Monday, July 26, 2021

Book Review: Luck of the Titanic

Happy Monday! I have such a busy week ahead of me loaded with kid doctor appointments, therapy for me, and it ends with Lucy turning FIVE. You guys- my baby is going to be FIVE. It means that I am five years post AFE and I have a lot of feelings about it. I just... this is always a hard week for me anyways, full of trauma memories and PTSD triggers that I cannot avoid, so I am kicking myself in the ass for scheduling so much this week. I originally thought it would be better if I was busy and had no time to think about things, but I am now realizing that was incredibly stupid because I'm just thinking about them while I'm doing things and I'm crying in the middle of errands. I pumped gas in full tears. Why? I saw a pregnant woman getting into a car. Nice to see I'm back to being terrified of pregnant women again. Sigh.  

Luck of the Titanic - Stacey Lee

Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise, though, she's turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese people aren't allowed into America.

But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother, Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is on board, as is an influential circus owner. Thankfully, there's not much a trained acrobat like Val can't overcome when she puts her mind to it.

As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, audition for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America.

Then one night, the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val's dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival. 
It is really going to pain me to write this review, but you guys know I'm totally honest with reviews, so I can't lie to you- this one was terrible. I almost DNF'ed it, and I wish I would have. Luck of the Titanic was the book chosen for Once Upon a Book Club's "The Unsinkable Ship" box and I obviously figured out the book and the theme of the box right away. I mean, there is only one unsinkable ship, the Titanic. I was already torn about this because we already know what happens to the Titanic, it isn't like someone could re-write history and have it not sink, and frankly, your characters are either going to die or make it to New York to basically assume a new identity. We already know all of this. 

Of course, this book followed that outline, some characters die and some make it, and considering our main characters are twins Val and Jamie, you can already start making some guesses. Let's talk about those characters though, because they were part of the reason I didn't like this book. Val is really.... selfish. She's incredibly selfish and she believes her dream is automatically shared by Jamie because they are twins. She fails to recognize it's very much not Jamie's dream and she ignores all of the strife Jamie has gone through, mostly for her, and she literally only thinks about herself. She makes all of these plans and just assumes Jamie will agree and go along with it, never once considering that maybe, just maybe he likes his life now. It's like that can't even be a faint possibility to her. Jamie is no saint either, he's the king of avoiding confrontation and instead of setting Val in her place quickly and once and for all, he does what he can to appease her and putting off conversations until it's too late. Never mind the fact that he should have written home, at least, to tell her how he really felt so she's not making all of these crazy plans. 

Easily the most interesting part of this book is the timeliness of the story with current events involving Asian Americans and blatant racism making an outrageous comeback. We don't hear about the "lower class" travelers on the Titanic, mainly only the upper class and how luxurious their cruise was supposed to be. Reading about the other end of that spectrum was interesting, but also having the Chinese Exclusion Act highlighted was what made me not DNF this book. That is literally the only positive about this book, and I'm being generous because it was sloppily included in this book, maybe to solely make it relevant or get it on a list of books highlighting racism to increase sales, I don't know. I just know that if it wasn't in here I wouldn't have picked this up otherwise, and while it was interesting, is it done well enough for me to suggest you read it? Nope. 

I also don't know what the actual point to the insane amount of back story, completely unnecessary to the story. The idea that they would somehow convince an American circus owner they are good enough to be a circus act? Nuts at best. Val helping a fashion designer out of nowhere on the ship? WHY?! Why add this? It felt like the author was really grasping at straws to pull this one together and it just really fell flat. 
Usually the fun part about Once Upon a Book Club boxes is that the gifts in the box are super fun, connect you to the story, and just make it an actual experience. These gifts? The worst. It felt like even they were grasping. We have a ticket inside of a folio, the cheapest pair of slippers I have ever seen, a golden whale, and a feather. No, I'm not joking, a feather. Yes, they are all tied to the story so I can't knock that, but literally everything was tossed into the trash. So disappointing. 

I'm a little unsure of the other box I have sitting here, but we'll see. It's not enough to make me cancel my subscription, but June feels like a total bummer of a month for OUABC. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Book Review: Ordinarily Extraordinary

Hi friends! I feel like I've read quite a lot of non-fiction this year but honestly, I'm here for it. It really feels like this is the year for it and luckily for you, I have another one I think you should read. 

Ordinarily Extraordinary - Patrick P. Long

When Patrick Long’s wife, Melanie, suffers a terrifying stroke at the age of 45, a medical battle ensues that threatens to devastate their already cancer-altered lives. As Patrick strives to maintain normal routines for their four young children, he struggles through confrontations with doctors while watching Melanie suffer mysterious episodes that continually impair her speech.

Throughout weeks of distressing setbacks, Patrick reflects on their lives, candidly revealing marital clashes, personal trauma, deeply held secrets, failures, and regrets—along with the recognition of Melanie’s indomitable spirit that bolsters him even when cancer’s worst consequence takes the fight from them. Determined to set a positive tone for their family, Patrick rejects pity and finds inspiration in the extraordinary community surrounding them, vowing to not just survive, but thrive.

