Monday, May 20, 2019

The Scent Keeper by Eric Bauermeister - Author Interview & Review

Y'all, I had the opportunity to get an early look at The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister. The book is set to be out tomorrow, and if you take nothing else from this post, take this - Read. This. Book. It is mesmerizing and captivating and whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm getting ahead of myself!

Today is a special day here on the blog as I'm hosting a stop on the tour for the book. I've had the opportunity to do a Q&A with the author, and I'm also going to tell you about why I've been raving about this read to anyone who will listen/read.

This is my first time reading anything by Erica Bauermeister. I took the time to ask her about how this book came to be, as well as her own connections to the topic.

1.       How did you build this story? Which came first - Characters? Concept? Something else?

It was a combination. I’ve always been interested in the sense of smell. It has a subliminal power that I find fascinating. I wondered what it would be like for a child who was brought up of smell as her primary sense. How differently would she perceive our world?

That turned into an image of a young girl living on an island in the wilds of British Columbia. Her talent was extraordinary, her situation deeply unusual. I wanted to see what would happen to her when she grew up.


2.       This story takes place in both an enchanted world and the "real world." How was it to write a story that exists in two places? Was one of these easier to write about than the other?

What a great question! I am naturally drawn to the magical, and writing about the island was a deep and immersive experience. I was worried that when the story left the island we would lose that magic. But what I realized was that Emmeline brought magic with her. She sees our world so differently that she puts a twist on it. Sometimes that is a dark twist, but it is still a different perception, which in the end is what I think magic is. A different lens through which to see our world.

3.       The connection of fragrance and memories can be so powerful! Are there fragrances/scents from your own life that evoke memories for you?

My second-grade teacher’s perfume. My grandfather’s pipe tobacco. The smell of wood smoke on my husband’s warm skin. If there was one scent I could bottle, it would be the smell of the top of my children’s heads when they were babies. When they were nursing and about to fall asleep, the scent would be like baking bread.

I loved that I had some insight on the story prior to beginning. I think knowing the author's influence framed up well the amazing journey I was about to go on with her story.

So, y'all, let me tell you about The Scent Keeper.

This is the story of Emmeline. Her story begins on a secluded island. Here she lives with her father. What she knows of life there and beyond is from her father. He tells her stories, but more than anything, he teaches her through the smells of the world kept in drawers and drawers of wax-sealed bottles that line a wall of their home.

What I loved about this is that it's very much a coming of age, but it's coming of age in such a different way. It bridges so many different worlds, and in each, Emmeline must figure out what is true, who to trust, and where she fits into it all. 

Honestly, y'all, this one had me captivated from the first page to the very last sentence. That's rare for a book to do. It was the story of a fantasy world, but at the same time, it all felt so real because the storytelling so deeply immersed me in Emmeline navigating the world(s) around her.

It's a bit hard for me to review this one because the beauty comes in the revelations along the way. I don't want to give away the twists and turns because that is what drew me into the tale. You just have to trust me when I tell you that you need to go on this adventure. Also, while this is truly Emmeline's story, the plot very much progresses through the world around her. It first begins as she questions the island she inhabits more and more. There is then a time where she has to go out into the "real world" and learns about her past, as well as contemplates where her future is going to be. With that, there are so many feels y'all, and that's why I loved it. You truly feel each feel as truth (and lies) are revealed to Emmeline. 

This is a story that has familiar themes, but the unique nature of the setting is what makes it feel new and different. This is an ambitious direction for a story like this, but it totally works. I also really love how scent is at the center of the story. It's a sense that is so central to our memory, but it's not one I've ever seen a story built around.

A few weeks ago, I even asked friends to tell me scents they loved, and reflected on some I really love, too. Take a moment to take these in with me:
  • Pastures burning in the Flint Hills, a backyard campfire, burgers on my dad's grill, COFFEE, all the ballpark smells in a beautiful mix, literally all the lemon scents, and freshly baked cookies. -Me
  • Things that smell like preschool lunch really get me. They’re usually unexpected, smells that take me back. I really always love the smell of fall too. -Deanna
  • Oh definitely coffee!!! Freshly baked bread. Newborn baby smell. Blooming lilies. Fireplaces burning in the winter. -Amanda
  • Freshly made coffee cake, lighter fluid/charcoal, fresh cut grass, deep fried mini donuts, and Christmas trees. -Jenni
  • Clean laundry. -Kate
  • Lavender! I also love the citrus-y goodness of an IPA. I liked the smell of IPAs for years before I acquired the taste to actually want to drink them. -Lauren
  • Walnut trees are my favorite smell followed by lilac bushes! -Rachel
See, SEE how just reading that takes you to some kind of place. That's what reading this is like. In addition to being about Emmeline, it gave me this feeling of home and wonder and nostalgia as I thought about my own relationship with scent. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for allowing me to have a part in this blog tour with an advanced look at this read, and even more importantly, for allowing me to go on Emmeline's adventure!


More About the Author:
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.

More About the Book:
Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives. 

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them.  As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world--a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.

Buy Links (or Check it Out at Your Local Library!):

And finally, I couldn't not end a post focused on smell without using this catchphrase.

lisa simpson GIF

Thank you for engaging with my humor. Now, go read this book. Kthxbai.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book Reviews - Four Early Looks!

While I read on my Kindle Paperwhite a fair amount, it's rare I read four in a row. However, it looks like I plowed through some advanced copies in the last week, so here those are!

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister is actually a book that I'll be spotlighting next Monday, so come back for that! I promise y'all that it's one you're going to need to check out. I cannot wait to tell y'all more about it!

Read this book if - Come back next Monday, and I'll seriously tell you why - so many reasons why y'all.

