Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Back to School 2023-2024

I feel like we've had a really great, long summer, and it felt like more than three months. We managed to get a ton of concerts, two road trips, a county fair, swimming in our pool, and lots of yard play. It was a pretty great summer, but like every year, school has begun. 

Olivia is a senior this year and I'm not even ready for it. She's ready for it though and it is so exciting to see all of her hard work all of these years coming to an end. She's gearing up for new adventures, but I hope she enjoys this year to the absolute fullest. Jackson is a sophomore and he's going to be learning how to drive this year and that feels weird to me. I'm actually excited about that because that kid needs freedom and that's the gateway to freedom. 

Penelope is in third grade and she is READY. Multiplication and division is her biggest challenges this year but if anyone is up for it, it is most definitely her. Lucy is in second grade this year and she's nervous about it. It's so hard seeing her grow because I want her to stay little but it is also exciting seeing her hit new milestones. Now if she could just learn how to tie her shoes, we'd be set. 

It's exciting because Jackson is trying a new sport, Olivia is going to continue with dance, same with Lucy, and we might get Penelope into swimming. She needs to find an activity she feels fits her, we just haven't found it yet. 

I am hoping to get into good routines again now that everyone is in school. I need to get back into my weight loss routines, I need work on positive self talk, I need to get back into being mindful, and I really need to get back into doing kind things for others. I always due, but I think I need to do more, more often. I'm trying to make goals for each month and really work towards them, including budgeting. I'm doing well with that but you know, we can always do better. 

But fall is here, and I'm here for it. It's going to be a good fall. I'm trying to not let mental health get the best of me like it usually does, so stay tuned. It'll be OK. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Summer of Concerts: Sam Smith

When I think back to the summer of 2023, the whole year actually, I will remember how many concerts we went to this year. I wouldn't trade it for anything, spending time with my teens is always great because the time is fleeting. Soon my oldest will be in college and it'll be so quiet. And weird.  

One of the concerts we went to this year was Sam Smith, which was a last minute ticket for us. There were seats for $25 so who is turning that down? I mean, really. 

Back in the day I could drive to St. Paul and back (it's about two and a half hours one way) with no problem. Now I have to pre-game and by pre-game I mean I have to take a nap knowing I won't get to go to bed at my usual time of 10pm. I'm old now and I don't even feel bad about it. On this day I didn't get my nap because I had appointments so by the time I got to the concert I was exhausted
The opener was Jessie Reyez who I wasn't familiar with, but she was pretty good. 
I've already seen Sam Smith live before and I know that he is a tremendous performer. With that said, I'm not a huge fan of this weird Gloria phase he's in, but you know, do you, booboo. 
Jackson isn't a huge fan but he's a fan of live music, but Olivia really likes Sam Smith, so she was all about this. 
It ended up being a great concert. We left with like five songs left but truly, I was fading fast and having to drive another two and a half hours in the dark was daunting. We were missing the newer stuff so I was OK with that. 

We had a good time though and I'm so surprised it wasn't sold out. He's a great live performer and if you get the chance to see him, especially at $25 for a seat, absolutely take advantage of that! The people watching alone was completely worth it. I'm always a fan of drunk people hanging over balconies and you're just wondering if they are going to go over or puke. It's really a toss up, you know? Either way, it's bonus entertainment. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Book Review: Ride or Die

 I can't believe I didn't post at all in August. We did go on our second road trip of the summer and then the back to school prep kind of took me out. I'm back now and with one of the best memoirs I've read in awhile, a husband's journey through grief. It isn't very long but oh so impactful. 

Ride or Die - Jarie Bolander

Modern society has a warped sense of the partner-caregiver role, especially for men. Too often, men are ill equipped to handle switching from provider to caregiver, and the “just suck it up” advice so many offer up falls as flat as the Kansas prairie in the face of the reality of life and death.

Ride or Die takes its audience through the intimate conversations and thoughts of a Gen-X latchkey-generation husband—a man who has always had to fend for himself and believed that it’s up to him to solve his own problems—as and after his wife, Jane, succumbs to a terminal disease.