Ordinarily Extraordinary is a captivating true story interspersed with humor and wondrous revelations of the human experience. This fascinatingly rare and unique perspective of a surviving husband and father is a beautifully uplifting story of love and anger, life and death, and hope and inspiration.
I'll be honest, I thought I was going to fly through this but instead I found myself really struggling. Not because it was bad in any way, quite the opposite, it was so very good and it really hit home for me. If you know me in real life you know that I had a significant medical event, and while it wasn't cancer and I am obviously here to tell the tale, it has impacted my life greatly. Not just mine, but the lives of everyone in our family. My husband has really gone through the wringer, everything from thinking I was dead, to finding out I wasn't dead but likely heavily impaired, to realizing he was going to be a sole provider for six people, to getting me home and realizing that yes, I was truly impaired, to always worrying about me being OK while trying to keep four kids on the right path, and everyone housed and fed. It's a lot for one person to shoulder, and he does it well. 

A lot of what Patrick talks about in this book really reminded me of my husband. It was like getting a peak into his mind because the emotions laid bare in this book are so eloquently written and I felt like I was going through it again. Also having four children, I could identify with the same struggles and just the juggling act that four very different children, all at different stages, brings. I really wanted to just hug all of the kids because kids just are silent warriors sometimes and it's not for a lack of feeling, sometimes it's so much feeling and they kind of freeze up. Then to have all of these high (and low) emotions under one roof is so much and it is so hard. 

Patrick and Melanie's marriage wasn't perfect, but it was theirs. So many of their arguments were the same ones I have had with my husband. Similar struggles, similar arguments, so many of the same feelings. I was moved by how affected I was from this book that I feel like I'm struggling to tell you how much you should read this. While I think this is a touching memoir that anyone who has lost a loved one, especially to cancer, or witnessed someone struggle medically and have felt helpless, this is an amazing read for couples. So many of the situations they went through are incredibly common but all of them are things we always believe we won't go through. Not us, we're healthy, we have good jobs, we REALLY love each other, etc. 

Life obstacles literally care about none of that. Fate is cruel, the future is unpredictable, and life is hard. Those are the only things you can count on. 

This is a beautiful book. Melanie sounds like she was a pretty amazing person, and anyone who can befriend a bill collector is pretty alright in my book. I highly recommend this one. I also highly recommend loving on the people you have while you have them. Extra hard. 
This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Spotlight: No Spring Chicken

Happy Wednesday! I hope you've been having a really great day, I've been riding the struggle bus. Out of nowhere last night I had crazy leg pain/restless leg issues, so of course I wasn't sleeping well. Fast forward today and I felt like a zombie and my body decided it was done around 10:45 a.m. so I fell asleep until 3:00 p.m.!!! It was totally crazy and I still don't feel rested or better. Such is the world of chronic illness, the unpredictability of it is really frustrating. 

Which brings me to No Spring Chicken, the latest from Francine Falk-Allen,  a perfect guide for those of us with chronic conditions or even just the folks aging gracefully (or not). I absolutely loved how she writes with humor that disabled and handicapped people seem to have because if you don't laugh, you'll cry. The first section is mainly of her travels and obstacles discovered along the way. The second section really hit home for me because I think that while the changes I've gone through have been tough for me, it's really been a change for my four children who are used to me being active and ready to always go. It's also inspired me to look into water therapy more seriously. It's always been a "maybe I should" in the back of my head but especially as I get older, it's becoming more of a "do it now" reality. The last section, of course, is about finding your community, your support system of people in similar circumstances as you because truly, nobody understands unless they are in it. I really need to work on that more as well. 

No Spring Chicken - Francine Falk-Allen

As we age, we all begin to have physical difficulties to contend with.

In No Spring Chicken, Francine Falk-Allen―a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability―offers her own take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). The handbook is divided into three sections: Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls in several parts of the world; Part II addresses the adaptation people who love a handicapped or aging person could make in order to have a lighter, more mutually rewarding relationship with him or her, as well as advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding self-care, exercise, pain management, healthcare, and more; and Part III discusses the challenges, rewards and logistics of engaging with groups of people who share similar issues.

Accessible and wryly funny, No Spring Chicken is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.
In the meantime, I have a great Q&A that Francine graciously did and that I really enjoyed. I think it'll give you a better idea of her writing style, but also what to expect while reading. Enjoy! 

Author Q&A – Francine Falk-Allen 

  1. Tell us about your new book. 


No Spring Chicken addresses what we all face eventually: aging and the physical difficulties that can ensue.


I’m a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability, and offer my take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls; Part II addresses the adaptations caregivers can make for a mutually rewarding relationship with their loved ones, plus advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding exercise, diet, pain management, mobility, care tips and more; and Part III discusses the rewards of engaging with support groups sharing similar issues, with a little activism and advocacy for good measure.

I’m told it’s accessible and wryly funny, and is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.


  1. What inspired you to write it? 


Well, again, I have a lifetime of experience to share about how to take care of oneself with a physical challenge, handicap or disability, and enjoy life as much as possible at the same time. I thought it would be useful to those facing the later years of life, or even younger people with a disability, or family and friends who are perhaps stumped about how to face their loved one’s challenges.


  1. What is the one aspect that you hope readers learn from it? 


I hope they take away that there is almost always something we can do to improve at least one aspect of our condition, if not many, and to keep functioning as best we can in order to enjoy whatever opportunities present themselves to us.