47 People You Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney is just a sweet little read about what to expect in middle school. It's told as a letter from an older sister (August or Gus) to her younger sister Louie. As she goes through the experience, she realizes that she can help her sister know more than she did when she began the overwhelming experience that is middle school. As the title indicates, the story is told through those that Gus encounters.  I'm more than a few years removed from middle school, so I'm far from the target demographic. However, I could see how this was carefully structured so that it really has some great advice to those who are about to be there. I really dug how the advice was helpful, but not in a way that made it seem like an after school special. Side Note - Kids today will have no idea what that reference means. Anyway, in addition to navigating middle school, including making friends, dealing with problematic folks, and working with teachers, the book is about Gus and Louie navigating their parents' divorce. This layers on complications, and as she writes, Gus also realizes how much this has impacted the sisters, and how much they need each other. This was just one of those books that had a heaping helping of heart. Even with all the characters and layers of the middle school story, there is Gus in the middle committed to figuring it all out, doing what's right, and meeting some neat people along the way. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check this gem out.

Read this book if - You want an "insider's look" at how to prepare for middle school.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman's Tale by Lauren Myracle was an intriguing piece. I had not read any origin stories around Catwoman prior to this, so I can't speak to how in line/different this is from  previous iterations. However, I can speak to how this does a good job of exploring the "Why?" of a villain. This comic focuses on Catwoman's teen years. Said simply, she has to navigate a lot of "stuff" during this time and make some decisions on what she's going to do to help herself - and others, as well as where she's going to fight back. For a comic, this is heavy content. The obstacles and issues she encounters are a lot to process in this form - any form really. Plot aside, the illustrations are outstanding. They are so, so well done, and they perfectly give vision to the story. Overall, I wanted more. This is a quick read, but I wanted more depth and dissection to Selina's tale! There have been so many iterations of Catwoman, and it was so intriguing to read a spin on where her story (literally) began! Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check out this origin story early!

Read this book if - You want to see where it all began for Catwoman. Just be ready that it's not such a happy tale. . . 

Someday, Maybe by Elise Faber was YA focused on what happens as Brianna (the main character) starts to navigate her new normal. At the start of her senior year, Brianna's dad lets her know she is trans and will be transitioning. Brianna heads to school still processing the information, and she is asked to Homecoming by Jason, a popular soccer player at school. She is a bit surprised by the unexpected ask, but accepts. In the next months, Brianna navigates a lot. Her mother is not coping well, and there is a part in the story where Brianna is straight up abandoned and having to navigate life on her own. Brianna initially tries to keep her dad's transitioning a secret, however she tells one person, and somehow the news spreads. Y'all, this part was a reminder of how absolutely cruel and terrible kids can be. At times, this was hard to read, but that's because it was so true to the reality of these situations. There is an author's note at the end where she shares this was inspired in part by her story, so that might explain why there was so much real, real emotion pulsing through the story. Brianna is also navigating her budding relationship with Jason as they grow closer and closer. Overall, I appreciated that this was on that gave voice to a different story. Brianna is a high school senior navigating all the things, and the book does a great job of exploring these multilayered and intersecting challenges. Also, I have to say I especially loved the ending of these. So often YA leaves you with a "I wonder what happened to. . . " moment, and this ties up the loose ends via a fast forward that is a great ending. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this important story that needed to be told.

Read this book if - You want a YA novel that tells a story that's not often told.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Book Reviews - Reality TV, Day Jobs, Drama and Bitcoin

Y'all, three of these four (it'll be easy to see which one doesn't belong) are ones you're probably going to need to check out.

Don't Keep Your Day Job: How to Turn Your Passion into Your Career by Cathy Heller was a look at how to turn the stuff you love into a job. It's based off a podcast of the same name, but I hadn't listened before. That said, I plan on listening now that I know the spin and information available! This book was just a really good pep talk for me. I liked how it was a blend of advice, experience, and action steps. It was a summary of the best stuff from podcast guests the author had on and had learned for herself. Then, there was also some journal prompts and summaries of points to make the information shared more actionable. More importantly, this piece of the book made the ideas shared something that you could actually made happen. I also really appreciated how the offer framed up how we each have passion and purpose, and we should work to bring that to life more. Rather than making these interests something we do after hours or side hustle, this is about find how to dedicate the best of our time and energy into making this our primary gig. I also really dug how this one took on some of the barriers and excuses we use. The reality is those will always be there, and we have to figure out how to overcome them. This is one I am planning to revisit, as it's definitely a topic I need to explore for me. Thanks to NetGalley for the early preview of this November 2019 release!

Read this book if - You've ever wondered how to make your true passion into a career. You want some insight on how to make your dreams a reality.

Living to Tell by Antonya Nelson was just a bummer of a read. Like, have you ever read a book that was just really, really sad? That was this book times a million. The story starts with Winston Mabie being released from prison five years after being jailed for the drunk driving accident that killed his beloved grandma. He returns home to Wichita, Kansas (Side Note - I wanted to read this because it was sent in Kansas) to his family unsure of where he now fits since his time away. He has two sisters back home, and their stories are contributing factors for the bummer nature of this book as well as his parents. The story is well-written, but I really just found myself looking forward to it being over because I was so saddened by all the tragedy (literally, all the damn tragedy) that kept impacting this family. Ultimately, I actually wanted more Winston. I was intrigued by the premise, but after the first chapter, his story was barely mentioned. Instead, it was about his family and again, sad, sad, sad stuff. Y'all, this was just all-around too much.

Read this book if - You just want to be sad?

