Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hey, Hey, it's Blog Tour Day! - The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey

Y'all, welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey! I'm thrilled to share my experience (and I choose that word intentionally) reading this book, as well as to share the author's words.

The Glittering Hour is told via two timelines and characters. First, there is Selina in 1925. Selina lives a life of privilege, however life changes when she meets and falls quickly in love with Lawrence Weston, a talented, but as it often goes, struggling artist. Then, there is Alice in 1936. Alice is Selina's young daughter. As the story begins, she's staying with her grandparents and her family's maid Polly. Alice's story revolves around the letters her mother sends while on a trip to Burma. She uses the letters to begin telling Alice about her past via a treasure hunt she has built as well as continuing to remind her daughter how deeply she loves her.

Very early in the story, it is revealed that Lawrence is not who Selina ended up with, and instead, she married a "safe" choice as Selina's dad is not Lawrence. Much of Selina's story is then explaining why and how she found great love, but also what pushed her to make different choices. It was an interesting experience to read a story knowing the happily ever after ending you see isn't going to be. However, there was such emotional power in going on the journey to understand why Selina did what she did. Her story is one full of pain, as well as one of resilience. As her story is told, the reader (as well as her daughter) see her mother's authenticity, vulnerability and strength.

In addition to being about Selina, this is about Alice. For the first time, she learns who her mother was before. She and her mother have an amazing connection, however there is a side of her she has never seen. This is a journey that really makes you think. How many of us don't really know who/what our parents were before we existed? What are the choices that got our parents to each of us, and what could they have done differently? I appreciate a story that makes me think about my own life through the story on the pages, and this absolutely did that.

Not only is it about the before, but this is truly a deep emotional dive into what Selina did in the moment. There is tragedy in Selina's story. She encounters significant grief and loss, and she has to move forward. It isn't easy, and she does what she feels she must to be okay and move forward. The connection to her past told through Alice's discoveries then do a brilliant job of showing her whys, as well as even giving her a chance to revisit her story.

This is a book with an ending that is still heavy on my heart weeks after I read this book. It's one I'm still thinking about, and even as I type I find myself getting a bit teary thinking about how the story of these two women ended. It was one of those reveals when you find out all is not what it seemed that makes you gasp (literally), then clutch your heart (literally) as you've become so immersed into this world. 

Y'all, this book was just beautiful, and I cannot say that enough. The story was emotional with such depth. If you're looking to be captivated and get all up in your feels (seriously, have some tissues handy), this is where you need to be.

Finally, I'm delighted I have the opportunity to not just tell you what I thought about the book, but to share this excerpt. The selection I specifically requested to share is the second chapter. This sets up beautifully the story that follows, as well as shows you want a masterful storyteller Iona Grey is:

"Alice knew that it would be a long time before a reply came to her letter. In her head she tried to keep track of the letter’s progress, from the village post office to the sorting office in Salisbury and then to a Royal Mail Steamer at Southampton, but there her experience reached its limit. As her letter made its journey across the fathomless miles of ocean, the closeness she’d felt to Mama as she’d written it receded again. 
A heaviness lay over the days, caused in part by the death of the old king at the end of January. Blackwood felt a long way away from London, but the news made everyone sombre and the world seemed altered in some significant way: less safe, in the careless hands of the dandy prince. If death could claim the King himself surely it could come for anyone, at any time? 
The bitter cold continued, but still it didn’t snow. The ground over which Alice trailed after Miss Lovelock each afternoon was frozen to flinty hardness, the grass brittle with frost. The hours between dawn and dusk were short and the sun barely managed to raise itself above the bare, black branches of the trees around the lake before the shadows on the nursery walls stretched and it slid downwards again, along with Alice’s spirits. The days themselves might be short, but the empty hours dragged like weeks. Instead of her homesickness easing, it settled more solidly inside her, as if her heart was gradually freezing like the lake’s murky waters. 
But writing the letter had helped. There was the anticipation of a reply and, more importantly, the secret knowledge that she could write again which gave some small purpose to her days. She made it her business to look out for things to tell Mama; small details from her walks with Miss Lovelock, like the heron that they sometimes saw in the reeds by the lake, or the perfect pink sunset that, for a little while, had turned the hard, white world into a sugared confection of Turkish delight. Even the ordeal of Sunday lunch with The Grands (as Mama called them, though never to their faces) was made more bearable by knowing she could share it with Mama. She told her about the time Grandfather had caught her looking at one of the huge portraits on the dining room walls, and asked her if she recognized the young woman in the white dress. Alice had stared up at the painted peaches- and-cream complexion and piled-up, pale gold hair and felt her own face growing crimson with embarrassment as no answer presented itself. Grandmama’s voice had been icy as she’d informed Alice that the girl in the painting was she, in the year of her Coming Out. 
Did Grandmama really look like that, she wrote to Mama that night, before she was cross all the time?
In fact, Mama’s reply came sooner than Alice had really dared hope. It wasn’t quite two weeks after Polly had posted the letter, when Alice imagined it might still be making its epic journey, that Polly came into the day nursery with Alice’s lunch tray and an air of suppressed excitement.
With a rustle of paper she slipped the letter out of her pocket and set it down on the table. There was only one word on the envelope, in Mama’s familiar handwriting and trademark turquoise ink. Alice. She and Polly had agreed it was safer if Mama wrote to Polly, enclosing a letter for Alice, in case Grandmama decided to check her letters too.
‘Well, aren’t you going to open it? It feels lovely and thick.’ 
Alice’s fingers  itched  to  tear  the  letter  open  and  let Mama’s jewelled words come spilling out, but instead she picked up her fork. After waiting all this time she wanted to savour the anticipation a bit longer. 
‘I am, but later. After lunch.’ 
The oxtail and stewed prunes were rather less worth savouring than the anticipation, but she made herself eat slowly, sipping at her glass of water. When she had finished she stacked her plates onto the tray and took the letter to the window seat, settling an old, flattened needlepoint cushion with a pair of Noah’s elephants on it behind her back and half-drawing the curtain to cloak herself in privacy. 