  1. As family members age, what should we keep in mind? 


That they are the same people they have always been with the same needs and desires, and they want to keep participating in life to the extent possible. Also, generally, aging people could use a little or even a lot of assistance, but most of us hate to ask, and only ask when it’s a dire necessity. There are exceptions of course, but most people I know prefer to be as independent as possible. So chipping in more than you used to without an air of “You should have asked me for help” or “Mom, you aren’t keeping your house clean enough anymore” is likely to be appreciated.


  1. What adaptations should we make for our loved ones? 


Ask what is most needed rather than assuming we know. Remember that walking can become more difficult and think about what you can do to make this accommodation. For instance, renting a mobility scooter for family outings or vacations can allow Grandma or Mom to participate fully. A friend surprised me with this on a vacation in Hawaii and it made all the difference; I had a much better time since I could not walk the long distance to the beach or even to the pool in the complex, and it was helpful when we went shopping as well.


  1. You have traveled many places as someone living with a disability. What are your favorite places to travel? 


Ooh, there are so many great places. I love Maui, Hawaii; Edinburgh, Scotland; New Orleans, LA; Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, BC, Canada; Kilkenny, Ireland; New York City, NY; and of course, Paris, France.


  1. What do you look for when deciding on a vacation spot? 


My husband and I both like places with beautiful scenery, and/or perhaps some culture such as concerts, or music clubs. We sometimes go to museums as well, but find that we can only do a couple of hours of a museum before we start to feel overwhelmed. We also are very interested in history and the culture of the people in the area we visit, and we like places with very good restaurants. (I start to feel ill if we eat too much fast food or simple carbs.) We sometimes plan a trip in order to see friends or family, also. For getting around, there have to be paved walkways for my scooter, or we take a lot of cabs or rent a car. I cannot go for long walks, but like to go places where I can scoot around, and then get off the scooter and walk a bit and see things up close, or sit in a park or on a beach and read. Sometimes I paint a watercolor, so I appreciate a really nice view.


With regard to lodging, my first priority is that the hotel is easy and either has an elevator or is one-story, since stairs are very difficult for me, and also has food service in case I’m too tired to go out. Next would be that if there is not a restaurant in the hotel, there is one next door! And I always try for a place with a warm accessible pool if possible. I always call ahead to make sure the staff does not put us down a long hallway, because then sometimes I may be able to go to the lobby or restaurant without needing to use my mobility scooter.


  1. Share some of your favorite self-care tips. 


I do a little yoga and core strengthening every single morning, and I do pool therapy a few days a week. Stretching and keeping up what strength you have is important in order to stay mobile. I also avoid eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically, white foods!) but I do try to eat a large amount of vegetables! It’s important to keep weight down, or to at least not become obese, to avoid or keep in check joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And of course all that helps just to assist yourself in feeling great so that you have a positive attitude. Also, I rest regularly, and sometimes take a little nap, and get at least six or seven hours sleep every night. I think meals or tea dates with friends, reading good books, watching inspiring movies and spending time outdoors are also great ways to reduce stress and increase a feeling of peace and well being.


  1. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an activist? 


Look for others who are already activists in the issues you care about. Someone has probably already got a group going and would love your participation and assistance and perhaps your knowledge and experience. If you can’t find that, you can start a group; I describe how to do that in my book. If you are housebound, you can research on a computer and stay informed with news on PBS and other reliable channels, and there are websites you can access which recommend what actions you can take, such as signing petitions or donating money, or making phone calls. Some groups will continue meeting on Zoom now that that is established. I am on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility committee in my town, which has met via Zoom during the pandemic, and I started a polio support group some years ago.


  1. Anything else you would like to add? 


I truly hope people will buy and enjoy No Spring Chicken, or ask for it at their local library, and suggest it to their friends and family. If they do, it’s helpful to the success of any book, especially for someone who is not a celebrity author, to leave a very good rating or review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble or Walmart’s book review pages. Do remember that anything less than four or five stars is considered poor, though, by the algorithms that run those sites.


Even if people don’t read either of my books (my first book was Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, about growing up with a disability and navigating the world as a women with a disability), I hope that everyone who has physical difficulty is finding ways to keep on enjoying life! That’s what I’m intending to do. Later this year, we’re hoping to visit someplace like Hawaii or New Mexico, where there is a high number of vaccinated people and a low incidence of the Covid-19 virus. Happy trails to all!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Life Update: Shots, Birds, Rocks, and Summer

I haven't done a life update in such a long time, so I thought this week I would for sure give you one. I'm going to slow down on posting too many photos because Olivia and Jackson now hate it, but also, I'm so lazy. I mean, I'm just being honest. I am so exhausted and sorting photos for this takes a lot of work and I have to prioritize.  

Let's talk life though. 

Olivia and Jackson are fully vaccinated and we're all pretty excited. We're all still wearing our masks because we're cautious and I don't want to fully rely on a vaccine. That, and I don't want us to pass any germs we might have onto anyone else inadvertently. We are all excited for the upcoming school year and we're hopeful it'll be more "normal". 
We have baby robins in our play house. The little girls are super excited about it. This was taken awhile ago, the birds are now hatched and kind of big, but also incredibly noisy. Matt thinks they are getting ready to leave, so I'm REALLY hoping they all make it out because if there ends up being a dead bird in my yard all hell will break loose. I don't need that kind of mayhem. 
We have been spending most days outside. Fortunately we've had really great weather, even the hot days are totally manageable for me and for that, I am grateful. 
We bought a larger pool so the kids are loving that. I am going to sign Penelope and Lucy up for swim lessons, hopefully in August. Penelope tried soccer last month and let's just say it wasn't her thing. 
Lucy is signed up for a dance tumbling class for about a month and then two camps that are one day long. She's loving it, but we're noticing that she's kind of a target for mean kids. For whatever reason, kids who are rough, or a general pain in the ass, go after Lucy and she literally just takes it. I mean, kids have hit her, stomped on her feet, just poke her continuously, etc. and she just takes it because she thinks SHE will get into trouble if she tells a teacher. Sigh. She's such a sweet little girl, I can't imagine why other kids want to be mean to her. 
Our Fourth of July was really great. It's actually one of my favorite holidays, I think because we get to have dedicated family time and it feels different. We watched the parade in the morning, Olivia was playing flute in her high school band, we had a great BBQ lunch with Matt's family, then we went to a local lawn party with music to watch fireworks. We actually had never been to this one so it was a nice little change and we might stick with that for next year. 

Other than that, we have a ton of medical things going on (more on that later), I'm trying to organize supplies and clothes for the upcoming school year, I'm trying so hard to keep up on housework and stuff but I'm struggling. I'm so tired all of the time and now I'm dizzy all the time, nauseous a lot of the time so it's just so much harder than it really should be. Matt and I are working on planning a little family road trip for us in August, at this point I'm not sure if it is even going to happen, but I'm optimistic. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Book Review: Priest

I swear tomorrow I'll have a life update kind of post for you. Today though, we talk about a book that took me months to read and even still... I'm not sure if I missed the hype or what. 

Priest - Sierra Simone

There are many rules a priest can't break.
A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.

I've always been good at following rules.
Until she came.
My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I'm twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again.
I am a priest and this is my confession.

Listen. I officially started this book in February. It is now July. I was going to DNF it but when I tell you this is heavily recommended in so many romance book groups I am in so I felt like I had to stick with it. Surely, the best would still come, right?

I mean, it wasn't terrible. It really wasn't. Was it amazing and so swoon worthy that I would recommend it in a romance book group? Good lord, no. (HA! See what I did there? I crack myself up!)

This book begins with Father Tyler Bell, a relatively young priest who is doing it to somehow avenge his sister's death, though I don't really feel like that whole plot piece was fleshed out enough. Maybe if we knew a little more about what specifically happened to his sister it would have made sense? Because what we do learn doesn't feel like enough to basically give up your life to take a vow of celibacy, but you know, do you, boo boo. 

Of course, in walks Poppy. (Let me quickly interject how much I love the name Poppy.) She has a relatively sordid past, so she decides going to confession in a Catholic church in this random new town she has moved to is the best way to start off a new life. For whatever reason though, Poppy and her voice rocks Tyler's world and thus he begins the downward slide to hell. Well, not really, but I can tell you some really inappropriate things happens on the piano, the floor, a pew, and with oil they bless people with. 

I'm not one with the church but even I wanted to go cover Jesus's eyes because dang. The scenes are steamy, especially if you like a dominate male, so don't cross it off. I also liked how respectful he was, not just because he was a priest breaking his vow, and perhaps his sister's memory played a part in that, but I really liked that. Of course we have a romance with people who poorly communicate, an ex comes in, things blow up, blah, blah, blah. The book is horribly predictable and almost eye roll worthy towards the end, but I did like how Tyler handles it better than Poppy, to be honest. 

I can't give you anything more without spoiling it, but this is a solid 3 star. It's really a 2.5 for me, but I'll round up because I'm in a good mood. 

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Book Rundown: Love, Y'all

I have so many books I have stacked on my desk and I just can't get them all in separate posts so we're going to do a run down so you find out about them and I can borrow them out to people. Only reputable people because you know, nobody likes a book stealer/loser. 

Love Square - Laura Jane Williams

A fun romance about a lady who was unlucky in love until she just wasn't. Her prospects are literally lining up and she's having a hard time trying to decide which guy to go with. To be honest, this is a 2... maybe a 3 rounded up star read for me. If I had to pick one thing that was hard for me, I'd say it was Penny. Penny is really hard to like and I felt like she had OBVIOUS choices she should make and she's over here hemming and hawing about it. I'll also say the steamy scenes were pretty PG/not steamy at all so it almost doesn't feel like you can even call this a romance. 

How Y'all Doing? Leslie Jordan
You guys. I love Leslie Jordan so much. I started really following and learning about him during quarantine, so when I knew this was coming out I was all about it. ALL about it. I picked it up on a whim and you guys... I was kind of disappointed. Not because it's terrible but because I wanted so much more. I really wanted juicy, gossipy stories. I watch his Instagram and I would literally holler because his stories are completely wild. I just didn't think they were wild in the book. I did really love his coffee shop story when he stood up to a complete asshole because I could just absolutely picture it. I just wish there was more of it. 
OK, I think that's it for minis. I might have a couple more minis for you later this week- so stay tuned! I have other reviews for this week and I might even give you a life update. ;)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Book Review: A Winter Night

Once again, I am screwed up on my days of the week. I barely got it together to do my therapy appointment today, but tomorrow Olivia has one at 8 a.m. Fun fact- I have the HARDEST time ever waking up before 10. I'm not even kidding. It was bad before my AFE but now it's just ridiculous. I have to take my cortisol medication because your body has cortisol that is all, "hey- wake up, loser" but my body has none of that. So it's like dragging me from death's sleep and asking me to function.  