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin was just such a wonderful gem of a read. Caitlyn is the new girl. She's moved to a small town where all the other kids in her seventh grade class have been going to school forever, so she's a little nervous. The kids also can't stop telling her about Paulie Fink, a kid that moved away, but just was so funny and daring and all the things. Along the way, the kids decide they should have a contest to replace what Paulie brought to the school. Caitlyn is charged with "hosting" the experience based on a popular reality television show. Y'all, that part of the story is such fun as they recount Paulie's greatest hits and try to "win" the show. What I also loved about this is it's a true story of a new girl. Having been that same new girl in seventh grade, this book did an exemplary job of explaining what the experience is like. Specifically, it focused on the emotions and the want to fit in which took me right back to my own teenage years. The storytelling format was also really fun. There was some straight narration, as well as some interviews, letters, and articles. It made it really feel like it was a legit reality television show being recounted! There was also a subplot about the viability of the school the kids attended that as an adult I found really intriguing and well told. Overall, I found this one so endearing. It had some storytelling that really showed how we can romanticize memories of people, as well as the importance and power of finding friends and fitting in. In case you can't tell already, I absolutely loved this one!

Read this one if - You want a fun, uplifting story of a new girl finding her people.

Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich was an enlightening read. Prior to reading this, all I knew was that bitcoin was a thing. That said, this taught me so much. The story primarily revolves around the Winklevoss twins (yes, those Winklevoss twins). After settling with Zuckerberg, they're trying to figure out what might be next for their business ventures. They then learn about bitcoin, and the story just goes from there. As I said, I knew zero pieces of information on cryptocurrency, so I was a bit worried this might go over my head. It definitely did not. The story was told in a way that made the topic really easy to understand. I also appreciated how the "logistics" of the currency were told with a heaping helping of drama. This wasn't just about bitcoin, rather it was about the people that were involved. Given the nature of the beast, there were a variety of humans involved given their expertise in business, economics and/or technology. For being a nonfiction read, this was one that was a pageturner. I was so drawn into the world of bitcoin, and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I also appreciated that this was all built around the Winklevoss twins. I had no idea they were so involved in bitcoin (and honestly, it doesn't seem many do as they can't believe they're the center of this story when I rave about this read!), and it was fascinating to see how they decided to try again at the ground level with a technology after their first venture. Thanks to Flatiron Books for the early look at this one. Trust me, this is one that you'll need to check out. Also, while the book will always be better than the movie, I do kind of hope they take the plunge and make this one a movie, too.

Read this book if - You want a nonfiction read with some drama and intrigue. You'd like to learn so much more about bitcoin.

See y'all next time!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Flipping the Camera

Recently, I spent some time going through two years of pictures I'd stored in a cloud. This wasn't a fun reorganizing project, rather it was out of necessity for being over the storage limit. 

However, said project was some kind of life lesson that I was definitely not expecting, but so, so needed.

You see, as I went through the pictures from roughly November 2014 to the end of 2016, I saw something in contrast to what I see now.

Y'all, this was a tough one.

For about the last year or so, I stopped being in the pictures myself.

Along the way I started focusing my pictures more and more on the "stuff" in my life. Sure, it's great that I share all those books I read, things I create and places I go, and I don't plan to stop. But in between all of that, I haven't been taking the time to share my own story through me for some time.

There are lots of reason that's grown to be the case. And even though this is a blog where I often share stuff within the deep, dark places of my mind and body, that's not stuff I want to share in detail today. 

What I will say is this - I lost control of the narrative. I told myself that I needed to have one kind of story, and because that wasn't where mine was right now, I just didn't take the time to share much of anything about me. I know, I know, we don't even have to share anything on social media because that's also an issue. But the filters I've been choosing are almost worse than sharing nothing. I've written a story that left the main character out. 

I've been sitting and reflecting on this for a week now as I do. This post has been bubbling, but I wasn't quite ready to share it. However, last night as my husband and I chatted about our days, I had a moment of clarity to explain all these pieces. 

I told him the only thing I had control over was how I took care of me. I am so easily wrapped up into the components out of my control that the ones I actually can control never get the attention they deserve. This is a problem I've had since the beginning of my time on the planet, but I'm working on making a change. I have had the power to flip the camera all along, and I need to just take the time to do it.

I don't want to look back on the memories of these days and just see all the stuff I saw. I want to be centered in the story. This is, after all, the only story I've got. Is it what I expected? Not so much. Is it what I want? It's getting there. Is it worth the adventure? Always.

I'm taking that first step and stepping in front of the camera here.

This is me most mornings - Leggings, t-shirt and a cardigan. Behind me is the comforter from an unmade bed because most mornings it is. Oh, and there's the laundry I need to put away, but at least it's nicely folded?

Here's me drinking coffee. My hair's a bit of a mess, and even the picture is a little messy. But that's where I'm at as I settle into my day, and now you can see that life, too.

See y'all (literally) soon.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Reviews - A Little of This, A Little of That

Hey-o. No real theme here to share. Rather, there are three books I really dug, and one that wasn't for me. But as always, it might be for you.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was just a really wonderful story with heart. If you've read any/all/some John Green, you know that his niche is writing unique characters with unique stories. This is definitely that with the story of Aza. Aza is a teenager with anxiety and OCD. Along with her best friend Daisy, she decides to look into the disappearance of a billionaire. After all, there is a big reward involved. The billionaire's son is one of Daisy's childhood friends, so they have an in of sorts to figure out clues. While this sounds like a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Encylopedia Brown angle, it's really the story of friendship and how we connect with people. Y'all, I was just captivated by this one. It was such an easy (and quick) read because I loved the characters involved, and I loved the way their story was told with a blend of quirkiness and emotion that John Green does especially well. If John Green is your jam, you've obvs already read this. Even if he's not always, this is a good YA read to pick up and enjoy.

Read this book if - You want something with a YA spin that has heart. You want something that's part mystery and part human connection.

