Definitely Read This: Horrid by Katrina Leno

Title: Horrid

Author: Katrina Leno

Publisher: Little, Brown Books

Pages: 336 pages

Rating: 4 stars

“I think the important thing to realize, to try and remember, is that grief doesn’t have a rule book. You’re allowed to feel every emotion under the sun. You’re even allowed to invent new ones. I think I’ve done that a few times”

Goodreads Synopsis:

Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone…and more tormented.

As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all–it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears….

Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more…horrid?

“If her father were here, he would have found the tape and taken the book from Jane to mend it. He would have said there was nothing sad about a book with a few dings in it. That was how you knew it had been enjoyed.”

My Thoughts:

I am pretty sure that this book was on everyone’s October TBR and it’s no surprise why. I went into this one totally blind and was not let down. I really liked this. It is the perfect, spooky, Fall read.

This the first book by Katrina Leno that I have read and I will definitely be picking up more books by her. This was so deep and introspective and is such an interesting take on mental illness and grief. Grief can manifest itself so differently for everyone and this books take such an in-depth look at that. I’ve never read anything like this.

I always have issues with books that have a haunted house in them because it always seems so unrealistic to me for lights to be turning on and off on their own, music playing in an empty house and all of the things happening and nobody bats and eye and finds it weird. But that’s more of a me thing, then an issue with the book itself.

This book has some very intense, goose bump inducing, heart wrenching moments and I found myself just speeding through it, wanting know where it was going to go.

Katrina Leno does not shy away from topics that aren’t talked about often and not only does she do it in this book with the look at mental illness but she also takes such a raw, realistic and relatable look at anger issues and anger management.

So much of the focus on this book has been about its plot and themes but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how beautifully written this book is. As I said this was my first Katrina Leno books and I was just blown away by her prose and her writing style.

I did see the twist coming fairly early on and I honestly did not love the ending but other than that I thought that this book was so so good.

Mini Review: In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren

ARC provided by Gallery Books through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“I’ve essentially handed my heart over to the person who’s had it on reserve for half my life, and I’m terrified that he doesn’t realize what he’s holding.”

Everyone was comparing this book to a combination of Love Actually and Groundhog Day and that is exactly what it is. I read this entire book in less than 12 hours and I enjoyed it so much. This is the second or third book that I have read by this author and this one was by far the most enjoyable.

I read this in September and absolutely loved the heartwarming Christmas-y vibes. This book was everything I was looking for; it was refreshing, funny, relatable and had the perfect amount of smut for this type of book.

Honestly, this book is just so cozy, heart-warming and everything you could want in a holiday read!

October 2020 TBR

This crazy crazy year has just completely flown by. I cannot belive that it is already October and that we are entering the last part of 2020. With everyting going on, this has not been my best reading year and I am several books behind on my reading goal for the year. But, I am hoping to fix that this month. I’m not going to lie, this tbr is very ambitious. I am easing myself into the month and reminding myself that this tbr is just a guidline and that I don’t HAVE TO get to all of these.

  1. Horrid by Katrina Leno – I have heard such great things about this book from Bookstagrammers and Booktubers who’s opinions I hold in pretty high regard, so I am super excited to start it. The Owlcrate edition that I received of this book absolutely gorgeous as well!

2. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia – This book seems to be on everyone’s TBR this month. From what I have seen of the reviews on Goodreads, I think this ones going to be a good read.

3. The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones – I don’t know pretty much anything about this book, honestly. I have found that I really enjoy going into books fairly or completely blind and being surprised. But I know that I have seen this one floating around a lot as well.

4. House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin E. Craig – I have a vague idea of what the themes of this book are but I’m not 100%. I remember hearing a lot about it in the past though and being really intrigued. Also, this is my favorite copy of a book that I have ever gotten from Owlcrate. The cover is gorgeous and is a like velvety texture, it’s amazing.

5. She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard – This is an ARC I received through Netgalley from Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group. I don’t know much about this one either. But, I am excited to start it and blessed to have been approved from the advanced copy.

6. The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hakins – I know nothing about this book. But the title and cover make it perfect for this time of year.

7. Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries – This is a graphic novel which I don’t typically read a lot of. But, this came in one of my Owlcrate boxes and I figured this was the perfect time to give it a try.

8. Every Last Secret by A. R. Torre – This is another Netgalley ARC that I was approved for by Thomas & Mercer publishing. I haven’t heard a lot about this one as far as the synopsis goes but I have seen it circulating around.

9. Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes – This was actually on my TBR for September but when I realized that it was a Paranormal Fantasy I decided to save it for October.

10. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – This was on one of my TBR’s over the summer but I never got around to it. I had actually forgotten about it until my best friend mentioned it the other day and I decided to put it on this months.

11. Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi – I started this series last month and absolutely devoured the first two books (and novella). They are so so good and I am looking forward to continuing on in this world and getting to know these characters. I am sure that I will end up reading the subsequent books as well but there is so much on this TBR already that I didn’t want to “officially” include them all.

12. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager – The Last Riley Sager book I read was Lock Every Door which I really enjoyed. So, I am hoping that this going to be just as good.

13. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – I have had this one on my TBR for more than a year now but just never seem to get to it.

14. The Shadows by Alex North – I read The Whisper Man by Alex North earlier in the year and thought that it was ok. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. Hopefully this read will be better.

15. Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power – I was so excited when I received this ARC from Netgalley through Random House Publishing. Wilder Girls by Rory Powers was one of my favorite books that I read in 2019 so I cannot wait to get to this one.

16. Bruise by Neal Shusterman – Honestly, I have no clue what this is about. It popped up on my library app as available so I decided to give it a try. I chose it specifically because Neal Shusterman is the author; his Arc of the Scythe series is one of my all tie favorites.

17. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings movies are my all time favorites and I have been meaning to get to these for years.

Well there you have it! My super long probably unrealistic TBR for October. What are you reading this month?

September 2020- Reading Wrap Up

I read 11 books in September for a total of 3,651 pages. I had 5 five-star reads which is pretty unheard of. This is probably the best reading month, enjoyment wise, that I have had all year. I discovered an amazing series and a few new favorite authors.

Here is a wrap up of all of my books for the month:

The Lost Wonderland Diaries by Scott Savage- 5 stars

The Lost Wonderland Diaries: J. Scott Savage: 0783027727869: Amazon.com:  Books

“Stories were where I discovered I wasn’t alone. It sounds stupid saying it out loud, but books gave me the friends I didn’t have anywhere else.”

*Advanced Reader Copy provided to me by Shadow Mountain Publishing for an honest review*

This middle grade book was so good. How could I not enjoy a book that starts off in a library and then goes into a book?

In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren – 5 stars

“I ask the universe, simply: Can you show me what will make me happy?”

*Advanced Reader Copy provided to me by Gallery Books for an honest review*

I enjoyed this one so much that I stayed up until 2am finishing it. I enjoyed this so much more than I did Christina Lauren’s other books. This was witty, funny, a bit smutty entertaining, heartwarming and well written. I have a large family and it is my dream to have a family Christmas in a log cabin in the snow. So the setting of this book was just perfect.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski- 4 stars 

Amazon.com: The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy) (9780374384678):  Rutkoski, Marie: Books

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”

According to the Goodreads reviews this series is pretty polarizing, people either love it or hate. This book was recommended to me by my best friend who loves it and she did not disappoint. I really enjoyed it. I did think that the second half was far better than the first.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski- 4 stars 

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2) by Marie Rutkoski

“If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.”

I enjoyed the second book in this series a lot more than the first. The slow burn romance between Arin and Kestrel is so pure and realistic that you forget that you’re reading a book.

Crocodile On The Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters- 4 stars

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

“I disapprove of matrimony as a matter of principle…. Why should any independent, intelligent female choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband?”

These books were written back on the 1970s and honestly it shows. But, I really enjoyed them. They’re a combination of Sherlock Holmes meets The Mummy. Amelia Peabody refuses to be a proper lady and be the vulnerable, weaker gender that social norms try to make her out to be.

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters- 4 stars

Cover art

“Most men are reasonably useful in a crisis. The difficulty lies in convincing them that the situation has reached a critical point.”

Honestly, these books are all very similar; some calamity happens causing a big mystery and Amelia and Emerson has to solve said mystery.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell- 5 stars

Amazon.com: Eleanor & Park (0884186335213): Rainbow Rowell: Books

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.” 

This book swept me right off my feet. It was beautifully written, heart warming while still being completely heart wrenching. So many aspects of this book were reminiscent of my own childhood and experiences in school and were just completely relatable.

Shatter Me, Destroy Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi- 5 stars

Amazon.com: Shatter Me (8601300047799): Mafi, Tahereh: Books
Amazon.com: Destroy Me (Shatter Me Book 1) eBook: Mafi, Tahereh: Kindle  Store
Amazon.com: Unravel Me (Shatter Me Book 2) (8601404328640): Mafi, Tahereh:  Books

I can’t believe that I waited this long to get to this series. I had been hearing about it for years but just kept putting it off and now I regret that decision so much. These are so good. The fact that the dystopian society in this world doesn’t seem all that far off from ours is a little scary.

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan- 5 stars

Amazon.com: Wicked Saints: A Novel (Something Dark and Holy, 1)  (9781250195661): Duncan, Emily A.: Books

“We’re all monsters, Nadya, some of us just hide it better than others.”

Another book that has been sitting on my shelves for months that I should have gotten to a long time ago. This book has everything; beautiful, lyrical writing, the Russian inspired cold atmosphere, and the beautiful themes. Not to mention the found family aspect, which I LOVE!

Definitely Read This: Havenfall by Sara Holland

Title: Havenfall

Author: Sara Holland

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Pages: 305

Rating: 4 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:

Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds—each with its own magic. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic firsthand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.

But this summer, the impossible happens—a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer, Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie—no one can be trusted, and no one is safe…

“Not the girl who feels constantly scraped raw by the cruel words that have sunk through my skin and nestled in my heart, braiding with the poisoned strands of lingering memories to create something heavy, dense and thorny.”

My Thoughts:

World-Building:

I have come to realize that I love books that start off with an explanation of the world whether it’s explaining the magic system, lands within the world, character groups or anything else. I love having these explanations at the beginning, clear cut and easily accessible.

In Havenfall’s case this explanation introduces the “adjacent realms” within the story; Fiordenkill, Byrn, Solaria, and Haven. While I did enjoy this first book in the series I hope that in the subsequent book(s) we get to spend more time within these other realms.

In writing this story Holland not only built this vast, multi-layered world but she had to develop an entire hierarchy, political system and governing documents.

One aspect of this story is that there are certain realms that have been sealed off over the centuries. I am so intrigued by these; I not only want to know about the realms that are still open but I would love to have other books based on these sealed off realms.

Magic System:

The magic system in this is so cleverly written and developed. The doorways into each different realm is governed by this magic. This magic is more stable during the summer and every year on the solstice, all the realms come into some sort of alignment. When aligned a sort of thread runs through all the worlds that allows large numbers of people to pass through the doorways. At other times, they’re less safe- people crossing through can cause strange charges in the air of Haven, or make the ground tremble.

“You have more happy memories than scary ones, don’t you? Why give the scary ones so much space in your head?”


Characters:

Honestly the biggest thing that I disliked about this story was the lack of character development. I love a book that has in depth world building but I don’t think that characters should suffer because of it, there needs to be a healthy balance of both.

Maddie- At the beginning I really enjoyed Maddie as a main character. She had drive and ambition and was a survivor. But as the story went on she just made bad decision after bad decision and so much of the book ended up being her own internal monologues and it just didn’t work for me. By the end of the book, I couldn’t stand her.

The first part of the book is all Maddie talking about how she has to get back to Haven because it’s her destiny to be the next Innkeeper and how she has been preparing for this her whole life but then when the opportunity presents itself and it is time for her to step up, she completely fails and all she does is act like a scared child.

“There’s a very specific kind of splintering that comes with seeing people you trust fall short or fall apart.”

There’s this part about half way through the book where Maddie goes on this tangent about how hard it is when the people you trust let you down and listed how every person in her life had let her down. This just bugged me so much. She continually plays the victim throughout the book, ignoring the fact that when it came time for her to step up and take charge for the people around her, she didn’t.

There are 305 pages in this book and it took Maddie until page 253 to step up and take control.

Brekken- We only see Brekken at the beginning and end of the book, I wish that we had gotten more of him. Honestly, I would have rather he be the main character. I would have much preferred for the story to focus more on the Fantasy aspects than the Contemporary “in Haven” aspects.

The Silver Prince- He almost reminds me of Cardan from Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series. With his cunning, intelligence, and ability to always be 2 steps ahead.

“Heavenfall is our secret. You both must always protect it… Soon, she’ll give her life to protect that secret. And sometimes I feel like she’s already given her soul.”

Representation:

While I may not have liked the way that Maddie handled herself, Havenfall has such good representation and depictions of PTSD and trauma. Maddie’s survival’s guilt and confused memories are honest and raw.

While Maddie’s sexual orientation is not explicitly stated, there is reference to her being attracted to one of the other girls staying at the Inn.

Would I recommend:

While it wasn’t perfect, I would definitely recommend Havenfall for anyone who enjoys in-depth world building. I love a book that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. While I would classify this book as a fantasy, not a mystery, there are so many lines weaving through the story and leaving so many possibilities open that it almost reads as a mystery. I love when a story is written in a way that leaves you speculating the whole way through but then still surprises you at the end.

“Like a cross between a Horcrux and Aladdin’s magic lamp, only with monsters instead of genies.”

Any book that references Harry Potter and a Disney movie automatically wins in my opinion.

Blog Tour-ARC Review: The Mall by Megan McCafferty

Title: The Mall 

Author: Megan McCafferty

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books

Pages: 320

Rating: Free Free Star Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on ...Free Free Star Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on ...Free Free Star Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on ...

 

“And for the first time all summer, The Mall was exactly where I wanted to be.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

 

“In six weeks, I’d be packing up all my stuff and getting the hell out of Pineville. But until then, my life at The Mall would really, really suck.”

My Thoughts: 

The Mall is such a fun and nostalgic, quirky and fast paced read. I went into this one pretty blind so I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I got invited to be a part of this blog tour but it was so fun going back to the 90’s with this one. 

This book is a walk straight down memory lane right into my childhood. There are so many pop-culture references through out that make this such a fun read. 

I really enjoyed the wit and sarcasam of the story and the characters but I went through the entirety of the story feeling like something was missing and in the end it just didn’t really deliver what I needed it to. 