It doesn't go well. 

Somehow I need to do it tomorrow. Honestly I even considered not going to sleep tonight because it might be easier. 

A Winter Night - Anne Leigh Parrish

34-year-old Angie Dugan struggles with many things--anxiety, her career as a social worker in a retirement home, and her difficult family. Her biggest struggle, though, is finding love. When she meets Matt, she's swept away by his attention. As issues from his past come up she wonders if she can trust him. Should she break it off, or give him another chance? In the end, all she can do is listen to her heart, and evaluate what she wants most.
Well, this book comes in at 245 pages and at times, it really felt like the longest book I had ever read. It isn't, of course, but the writing style is definitely one that took me a bit to get used to. Not that it's written poorly, quite the opposite, but the main character goes through life and her issues rather slowly and the writing basically matches it. So, maybe that was intentional? The chapters are rather short though so if you're a chapter or two kind of reader, this will be right up your alley. 

I'm a bit at a loss on how much to write because there are so many things that are addressed in this book, but all done in an exacting way that you don't want to ruin it. I do love the idea of second chances and listening to your heart or what others say and how sometimes that's just what you need to do. Also, I love how anxiety is addressed in the story but also her family. Her issues with her family are what made Angie endearing to me, and I found myself rooting for her so she could build the family she needs. It's definitely an emotional book, have a tissue or two handy! The problems Angie faces throughout the book is relatable, her responses to them are relatable, and it just might encourage you to throw caution to the wind in your own life. 

I'd give this one a solid 4 stars. I didn't know that the author had other books featuring the Dugan family, and now that I've gotten a glimpse into it, I'd be interested in reading the others. She is definitely an author I'd pick up again. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Anne Leigh Parrish for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review! 

This post contains affiliate links.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Book Review: In Hindsight

I am so behind in life right now and I just realized next weekend is the Fourth of July. I mean, WHAT?! I have always felt like once the Fourth of July comes, summer is basically all down hill from then. I hate that because we haven't done anything, I don't have anything planned, I'm just forever playing catch up and feeling overwhelmed. I don't understand how it even gets this way. 

In Hindsight - Sharon Bonanno & Lisa Scott

Lisa and Sharon are sisters who grew up together in what appeared to be a typical suburban family. After their parents divorced, they lived with their mother in the same house throughout their childhoods and visited their father every other weekend. From the outside, everything looked fine. But by their twenties, their lives diverted radically. While Sharon moved into a career, started a family, and embarked on her adult life, Lisa tumbled in a downward spiral of lying, addiction, depression, and shame.

In this woven memoir, the sisters share the memories of their childhoods and examine the differences between their personalities and perspectives that led them down such different paths. Through it all they shared a bond that kept them connected and allowed them not only to overcome trauma and challenges, but to achieve overwhelming success. It’s their hope that with this book, you too can see that it’s possible to not only overcome your situation, but ultimately thrive and become the person you want to be.

For me, this was an interesting read and it really begs the question, is it nature or is it nurture? In this case, we have sisters from the same background, who go through the same issues, but they each go in wildly different directions. One goes on to be successful and living a rather great life, while the other sister goes on to struggle with addiction and depression and would definitely not say her life was great in any way. Because of this difference in lifestyle, their sisterly relationship takes a hit and it takes them a considerable amount of time to work through that. 

That's the gist of this book. 

One of the best lines in this book that had me screaming, "YES!!" was on page 51: 

"It is devastating not to be offered help. I know this is in great part my own fault. I look capable; I look like I'm in control. I put off an air that tells people, "Stay out of my way and let me take care of things." Independence is freeing and also isolating." 

I have never connected with a line of a book more than that one. I know in my own struggles with disability, I look just fine. I look like I can run circles around everyone, but if you put me to the task? I will fail. I will also go into a depression spiral because feeling like I can't do it is such a blow to my self esteem and self worth, and that is when I am reminded that I'm not the same anymore. 

It's really hard to accept that. But it's also hard for people to accept it because gosh, I just look like I'm dandy. 

I haven't even been addicted to drugs, but I felt like I really could relate to Lisa the most. Her feelings of inadequacy throughout really hit home and I found myself nodding along in agreement. On the other hand, I understood Sharon at the same time because I was that kid and I know I struggle to understand, and relate, to others who need help. I can be too trusting at times and sometimes think I can fix someone. It's really a terrible trait because I inevitably get walked all over and then wonder why this always happens to me. 

I really think no matter the kind of person you are, you can relate to one (or both) of the sisters. I loved this book, I got through it in one sitting. It's only 165 pages and is written in an easy, conversational tone. If you are someone who is battling addiction yourself, or you have someone close to you is addicted, this is a really hopeful, encouraging book for both of you. Sometimes we can't get others to understand our point of view, and this will definitely do that. 