Jarie Bolander wrote this raw, heartfelt tribute to Jane and her handling of her illness to help men and the people who love them through the experience of loss and grief. A frank chronicle of how an intimate relationship can change and grow—even when the people involved feel there is nothing left to give— Ride or Die offers a detailed exploration of the male experience of grief, in the hopes that others suffering through it will not feel so alone.
Right off the bat, this reminded me of Matt and I. Sure, I don't have cancer and I am not dead, but it just struck me that this could have been Matt. And though I am not dealing with cancer, after having Lucy I haven't been anywhere near the same. I'm left with a multitude of ailments and illnesses and complications that are here for the rest of my days and that's meant that Matt had to change, too. Where I was once overachieving working and PTO mom, volunteering us left and right and going out of my way to help everyone while maintaining a perfect home and cooked meals everyday, I am now that absolute opposite. It is hard to get out of bed, I'm not volunteering anywhere, I'm not working, I had to quit the PTO, my house is a mess and I can't cook to save my life. But, like the author mentions, "the sickness and health" seems like an abstract thought until you're hip deep into it. 

In Ride or Die, we follow Jarie at the unexpected start of a cancer battle with his wife, Jane. We know she doesn't survive so its a real arc and you feel like you're on this journey with them. I absolutely loved this book and read it in one sitting because I couldn't stop. Jane reminded me so much of myself and Jarie reminded me of Matt, except I don't know that Matt would have even offered to keep my business afloat! 
Me, fresh out of the ICU, and Matt- August 2016

I really loved the circle of friends Jane and Jarie had and how in their own way, each one rallied to support them even in the darker days. Jane was the strongest woman battling leukemia and I'd like to think I can understand what her frustrations were maybe like having been an everything to everyone woman myself and knowing I can't do it, but I want to, that need never shuts off in your brain. You still have those expectations of yourself despite being unable to do it, which makes you feel bad and guilty. So for her to battle that, and leukemia, at the same time is just remarkable. I'd like to think she'd be proud of her husband for everything he did for and around her. 

I highly recommend this one, it's powerful and just heartbreaking, but a true testament to love. Big thank you to SparkPoint Press for inviting me on this book tour, all thoughts are my own. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Book Review: The Wolf and the Wildflower

 You know how I always say I forget that I love historical romance until I'm reading it? Yeah, I'm no longer saying that. I keep reaching for historical romance and I'm not hating it. This one was such a fun, and unique, read. 

The Wolf and the Wildflower - Stacy Reid

London is buzzing with the news that James Winters, the Duke of Wulverton—thought lost at sea a decade ago—survived in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Now he’s been returned to his family, his responsibilities, and a nightmarish world of artifice and noise. He has three weeks to become a refined, elegant duke for the Queen…or doom the entire family to ruin and scandal.

Promising psychologist Jules Southby knows a lot about disguises. She’s secretly been living as a boy since birth, enjoying the freedoms of men and knowing little about how to behave like a woman. When she meets the alluring duke, she’s unprepared for his raw, masculine beauty and icy intelligence…or that he can see through her darkest secret.

Jules has very little time to transform the duke into a true semblance of an English gentleman. Yet his very presence seems to unravel her in every way. Their attraction is stark and achingly real—and forbidden. But loving the lost duke would mean losing every sacrifice she’s made to earn her freedom…
Let me just get into this, James was lost in the wilderness for ten years so when he makes his miraculous return, its imperative that he find a duchess. In his family's preparation of his return to the haute ton, the Duchess of Wulverton (his mother) hires a psychologist and his son Jules to come in and evaluate James' abilites. Is he crazy? Is he feral? Is he able to look and act normally?

The psychologist's son, Jules, is a promising student who is hopefully following his father's footsteps to someday take over his promise. Jules is immediately taken with the duke and the duke can seemingly sniff out Jules' secret. Jules isn't a man after all, she's a woman in a manly disguise who is fooling her father and hopefully, society. How does a dad not know his son is a daughter? That's a great question answered immediately in the book. 

The love affair between James and Jules is quite adorable and promising. I really loved the romance, and I loved the duke's frankness. The story ultimately requires both James and Jules to decide, are they willing to drop all pretenses and the life they know to hang onto their love, or is the life they've made and what comes with it more important? Even though I knew exactly what the climax was going to be, I was only partially right and for that I am grateful. I really enjoyed this one!

Thank you to Entangled Publishing for sending me a copy for review, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Stacy Reid does it again, I can't wait to read what she does next! 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Book Review: Shattered Dreams

 Hello friends! I'm still reading like crazy and one of my recent books is the last in the Beautiful Nightmare series from Abbie Roads and I want more. 

Shattered Dreams - Abbie Roads

A crooked cop. Corruption. A woman convicted of murder. A man determined to prove her innocence.

When Helena Grayse is released from prison, all she wants is to say a final goodbye to her old life. But when a man finds her trespassing on his property, instead of turning her in, he takes her in. Accepts her. Loves her.

But someone decides to serve Helena with a death sentence.

