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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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Book Review: The Teensy Weensy Virus

I know, you're like, "has Sara died?" and honestly, it feels like it! I feel like garbage, I'm exhausted, and I have seventy million things going on all at once. I'm trying really hard to keep it together. I thought for sure once school was done for the year I'd be able to get it together because it would be one less thing, and I guess that is true to an extent, but I now have the added job of you know.... watching four kids all day, every day. I feel like maybe I didn't plan that out all the way, you know? Anyways, let's talk children's books! 

The Teensy Weensy Virus - Sherri L. Rose

COVID-19 is a big deal-but with all that adults have to worry about, it's easy to overlook the pandemic's impact on children. This book provides a great way for parents and caregivers to introduce and reinforce the importance of safety measures to children while giving kids the opportunity to ask questions and share their feelings. Embracing the latest science, The Teensy Weensy Virus pairs simple, kid-friendly explanations with bright colorful illustrations, while offering additional resources for adults and an informative song to help lighten the mood as families engage with this serious topic.

I remember when Covid-19 was first a thing, people were freaking out and the default thing was, "what about the kids"? Which, as a mom of four ranging in ages from 4 to basically 16, I totally get. I was concerned about them not getting sick, my husband and I not getting sick so we can still be here for them, and just doing our part in keeping it at bay. Not once did I worry about mental health, isolation, and all of the other things, not because I'm an insensitive person, but because I feel like those are mostly adult fears and I feel like us adults don't give children a lot of credit about persevering. WE are worried about that so obviously the kids do, too, right?  

Maybe, to an extent, but kids are a lot more resilient than we realize. I think as adults we lose that as we grow up. We can really take a lesson from kids. 

I also struggled with having to explain what the virus is, why it's scary, why we wear masks and take extra precautions, why the world is changing around them. When I saw this book come around, I jumped at the chance to review it because there really isn't anything like it out but also, it is based around one of our very favorite songs to sing together. 

Let's talk about why I loved this book: first off, the diversity! Characters of all colors and ethnicities throughout this book and I am here for it! It was so great to see that, and I love that children's books are so quick to adapt to audiences (makes me wish adult books would catch up!). Secondly, the simplicity of it is perfect. It features information often heard on the news or through conversation, such as staying in our own bubble, and I think the tie in from those outside conversations into the book really help. The book is positive, it doesn't refer to death, but it does say that some people go to the hospital, but it's OK because people are helping. I really enjoyed that this is overall a positive, upbeat, "we're all in this together" kind of mentality, and that's what we all need to remember. 

Overall, this was a really cute book, perfect for the preschool-kindergarten group. The words were simple so even if you have an early reader starting to get through books (like my kindergartner going into first grade), they can read this one. 

Thank you to PR By the Book and author Sherri L. Rose for sending me a copy to review! I really enjoyed this adorable book, but even my Lucy and Penelope (4 and 6) liked this one as well. If you're looking for a library or classroom read, or even something to read at home, this is a great addition to the shelf. 

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Book Review: The North Face of the Heart

I'm like three days behind in life right now so I'm trying to get everything done in a flurry but I also feel like I'm getting nowhere. I don't know I feel like I have to rush and get everything done at once, because I don't, but maybe just having a summer to-do list is overwhelming? I don't know. I thought I was making my life easier by having something to cross off as I get to it but yeah.... I think it was a fail. 

The North Face of the Heart - Dolores Redondo

In a propulsive thriller by the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Baztán Trilogy, a female detective follows a sadistic killer into the eye of a storm.

Amaia Salazar, a young detective from the north of Spain, has joined a group of trainees at the FBI Academy in Virginia. Haunted by her past and having already tracked down a predator on her own, Amaia is no typical rookie. And this is no ordinary student lecture at Quantico. FBI agent Aloysius Dupree is already well acquainted with Amaia’s skills, her intuition, and her ability to understand evil. He now needs her help in hunting an elusive serial killer dubbed “the composer”—a case that’s been following him his whole life.

From New Jersey to Oklahoma to Texas, his victims are entire families annihilated to coincide with natural disasters, their bodies posed with chilling purpose amid the ruins. Dupree and Amaia are following his trail to New Orleans. The clock is ticking. It’s the eve of what’s threatening to be the worst hurricane in the city’s history. But a troubling call from Amaia’s aunt back home awakens in Amaia the ghosts from her childhood and sends her down a path as dark as that of the coming storm.
Do you feel like I've really been on a thriller kick lately? I definitely do. Normally in the summer I try to read light and fun things and save all of the heavy stuff for fall as the doom of winter is staring me down. So from now until the rest of summer I only have like two thrillers left (I think) but then nothing but light and fun. LIGHT AND FUN, you guys. 