Finally, carefully, she slid her finger beneath the flap of the envelope. 
S.S. Eastern Star  | 
The Suez Canal 
28th January 1936 
Darling, darling Alice,
I got your letter just now, and I didn’t want to waste amoment before replying. It is the middle of the afternoon and fiercely hot, and we have just left Port Said where your letter was waiting for us. Papa has been terribly kind and said that he will try to get this letter sent back to England by airmail, which is as quick as the blink of an eye. Isn’t that smart? 
Sweetheart, I am so desperately sorry that you are feeling sad and lonely. I know how confusing all this must seem to you, and how sudden. Papa tries to shield us from all his business concerns but this trouble at the mine is something that he can’t sort out from London and it will help tremendously to have a wife there to do the kind of social smoothing over that wives do, when the men have finished squabbling over their sheets of figures and legal small print. I would have simply adored to bring you with us, my darling – oh, the heaven of having your wonderful company – but it would have been extremely selfish. The heat is draining (hard for you to imagine, I know; how well I remember that Blackwood feels like the coldest corner of Christendom in the winter) and, once we arrive in Burma the mine business is sure to take up every waking hour, which means you would have to be left alone anyway, and without darling Polly to look after you. There’s no one in whose care I would rather leave you, sweetheart. Polly has kept many of my secrets over the years – I trust her with my life, and yours too, which is infinitely more precious. I know you will be safe with her, but I do so hope that we can sort things out quickly here and come home soon. Oh darling, I hope that with all my heart. 
But for the moment we must both try to be brave and cheerful, because if we feel brave and cheerful the time will go much more quickly than if we are gloomy and despondent. So, I shall tell you about where I am sitting right now, because that will make me pay proper attention to how beautiful it all is rather than dwelling on how far away from you. I am on the little private deck of our cabin, sitting in the shade of a green and white striped awning and our dear steward Ahmed has just brought me some peppermint tea in a silver teapot, served in the daintiest little pink glass etched with gold. It’s wonderful to be sailing again. In the harbour at Port Said the air was sweltering but out at sea the breeze is quite delicious. It carries the scent of spices out from the shore, which is just a dark blue line between the lighter blues of sea and sky. I swear I haven’t seen a single cloud since we left Marseilles, though that was where we heard of the dear old King’s death, so the blue skies felt all wrong. (Poor Grandmama – she danced with him in her youth, when he was the Duke of York and she a dazzling debutante. I expect she will be very saddened by the news.) 
Papa managed to get us a rather lovely suite, which was jolly clever of him when the passage was booked at such short notice. My room is small, but very comfortable and modern, with lovely walnut panelling and the most sumptuous carpet and gold satin bedcover. There’s a dear little lamp above the bed for reading, though for two entire days I could barely open my eyes or lift my head from the pillow because of the dreaded seasickness. I’m much better now. Papa, being so much more used to sailing than I am,has been perfectly well. His cabin is on the other side of our little sitting room, and is decorated all in green. (I’m glad I didn’t have that one. I felt quite green enough.) The ship is terribly plush; there’s a swimming pool and a gymnasium I believe (though I have no intention of seeking it out myself!) and a library – so you see, my darling, I have no excuse to be bored and gloomy. 
How I wish you had all the lovely distractions that I do, but since you only have Blackwood Park, and The Grands and Miss Lovelock (who sounds terrifying – I must ask Papa where he found her) I’ve been trying to think how we might make things more fun for you. You have Polly too, of course – and she is the best accomplice for any adventure – and don’t we always say that one can find treasure in the most unlikely places, if one looks carefully enough? 
Blackwood Park might seem an unlikely place to find anything exciting. My darling, I know better than anyone that it can seem as still and silent as the sleeping castle in a fairy tale, and how time there seems to drag more slowly than anywhere else. But all old houses hold stories and Blackwood is no exception. It may be silent and empty, but it has its store of treasures to be discovered and secrets waiting to be revealed . . . 
Please know, my dearest darling, how much I miss you – every moment – and how I’m longing to be back with you soon. Have courage, brave girl. In a world that is small enough for the same moon to hang over us both, we can’t ever be too far apart. 
With love from my heart to yours, and a lipstick kiss 
Mama xxxxx 

A lipstick kiss. There it was at the bottom of the page – the scarlet stamp of her mother’s lips, just like she used to leave on the back of Alice’s hand before school in the morn- ing, or in the evening when she was going out with Papa. She lifted the paper to her face and breathed in a faint trace of Mama’s scent, noticing as she did so that there was more writing on the other side of the paper. 
She turned it over. 
Where the sun’s first rays  
Turn lilies to gold, 
There’s a box in a drawer through a door. 
Open it up 
And the paper unfold 
And see if you want to know more. 
‘Well, was it a nice letter?’ 
Polly’s  voice  behind  her  was  soft  and  cautious.  Alice turned and handed her the letter, curiosity quickening inside her. ‘It’s a poem, or a riddle. What do you think it means?’
Polly’s eyes skimmed the paper. She was smiling as she handed it back. ‘I’d say there’s only one way of answering that. You’ll just have to find this box, won’t you?’"


About the Author:
IONA GREY is the author of the award winning Letters to the Lost. She has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.

About the Book:
An unforgettable historical about true love found and lost and the secrets we keep from one another from an award-winning author

Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying on just the right side of scandal, all while running from the life her parents would choose for her.

Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina's orbit one night and can never let her go even while knowing someone of her stature could never end up with someone of his. Except Selina falls hard for Lawrence, envisioning a life of true happiness. But when tragedy strikes, Selina finds herself choosing what's safe over what's right.

Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, Iona Grey's The Glittering Hour is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.

Buy Links:

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Book Reviews - Thrills and Feels (Again)

Oh, hi there. I read some books. With the holidays I kind of picked up whatever was around, and there is no cohesion. So, here's these. . . 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware is the story of friends who've agreed to keep secrets (and tell lies) throughout their friendship reuniting once more. You see, as friends at a boarding school, these four girls engaged in a literal Lying Game. There were rules, and the basic premise was the more well-told lies, the better. When a friend calls on her old friends, they reunite to figure out what's happened. This means that they remember old times, and as you can imagine, some of the lies that they told along the way. In addition to the lies, someone seems to be out to get the girls. They suspect this might be someone from those old lies, and they are concerned about their safety. This was a book that had some good thrills, but ultimately I struggled. As might imagine, a group of girls who have built a friendship on lies and the deceit of others have some ish they're navigating. For me, the twists just weren't twisty enough (if that makes sense) because of the premise it was all built upon. Y'all, I wanted to be captivated by this, and the premise made me think I would, but it just didn't fully meet my expectations.

Read this book if - You are all about the lies and the deceit. You want to see the past coming back to haunt those in the present.

The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey is a book I'm reading for an upcoming blog tour. Be sure to check back on December 10th for my full (rave) review of this beautiful drama.

Read this book if - Stay tuned!

The God Game by Danny Tobey was a dark and twisted look via a virtual world that becomes reality. Charlie and his technology loving friends (The Vindicators) find their way to the G.O.D. Game. It appears to involve an AI-based character named God. Things seem innocent and fun enough, as they opt in, but things quickly go in a very different direction. The game knows the Vindicators darkest secrets and deepest desires. In the name of the game and in exchange for real life outcomes, the games puts challenges in front of players with high risk and a potential high reward. This book is full of all the ethical dilemmas as each character has to decide how they're going to play the game. What is worth doing if there's a personal reward? Is it worth hurting someone else for the gain of you, especially if they never know? Y'all this had the best and darkest dystopian and Black Mirror-esque vibes. There was so much happening as each character made choices in the game that had some real outcomes. I was captivated by this one throughout. This is a book that raises real questions about how we engage with technology, what we're willing to do to get ahead, as well as how we're willing to ignore consequences. This kept me reading late into the night (and during the day) as I had to what was going to happen in the game next. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the early look at this January 2020 release. This is one that you're going to want to say yes to, so you can go through all the twisty thrills in this game. Also, selfishly I need people to read it because I want to talk about all the drama and all that went down. 

Read this book if - You want something that looks at the dark side of technology. You want a thriller built on ethical dilemmas, on ethical dilemmas, on ethical dilemmas.

F*ck No!: How to Stop Saying Yes When You Can't, You Shouldn't, or You Just Don't Want To by Sarah Knight is the fifth installment of the author's No F*cks Given guide series. I will say that her books are best read together as a collection. This is my fourth in the series (as I haven't yet read the fourth book), and it's definitely most effective when you have an understanding of her approach and angle. This book hones in on the practice of saying no. It's something that's covered in previous installments, so this is really a deep dive into that specific concept. The book walks through different scenarios where a no might be needed, as well as different ways to deliver that no. I took a few good nuggets of this one given I can definitely struggle with giving a no, and these can couple well with reflections the author has offered in her previous books. Again, before you read this, I would recommend reading at least the first two of her books to get a good foundational understanding of what she's advocating for in your life. Oh, and this is a short read, so if you need a quick injection of how to put less yes and more balance in your life, this may be the read for you. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this end of December 2019 release.

Read this book if - You're looking to put more no into your life. You like your self-help with lots of swearing and sarcasm.

Until next time!

Book Reviews - Sure Thing Kind of Reads

Sometimes you just need books that are a "sure thing" in your life. I had been feeling a little meh lately about what I'd read (it's bound to happen at some point), so for 3/4 of these I was very intentional in choosing things I knew I'd love. Good news is that with the remaining 1/4 I really dug it, too! Onto the latest reads. . . 

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger was a read that could not have come out at a given time as it pairs quite well with the college admissions scandal. This one revolves around happenings in a Colorado town. The public school system is opening up a new school for gifted children. The story then treks how various children and more importantly PARENTS react to the news. Upon the news being announced, people feel a certain kind of way and more importantly act a certain kind of way from there. Some of the behaviors are overt, but much of this involves secrets and lies along the way. This was a fascinating and all too real look at (mostly) parents and (somewhat) kids willing to do whatever it takes to be considered elite. The story weaves together really well, and it does a good job of building suspense around certain secrets. This is the selection for my book club in January, and there is so, so much we'll have to discuss, and I cannot wait. This has so many dynamics at play in its privilege and deceit in all the intersecting relationships, and again, it's so much to digest and dissect! I love a read with the drama of a Lifetime movie, and this delivers on that level so hard. This is definitely a pageturner worth checking out.

Read this book if - You like your drama on high will all the secrets and lies. You want a drama focused on the unhealthy lengths parents go to for their kids.