Thank you to Claire McKinney PR, Sharon Bonanno and Lisa Scott for having me on this tour and sending a copy for review to me.  

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Book Review: Lockdown Hair (children's literature)

Now today is Friday eve and I'm here for it. I have a busy day of appointments, tennis, and dance and I am going to be exhausted by the time my head hits the pillow. I was just telling Matt that it feels like summer is going by at lightening speed but we haven't done anything. Well, we've done our anniversary trip, but that's it. We have to do something with the kids because they ask EVERY DAY if we're going to do anything fun this summer. Which.... we are, I just need to get it together and make actual plans. 

Lockdown Hair - Linda Steinbock

Uh oh! Siona's family needs her help!

Siona is worried about her mum going back to work at her hair salon while a dangerous virus is on the loose, making so many people sick! Siona decides to do something to help her mum cut hair and stay safe at the same time. She comes up with some creative and ingenious solutions, but will they work?

This fully-illustrated children's book serves as a humorous and sensitive way to introduce children to a public health crisis, lockdowns and the pandemic’s effects on working families. Siona comes up with clever, compassionate ways to keep her mum safe, all while learning to turn fear and anxiety into positive, constructive action. A perfect book for any family to inspire a conversation about ""the new normal"" during the pandemic.
I have to say, I really loved this. Penelope and Lucy did too, and they also offered some.... interesting suggestions on how to cut someone's hair from far away (one involved throwing scissors so yeah... we've put them up a bit higher). This book talks about people who had to go back to work during the height of the Covid crisis. In this care, Seona's mom works in a salon and the time has come for her mom to go back to work, but Seona is really worried about her mom getting sick, a fear many children have had for their parents in all kinds of professions. Her mom basically says she has to because have you seen what people have done to their own hair and guys- I SNORTED. I have spent a lot of time watching Covid hair disaster videos because WHY, people, WHY?! 

So right from the start, I was all in. 

Seona goes through each of the steps that her mom does while cutting hair and she thinks of creative alternatives that allow her mom to remain six feet away from people. If you like books that let you ask some discussion questions that allow for comprehension when reading, this book is PERFECT! You can have kids give their ideas, or make a list at the end of the book like Seona does. It's such a cute story that also reinforces that nobody is too small to have big ideas or to put change into motion, something we should be telling children all of the time. 

Also, the watercolor illustrations by Alexandra Rusu are so wonderful! Illustrators don't always get shout outs, but truly, these are pretty great. 

A huge thank you to Red Clover Digital for sending me a copy for review. 

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Book Review: Gigi at the White House (children's literature)

Can I just say YAY that it's Friday eve eve ? Because this week has been rough. Tomorrow and Friday we have a bunch of things going on, but Pep finishes soccer this weekend, and apparently I'm carpool for Olivia and a boy this weekend. So you know, they are all out living their best life and I'm just reading in my car. I mean, good news is I'll hopefully finish up a couple of books I've been working through, but I also wouldn't hate doing that with snacks in bed either, you know? 

Gigi at the White House! - Giovanna McBride

Many children have at least one special opportunity to visit their parents at work, and this was true for Gigi McBride whose mother had a very unique job—she worked at the White House. During the George W. Bush administration, Gigi had many adventures visiting her mother Anita McBride,Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush. Now that she is a college student with a love of children's literature, she decided to share her special memories of her visits to the White House from 2005 to 2009 when she was 4 to 8 years old. She hopes that the book will encourage children to learn more about the White House and life as lived there. With illustrations by artist John Hutton, this book features Gigi's favorite stories of the fun she had exploring the White House at the Easter Egg Roll, Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas, and the friends that she made, including First Lady Laura Bush, the Secret Service, the White House Pastry Chefs, and the White House florist.

This title is the third in a continuing series of children's books launched by the White House Historical Association in 2020 with A White House Alphabet and Presidents Play!
I'm a big fan of children's literature so anytime I get to review one, it's pretty great. I read this one to Penelope and Lucy, and though they are still pretty young and don't really understand what Presidents are and what the White House is, they enjoyed this one. They also asked me why we can't go to the Easter Egg Roll, and I had to explain to them that we don't live anywhere near there and it isn't like a "come one, come all" kind of thing. I mean, that would be a LOT of eggs. 

The book follows Gigi as she recalls all of her favorite things to do and see at the White House. She was a pretty lucky kid to have had all of the opportunities she did, but her mother was also the Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush and was able to visit between the ages of 4 and 8, the age range my youngest daughters fall into. It's a fast read, and my kindergartner-going into first grade kiddo could read a lot of the words herself, so this would definitely make a fun first reader book. 

The illustrations throughout are done by John Hutton, and they are pretty great on their own. The faces of people throughout are SO well done that you can tell who they are without having to drop names. I also really loved that the inside covers has the portraits of all 46 Presidents- the girls had a real fun time trying to mimic their faces (Franklin Roosevelt looks like he's being electrocuted, it's easily my favorite one). I also didn't know the White House had its own flower shop, and for some reason, I had no idea it had a pool. To be fair, I've never been on a tour of the White House so maybe if I had I would have known that. But overall it's a cute overlook at what it might be like to be a child within the White House. 