If you are a fan of crime podcasts, you are going to love this book. This is a detective literally tracking a nut job serial killer. You get the clues as she does, you're trying to solve this with her and I was glued to this book. I will admit that I didn't get all of the pieces together so I couldn't solve it, but I loved the ending. I loved the premise of killing people during natural disasters because 1. would their deaths even be noticed as murders and 2. goodbye, forensic evidence! 

If I had to give a critique, I would say the book is almost 500 pages and honestly, this could have been done in 300 or less. It's far too wordy, too much fluff that we don't need and I found myself completely skimming areas about the book because there are some repetitive things and I feel like you only need to mention things one time. One and done. It's my understanding this is a prequel to the author's popular trilogy, which I have not read, and I think that helped me, this was a good introduction to this detective, but if the details mentioned in this book are/were mentioned in the trilogy... oy. It would make for some tedious reading for sure. 

Let's talk crime. OK, the murders were brutal on their own and would make for a crime podcast episode of your dreams. I went into this book hoping it would be written in a way that I could imagine it as that, which I failed at, but it makes me wonder if the audiobook would be more worthwhile- would it be less slow? Again, this investigation felt like it took forever, and I imagine in real life it does take forever, but this is fiction- go faster. HA! 

Overall though? This would be a solid 3 star for me. I liked it, I liked the premise and writing, I feel like if this was 200 pages shorter it would easily have been a 4 star for me. Once you get to the end and you see how things roll out, it puts other things into perspective that I had disregarded as meaningless. Proof that maybe I would be a terrible detective, for sure. It's a good book and if you're into really strong character development, this is definitely up your alley. 

Thank you to Amazon Crossing and Megan Beattie Communications for sending me an ARC for review! 
 
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Thursday, June 3, 2021

Book Review: It Is What You Make Of It

How is it only Thursday? I mean, I'm asking for real. It's weird because it feels like the week just started but also, I am fully over this week. Matt and I started our nightly walking again and lord alive.... I am out of shape. So.. I'm not looking forward to going out tonight, but I need to because my pants are tight and I refuse to buy bigger ones. Not going to happen. 

It Is What You Make Of It - Justin McRoberts

“It is what it is”—a common phrase you hear and maybe even say yourself. But the truth is that there is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence that simply is what it is. Justin McRoberts invites you to embrace a new mindset: it is what you make of it.   

With warmth, wisdom, and humor, McRoberts shares key moments from his twenty-plus years as an artist, church planter, pastor, singer-songwriter, author, neighbor, and father, passing on lessons and practices learned about making something good from what you’ve been given rather than simply accepting things as they are. 

Thought-provoking but actionable, It Is What You Make of It declares that love doesn’t just win, mercy doesn’t just triumph, and light doesn’t just cast out shadow. Rather, such renewal requires the work of human hands and hearts committed to a vision of a world made right (or at least a little better). When we partner with God in these endeavors, we love the world well and honor the Creator in whose image we are made.

We will not be remembered for who our parents were or where we were born or what our socioeconomic circumstances were. We won’t be remembered for our natural talents and strengths or the opportunities we were given or the challenges we faced. In the end, each of us will be remembered for what we made with what we were given.
One of the most annoying things I hear personally about my struggles is "it is what it is"... that is right up there with "it could be worse". Every time I hear it my eye twitches and I want to go completely off on the person but I don't because I know people say it with good intentions. Usually I think they don't know what else to say so it's a conversation filler. I think as humans we have to really try to listen to the words we say and just know sometimes the only thing you can say is, "I'm sorry, that is just awful." and be done with it. 

I sometimes have a hard time with non-fiction like this, and I think it is from having been through significant life trauma and knowing that the majority of people cannot relate to what my reality is. Not everybody survives death after giving birth and are left with a multitude of ailments that disables you, including memory loss that leads to loss of some independence. 

I mean, if there is a support group for that specifically, I have yet to find it. 

One of the healing things that helps many is a support group, a place that you can relate to others in your situation and get validation. When you don't have that, it can be incredibly lonely and upsetting, especially when most people around you have no idea what you are going through. It's really hard to be a half-full kind of person in that scenario. That is where this book comes in, it gives you a lot of interesting suggestions on how to turn negatives into positives, or at least a new perspective in looking at things. 

The great thing is that it's rather short, just under 200 pages, and it makes a great read for people graduating, maybe embarking on a new adventure, stepping outside of their comfort zone, or maybe people generally just stuck in a rut and don't know what to do. The author brings humor to heavier situations, which makes this a lighter read and easier to get through. 

Also, I just have to share that there is such a thing as a competitive event involving Shakespeare. And it's kind of like a rap battle but with... Shakespeare verses. I mean, I finished the book and I keep thinking about this because it's bizarre but also... I mean... you've really got to be smart to get through that, right? 