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain was another great read by a masterful storyteller. One of the things I love most about Diane Chamberlain is the way she weaves stories in the past and present together. This upcoming January 2020 release is another instance of her amazing work. This story begins in 2018. After serving time for a crime she took the fall for on behalf of an ex, Morgan is given an offer for immediate release. This is contingent on her going to a small North Carolina town to restore a mural. That's great except art restoration isn't really her thing. She's confused as to why she's been specifically requested for the task, but accepts and goes from there. Back in 1940, Anna Dale has won an art contest to design a mural (the same mural, obvs) for this small North Carolina town. With her arrival, there is some resentment, some intrigue and definitely some drama. In the present, there is lingering mystery about Anna Dale's story. It's revealed bit by bit as the story goes. Morgan also has her own secrets, and those are also slowly revealed. There is also the big question throughout of why Morgan and how she came to be connected to Anna's restoration. It's no secret I love a good dramatic tale that blends the past and present, and this again is such a good story told in this way. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the advanced look at this. And y'all, if you aren't reading Diane Chamberlain, you need her stories in your life. Trust me.

Read this book if - You love a good mystery that blends the past and present. You love secrets grounded in characters with all the depth and intrigue.

Freeing Finch by Ginny Rorby was a middle grade novel full of all the feels. Finch is navigating the grief of losing her mom, the new normal of living with her stepfather and his new wife (one of her mom's nurses), the ongoing absence of her dad, and the reality of her gender identity. Along the way, Finch has found a friendship with Maddy, her neighbor who loves and cares for animals. This gives her a connection she craves and a place where she can go to truly be herself. Y'all, again this was so many feels, and I always appreciate when a middle grade novel takes on emotion with an authentic depth. I also love that this took on a teen seeking to find her place in the world via a main character with identities that don't always get a voice. The story is multilayered as Finch is navigating so many emotions and experiences, and that is what made it so powerful and real. I'm a bit behind on reading my advanced copy of this October release (but the good news is that this means it's out now), and thanks to Starscape for the book and exposing me to this beautiful story.

Read this book if - You're looking for a book of the middle grade variety that will have you all up in your feels.

Introvert Doodles by Marzi Wilson was a book I read because I just needed this kind of humor and awesomeness in my life. As an introvert, sometimes you just need to check out someone/something that gets you. This just so perfectly captures the life of an introvert. I found myself nodding in agreement and laughing as I read through these. If you are an introvert (and/or if you know and love one), this is another great window into what life is like for us. This is a quick read, but it just puts so much positive energy into the world, and I absolutely loved that. I read this because it was something I knew I was sure to love, and goodness did I ever. It's very meta for an introvert to read about being an introvert, but again, it's just the best.

Read this book if - You like your introverted reflections with a heaping does of humor.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Reviews - All the (Future) Graphic Novels!

A few weeks back FOUR(!) advanced copies showed up. These are from a new Random House imprint of graphic novels (RH Graphic) for kids, and y'all this quartet is a solid way to start off a new brand. 

The Runaway Princess by Johan Tro├»anowski is a delight in so many ways. First of all, it is beautifully illustrated. The colors are so bright and fun and amplify the story. This is about a princess who both intentionally and accidentally finds adventures. What's really great is that there are opportunities built in for the readers to complete activities as part of the story. For a kid, this adds a layer of cool to the story. Y'all, this was such a fun blend of humor with a wonderful heroine. Robin is a princess with heart and attitude. She finds friends and quite the cast of characters along the way as she travels to all the places. Visually and with the story, this one was a spin on fairy tales and fantasy that just made me smile. Thanks to RH Graphic for the early look at this January 2020 release!

Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger was the story of two friends who are bugs and the adventures they find together. What's great about this is that those adventures involve how the interface with the human world, other bugs and various science things. The learning of this novel is seamlessly infused into the stories of Rhino-B and Stag-B which is again a perk of having kids check this one out. In addition the learning about science-y things, this also focuses on how to navigate friendship. The two bugs also have some struggles in their friendship, and this also shows how they navigate these challenges. This is two simply drawn bugs in stories that are full of so much fun and intrigue! Thanks to RH Graphic for the early look at this February 2020 release!

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico is the story of a girl who finds a unique fantasy world. After moving to a new town, Aster is trying to find connection and fit in. What she finds is quite some interesting magical folks. One of these is a trickster who is a wish-granter with a spin. The way this plays out was so intriguing and fun. I hadn't even thought of how wishes could be twisted in this way and that really added to this tale. Also, I loved the illustrations! They do a wonderful job of centering Aster as the heroine, while also infusing the magic she is trying to figure out.  Along the way, she Thanks to RH Graphic for the early look at this March 2020 release!

Witchlight by Jesse Zabarsky is shoujo manga - Honestly, I just learned this term (and obvs this is my first time reading it), but given this is a graphic novel specifically for female teens, this exemplifies the genre! Lelek is a witch, and she meets Sanja in her magic journey. Their relationship goes from there, and there are emotional twists and turns as they go through things together. The illustrations in this one are simple while also conveying all the feels which is quite the feat! Thanks to RH Graphic for the early look at this April 2020 release!

Let It Go (P.S. This is not a blog about Frozen)

Y'all, November is a weird month for me.

Professionally, November is a month of transition. It's a month where I've started two of my previous jobs, and it's also a month where I've left two previous jobs. After I thought through that, it helped me realize why I felt so damn nostalgic and up in my feels lately.

November is also when my wedding anniversary happens. It's a natural bookend to a year, so with that, it also brings up all the reflection.

And then, AND THEN, it's the start of the holiday season. As if all that wasn't enough, everyone feels the need to reflect on the last decade of life rn. Can a girl get a break?!?

After sitting with my feels for the past few weeks, I decided to write it out and see where it takes me. So, hold on for this y'all.

First off, we don't talk enough about the process of leaving and letting go, specifically when it comes to work. Think about how much time we spend asking people what they do, connecting people to their title, and just narrowing our conversations to our professional identity. 

Then, one day we leave that job. One day it's part of our identity, and then it's not. And y'all, there's no process for that. There's no guidance for that. It's just. . . why don't we talk about that more?!?