Becoming by Michelle Obama was outstanding. Everything great you've heard about this book, it's true. I listened to it as an audiobook where she was the narrator, and for me, that added so, so much to the story. What I loved most of all is that this is her story. It could have easily been the story of the presidency told from the perspective of a first lady. It was not. Instead this was her story - her whole story. She told her story with such honesty and authenticity. She didn't seem to hold back at all, as she shared how she got to now. I loved having this window into her life and really getting to see who she was through the people and experiences she has had along the way. In my eyes (ears?), the audio version is really a value add as you hear her tell the story. This is a memoir worth reading to really get to know an amazing and inspiring woman. Not only this, it's a chance to think about the stories we all have that impact us and make us who we are. The holds list will be long, but put yourself on it at the library if you aren't already.

Read this book if - You want a honest, beautiful and wonderful memoir.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan was the pick for my book club this month. Y'all, it was heavy and real dark. I didn't know it was going to skew that heavy when I started, and that dark cloud of emotion really took a toll on me as I read. I'll also own that I read a book that took place in a bookstore for my other book club, so there was the inevitable comparison. That's not this book's fault, but it's a reality of my reading. This is the story of Lydia who works in a bookstore. One of her patrons completes suicide in the bookstore. As she tries to find out a why he'd do this, she starts to piece together his life and a connection she never knew they had. This means revisiting a really (and y'all, I mean REALLY dark incident) from her childhood. The book then revolves around Lydia piecing together both the past and the present of her life for Joey and herself. For me, I wanted more bookstore. I went in thinking there'd me more of that (again, partly a byproduct of my previous read, but also it's in the title), but instead I got more of a Dateline mystery with a lot of sadness and horror. For me, I kept reading, and the story kept me captivated, and I did not see the ending twist(s) coming at all. However, I ultimately had a really hard time with the dark and morbid tone of this one. 

Read this book if - You're looking for a darker, heavier read that lives in the past and present. You want something that looks at unexpected connections.

Love The Fur You're In is an incredible book. Everyone needs a book like this in their life. It is a compilation to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of Sesame Street. It is a collection of life advice and wisdom coupled with illustrations from 50 years of Sesame Street books. Y'all, I am a super fan of the show, so I knew I'd love this. However, I loved it even more than I anticipated. It is so wonderfully put together. It's such simple advice, but it's paired perfectly with each illustration. I found myself laughing out loud at pages, while also tearing up at others. Sesame Street is just it for me. They seem to always know what to say, and even all these years later, I find such joy in the messages they put out into the universe. This is one that is worth buying, and it's also something to consider gifting. It'll be one I continue to tell people about - I already am. 

Read this book if - You need a feel-good book. You're looking for a simple, thoughtful and wonderful read.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Book Reviews - Mysteries & Biographies

If you haven't figured it out already, I read a lot of mystery/thrillers. This was another round that included some. They weren't the best ever, but they weren't the worst, so that's good? The memoir and biography I read won't be for everyone, but something to consider if those types of books are your jam. Okay, cool.

Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family by Garrad Conley is a heavy read. I knew that going in, and I cannot imagine what it was like for the author to go back and revisit this experience. I always struggle with reviewing memoirs, as these are people sharing their lives with the world. That said, it's what I'm here to do. This memoir is not told in a sequential way, so that took some getting used to as a reader. The focus of the book is the author's complicated relationship with his faith. The crux of that is his experience with the Love In Action conversion camp. The author is enrolled in the outpatient version of this camp at 19 after his freshman year of college. The memoir is an emotional look at how the author felt, lived and acted as his identity was at odds with the faith he had been raised to look to for comfort and direction. Again, to revisit this, he has to share incredible pain as he struggles through what this all means for him. Overall, this is a hard read as he details his internal feelings and external experiences in this process. It's also a hard read in that you realize there are others who went through this horrendous experience, but it is also important to understand the realities of what these camps are.

Read this book if - You want a memoir that is a look at an emotional and at time painful journey. You want a memoir that gives voice to an important topic.

The Missing Wife by Sam Carrington started with an intriguing premise. Louisa shows up to her surprise fortieth birthday party. She looks around to see a room full of her Facebook friends. Only problem is these are her "friends" that she doesn't keep in touch with and haven't talked to in years. They are people she would not have invited to the party herself, and she is certainly confused as to how these people ended up in this room. Specifically, she cannot believe her ex-boyfriend Oliver is there. Following the party, the plot thickens as Oliver's wife has gone missing. Louisa is pulled back into Oliver's life and the investigation as police try to find his wife. So, here's the deal y'all. This is a thriller that involves a missing woman. At this point, this is a pretty standard genre, and you know what you get when you read a book like this. You get some unexpected twists - several of them usually, and the main character will be in some kind of trouble at some point. That's what this was, and that's not a bad thing, rather it just is what it is. For me, I really liked the initial premise. I could imagine showing up at that party and the emotions it would invoke. The rest of the story was good, and it keep me captivated as books like this do. There are others in this realm that I have enjoyed more, but this is still a decent thriller to check out. Thanks to NetGalley for the early preview at this June 2019 release.

Read this book if - You like one of those thrillers with some of those twists, and then there is a big twist about something at the end.

Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins is a thriller revolving around several murders from a 2009 high school graduating class from Galena, Illinois. The story focuses on Krista Larsen, the police chief in Galena who is also from the class. Krista and her classmates are getting ready for their ten year high school reunion when they find out one of their classmates has been murdered. An additional murder occurs in Galena on the night of the reunion. This is a crime Krista doesn't have to navigate often in this town. She calls on her father, Keith, a retired detective to consult on how to proceed. I really enjoyed reading this one. While there is crime happening, this story also focuses more on the process that Krista goes through. It was really about how she was going to question her classmates, piece together clues, and figure out the identify of the murderer. The book did a good job of building suspicion for different characters, so much so that I couldn't figure out who the killer was. I always appreciate when I have that suspense along with the plot/characters. I kept reading because I had to get resolution, and I was along for the ride on each lead that Krista and Keith explored. This is apparently going to be a series, and it's one I'll definitely check back in on from here. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me check this recent release out.

