Thursday, October 31, 2019

Book Review: The Witch Port Video Game

Happy Halloween! Do you do anything for Halloween? Do you dress up? I do not, and I haven't dressed up since I was... 14? Of course, we take the kids trick or treating but this year I think it's only Penelope and Lucy with us. I'm supposed to take Olivia and her friend to "the good part of town" and then they are going to a party. I'm not sure what Jackson is doing, hopefully he got that figured out, and I hope the weather just gets nice for a solid hour so we aren't freezing with a couple of preschoolers whining to go home and demanding to keep getting more candy at the same time.

OK, so today I have a quick review for you (seriously, the book is just over 100 pages) and then I am going to take a nap. I'm so excited. For all of it. Ha!

The Witch Port Video Game - Leonard Bassed

The tale of three school friends who played a video game.

The game seems awesome at first until a series of strange events occur which mirror what happens on screen. This is followed by the mysterious arrival of the MacQuoid brothers, with Bianca as their co-conspirator. The three newcomers are identical to characters in the game.

The friends get a little more than they bargained for when they start exhibiting supernatural abilities. What ensues is the ultimate battle for power, while trying to maintain the perfect GPA.

You don't choose sorcery -
She chooses you... 

I should start and tell you I know next to nothing about video games, computer games, anything like either of those, and so I struggled a bit with the concept of how this would happen. Yes, I get that it's a fictional story but the best part of reading is trying to imagine the story as real,, so while I couldn't quite do that, this was an interesting story nonetheless. It almost felt like it could be an episode of a television show that you would inevitably get sucked into.

Novellas are generally quick reads but this one is just over 100 pages so I was able to get through it in just under two hours, so you'll have no problem doing that with this, and since it's a YA novella (first in a series) your teenager can read this without feeling overwhelmed. Perfect for reluctant readers and the supernatural element of this will keep them hooked until the last page. Also, it is fast paced. The author does not mess around with meaningless setting details or character development (Though, I kind of wish we had a little more of that but I'm assuming in each book we'll get more pieces of each of them? Maybe?)- we get right to the action and it's go-go-go until the last page. Again, if you have a teen with a short attention span for books, this will hold their attention- trust me.

What we learn in this book is anyone named Bianca you should maybe steer clear from and you shouldn't play video games. I mean, that's what I got from it. Ha! I loved the supernatural pieces, I loved how you never knew what exactly was going on or why, and I really enjoyed the voice of this author. It isn't as refined as we're used to seeing it and I'm here for it because it stands out.

The only critiques I have is the print is so small. Holy hannah. The font they use is great, the size is a bit too small. Also, when they have dialogue, it's not separated. So two characters are speaking in the same paragraph, if that makes sense? Most of the time I was fine because the author indicated who said what but there are some areas where I had to look back to figure out who would be saying what, and that got a little dicey. Overall though, this was pretty entertaining and I'm looking forward to the second book because this one ends kind of dramatically? I won't say it's a cliff hanger because it isn't really, but it's enough that I wish I had book two here to see what happens next. 3 stars!

A huge thanks to Pump Up Your Book for putting me on this tour but also The Barrett Company Communications and Leonard Bassed making sure I got a copy. You can buy a copy of this book on Leonard's website.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Book Review: House of Salt & Sorrow

If you know me at all you know that I bought this completely for the cover. I heard the title and I kind of knew it was maybe popular, but this cover is stunning and I had to have it. But over the last couple of weeks I've seen it being picked for book clubs and October challenges so I figured I had to read it, too.
House of Salt & Sorrows - Erin A. Craig

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls' lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn't sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh's involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it's a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next. 

Wow. Alright, I'm not really sure where to start with this and I honestly don't know what to share with you to convince you that you need this book without it being a spoiler.

I'll tell you that when I started this and realized it's kind of historical fiction and kind of a fantasy/baby horror, and it's kind of a retelling/re-imagining of 12 Dancing Princesses, I wasn't really sure how I was going to feel about this. Unexpected what the romance that pops up, and it ends up being a key part of "what is even real anymore?!".

So in this book we primarily follow Annaleigh, one of the twelve daughters of Highmoor. It starts off with three of them are already dead of various things, but so is their mother, and most recently dead daughter #4 turns up. Annaleigh is absolutely sure her sister would not have jumped off a cliff and someone else had to have pushed her, but of course, nobody in Highmoor is listening to/believing her. Her stepmother is pregnant with twins, her older sister Camille is kind of a petulant brat who just wants to inherit the entire thing, and everyone outside of Highmoor is absolutely convinced there is a curse over these girls.

They find a secret door that leads them to elegant and amazing balls, and all of the people there are unaware of their curse so these girls dance the night away, literally. All is not well though because Annaleigh can't shake the feeling that something is really very wrong, and as more people end up dead (not just more sisters) she feels like she's racing to figure it out before she is next.

This book is a TRIP. I'm not kidding. It is trippy, weird, terrifying, sad, but also creepy that you kind of don't want to take a bath or wander anywhere in the dark. I call it baby horror because there aren't any "jump scares" but there are "what in fresh hell is happening" kind of scares. Once everything starts unraveling is probably when I felt the saddest because it all makes sense and greed will make people do terrible, terrible things.

The book ends and it's both a solid, fulfilling ending but also a cliffhanger. If this author never writes anything connected to this, we'll be OK. If she does later decide on writing book two, I would be completely here for it because I feel like there could really be something there. I loved this book, I was absolutely hooked to it, this author has a terrific voice, and this story was so bizarre where I wasn't sure if I wanted to stick with it but I couldn't stop and I am so glad because the reveal and everything coming out was fantastic and I didn't see any of it coming.

If you're in the mood for something creepy for chilly fall nights, or just want something different from your usual fare, give this one a try.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Book Review: Christmas From the Heart

I know you're like, "Jesus, Sara- let me get through Halloween!" and I get that. BUT! It's always nice to have your Christmas reading lined up so you're able to read as soon as you get your tree up. I'll tell you Jackson put his tree up in his room over the weekend because he has "so much cheer" he needed "extra time to get it out". I'm not kidding, he actually said that at lunch on Sunday. Ha! Also, if you head over to my Instagram, you can see the photo for today's post that I made Olivia and Jackson help me with. It involved a lot of precarious step stool standing and curtain holding. It was hilarious.

Christmas From The Heart - Sheila Roberts

Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters

Olivia Berg's charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia's grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he's declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.

Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don't have money to spare, you don't have money to share. You'd think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.

With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia's Christmas budget depends on Hightower's contribution. She's focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.

When Guy's Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he's relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What's a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn't learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?

I'll tell you right off the bat I'm giving this 4 stars because I really loved this romance and I know it screams "make me a Hallmark movie!!", I am begging the universe to not do that because it will ruin the vision I have in my head of these characters and this story. I'm not that person who can envision actors to play roles because I always associate them with previous work, and yeah- it's a whole thing and I just want this book to stay sweet and adorable and fun just the way it is.

Anyways. Ha! In this book we have Olivia, who runs a holiday charity (which kind of reminded me of Best Christmas Ever, Toys for Tots, etc kind of thing) that everyone respects and is grateful for . She's incredibly stressed though because knowing that their largest donor is likely pulling out for good puts the entire charity at risk of closing down and she knows first hand the difference it makes and what a big deal this is to the families that benefit from it. Enter Guy, who literally pulls into this little town in the middle of winter (snow everywhere) in a Maserati. The absurdity of it is what sells it because right off the bat you know you're not meant to like Guy.

Of course he ends up stranded (hahahahaha) and he doesn't realize he's being rescued by the woman in charge of the charity he's trying to screw over. She has no idea it's him (Except HOW?!?! This was kind of a book shaking moment because honest to goodness, how many people do you know driving a Maserati? I mean, OK- who would expect this company to check out the town but seriously- there were a few moments in this book I wanted to shake Olivia and tell her to put the dang pieces together!). He decides the best way to handle this setback is to lie his entire way through this stay, but he ends up being won over by all of the people he encounters, the little town itself, and of course, Olivia. If I had to give you a "meh" thing for me, I'll say the ending felt rushed. Maybe not rushed but we spent a lot of time on the bulk of the story and things didn't come together until almost the end and then bam- we're done. I will say that I really enjoy stories that have text and/or email exchanges and this book has that so I thought that was a fun touch.

If you like Hallmark Christmas movies,  you will love this book. If you love a sweet romance that doesn't involve raunchy sex and descriptions of a penis, this is absolutely your book. If you want a lighthearted and fun book to read around the holidays, this is your book and you shouldn't hesitate in picking this one up. I always have friends I buy gifts for and I always have a few "just because" gifts I'll give to random people and it almost always has a book included, and this will be the book I pick up for all of them this year. I really had a good time with this one. (Also, how gorgeous is this cover?? My dream is to have a tree (or more) in my yard that I can decorate with lights because we all know how that would thrill my Grinch of a husband, right??)
A huge thank you to Pump Up Your Book for getting me on this tour and MIRA Books for getting me a copy! This post contains affiliate links. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Weight loss challenge: progress and one goal met!

I honestly wish I had a photo of the time my pants almost pulled all the way down in the middle of Target because Lucy would not stop tugging on them, but I don't.

The significance of that story though is that my pants almost fell off, and that's something that has not happened in like... years. I can't even remember. I've been slumming it in my size 16 and that's the biggest size I've ever wore in my life, so the silver lining is I've never gone beyond that.

Now I am in 14. In most brands. We all know that depending on the brand and the store, you can either be a size 6 or 22, you just don't know. You go in never knowing for sure you just have a general guideline in which to start when trying things on, and that's completely depressing. (I can't remember if I've ever talked about the time that I had a complete sob session in the dressing room of Maurices. It wasn't even that long ago, I don't think. I mean, maybe like 5+ but my sense of time is skewed so don't listen to me, but it was bad.)

I had purchased a pair of jeans and two tops from Torrid online that I forgot about completely because it takes so freaking long for your stuff to come. That's a rant for another day and maybe I'm spoiled by Amazon Prime, but the time it takes to get stuff from places is unbelievable. I am that person that if I am ordering it online it's because I actually need it yesterday. It means I have looked everywhere locally available, can't find it, need it, and I'm resorting to purchasing online. I hate, hate, hate buying clothes online because I really need to try things on. Example: I bought three tops online from Walmart and not one of them fit. Not even close even though I used the measurement table for each top, it isn't close at all. Trying to return things to Walmart that you bought online is ridiculous because it literally can't find my order. Even when I click the link, they can't find it. I can't return it to the store, I have to do it online. I can't do that unless I can see the order and the "start a return" button. Which I can't see at all.

Alas, the whole thing is annoying as hell.

Along with the smaller pants size though, is my weight! On my home scare I had been hovering around 215 lbs. and that's fine. The last three weeks or so, I'm between 207-209, so that's progress. My goal was to lose 5 lbs this year and I actually did it! It's kind of nice to have hit the goal with time left over so I obviously have to maintain that.

I am mostly limiting the quantity of food that I eat, not necessarily what I'm actually eating. I have seen a connection between the Adderrall and not feeling hungry. The days I've taken it I almost feel nauseous when I sit down to eat so I definitely eat much less. I can understand how people who take this stuff every day to function end up being rail thin because it's definitely a side effect. I take it very sparingly because I'm scared to get addicted to something so I try to only take it on days that I'm going to a concert and have the long drive there and back, on days where I'm completely non-functional and I can't nap and have to watch the kids. Most of the time I can just take a nap and if I'm down for 4+ hours, it's not a crisis. I can't say it works amazingly well, and I definitely don't feel anymore awake, but I don't feel like I'm going to collapse and fall asleep right there and then. It's exhaustion I can limp through, basically. (Ironically, I'm typing this as I'm totally tired and ready for a nap but it's like 2:15 p.m. and I can't nap now if I want to cook supper for everyone so now I have to be like a zombie until bed time. Poor planning on my part, for sure.)

All that to say that while the Wellbutrin I'm on has a side effect of appetite suppression, it doesn't work at all, but the Adderrall does. Which I have to mention to my psychiatrist this week when I see him.

Other than that, it's getting colder outside so I don't know how much longer I'll be walking outside. I really need to get myself in the habit of walking in the morning when the girls are both at school but usually I'm so tired (see above) and so I don't do much of anything. Motivation is definitely struggle right now for sure.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Book Review: Her Baby, His Proposal

I know, you're probably like, "It's a weekend! Why is Sara posting?!". Well, I'm going to start posting on weekends because as it turns out, I've got a lot going on and a lot of book reviews happening and I can't get it all in over five days. I need those other two. You're welcome.

Her Baby, His Proposal - Teresa Carpenter
Brock Sullivan is a navy SEAL--he lives by his own code of honor and he won't see Jesse, pregnant and alone, struggle. He doesn't have to help her, but he knows he can offer her security while he's away fighting for his country. The proposal is convenient and the marriage-- paper only!

Jesse would do anything for her baby, even if it means signing away her own dreams of happily ever after and becoming Brock's convenient bride. But, injured in battle, Brock is suddenly home, and what was a simple marriage of convenience is now becoming a whole lot more complicated.
I have a fun story about this, actually. I'm in a romance novel group on Facebook where we share good, and terrible, books and talk about trends and all kinds of stuff. It's a fun group to be in. Anyways, a few weeks ago someone asked about this book and gave a general synopsis but she couldn't remember the name of it or the author. It took a really long time and several people chiming in they now want to read this book, but someone came through with a title/author/purchase link. I went onto Amazon and purchased it immediately because the original link they posted was sold out of the book (probably from everyone on that thread), and I purchased it off the marketplace for like $.99 and $3 in shipping. (Don't get me started on all of these sellers scamming us on shipping- the postage on my envelope was under $1 so they can just shove it.) Anyways. So that's how I found this book.

Beep! Beep! Pulling into Cheese Town! The best thing about mass produced romance novels is that they are fast reads (this took me just under two hours) and they are corny but also really fun.

In this book we have Jesse, a 20something who is newly pregnant with a very clear oopsie child with her dead beat ex-boyfriend who just dumped her AND took all of her money. She lives in a dump apartment she shares with an even bigger loser. She's a waitress at a restaurant frequented by Navy personnel since it's near the docks, basically. Enter Brock, a 30something Chief in the Navy, single and unattached. He's responsible and also deploying for a six month assignment soon.

Almost immediately they find themselves in the emergency room together where Jesse confesses she can't afford any of this and so Brock comes up with a plan: do a quickie wedding with him so she can live in his condo, get his health insurance benefits, and basically be taken care of during her pregnancy.

Stop it- are you peeing your pants from laughter?

OK, so that happens but the meat of the story is everything that leads up to him coming home and how they handle this unconventional situation, and just the general awkwardness of all of it.

I'm going to tell you... I kind of loved it. (Imagine me covering my face in absolute shame.) First off, I loved that I finished this in one sitting because I'm all about a fast read. Secondly, I have a soft spot for cheesy romance novels and I can't help it. Third, how they handle a "love scene" by not having one makes me laugh EVERY SINGLE TIME. I love it. I love how incredibly cheesy it is and I'm keeping this. It is not going into a donate pile, this baby is staying on my shelves.

This post contains affiliate links. Happy shopping! 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Book Review: The Billionaire's Voice

I took a break from reading this series for a bit but I'm going to keep going because these are really great reads to get into before bed. They are also pretty short so if you're looking for a series but don't want big books, this is where it's at.

The Billionaire's Voice - J.S. Scott

As an extreme-sports mogul, billionaire Micah Sinclair is comfortable taking risks. But nothing—and no one—has ever challenged him like Tessa Sullivan. He’s fascinated by the woman who’s overcome so much, including the loss of her hearing. The petite blonde dynamo, a small-town restaurateur on the Maine coast, is the most courageous person he knows, and he wants her in his bed. Now all he has to do is convince Tessa to explore their desire.

After a lifetime of loss, Tessa’s finally come to terms with her limitations. Or she would, if a certain sexy businessman weren’t pushing her to want more. And to want him. All her remaining senses are clamoring for her to touch, taste, and feel. But her doubts tell her to go slow when their passion gets too hot.

Micah’s determined to prove to Tessa that she can still have everything she’s ever wanted, including his love. But will she listen to her head—or her heart?

First thing's first, this is book 4 in The Sinclairs series but you absolutely can read these in any order, it doesn't matter. It does mention that the next book is going to be Julian and Kristin's story, but if you haven't read the other three you aren't going to know what you missed, it is really solely focused on Micah and Tessa.

With that said, this is maybe my favorite that I've read so far. I say that because while Micah is the alpha guy, he reels it in and doesn't try to dominate Tessa in any way and he's really cognizant of her disability (she's deaf) but he also doesn't treat her like a wilting flower either. I liked Tessa because she knows her disability puts her at a disadvantage, but she IS willing to try new things with some help, and she doesn't get angry when people try to help her, she's open to new ideas.

If I have to critique stuff, I'd have just these:

  • The introduction of her ex Rick is strange. I don't understand what the point of having him come in at all is and I don't know what the point of having him show up at the end? It's an awkward and unnecessary exchange and we'd be better without it. 
  • In every book in this series everything is going good, good, good, something stupid happens because people can't use their words, then there's an awkward make up scene. I just wish it wasn't so predictable and I wish the make up part wasn't so awkward. It wouldn't happen like that in real life at all so it feels weird to read it, basically. 
I know those seem like big things and you're wondering why the heck I'm giving this one 4 stars- but I'm telling you I enjoyed it. I really liked Micah and I really liked that Tessa gets a happy ending and it isn't just Micah, she gets friends, too. It's just a really nice and I enjoyed this one. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Book Review: Mouth to Mouth

We're half way through this week and I don't know about you but I feel like I'm limping through it. It's awful. If you are on Instagram, I'm having a giveaway that ends Friday. Or Saturday. I can't remember. But go there and enter! If you're in need for a short book with a little steam, here you go.

Mouth to Mouth - Tessa Bailey

A man with a prison record has no place around a fresh faced college student. Tell that to Rory Prince. He should stay the hell away from Olive Cunningham. There’s one small problem, though. She won’t stop almost getting killed—and with this too-smart, too-sweet girl holding his heart in her hands, Rory is powerless to do anything but keep saving her.

Homeschooled from a young age, Olive is now out on her own and discovering the world, one milkshake flavor at a time. Until recently, she has experienced life through books. She’s walked in a million sets of shoes while flipping pages—enough to know that Rory gives her once-in-a-lifetime feelings. If only he would stop trying to protect her…from himself.

If you're around here often (thanks!), you'll have seen me review the latest from Tessa Bailey, Fix Her Up, which I really enjoyed. Because that was my first book by her and I really liked it, I thought I would pick up a couple more from her and this was one of the ones I got. It is right around 200 pages and I got through it in one day easily and it would have been a good summer book, even more so when I realized it's the first in a trilogy, so I have books two and three on order.

In this one we have Olive, who grew up in a YouTube family and as she got older she was not so subtly butted out because she basically aged out of doing cutesy things with them. With a bank account full of cash she picks up and moves- she's going to go to college and start a new life in a cute beach town. Unexpectedly, she meets Rory, who is incredibly good looking and full of tattoos and an ex-con. She doesn't know that of course, but it's clear immediately that sparks are flying and whatever it is that clicks for soul mates very much happens to them both.

Over the course of a few months he saves her (again!), we have a steamy shower scene, and this couple makes some real rookie movies with miscommunication and/or noncommunication. When they are together it's hot, and they crave each other when they aren't, but the entire book is them trying to get this worked out so they are on the same page.

I really enjoyed this one. If you're a fan of books where you have to fix the guy? This is a good one. I'm giving this one 4 stars and really, the only thing keeping me back from a 5 is some of the dialogue what on its way to Cheese Town. The way Rory talks in the midst of sex is just.... let's just say I'm that person who would start laughing because it's just too much. Also, Olive is almost too naive and while we do get a kind of resolution to Rory's past, I don't know that we really get one for Olive. I guess in a way, yes.. but I think I expected/wanted more.

Overall, a good book if you're looking for a quick romance with a beach vibe and a guy in real need of saving. I'll let you know how the rest are.

This post contains affiliate links- happy shopping! 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Book Review: Writers in the Secret Garden (teachers, come here!)

If you are a teacher in general, but even more so a teacher who teaches students how to write, this book is for you.

Writers in the Secret Garden - Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis

Over the past twenty years, amateur fanfiction writers have published an astonishing amount of fiction in online repositories. More than 1.5 million enthusiastic fanfiction writers--primarily young people in their teens and twenties--have contributed nearly seven million stories and more than 176 million reviews to a single online site, In this book, Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis provide an in-depth examination of fanfiction writers and fanfiction repositories, finding that these sites are not shallow agglomerations and regurgitations of pop culture but rather online spaces for sophisticated and informal learning. Through their participation in online fanfiction communities, young people find ways to support and learn from one another.

Aragon and Davis term this novel system of interactive advice and instruction distributed mentoring, and describe its seven attributes, each of which is supported by an aspect of networked technologies: aggregation, accretion, acceleration, abundance, availability, asynchronicity, and affect. Employing an innovative combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses, they provide an in-depth ethnography, reporting on a nine-month study of three fanfiction sites, and offer a quantitative analysis of lexical diversity in the 61.5 billion words on the site. Going beyond fandom, Aragon and Davis consider how distributed mentoring could improve not only other online learning platforms but also formal writing instruction in schools.

Whether it's middle school, high school, AP classes, college, or university- it's really important to have an arsenal of information at your hands to get the best writing out of your students, and this is going to be a great tool. I am going to confess to you that as someone who reads a lot, and someone who reads a pretty diverse selection of books (though I have my favorites), I have been a person who rolled their eyes at the fanfiction websites. I first became aware of them during the Twilight craze, and I remember being so annoyed with people who couldn't think of their own idea for a story, they wait for a popular/successful one to come along and then change it up and that always felt kind of dirty. I didn't think it was quite plagiarism, but it felt like that really gray area. I once asked a friend who taught at a local university that if she had a student from last year turn in this great paper, and a student this year turn one eerily similar but enough differences that you couldn't say it was plagiarism, would you still accept it? She said she wasn't sure, and that's how I have always felt about fanfiction.

Until I read this book. I can absolutely see the other side of it.

In this book it really has four parts I consider the "meat" of the book: history, theory, ethnography, and data. That's me paraphrasing it but basically, that's what it is. I'm also going to note right now that if it sounds like I'm butchering this review, it's because I haven't read a scientific data backed book in years and my brain doesn't spin that way anymore so admittedly, some areas of this book were a bit much for me but if you are already into looking at best practices and methods of teaching, you will absorb this quickly as it is just under 200 pages.

I already kind of knew the basic history of fanfiction, but the theory of "distributed mentoring" was new to me and it was actually really interesting to read about. At first it sounded like the most horrific project of all time: a group project in which you all work together for a final product. (I hate these because as the smart kid it was almost always me only doing all the work and having to lie and say it was a group project.) The way people are using fanfiction to mentor each other (which is detailed in the book and would be kind of a cool classroom experiment especially if students didn't know whose work they were helping with, so instead of names, each writer was assigned a "code" to remain anonymous) is really fascinating.

Overall, this book was fascinating. I learned a lot about the world of fanfiction, more than what I knew. It turns out what I actually knew about it was less than 1% of what it actually is. I actually got through this entire book in a little over a day, maybe a day and a half, because it was so well researched and the idea that a person can improve as a writer within these fanfiction sites is equal parts obvious but also very surprising and cool. These are people teaching themselves how to do it, much like watching a YouTube tutorial on how to fix your kitchen sink, I suppose. I'm giving this one 4 stars because I think if you're professionally teaching students how to write, I think there are many ideas in this book that you can implement in the classroom easily.

A huge thank you to PR by the Book, The MIT Press, and Cecilia Aragon & Katie Davis for sending me a copy and getting me on this tour! This post contains affiliate links. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Review: In An Instant

Of course I can't find it because old Sara never labeled posts super well because she didn't anticipate having a traumatic brain injury and memory loss so I can't find it, but, a long time ago I read the book If I Stay by Gayle Forman and I really loved it. Thought the follow up was absolutely terrible and don't get me started. But the concept of someone being dead, or between worlds is fascinating to me particularly I think that's where I was and I just wish I could remember it.

In An Instant - Suzanne Redfearn

Life is over in an instant for sixteen-year-old Finn Miller when a devastating car accident tumbles her and ten others over the side of a mountain. Suspended between worlds, she watches helplessly as those she loves struggle to survive.

Impossible choices are made, decisions that leave the survivors tormented with grief and regret. Unable to let go, Finn keeps vigil as they struggle to reclaim their shattered lives. Jack, her father, who seeks vengeance against the one person he can blame other than himself; her best friend, Mo, who bravely searches for the truth as the story of their survival is rewritten; her sister Chloe, who knows Finn lingers and yearns to join her; and her mother, Ann, who saved them all but is haunted by her decisions. Finn needs to move on, but how can she with her family still in pieces?

Heartrending yet ultimately redemptive, In an Instant is a story about the power of love, the meaning of family, and carrying on…even when it seems impossible.

I have to tell you I heard about this book online as a "coming soon" quickie thing (it goes on sale January 21, 2020- it's absolutely WORTH IT to pre-order it) and though it's a YA, it is absolutely beautiful and amazing and any adult will love this. With that said, I'm telling you this is 5 stars, it might be very close to the top of my list of favorite books of the year, and if you have been patiently waiting for this, it will be well worth the wait.

In this book we are with Finn and her family (mostly) but also her best friend Mo, and her close-enough-friend-to-be-family Aunt Karen, Uncle Bob, and their daughter Natalie. We have a couple of other characters but this is who we're really following. It's pretty clear that Finn's family is silently fractured but nobody is really coming out to say it so in an attempt to make family memories there is a ski trip planned and all of them are going to ride in this kind of rickety vehicle (there's 10 people, so it's fairly large and enough to move around in a bit). They get there just fine and decide they'll go out to eat and instead of dressing for weather some of them dress to impress, which turns out to be the worst decision because as they leave they realize they are in the middle of a blizzard. One wrong move on the road sends them careening off the side of a mountain and THAT is where the story really starts.

One character dies early on and that's the "voice" we are reading and the story is told from their point of view from the empty space between here and... heaven, I guess. Not only do we see how each character handles the stress and fear of being trapped in a blizzard with little to no resources, but we see how humans make desperate decisions to save ourselves sometimes. We see the true colors of people in stressful situations. (And I have to just add, there is one part where a character goes out into the blizzard and you just know it isn't a good idea and my mama heart absolutely broke, and I fully cried. There were a few parts of this that I cried which only makes me love this more.)

My favorite part of the book was not the accident and survival piece, which I thought it would be, it was how everyone handled it after the accident. Once we learn who made it and who didn't, each character handles it differently and nobody really knows the full story because we all remember things a bit differently and we all look at the actions of a person differently depending on what our recollection of the situation is.

I loved this for a few reasons, as an adult I understood the positions of each adult and I can understand the way they handled it the way they did. I can understand how, as a child, that could all be confusing for you and come off as callous. Sometimes we don't really know the thoughts/feelings of someone, but our narrator does. I absolutely loved having a dead narrator because oddly, it gives me some comfort to think maybe we really do get to see what's going on long after we go. Maybe we don't, but wouldn't it be nice to not really be gone?

I loved all of the moral and ethical questions this book raises and challenges. I love how the author shows us that forgiveness isn't about them, it's about us, that forgiving someone doesn't mean what they did was OK or just, but it means you can move on and its explained in a way that I don't think we're teaching kids. I feel like teens are going to grab onto this book and hold on until the very last page.

Not only would this been an amazing book club pick, but I know some teachers have a book club in their classrooms and I think this would be such a dynamic book choice. The even better part? The author includes an Author's Note at the end that describes why she wrote this book and how some similar events/characters inspired her to write this from her past. (It also has discussion questions to get your book club going.)

Overall?  I have to give this 5 stars. I have to. This book had me staying up WAY past my bedtime and reading at every given minute I had. Such an incredibly harrowing, emotional, and powerful read. If I could buy 100 copies of this and just give them out to every person I saw, I would. Such a great book.
An incredibly HUGE thanks to Suzanne Redfearn for finding me on Facebook and then sending me a copy of this- if I could hug you in person and bring you cookies as thanks, I absolutely would. <3 nbsp="" p="">

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book Review: If Only I Could Tell You

When this book came in the mail I fell in love with it immediately because this cover is gorgeous, but I didn't remember what it was about. Once I read the blurb I remembered exactly why I wanted this book and I am so glad I was able to be on this tour because this book had me hooked from page one.

If Only I Could Tell You - Hannah Beckerman

Audrey knows that life is filled with ups and downs, but she can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years. Her dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Even more upsetting is the fact that Audrey has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, but ironically, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing once and for all Audrey and those she loves.

Is it too late for one broken family to heal and find their way back to each other…?

A beautiful novel of mothers and daughters, the bonds of family, and the secrets that can sometimes divide us yet also bring us together, If Only I Could Tell You will remain on your mind long after the last page is turned.

The quick and dirty of this book is Audrey (Lily and Jess's mom) has cancer. She's very clearly dying, she's refusing treatment and her daughters don't know why and she is gone to live with Jess and her daughter, Mia. Jess hasn't spoke with her sister Lily in years and it isn't just a "I don't like her" thing, it is very clearly an intense hate towards her sister except only Jess knows why and this book is the quest of Audrey putting the past, and whatever issues they have, behind them so when she passes she knows her family, what's left of it, are together.

Have you ever read a book where your heart breaks in every chapter? No? Well you're about to. I know half of you are saying, "I don't like reading books that make me sad!" and I get that, but this book is so important. Little story- when I was 20 I got my first job post college working a program assistant for a senior volunteer program. I knew right away I was going to love it. Within five months my boss came to my desk and told me to come on, grab my jacket and purse, we're going to a funeral.

Taken aback, I didn't know who had passed away and to be honest, I had never been to a funeral before so I wasn't sure what to do. So I grabbed my things and my boss drove us straight to a cemetery and there were two people standing over a patch of dirt. One was a non denominational pastor and one was an older woman who was the across the hall neighbor of the woman in the ground, who was previously a volunteer of ours before I had started. Not one family member was there and I thought it was so strange- who dies alone? Well this woman did. Apparently years ago (like 30+) she had a falling out with her daughter and they stopped talking. She never got to see her grandchildren grow up, or know that she had great grandchildren. After the rather short service we all left and it really bothered me. I felt like we should have called her daughter, or someone, surely someone would have wanted to come, and my boss just looked at me and said, "You're young, but this is a lesson that nothing is worth it." It has stuck with me all of this time and no matter how angry or hurt I am at a family member, I think of that volunteer.

But back to this book. It's really what happens here- an event happens and one daughter isn't sure what she saw but given the events of the rest of the day she puts two and two together and the anger she feels is unprecedented. Because not only are the events that day bad enough, but a few weeks later, there is a second event that she is SURE is tied to the first one so now she's REALLY mad. The book alternates between Jess, Audrey, and Lily's point of view and also has flash backs from the past as the story unravels and you get the big secret and everything starts clicking in place.

If I have to give a critique? I wish the secret came out a lot sooner. I understand why it came when it did but I felt like it could have been bumped up a little so we could get an epilogue. If ever there was a book that should have an epilogue, it's this one. I want a year later. Something. There are like three things that are minor but I would have liked to see them have some kind of conclusion or an idea of how it might end.

You also need to go into this knowing that Jess and Lily aren't great characters. I didn't like Jess off the bat and I felt like she was probably exaggerating the entire thing (and I can't tell you if that's true or not), and Lily was cold but I started liking her and feeling sorry for her a lot sooner than I did Jess. It wasn't until damn near the very end where I was like, "OK- Jess is alright", I don't know what it was necessarily about her I didn't like. Audrey... I really felt bad for Audrey. I liked her straight away and I feel like she was probably like so many women in the 50's and 60's. They grow up with goals only to end up pregnant, getting married, and quickly your life becomes about raising this family- all of your aspirations fade away. It's only until the end of her life that she takes the time to regret some choices. There is a passage on page 141 that really resonated with me personally:
"I had it all worked out: I'd get someone to look after the baby while I was at lectures and I'd study in the evenings and at weekends when Edward wasn't at work. The plan was so clear and simple in my head, yet whenever I thought about actually writing the letter, I felt completely paralyzed. When I look back now, all I can is, What on earth stopped me? Why didn't I at least try? And however many times I ask myself that question, there's only ever one answer I can offer in response. Because I was scared. It's as simple as that."
That hit home. Of all the reasons I never went to a four year college to become a teacher or get an English degree, it was always fear. Getting a four year degree was always the plan, always the dream and I just never did it because I was scared to fail. I didn't think I could do it. It's out of reach now and I'm moved past it, and my new goal is to finish my book and get it published but I feel that same fear creeping up my neck. So when I read that passage I felt like, FINALLY!!! It's an explanation that makes sense and is communicated how I mean it.

I also have to tell you that while my heart broke in different ways, for different characters, the entire way.... the ending. Oh my god the ending. I was at Olivia's dance class reading this and full on sobbing in my car. Sobbing, you guys. It was equal parts happiness and sadness, which makes no sense unless you read this. This book is so great. 5 stars.

You can find this book in the HarperCollins store, which always has deals and coupons. You can also find it at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

A gigantic thank you to William Morrow, Hannah Beckerman, and TLC Book Tours for sending me my copy! This post contains affiliate links. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Book Review: The Price of Grace

Are you at all impressed at the reading streak I'm on??? For the first time this ENTIRE YEAR, I am caught up on my Goodreads challenge! I'm on track to finishing 150 books this year and that's pretty great because for a good couple of months I didn't think that was going to happen at all. HA!

The Price of Grace - Diana Munoz Stewart

Gracie Parish knows the true cost of trust. Rescued as a child by the infamous Parish family, she became a member of their covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Gracie saw her most precious relationships destroyed by secrecy. She learned long ago to protect her heart as well as her family's secrets.

Special Agent Leif "Dusty" McAllister will do anything to uncover the truth about the Parish family's covert operations. Dusty knows Gracie is his ticket in. He'll use everything he's got—fair, unfair, and just plain wrong—to break through her defenses. But the more he gets to know Gracie and her family's mission, the harder he starts to fall. Neither one is sure they'll get out of this with their lives—or their hearts—intact.

I always forget how much I love romantic suspense novels until I'm reading one and I ask myself why don't I read more of these?? I always enjoy them and this one is no exception. In fact, I have this sitting next to my books by Lora Leigh and Lisa Marie Rice because Diana Muñoz Stewart is on par with them. 
The great thing about this book is while it is book two in the Black Ops Confidential series, it works as a stand alone, too. That ended up being perfect because I read the first one, I Am Justice, last year and I really couldn't remember it. I know I liked it but the details were fuzzy. It's completely OK because the author gives you the highlights in this one so even if you aren't one to go back and read the first, you'll be just fine, pick this one up and have a good read. 
What impressed me in the first book was how the author gave us a really bad ass female lead who isn't a damsel in distress, and that carries over into this book. While these are different characters than in book one (which is why this is a fabulous stand alone), they are no less interesting and they keep you hooked. At first I wasn't actually sure that I liked Dusty because he came off as kind of an ass who would trample on anyone for his own agenda, and while that's what his plan is here, it spectacularly backfires and I kind of love it because someone needed to reel him in a bit. In book one I didn't love Justice because I felt like she was too alpha, but in this book I really did like Gracie. Gracie is exactly what I'd expect from a female character in a romantic suspense and, sue me, that's what I like. 
While this book comes in at 350ish pages, it is a FAST read. I'm not kidding. So much happens in this book all at once, you feel like you can't put the book down. I mean, a lot. It's also a little bit of a strange story, so it feels like you're trying to wrap your head around what's actually happening but at the same time saying, "Wait.... WHAT??" but more and more stuff is happening. Gracie's real identity is murky, at best, her family are all kind of off, and the idea that fighting oppression in women is best combated with... an army of vigilante women who commit violence is kind of odd and I don't really think that makes sense, but in a way... I get it? So even though this is a fictional book, it's a romantic suspense and you get all of that goodness, you also get to thinking about the current state of affairs in the world and what if this was real? Could you even imagine it? What if you were Gracie, how would you even handle all of this when your life is a really weird onion with bizarre layers you didn't know where there? 
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this. I'd say I liked this one more than I am Justice. There is a third book coming called The Cost of Honor, and I get to read that one too and I'm pretty dang excited. If you are looking for a book to shove in your purse to read between picking up kids or on your lunch break, definitely check this one out because you'll be completely entertained and absorbed into it. 

THANK YOU to Sourcebooks Casablanca and TLC  Book Tours for having me on this tour and sending a copy to me. This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Book Review: Invisible As Air

Invisible As Air - Zoe Fishman

Sylvie Snow knows the pressures of expectations: a woman is supposed to work hard, but never be tired; age gracefully, but always be beautiful; fix the family problems, but always be carefree. Sylvie does the grocery shopping, the laundry, the scheduling, the schlepping and the PTA-ing, while planning her son’s Bar Mitzvah and cheerfully tending her husband, Paul, who’s been lying on the sofa with a broken ankle. She’s also secretly addicted to the Oxycontin intended for her husband.

For three years, Sylvie has repressed her grief about the heartbreaking stillbirth of her newborn daughter, Delilah. On the morning of the anniversary of her death, when she just can’t face doing one…more…thing: she takes one—just one—of her husband’s discarded pain pills. And suddenly she feels patient, kinder, and miraculously relaxed. She tells herself that the pills are temporary, just a gift, and that when the supply runs out she’ll go back to her regularly scheduled programming.

But days turn into weeks, and Sylvie slips slowly into a nightmare. At first, Paul and Teddy are completely unaware, but this changes quickly as her desperate choices reveal her desperate state. As the Bar Mitzvah nears, all three of them must face the void within themselves, both alone and together.

I struggled through this one mostly because I really, really, really didn't like Sylvie. Paul was alright and, don't get me wrong, he had some pretty terrible tendencies and secrets in the aftermath of Delilah's death, but Sylvie... whoa boy, baby.

Now, I have never had a baby who was stillborn. I haven't. I've suffered a pretty awful miscarriage, I have died in childbirth and been irrevocably changed, but I've never handled a stillborn baby. Sylvie internalized her grief, and Paul kind of does too, and their then 9 year old son Teddy was kind of left in the wind, so to speak. Sylvie lashes out when people try to talk to her about Delilah because she believes SHE is the only one entitled to grieve as she is, and then gets mad that they aren't grieving enough and showing it. Sylvie and Paul's marriage is in a rut, Teddy is in middle school and completely awkward and trying to find his way and it all kind of begins imploding the day Sylvie takes one of the pain pills Paul was prescribed for his ankle.

At first Paul and Teddy don't notice anything other than she's happier and not lashing out at them as often. Once the prescription runs out Sylvie, fully addicted and in complete denial, starts making desperate choices, which leads to everything coming to a head.