One of the reasons transition has been weighing so heavily on me is that I realize I have developed some really unhealthy habits. The stuff that I leave with me following a job? It's the worst - literally. I pack up all the criticism, all the stuff I didn't do well, and all the bad days, and I keep a hold on it. And when I say I keep a hold on it, I mean it's this intense death grip.

I didn't fully realize it until we went back to a place I worked and went to school a few weeks back. It's a place that has shaped me in so many ways. However, I also realize I was letting pieces of my time there overpower all the good it has brought to me. When I went back, I realized I had to let it go. This was not the story I wanted to keep, and I had to stop.

So, I did. In that space I know and love, I moved forward. It was lifting a huge weight on my shoulder. I hate that I let it be like that for so long, but y'all, anxiety is a beast, and we continue to fight one epic battle. I know I'm capable of winning, but damn, it's hard.

Reflecting even more, I have realized my tendency to carry the negative stuff is this awful default factory setting. For example, I can recall in vivid detail times I got in trouble in elementary school. One of the most salient moments of this is in fifth grade when I was trying to give helpful information to another teacher. She reported back to my teacher something about how she didn't appreciate how I'd delivered the information. It's been over 25 years, and I still don't understand why she was upset. However, what I do remember is my teacher ordered me to apologize to her. I went to her classroom, knocked on the door, and I immediately started crying. It was mostly confusion and embarrassment. However, why do I continue to carry that with me?!? I'm quite sure those teachers forgot that moment soon after, so why do I continue to let that moment have so much power. I could tell you very little else about my fifth grade year, and there were 179ish other days to remember. 

Typing it, I know this doesn't make sense, and that's what I'm working on.

I let the moments that don't matter overpower the ones that do. I give too much space to the words and actions people say and do that I shouldn't. I care too much about people that don't care about me. 

One of the things I'm actively working (and really actively working because again y'all that anxiety puts up a fight) is embracing compliments. I have realized how easily I love in a space of feeling I need to do more and be more and even questioning the positive feedback I receive. However, when I receive negative feedback I'm wiling to take it and believe it and live with it in my head and heart for an indeterminate amount of time?!? What if I did that with the positive? How amazing would that space be?!?

I'm certainly not saying there's not space for criticism and negative feedback. What I am saying is that I'm done giving it a disproportionate space I'm giving it in my mind. I'm releasing that death grip on negativity, and I'm transferring it to the good stuff. It's been there all along, and I'm diving into it headfirst and as deep as I can possibly go.

I wanted to give space to this today because it's been weighing on me. It's been hard to articulate. I've been talking it through with my husband lately, and it's been hard to get it out of my head. What's even harder is the shift, but damn, it is so very much worth it.

So, stay tuned. I'm letting go of some heavy stuff, but I've also now got some openings for some pretty amazing stuff.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Book Reviews - Just Like A Circus and Stuff

So, these reviews are much more than what the title indicates, but y'all, when there's a chance to use a Britney lyric, you always have to take it.

Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Psychological Injuries by Guy Winch was an interesting reflective piece. The book focuses on giving techniques for addressing common emotional concerns. To do that, the author first names that these emotions are going to happen and normalizes that experience. With that, he believes we should build techniques to address these similar to those we have for basic first aid needs. The book is divided into seven chapters/emotions - rejection, loneliness, loss and trauma, guilt, rumination, failure, and low self-esteem. Each section is then a deep dive into what this emotion is and how it shows up. He then offers exercises to self-assess and address the concern. These are simple and easy to execute which is ideal for someone experiencing one of these emotions. I read this book not going through any of this stuff at present (but will undoubtedly down the road), and I could definitely see this as a resource I would consult when I needed some help navigating. I really appreciated the perspective and reflective opportunities offered up in this one.

Read this book if - You want something to help you through "stuff" and/or want to build your emotional coping toolkit.

All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire was just like WHOA - in a good way. I knew nothing about this book prior to reading other than a friend reached out to tell me I had to check it out and that it had a wild ending. So, I dove right in! What's great about this is that you don't know what genre you're reading, and that's what makes the deception so good! When you begin reading it has YA romance vibes, and those vibes do continue throughout, but really you've got one heckuva twisted thriller on your hands. The story focuses on Elliot and Catherine who find a connection as kids, but then Elliot has to leave town. He returns years later, and they have lots of unresolved aspects of their relationship. In addition to navigating what they are, Elliot is the star of the football team while Catherine is busy helping her mom with a bed and breakfast - and it needs a lot of help, in addition to having quite an array of guests. This book is about Elliot and Catherine, but more than that, there are secrets bubbling below the surface. You know something isn't right, and you wonder how this connects to the main characters. That's what makes this such a pageturner y'all! Again, this was one of those twists you just don't see coming on so many levels. If you need an unexpected thriller in your life, this is absolutely going to be your jam.

Read this book if - You want a book with the kind of twists that will make your jaw literally drop. You want a book overflowing with all the thrills and secrets.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave was a heavy read. I have to offer that up first because that influences how I felt about it. The book takes place during World War II in London. The story centers on Mary who wants to help with the war efforts. She's a little shocked that role is being a teacher, but she goes into the role at full force. With this, she connects with Tom, another administrator. Then, there's Tom's best friend Alastair who enlists in the war. Mary, Tom and Alastair find their way into a love triangle, and the story goes from there. What I liked about this was that it covered dimensions of the war that aren't often focused on. Much of Mary's teaching is for students who are disregarded due to their identities and not given the same type of safety or quality of care. This is something that isn't often named, and I appreciated this new dimension. In general, the emotions covered and angles were just different. That said, this was also a sad book. I won't spoil what went down, but this is one that weighed on me as I read. That's bound to happen given the topic, but worth noting this one has a mood about it.

