Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Persistence of the Possum: Reflections on 2019

2019, y'all. What a damn year. I saw this meme about 2019, and y'all, I feel this so much:

It's the first time I can remember being really ready for a year to just be done. There were definitely some aspects I will savor and am grateful for, but I'm definitely okay being able to write a new year on my checks.

One of the unexpected happenings of this year was nightly visits to my deck by a possum I named DDP (Diamond Dallas Possum - after one of my favorite pro wrestlers, Diamon Dallas Page obviously). Prior to his visits, I knew little to nothing about possums. With time, I've come to know a great deal, look forward to his visits, and regularly share his appearances on my Instagram stories. I may even go so far as to name possums one of my favorite animals. In case you've missed him, here's my guy. . . 

Yes, this is totally weird, but it's my thing y'all, and I love it.

I found myself absolutely captivated by this possum. I would spend time just watching him do his thing. Also, do you know a possum can spend literal hours eating? Can you imagine? I joke a lot about this possum, but also what I came to appreciate is how I craved him. I couldn't wait for him to show up. And when he did, I slowed down. Amidst everything else I had going on, I would just sit and watch him go about his nightly deck routine. What was even wilder is that he doesn't mind my presence. I've learned to tell possums apart (again, I did not see that coming 2019!), and he was never startled or scared by me unlike others. Over and over, I watched this guy show up and just doing what he does.

The persistence I've seen in DDP's routine is akin to what this year has been like for me. And yes, I indeed have found a way to build a metaphor around a possum. 

But persistence for me has only been possible because of the people. For all that 2019 has thrown at me, I've taken it on because of the people. It has been the people who when I was having one of the hardest weeks of life this summer showed up my door with coffee and hugs and trashy magazines and just made sure I was okay. It has been the friends I can text my snark and/or happiness to (depends on the day/hour) and find that connection and comfort. It's been the people who I don't get to see in 3D nearly enough, but we can meet up, and it's as if no time has passed as I soak up the goodness of our friendship. It's been the new colleagues and friends I have found who have provided positive energy and support I have so needed. It's been my family and husband who have given unwavering love and have known just what to say through it all. Amidst the struggle (and the good times, too), I have seen how much people matter, and I am so grateful for the ones that surround me. If you are one of those people, thank you. You rescued this year and me in so many ways.

Even with all that's gone down, I enter into 2020 hopeful. It would be easy to have given in, and I would be lying if I had said there weren't many moments I had wanted to. But I'm still here. I thought of this scene from Angus today. Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek) is playing the role of 2019, and I like to think I'm playing the role of Angus:

I try not to set expectations for years, as I can fall victim to comparing my real life to a make believe experience I've crafted. What I will say is this - I enter into 2020 ready for whatever comes my way. If I can make it through 2019, I can certainly manage whatever the roaring twenties have to offer. . . Although if the big guy upstairs is reading this, a calmer and less stressful trip around the sun would be appreciated.

Let's do this 2020.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Book Review - The Final Four of 2019!

For my final four reads of 2019, I was intentional about the books I chose. I wanted to finish the year strong, and I chose four books to accomplish that aim. Read on. . .

The Best Yes by Lyssa TerKeurst was a book that came into my life at the perfect time. It's been on my to-read list for quite some time, but I finally took the time to dive in, and I'm so glad I did. This is an exploration of what our yes means, and how we need to not so freely give of it. It is a faith-based reflection of how stretching ourselves does not help us achieve our true purpose. This is about becoming more comfortable with no as it explores the reasons we can feel we have to say yes. In reality, we need to understand the guilt, shame, and fear of judgment that can cause us to give a yes we don't truly mean or need to offer. As someone who more often than not gives yes as a default answer, this gave me so much to consider and reflect on. It helped me better understand what I am unintentionally doing to myself and how this yes also isn't helping me serve others. As I read, I found myself nodding along as I saw myself in her words, but I also saw a path forward. Every yes matters, and this gave me a path to see this and consider how I can empower myself and how I gave of my time and energy.