Back to the review though, I just had to include that because it's so strange and I can't stop thinking about it. The book does have a Christian theme to it but it isn't overly Jesus, so if that isn't your thing, I think you can still take something away from the book as a whole. I think this would be a particularly interesting book for high school students to read and have a discussion with it, especially now when we put so much pressure on teenagers to make big life decisions, what are you going to do after school?, when most adults have no idea what their grand plan for life is. How can we expect a 17 year old kid to know? 

Overall? I'm giving this a solid 5 star. I don't normally do that high of a rating for a non-fiction but honestly, this one had me thinking about the times I've been rejected in a new light. It actually gave me the permission to close the door on some things that had really bothered me and it was because I was looking at them the wrong way. Or at least, I was missing some obvious questions I should have asked myself as to why things were the way they were. I just really got a lot from it and I think you will, too. 

A big thank you to TLC Book Tours and Thomas Nelson Publishing for sending me a copy for review and having me on this tour! 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Book Review: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock

It's Wednesday, and school ends for my kids on Friday and I am equal parts thrilled and annoyed. I am not ready for everyone home all day, every day but I also love knowing I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn and put pants on if I don't want to. I mean, that's a win. 

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? - Bella Mahaya Carter

In Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? seasoned coach and author Bella Mahaya Carter shows writers how to use their present circumstances as stepping-stones to a successful and meaningful writing life, navigated from the inside out. It encourages writers and authors to rethink their ambitions (which may be fueled by the tyrannical demands of the ego) and trust in their heartfelt purpose and values in the journey to becoming, or continuing on, as authors.

Many writers believe their self-sabotaging thoughts are trustworthy and true. They take rejection personally. They surmise that if they don’t achieve their goals they have failed, and lose sight of who they are and what matters most.

This book is for writers looking for inspiration and for authors daunted by the publishing process, who might lack the requisite author platform to get published the way they dreamed, or whose careers may not be unfolding as expected. It aims to be the friend and trusted expert writers turn to when hijacked by their own thinking. Ultimately, it reminds authors that they are infinite creators.
If you know me at all, you know I have been working on writing a memoir about the birth of Lucy, my amniotic fluid embolism, dying, then not dying, then the aftermath in which we are all flying by the seat of our pants, and how that is really hard on a family in general, the unseen side of surviving death, if you will. 

I mean, I'm not done, but I feel like I have a solid outline and the basics in there, I just need all of the stories connecting things to make it a book. I feel like the advice of "just write, it'll come out!" is probably the worst advice ever but also the first block in the wall that is writer's block because... where do you start? I feel like, for me at least, if you give me an assignment with actual steps, that is easier to process versus something vague like just do it. 

That's where this book comes in. When I say this has kicked my rear into gear? I am 100% genuine. I have referenced this book so many times when I go back to review what I've already done, made some changes and it feels more like me. I love the author's way with words, she writes with common sense so it doesn't feel like you're reading the most boring textbook of all time. The book has so many chunks to really get into, and it feels like it is a step by step process (as writing and publishing is) and you aren't going to read this cover to cover, you read the chunk you're in. 

I loved, loved, loved the information about publishing, and the information about promoting. The great thing is how relevant this book is even if you aren't specifically writing a book. Maybe you're just writing essays to get published, or maybe you're trying to become an influencer and just need some guidance- the promotion chunk in this book is full of really great information, most of which I had no idea so I highlighted a bunch of things that I felt might be best for me. 

Also a favorite- throughout the book there are journaling prompts and that has some significant question to really get you back to basics. The very first one was the one that stumped me the most and actually a question I get asked in therapy all of the time and struggle with, who are you? Seriously think about that and strip away all of the things: your job, your family, your hobbies, your likes/dislikes, the way you look, etc- when you take literally everything away.... who are you? Part two of that is also a stumper, in what way(s) might I filter my primary experience through the roles that I play

Do you see what I mean? These questions are HARD. I mean, I don't think they are meant to be but I really struggle with this kind of stuff and I think about it a lot. 

I really enjoyed this book and it has really inspired me to work on my own book some more. The short chapters are nice because you can get through the book quickly, but if you take your time and actually do the journaling prompts, you will get so much more out of this and also get a better idea of what kind of writer you already are. I feel like it also helps put other parts of your life in focus as well, so if you don't consider yourself a writer, it might really help you get a better idea of where you need to put your attention to in your life in general. 

A huge thank you to Bella Mahaya Carter, She Writes Press, and FSB Associates for having me on this tour and providing a copy for review. If you're really just stuck, or need a little pick me up in your writing, I highly suggest giving this one a try. 

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