So even though it wasn’t in any way bad… it wasn’t great either. Hence the 3 stars. 

Definitely Read This: Martin McLean Middle School Queen by Alyssa Zaczek

**Advance Review Copy of this book provided by Sterling Children’s Publishing for an honest review** 

“So who cares who you love? What matters is that you do love.”

Goodreads Synopsis

Seventh-grader Martin McLean has always been surrounded by people who can express themselves. His mother is an artist, his colorful Tío Billy works in theater, and his best friends Carmen and Pickle are outgoing and don’t care what other people think. But Martin can only find the right words when he’s answering a problem at a Mathletes competition—until his tío introduces him to the world of drag. In a swirl of sequins and stilettos, Martin creates his fabulous drag queen alter ego, Lottie León.

As Lottie, he is braver than he’s ever been; but as Martin, he doesn’t have the guts to tell anyone outside of his family about her. Not Carmen and Pickle, not his Mathletes teammates, and definitely not Chris, an eighth-grader who gives Martin butterflies. When Martin discovers that his first-ever drag show is the same night as the most important Mathletes tournament, he realizes that he can only pull off both appearances by revealing his true self to his friends—and channeling his inner drag superstar.

 

My Thoughts

This may very well end up being my favorite book of 2020!

This book is everything that we need in these troubling times. Trust me, do yourself a favor and pick this one up! 

This story is heart-warming, hopeful, funny, and beautifully written. It’s honest and relatable and so so full of diversity and representation. This book literally has everything from family dynamics, to beautiful friendships, found family and young teenagers growing and coming into themselves in the most beautiful way. 

Not to mention that this book features a Cuban family, which is not something that I see often, and as someone with Cuban heritage I am so so thankful that we are represented so well in this book. 

This book is perfect for kids and adults alike! These are exactly the types of books we need to be reading and promoting and maybe just maybe we can clear some of the fear, hatred, and ignorance out of our society. 

Embassy Of The Dead by Will Mabbitt

This ARC was provided by Netgalley and Orion Children’s Publishing for an honest review. 

Good Reads Synopsis: 

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . . 

 

My Thoughts:

While I’ve read other middle grades that I enjoyed more than this one, this was a cute little book. A little spooky given the subject matter, but the story is still fun and quirky. 

This story offers perfectly spooky characters and setting and is well and whimsically written. 

I really enjoyed Jake as the main character. He is a brave, adventurous kid who finds himself among the World of the Dead. He meets some new fun friends along the way and changes the trajectory of his life.

While I think this book may have been a little “young” for my tastes, I imagine that any child would love and thoroughly enjoy it. This is precisely the type of book I would have loved at that age. 

Read This- You by Caroline Kepnes

“They’re in their own world, where good things happen, a quarter mile and a million light years away.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

When a beautiful aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

My Thought: Gold star clipart free imagesGold star clipart free imagesGold star clipart free imagesGold star clipart free images

I had seen so many reviews saying that this book needed to be listened to in audio so that is what I did, and it did not disappoint! If I wasn’t already married this book would have made me suspicious and wary of every guy I ever met.

I tried to read spoiler free reviews so that I could go in relatively blind and that’s exactly what happened, I had no idea what to expect. This is book is creepy, cringe worthy and straight up scary. It highlights the worst of humanity and how blind we can be to it even when it is right in front of our faces.

What makes this so good and so unique is that You is told in second person. This means that the Stalker, the main protagonist is stalking you. It makes the book so much more spooky and eerie.

 

“That’s why you leave the windows open. You don’t know how to be alone with yourself. And if you block out the world, there you’d be.”

This was so so well written and there are so many parts that are just goose-bump inducing.

The only reason I gave this a 4 star instead of 5 is because I genuinely disliked every character in this book. Obviously you are not meant to like Joe but I just felt like everyone was unlikable.

How I Stay Calm When Dealing With Anxiety

Anxiety is something that I am fairly familiar with. For the most part I am a fairly easy going and laid back person. But it doesn’t take much to push me over the line from calm into anxious and uneasy.

I am an inherent people pleaser and hate knowing that I am letting anyone down and/or disappointing them. Pair that with a serious dislike for confrontation and it can lead to some pretty difficult situations. I’m slowly learning that it is okay for me to say no and that in most situations it’s just not that serious.

On top of my need to people please, I also get pretty bad social anxiety. I HATE speaking in public and almost always feel that spike of fear when speaking in front of a group of people, even my own friends and family. To me, being the center of attention and having all eyes on me is pretty much a nightmare.

This social anxiety reared it head last week when I was told that I would have to participate in a meeting at work and defend the company’s decision in terminating someone’s employment. I was given two days’ notice and very little information in order to prep myself.

 

I know that there are so many people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks so I thought that this week I would share the things that I do to help me stay calm in these instances.

 

Take A Deep Breath

Ok, so I know that this is super basic but it really does help. The aforementioned meeting was set up much like a trail in court and I was basically being called in as a witness for the company which meant that I had to sit in a room by myself for about 20 minutes before being called in to give my ‘testimony”. I spent the entirety of those 20 minutes doing just this, taking deep breaths.

Take a big deep breath in slowly through your nose. Hold it for a moment, then release through your mouth just as slowly. Do this a few times to slow your mind and your heart rate.

 

Get Outside

So this may not always be doable. But if you can make it happen, I guarantee that it will help. Not only will you be able to breathe in the fresh air but natural light will automatically improve your mood. Take a few minutes, clear your head, and relax.

 

Review and Reflect

This is a big one for me. When I get into those anxious moods, my mind always wants to take me to the worst case scenario. I always make the situation so much bigger than it actually is.

Taking a moment to reflect helps me put things into perspective. I give myself time to take a step back from the situation and ask myself “What is actually happening? Is it actually as big a deal as I am making it?” and I then ask myself “If this goes badly is it going to have a serious effect on the rest of my life or is it just going to cause me a little bit of discomfort? Is someone going to die, is it the end of the world?” Of course, it is never as serious as all that.

When I put it into perspective in that way and remind myself that whatever is happening will either be over soon or will not have a lasting effect on my life, I am able to separate my emotions from the actual facts.

 

Crying It Out

Everyone is different, so stress and anxiety may not effect you the same way is does me. When I get anxious or have something unexpected sprung on me, my body’s first reaction is to start crying. When I feel overwhelmed, that is the first thing that happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the back file room of our office in tears because I am feeling overwhelmed and/or anxious about something. And there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that (if it’s happening every single day than further action may be necessary) but for the most part there’s nothing wrong with needing to cry.

Crying is a perfectly reasonable response to any emotion including anxiousness and stress. Just take a moment for yourself, allow yourself to feel what you need to, take some deep breathes and move on. Usually just this step alone helps me process and embrace what I am feeling and allows to use the rest of these steps to move on .

 

Focus On The Rest

Any situation or moment that is causing you anxiety can feel like it is the only thing in the world that matters or like there will never be anything else after it but you have to remind yourself that that isn’t true; you have already lived an entire life worth of experiences and will continue to do so once this situation is over. But there will be more. Life is full of moments and chances. And more will come.

 

Write That Shit Down

I’ve always enjoyed writing and for most of my life have had some type of journal. Over the years I’ve learned that writing things down can immediately relieve some stress. Writing something down on a piece of paper immediately makes what you’re experiencing and feeling tangible and allows you to process and organize your thoughts.

 

Talk It Out

I cannot tell you how important it is to have someone to vent to; whether it’s your spouse, your coworker, a family member or your best friend. Having someone to remind you that it isn’t the end of the world, that it will all be okay and that you are capable of doing this is invaluable. I would have been even more stressed out about this meeting had I not had my friend to talk me through and remind me that I could do it and that she was rooting for me.

If you’re feeling anxious about something, reach out to someone and talk it out.

 

Keep Moving Forward

Again, remember that what your currently experiencing and feeling probably isn’t the end of the world. This day will end and a new one will begin and that’s really the best advice there is; just take it one day at a time, eventually the time for the scary meeting or presentation will come and go. Learn what you can from this experience and than move on to the next.

 

Definitely Read This: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

“He is not elegant enough for a sonnett, too well-thought-out for a free write, taking too much space in my thoughts to ever be a haiku.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. The debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

“Freedom seems like such a big word. Something too big; maybe like a skyscraper I’ve glimpsed from the foot of the building but never been invited to climb.”

My Thoughts: Extra-Large Gold Star Cutouts 12ct | Party CityExtra-Large Gold Star Cutouts 12ct | Party CityExtra-Large Gold Star Cutouts 12ct | Party CityExtra-Large Gold Star Cutouts 12ct | Party CityExtra-Large Gold Star Cutouts 12ct | Party City

Before reading The Poet X I had never read a book told through prose before and because I don’t typically enjoy poetry I wasn’t sure if I would like this. But I listened to the audiobook of The Poet X and I am so so glad that I did. This book is beautifully crafted and Elizabeth Acevedo is a genius and incredibly gifted. 

 Going into this book I had no idea that I was in for such a raw, honest look at religion, adolescence, Hispanic households, and family ties. This is an own-voices book for the Hispanic rep and Acevedo actually narrates the audiobook herself which I love. 

This book is so real and honest to a fault and so relatable. So many times while listening to this audiobook did I find myself nodding my head in agreement and understand exactly what Acevedo was saying. 

“I am the baby fat that settled into D-cups and swinging hips so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.”

This may be one of the most relatable quotes I’ve ever read in a book. 

This book tackles so many important topics but in such a lyrical and elegant way. Acevedo talks about body image and acceptance, rape culture, self- love, abuse, religion, and the place that women have in it, homophobia, bigotry and so much more. 

If you have read any of my other posts on this blog then you know that I am a religious person. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with how religion is portrayed and executed in our broken world. 

As someone who has dealt with sexual abuse in my life and subsequent difficulties trusting men, there is a quote about religion in this book that just hit me so hard. 

When I’m told to have faith in the father, the son, in men – and men are the first ones to make me feel so small.

This line was just mind-blowing and so thought-provoking and caused me to really take a look at myself and my own beliefs and how I project my human emotions and experiences onto my faith and vice versa UGH! it is just so good!

 

This was one of my favorite books of 2019 and I highly recommend listening to the audiobook. 

Read This: Scavenge The Stars by Tara Sim

While I did really enjoy the story, I don’t know that I would say that it is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. In my opinion, this was reminiscent of the Alexander Dumas book but I don’t think that it is really a retelling.

I really enjoyed the main character Amaya/Silverfish, she has a great arc throughout the course of the story. I loved the duality of her character; it’s almost as if she has a split personality how easily she is able to switch between the characteristics of the two versions of herself. Silverfish is ruthless and fearless and shows no remorse while Amaya is almost like a scared little girl who is still grieving the loss of her parents and her home. Not to mention her eventually having to play the part of Countess Yama.

For me, Cayo truly makes this story. He is conflicted and loves his sister so much that he is willing to ruin his own life to help her when she gets sick.

This is classed as a fantasy but it didn’t really have very many fantastical elements. I don’t think that there was much world-building or changing of the world. The countries are fictitious but there isn’t much of a change from our reality except for the use of alchemy. I definitely don’t think it has as good of world-building as say Four Dead Queens.

The story ends with a bit of a plot twist. But, I really wasn’t all that surprised by it.

All in all, this was good but not anything extraordinary.

 

Definitely: Listen to This

“I haven’t killed anyone for three years and I thought that when it happened again I’d feel bad. Like an alcoholic taking a sip of whiskey. But no. Nothing. I had a blissful night’s sleep. Didn’t wake up at all. And for once, no bad dream either. This morning I feel balanced. Almost sane, for once.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

Rhiannon is your average girl next door, settled with her boyfriend and little dog…but she’s got a killer secret.

Although her childhood was haunted by a famous crime, Rhiannon’s life is normal now that her celebrity has dwindled. By day, her job as an editorial assistant is demeaning and unsatisfying. By evening, she dutifully listens to her friends’ plans for marriage and babies while secretly making a list.

A kill list.

From the man at the grocery checkout who always mishandles her apples, to the driver who cuts her off on her way to work, to the people who have it coming, Rhiannon is ready to get her revenge.

Because the girl everyone overlooks might be able to get away with murder…

 

“Isn’t it funny how people have to die before anyone lets them know what they mean to them? Well, not funny. Just stupid. I mean, they can’t hear you now, can they?”

My Thoughts:                     Rating: File:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia Commons

 

This is one book that I am going to say that you should absolutely listen to on Audiobook.

Rhiannon our main character is an unlikable and wildly unreliable narrator. She is funny, she is crass, she is honest, she is crazy and she is clearly a sociopath.

This was my first foray into black comedy and I loved it. This book combines that black comedy with crime and a little bit of mystery and it is hilarious and bold.

While listening to Sweetpea in my car on the way to work I:

Laughed out loud
Gasped at the audacity
Secretly agreed with some of Rhiannon’s thoughts
Worried that I was understanding some of Rhiannon’s thought processes

If you are easily offended, don’t like cussing, and are put off by sexual situations, or violence then this is not the book for you. 

Sweetpea is Rhiannon’s journal, following her adventures through life. Some of the journal is told in traditional diary form talking about the things that have happened to her. But most of the journal is Rhiannon making lists of all the people she wants to kill and why. These journal entries are spot on with Rhiannon’s personality! And hugely entertaining.

I got this book as a recommendation from Harriet Rosie on Youtube and I haven’t stopped taking recommendations from her. She hasn’t let me down yet.

This book was like nothing I had ever read before and I loved it.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

“Perhaps the gods have forgotten us, or grown bored with our small corner of the kingdom. Because here I am, about to share the last thing I’d ever want to offer the King. Myself.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful the cage is. It’s still a prison.”

My Thoughts:

Rating:File:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia CommonsFile:Gold Star.svg - Wikimedia Commons

 

I read this book last year for a book club that I am a part of on Facebook and it had been so hyped up that I went in with very high expectations. But, as you can see I only gave it three stars.

It was good but I didn’t think it was great. I actually liked the sequel Girls of Storm and Shadow more.

A fantasy story with queer girls, demons, and half-demons, the overcoming of forced slavery, and fierce warrior girls sounded like it would be perfect! It also had some pretty heavy trigger warnings. So I went in expecting a dark, sad, heavy story blended into a fantasy setting.