Read this book if - You want historical fiction that will get up in your feels. You want a story built around a familiar happening with new dimensions.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is a book that's been on my to read list forever. I was excited when I showed up on NetGalley, so that I could finally check it out. The circus is something that always mesmerizes me, and I was thrilled to check out this take on it. Micah's dying grandpa tells him about an amazing circus he attended as a kid. Now he wants Micah to have this experience to reconnect with the Man Who Bends Light. Micah sets out on a quest not knowing how he's ever going to find the circus and perhaps a cure for his grandpa with this man. The story is wonderfully told, and it tapped right into my imagination as I visualized the circus in my head! This is a story built on believing in magic and how that is something that can leave us and/or stay with us. I really liked how it was a quest grounded in commentary of how we choose to see the world.

Read this book if - You want a book that's full of magic. You want something that makes you think about believing.

Until next time!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Book Reviews - Technology, Truth and a Track Star

Why, hello there. I almost, but definitely didn't read on a theme this time. There were two books about technology, one about a track star, and then a rom-com. That said, the two advanced copies I read were fan-freaking-tastic. They are definitely worth checking on. Read on, people I know (and people I don't). . . 

The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing and Coming Out by William Dameron was an intriguing memoir. I haven't read many memoirs where the author wasn't "famous," so this was definitely a different foray into the genre. The book starts with the author detailing how he was unknowingly catfishing people. His picture was being used by multiple people, and he had no idea until those who had thought they were communicating with him learned they weren't. This is quite the intense story, but the author's story is so much more. Much of his memoir is focused on his coming out process. After being married to a woman for twenty years and having two daughters, the author realizes he can no longer live the lie he has been. He has always been a gay men, and while he's tried to hide this and ignore these feelings, he can no longer. From here, the book is some recalling of how he's lived this secret, but also where he goes from the revelations of his truth. This one is a deep dive into the emotions of one man's journey. He tells this with such raw honesty, and he gives you an in-depth look into each twist and turn of his journey to (re)discover himself. 

Read this book if - You want a memoir where a guy goes into all the feels. You want a memoir that is grounded in all the honesty (and not about a celebrity).

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters is the rom-com of a book that I just devoured! Y'all, I did not realize how much I needed an absolutely wonderful love story in my life. This review may just be me gushing, but that's because it's just a book that made me smile. Evie is an assistant looking for a promotion. She is assigned to work with Ezra, a well-respected screenwriter, who has signed on to write a romantic comedy. Problem is, he has a case of writer's block. Ezra looks to Evie for inspiration. She agrees to a deal with him where she will recreate meet-cutes from movies in hopes of finding love. Evie needs Ezra to come through on this script for her promotion, so while she thinks this is kind of a ridiculous endeavor, she goes for it. I'll say this with this premise I was sure I figured out how this one was going to end, and I'd read along as a formality. However, I was so wrong. So while this had all the best elements of a rom-com, the plot development was unexpected in a very good way. Evie was a character I loved as a rom-com heroine, and I flew through this one because I was enjoying the twists and turns of Evie's meet-cute quest, and I needed to know where this one was going to go. Thanks to Putnam Books/Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of this December read that y'all are just going to love.

Read this book if - You love a good rom-com. You have spent your days/nights watching Hallmark movies.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds is a book I found my way to via The Great American Read. Ghost loves running - for both the joy and the escape. He's been through a lot with his mom, and he's just trying to navigate life on many levels. Along the way, Ghost finds his way to a track team. The coach is impressed by his talent, and he wants to do what he can to support him. What I appreciated most about this one was that Ghost's struggles were so honestly told. There was so much want to fit in, and that influenced many of his choices. I can see the appeal of this book for kids as Ghost is a relatable character. He's flawed, but he also shows resilience and perseverance.

Read this book if - You want a middle grade book focused on fitting in and standing out told in an honest, authentic way.

Followers by Megan Angelo is a fascinating exploration of technology - both what is and what could be. In the present (2055), the government runs the internet. Way back in 2015, the internet was very similar to now because, well, it is now! The present focuses on Marlow trying to find out the truth about her life. This happens after a bombshell secret is revealed, so she must trek back through the past to get answers. In 2015, the story focuses on Orla and Floss. Floss is a social media darling. Orla dreams of being a famous writer, but to get there, she writes articles to cover celebrities. Floss and Orla form an unlikely friendship, but there are also a lot of dynamics and layers to their friendship. The story goes between the past and present focusing on the social media that was and the social media that is. Throughout, it starts to build a connection between the characters in each time, and you start to wonder how this might all come together. This was the realest of real commentaries on social media. While you could say this is dystopian, you could also say this is legit where we are right now, and the future it paints isn't so far from where we could go. This one captivated me as the author did a fantastic job at using technology as well as characters to tell her story. My only critique is that I wanted to know more! I was so drawn into the world she built that I craved more detail. I had all the questions. Really that critique speaks to the realness of the story that was told! Also, this is an wonderful commentary on the role social media has come to play in our lives, and it's a good piece to turn a mirror on how its used and the dystopia that could very, very well be our reality. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2020 release!

Read this book if - You want a look at social media in both an honest and dystopian way. You like stories where there are intersections you have to figure out.

Until the next round!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Halloween with the BSC!

In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I decided to take the time to check out some "scary" Babysitter's Club stories. I read Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, the second in the original series, as well as the first four mysteries in The Babysitter's Club Mystery spin-off series. Y'all, do I have thoughts for you!

First of all, I realize how young these sitters are! Yes, I was babysitting at this age, but y'all, this is some responsibility they're taking on! Second, I've been (re)watching Rescue 911 lately as its running in syndication! It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, but watching back, I realize how intense this show was. There are so many things that I developed (ir)rational fears of as a result of watching. In reading this set of BSC books, I also realize that some of my reading choices were also a source of these anxious feels.