Thank you to The White House Historical Association for sending me a copy for review. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Book Review: The Mary Shelley Club

I feel like I'm dropping the ball left and right. Sorry, blog. Whomp, whomp. I'm really going to try to pull it together here for this week. I have so much going on but I also have a ton of book reviews coming up, so let's get to it. 

The Mary Shelley Club - Goldy Moldavsky

New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past. 
I'll be honest and tell you that horror isn't my genre. I am scared of all things, which is strange because I love true crime podcasts and shows, but I am scared of the dark and I don't want to personally be scared. 

Obviously, totally logical. 

With that, I'm not sure this is one I would have purchased for myself but it was the young adult After School Fight Club box selection from Once Upon a Book Club, so I went into this not super sure how I was going to like this. I'll tell you that for awhile I almost DNF'ed it because I felt like I needed more action, but I kept going and that's basically when the book really took off and I'm so glad I stuck with it! 

The book begins with Rachel, doing some homework at home alone. She sees a bizarre masked figure outside, which clearly is setting off alarms in her head. It would lead to the heavily traumatic thing that becomes the catalyst for her going to a new school, being the weird girl and having a hard time fitting in. One night at a party everything changes and a new secret group of students takes notices of her and soon enough, she's invited to be in The Mary Shelley Club, a group who plan elaborate scenes that are meant to scare the Jesus out of fellow students for revenge. All is well until things begin to go wrong and Rachel realizes that things from her traumatic past are haunting her now and she doesn't know if it's connected or someone being particularly cruel for fun. 

You GUYS. The twist on this one?! LOVED IT SO MUCH. The cover compares this to Scream and Gossip Girl, and I don't know how much I would agree with Gossip Girl, but it for SURE has Scream vibes. FOR SURE. I mean, I could almost see this playing out on the screen. I have to also say that the book ends in a way that it opens it up for a sequel but I really hope it doesn't because I think part of the scary element of this book is that there isn't really an end, does that make sense? The open-endedness of this is terrifying when you really think about it and it just really sealed the deal for me on this and I loved it. 

I would 100% recommend this if you like young adult, if you have an appreciation for horror films (heavily referenced throughout the book, since that's basically what the group is centered around), and you were a fan of Scream. I think you are going to like this one a lot, and that's really saying something because this typically isn't the book I go for, but I'm really glad that this was the pick for this box. I so highly recommend the Once Upon a Book Club box if you're looking for a good box. I have loved every box I have gotten so far, and the books have all been great. If you use my link, you get $5 off your first box (I do, too!). 

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Book Review: Checking In

How are you? I mean, how are you really? I feel like there are so many people on both my Facebook and Instagram feeds really struggling. I know I have good days, which aren't good but aren't as bad as bad days so I'm calling them good days, and I have bad days. Some days are just really bad. Some days are good and out of nowhere become a bad day. Sometimes I think those are the worst. If you're like me and struggling, this is a GREAT book to settle in with. 

Checking In - Michelle Williams

“I need help.”

Those three words saved Grammy Award–winning singer Michelle Williams’s life. After decades of sweeping her anxiety and depression under the rug—even during her years in the spotlight with Destiny’s Child—Michelle found herself planning her own funeral. Realizing that she needed immediate help and could no longer battle her anxiety and depression alone, she checked herself into a treatment facility. When she came home, she was energized and determined to check in on a regular basis with herself, God, and others.

Practical, engaging, and full of wisdom, Checking In helps us understand that building walls around our vulnerability can hinder our healing; we need to reject the lies of anxiety and depression and replace them with the truth of God’s Word; joy can be found when we release toxic thought patterns;
childhood wounds need to be healed; freedom can be found when we forgive ourselves and others; and
a beautiful life comes from living honestly. An uplifting, behind-the-scenes look at one woman's path to healing, Checking In reminds you that you are not alone, and that God is not yet finished writing your story.

I remember, vaguely, after I had Lucy. I was in no shape at all to be doing anything, let alone being a mom to anyone. I wasn't healthy, I was still recovering from a harrowing birth, I was crying all of the time, and I was a mess. It wasn't the first time I had post-partum depression, but I was pretty confident it was going to be the worst, and I was right. I remember going to a follow up appointment with the doctor who actually delivered Lucy to get a run down of what the hell happened to me, and at some point she asked how I was doing. I think I just started crying and saying I was fine, which clearly, I was not. I remember her holding my hand and saying she really thinks I need to see a therapist who specializes in trauma and maternal health. I was in straight denial about it but there was this hot second that I just agreed and said, "Yes- I need help" and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. I know for sure that had I not started therapy and worked with a psychiatrist to get onto the right medication, I would be dead right now. 

I love how this book feels like you are sitting down with Michelle, having some coffee, trading stories about depression. She is so funny, so real, and so endearing, you just want to be her best friend. Invite her over to watch murder shows and stuff (I see you, girl!). I think that's what makes this book so relatable- she's a regular person dealing with problems we all struggle with, and even the rich and famous aren't immune. 