Shattered Dreams is the third book in Abbie Roads’ Beautiful Nightmare Series of dark romantic thrillers. It features a felon heroine who never thought she deserved love. If you devour true crime and romance novels then you’ll love a series that combines both in a roller-coaster ride of danger, mind games, and swoon worthy love.

I'm going to try to talk about this without giving anything away and ruin it. To be fair, I didn't read the synopsis when I started it so I went into this kind of blind. We have Thomas, who after a tumultous childhood with a harrowing, violent event, lost the ability to see color. Until Helena, who after an unbelievable awful stint in prison for a crime she didn't commit. With Helena near him, he can see color and that's alarming to him. She isn't mute, she's selectively quiet so Thomas finds it difficult to communicate with her but he's still able to. 

After a chance encounter in the woods, Thomas sees this as fate, but Helena is still terrified and doesn't know why Thomas is being kind to her and she doesn't trust it. They quickly learn that Helena is in grave danger, and it is connected to the danger finds Thomas finds himself in and it's a larger problem than either can imagine. Helena's dreams may have the key to unlock all of the questions. 

I loved the romance, I loved the interesting connection between the two and the connection to the larger stories. I loved Abbie's writing, she makes every story a fast read. I loved the romance angle, and I loved the connection to the legend the totem pole the books are written around. (I understand that sounds bizarre, just go with it.)

Overall I really liked this and this series. I need to read the first one because I'd like to see how the series started, but the second one was just as good as this one. Each couple has strange challenges and I liked the creativity. I can't say that I've read anything quite like that and I'm here for it. 

Thank you to Xpresso Tours and Abbie Roads for having me on this tour and providing a copy for review! A package from Abbie is a bright spot in any kind of day, I can't wait to read what she does next! 
This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Strands do Tennessee. And Kentucky. Kind of.

 One of my goals in life is to visit all 50 states and because last summer we didn't go on any roadtrips, this summer I wanted to get the most out of our summer. First trip was to Tennessee/Kentucky. We could only go for a few days if we wanted to fit our second trip in this summer to cross another state off. 


We left in the middle of the night so we can get to Tennessee in one trip (16 hours) and it ended up working out really well. 

Lucy would agree. I feel like we're road trip pros when a 16 hour drive doesn't even phase us. 
In Tennessee, our destination was Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge which I actually didn't realize was such a tourist mecca. It was like Branson, Missouri in my opinion. 
Highlights of our trip was Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. I highly recommend it if you're in the area, especially if you're a fan of sharks. They have a really cool shark area with species I hadn't even heard of. I'm not even sure we saw every area but the kids were getting tired (we walked around for two hours). I definity wouldn't recommend the "boat ride" which is literally a glass bottom boat, tethered, and goes in a slow circle and you see everything you saw in the shark area. It was an outrageous money grab and the kids were disappointed. 
We also went to the Skylift Park and Skylift Bridge on what felt like the hottest day of the week. You ride up on a gondola to get to the top, which is the gorgeous park area. The bridge itself is long with a glass bottom at the mid-point. It was SO hot outside so I only made it to the half way point before I had to turn around. I think a combination of the heat and height got to me because on my walk back I got so dizzy. I had to rest and hydrate when I got to the end. Conveniently, the park has lots of chairs to rest and enjoy the view. 
I mean, I could sit and look at this for hours. 
Jackson didn't love the height of the day so he was the real sport this day. 
We did some walking around Gatlinburg to see some shops and Jackson hit the motherlode when he found a small music store. He got some vinyl he's been searching for at an unbelieveable price, and a couple of posters that will look great in his room. 

We spent a night having dinner at the Island in Pigeon Forge and went with Margaritaville, a favorite of Jackson. We also walked around there and the little girls rode some rides. I was actually surprised it wasn't more busy, but maybe it was the heat. 
The next day we went to Dollywood and unpopular opinion.... I thought it was overrated. We didn't do the water park side, just the amusement park, but I wasn't impressed. It was overpriced, the food wasn't great, there was almost no shade and sitting areas in the shade, it was just a really long, rough day. The only positive was the lines for rides actually weren't that long so the kids were able to ride as many as they would like to. The best part of the day was paying the extra $45 for preferred parking because by the end of the day my legs were screaming. 
Another part of our trip was going to the Titanic museum, which was a wish from Penelope. She's obsessed and she was all over the place taking it all in. Unfortunately, my traveler and Jackson's traveler died, everyone else's survived. 
Even the big kids had a great time. I definitely recommend this if you're looking for something to do indoors. 
We also did some mini-golf, as recommended by all of the kids, and I had actually never mini-golfed before so I got to do something new. Recommendation: go to Pigeon Forge to golf, and go in the morning, otherwise the lines are long and you'll be rushed. 
Our very last day we drove to Bowling Green, Kentucky so we could go to Beech Bend Amusement Park. We weren't doing the amusement side, just the water park side. The kids a great day, I spent almost seven hours sitting in a shaded cabana because I forgot my book at the hotel and didn't have a current one on my phone. Rookie move! The park was OK, I'm not sure I wouldn't go out of my way to go here again, but if you're in the area and need somehting to do, it might be a fun day. 

