show and if you know me, you know I am not an adventurous eater. I always eat a burger or chicken strips. Sometimes I get crazy and order a pasta or a salad but not often. The menu this night was pot roast and gravy, Caribbean chicken,  green beans, potatoes, a salad, and this raspberry lemon ice cream pie. 
Can I just tell you I ate ALL of it except the salad and the potatoes?? I'm not kidding- I ate VEGETABLES, you guys! They weren't good and I'll probably never do it again but I'm sure my body was like, "What. Is. Happening?!".  
It was really good. I cannot emphasize that enough. Everyone ate their food. Even all four kids. All four kids ate the food, you guys. This has never happened, not even with goldfish crackers.  
The show is a comedian/magician, three tap dancers, and a group of five singers and it's kind of like a variety show, I suppose.  
We had an intermission and got to wander around the boat and check out the lake, which was really pretty, and stretch our legs.  
The show itself was SO GOOD. Everyone in my family were a little annoyed we were doing this but I'm telling you- by the end of the show they were all laughing and having fun....... even Matt. If you know Matt in real life, that's a big deal. 

The next day we packed up and drove to St. Louis for part two of our Missouri adventure. In hindsight, I kind of wish we had driven to Kansas or Arkansas to see/do something to cross those off our map but I didn't think about that when planning.  
On our drive, we saw this place so we had to stop. It isn't anywhere near as cool as Minnesota's Largest Candy Store so that was disappointing.  
As soon as we got back on the road it was clear that it was going to rain. And probably rain a lot.  
The Weather Channel confirmed that and for almost the entire drive to St. Louis we were driving in the red section, so that was really fun. I am so glad Matt was driving because I didn't like it at all. But I kept seeing signs for this weird road side attraction and since we're on Route 66 it has to be legit, right?  
So we stopped. It was 100% weird and all of the employees were making jokes about your anus and saying, "have poking around Uranus!!" super loud. Very weird place.  
Obviously Matt and I got shirts, and I got my Route 66 bumper sticker and magnet. Tradition.  
I had a few things on the agenda for St. Louis, seeing The Gateway Arch was the main one. I've only driven by it once when I was nine, but Matt said he's actually been here before.  
I bought us tickets for a Riverboat Cruise but we wanted to see the Arch before so we bought tram tickets to the top. This is the door and you see the yellow part with the metal under it? That little rectangle? That's THE DOOR.  
I always forget Jackson is terrified of heights and is claustrophobic until I make him do stuff like this. He is going to need extensive counseling someday.  
 The view is pretty. 
 Not going to lie, I thought there was more to it. For how much we paid to go up.... I thought there was more to it. I also thought the windows were bigger but no, the windows are very small. 
 Olivia and Jackson nerded out though and read all of the information, looked out every window, identified buildings, etc. They really, REALLY enjoyed this. 
 I don't know what Matt thought but I am pretty sure he didn't love being surrounded by so many people, so we didn't stay up there very long. That and it was very warm so I was starting to hot flash and I had to get down. 
 We walked through the museum part and say what you will about government spending, I really like that these museums are put together because I found it all very fascinating. 

 The base of the arch. 
 After our tour of the Arch we walked to the river to get on the boat. 
 The ride was alright, but it was actually pretty short. We saw a couple of bridges, which were really pretty but do I really care about the concrete barges in St. Louis? Nope. 
 I once went on a cruise in Chicago and they told us all about the architecture, why buildings were where they were, etc and it was so great. This was kind of lame. 
 The little girls were more excited to eat popcorn, to be honest. 

 This picture is right before our cruise and this is basically how all of St. Louis went. Olivia and Jackson were sports about it all, Lucy didn't care, and Penelope was fully over all of it.  
 The last full day was going to be the St. Louis Zoo, and then the Science Center, with dinner at Blueberry Hill. That was the plan. 

So we went to the zoo first thing when it opened. I almost stole a goat. This one obviously wanted to come with me. 
 The kids loved this one a lot and I realize now it looks like they crowded him against the wall, but there is a ledge a few inches off the ground and he was just hanging out on it. 
 We walked around the entire zoo. Twice. 
 Oh, and I thought Jackson was only scared of centipedes and millipedes, turns out it's all bugs. He barely wanted to stand next to a damn sculpture of a bug. 
 This was when I was starting to get pissed off at Matt. More on that. 
 Olivia absolutely loves flamingos. They are her most favorite animal and I've always called her my flamingo because her legs/knees remind me of a flamingo and so this was the only thing she wanted to see. 
 Also, I have never identified with an animal like I did this orangutan. She has two babies. A husband. The babies were running wild all over the place, and the husband sat in the shade doing nothing. Literally nothing. Well, he played with his nipple but other than that, nothing. 