Read this book if - You like procedural-based thrillers. You like a thriller that explores multiple suspects as a way to raise suspense.

President McKinley: Architect of the American Century by Robert W. Merry was a thorough exploration of the life and times of William McKinley. You should I picked this one up because I once was assigned to do a report on President McKinley in fifth grade. Me being me, I took the opportunity to write a 30 page play that involved most of my class. I wanted to revisit his story as an adult which is an interesting angle. This book does a really great job of exploring his story from multiple angles. Specifically, there are people (then and now) who feel all kind of ways about his leadership and decisions. I appreciated the chance to read through his role in history in this way. This is a book that has so much information and so much research, but it also kept me captivated and reading. This is a president you don't always hear a lot about, so I appreciated the chance to do a deep dive into a different part of the American story. Also, I'm super bummed I didn't save the play I once wrote because I would have loved to compare my grade school telling of this story with this one. Regardless, this wasn't something I'd normally read, but I really dug the chance to do such an intense and detailed dive into someone's story. Especially because it was so thorough and interesting.

Read this book if - You dig presidential biographies and/or American history.

Until the next round!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Reviews - Beautiful Stories of Books and People

Y'all, this was another one of those quartets where I really loved each book I found my way to. It had a book where I didn't know what to expect (and ended up loving), an illustrated gem, an author I'd read before and loved again, and a recommended read that was so great. Here's hoping one of these four is your jam, too.

Book Love by Debbie Tung was just a sweet read about books. It was a collection of simple illustrations that perfectly reflected what it's like to love reading. What I loved the most was there are tendencies I have as a reader (e.g. I loathe book covers with the movie poster), and it was so affirming to see that was a thing others felt strongly about, too. There's comfort in a book that just makes you think/say, "Yes, I know that exact feeling." This is my second book by the author (Quiet Girl in a Noisy World was the first), and I so love how she describes and details life. It's a quick read, but it's just one of those books (about books) that will make you smile.

Read this book if - You love reading and want that love shared in illustrated form. You just want a happy read.

Oh, and here's one of her illustrations. Y'all this one is me with @clubbookmobile for sure.

Image result for debbie-tung book love

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson was such an unexpectedly wonderful read. I hadn't heard much of anything about this book, and I read it for my online book club. Y'all, I loved this one. At its core, this is another book that's about the connections we can find in reading/books. It's also about the complexities of emotions and relationships. Miranda is a 28 year old teacher. She finds out that her Uncle Billy has died. With this, he's left his bookstore to her. The complicated layer of this is that she hasn't talked to her uncle she was 12 years old. She remembers an argument between her uncle and her mother, but she was never told what happened. All she knows is there was something so big involved that it resulted in long-term estrangement. The first part of the story is then Miranda figuring out what to do with the bookstore which isn't in the best shape. In addition to this, Billy has left Miranda some clues to reveal some additional stories and truths he feels she needs to know. These are left in various books, and she has to piece together what they mean, who she needs to talk to, and where to go next. Unbeknownst to Miranda, there were many secrets Billy had. Her book quest is unraveling them to better understand him, as well as their relationship. Their story was definitely one that kept me reading and wondering what was happening. I loved how the story was slowly told as Miranda found different clues left by Billy. There was quite the twist in the quest, and I didn't piece it together until just before it was revealed which I always love in a story build. This one was a unique blend of mystery and drama and family and emotions. It was also about the ups and downs of the independent bookstore - It was a love letter to them of sorts. All around, this was a well-crafted story full of great characters. It also definitely got my online book club talking, so if you need something like for your own club, this is definitely one to check out.

Read this book if - You want a book that is about books and people and all the feels. You want a mystery that is slowly told and revealed. You want a story that is about the complexity of relationships, especially family.

No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny was a honest and authentic memoir. This is my second of her books (The first being It's Okay to Laugh - Crying is Cool, Too), and above all else, she tells real stories. She is someone who is living a life she never could have expected in so many ways, and she is willing to share what that experience is like. In this book, she focuses on the after of losing her husband Adam. In this after, something happens she never expects, she falls in love. This book is the story of how she continues to remember and love Adam, and also how she settles into this new normal. I think this is a story others might be reluctant to share, but I appreciate that she is willing to "go there" in sharing that there is no textbook way to go through life. We all do the best we can with what we have, where we are, and the time we're given. Most of all, she speaks to how important it is to find your people and things you love, and to make a life full of that however you can. Again, what I love about Nora's books (we're on a first name basis, right?) is that she puts her story out there into the world. She shares what it's like to experience loss, what it's like to grieve, and what it's like to live without. She also share what it's like to find joy, what it's like to find yourself, and what it's like to continue living for someone. I take so much from her stories full of literally all the feels there could possibly be. This is one of those authors that I'll continue to read whatever she decides she wants to share with the universe.

Read this book if - You want a story full of all the feels. You want something honest about how unexpected life can be. 

Girl Walks into a Bar. . . by Rachel Dratch was a memoir shared with me by a friend. This was a book where I again appreciated how it was so honest and authentic. I obvs know Rachel Dratch from SNL (Debbie Downer for-ev-er y'all), but I knew very little of her story beyond that. In this memoir, she shares lots of stories when things didn't go as she hoped. For example, she was supposed to have Jane Krakowski's role on 30 Rock, but was swapped out after the pilot. She remained on the show in another capacity, but y'all can you imagine how that would feel? She also focuses on stories about trying to make it in improv, life after SNL, and also dating in her thirties/forties. Y'all, this was a memoir that I loved for its honesty. I think it's easy to write a book where everything goes your way, and you've made it. However, the memoirs that have real power and connection are ones like this. They talk about the good stuff, of course, but also share when things weren't quite so awesome. I loved how much I got to know Rachel Dratch as a human. It was a story I didn't expect, and I really related with. I especially appreciated the candor with which she talked about motherhood and being childless in a world focused on those choices. This part of her story also takes a turn that I had no idea about, but again, I loved how she shared navigating that part of her journey. This is a quick read, but also one that was just a solid memoir that I took a whole heckuva lot from.