Read this book if - You need a reflection on how to better use time and energy. You consider yes to be your default setting.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile is an exploration of the Enneagram. In 2019, I've gotten more and more into the Enneagram, and I really dig how it allows for an understanding of tendencies, behaviors, and relationships. This is an easy to understand and helpful exploration of all nine types. There can be a tendency to learn all about your type, and this was a great way to do a deep dive into the other eight types as well. What I appreciated was this helped me understand what each of the nine types brings into the world, what makes them tick, and how I can best work with their uniqueness. I obviously know my own type (I'm a 1 which should surprise no one who knows me) quite well, and after reading this, I have a much stronger understanding of the other eight types. For anyone wanting to understand the Enneagram better, this is a really great place to start.

Read this book if - You are just beginning your Enneagram journey. You want to learn more about Enneagram types beyond your own.

Know My Name by Chantal Miller is outstanding. Honestly, I could stop my review with one sentence. This one just blew me away in the power of the words. I cannot remember a memoir with such emotion and authenticity. This is the voice behind a woman that came to be known to the world as Emily Doe. This is her story of that experience and how she learned to rediscover and use her voice. Not only is this her story as a survivor, but this is a story about reclaiming her identity, finding the courage to put words to trauma, and working to cultivate change. For anyone who is working to plan their reading goals in 2020, this book needs to be a part of that plan. It is one of the most beautiful and honest works I've ever read, and her voice will continue to stay with me.

Read this book if - You are looking to read any book. You want a book full of power and emotion that will stick with you.

The Mall by Megan McCafferty is essentially a love letter to a mall, and I'm so here for the nostalgia feels she's summoning. In 1991, Cassie has a summer job at the mall with her boyfriend before she heads off to college. She's pumped to work alongside him at America's Best Cookie, but her plans quickly take a different direction. Along the way, Cassie gets drawn into a mystery involving clues connected to Cabbage Patch Kids. Again, so great with the nostalgia on that one. What follows is Cassie figuring out love and life at the mall. Much of that is navigating the balance of what she'll be leaving behind with the excitement of getting out and moving on. For women of a certain age (e.g. a book blogger in her late thirties), this hits a certain kind of way throughout. Cassie's story is literally told through the stores of the mall. As I read, I was picturing the malls and stores of my youth, and I didn't realize how much I loved and missed that. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced look at this June 2020 release.

Read this book if - You spent your teen years as a frequent patron of the mall. You often find yourself the days where the mall was the place to be. You love a dose of nostalgia feels as a Gen Xer or older millenial. 

Until 2020 and the new year (of reading)!

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Best of 2019 in Books

Well, hello there. As my year in reading wraps up, I'm taking some time today to share the forty best books I read this year. I divided the books I read in 2019 into four quadrants of 50 each and picked the best ten from each. Below you'll find one sentence about each of these amazing reads, and that is linked to my full review, so you can be persuaded even more to read all of these books, or at least the ones that sound like they'd be your jam!!

Pumpkinheads: A graphic YA love story that oozes fall.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Book Reviews - (E)reading while (Time) Traveling!

Given I was traveling in early December, I did a lot of "reading on the go" with my Kindle paperwhite. This worked out quite well as I (again) have quite the treasure chest of Netgalley selections to make my way through. Here's the latest four I checked out!

The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife by Brad Balukjian was an interesting baseball retrospective told in the most unique way. The author collected baseball cards as a kid during the peak of card collecting in the late 80s/early 90s. I'm married to a childhood baseball card collector (who has also rekindled his love), so this is a connection that was familiar to me. In the story, the author decides to take a random pack of baseball cards and see whatever became of the players on the cards that are inside. What follows is a truly unique cross-country adventure. Some of these men are easier to track down than others, and there is a variance who is willing to talk. With each man, he walks through the statistics and related career highlights. However, his quest isn't about the numbers, rather he is seeking to find out who these men are as humans. He wants to know who they were when they played, but more than that, he wants to know about the life they found after their playing days were over. This was a fascinating read as each card/player was so different. The author often found himself going to places the player loved, and it was so neat to see these men in their true element. Not only that, it was interesting to see how the author also saw connections in his own life, and he did his own self-work as he traveled. If you are like my husband and the author and baseball cards bring back a certain nostalgia for you, this is a book that will totally put you in your throwback feels. If you're just a fan of the game like me, you'll also probably dig this one. This is just such a wonderful collection of stories about humans who happened to be really great at baseball for awhile.