And I just didn’t feel like I got that. The fantasy elements are there definitely; the world-building is great and the story itself was well written. I just think that the part of this book that is always so talked about it is the girls being the king’s concubines and I feel like that aspect wasn’t really touched that much. I think that that could have been really explored but instead, it was kind of skirted around and alluded to.

I felt like more of the story was a “slice of life” look at the girl’s lives living in the palace and not really about their forced relationships with the king.

All of the girls felt predictable to me and like they hadn’t been fully fleshed out.

I just didn’t think this book deserved as much hype as it got.

Looking Back At Our Wedding On Our Five Year Wedding Anniversary

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I cannot believe that it has already been 5 years since our wedding. Although 60 months have passed, it seriously feels like it just happened! Today we are celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary together! And these days celebrating anything is looking a lot different than it usually would.

Instead of going out to a fancy restaurant or to a show on the strip we will pick up our fancy dinner and eat it here at home and have a nice movie night.

But, I also wanted to celebrate our day here by reflecting on the moments of that day and writing them down (and sharing lots of beautiful pictures of course).

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I remember spending the night before our wedding, in my bridesmaid Karlie’s guest bedroom.

I had always thought that I’d be jittery and a big ball of nerves the night before my wedding. I thought that I would lie awake all night unable to sleep. But, I remember talking to Karlie as we giggled with excitement and shared the anticipation of the day to come but overall I felt ready.

I woke up early the next morning around 5:00 AM  and couldn’t fall back to sleep so I stayed laying down and unsuccessfully tried to read.

After getting up and showering Karlie and I packed up our dresses and all of our stuff and headed out to Lake Las Vegas where our wedding ceremony and reception were being held.

Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa - The Village Lake Las Vegas

Our wedding ceremony wasn’t set to begin until 5pm so the next several hours were spent trying to set up ribbons and flowers outside on a windy day, checking on the reception space, trying to hide from Nick and the groomsman (who were up in a hotel room overlooking the reception area outside), taking lots and lots of pictures and laughing at my aunt (Titi Vivian) chasing away hotel guests who had decided to eat their lunch in our closed-off reception area outside.

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We had a few little mishaps along the way like my hair and makeup person being almost an hour late, the hotel using our ceremony space for a wedding rehearsal two hours before our ceremony when we had already set everything up, my grandmother unknowingly talking about our Pastor being good looking without realizing that he understood Spanish, and none of us quite knowing how to tie up the corset ties on my wedding dress. Many of these little things that were distressing at the time are pretty funny to think about now.

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My bridal party consisted of four women whom I love dearly:

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 Our photographer ran back and forth between us girls and the boys upstairs taking shots of both groups getting ready and what not and she did a fabulous job capturing the day! That morning was simply sweet and fun, and I’m glad I was surrounded by so many of my beautiful and supportive friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be a part of our special day!

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These pictures of the guys getting ready are some of my favorite from the day.

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Once all of our hair and makeup had been done it was time to get into our dresses and get some pictures taken.

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Followed by a beautiful time of prayer led by our Pastor.

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Finally, the guests had arrived and it was time to begin the ceremony. All of the bridal party walked out from a tunnel leading to the ceremony space and to the gazebo where our Pastor was waiting. Then it was my turn; honestly, this was the part that I had been dreading the most. I do not like being the center of attention and having all of those eyes on me for that long is pretty much my worst nightmare. But my grandfather walked me down the aisle and it went a lot quicker than it felt (partly because I was practically dragging him along because I was trying to get it over with and he kept having to hold me back, whispering for me to slow down).

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The ceremony was beautiful. I walked down the aisle to an orchestral version of Music of The Night from the Phantom of the Opera. Patrick, our Pastor, has a great sense of humor and spoke beautiful words over us. We also had two of our friends from church play the guitar and sing an original song from our church’s worship band while we took communion.

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After the ceremony, we took a few more pictures with family and bridal party and went right into the reception.

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We had our first dance as a couple. We danced to “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. And we all ate a delicious meal, enjoyed toasts from my Mom who was my maid of honor, and Nick’s brother who was the best man.

I had a mother-daughter dance with my mom and Nick had his dance with his. Our wedding coordinator sang a beautiful rendition of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again from The Phantom of the Opera in honor of our family members who have passed away and could not join us for our special day. Then the night continued with dancing, we all took a break to enjoy some tasty desserts and cake, I threw the bouquet and garter, and danced some more! When it was time to make our exit, we left the venue running through a flurry of bubbles and headed upstairs to our beautiful honeymoon suite.

We left married, blissfully happy, and exhausted from a long and wonderful day.

 

Disney Memories: Tutto Italia in the Italian Pavilion In EPCOT

I remember going to this restaurant so many times as a kid with my parents and siblings. Unfortunately, I haven’t visited this restaurant in more than a decade and have not visited as an adult but I definitely plan on remedying this on our next trip. I have so many fond memories here and still think about that delicious lasagna. 

Tutto Italia Ristorante Menu - EPCOT World Showcase

I remember the dining area being very beautifully decorated and set the perfect ambiance for an Italian restaurant.  

Tutto Italia Ristorante Menu - EPCOT World Showcase

In the same vein as Macaroni Grill or most other Italian style restaurants, your meal begins with a bread basket and olive oil for dipping. Honestly, I don’t remember whether this was tasty or not. But, it’s hard to go wrong with bread and olive oil so I am going to assume that it was.  

New Wine Cellar, Spiffed-Up Tutto Italia Open May 1 at Italy at ...

The main thing that I remember about this restaurant and that seems to be engrained in my memory is the Lasagna dish. I remember it being huge, cheesy, and delicious. I cannot wait to try it again. Honestly, I can’t even tell you if anyone in my family ever ordered anything other than the lasagna.  

                                        TUTTO ITALIA RISTORANTE, Orlando - Menu, Prices & Restaurant ...

  

After checking the menu for Tutto Italia in research for this post, I see that they do still have the lasagna on the menu along with many other delicious-looking dishes.  

Review and Food Photos: Tutto Italia in Epcot's Italy Pavilion

Here’s to hoping that our August trip will go through and I will get to see if this restaurant holds up to my memories of it.  

  

  

 

  

Definitely Read This: The Good Daughter

“What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone. In many ways, it’s worse than murder, because he has killed that potential person, eradicated that potential life, yet she still lives and breathes, and has to figure out another way to thrive.”

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind.

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father—Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney—devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, Charlotte has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself—the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again, and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized, Charlotte is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress–because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever. Packed with twists and turns, brimming with emotion and heart, The Good Daughter is fiction at its most thrilling. 

“Many people must have told you that you are lucky to be alive. I think you would have been lucky had you not been shot in the first place.”

My Thoughts:

This is quite literally the best thriller that I have ever read. I read this book more than a year ago and I still think about it. Karin Slaughter is the queen of thrillers. 

First and foremost, let me warn you that this book is not for the faint-hearted; it is violent, gory, graphic, and does not sugar coat anything.

I don’t usually do these but this book requires it. Trigger warnings for graphic rape, pedophilia, penetration using an object, graphic deaths, mention of suicide, loss of a loved one, police brutality, racist comments, hurtful, misgendering, arson, a school shooting, extreme bullying, miscarriages, grey-area cheating, and a lot of violence.

This story is extremely dark and (to put it bluntly) fucked up. But it is also so intelligently and expertly written. I have read a few other books by Karin Slaughter and none of them blew me away the way this one did. This book is a wild ride from the very beginning, it is full of plot twists, parallels, and an ending that was absolutely brutal to read. 

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away and this is the type of book that you absolutely want to go into blind. 

But, let me say that this is one of the best books that I have ever read. 

Choosing My Foundation In Life

“For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”- 1 Corinthians 3:11

We are living in crazy, unprecedented times. This is a new experience for all of us, one that none of us saw coming. And in times of uncertainty like these, we tend to have the human response of allowing ourselves to wallow in negative emotions like fear, anxiousness, and anger. 

I am just as guilty of this as anyone. For me, it isn’t really fear of the virus. I, like most people, don’t like change and I don’t like the uncertainty of not know what is going to happen and not being in control. 

But, earlier this week I read the scripture above and it was a wake-up call for me. I am spending this time at home allowing myself to build my life on foundations of uncertainty, lack of control, and anxiety; instead of remembering who actually is in control and who the foundation of my life should always be. 

I was reminded this week that if I choose to build my life on a perfect and strong foundation than I allow the Lord to take control. If I do this than I can handle more, I can love more, I can be more of the person Christ calls me to be. I don’t have to worry about what might or might not happen. I can rest in the fact that I am not the one in control but either is anyone else in this world. 

If I choose to use things of this world as my foundation–then I will fail and I will be swept away by these negative emotions. I am only human and I can only handle so much. 

But, when I remember who is really in control and build my foundation on Him, only Him, then I have nothing to worry about and I stand on solid ground. 

And so, going forward I am choosing to walk through this season of life trying again and again (and probably failing along the way) to choose the perfect, strong foundation. Christ as my foundation is a daily choice.

 

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 

Definitely Read This: Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas

DISCLAIMER: I received an e-ARC of LIKE NOTHING AMAZING EVER HAPPENED from Random House Children’s through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Then I just reach across the table and hugged her. In the middle of the library. Because she’s so good at saying the perfect thing and sometimes I forget I have her.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

Justin doesn’t know anything these days. Like how to walk down the halls without getting stared at. Or what to say to Jenni. Or how Phuc is already a physics genius in seventh grade. Or why Benny H. wanders around Wicapi talking to old ghosts. He doesn’t know why his mom suddenly loves church or if his older brother, Murphy, will ever play baseball again. Or if the North Stars have a shot at the playoffs. Justin doesn’t know how people can act like everything’s fine when it’s so obviously not. And most of all, he doesn’t know what really happened the night his dad died on the train tracks.

And that sucks.

But life goes on. And as it does, Justin discovers that some things are just unknowable. He learns that time and space and memory are grander and weirder than he ever thought, and that small moments can hold big things if you’re paying attention. Just like his math teacher said, even when you think you have all the information, there will be more. There is always more.

“Death does weird things to the living.” 

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much. It is so soft and so beautiful. I don’t typically love “slice of life” type books, I much more enjoy plot-driven stories. But this story was so well written and has such beautiful depictions of grief, PTSD, trauma, and life after the loss of a loved one.

This story reminds you that even though life can take some unexpected turns and come at you hard, it is still a beautiful journey and there is still so much to be thankful for.

One of my favorite parts of this story was the relationship between Justin and his older brother Murphy. Murphy takes over the role of “man of the house” and does it without complaint and does his best to be a good role model for Justin; their banter and open and honest discussions are beautiful.

This is a middle-grade book and I feel that it was a perfect look at grief and healing both for children and adults.

 

 

Free Dining Plan At Walt Disney World- Worth It?

We all hear the word “free” and immediately jump right in, right? But, is anything ever really free?

When it comes to the Disney Dining Plan, you may get the dining itself for free but you’re also (typically) required to stay at a more expensive hotel in order to qualify, so you still end up paying more.

You could ask 10 different people if the dining plan is worth it and you would get ten different answers; some people swear by it and others think it’s a ploy to get you into a more expensive hotel. As with anything we all have our opinions and its hard to define worth because what makes something “worth it” to me, may not to you.

So don’t take this as the perfect answer but this is my opinion based on my experiences using the Disney Dining Plan.

For us, the dining plan is absolutely worth it, whether “free” or not. We include the dining plan every time that we visit Walt Disney World and here is why:

  • It’s just one less thing to worry about while on vacation. We like arriving on property and knowing that everything but souvenirs has been paid for. We don’t have to worry about carrying cash, we don’t have to worry about staying on budget and we know that we are guaranteed at least 2 meals and 2 snacks every day of our stay (depending on which plan we are on). All we have to do is swipe that little Magicband at the register and keep walking.

 

  • We get to try restaurants we otherwise probably wouldn’t. Because of the dining plan we get to start off our Magic Kingdom day with enjoying a delicious breakfast at Be Our Guest. We always get the delicious Cronut at BoG, this entree typically costs $29! That is not something we would usually ever pay, but because we are on the dining plan, it’s included.

 

  • If you know what you are doing and plan things right, the Dining Plan can help you get into the parks early.

 

  • For us, I always make a reservation for Be Our Guest for early enough in the morning then we can get into the Magic Kingdom at least an hour before the park opens and we are finished with our breakfast just as the park is opening (and then make a dash straight for Seven Dwarves Mine Train while everyone else is still entering the park).  

 

  • Character Dining is included. Now, this depends on the plan you are on and you may need to use more than 1 meal credit. But this is huge! A character meal typically costs $34+ for adults and $20+ for kids. If you have a large family, that cost adds up quickly. 

 

  • The dining plans include alcohol. We aren’t big drinkers but I know that for people who are the cost of alcohol can add up quickly especially in Disney World where drinks typically cost $13+. 

 

  • Each meal credit includes an entree, beverage, and a dessert. As I said depending on which plan you are on each person in your party gets at least two meals per day. On the dining plans, you are given a lump sum of meal credits and snack credits and they can be used interchangeably however you choose. So we have learned that it is very easy for us to get one large entree (and dessert) and split it, and we both get to eat while only using one meal credit. This allows us to stretch out those credits, and we rarely have to pay for food out of pocket while on vacation. 

 

  • You get to take snacks home with you. Anyone who has used one of the Disney Dining Plans knows that you don’t typically use up all of your snack credits, especially if you have a large party. So obviously you aren’t going to let those credits go to waste. So what do you do? You buy a bunch of snacks at your resort’s gift shop before heading to the airport. 

Disney Goofy Candy Co. - Mickey Head LicoriceDisney Chip & Dale Snack Co. - Nature's Trail Mix

These snacks typically cost $4-$5 but are considered a snack credit under the dining plans. So use up those leftover credits and get some snacks for the airplane!

 

Like I said some of you may agree with me on this list and some of you may not. I know there are a lot of people out there who are more analytically and mathematically minded then I am, who like to figure out exactly how much they would spend on food and then compare it to the cost of the dining plan. Personally, that’s a little too much for me. I would rather pay a little more in the long run before we ever leave on vacation and have the convenience once we arrive.

 

What do you think? Do you use the DDP, do you think it is worth it?

 

 

Read This: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

“Don’t start telling yourself stories about me, Esta. I’m not some knight in shining armor. I don’t have some hidden heart of gold. I’m a bastard, in every sense of the word.”
“Who said I want you to be anything but what you are? I like your angles and your edges,” she told him, hoping he could hear the truth in her words. “I have plenty of my own, you know.”

 

GoodReads Synopsis:

In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

 

My Thoughts: 

I’m not going to lie it’s been a while since I read this book and it has taken me a lot longer than anticipated to get this review up. But here we are.

There were only a few things that really kept this from being a 5 star for me; one was the dueling timelines; it got a bit confusing for me at times. Also, there are so many characters in this story that it becomes difficult to keep track of each of them and on top of that many of them weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked.

But there were a lot of aspects about this that I did enjoy that lead me to my 4-star review: Time travel, magic, an intricate plot, well-executed world-building, New York in the 1900s, and a slow burn romance.

The combination of magic and time travel in this is something that I think could have been messed up pretty easily; that aspect reminds a bit of Reverie by Ryan La Sala but this was executed much much better than it was in Reverie.

Honestly, I think the last 100-200 pages of this book were the best parts. There was a pretty big plot twist at the end which I definitely didn’t expect.

All in all, I would say I thought that it was good but I wasn’t completely blown away. The fact that there are two other books in the series and I haven’t picked either up says enough about my thoughts.

Breaking The Chains of Infertility

Going into this quarantine I knew that I didn’t want to spend this time sitting on my couch binge-watching every show on Netflix and napping with my dogs. I fully believe that everything happens for a reason and that God has granted us this time with a purpose. So I have spent the last 5 weeks making a To-Do List each morning and being as productive as I possibly can (with some binge-watching thrown in, if I’m being honest).

One of my goals every day has been to spend time in prayer and doing a Bible Study, which I have really been enjoying and I know has been helping me keep my sanity being stuck in the house.

Part of this morning’s reading was a passage in Philippians:

“And I want you to know dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains for Christ.” – Philippians 1:12-13

I have been using a bible study from https://shereadstruth.com/ which includes the passages to read as well as a short devotional discussing the scripture. A portion of that devotional said:

“At this point in my talk, I told the women that I had a secret. I began unbuttoning my shirt. Awkward silence filled the room. Underneath my faded, denim top I wore a white t-shirt and cold, bulky metal chains. No one had suspected that I was wearing chains, yet they were there the whole time—pinching, constraining, and weighing me down. We don’t always know the chains people are wrapped up in, do we?”

This brought me such a clear vision of how we all walk around suffering from different things (wrapped in chains) and yet those around us may never even see it. No one around us will ever know if we don’t open up our mouths and speak.

The devotional also says:

“Yet Paul is convinced that his current suffering is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide. On the contrary, he insists that his circumstances advance the gospel message. He tells the Philippians, “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14 NIV). Even in jail, Paul rejoices that his guards are hearing about Jesus and that other believers are encouraged and empowered.”

Reading this scripture and this devotional got me thinking and asking myself, “Am I allowing this chain of infertility to weigh me down, am I ashamed of it or am I using these circumstances to advance the gospel message. Am I using my chains to encourage or empower anyone else?

I know it says in Romans 8:28 And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”  I remind myself of that promise every day and know that I will get pregnant, that we will have a child, if and when God wills it and not a second before.

But are there women out there struggling with infertility who are sitting in their pain and anguish who don’t know that promise, who haven’t read that scripture? And what am I doing to bring that message to them?

Another beautiful and powerful statement in my reading this morning was:

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ…”- Philippians 1:20

So here I am writing this blog post. Do I enjoy talking about our infertility, about our struggle in waiting and hoping? No… I don’t. But, I never want to be ashamed and I want to be bold for Christ.

So if this post can reach even one other woman struggling with infertility and let her know that she is loved by a BIG God, that He sees her in her pain and He says in Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” 

Then I have broken that chain today and I have used what has happened to me to spread the Good News.

 

 

Life In Quarantine During the 2020 Pandemic

Life right now is a little crazy. This COVID-19 pandemic is something that no one saw coming.

Like the lyrics from a Hamilton song, we have seen our “World Turned Upside Down.” Nearly everything that we know, that is familiar to us has stopped and/or closed.

This has been especially surreal here in Vegas. This city runs on tourism and entertainment and those things are gone now. As someone who has worked in the casino industry for nearly a decade, I can tell you that these times are completely unprecedented.

I remember the first time that Nick and I heard about Coronavirus; we were watching the news before bed (like we do nearly every night) and there the newscasters were discussing a virus spreading in China. Honestly, we didn’t think that it was anything that we would ever have to worry about.

But as the days and weeks passed it grew and grew until suddenly it was like we were living in a completely different world.

If you had told me in January that not one but that every casino in Las Vegas would be closed come the end of March, I would have said that you were crazy, that it would never happen. Boy was I wrong.

Not only are the casinos closed but so is nearly every other business. We are no longer allowed to physically attend church, parks, and golf courses are closed, Lake Mead is closed and our Governor is encouraging and now mandating that everyone “Stay Home For Nevada.”

And worst of all, thousands of Nevadans have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more have lost their jobs.

I hope and pray that this will all be over soon and that nothing like this will ever happen again. But while we are living in these unprecedented times, I want to document what is happening in our city, across our country, and in our daily lives.

Nick recently said that life right now is like the movie Groundhog Day. We are living the same day over and over again. There’s no more Monday through Friday for us, no real distinction between weekday and weekend.

I do have to point out that Nick and I have been extremely blessed in the fact that not only are we both able to work from home but more importantly we both still have our jobs.

With that being said I am now going on Week 5 basically working from home (I have had to go into the office a few times but have mostly been at home) and Nick is on Week 4. At this point, we don’t know how many more weeks there will be.

Nick works for a medical insurance company and is therefore considered an essential employee. Luckily for us, his work can be done with a laptop and phone so his whole team can work from the safety of their homes.

He is currently working from our dining room table from 5:30 am to 2 pm. As for myself, according to the government I work for a casino which is considered non-essential and therefore closed. But I work in Human Resources which within our company is considered essential.

At this point, we are immeasurably blessed that my company is still paying its Team Members and I work in Benefits which is needed now more than ever. So not only am I still getting paid but there is still actual work for me to do.

 

We have spent the last month establishing our new routine. Nick gets up early enough to brush his teeth etc. in the morning before being at his laptop at 5:30 am. I get up shortly after and make us coffee and tea before heading to my laptop to check emails and voicemails. I usually do what work I can for 2-3 hours before spending the rest of my day cleaning, reading, writing, cooking our meals and anything else I can do to keep myself entertained.

 
We try to make a point to take walks most days and get out of the house.
We miss being out in the world. We miss getting to go to the movies, to eat out at a restaurant, to the mall, and especially to church.

 
But we also miss seeing our families. Nick’s mom lives with and cares for her mother who is in her 90s so we haven’t been able to see them in more than a month and I have tried to stay away from my family members recently because I have had to go on property and into the office and want to be sure that I am keeping them all safe.

 
We currently have a Disney Land and Sea trip planned for August and are supposed to be cruising with 11 other family members. We don’t know if that will be happening or not. There are so many variables that could affect this. Will this all be over by then? Will the cruise be canceled and will the parks be open? Will it be safe to travel? Will all of our family members still be able to go?

 
There’s just no way to know right now. I know that there are so many more important things but we have been planning and saving for this trip for a year and would love to be able to see and spend time with some of our east coast people.

 
There are so many things to think about and consider in our new normal. Nick has a transplanted kidney and is on immunosuppressant medication which means he has a compromised immune system and I have asthma which easily leads to bronchitis and pneumonia.

 
Any time we leave the house and return we immediately take off our shoes, wash our hands and change our clothes. I am constantly wiping down our doorknobs, light switches and anything else that gets touched frequently. We are washing our sheets more frequently and avoid touching anything when we do leave the house.

 
I am an introvert and usually enjoy being at home. I don’t mind sitting on the couch reading, binge-watching Disney +, or YouTube videos all day. Before all of this happened, I would have loved to have a whole day at home doing the quiet relaxing things that I enjoy. But even I am going stir crazy after 5 weeks.

 
Nick, on the other hand, does not enjoy being stuck at home and is having a tougher time of it.

 
We frequently discuss what we will do once this is all over. We have a list of places we want to eat and the things we want to do.

 
But for now, we will keep doing what we’re doing and “Stay Home For Nevada.” It is so frustrating to see people on social media with their conspiracy theories, and sharing of every fake news story and article, still out doing things, having people over their houses.
It is just selfish and inconsiderate. There are thousands of people; healthcare workers, janitors, bus drivers, police officers, firemen, etc. who are sacrificing their own health and the health of their families in order to continue to serve the public. All we have to do is stay at home.

 

Not only that but how stupid and ashamed are you going to feel if someone in your family gets sick because you couldn’t follow instructions and take this seriously.

 

Unfortunately, this is like most things. People always think “it won’t happen to me” until it does.

 
Don’t be that person.

 
This is a historical time in our world, one I hope we will never see again. But in the meantime, I hope you and yours stay happy, healthy and safe.

Read This: Sadie by Courtney Summers

“I wish his darkness lived outside of him because you have to know it’s there to see it. Like all real monsters, he hides in plain sight.”

** spoiler alert **

 

Goodreads Synopsis: 

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

“How do you forgive the people who are supposed to protect you?”

My Review:

This book made me realize just how much I hate cliffhangers/open endings. What I have realized is that I want to know who-done-it, I want to know if they lived and I want the mystery solved.

All of that being said, because of those things, I didn’t love the ending of this book. I understand that it is more realistic this way and that many of these cases do go unsolved and many times the missing kid isn’t found. That type of story just isn’t for me. I still find myself thinking about this book and wondering what happened to Sadie even months after having finished it.

What I did enjoy was the format of this book. The telling of it in the format of a podcast I think was genius and it worked perfectly for the audiobook. I know that a lot of people said that they didn’t enjoy this book because it seemed a bit repetitive with the reporter following behind the same places that Sadie had just been but I enjoyed that. I like seeing the same scenario from two different points of view and two different perspectives.

Another thing that I appreciated about this story was the representation within it. Sadie, our main character has a stutter, which forms a barricade between her and the rest of the world. This part of Sadie’s life and the way she has to work around it was so perfectly written and portrayed so well in the audiobook. It comes off so genuine and so real that it just makes you feel for Sadie even more.

Like I said I read this book a few months ago but I remember being so astounded by how easily an abuser can fool everyone around him and how blind we as people can be to what is right in front of our faces. For me, that may have been the most heartbreaking part of the whole story.

Read This: The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

“This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used. —Eleanor Roosevelt”

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart, who fast becomes a friend as treasured as the women she flies with. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

To make everything she’s lost count for something, Audrey joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. The bonds she forms with her fellow pilots reignite a spark of hope in the face war, and–when James goes missing in action–give Audrey the strength to cross the front lines and fight not only for her country but for the love she holds so dear.

 

My Review:

Overall I did enjoy The Flight Girls. It is a powerful and emotional historical fiction. Do I think that it is Kristin Hannah caliber? No.

Having a novel about the WASP program (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II was very refreshing and not something that I had previously read about.

I think that other than a little bit of dragging out of the storyline it was well-written and the characters were relatable and well developed. My favorite part of this book was the friendships and sisterhood that are developed between these women. Their bond was beautiful and I absolutely loved and admired how courageous and brave they were.

What I did not enjoy about the book was how much of it was focused on Audrey’s romantic life. I just didn’t feel that it was necessary. And for me to say that is saying something. I typically love a good romance but I honestly just didn’t feel like this book needed it, if anything I felt that it took away from the story.

Overall the book was very good but it was the unnecessary romance that kept it from being a five star for me.

 

My Quarantine Wish List

Now that pretty much all normal parts of our everyday lives have been canceled and I am going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, I have been thinking about what I want to do with my time.

I believe that everything happens for a reason and that God intends it all for our good. So what can I do while I am stuck indoors? What can I do to be productive with the extra time that I have been given? 

I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t go into this with some kind of game plan I will spend the next few weeks cuddled up on my couch with my dogs reading and binge-watching tv. And while there is nothing necessarily wrong with those things and I do plan on doing some of that, I also want to do some productive things as well. 

 

Which led me to create the list below. My Quarantine To-Do/Wish List. 

  1. Review all books read so far in 2020
  2. Clean out garage
  3. Catch up with Grey’s Anatomy
  4. Marvel Movie Marathon
  5. Read at least 5 books
  6. Organize downstairs closet and pantry
  7. Organize loft and bookshelves
  8. Give the dogs baths

                                           

I will keep you guys updated as I get some of these crossed off. But, don’t just sit and watch. Join in on the fun. What are some of the things you want to get done while stuck at home? 

Maybe Don’t Read This: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

“Where her books were, she was. Get the books right and the rest will follow. Now she could address the rest of the room.”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth-century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing method of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 

 

My general thoughts:

This book seemed like it was going to be right up my alley. I love a good murder mystery but this just was not that great. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was bad, it was just sort of middle of the road.

I definitely think that the overall premise was good and I can see what the author was going for I just don’t think that it was executed all that well.

The one thing that this book really did well was the descriptions and representation of someone who suffers from anxiety.

I didn’t feel like the cliffhanger ending was that great or even really necessary.

I did pick up the audiobook of the sequel but ended up stopping it after a few chapters. The writing in these just doesn’t do it for me.

I Have Seen The BTS Light- And It Is Everything!

I am a music lover- I have loved music for as long as I can remember.  I don’t like quiet and I almost always have some kind of music playing. I fully believe in the healing power of music. Music in and of itself, as well as a favorite artist and powerful lyrics have the ability to help you through any situation in your life. No matter what you may be going through you can always find a song relatable to it.

Music was always present in my childhood; whether it was my parents playing show tunes in the car on road trips, my grand parents raising us on Celia Cruz and Marc Anthony or my 12 year old self’s obsession with all.the.boybands.

I have always had an open and varied taste in musical genres; one day you may find me listening to Hamilton and the next I may be listening to Country and the next to a Christian artists and the next Hip Hop, these all change depending on my mood.

So bringing this back around to the point of this post: BTS

I have been hearing about BTS for the last year or so; it seems like they are everywhere and 90% of the channels that I follow on YouTube and the accounts I follow on Instagram have mentioned BTS at one point or another.

And let me tell you that at first I just didn’t get it. Why would you want to listen to a band whose music and lyrics you don’t understand and have to look up? Anytime anyone brought them up I would just roll my eyes and move on, I figured that it just wasn’t my thing.

So many people talk about how BTS has changed their lives or even saved their lives and how revolutionary their music is. I honestly thought that everyone was just being drawn into this boy-band type hype and that their music couldn’t possibly be that good.