Overall? We had a really nice week. It was so nice to go on vacation with all of us again, I can't wait for our next one to Michigan. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Long live through the cruel summer.

We have been having a very busy summer, doing all kinds of things left and right. Our summer kick off was basically the Taylor Swift concert, which was a Christmas gift for them last December. Even if you aren't the biggest Swiftie, I think being able to say you went to the concert of the year is going to be something. 

I'll be honest, I can't remember who the opener was, (maybe Owenn?) but he wasn't great and we couldn't get into it. 
The second opener was Girl in Red and I am SUCH a fan so I was almost more excited about them and they did not disappoint. I wanted more and it was such a great set. 
Of course Taylor came on and everyone lost their minds. Even us 40something moms had a good time. 
It was so great hearing all of the crowd singing along and everyone was so happy. It's a pretty great, uplifting feeling to be surrounded by so many happy people, all enjoying the same thing, and being friendly. 

If I had to critique anything, I'd say there needed to be more monitors for those of us in the nosebleeds. I know there were the two smaller ones on the sides of the stage and one on the far end, but it basically only focused on Taylor, we didn't always get the full effect of the stage. Is it a big deal? No, but for a tour being touted for the visual piece, it would have been nice if everyone had the opportunity to see the same thing. 

Also, we went to Minneapolis night 2 and unpopular opinion, I think the song Dear John sucks so the fact we got that was a giant eyeroll for me. With the lecture of "be nice" when she knows good and damn well people are going to attack John Mayer with or without her blessing. It's like telling a kid to stop that even though as a parent, you're laughing at what they're doing. It's the same thing. I hoped so hard for a Bon Iver duet considering he lives not far from Minneapolis but it wasn't our luck. I didn't care for either surprise song, but I know I'm in the minority with that. 

The real fun came after we left, it began to rain, absolutely pouring, and after walking to the other side of the stadium to find our ride, I got knocked off the sidewalk and curb by a drunk person walking backwards. Do you think anyone, literally anyone other than my two teenagers, would say, "Shit- do you need help?!"??? No. No, and that was disappointing. Needless to say, I sprained my ankle badly and almost a month later, my ankle is still painful. Thankfully it didn't break, I thought for sure I fractured it some how that night though. It cut our weekend fun short though and we ended up just going home the next morning. 

Did you go see Taylor Swift? Is still on your agenda this year?

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Book Review: Everything's Fine

Hi lambs! I've been on a reading frenzy and gearing up for our first roadtrip in two yars, which is why I've been quiet around here. I hope your summer is going well and that you have some fun things planned. I'll keep you updated after our roadtrip about the highs and the lows and any shenanigans we come into. 

Everything's Fine - Cecilia Rabess

When Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her preppy, white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.

But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.

Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forwards, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.

A stunning debut that introduces Cecilia Rabess as a blazing new talent, Everything’s Fine is a painfully funny, poignant, heartfelt novel that doesn’t just ask will they, but…should they?
Everything's Fine is one of my most anticipated books of 2023 and I couldn't wait to get into it... unfortunately it wasn't a hit for me. It's your traditional enemies to lovers romance, but it's peppered with the patricharchy, race, and political arguments and it just wasn't what I needed right now. I don't know if I'm the only one who ended the book with a "what the hell is this ending?!" but maybe that's the point. Now that we know what happened since that election in real life, you could just imagine how Jess and Josh would handle it. I definitely don't think they'd survive it as a couple, that much I know. 

I haven't read a book where I didn't like either character. Jess is the realist/pessimist, Josh is the optimist/his own version of white realist, a classic Fox News Republican. Surely they wouldn't work as a couple somehow they make it through different things. I think I found myself so frustrated throughout it I almost DNF'ed it but I wanted to know how it was going to end. I had an ideal ending that would be best for everyone and that'd didn't happen so I was left frustrated and wanting to yell at someone. 

But... maybe that was the point. 