Read this book if - You like memoirs that give you a deep view into someone you know, but don't really, really know's life. You like relatable stories.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Snoozing, Ghosting, and Now Starring Me

One of my greatest talents as a blogger is coming up with a post idea, thinking about that post idea, thinking even more about that post idea, and sitting on that post idea for so long that it morphs into something else entirely.

The one nugget of good news about this process is that the marination process ultimately lands me at a better and more insightful post. That said, I hate that this process is a thing. It has caused me to realize it's symptomatic of a greater issue of my own making, and it needs to change.

It all really clicked when I saw this in my Instagram feed yesterday.

Y'all, isn't this the damn truth?!? It was that moment of painful realization that I have become exemplary at ghosting me. I spend all this time with me, but I'm also not really present like I want to be. 

And, well, that sucks.

Truth be told, the genesis for the post was the snooze button. I wanted to talk about how the snooze button is a lie that we all tell ourselves. I mean, y'all, has anyone ever been truly refreshed by that extra nine minutes of sleep? 

I wanted to write about the lie of the Facebook snooze button. If you're not familiar, Facebook allows you the ability to "snooze" a person or page from showing up in your feed for 30 days. Great idea in theory, but here's the thing, they come back. What I've also realized with that evil Facebook overload algorithm is that at the end of those 30 days said person and/or page comes back into your feed exponentially more. That's obviously a larger sign of the toxic environment Facebook can (and does) create.

I'm trying more and more to have confidence in the unfollow button. Odds are if I don't want to see something for a month, a month later the energy that source provides isn't going to magically improve. Also, here's the deal, I don't generally even remember who/what I unfollow. So, obviously, that wasn't something I needed in my life.

Anyway, before I go and give myself a social media gold star, I have to share the other side of this. Oftentimes, I snooze me and my actual interests. It's so easy to spend time in virtual places and spaces that don't actually matter. It's even easier to pretend these bring meaning. Spoiler Alert - They don't. There are a million corners of the internet that I can pass time, and sure, they allow me to pass time, but what the heck else am I getting? Not a whole lot.

Because here's the thing, I need to get out of my own way. I need to stop letting myself come up with terrible excuses and reasons for not doing what I really want to be doing - what I was meant to do. Not just want I was meant to do, but what I want to do. I know what brings me all the joy, I know what joy and gifts I can bring. Each day I don't follow this path and choose to be passive in my own story, I write another chapter in Talent Hoarding and Shitty Excuses: Andrea's Memoir That Could Be Avoided If She Would Just Change The Narrative She Creates.

As I sit here, I shake my head because clearly the universe is trying to get my attention as of late. I could recount all of the moments from the last week in books, in TV, in conference presentations, and all of the corners of my life, but alas I will not. Suffice it to say the universe is clearly all, "What the heck other sign are you waiting for, lady?" right now.

I cannot keep writing this post. I don't mean this literal post, but I know this post is on this blog in a number of different ways. There are a number of different analogies I've made because I'm stalled in the same damn place.

Last summer, I stood in front of a room of college women talking about fear. I told them the fallacy in the phrase "What would you do if you were not afraid?" Because here's the deal, fear is always going to be in the equation. The actual question is "What are you afraid to do, but you're going to do it anyway." As I sit here today, I need to take that advice from the 9 Months Ago version of myself.

Here's the thing, I have the answers. I have the time. I have the energy. I just have to use it. It's that simple. It always has been. But at the same time, it's that hard. That's what this post is really about, and that's what I need to tell myself. Taking on these risks and challenges, as I fully embrace what I want to do and where I want to be is scary af. 

Scary AF? Yes. Worth it? So damn much.

I'm going to continue to write this post until I don't. I could tell you this is the last one - For real this time. No, no, seriously, for real, for real. However, that means nothing. What I need to do happens beyond a bold declaration. I'm going to keep doing the same thing over and over again until I don't. And that break is entirely on me. I can't write my way out of this one, and I need to stop pretending I can.

After I hit publish today, I need to step away. I could sit here and wait for the likes and the comments and the clicks, but y'all, I don't need that. And yes, it'll take a few repeats and reminders before that truly sets in. I need to like how I'm spending my time, I need to comment on my own actions, and I need to click through on the stuff I am capable of doing.

The only way I stop snoozing, stop ghosting, and start starring is to actually do that thing right now. Step one is to actually take step freakin' one. And then after that, I have to keep going. I can always write another post, but I only get so many shots at actually doing things right.

So, bye.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book Reviews - Starting with a Mystery X 3

So, as I was compiling these reviews, I realized that 3 of the 4 of these begin with a mysterious death. That was definitely not planned, and honestly a bit of an odd common thread. Anyway, here's the latest quartet!

My Sister's Lies by Rachel Hargrove was the story of strained relationships and secrets all around. It begins with a death (so content warning right away that this is a suicide), and you wonder what has happened and who is involved. The story then fully begins when after a decade of being estranged, Hannah's sister Diane shows up on her doorstep with her teenage daughter Mia in tow. With no context as to the request other than that she needs help, Diane asks Hannah and her husband to watch Mia for a few days while she gets some things in order. The rest of the book is then the unraveling of the mystery in both the past and the present. It's understanding what drove the sisters apart, as well as what's going on with Diane (and Hannah) now. I'll be honest and tell you that there was a twist in this one that I figured out (y'all, I've watched a lot of Lifetime movies), so it meant some of the thrills weren't as big for me. For me, this one was just okay. It was an intriguing premise, but just not my jam. That said, if you like your thrillers steep in family dynamics, this could be for you. Thanks to NetGalley for the sneak peek in exchange for my (always) honest review.