You know where she is? 
 She has a bucket on her head and hiding under a sheet. Just trying to get some peace. 

I see you, mama. I see you. 
 But then those damn kids came and took her sheet AND her bucket and were tackling her. I could have watched that all day and what was funny was there were other moms around me all saying things like, "Wow- is he just going to sit there all day?", "Man- you think the zookeepers would give her some kind of a break", etc. It was hilarious but man..... we get it, mama orangutan. 

After the zoo, it was hot. I was in head to toe pain. I'm not talking a "I'm sore and my feet hurt" pain, it felt like I had been hit by a car, then beaten with a bat, and now my bones feel like they are falling apart and disconnecting. It was painful

But you know what? I was rallying. I was going because my kids wanted to do these things and I am not going to ruin a vacation just because I hurt. Matt was so damn cranky for the entire day and he says he wasn't but you know when people have that "I fucking hate every minute of this" look? All day. We get to the car and he's extra pissy, Lucy is screaming because she's tired, Penelope is crying over a ring, and I lost it

When I say I lost it, I'm not kidding. I screamed at everyone to shut the hell up and declared we would do NOTHING. 

And nothing is what we did. 

We sat the entire night in the hotel and everyone had goldfish crackers or candy for supper because I was over the attitudes and the crying. To be fair, Olivia and Jackson were great but Matt and the littles? THE WORST. 

And I'm just so tired of it, you know? I plan and plan trips out so everyone gets a say in what we do and I just get the "I want to be anywhere but with you people" vibe from him and it's just the worst. 

So the next day we were leaving. And he tries to go to the Science Center. He made a big deal of NOT doing that before our drive home because he didn't want to get home late so that's why I purposely arranged the schedule to do it after the zoo.  So no, we are not doing it, we are going home. 

We got into an argument and I burst into tears because I'm angry, I'm sad, I've got anxiety and depression, I don't do well with change and I'm tired. I think I actually screamed and declared I wanted to go home and said that his negativity ruins everything for me and I'm absolutely sick of it.  

He, obviously, was angry. Olivia and Jackson were crying and I hear Jackson whisper, "I appreciate you mom and we like our trips." and that breaks my damn heart because this is just the worst. 

So we drove home 10.5 hours in mostly silence. 
With bathroom breaks. Because Jackson had diarrhea and that's how we ended our trip. 

So I don't know. I know this is all just passing and it's probably mostly me not being able to handle things as well. I told my therapist once that I get really irritated because pre-AFE it was just assumed that I would be the cheerleader, I would rally the troops, I'd be the positive force and Matt could just sit on the sideline and it would be fine. Except now I can't do that like I did so sometimes I need him to do it and I don't know if it's because he can't do it or he won't do it. It's like he's just waiting for me to snap out of it and do what I've always done and I don't know how to get him to understand it's on him now. He actually has to pick up the baton and run now.

I should actually write a post about what a post AFE relationship is like because it isn't just us. So many survivors talk about really struggling in their relationship afterwards because a medical crisis is one thing but when that crisis changes your spouse irrevocably, that's a problem. It's kind of beyond the "in sickness and health" thing because you still assume during that that it will be your spouse, just sick. Well I'm still his spouse but I'm not at all like old Sara. I am very much a completely different person and I think we're struggling in our own ways.


Overall it was OK. In hindsight, again, I wish we had skipped St. Louis and done something different. Let the Arch be just a stop and keep going to somewhere else. The entire city is not tourist friendly, it's dirty, it smells absolutely foul, the water there is so gross and it doesn't even feel good to shower in. Everything about the place gave me a gross feeling so no, I'll never go to St. Louis again. Willingly. 

But just the other day the kids wanted to know where our next road trip is going to be and I'm not sure. I said I would like to go to Florida to see family again next year so maybe we do Alabama? South Carolina? Georgia? We'll see. 

Do you have an idea? What is a REALLY AWESOME state to go to and why. We're open.