Now, let me tell you how wrong I was.

There are somethings in life that we are going to love that other people are just not going to understand (like my love for Disney) and I am fully prepared for my love for BTS to be added to that list. I’m okay with that. What effects me, what has an impact on me, isn’t going to have the same impact on someone else. It’s completely understandable.

I now understand why people say that there now is a dividing line in their lives; there was their life before BTS and their is their life now that they have discovered BTS.

On February 21st 2020, BTS released a music video for their new single ON. I saw reaction video after reaction video on YT for this music video and I decided “why not, let me check it out.” And my life has not been the same since.

I can’t articulate exactly what it is that happened when I watched that video but its like a switch had been flipped inside my brain and I had seen the light. I watched the video 3 or 4 times that day along with every reaction video I could find. And I remember saying to my husband “Well damn, these boys finally got me.” LOL

I don’t know if it was God’s plan for my life or the BTS shaped hole in my heart that I didn’t even know existed but this video spoke to me on a level that I never could have expected. This video was everything that I never knew I needed. I don’t know if it is the killer choreography, the powerful lyrics, the raw talent or the fact that all seven of these men are clearly perfect human beings but I was hooked.

Please, if you have not seen this video, I beg of you, watch it, and then watch it again, and then maybe several times a day for the entirety of the rest of your life:

 

And then watch the official music video that was released yesterday because it is a freaking masterpiece and they steal a little piece of my heart each time that I watch it.

To paraphrase what another blogger said, “Did you immediately fall into a BTS rabbit hole? Is it now several days later and you’ve read anything you can find on this band and watched every video you can get your hands on and haven’t been able to concentrate on anything else since? Have you been reborn? Because I have! 

For those of you who were already converts, I apologize for my delay in joining you. I am a dummy!

If you’re asking yourself why a 30 year old adult woman would lose her shit like a teenager over a boy band, well, all I can say is that life is a mystery.  But I’m merely one of millions who are part of the BTS ARMY,the incredibly devoted, incredibly large fandom that has propelled the group to its current status as the world’s number one pop group.

Every generation gets the one boy band that rules them all; from the Beatles, to NSYNC, to One Direction and the Jonas Brothers; boy bands are not a new phenomenon. What I love is that in a time in our society when hatred, anger and racism seem to be around every corner millions of people around the world are flocking to this group of seven Korean young men who promote equality, LGBTQ+ right, femininity, going against toxic masculinity, love, and who speak out about mental health issues.  I fully believe that BTS can change this world, one person at a time.

 

Read This: The Martian by Andy Weir

“Hell yeah I’m a Botanist! Fear my botany powers!”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:  

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

 

Characters:

Mark Watney is one of the most sarcastic, witty, and smart ass characters that I have ever read and I loved every second of this.

 

Plot:

One of the few cons I have for this books is that I felt like the first couple of chapters were rushed through. The timeline from when the group arrives on Mars to when the storm hits and Mark is stranded all happens so quickly. You can tell that this part is just the set up for the rest of the story and its sort up just set up and looked over quickly.

The second con is that some of it was a little bit too technical and there was a little bit too much scientific detail that just kind of went over my head. It’s definitely easy to see that the author is a space enthusiast and hobbyist but I think some of that could have been shaved off and the book would have still been just as good.

 

My opinion:

I really enjoyed this movie so I knew that I would like the book. But, this so surpassed my expectations.

I loved the human element of this story. Mark’s personality is so relatable and funny. I really enjoyed the realistic voice and tone used for Mark as he tells his story.

 

Would I recommend?

I would absolutely recommend this book. I would recommend reading this and then going to see the move staring Matt Damon.

 

 

Definitely Read This- The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

“At the time, I remember thinking that while everyone was talking, writing, arguing, about Alicia, at the heart of this frantic, noisy activity there was a void-a silence. A sphinx.”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him.

 

Characters:

Alicia: For being silent through 90% of the story, I really enjoyed Alicia as a main character. She has had such a hard life and been through so many things. I really like how throughout the book different things happen to change your opinion of Alicia and what she or may not have done. I’ve never read a book like this where the main character does not speak but I actually really liked the unique perspective it gave us of Alicia.

Throughout the book Alicia refers to herself as crazy or invisible and by the end of the story it is painfully clear why she has such low self-esteem.

Gabriel: Gabriel is a narcissistic bastard. Not only does he make Alicia feel inferior and negate her feelings but then he is also cheating on her. And on top of that he willingly sacrifices her to save himself.

Max: I do kind of feel like Max was an element to the story that was really necessary. He was one of the loose ends that the author uses to draw the reader to false conclusions but I feel like that could have been done differently with Max. I don’t feel like his storyline with Alicia really added anything to the story.

Although Max was a pig and clearly deranged, I just don’t think his character was necessary to the overall story.

 

Plot:

Alicia’s terror after Gabriel’s death can be interpreted in so many ways. Is she in shock because she witnessed someone else killing her husband or because she herself did? Does she feel remorse or is she schizophrenic or a sociopath? I really enjoyed how the author allowed you to draw your own conclusions and work out the puzzle for yourself before revealing the truth.

The way that Alicia’s silence is tied in and explained is just brilliant and I liked that the reason was complex and made sense for her not necessarily everyone else.

The use of Alicia’s career as an artist and her painting the Alcestis was a great plot device and used beautifully to drive the story.

The book was such a complex look into mental illness and how our parents and our childhood can have such an impact on that.  The fact that Alicia felt as if her mother had killed her by causing that accident and then that her father had killed her again was such a sad but beautiful way to show this.

 

“Love that doesn’t include honestly doesn’t deserve to be called love.”

 

My opinion:

I was so worried that the ending or big reveal at the end of this book was going to be stupid and fall flat but boy was I wrong; the last reveal in this book is perfect.

I cannot believe that this is a debut novel. The way the author set up this story line and created all of these loose ends and so many possible suspects and explanations and then at the end slams you with something completely unexpected is magical.

The only real issue that I had with this book was its over generalizations about people who have been sexually abused or the people who do the abusing.

In one chapter the author writes “…it is impossible for someone who was not been abused to become an abuser.”

What kind of research was done to prove that this statement is true? Mental Illness and abuse are such taboo subjects in our society that I don’t think that it is right or fair to use such absolutes on something that is not always reported or talked about. I am sure that there are men and women out there who have abused another person in some way who may have some type of mental illness but may not have necessarily been abused themselves.

Another statement made in the book that I did not find appropriate was “…but she can-and must- harbor vengeful fantasies in her head.”

As a male this author has no right to state so totally what a woman does or does or does not feel as a victim of abuse. And I can tell you that this statement is not correct in any way. I do not believe that every victim of sexual assault harbors vengeful fantasies and I definitely do not think that it is not something that they “must” do.

 

Would I recommend?

Aside from the issues stated above, I thought that the thriller/mystery in this book was done perfectly especially for a standalone book. There was so much detail and character development and revelation in this story.

 

 

Definitely Read This: Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson

“That’s all any of us are, I think more or less screwed up, at any given moment. It’s all chaos.”

 

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

A forbidden attraction grows even more complicated when the guy Lane Jamison has crushed on for years suddenly becomes her step-brother in this sexy and gorgeously written debut novel about the lines between love, desire, and obsession.

 

Characters:

Lane: Lane is such a realistic and relatable character. The depth of her pain and trauma are so evident and beautifully written. As someone whose father committed suicide, I can attest from experience that Lane’s grief, her nightmares, her anxiety are all so well represented. I love to see her growth throughout the book and to see her get help, fight her demons and push past her shitty circumstances and past.

Connor: Another character who is so authentic. He is an artist with a giant heart who wants to help others and give them a safe space to create their masterpieces. The way that he takes care of Lane and tried to help her through her grief and overcome her trauma is beautiful. Especially when Connor himself is dealing with repercussions of his own upbringing and his own abuse and life as a homeless teen.

Grey: He wasn’t my favorite character in the story. While he did attempt several times to do the right thing and stay away from Lane and be fair to Sadie. His treatment of Connor in various parts of the story kind of turned me off to him. But I do believe that him and Sadie were in a toxic relationship and would not have worked out so I am glad that Grey put his dreams first and ended with Sadie.

Sadie: At first I really didn’t like Sadie. She is written at the type of person who gives Christians and “religious” people a bad name. She is judgmental and abrasive and argumentative and expects those around her to follow suit with her religious beliefs regardless of their own. But, towards the end of the story we get a quick glimpse of what Sadie’s home life could really be like and the abuse that she may herself be suffering. I do wish that that aspect of the story had been delved into a little deeper.

 

“Before I set fire to everything between us, letting it spark and scorch and devour us both. Until there is nothing left in the world to burn.”

 

Plot:

 Together We Caught Fire is the most extreme version of a slow burn romance that I have ever read. I am so glad that the romance in this went the way that it did. These characters needed time to be apart, to work on themselves and all of their issues. This story is about a girl who has seen horrific things that no person should every have to, about a group of friends who are coming of age, who are learning to deal with the after effects of trauma, grief, abuse, and love. I love that Gibson dropped these characters into such difficult and raw places but didn’t allow them to stay there. She perfectly embodies the notion of “It’s ok to not be ok, but it isn’t ok to stay that way.” Life is hard, life can be horrible but in the end no one can brings us up out of those depths but ourselves.

 

My opinion:

This book is an emotional roller coaster; one page it is funny and the characters are witty and snarky and the next it is deep and raw and so eloquent and beautifully written. I absolutely loved this.

 

 

 

Maybe Read This: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

 

Characters:

Alice:

Alice is a fucked up character, to put it bluntly. She has extraordinary anger issues, violent outbursts and is very selfish. BUT! For me those character flaws kind of made sense when you out her role within the Hazel Wood. Those traits spill over and follow her into the “real world”. Let’s face it, no one is perfect to begin with but then when you add in Alice’s “heritage” of course she is going to be fucked-up. Did I love her character? No. But I kind of understood it.

 

Ella:

I was really disappointed in the fact that Ella had so little face time within the story. She seemed more interesting to me and more developed as a character then Alice did. I wish we could have seen more of her.

 

Finch:

Finch also gets sort of eliminated from the story early on and never really makes it into the Hazel Wood in a way that we can see. The most interesting characters to me were eliminated from the story early on.

 

Plot:

The whole first part of this story is told in NYC before it actually gets to the “fantasy” part of the story which I wasn’t expecting. I would have liked it much better if more of the fantasy element had been included.

The best part of this book were by far the snippets of “fairytale” that we got from Althea’s book. Melissa Albert needs to just turn these into a collection of short stories because those were well thought out and scary.

 

My opinion:

Over all I don’t think that the book was horrible. I am actually currently reading the sequel. But, I do think that it could have been shorter and have the same overall ending, it didn’t need to be quite so dragged out. But, it was good. (Not great)

Best Book of Each Month in 2019

The are so many “best of” and “worst of” posts going around this month so I thought I would throw my own opinions into the ring, with a little bit of twist. Instead of just listing out X number of best books for the year, I am going to go through my reading list for each month of 2019 and select the best book (in my opinion) from that month.

 

January

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Honestly, this book was so beautifully and lyrically written. I listened to it in audio-book format and it is just beautiful. It’s so lyrical that the words just flow and it is so easy to imagine and fall into this world. I would highly recommend the audio-book of this story. BUT! You also need to purchase a hard copy because the cover of this book is just absolutely gorgeous.

 

February

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This one was hard because I read so many great books in February. But how could I not pick The Nightingale? Kristin Hannah’s writing is just unparalleled. She weaves such a beautiful and heart-breaking, yet inspiring tale.

 

March

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I know that this series is highly controversial; people in the book community either love it or hate it. And I have to say that I (obviously) love it. I went into this completely blind; I was a quarter of the way through the book before I even realized that it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I just love Sarah J Maas’ world-building and character writing. I loved this series so much that I read the whole series again in the Fall and bought a special set.

 

 

April

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I honestly don’t think that I could pick a book from 2019 with better world building. The amount of depth and layering and detail that Astrid Scholte was able to put into a stand alone book is just amazing. She was able to weave and string together such a beautiful and rich world within only 413 pages. This story was so intriguing and it just pulls you right into Quadara, I couldn’t put it down. And don’t get me started on the gorgeous cover.

 

May

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This book was the Book of the Month Book of the Year as well as Good Reads choice for best Historical Fiction. This book had me hooked from the beginning. It is such an interesting format to have it written in the form of interviews and it just kept me interested the whole way through. If you are a music fan or a fan of the 60s and 70s era then I highly suggest you pick this book up. And don’t get me started on the quotes from this book; the writing is just spectacular. But, then again it is Taylor Jenkins Reid so did we really expect anything less?

 

June

I have a tie for this month! Honestly, I could not pick.

 

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Another TJR book of perfection. First of all the representation in this book is just off the charts:  you’ve got bi rep, gay rep, lesbian rep, a Cuban woman, and a biracial woman. Whatever you think this book is, it isn’t. It will surpass every expectation that you could possibly have for it. This is high  up on my list of favorite books of 2019.

 

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There was no way that I could leave Scythe off of this list. This series is so eloquently and intellectually written; Neal Shusterman is nothing short of a genius. I went into this relatively blind and boy did it pay off. The Arc of the Scythe series was one of my favorites series of 2019.

 

 

July

 

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Another beautiful story from Kristin Hannah. This was another fascinating, thought-provoking, and captivating read. Heartbreaking at times… but there were also moments of great love and unbelievable kindness. A gripping story where I was desperate to know what was going to happen next. A bittersweet but satisfying ending topped off this amazing read.

 

 

August

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This was probably my favorite book in the ACOTAR series. I love seeing Feyre grow and come into herself and her relationship with Rhys grow and develop. Feyre is pulled from a horrible, hellish situation with Tamlin into this beautiful family unit who loves her and gives her the space she needs to breathe and heal.

 

September

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I read a lot of good books in September but this was by far my favorite.  I read this in audio-book format but I know that I will be purchasing a hard copy so that I can annotate it. This book has such beautiful, poignant writing and I know that there will be so many  quotable phrases and passages. As a woman with Cuban heritage I love that this is an own voices book inspired by the author’s own Cuban heritage.

 

October

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I really enjoyed this movie so I knew that I would like the book. But, this so surpassed my expectations. Mark Watney is one of the most sarcastic, witty, and smart ass characters that I have ever read and I loved every second of this.

 

November

Again, there was no way that I could pick just one book for November.