Regardless of the ending or how you feel about the story, it is truly a stunning and promising debut for Cecilia Rabess. I'll be interested to see what she does next. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Book Review: Where the Grass Grows Blue

Hi friends! I know I don't post nearly as often as I should but my goal is to get better about it. I've no shortage of great books I've read, that's for sure, and I have all kinds of personal life stuff I could be writing about. I'm hoping now that summer is here and I can feel my vitamin D going up that everything else starts perking up. 


I do have a great summer read for you. Part romance, part women's fiction, a perfect summer book club selection!

Where The Grass Grows Blue - Hope Gibbs

Penny Crenshaw’s swift divorce and her husband’s new marriage to a much younger woman have been hot topics around Atlanta’s social circles. After a year of enduring the cruel gossip, Penny leaps from the frying pan into the fire by heading back to Kentucky to settle her grandmother’s estate.

Reluctantly, Penny travels to her hometown of Camden, knowing she will be stirring up all the ghosts from her turbulent childhood. But not all her problems stem from a dysfunctional family. One of Penny’s greatest sources of pain lives just down the street: Bradley Hitchens, her childhood best friend, the keeper of her darkest secrets, and the boy who shattered her heart.

As Penny struggles with sorting through her grandmother’s house and her own memories, a colorful group of friends drifts back into her life, reminding her of the unique warmth, fellowship, and romance that only the Bluegrass state can provide. Now that fate has forced Penny back, she must either let go of the scars of her past or risk losing a second chance at love. Can she learn to live an unbridled life?
I have to say, this book was fulfilling on so many levels. It's a romance, a second chance romance, but it is also a story of starting over and getting it right the second go round. 

We have Penny, who is abruptly served divorce papers that sends her life into a tailspin. Having had a difficult childhood, she relies on nobody but herself and doesn't always stick up for herself. Learning of the death of her grandmother at nearly the same time, having to take care of her grandmother's estate, and her children going on a ridiculous trip to Africa with their father and his shiny new wife, forces Penny to reevaluate her life, close up loose ends, and figure out what her future is going to be. Of course going back to your hometown with mixed memories is never easy, especially when she runs into Bradley, her first love and her first major heartbreak.

I absolutely adored this book. I flew threw it while nursing Olivia post wisdom teeth surgery, and it was the best book to kick my summer reading off with. As a mom I could relate to the hurt of splitting your time with your children, especially if your ex husband is just a piece of human garbage like Penny's, but also the uncertainty she would have over her future when her whole life has been a stay at home, do-it-all mom and wife, and now that's all erased. Very reminiscent of the writing style of Susan Mallery, and the heart of Susan Wiggs, but the humor of Dorothea Benton Frank, this book takes you directly into the small town heartland of Kentucky. (Also, there's a chapter that includes a coming home potluck at the community church for Penny and I kid you not, if you life in the midwest, you KNOW what that potluck looks like and the author absolutely nailed it, down to the strawberry fluff salad. HA!!)

If you're looking for something light, with plenty of heart, Hope Gibbs needs to be on your radar. A perfect read for the beach, laying in a lawn chair while supervising the kiddos, or relaxing on the couch post sunburn. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Book Review: The Recall Paradox

Happy... May? I don't know, it feels like winter here and I'm over it. I'm desperate for sunshine and warm days. I refuse to listen to anyone complain about summer this year, I'll tell you that much. 

The Recall Paradox - Julian R. Vaca

What if everything you remember is a lie? Freya Izquierdo and Fletcher Cohen believe they’re done with top-secret memory knifing. After successfully hacking a terrorist’s memories and foiling the Memory Ghosts’ next attack, they spend their school break intending to clear Fletcher’s dad of being accused of colluding with the radical group. Exposing the truth should be straightforward, if not easy. But Fletcher’s house is robbed, and Freya makes a shocking discovery about her flawed recall. When they return to Foxtail Academy, no one but the dean and Dr. Sanders seems to remember Freya, Fletcher, and their friends Chase and Ollie. Then the Memory Ghosts make contact, and everything the four students thought was true proves false. As they struggle to shine light on the shadowy battlefield between Memory Frontier and the Memory Ghosts, their only option is to undertake the most difficult and risky knifing mission of their lives. But this time, more than their lives are at stake. In this heart-stopping and gripping conclusion to the critically acclaimed Memory Index duology , the only way out is in, and the only way to safety is through reckless danger that could wipe Freya and Fletcher from everyone’s minds . . . forever.

I really wish I had read the first book, The Memory Index, first. In fact, I'm going to tell you to absolutely read the first one first because this is a duology and I think you'll get into this a lot more. There are a lot of secondary characters in this one and I'm not sure if they were in book one and there wasn't a whole lot from the first book mentioned here so you could kind of get the idea of that so there were times I was confused and not sure why these characters were there. 