I started with Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, and y'all, this is a lot for the second book in the series. The title connects to a a jewel thief known as the Phantom Caller because he calls houses and robs them when no one answers. First off, this would never work today, but back when landlines were totally a thing, this was a serious concern. So, as Claudia starts babysitting, she starts getting creepy phone calls. Naturally, her conclusion is that it's the Phantom Caller. Then, instead of involving adults, the BSC come up with ideas how how they'll have a secret code if they need help and lure the caller, and COME ON! So, things eventually resolve when it's discovered that first Alan Gray (always such a nuisance!) was tracking Kristy to ask her to the school dance, then Trevor (the guy Claudia was crushing on) had been getting information from Alan on where Claudia was, so he could call and ask her to the dance. Problem was he kept getting nervous hence all the awkward calls. So, they all went to the dance. Oh, and in case you were worried, the Phantom Caller was finally apprehended.

Next up, it was Stacey and the Missing Ring. First, Stacey is begging her mom for a birthstone ring for her birthday. Her mom refuses. Then, Stacey gets a gig babysitting for a new family. After she gets home, the mom lets her know that she's missing a ring, and she suspects Stacey has stolen it. After lots of dramatics, Stacey finds out the woman's cat had taken and hidden the ring. UM, WHAT?!?! Also, the woman is totally rude and threatens to tell everyone how awful the BSC is - Who would do that to teenagers? Rude.

And then there was Beware, Dawn! In this one, Dawn starts getting mysterious threatening notes from a Mr. X. The other babysitters start to get these notes, too. Although they don't share this with one another because kids are hosting a Sitter of the Month contest. Obvs, in a club full of babysitters, everyone wants to win. Eventually, they realize that a kid who Dawn had told on for bullying some other kids is behind it all. Again, this is a super creepy situation, and there are no adults engaged to address! Oh, and again, the Sitter of the Month contest ends in a seven way tie because OF COURSE IT DOES.

Next was Mallory and the Ghost Cat. This was the least scary of the mysteries by a mile. Basically, Mallory is babysitting, and she hears a cat meowing. The family doesn't have a cat. They find some stuff in the attic (because of course they do) to make them wonder if it is a ghost cat! Eventually, they find the actual cat and reconnect him with his owner, while still wondering if they're ghosts given resemblance to some attic stuff. Honestly, the most intense plot in this one is that Mallory's Uncle Joe comes to stay with the family. He has some Alzheimer's, so it's the family navigating this, and it's a lot of feels. This one was just a lot of things, none of which were really a mystery?

Finally, there was Kristy and the Missing Child. Y'all WHAT WAS THIS?!?!? A kid on Kristy's Krushers baseball team goes missing. The first suspect is his dad. His parents are divorced, and the mom had turned down his request to take Jake to Europe, so they wonder if he just up and took his kid. From there, everyone focuses on finding Jake. At one point, Kristy organizes a search party. She is allowed to make an announcement on her school's PA system, and she organizes a bunch of the kids the club sits to look for Jake. Again, WHERE ARE THE ADULTS?!? Isn't this a project for adults to coordinate, and why are kids searching for a kid who may have been abducted without their parents?!?! Eventually, they find the kid. He's fallen into a hole at a construction site. Kristy saves the day! This one was definitely something. . . 

I'm glad I finally stepped back into the Babysitter's Club. I've been meaning to for ages, and it was fun to use the holiday for this reason! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Book Reviews - A MIxed Bag of Reads

As you probably don't remember from my last post, I read four really heavy reads. I made the (unplanned) mistake of starting this round with another heavy read. After that, I intentionally chose a mixed bag of reads to even things out.

The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope is a thriller that is full of some feels. Megan's son, Daniel, is kidnapped by her abusive ex-husband. She always keeps hope alive, but she also goes through the process of mourning the loss. Six years pass, and Megan's life goes on, including a marriage to one of the detective's who worked on her son's case and the birth of a daughter. Then, she gets the call she always hoped for - Her son is alive. Daniel comes back to her new home, but it is far from an easy transition. Daniel is not the same kind, sweet boy that Megan knew and loved. Megan and her family do what they can to make Daniel feel at home, but it's challenging. Throughout the story looks back at how Megan navigated the disappearance of her son, as well as how she is coping in the present with this new version of Daniel. And then, y'all, here was a twist that I did not see coming at all, and that is what made it so very great. Again, this is heavy given the unhealthy relationship that begins the story, as well as how the return goes, and the twist plays a role in that feeling, too, but this is a powerful story of a family working to rebuild and define an unexpected now normal. Thanks to NetGalley for the access to this thriller.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that deals with building a new normal and a super unexpected twist.

We Are Never Ever Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby was just the best of honest humor. It's rare that a book makes me legit laugh out loud, and this was absolutely that type of read. From the first essay, I was drawn into the stories the author was telling. She has a way of writing that makes you feel like she's telling these to you as a friend over coffee/wine/beer/etc. And y'all, again, they're just so darn hilarious. But then, there are moments where the essays take this emotional turn as she navigates grief, complicated relationships, and finding love. I loved the layers of this collection and how she writes in such an authentic way. This was such a unique voice, and it was something I needed in my reading life.

Read this book if - You need a memoir with humor. You want something that'll make you legit LOL while also feel some highly emotional feels.

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton is the first in the Kinsey Milhouse series. This series began the year I was born (which is why I chose to read this one as part of a reading challenge I'm only kind of okay at completing), and this is my first time checking it out. I love a thriller with a female lead, so this was definitely my kind of book. This begins with Kinsey, a former police officer turned PI, being brought out to investigate a woman who insists she was wrongly convicted of killing her husband. She gets to work, and the story goes from there. What I liked about this was the "throwback" vibes of how cases were solved in the eighties. It was something different to look back at how cases were solved back when. There is obviously all the technology today, and it was a nice break to look at solving crime without all of that. I can only imagine how this character develops over the course of the series, and I was intrigued enough to want to dabble in the series again. I'm glad I finally stepped into this world, and I got to ride along to see how Kinsey Milhouse does her work!