 

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I can’t believe that I waited so long to read this book. It was everything I had heard it was and so much more. It is witty, it is hilarious, it is sarcastic and most importantly it is a beautiful picture of what our country, and more importantly the world, could be. This book brings so much hope and is so important for where our society currently stands and what we are on the brink of. 

 

Becoming

This may literally be my favorite books of 2019. I didn’t think that I could respect and admire Michelle Obama any more then I already did but this book just took it to a whole new level. I listened to the audio-book of this and hearing her story in her own words, her own voice was just perfect. Michelle is so well spoken and eloquent and just a genuinely good and kind person. It also obviously struck a cord with me hearing about her and Barack’s infertility struggles. This book just hit so many heart strings and made me feel so hopeful for what our country could be, I definitely plan on re-reading this in 2020. 

 

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air, #3)

I have every intention of buying this set in 2020 and giving these a re-read because I did not love the first two books in the series before I got to QoN. The Cruel Prince made me really uncomfortable and angry with it’s bullying scenes and the way that Jude was treated and honestly I found it hard to read. So I think that may have colored my opinion of it. The Wicked King was better but I still didn’t get the hype. But, The Queen of Nothing completely brought it back for me. I loved this book and I really want to go back and try the first two books again and annotate it. 

 

Beartown (Beartown, #1)

The writing and character development in this book is just beautiful. I went into this thinking that it was a story about a hockey team but this is so much more than that. This book deals with such heavy themes like bullying, small town mentality, poverty and class issues, glorification of athletes, and most importantly rape culture. I can tell you that I can’t think of another book that has ever made me as angry as this one. I have never had to put a book down and walk away because it made me so emotional until I read Bear Town. I cannot wait to read the sequel Us Against You. 

 

 

December

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I received an ARC of this through Net Galley and I went in pretty blind, without expecting much. I read Contemporaries and enjoy them for the most part. But, I am much more of a Fantasy and Dystopian type reader. But, this was so good. It was cute, funny, and witty but also had some heavy themes involving family dynamics and sibling relationships. It also had a bit of a Romeo and Juliet type vibe which I really liked. 

 

 

Surrender- Even When It Is Hard

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It has been so easy in the last couple of years to allow myself to worry, to overthink everything and to focus on all of the things that have not yet happened. 

It is so easy to wish that I could just fast-forward my life to the time when I will have all of the things that I want in life. 

I have struggled with focusing on all of the things that I don’t have instead of appreciating the things that I do. It has definitely gotten better over time but still each day is a conscientious choice to be positive, to be grateful and to have a good day. 

I don’t want to live my life constantly comparing and neglecting all of the blessings that I have been given. 

So over the past couple of years, I have learned to surrender. 

I can’t do everything on my own. I can’t rely on the people around me to fix things for me and I’m not the one in control. 

I need to remember who is in control, who I can rely on, who is faithful and who promises all for my good. 

I need to offer God my life, my desires, my wishes and my dreams. I need to let him have control and take over; every day and every night. He knows what is right for me. 

God has my heart and he will take care of it, protect it, and nurture it. He tells me to stop acting like I know what I am doing and where I am going. It is only Him, who has an understanding of my life and where it is going. 

My faith in Him needs to be stronger each and every day. 

I will continue to try to stop worrying so much about the things that I cannot control. I will no longer try to find answers to all the questions. I will never doubt Him when I am in the middle of my struggles. Instead, I will let my life unfold according to His plan. 

I will surrender. 

January 2020- TBR

December was a great reading year for me; I started off with a goal of reading 80 books. I ended up reading 110 books. Since I did so well in 2019, I upped my goal for 2020 and am hoping to read at least 100 books. This would average out to about 8-9 books a month. This seems like a feasible goal as my average last year was 10+ books per month. 

So here we go our first TBR of the new decade:

 

Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

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She was the heir of ash and fire, and she would bow to no one.

Celaena Sardothien has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak—but at an unspeakable cost. Now she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth…a truth about her heritage that could change her life—and her future—forever.

Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. To defeat them, Celaena must find the strength to not only fight her inner demons but to battle the evil that is about to be unleashed.

The king’s assassin takes on an even greater destiny and burns brighter than ever before in this follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Crown of Midnight.

 

 

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

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In 1940, Varian Fry—a Harvard-educated American journalist—traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of imperiled artists and writers he hoped to rescue within a few weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in France for thirteen months, working under the veil of a legitimate relief organization to procure false documents, amass emergency funds, and set up an underground railroad that led over the Pyrenees, into Spain, and finally to Lisbon, where the refugees embarked for safer ports. Among his many clients were Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall.

The Flight Portfolio opens at the Chagalls’ ancient stone house in Gordes, France, as the novel’s hero desperately tries to persuade them of the barbarism and tragedy descending on Europe. Masterfully crafted, exquisitely written, impossible to put down, this is historical fiction of the very first order, and resounding confirmation of Orringer’s gifts as a novelist.
 

 

 

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

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When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.

The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn’t care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver’s exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.

Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver’s face.

 

I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver 

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When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

 

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

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Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

 

Vengeful by VE Schwab

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The sequel to VICIOUS, V.E. Schwab’s first adult novel.

Sydney once had Serena—beloved sister, betrayed enemy, powerful ally. But now she is alone, except for her thrice-dead dog, Dol, and then there’s Victor, who thinks Sydney doesn’t know about his most recent act of vengeance.

Victor himself is under the radar these days—being buried and re-animated can strike concern even if one has superhuman powers. But despite his own worries, his anger remains. And Eli Ever still has yet to pay for the evil he has done.

 

The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

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1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart, who fast becomes a friend as treasured as the women she flies with. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

To make everything she’s lost count for something, Audrey joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. The bonds she forms with her fellow pilots reignite a spark of hope in the face war, and–when James goes missing in action–give Audrey the strength to cross the front lines and fight not only for her country, but for the love she holds so dear.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

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A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

 

 

Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

 

 

The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert

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Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

 

 

Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

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No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

 

 

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

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When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.

Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and tge advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds.

Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands. 

 

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him…

 

 

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 

 

 

The Diviners by Libra Bray

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Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. 

 

Lair of Dreams by Libra Bray

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The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams.

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, earning the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret—for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess…As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?

 

 

The Whisper Man by Alex North

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In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window…

 

 

 

Read This: Dread Nation

“My momma always said the best way to get what you want from people is to give them what they think they want. Sometimes you have to live down to people’s expectations, Kate.”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

 

Characters:

Jane is the perfect main character for this story. She is brash, kick-ass, theatrical, and an unreliable narrator. The story is told from her point of view and she can definitely see things on a bias.

Kate is the perfect counterpart to Jane. A fierce and brave woman in her own right, she is the perfect person to balance out Jane’s abrasive and impulsive personality.

Plot:

The word building and layering of fact and fiction was done so well in this that even for a book about zombies nothing seemed too over the top or out of the realm of possibility. I have read so many books where things are taken to such an extreme that you can’t help thinking “this could never happen”. That is not the case with this book.

Justina Ireland was about to stick to the reality of the era enough to keep her story relevant and believable.

 

“See, the problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power.”- Dread Nation

 

My opinion:

As a lover of historical fiction, a book about zombies during the Reconstruction era, is right up my alley.

I don’t know if I could say this was my favorite book of this year but it’s definitely up there.

One of the things that I loved most about this book is how the author was about to take our world, our nation and its history and build a whole other fictional world on top of it. She was able to blend fiction with history so beautifully.

 

Would I recommend?

This book goes full throttle from beginning to end and keeps you enticed the whole time, even for a 450-page book.

I would definitely recommend this book and the sequel comes on February 4th and I am so excited for it!

 

Don’t Read This: Dead Girls Club

ARC provided by Crooked Lane Books through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Good Reads Synopsis:

 In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Characters:

Heather: It’s not often that I read a book and avidly dislike a character. Usually I can find some kind of redeeming quality. But, Heather was just unlikable. She was selfish, irrational, naive and just made some really stupid decisions.

Ryan: I felt so bad for Heather’s husband. He tried so hard to help her and figure out what was going on with her and she just refused to let him in in any way.

 

Plot:

I felt like the story was just extremely dragged out and there were so many sub plots and side things happening that just weren’t necessary and didn’t do anything to further the story. This book would have been a lot better if about 20% of it had been edited out.

The two side characters (I don’t even remember their names) Becca and Heather’s two other friends, didn’t seem necessary to the story. The whole thing with Heather’s secretary looking for information about her cousin who committed suicide was unnecessary and the plot twist at the end just didn’t make sense.

The whole Red Lady thing just didn’t really make sense and I don’t know, I didn’t really get it. It was like the author couldn’t decide if they wanted the story to be more of a thriller or a paranormal type book.

 

My opinion:

Honestly, they synopsis of this book was better than the book itself. I’ve come to realize that I don’t like books where the main character is being stalked or haunted or bullied or whatever and they are absolutely adamant that they cant tell anyone. 

Like I just don’t understand that line of thinking. Someone is obviously stalking you or threatening you, you tell someone. 

 

Would I recommend? Why or why not?:

I don’t think that I would recommend this. It was just so disjointed and couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. If you’re looking for a good psychological thriller pick up a Karin Slaughter book.

 

 

 

 

Disney Details- Hollywood Studios

Today we will be talking about my top favorite Disney details in Hollywood Studios.

If I am being honest, Hollywood Studios is probably my least favorite park. This park is  best known for the Hollywood Tower of Terror and if you have been around here for a while then you know that this is my least favorite attraction in all of Walt Disney World.

On our honeymoon trip in May of 2015, my husband and I spent half a day in Hollywood Studios and ended up leaving to go to EPCOT. I think a big factor in that decision was that it was ridiculously hot outside and we made the poor decision of sitting through the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular…which is outside. (This is not a reflection on Indy which is a greats show).

But, I digress… back to our top details about Hollywood Studios.

 

I. Jedi Training Trials

Who wouldn’t want to train to be a Jedi ?!!

The process for this used to be a little bit different where children would be randomly selected from the audience. Now, you are actually able to sign up for this ahead of time AND get into the park early in order to get signed up and get your child ready.

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II. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular

This secret is actually true for both the Indiana Jones show in HS and the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. Both attractions feature a well or a pit in a dig site where there is a rope with a pulley that has a sign that says “Do not pull on the rope”. If you do in fact pull the rope you will hear voices from down below within the pit.

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III. Gertie The Dinosaur’s Foot Prints

For those of you who do not know. Gertie is the name of the giant dinosaur who occasionally sells ice cream in Hollywood Studios. And near the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, you can actually see (and follow) Gertie’s footprints into Echo Lake.

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IV. Door #22 Inside the Hollywood Tower of Terror

Anyone who is a fan will know that the Tower of Terror is chalk full of references to the tv show the Twilight Zone.

But, one locale showcases one episode specifically. When you are walking through the lobby of the hotel off to the side of the front desk there is a door with a sign that has the number 22 on it.

This sign correlates to episode 22 of the Twilight Zone.

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What are your favorite details in Hollywood Studios?

December- Reading Wrap Up

December was one of my best reading months of 2019, in part because of the cheesy holiday reads but still all in all it was a good month. I read 11 books for a total of 3,380 pages. As far as the star ratings go; I had no five star reads, six 4-star reads, three 3-star and two 2-star reads.

Let’s check them out below:

 

The Whole Fertility Life Plan by Kyra Phillips and Dr. Jamie Grifo: Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

 

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This book was super informative and had a ton of insight into readying yourself for a fertility journey. One of my goals this years is to read my non-fiction and this was a great way to start that. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it wasn’t preachy, ‘if you do this you for sure won’t ever get pregnant”. It openly and simply discusses a sensitive topic while providing options and optimism.

 

 

A Court if Frost and Starlight by Sarah J MaasImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

“The weaver went on, “I have to create, or it was all for nothing. I have to create, or I will crumple up with despair and never leave my bed. I have to create because I have no other way of voicing this.” Her hand rested on her heart, and my eyes burned. “It is hard,” the weaver said, her stare never leaving mine, “and it hurts, but if I were to stop, if I were to let this loom or the spindle go silent …” She broke my gaze at last to look to her tapestry. “Then there would be no Hope shining in the Void.”

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This was a re-read for me and I have to say that I liked it less the second time around. I feel like it just ended abruptly and didn’t really resolve anything. I know there are more books coming but I feel like this should have been combined with one of those and made longer.

 

 

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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This story was super cute! (pun intended) I actually really enjoyed this and didn’t want to put it down. This is a light-hearted Contemporary YA with a much happier Romeo and Juliet feel.

 

 

The 13th Day of Christmas by Jason Wright: Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

“The day to recommit to living a life more like His. The day to proclaim to the world that while His birth brought hope, His life brought the model. The day to believe that He lives, that He loves everyone, and that He wants every porch waver, rock pile climber, cancer patient, and troublemaker to come Home again. The 13th Day of Christmas.”

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This was such a touching, heart-warming story. I went into this expecting another cheesy holiday romance but that is not what this is at all.

 

 

One Day In December by Josie Silver:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

“Despite the fairy-tale snowstorm out there, this isn’t Narnia. This is London, real life, where hearts get kicked and bruised and broken, but somehow they still keep beating.”

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There were parts about this book that I really enjoyed and parts that I really did not. I think Laurie made stupid decisions throughout the whole book and I honestly really didn’t like Jack. It also wasn’t necessary to drag this out over 10 years, it could have been done over 5 years and still had the same effect.

 

 

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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Although the end of this story was super predictable and obvious within the first chapter, I actually really enjoyed it.

 

 

Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful the cage is. It’s still a prison.”

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Although I still feel like I am processing this one. I actually kind of think that I liked it more than the first book in the series. Girls of Paper and Fire was so overhyped and was not nearly as dark and violent as everyone made it seem.

 

 

Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber: Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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This was your typical holiday Contemporary Romance. It was short and cute but nothing to write home about. 

 

 

The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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This was not my favorite book. It was obvious, predictable and a little too cheesy. The enemies to lovers trope was so over-looked and barely existent that it might as well have just been taken out of the book completely. 

 

 

Reverie by Ryan La Sala:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

“Just because something is imagined doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.”

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The idea of this book is so interesting but I just did not love the delivery of it. It was so confusing at times and it was drawn out too long. 

 

 

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters:Image result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

ARC provided by Crooked Lane Books through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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The characters in this book were so hard to root for or like that it just kind of negated everything that happened. The plot twist at the end was unnecessary and the whole thing was just kind of disjointed and messy. 