The story was a bit slow, and felt like a continuation of book one but a good bulk of it didn't really feel worth it, if that makes sense. I almost wondered if a good bulk of this could have been tossed and the rest just added to the first book. I have a hard time with duologies because I always feel like it really could be done in one book, just edited down. Not everything is worth being a duology, you know? 

Things I did like about this book, the overwhelming theme of grief and memory. I'm in a unique place because I have memory issues and it's a weird place to be in. It's really strange to look at photos and see yourself and have zero memory of it, but having people tell stories about it. It feels like someone else, it is truly bizarre. That aspect of this book is what kept me hooked, for sure. I was explaining the book to someone and she said it sounded like a cross between The Matrix and Inception, which I guess it kind of is. If you're a fan of dystopian and either of those movies, this duo is right up your alley. I will also mention the Memory Ghosts kind of freaked me out, I'm not a fan of them. Haha! 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Thomas Nelson Publishing for sending me a copy for review! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Book Review: Pomegranate

Hey lamb chops, do any of us even know what day it is anymore? Because everything just blends together for me now so time is meaningless. I have this little goat on my desk and when you push it the goat screams. I feel like it speaks to my soul most days. I am the goat. 

Pomegranate - Helen Elaine Lee

The acclaimed author of The Serpent’s Gift returns with this gripping and powerful novel of healing, redemption, and love, following a queer Black woman who works to stay clean, pull her life together, and heal after being released from prison.

Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”

She is almost done with her four-year sentence for opiate possession at Oak Hills Correctional Center. With three years of sobriety, she is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her two children.

My name is Ranita, and I’m an addict, she has said again and again at recovery meetings. But who else is she? Who might she choose to become? As she claims the story housed within her pomegranate-like heart, she is determined to confront the weight of the past and discover what might lie beyond mere survival.

Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently. Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps and facing old wounds. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, Ranita reveals how rocky and winding the path to wellness is for a Black woman, even as she draws on family, memory, faith, and love in order to choose life.

Perfect or fans of Jesmyn Ward and Yaa Gyasi, Pomegranate is a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and marginalization in America: a story of loss, healing, redemption, and strength. In lyrical and precise prose, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, and of one woman’s determination to tell her story.

I am choosing to not go into detail about this book because a lot of it I think needs to be freshly read with no pre-conceived ideas of what you're going to read or what to expect. I had nothing going in and I'm grateful for it. Author Tayari Jones, who wrote An American Marriage (you can read my review of that HERE) writes, "prepare to be challenged, and changed" and she is not wrong. Recently I've been watching a show about people going to jail undercover to basically report to the warden what their experience was to hopefully make positive changes and potentially make it safer for employees and inmates. One of the jailers made a comment that they all come back, and in the beginning of this book, Ranita is told the same thing and it just struck me and that is what hooked me in. 

It's a harrowing story of a woman, who is queer, black, and a recovering drug addict, and how the system is set up for her to continually fail. She's a mother of two children she is trying to get back and form positive relationships with, her lover Maxine is still in prison so she's lonely, she's desperately trying not to turn to drugs to cope with everything on her back, and you can obviously assume there are some mental health challenges in there as well. We learn about her childhood and what set her on a path of destruction that got her to this point, and its a hard but important read. Not every person who goes to prison is terrible, not every drug addict is terrible, sometimes people make mistakes and those spin out of control and we are more than our failings. 

The story started slow for me, but like the problems in her life, things escalated and it felt like a ball rolling down a hill. I loved her therapy sessions and how she slowly came around and opened up. I appreciated the difficult journey to regain trust and family in her life, and just the work she put in when society truly makes it difficult to do anything but fail. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Atria Books for providing a copy for review. I can see this becoming a book club favorite for 2023, easily. 

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Book Review: The Last Lap

So... its been a month, huh? I have so much to tell you but also nothing crazy important. I am working on making a summer reading list that will (hopefully) coinside with a couple of reading challenges I'm doing this year.  I'm already reading some and this one was the first on the list. I'm manifesting warm temperatures and beach days. 

The Last Lap - Christy Hayes

A man seeking closure after the death of his estranged brother. A woman grieving her sister and best friend. A connection they never saw coming. More than the temperature heats up in USA Today Bestselling Author Christy Hayes’ unforgettable page-turning romance about two tortured souls and their collision course with love.

Megan Holloway has learned a few hard truths in her twenty-eight-years. Life isn’t fair. People she loves always leave. And she’ll be stuck on Key West running her parents’ gift store and raising her twelve-year-old niece for the rest of her life.