Read this book if - You want something involving family, sisters specifically, and the secrets between them past and present.

Those People by Louise Candlish is my second book by this author. The best way to describe her books is simply "THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY." This one begins with a death. Something has gone wrong in the neighborhood. The first half of the book is then piecing together how things go there. Lowland Way is a nice neighborhood. It's family friendly with neighbors who are friends, and they have their way of doing things. Then, Darren and Jodie move in. Imagine all the worst things about neighbors - Loud music, a used car lot in the front yard, bad DIY projects - That's what they bring. Told through the eyes of a variety of the neighbors, frustrations grow with who has come to live on the block. This causes strain and impact in a variety of ways for the neighbors. About halfway through, the book reveals what happened in the death that began the book. Honestly, that was the peak of the story for me. It was a twist I did not see coming, and it made me legit gasp. From there, I'll be honest that the story didn't pack the same excitement. What happens next is the fallout from the death and piecing together what has happened. This is one of those books that will stress you out to read. You will be so frustrated by the neighbors, but you also want to know what's going to happen next. We've all had that worry of who lives next door, and this is that exponentially realized. Again, the second half of this one dragged a bit for me, but still a solid thriller about suburbia gone way, way wrong. Thanks to Berkley Publishing for the giveaway allowing me to preview and review this June release!

Read this book if - You like a book that is literally the worst possible outcome over and over again. You like drama that just escalates again and again and again.

Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler was an interesting read. The description of the book didn't share this had an element of science fiction. Once I figured out it did, the plot all made far more sense. The story focuses on Nedda during two timeframes. First, there is 11 year old Nedda. Her father has been let go from NASA, and he is taking on projects in her basement around how to control and alter time. Then, there is Nedda as an astronaut. She is on a mission, and she is reflecting on her work and what led her there. When Nedda was 11, the Challenger tragedy happened, and by virtue of her dad, she knew those who were on the mission, so this connection is interwoven. This one was all-around intriguing, but I also wanted so much more in a good way. There were so many stories of characters that weren't told, as well as "Wait, what?" reveals where I had questions and wanted to have so many more details. This is a little off the beaten path of what I would normally read, but the relationships and connections between Nedda and her dad were quite wonderfully written. It keeps secrets and makes reveals in such a captivating way. I wasn't sure what I was getting in this one, but came out on the other side really loving what I'd read. Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to check out this read! 

Read this book if - You want a book that is a unique exploration of the relationship of a father and daughter.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kufafka was another thriller that began with a death. In this one, Lucinda Hayes, a popular high schooler, has been murdered. The story is then told from three perspectives to figure out what happened and what folks are hiding. There's Cameron, the loner who has been watching Lucinda, Jade, the girl who envies what Lucinda has and has taken from her, and Russ, a cop working the case who may be more connected than people realize. Through the three stories, bits and pieces of the story are told to decipher who killed Lucinda. For me, the three narrators is what worked about this. Told from a stand-alone perspective I would not have enjoyed it enough. But with each of the ways these three interfaced with Lucinda (and others involved), it built the suspense. It was suspenseful enough to keep me reading, and I didn't figure out how it was going to end which is always a plus. As someone who reads a lot of thrillers, I think the only drawback was I wanted more thrills and drama. It had a sufficient amount, but I just needed more depth to the action.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that is a quick read and interesting enough.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Reviews - Stories that Stay with You

Wow, y'all, this was such a unique round of reads. They were stories unlike anything else I've read - Literally. So, let me tell you about them. Okay, cool.

Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir unlike any other I have read ever. As I read, I had to remind myself this was in fact nonfiction as so much of this story is hard to even comprehend. It is the ultimate story of perseverance. The author has been raised in rural Idaho with her family of survivalists. She has little to no contact with the outside world. She doesn't even go through any sort of formal education until she is 17 years old and starting her freshman year at BYU. The author shares such a honest and authentic story of her upbringing. At times, this is hard to read as there are serious concerns around violence, mental health and physical health that arise. Given the lack of connection to the rest of the world, the way these situations are handled are just hard to explain. These instances were the times I most had to remind myself this was real life as they were full of such raw emotion as they were detailed. Above all else, the amazing part of this story is all the author has achieved. To come into the education system so late is unbelievable, but it happened. To also see what she has done is beyond incredible. This is a book that will stay with you. It's unlike any story - fiction or nonfiction - you will ever read. It is the ultimate coming of age story, the truest show of what dedication can bring you, and a book you need to read. Trust me.

Read this book if - You need no specific reason y'all. Just read this one. It's outstanding.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos is a unique exploration of a resort for surrogate mothers of wealthy clients. Told through several perspectives, it explores how this "farm" came to be, why surrogates have chosen/been selected, and who the clients are. In particular, it focuses on the struggles and challenges of the surrogates. Drawn by a wealthy payout, these women have agreed to this role for a variety of reasons. They realize that part of this agreement does mean a loss of freedom which they each feel a certain kind of way about, and they also each react/rebel/conform differently. This was dystopia grounded in motherhood, and honestly y'all, it wasn't something that is totally out of the realm of possibility. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this upcoming May release.

Read this book if - You dig dystopian fiction told in unique scenarios.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is a story that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It focuses on immigrant stories, primarily through the stories of Maribel and Mayor. Maribel has come to Delaware from Mexico with her parents after a serious accident. They believe the relocation will provide Maribel with needed support and are committed to getting this for her. Mayor crosses paths with Maribel when she moves into the same apartment complex. He's drawn to her. While others have come to know Maribel through her accident and limitations, Mayor sees Maribel as someone who he wants to know for her. Through their stories and those of others in their complex, this book tells the stories of those who come to America wanting more. They have to make difficult decisions and leave much behind, but they come here with the hope to find their place. The end of this one is one that didn't just break, but shattered my heart. 