My favorite part was when she talked about understanding feelings versus intuition. I needed this so much. I often don't do things because I have a feeling and it doesn't seem right. I struggle with knowing the difference between it being regular anxiety versus my intuition sounding the alarm. I have to consciously ask myself a series of questions to figure out which one covers my hesitancy, but it is really hard. She also talks about having depression in her younger years and how it manifested itself differently, which was interesting because the longer I go through therapy, the more I am able to look back on my younger years and things make more sense to me now that I know more about mental health. 

I will say, if you are familiar with Michelle Williams, you know she's a spiritual person and is connected with God in every way. Her strong beliefs are reflected throughout the book, so if religious discussion turns you off, this isn't the book for you. If you can still find value around that, I highly recommend this one. I loved the conversational writing, it makes the book so fast to read and I got through this in one night. It probably helped that this was something I could relate to and left me thinking about areas in my life that I need help in. I mean, being able to say "I need help" is the first step, but it's also the hardest step. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Thomas Nelson Publishing for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review. I absolutely loved this and man- Michelle can come hang out with me anytime. We'll eat snacks and watch murder shows. I'm down. 

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Book Review: Meet Me In Paradise

Oh lambs, have I ever mentioned how much I love my Once Upon a Book Club subscription? I'm pretty sure I say it with every box, but I'm going to say it again- I LOVE THIS BOX. I keep forgetting what month box these are, but I think this was April? It was the "Oh Darling, let's be adventurers" adult box and it was perfect. I have the young adult box from April as well, so stay tuned for that one. My May boxes are coming soon I think, so I'm anxious to see what those books are!

Meet Me In Paradise - Libby Hubscher

Marin Cole has never:
Seen the ocean
Climbed a mountain
Taken a risk on love
....But if her sister's plan works, she just might do all three.

Ever since her journalist mother died on assignment, Marin has played it safe, refusing to set foot outside the state of Tennessee. Her wild-child younger sister, Sadie, has trotted the globe as a photographer, living off of art and adrenaline.

When Sadie returns from a tough assignment abroad and looks a little worse for wear, Marin reluctantly agrees to a sisters' spa weekend on the tropical island of Saba. But her lifelong fear of travel is affirmed when Sadie misses the flight, Marin's luggage gets mixed up with another passenger's, and an episode of turbulence sends her hurtling into the lap of Lucas Tsai, the handsome stranger who stole her sister's seat.

For the first time in a long time, Marin has to step outside of her comfort zone as she explores the island with Lucas and learns what she's been missing out on. With each breathtaking new experience, Marin gets closer to her real self, the man she's falling for, and the heart-wrenching truth about why she's there in the first place. 
I have to start by telling you that one of my favorite books is called The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski and you can see my review for that here, but just know this was waaaaaay back in 2009 so I was like, a baby book reviewer back then. Be nice. 

Anyways, books centered around the idea that life is short, do these crazy things on a list because YOLO, and all of that- I am completely here for. A bucket list, but cooler, if you will. I love that this was the book that came in this box because I almost bought it while shopping, so this was fate at play. Right? Right. 

In this one we have ridiculously uptight Marin, a control freak, but with great intentions. Her younger sister Sadie isn't a hot mess but she comes off as reckless and thoughtless as she treks across the world. Marin worries about her sister, especially since their mother died when they were younger and that made Marin put her life aspirations to the side and grow up quickly in order to take care of Sadie. Now that Sadie has a secret she's keeping from Marin, she knows this is her last chance to get Marin to live a little, to really break out of her shell. Sadie comes up with this crazy scheme, pulls people in to play their parts, and off we go. 

I loved this. I'll admit, Marin was so uptight and she really drove me nuts, more so at the end when she's making terrible, stupid decisions left and right, but she does pull her junk together. #teaser I really liked Sadie and despite her not being in the story a whole lot, it's just enough and I loved her arc in this. We also meet a whole cast of characters that I loved and I was reading this wishing we had more with all of them, too. I feel like that's a sure sign of excellent character development, when readers just want more of everyone. One of the prominent ones is Lucas, a man Marin comes to rely on first beginning on her disastrous first flight, but extending to her stay in Saba. Also, can I just mention I really want to go to Saba. (Yes, it's a real country and according to Google, the safest one in the Caribbean, though it gets the most hurricane activity so you should go in the winter.)

I really loved this entire story. The romance between Lucas and Marin is great, steam level is barely a 1, but this is a very PG-13 level romance so you can read this on a plane in case you're worried about freaking out the person who is reading over your shoulder. I honestly don't know what I would say as far as improvements, I was sad to see this one end! 

Do you want to see what I got in my box, though??
If you didn't see on Instagram, I posted what I got before I started reading. I just need to say I'm proud of myself because I am super good at not opening things before I get to the designated page! 
I got: a microphone, reusable straw, ring, necklace, and a reusable produce bag! 
Not the greatest picture, but the ring and necklace are super, super pretty. I've been wearing the ring because my wedding ring is missing it's big diamond (for real, I'm sick about it) and I have to get it fixed. It wasn't a very big diamond, and I'm not even sure it fell out at home, but I looked EVERYWHERE here, vacuumed everything and looked through the filter and everything, and I can't find it. Anyways. I'm currently ring-less right now, so this will do until I get mine back. 

If you are interested in subscribing, use my link and get $5 off, I get $5 off and it's fun times. In the meantime, you can pick this gem of a book- it's literally a perfect summer read and I just really want to go to the beach now. 
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