Thirty-year-old Bryan Westfall has come to Key West to clean out his dead brother’s apartment and search for answers about the woman who died with his estranged older brother. Bryan didn’t know the woman had a daughter and he sure didn’t expect her sister to floor him with her beauty and biting brashness.

Bryan’s persistent need to help and Meg’s bumbling business skills create an unlikely union. The more time they spend together, the more their feelings become too powerful to deny. Meg knows Bryan is leaving at the end of the summer and Bryan knows Meg is holding back to spare herself needless heartache. When a hurricane forces them to evacuate, Meg mentally prepares to let Bryan go while Bryan wonders if home is where he came from or is with the woman who stole his heart.
I've read romances where one character moves to a small town to start over after a family death or tragedies and it blossoms over time. In this one we have both characters coming off family tragedies and we see how people deal with conflict and grief differently. I really related to Meg because I've often felt that level of angry when I'm over stimulated, overwhelmed, and putting my feelings aside to get through something. One of the characters go a it-isn't-actually-happening-or-a-problem, and I can relate to that as well. 

We have our two main characters and their individual stories come together unexpectedly and I like how over time they become a rock for each other, and we have a blossoming romance. He wins her over with personality and that's my favorite trope, so that was a definite perk for me. I also am here for a great epilogue, so that right there is a full star in my rating. Without giving too much away, there is a secondary story line that doesn't really get closure, at least for me. I also love that the story takes place in Key West because that's a trip I've been planning for my next visit to see my family in Florida so I had a fun visual of what it might be like. Also, if you're looking for a clean romance, this checks that box for sure. 

I loved the author's writing style, I loved that this gave me summer vibes, and I liked the trope (but also how the author made it different, which is exactly what I've been looking for). 

Thank you to Christy Hayes for providing a copy for review, you hit it out of the ballpark! I'm loving this kick off to summer reading, it's just what I needed after a loooooong winter. (I read these on our two days that were summer weather and it was glorious.)

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Friday, March 3, 2023

Manifest some goals with me.

It has been a long six years since my AFE and I have struggled with a purpose after it. Everyone tells me "you're here for a reason", and that's great but nobody tells you what's that supposed to be. It not like you survive death and you're given a card telling you what you haven't done yet, you know? 

So in that theme, one of the things I am currently working on is working through advocacy training for MoMMA's Voices, more specifically, the Patient Family Partner Certification Training. It teaches you how to take your story and use that to help other moms and families who are entering the birth trauma circle. I might be six years into this, having gone through many ups and downs, but somebody somewhere is right now going through it and feeling incredibly overwhelmed. 

I may not remember anything from that time, I know that Matt does and he still struggles with feelings from it. Nobody knows what to do when their spouse dies and comes back, but doesn't come back fully alright. 

My hope is to somehow help other women and families wade through overload of feelings and information. I do remember not really understanding what happened to me, so I was Googling everything that I could about amniotic fluid embolisms, birth trauma, depression, all of the things. Everybody encouraged me to not do that, just move forward, focus on being lucky to be alive, and I just couldn't do that. I really needed to understsand what had happened to me and why I don't feel any better, why do I not feel lucky? 

Some of the things I'd really like to do is a blood drive, and possibly turn it into an annual thing. I'm terrified to plan it and have nobody come, you know? I'd like to turn it into something to highlight birth trauma and the resources available to them, locally but also online. I know the absolute relief I felt when I found the AFE Foundation and support group online. Having an entire group of women who also had an AFE to talk to and ask questions of? Priceless. 

I'm trying to think of some other things I can do to be helpful, but also not require a lot of time. Realistically, I know that health wise (energy, overall feeling, and mental health) I am not reliable. I hate that, but I do know that is something I deal with now and am getting better at recognizing my limitations. 

So that's where I am. I'm trying to get better in life. If I'm going to be here, I may as well do something, right? I don't want to go the rest of my life, however long it is, and not be able to say I did something with my life. I want to see and do some things. I've told some friends that I really just feel this urge to finally do the things I've thought about, like now is my moment. I trust my gut, so here I am. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Book Review: Breaking All the Rules

TGIF, folks. TGIF. It feels like a long week but also not really at all. I don't have much in the way of plans for this weekend and I'm OK with that. Matt is going to bring me grocery shopping, because oh yes, I can't do that by myself. Love the loss of independence, it's really so much fun. 

Breaking All the Rules - Amy Andrews

Sometimes you gotta toss your whole life into a burning dumpster to find what’s most important...