Read this book if - You want to read a story not often told. You want to read about an emotional experience in all of the ways. You want to learn more about the experience of immigrants.

Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds is a love story told in an intriguing way. Jack and Kate meet at a party. They fall in love. Months later, Kate dies. That should be the end of the story, but then Jack is transported back to the party where they first met. He then has to decide what to do with this do-over. Of course, each decision has a consequence. He gets many tries at this, and with each iteration he tries to do things better to get to his goal of saving Kate. I loved the way this book told the story of Jack and Kate. With each cycle, I hoped this was the one where Jack figured it out. However, along the way, it was also about Jack's other relationships, particularly his best friends and parents. He had to make choices about how to engage with these people, as well as evaluate who he could help and/or hurt with what he decides to do or doesn't. This is a spin on Groundhog Day with all the feels. I was rooting so hard for Jack throughout. This is a story that makes you think about the decisions we make each day and what we do with the time we are given. The ending of this one is unexpected, but it was the ending that was meant to be with a story like this. This is just a beautiful look at relationships, and I so loved it y'all.

Also, Justin Reynolds, the author, explained his inspiration for this story, and it is a perfect explanation of what this book is that I must share, "In a word, heartache. I was coping with the loss of my best friend and still grieving an aunt who'd passed far too soon, and I was struggling with their absence. I couldn't wrap my brain around a world without either of them. But they were such vibrant, happy, often hilarious people. And so this story became a celebration of life, a way to embrace their memories, and travel back in time."

Read this book if - You want something that 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Book Reviews - Sourdough in Outer Space!

For this round, I had two ARCs that I made my way through as I do. However, the great stuff was in a book about baking, and then an ah-ma-zing YA read that took place in outer space!

The Friendship Lie by Rebecca Donnelly was a middle grade read all about what happens when conflict hits a friendship. Cora and Sybella used to be best friends, but now they're not. The story treks through the days before and the day after of their friendship. In addition, part of this involves an old journal they find that involves the chronicle of a fight amongst friends. I looked at this one through the lens of me as a kid as I read and reviewed. It made me think about the first time I fought with a friend. I didn't know what was going on, or how to handle it well. Sorry about those rude notes, Becky, but don't worry, Mrs. Ramsey totally called my parents to talk about the situation. ANYWAY. I liked that this book took the topic on in a way I think kids would understand. I do have to also there was a subplot around garbage and sustainability that was well intentioned and informative, but kind of got lost given this was so much more about friendship. That piece almost felt like it would have been better served in its own book. As always, I was able to read this one early (out in August) thanks to NetGalley.

Read this book if - You're looking for a middle grade read focused on friendship and the conflict that inevitably happens.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan was just a unique read. This is my second book by this author (the first being Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore), and he just writes books that are experiences to read unlike any other. This one is about Lois. Lois is an engineer who discovers a local sandwich shop that gets her heart and stomach. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that the owners refer to her as Number One Eater. I mean y'all, is there a better title than that? When the owners have to leave the country, they leave Lois with a sourdough starter. The thing Lois hasn't really baked ever. What follows is Lois learning how to learn to work with the starter and figure out where her passions lie along the way. The story really focuses on Lois' journey throughout, and it does this through some quirky situations. There's an underground farmer's market, and some odd happenings with the food, and a mysterious cast of characters who Lois has to navigate. This was my book club's read this month, and it was a book that we were all intrigued by, but also struggled to fully explain and describe. Overall, I enjoyed it though. It was a good "palate cleanser" after all the thrillers I've read as of late. I also am always a fan of great writing, and this is so much of that.

Read this if - You liked Robin Sloan's first book. You want something quirky. You like books that are just well-written.

Alumni Association by Michael Rudolph was a legal thriller that wasn't really my jam. When I read a thriller, I like a story driven by twists and drama and suspense. This one was more driven by logistics and legal "stuff" that just wasn't enough to captivate me. This one was about a lawyer working with an alumni association who doesn't want their historic military campus to be sold to be re-developed. What I hoped with a premise like this was that I was getting into something like The Skulls with all the secret society mess. Again, that wasn't what this was. It was more about different characters using different legal strategies and financial schemes to get the upper hand. There were also some secret tunnels involved, but I needed them to have so many more secrets than they did to be really captivated with the thrills. Overall, this sounded exciting, but the brand of thriller just wasn't my thing, but maybe it's yours? I owe a thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check out this read.

Read this book if - You like legal thrillers and stuff.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James was a book that was just such a intriguing premise, and I was absolutely captivated. The story focuses on Romy. Romy is the daughter of two astronauts. She is on a spaceship speeding away from Earth to start life on Earth II. Romy's parents have been tragically killed on the ship, so Romy is now alone. Her primary contact with Earth is a therapist named <NAME> who she emails back and forth with to share her thoughts, and even some fan fiction that is inspired by her experience. Then, Romy finds out another spaceship is headed her way. She could finally have human contact again. J, the captain of the other ship, reaches out. Through this, a friendship starts to form. However, Romy also has some suspicions about J that won't go away, but she can't quite identify what's going on. Y'all, this was such a different kind of thriller, and I just loved it. I loved the backdrop of space, as something so different, and I loved the mystery of what was going on with the other spaceship. This one was one I literally read in one sitting because I was so swept up in Romy's story, and I had to know what was going on with everything. I also really appreciated how Romy's story was explored, particularly the impact of losing her parents and being alone. There was a realness to explaining how this had impacted her life which was also relatable to loneliness and anxiety and pain on earth. I did not expect this one to be such a wonderful and incredible ride, y'all!

Read this book if - You want something that's out of this world - Sorry, y'all, I had to. You want a thriller type read with some romance and mystery and space-y stuff happening.