Read this book if - You're looking to start the Kinsey Milhouse series and are late to the game like me!

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert was a delight of a love story. What I loved most is this was so true to life. Rather than avoiding the complicated emotions and baggage that we can bring into relationships, this story made them a central component. After a near death experience, Chloe decides she wants to get more out of life. She comes up with a list of tasks that will help her to do this, and she gets to work. Along the way, she brings Red Morgan, her apartment complex's handyman in to help her with her goals. With this, Chloe feels a certain kind of way about Red, and he feels a certain kind of way about her. In addition, they bring the negative impact of previous relationships and how they feel about themselves into the mix. I again so appreciated this was a story that had a dimension of realness to it. Rather than knowing this was story where I could figure out the ending, and it was just how characters took on faux obstacles, this had authenticity. Chloe's story was such an endearing one, and I found myself cheering for her as she worked to redefine herself and learn she was worthy of love and all the adventures in life. I owe a thanks to NetGalley for the look at this December release. 

Read this book if - You want characters who you can relate to as they navigate actual challenge and relationships.

Until next time!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Reviews - Heavy Reads

Whoa, y'all. I usually try to temper my reading, so I don't take on too much emotion. Well, with this, I took on so, so much. They were worth the feels, but goodness, these were a lot, especially given three of the four were real life stuff via memoirs!

Blood: A Memoir by Allison Moorer is a really, really emotional real - like off the charts y'all. As a teenager, Allison's mother is shot and killed by her father, and he then kills himself. Allison hears the gunshots, and she sees the aftermath. The memoir is her reflecting on what led her family to that point and where she goes from that day. The way the story is told is a bit choppy, but that works well because you see how the memory of her family comes back to her in pieces. Throughout she revisits what she remembers of her parents, and all that happened before that terrible day. This is a powerful read as she delves deep into places of her memory that are definitely painful, but also they are what she has left of her parents. This memoir is full of so much raw emotion. She's revisiting her childhood as an adult, and that takes many different directions. She's also able to tap into the parts that brought her joy, while still sharing what made it tough. Throughout, there is also a thread of resilience as you see all she has overcome. This is a beautifully written memoir that is also full of incredible tragedy. Thanks to Hachette Books for the advanced copy of this soon to be released read.

Read this book if - You want to read a memoir that explores the pain of a childhood as an adult, as well as finding resilience in tragedy.

Normal People by Sally Rooney was a read that was definitely different for me. I like books that use keep characters at the center of their plot. This is really characters above all else, and there wasn't really a moving plot I could latch onto because there was so much focus on the characters. The primary characters are Connell and Maryanne. As high schoolers, they form a relationship outside of school, but don't acknowledge that relationship during the school day. The book then traces their relationship through the years. With each interaction, where they each are is different, and they have to assess what that means for the other person and how they now connect - or don't. To me, this is a book that makes you ponder the question of if two people belong together. I have an answer for these people, but I don't want to reveal it here as it would ruin the plot. This is my book club's selection for the month, so I'm interested to hear how other people felt about the relationship. Overall though, this one just wasn't totally for me as I like to have more substance to the plot. 

Read this book if - You want a book that is entirely character driven. You like something that makes you consider questions and scenarios.

Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson was a book I went into knowing very little. I saw The Rock had written the foreword, and it wasn't until I started reading that I realized, "Oh, that would make sense because Rocky is his dad." Anyway, that's about me, not the book. This is the story of Rocky's career in professional wrestling. He started young, then worked n a variety of regional promotions through the years. Throughout, he paints a vivid picture of what the life of a wrestler was like back then, and it wasn't always easy. It was lots of grinding to get to the top, and that required a lot of travel which meant that he wasn't home a lot. He also speaks to what it was like to be one of the first black wrestlers. This impacted how he was treated, as well as how he was pushed in different promotions. Given all the bells and whistles that come with wrestling these days, I find it interesting to read about what it was like "back when," and it was especially interesting given Rocky's perspective. Throughout he paints a honest picture of his story. Sometimes that means he brings to light where he struggled, and that makes his story all the more real. I literally only read this because it was recommended to me by the publisher (thanks ECW Press), so it was a surprise to read such a well-told and interesting story about a wrestling legend. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this recent release.

Read this book if - You want a historical look at pro wrestling. 

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper is an incredibly intimate exploration of one women's complete transformation. Megan grew up in a church that is known for extreme hate under the guise of religion. Growing up in Topeka, I can remember Megan's former church's pickets at my church, at the mall, and at high school graduations. As a child, it was such a confusing experience, and as an adult, I appreciated the window she gave into the why (and not to justify, but to give insight into what they believed they were doing) of their behaviors as she goes through her own childhood. She does a masterful job that is at times hard to read given all the terrible and disgusting actions of the church. She also explores and acknowledges when she was on board for what the church was preaching, and then she she also shares how she started to question what she had been brought up in. Throughout, this is an emotional read, and there were times I found myself in tears as It read. It is emotional to see how many people the church has hurt in the name of their faith, to read about Megan's connections to her families and how these relationships change, to see the strength she found in leaving, and to learn of the unexpected connections she found when she needed them most. This was truly Megan's heart in a book. Throughout she has an incredible honesty, and she gives such detail to her story. I was so blown away by this memoir, and it's one that will definitely stay with me.

Read this book if - You want a memoir that truly shares one woman's journey. You want to look at how hate happens, but also how redemption can happen.

Onto the next ones!