Read this book if - You have a love of baseball and/or card collecting. You want to read stories about the human side of athletes.

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier was a thriller that I could not read fast enough because I had to know what happened. In a moment, Marin's seemingly perfect life changes. While out shopping with her four year old son Sebastian, he is kidnapped when she is briefly distracted. She and her husband Derek work with the FBI, but all of the leads go cold. Desperate to find Sebastian, Marin hires a private investigator unbeknownst to her husband. The work of the PI then finds an additional secret- Marin's husband is having an affair. Marin then must navigate her husband's affair and her resulting emotions, as well as the continued grief of losing her son and keeping hope alive he will be found. This thriller was so well told in that it did deep dives into the motives, emotions and reactions of so many of the characters. There was focus on Marin as she navigated two life-changing experiences. There was focus on Derek as he works through what has happened in his own way. There is also focus on the other woman, Kenzie, an Instagram influencer who has found rich boyfriends help with her financial challenges. I liked that all of the characters in the story had a backstory and a depth. It made the experience all the more real as there wasn't just an air of "Here's what happened" rather there was also a "Here's WHY this happened" vibe. The twist at the end was unexpected, and as it slowly started to come together, I had that "WHOA!" moment I just love when I'm reading a thriller. This was a pageturner in its truest form. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this April 2020 release.

Read this book if - You like thrillers with webs of secrets that must be unraveled. You like thrillers built around characters with emotional depth.

Thin Ice by Paige Shelton is the story of Beth Rivers, an author who relocates to a remote Alaskan town after being kidnapped and held captive in a van for three days. Her kidnapper remains on the loose, so she keeps a lingering fear with her that he might find her. In her new town, a resident is found to have died by suicide, however there are questions surrounding the death. People wonder if this is what actually happened, or if this could be a murder. Given Beth's background, she also wonders if this has a connection to her story. Beth's story is then navigating the emotional aftermath of her trauma, acclimating to a new town, and having a hand in solving the mystery. The author does a good job of giving voice to all three aspects of the story. This is also noted as the first in a new series, and I could also see how this was setting up later (literal) chapters in Beth's story. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this December 2019 release.

Read this book if - You want a thriller with a side of Alaskan adventure.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle was such an intriguing premise! What I love about this author (and this is my second of her books with the first being The DInner List) is how she takes questions we've all been asked and pondered, and she builds these incredible stories around them. This is a story built around "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Dannie's life is right where she wants to be. She's just interviewed at a prestigious law firm, and she's recently engaged. She goes to bed one night, but when she wakes up the next morning, it's five years later. She's in an unfamiliar apartment with a man she does not know. It is a jarring experience, but she then shakes it off as a dream when she wakes up back in 2020 with the life she knew. Then, 4 1/2 years later, the man from her 2025 "dream" reappears in an unexpected way. Y'all, this was a book packed full of feels. It was the type of book that made me think about my own life as I read Dannie's story. What would I do with that five years later vision? What if it wasn't what I expected? Dannie is someone who loves a plan, and I definitely also related to that need for control as she tried to make sense of what was happening in her life. Additionally, the revelations in this one as the story went emotionally hit me in a way I wasn't expecting. I spent two late nights reading this one because I was so drawn into Dannie's story, and these were the type of plot developments that made me gasp with shock and end up in tears. Again, this author tells her stories in such a unique and captivating way. As soon as I saw I was approved from NetGalley (#appreciateyou) for this, I moved it to the top of my list. This is one you'll want to check out when it's released in March 2020, and in the meantime, you should go read The Dinner List.

Read this book if - You want a story that'll get you all in your feels. You want a story that explores a question in an unexpected way.

Onto the next ones!

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: