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 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. 

This post contains affiliate links.

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. ;)