Beatrice Archer has always done everything she’s supposed to —worked her ass off, ignored her non-existent personal life, and kept her mouth shut. Now she’s over it. The rat race, respectability…the underwire bras. She’s taking her life back. Starting with moving to Nowhere, Colorado to live life on her own terms.

Now Bea gives exactly zero forks. Beer for breakfast. Sugar for everything else. Baggy sweats and soft cotton undies FTW. Then a much younger and delightfully attractive cop is called to deal with her flagrant disregard for appropriate clothing outside the local diner (some folks just don’t appreciate bunny slippers) and Bea realizes there’s something missing from her little decathlon of decadence…and he might be the guy to help her out.

When it comes to breaking rules, Officer Austin Cooper is surprisingly eager to assist. He’s charming, a little bit cowboy, and a whole lot sexy. But Bea’s about to discover that breaking the rules has consequences. And all of the cherry pies in Colorado can’t save her from what’s coming…
I loved this book!! I didn't realize this was going to be a reverse age gap (Bea is older than Austin) romance, but I was here for it because I'm trying to read things I haven't seen a lot of and reverse age gap is just that. I loved Bea's character, I feel like if I were a literary character, I also would give zero forks, if you will. Austin really is charming, and their chemistry is FIRE. For all of that alone, you need to add this to your TBR for 2023, hands down. What sealed the deal for me though is the humor, I love romance with some good humor, and the author balanced it perfectly. I really liked that Bea is going on a limb and asking for exactly what she wants and Austin is eager to please. If I had to offer a critique, I would say I wished the epilogue wasn't mostly Bea, and not them as a couple/their future. This is a series though, so I'm assuming we'll see more from them in future books so I can't be mad about that. This was my first one from Amy Andrews but it definitely isn't going to be my last, I loved her writing style and the personality in her characters. 

Thank you to Entangled Publishing and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review! 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Book Review: Pirate's Paradox

It is Wednesday...but I am so screwed up on which day of the week it is since my kids were off of school Monday and Tuesday. Then I decided to keep Lucy home today because she threw up in th emiddle of the night. I'm pretty sure it was just the pizza she ate for dinner that didn't sit well in her tummy but still, better to be safe than sorry. So she's home today, Jackson has a doctor appointment, I have a bunch of emails to catch up on and a book to read. Lots to do. 

Pirate's Paradox - Lisa Kessler

Pirate Caleb Graves may be an immortal, but he’s also a navigator and a man of science. And yet he can’t explain the erratic tides threatening Savannah. Nor the terrible dreams of sailing through a vicious, supernatural storm that he keeps having. But when fascinating, petite dynamo Diana Williams marches up to his ship and demands to speak to the captain, Caleb is caught up in a wave of unexpected fear…and an electric frisson of longing for this captivating woman.

Diana wouldn’t be a true psychic if she didn’t listen to her spirit guide. So when dream after dream compels her to visit specific coordinates in the Atlantic, she can’t ignore it. Now, she just needs a ship. Good thing she knows about a particular pirate ship that’s in tip-top shape. Complete with a surly, albeit hot, navigator who doesn’t immediately believe in her visions. But no matter how much Caleb objects, she’ll risk sending the entire crew—including herself—to the uncharted ocean.

But both their dreams could be the key to saving Savannah and may even be a clue about the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Or it could damn them all to an unforgiving, watery grave.
Right off the bat I'm going to tell you if this synopsis does it for you, read the books in the series that come before this one. Technically each book is a standalone, but I feel like I would have enjoyed this even more had I read the others. There is quite a bit of backstory that I had no idea about, and while the author did a good job doing really fast summary, I wish I had read the others. With that said, I enjoyed thhis. It was a fast read, it centers around pirates, immortal ones at that, and I can honestly say I don't remember reading a book with immortal pirates. 

Let's talk about some of the things I enjoyed: 
  • The romance! Caleb and Diana are a great couple and I loved their arc. I so appreciated communication between the two and the trust! FINALLY a romance that makes it work!
  • I liked the dynamic between the pirate crew, I need to read the other books before this in the series, I want those stories. 
  • The book also features a.... being that I've never read about but I can't tell you more because it kind of ruins it. I do hope they are featured again, and I think they will be given some of the things that happened in this one. 
  • I really liked the diversity! I appreciate authors taking more chances on diversity in their books, it can only make them stronger and more interesting. 
  • Diana is a great character on her own and I love that she's strong and confident in herself but truthful enough to be uncertain and be OK with that. Caleb is great, too, he is so old fashioned and I thought it was charming. 
If you're looking for something out of the box, something that there aren't multiple of on the shelf, this is a solid option. Thank you to Entangled Publishing for having me on this tour and providing a copy for review! 

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