 

 

 

Maybe Don’t Read This: Where She Went

“What was the difference between a person who was out of her mind with grief and exhaustion and a person who was just out of her mind?”

 

Good Reads Synopsis:

Her only daughter has just gone away to college, and Maggie O’Farrell knows she’s turning into one of those helicopter parents she used to mock. Worrying constantly, texting more than she should, even occasionally dropping by the campus “just to say hi.” But Maggie can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is about to happen to Emma. And then, just as Maggie starts to relax, her daughter disappears.

The clues are disturbing. An empty dorm room where Emma was supposedly living. A mysterious boy described as Future Husband in her phone. Dorm mates who seem more sinister than friendly. As Maggie combs over the campus looking for signs of her daughter, she learns more about Emma’s life than she ever thought possible.

Characters:

I honestly, just had a hard time liking or caring about either of the main characters in this story. Maggie was just naive and stubborn. She insisted she was right even when the evidence that she was wrong was staring her in the face.

Emma just continued to make these stupid naiver decisions, that didn’t really get her any closer to her goal.

 

Plot:

The book wasn’t horrible until it got to the end. It just sort of ended with no real resolution and the whole reason that Emma went missing was just sort of dismissed and not even followed up on.

It wasn’t even like a cliffhanger it just stopped. It really didn’t make sense. There was no consequence or resolution to anything that happened. The ending just sort of negated everything that happened earlier.

 

My opinion:

Honestly, I think this book just tried and failed.

 

Would I recommend?

I don’t think that I would. If you’re looking for a thriller you’re much better off picking up a Karin Slaughter book.

 

 

Disney Details -Animal Kingdom

Today we will be looking at Four Disney Details from Animal Kingdom that you may or may not have already heard about.

I have always had a soft spot for Animal Kingdom. It may not necessarily be my favorite park but the older I get the more I appreciate it and the more I enjoy spending my time there.

So here we have it; Top 4 Details:

I. Secret Entrance: 

As you approach the turnstiles into the Animal Kingdom it appears as if this is the only path into the park. But, in fact, if you enter the Rainforest Cafe to your left there is actually a pathway from inside the restaurant into the park that will allow you to bypass the main entrance.

II. The “Xylobone”

Within Dinoland U.S.A you will find the Boneyard. This dinosaur dig-site is interesting enough on its own. But, what most people haven’t discovered is the instrument hidden within the walls of the Boneyard. There are a variety of bones buried within the area, just waiting to be discovered. But, there are also several embedded within the walls and if you find the right set and “beat” on them they will play various musical notes for you.

III. Paths Around the Tree of Life

Most people believe that the only way to get up close to the Tree of Life is through the queue for A Bug’s Life. But this is actually incorrect. There are a few set paths that will take you through and around the tree and will allow you to get a first-hand view of the over 300 hundred carvings all over the beautiful tree.

IV. Petroglyphs

There are “secret” paintings within the rocks when you are on your safari adventure. When embarking on your Kilimanjaro Safari you are so enthralled with animals around you that most of us are not paying attention to the rocks that we are driving past. But! If you do keep your eyes open and be alert you can catch sight of some ancient cave drawings.

2020 Word of the Year

” Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” – St. Jerome

 

My word for 2020 is BETTER. In 2020, I want to be and do better in all areas of my life.

This year I once again used Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review. I spent a couple of days reflecting back on the previous year and making a rough list of things that did not go well or could have gone better and then spent time looking to the future and how I want to correct those things in the coming year.

I chose many of the same categories as last year and re-prioritized or adjusted my goals for each category.

These categories were:

  • Marriage
  • Finances
  • Education
  • Faith
  • Social Life
  • Family
  • Self
  • Work
  • Health
  • Side-Hobbies

 

How can I better each of these areas in 2020:

Marriage: Better my marriage, become a better partner and spouse, use my husband’s love language(s)

Finances:Cruise paid off, credit cards paid down, build up savings, investments

Education: Begin classes at UNLV, finish Bachelor’s degree, read more non-fiction educational books, learn how to edit videos, use Skillshare

Faith: Bible Journal, read and study Bible every day, pray regularly, attend church, join a group, volunteer again, increase tithing amount, pray for those around me

Social Life:  Begin new friendships, grow and cultivate current friendships, do more things in a social setting

Self: Focus on self-care and being a better, more considerate person

Work:Grow within my job, promotion or new job, learn more about HR, raise, learn ADP, create a positive work environment, be kind to team members

Health: Lose weight, get stronger, go to the gym a few times a week. eat healthier

Side-Hobbies: Grow Instagram, grow the blog, collaborate on both, create and grow Youtube, post routinely, plan out posts, get Erin Condren notebook

Family:  Spend time with families, baby, adoption

 

 

Do you create a word or theme for the year? Do you set New Year’s resolutions?

 

 

12 Years of Nick and Jess

December 31, 2019 is our 12 year anniversary. I cannot believe that it has been this long; it seems like each year passes by quicker and quicker. We have been through a lot over the last 12 years but I pray to God for many more to come, filled with more good things and happiness than we can imagine.

 

                                 2008

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                                   2009

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                                    2010

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                                     2011

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                             2012

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                              2013

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                                  2014

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                                 2015

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                                    2016

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                                     2017

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                                  2018

Image may contain: Nick Graziano, smiling, standing, sky and outdoor Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

 

                                   2019

Image may contain: 2 people, including Nick Graziano, people smiling, mountain, sunglasses, sky, outdoor, closeup and nature

Read This: Across A Broken Shore

ARC provided by North Star Editions through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Thank you for recognizing all the beauty and intelligence in my child I was too broken to see. While I can never properly show you my gratitude, I hope you know that I will be eternally indebted to you for helping my daughter find her voice.”

Good Reads Synopsis:

The last thing eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy wants is to be a nun. It’s 1936, and as the only daughter amongst four sons, her Irish–Catholic family is counting on her to take her vows—but Willa’s found another calling. Each day she sneaks away to help Doctor Katherine Winston in her medical clinic in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Keeping secrets from her family only becomes more complicated when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the new bridge being built over the Golden Gate. Willa thinks she can handle her new chaotic life, but as she draws closer to a dashing young ironworker and risks grow at the bridge, she discovers that hiding from what she truly wants may be her biggest lie of all.

 

Characters:

Willa- I’ve noticed that I tend to dislike characters who are people pleasers allow themselves to be bullied and pushed into things by their families. This is probably because I am a people pleaser at heart and I hate seeing that trait in others. So that alone made it hard for me to like Willa. She was a well written, strong female character. But, I let me own personal feelings cloud my opinion her a little.

Plot:

I did enjoy the historical setting of this book. I read a lot of historical fiction that tends to be set in Europe or New York City, so this was a good change of pace. Honestly, what I enjoyed more than anything in the book was the look at San Francisco and the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I enjoyed the medical and scientific aspects of the book and liked that. Willa had to be taught how to do things, her capabilities were realistic, she didn’t just suddenly know how to set a broken bone or stitch someone up.

Although it was heart wrenching, I do think the death in the story was a smart choice as it helped to move the characters along and helped Willa in her growth.

 

My opinion:

This book is strongly character driven and although the story itself was beautiful and well written, I did find that it was a bit repetitive. The majority of the book was Willa debating whether she should do what she wants or do what her parents want.

I think it is easy to introduce that and then move on with the story. I don’t need chapter after chapter of her debating. I think a lot of that could have been edited out and it still would have been impactful to the story.

I did enjoy the tidbits of historical information that you pick up along the way. For example, I didn’t know that when the Golden Gate was being built many of the citizens of San Francisco put up their own houses as collateral to help with funding for the bridge.

This story reminded me a lot of the show Call the Midwife. It is about a group of women after WWII who are midwives and travel around London delivering babies but this is the only type of medicine that they are able to practice.

 

Would I recommend? Why or why not?

I would recommend this book. It’s not the best historical fiction I’ve ever read but it was good.

 

 

 

End of Year Thoughts and Review

We’re already here–I cannot believe that it is already the end of December. This year has just flown by and I feel like I was just sharing my word for 2019.

Though there have been days and weeks this year that have left me feeling defeated and exhausted, this year has largely been one of growth and learning. My compassion for people in similar life situations has grown, my empathy has grown, my courage and faith have grown. My learning to trust and faith have grown immeasurably. I am so thankful.

My word for 2019 was CONTENTMENT. As I stated in my Word of the Year post, being happy and being content are two different things.

And while many of the things we had hope for this year did not happen and I may not have completed all of my goals; I have spent the majority of this year content and happy in the knowledge that everything happens for a reason, when and if God wills them.

I said last year that I was continuously finding myself obsessing about the past and/or the future. I never allowed myself to really be present in the moment and be thankful for what God has blessed me with.

I am happy to say that that has not been the case this year. Of course when you are on a fertility journey you have moment when you think about the future and all of the things that you are hoping for. But, I haven’t allowed myself to obsess over it.

Going into 2019 I knew that contentment wasn’t something that was just magically going to happen; it is an attitude, a choice, and a goal that I needed to work towards. While I haven’t completely succeeded and may not have reached all of my goals, I have made significant strides.

Here is a review of some of the areas that I wanted to grow and work in:

Marriage: Just like any other couple, we have good days and bad days. But, I can absolutely say that we have significantly more good then bad. The last couple of years we have gone through a lot and we are so blessed that we have been able to maintain a strong marriage throughout. Neither of us is perfect and we both make mistakes but we have grown a lot in 2019. We have learned to accept each others imperfections, to not have unrealistic expectations, and to give each other grace.

Grounded: This one was more for me personally. I have learned to not focus so much on the past and pray consistently over the here and now and over our future. At the end of 2018, I found myself obsessing over other people’s social medias which was leading to envy and discontentment. So in the beginning of the year, I deleted all of those accounts and began having social media free weekends. These weekends did not last long, especially as I joined and grew within the bookish community. But, it is something that I would like to implement again in the new year.

School: My main goal for school in 2019 was to finally finished my associated degree. Honestly, I hate even talking about getting this degree because of the ridiculous amount of time that it took me to get it. But, at the end of the day, I know it is an accomplishment an something to be proud of.

Faith: I am happy to say that I feel much more grounded in my faith this year than I did in 2018. Nick and I have grown a lot spiritually over the last year and I so hope this continue into 2020.

My biggest goal for myself in 2019 was to spend less time on social media and on my phone in general. I can’t say that I was very successful with this goal. But, it is something that I try to be mindful about and that I know I can work towards.

 

What were your goals for 2019 and how did you do with them? 

 

The Christmas Carol Book Tag

I have been looking for a cute, festive tag so when I saw this on another blog I knew that I wanted to do it.

 

                       YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MR. GRINCH

                Name a villainous character you can’t help but love to hate.

“You may think gleaning is an acquired taste, but it’s not. The thrill of the hunt and the joy of the kill simmers in all of us. Bring it to the surface and then you’ll be the kind of scythe this world needs.”

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I can’t really say that I love Scythe Goddard but I definitely think that he was the perfect villain for this series. 

                    ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU

   What book do you most want to find under your Christmas tree this      year?

                                     A Court of Thorns and Roses Box Set

  I read this series twice this year and I absolutely love it. But, I don’t actually own hard copies of any of them. 

                        RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

           Name a favorite character that had to overcome a major obstacle.

 

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I am going to say Circe for this one. Circe overcomes so many obstacles and hurdles through out her story and so often has to navigate these things on her own. She learns and figures things out by herself and accomplishes so much with her own strength, powers and knowledge.

 

                    SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN

Which characters do you think are at the top of Santa’s “Naughty” and “Nice” list?

                                                  Nice List

One of my favorite characters that I have read about this year is Scythe Faraday from the Arc of a Scythe series. Yes, Scythe Faraday does kill people which would in normal circumstances put on the naughty list. But, within the realm of Mid Merica and the Scythedom, Scythe Faraday is one of the kindest and most humble scythes. He understands the importance of what he does and why he does it but he does not actually the killing and feels remorse. I think that within the scope of this series Scythe Faraday could be put on the nice list. 

 

                                           Naughty List

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This definitely goes to Rhiannon from Sweet Pea. This book was so original and vulgar and violent and laugh-out-loud funny. The major plot point of the book is the list that Rhiannon keeps in her mind… her kill list. From the man at the grocery checkout who always mishandles her apples, to the driver who cuts her off on her way to work, to the people who have it coming, Rhiannon gets her revenge.

                                 FROSTY THE SNOWMAN

What book just melts your heart?

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This book is so witty, cute, and forward thinking. It brought me so much hope for what our world could be. I absolutely loved it. 

                                     FELIZ NAVIDAD

Your favorite book that takes place in a country other than your own.

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The Kite Runner is one of my all time favorite books and I try to read it at least once a year. 

         IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

What book do you read to get in the Christmas spirit?

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         I read the Chronicles of Narnia (specifically the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) EVERY Christmas!! 

                                              SLEIGH RIDE

What character would you most want to spend the holidays with?

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   Rhysand… need I say more? 

                                        BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

What book do you hate so much you would sacrifice it to the fire to stay warm?

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I like the idea of this book. But, the execution just kills me. It is sooo overly detailed! 

                            DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?  

What book would you recommend to everyone?

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This book was absolutely one of my favorites of the year. I just gifted it to my husband’s boss. 

How Far Into Debt are We Willing to Go to Have a Baby

Unfortunately, most infertility treatment and procedures are not covered by our health insurance and we have begun  to have the difficult discussion of how far into debt we are willing to go in order to have a baby.

We have already had to change our plans and pursue these treatments in Arizona instead of here in Las Vegas because of how expensive treatment is here. This has added the cost of hotel, gas, and food on top of the expense of the treatment itself. Not to mention, the use of our vacation time at work.

How Much Does IUI  Cost

Each time that we have an IUI cycle done at the fertility clinic in Arizona it costs just shy of $400. That is just the cost of the insemination itself, that does not include the cost of the ultrasound that must be done beforehand or the medication that must be taken.

In the grand scheme of things, $400 isn’t that much and is fairly reasonable. But, how many times are we willing to pay that (and everything else) before we accept that it just isn’t working?

How Much Does IVF Really Cost

These numbers can really differ depending on the state your in and the type of clinic or doctor you are seeing. Also, infertility clinics often only quote the cost for the IVF medical procedure, but don’t include the cost of medication, labs, exams, and additional appointments.

Also, increasingly infertility specialists recommend advanced procedures such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and embryonic genetic testing, which further add to the cost.

It isn’t unheard of for IVF to cost over $20,000.

For us, IVF would cost $13,000 for the initial egg retrieval and first IVF cycle. This would not include the cost of medication and additional appointments. Every cycle thereafter would cost about $1,000. Also, the cost of storage for the embryos is about $300 per month for the first 5 years.

Keep in mind that research suggests that patients should plan on three cycles of IVF to achieve success.

How Are People Paying for Infertility Treatment?

According to my research only about 20% of people going through infertility treatment have insurance that will cover IVF. The organization Creating a Family did a poll on how people pay for fertility treatment. The top four ways were as follows:

  1. Saving money
  2. Health Insurance
  3. Clinic Discount Programs/Bundled Packages/Money Back Policies
  4. Loans (home equity, family, 401K, credit cards)

Note that these methods are not mutually exclusive; in fact, most people used more than one of these means to pay for treatment.

The cost of private adoption

We began our adoption discussion with the hopes of adopting a new born through a private adoption. After some research and speaking to a couple of adoption agencies, we quickly realized that we had gone into this blindly, naively and with very little information.

We had no idea that private new born adoption is essentially a million dollar (if not more) business.

According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, working with a private agency to adopt a healthy newborn or baby or to adopt from another country can cost up to $40,000.

The cost of working with an attorney and not involving an agency may range from $8,000 to $40,000 and averages $10,000 to $15,000.

Not that we have anywhere near $40,000 just laying around. But, what really stopped us in our tracks when it came to private adoption was that when matched with a birth mother, most adoptive parents are asked to pay for the mother’s medical bills (and sometimes personal expenses) while pregnant. That part is understandable.

What is not understandable is that after paying for all of this treatment, doctors appointments and everything else; by law the birth mother still has 72 hours after the baby is born to change her mind and decide to keep the baby. And if that happens you don’t get any of that money back (or many times, the money that you have paid to the adoption agency).

We have read and heard horror stories of people losing tens of thousands of dollars. Even if we could come up with $30,000 we are not willing to take that risk.

 

So the Question is How Much Debt is Too Much?

I understand that (hopefully) in return for these large amounts of money you will be receiving a baby, a human life, which in theory should be priceless. But unfortunately in our world that isn’t the case… there is a very large price. And none of these options 100% guarantee a baby at the end.

Each person (couple) will have to decide for themselves how much debt is too much.

Some of the things that we have considered when having this discussion are:

  1. We will likely need more than one IVF cycle to achieve success.
  2. The stress of debt could have a negative impact on our emotions and stress on our marriage.
  3. Nick is a kidney transplant patient and will always have doctor bills and medications that need to be paid.
  4. We don’t want to be blessed with a child and then be so bogged down in debt that we now have a hard time giving that child the life it deserves.

Although we feel the pressure of time and the urgency to create our family, before we take on too much debt, it is necessary for us to slow down, consider all of our options and make sure that we are being responsible .

 

Happy Birthday to My Husband

Happy Birthday!

32 Years.

11,680 Days.

280,320 Hours.

That is how long you have graced this planet.

And I’ve only had 4,368 those days.

We have officially celebrated 12 of your birthdays together and I look forward to the next 50!

 

My wishes for you today and through out the next year–

I pray that God blesses you with His boundless love, calming peace and heavenly joy throughout the coming year.

I pray that the “good days” far outnumber any other kind of day you have.

I pray that you always have a reason to laugh.

I pray that you never give up on your dreams.

I pray that you recognize and feel the amount of love that surrounds you each day.

I pray that you truly know how much I appreciate all that you do for me.

I pray that the next year brings you more blessings and happiness then you could have ever hoped for.

 

Happy Happy Birthday, Handsome Hubby of Mine!

 

November- Reading Wrap Up

10 books read in the month of November for a total of 3,613 pages. As far as the quality of the books read, this may have been my best month all year, with 6 5-star reads.

Let’s check them out below:

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Across A Broken Shore by Amy Trueblood-Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

ARC provided by North Star Editions through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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“Thank you for recognizing all the beauty and intelligence in my child I was too broken to see. While I can never properly show you my gratitude, I hope you know that I will be eternally indebted to you for helping my daughter find her voice.”

The story is told from the perspective of eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy. In 1936, San Francisco Willa is the only daughter among four sons. Her parents expect her to take her vows and become a nun but Willa has other dreams.

This book is strongly character driven and although the story in itself was beautiful and well written, I did find it to be a bit repetitive by the end.

Where She Went by Kelly Simmons-Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

ARC provided by Sourcebooks through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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“What was the difference between a person who was out of her mind with grief and exhaustion and a person who was just out of her mind?”

Maggie’s only daughter Emma has just gone away to college, and Maggie knows that she’s turning into one of those helicopter parents she used to mock. She is constantly worrying about Emma, texting more than she should, and even occasionally dropping by the college campus.  But as it turns out Maggie had a reason to worry when her daughter suddenly disappears.

There are so many sub-plots and alternating perspectives in this story that it was hard to keep up. Also, Maggie comes off as such a naive and clueless person. She refuses to accept the fact that her daughter has a job or that she could possibly have a boyfriend that she didn’t know about. The story was good up until the end. It just sort of ended with no real resolution or consequence. Nothing of substance really happened and it just sort of negated everything that had happened and made the whole mystery of the book pointless. 

 

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne-     Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.”

This story is your typical enemies to lovers trope. But, this story takes place inside of a publishing house so what book nerd wouldn’t love that? What really made this story for me was the banter between Josh and Lucy. I gave this 4 stars because some of the “enemies” aspect of this were a little bit exaggerated in my opinion. 

 

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh-     Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“The things she wanted and the things expected of her were like oil and water in a baker’s mixing bowl.”

Honestly, I think this book has gotten more hype then it deserves. It wasn’t bad, I just think that it could have been better.  The setting in New Orleans was great, the world building was written perfectly, and Celine may be one of my favorite female characters of the year. But, all in all  I found the book to be a bit lackluster. I honestly can’t even remember how the book ended and I just read it a month ago. 

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama-Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same.”

This one has been on my TBR for a long time and it did not disappoint, it will definitely be on my favorites of 2019 list. 

I didn’t think I could admire and respect our former First Lady Michelle Obama any more than I already did.  In this book Michelle reveals even more of herself, her story, and her character; she is eloquent, strikingly honest and inspiring. 

In Becoming, Michelle recounts her childhood on the South Side of Chicago and her love and devotion for that city is evident in her words and in her voice as she shares her story. This book is so beautifully and eloquently written from the very first page, she begins her story with: “I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.”

This books touches on so many important topics: poverty, disability, illness, racism, classism, education, family, infertility, prejudice, judgment, politics, American history and so much more.

 

Educated by Tara Westover- Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this self-hood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

Two amazing books in a row! This book is so dang good; it will make you cringe, make you cry, make you laugh, and make you so damn grateful for your own upbringing and childhood. This book moved me and I think it is such an important read. 

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black- Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“It’s you I love,” he says. “I’ve spent much of my life guarding my heart. I guarded it so well that I could behave as though I didn’t have one at all. Even now, it is a shabby, worm-eaten, and scabrous thing. But it is yours.”

This is the only book in the trilogy that I have rated 5 stars. Honestly, before the Queen of Nothing I did not get the hype surrounding this series. But this book was everything. It gave me all.of.the.feels. And the quotes! This is also the only book in the series that I have been tempted to reread right after finishing it. 

 

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“The next slide is titled: ‘Exploring your sexuality: Healthy, but does it have to be with the Prince of England?’ She apologizes for not having time to come up with better titles. Alex actively wishes for the sweet release of death.”

This may just be my favorite book of the year. I laughed and giggled through the entire thing and the last chapter had me crying in my car in the parking lot of my workplace. The ending of this book leaves you with such a powerful amount of hope for what our country (and even more so the world) could be.  First off this book begins perfectly with Obama being succeeded by a democratic woman.  And it just get better from there.

Alex’s family in this book are just everything; both of his parents are so supportive and are always putting him and his sister first.  Also, the banter and one-liners woven throughout this story are just perfection.

I don’t think that I have ever read a contemporary that so effortlessly and clearly demonstrates the love and romance between the two main characters.

I could go on and on. Just writing this has made me want to go and reread the book.

 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops.”

When I picked this book up, this was the last thing I was expecting. I went in expecting a light hearted book about a small-town hockey team and what I got was so much more than that. This book makes you feel every emotion possible. I can’t think of another book off the top of my head that has ever made me so angry and so ashamed of what our society has become. This book hits on many of the same topics as 12 Reasons Why; bullying, rape, rape culture, the pedestal that athletes are placed on, violence, suicide. This book was heartbreaking but still somehow beautiful. 

The Toll by Neal Shusterman – Image result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold starsImage result for gold stars

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“I for one much rather live in a world where the surplus population can leave, rather than be denied it existence.” 

This was the month for the conclusion of series. The Toll is the 3rd and final book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. It.did,not.disappoint. I loved all 3 of the books in this series but this may have just been my favorite. Much like the sequel, this book takes you on a roller coaster and does not stop until the very end. I had many ideas of where this book could go, but the ending still took me completely by surprise. 

 

 

 

Our Fertility Journey… Update

It has been a long time since I posted on here. I have noticed that with each wave of hope and then the crash of disappointment the last thing that I want to do is discuss it. So I push this blog to the side until I have had time to process and come to terms with the next step in our journey.

The last time that I gave an update here, we were seeing a fertility specialist and I had just completed a bunch of testing.

Between May and mid July we had realized that we would not be able to continue this medical journey with a doctor in Nevada. The treatments here in Las Vegas are significantly more expensive than in other areas.

So through a recommendation we found a doctor in Tuscon Arizona who came highly recommended and who made it possible for my brother and sister in law to have our beautiful niece.

So in July Nick and I took a two day trip out to Phoenix and then on to Tuscon where we had out first round of Intrauterine Insemination done.

During our trip we had a couple of mishaps like having to change hotels and drive two hours from Tuscon back to Phoenix in the middle of the night. But, the procedure in and of itself went smoothly, painlessly and fairly quickly.

We were at the doctors office for about two hours but in that time the doctor did a complimentary ultrasound to check the amount of follicles that had been released and the actual procedure was done.

We went into this trip knowing that while these procedure can be successful the first time, it could in reality take a few tries.

I think the hard part for me in processing everything and moving on from an unsuccessful attempt was that in my mind it seemed like we were kind of coming full circle.

What I mean by that is that this trip was king of a trip down memory lane for us.

In 2012 Nick had a successful kidney transplant at the Mayo Clinic hospital in AZ, where he subsequently lived for nearly 6 weeks.

On this trip we stopped at the Mayo Clinic as a sort of “good luck charm”. We had been greatly blessed the last time we had been there with Nick’s transplant and hoped that this second trip to Arizona would be blessed as well.

Image may contain: indoor        Standing in the same waiting area where 7 years prior I had sat anxiously waiting and praying while Nick was in surgery  

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sky, sunglasses, outdoor and closeup                                         It felt so surreal to be back 7 years later. So thankful that we have not had reason to come back sooner and that this was only a visit, not a necessary stop

Image may contain: sky, house and outdoor                      Completely unintentionally and due to unforeseen complications we ended up staying at the same hotel where we had stayed 8 or 9 years prior during Nick’s original tour of and testing at the Mayo Clinic 

 

This obviously was not the case. While I am now, 4 months later, able to say that we weren’t meant to get pregnant at that time and that God has other plans for us, my feelings were not so back then.

After realizing that procedure had not been successful we had to figure out what we wanted to do next, try another round of IUI, move onto a different type of fertility treatment or look into other options.

In the months since we have been unable to make it back to Arizona because of work schedules, available vacation time etc.

As of now we are thinking things over, weighing all of our options and making tough decisions.

I’ll have another update soon.

 

Definitely Read This: The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore

Title: The Paper Daughters of Chinatown

Author: Heather B. Moore

Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing

Pages: 384

Rating: 5 stars

“Sometimes the most joyful moment for one person brought on deep pain for another.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

In the late nineteenth century, San Francisco is a booming city with a dark side, one in which a powerful underground organization—the criminal tong—buys and sells young Chinese women into prostitution and slavery. These “paper daughters,” so called because fake documents gain them entry to America but leave them without legal identity, generally have no recourse. But the Occidental Mission Home for Girls is one bright spot of hope and help.

Told in alternating chapters, this rich narrative follows the stories of young Donaldina Cameron who works in the mission home, and Mei Lien, a “paper daughter” who thinks she is coming to America for an arranged marriage but instead is sold into a life of shame and despair.

Donaldina, a real-life pioneering advocate for social justice, bravely stands up to corrupt officials and violent gangs, helping to win freedom for thousands of Chinese women. Mei Lien endures heartbreak and betrayal in her search for hope, belonging, and love. Their stories merge in this gripping account of the courage and determination that helped shape a new course of women’s history in America. 

“She’d assisted in pulling out a young woman from the darkest, deepest, most vile pit of despair, and in doing so, Dolly had not only helped rescue another’s soul, she’d rescued her own.”

My Thoughts:

This book is so perfectly written. The author manages to show the trauma and deprevity that these Chinese girls and women went through while documenting the world of that time period and also showing the hope that these women brought to these girls. She finds such a good balance of showing the difficulties while also showing the hope and the good that was done.

This was a subject that I didn’t know much about previously but the writing just pulls you right in.

This book is so relevant to the climate in our current society. Human Trafficking is still very much a real thing and hearing how these girls and their families are blatantly lied to and deceived is heartbreaking.

Not only is this story relevant in its depictions and discussions about human trafficking but it also shows how the police force are not all bad and that there are good cops out there who are willing to do the right thing. This is such an important topic for our country right now.

“The helpless have no chance for justice in this city. I couldn’t sleep at night if I didn’t do what I could.”

The only issue I had with the book or the way it was written is that continually, over and over, the women in the book were referred to as “the Chinese girls”. I think that the title and synopsis of the book makes it abundantly clear that this is about Chinese girls, it doesn’t need to be continually stated, after a point in the book this could have stopped and they should have been referred to by their names.

The women of the Women’s Foreign Mission Society remind me of the amazing, strong women from Nonnatus House in Call The Midwife. (If you haven’t read of Call The Midwife, please look it up, it is so good.)

“Tomorrow is a new day. The sun will shine through the darkness you have experienced tonight. We must always be grateful for the blessings we do have.”