Out of all the characters, I felt the most for Teddy. Maybe because he's my son's age and I know how confusing life is for a boy with puberty and all of these social changes but add on to that your mom basically being an addict and feeling like you have no control of anything, and I just wanted to give him a hug the entire time.

I also have to mention that in a way, I could relate to Sylvie in the beginning. The rage of knowing who didn't reach out at all, the ones who dropped off a meal and really quietly disappear from your life, the ones who don't really want to know when they ask how you're doing, or the ones who just awkwardly ignore the fact anything happened in the first place. Don't get me wrong, for as much as I didn't like Sylvie, I absolutely understood the desire to just be numb and slip away for awhile, to be able to turn off all the noise.

Overall? I'm going to give this one 4 stars. It has a few hiccups in it but I flew through this one because you constantly want to know what's going to happen. It flips from Sylvie, Paul, and Teddy's point of view so you can see all sides of this train wreck before it happen. An absolutely appropriately timed book given the crisis to prescription medication addiction and how the everyday addict is now becoming the PTA mom, the mom who leads the playgroup, your coworker, etc. I highly recommend this one.

A good option is to head over to the HarperCollins website to pick this one up- it would make for a really great book club read.

A huge thank you to William Morrow Books, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours for having me on this review tour. This post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Roundup: The Athena Protocol and I Am Heathcliff

Honestly, I am never going to complain about having too many books to review, I just wish that there were more days of the week! Tomorrow I will have a recap of some fun family stuff so look forward to that. I have so many great books coming up for you and honestly, I don't know if your credit card (or library) can handle it. I don't. Something for literally EVERYBODY.

It's not too soon to start thinking about Christmas. Stop buying kids and people junk and toys- buy books. Books are so much more fun and gets your brain working. Here are a couple to consider:

The Athena Protocol - Shamim Sarif

Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.

I'm a fan of a good YA book, and this one delivers. So many teens have a hard time finding a book read and to that I say- try a thriller. A thriller is something we can all get into and it gives you that physical, almost anxious/panicky feeling when danger is right there and that's what keeps someone hooked. Make no mistake, this book gives you that. We have danger, human trafficking, we have an LGBTQ lead character, a female secret spy (!!!) and we have some relationships that keep it all twisty (a struggling parent/child relationship, and a bit of a romance that I didn't feel like was very front and center but kind of in the background). I really, really enjoyed this one and managed to finish it in the course of a weekend. This feels more like it could be compared to Divergent versus Hunger Games, and a little bit of The Darkest Minds. It's the grownups doing things they very much shouldn't and the teens having to make it right. I know this is marketed as YA but I'd really say this is more suited for high school and not so much middle school. Yes, I know middle school is reading more mature books but this one feels like it would make more sense to an older teen. At least an older teen could start to think of some of the greater implications of some of the topics brought up in this book. Also? This has a badass lead female, so if you are all about girl power, this is your jam! A solid 4 stars from me!

Shamim Sarif has partnered with Headwaters Relief Organization that works in disaster-stricken areas to educate vulnerable families about human trafficking, which sadly, is something incredibly common worldwide. If you order your copy of The Athena Protocol from the Headwaters Relief Organization, she will donate a portion of the proceeds to their global efforts to fight and prevent this hidden aftermath of disasters. If you are a teacher and/or librarian, or know one who teaches at the high school level, consider purchasing a copy (or more!) of this book from this site. I promise you it will get read and you'll be working for a great cause. If you want more information about this organization or cause, you can find their website HERE

Thank you to HarperCollins Publishers and Shamim Sarif for my copy for review! Can we also comment on this cool cover and how much I love it?? 

I Am Heathcliff - Kate Mosse

16 modern fiction superstars shine a startling light on the romance and pain of the infamous literary pair Heathcliff and Cathy.
Short stories to stir the heart and awaken vital conversation about love.

If you are a long term reader of this blog you know that years ago I borrowed Wuthering Heights from my local library when I had a goal of reading nothing but classics for a summer challenge. I failed miserably and it turns out I didn't understand the book at all and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I ended up reading a dumbed down version of the book, which was so bizarre but I at least understood it and I still didn't like it. 


I really like short stories and if there ever is a time that I want to feel like I'm flying through a book, I read a book of short stories. The great thing about this one is that while there are 16 stories in here, it is just under 300 pages so most of the stories are only a few pages and you can easily get one or two done while you're waiting for your kid in the pick up line at school, or before bed. Each one is really interesting and different than the last, written by different authors, which also makes it feel fresh because each had a really different writing voice.

The great part of this isn't the readability of this, it's that the curator, and every writer within, recognize what a powerhouse Emily Bronte was and still is. She paved the way for every female writer since her and I am completely here for this if only for that reason.

Admittedly, a couple of the stories were not great and I didn't care for them, a couple of them were amazing and I wanted more of the story (more and more pages!) and from the writer. One was a bit odd to me, I can see where a few have some English humor to it that you might not catch right away, but it is just so well put together.

Overall? I'm giving this 3 stars, only because it's basically the average of each story in the book. I enjoyed this one and that's saying something because Wuthering Heights just was not my jam (because Heathcliff kind of felt like a creep and I don't know, it just didn't do it for me in any way but I tried to remember the time period and yeah... even still- can't like the guy). If you have a fan of the classics, maybe someone who likes a little twist to a classic or even re-tellings, and obviously massive fans of Wuthering Heights and/or Emily Bronte will enjoy this. It did her justice, just as it should.

I am so excited that The Borough Press and Harper Collins sent me this beautiful book for review! I feel so fancy and smart when people see it on my shelf or table. Ha!

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