Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Reviews: Whales, RomComs, and Escape Rooms - Oh My!

I have gotten a bit backlogged on ARCs, and that was my focus for this round. I suppose it's a good problem to have, and part of this is on me for putting in all the requests. So, I took the time in this quartet to go through some future/soon to be released reads to reduce my queue a bit.

Pretty in Punxsutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton is everything I/you could ever want in a cheesy romcom YA read. The plot is heavily inspired by Groundhog Day, Pretty in Pink, and there's even a little Breakfast Club. Andie (yes, like Pretty in Pink) is preparing for her first day at a new school. She's spent the summer at her local movie theater crushing hard on Colton while also getting to know Tom. She heads off to that first day, and she has high hopes, but the day spirals into nothing like what she had hoped it would be. She falls asleep that night bummed at what happens. However, she wakes up the next morning, and it's somehow her first day all over again. She tries to do things differently the second time around, and the third, and so on. With each passing day, Andie learns a little bit more about her classmates, as well as herself. She takes each replay to fine tune and make others happier, as well as to figure out what she actually wants. Honestly, y'all, I figured out how this one might end pretty early on, however, I did not care. The cheesy 80s vibe of this love story was just what I wanted, and I loved how it was told. If you're a fan of the work of John Hughes, this will totally be your jam. Also, if you've continually maintained that Duckie is an infinitely better choice than Blane, this will definitely be for you. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me go on this romcom adventure!

Read this book if - You have a love for 80s romcoms. You like a love story/book where you can figure out the ending, but you keep reading just to see how it'll play out.

The Stressed Year of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive in their College Years by B. Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain was a book I read not as a parent, but an educator. As someone who still interfaces with students, I thought this would be something that I could still find beneficial. I liked how this book started with framing how to prepare for the college experience. Rather than waiting to be in the environment, it explained how to develop strategies now for success later. I also liked how they used a variance of teaching methods. There were case studies, statistics, and tips for how to approach issues. Throughout, they also normalized that these are realities of what might happen, and that's okay. Their focus was on how to help and address issues in a way that is helpful for all involved. The topic is a complex one, and you obviously can't cover every single aspect of all the things. However, this was a strong and quite comprehensive read regarding how mental health impacts the college experience. Thanks to NetGalley for the sneak peek on this April release that's a good one for parents and educators to check out.

Read this book if - You want a conversation starter around mental health in college students. You want a book on tips and strategies for helping a student manage mental health in college.

The Escape Room by Melissa Goldin was a fast-paced and intriguing thriller. In the high stakes world of investment banking, four coworkers are summoned to an elevator escape room. They're familiar with the team builder, and they assume this one will be a similar endeavor. They quickly realize that will definitely not be the case. The story is told through alternating timelines. First, there is looking back at Sara Hall's experience at the company. Sara was a recent graduate who was sucked into the cutthroat and complex world of finance. She couldn't believe she got the job, and she begins to navigate the high stakes world finding it quite full of all the stress and sacrifice to get ahead. Then, there is the escape room experience. In the elevator, "clues" are revealed, as our long-kept secrets (and lies) between the quartet. With each passing minute and clue, the escape room elevator becomes a more concerning and complicated situation. This one was intense in the best of ways. The scandalous twists and turns of this one kept me reading. This one will be on shelves in August, and a thanks to NetGalley for the super early preview. I really dug how this book used an escape room as a plot device, and the reveal at the end was just so wonderfully sensational. It was everything I love in a good thriller.

Read this book if - You like your thrillers full of secrets and scandals. You want to check out a thriller built around a sensationalized escape room sceanario.

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly was a middle-grade novel full of all kinds of heart. Twelve year old Iris is deaf, and this means she often feels she just doesn't fit in. Her grandparents are both deaf which gives her a connection, however she recently lost her grandfather which has been hard because they were especially close. Her parents don't always take the time to connect, and she struggles at school for similar reasons, while also longing to transfer to the school for the deaf in her town. Along the way, she becomes captivated by Blue 55, a whale who has also lost his way. Blue 55 struggles to communicate with other whales, and he is quite lonely. Hearing about him, Iris can relate, and she wonders if she might have a way to solve his problem. From here, Iris decides to explore how she might help this whale. She has to do this virtually as the whale is in Alaska, but Iris is determined to not make that a barrier. This was an enlightening read as it shows the world through Iris' experience. Using her as the narrator allows readers to get a better understanding of how she interprets the world, including the challenges that her deafness brings. However, it also shows how her deafness is an asset and how she learns to adapt to the environment. The parallel story of Iris and Blue 55 was really well told, and I definitely think kids will be entranced by this one.

Read this book if - You want a middle-grade novel that explores a narrator's unique identity. You want a story that shows how a difference can be a gift and asset.

Onto my next reads!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Book Reviews: Exploreading & Relationships

I started off this round with some books that knocked some things off my Exploreading challenge.

First, I wanted to read a book set in college from the time I was in college. Finding this book was some kind of adventure. You see, I could remember this cover, and some aspects of the title, but I just couldn't get enough details together to find the book. Finally, I stumbled up on this list I apparently made at some point in life for Amazon called "Awesome Books/DVDs For Your Twenties." Honestly, this list is just things I read and watched when I was in my twenties. Regardless, thanks to a younger me for finally solving this mystery. 


Wurst Case Scenario by Catherine Clark was a book I read one summer when I was in college. It's really fascinating to go back and read about college "way back when" now. Particularly given how technology has advanced, there are aspects of plots from the early 2000s (and before) that just wouldn't happen today. I mean, it all makes sense to me given I was there and lived that life, but man, this stuff is dated. Remember when chat rooms were a thing? And how we didn't have cell phones? And how that meant we could only get in touch with people on landlines in one location? Anyway. This book revolves around Courtney Von Dragen Smith who is off to college in rural Wisconsin. This means she's now in a long distance relationship with Grant Superior who is back closer to home at Colorado State. Told entirely through her journal, Courtney navigates life as a freshman with common challenges - roommate conflict, finding friends, getting involved, finding a job, homesickness, and becoming excited for a cause. It was a light read that was just okay. I enjoyed the nostalgia I suppose.

Read this book if - You want a YA romcom that gives you a trip back to the early 00s.

As I started this next one, I realized it was a cozy mystery. One of my challenges was to read a format or genre I hadn't before, so this was it. Oh, and if you've never heard of cozy mystery, learn more about what they are here.

Read On Arrival (Bookmobile Mystery #2) by Nora Page was a book I requested on NetGalley (thanks for the ARC as always, friends) given it involved a bookmobile. Given my book blogging revolves around a page called Club Book Mobile, I felt like I had to request (and read) this one. This is the story of Cleo, a librarian in her 70s. Cleo also works with the bookmobile Words on Wheels. New to town is BOOK IT!, a "bookmobile" that is low on books and high on entertainment. Cleo is appalled at this trend, and she is working hard to make sure the visionary behind this doesn't also impact her beloved library. Another one of Cleo's conflicts is her ongoing quest to get Dixie Huddleston to return a library book she's had for over 40 years! Dixie makes no secret about her tardy return, and everyone knows it drives Cleo wild. Then, Dixie is murdered, and the town is turned upside down. Who could have done this? Heck, given Cleo's well-known frustration, she's even vetted as a suspect! The book then follows Cleo and friends trying to figure out what happened to Dixie. In addition, there are other ominous messages that start popping up around town. This was my first foray into this genre, and I found myself captivated. The way suspense was built was intriguing, as there were some super obvious suspects, but I also knew they couldn't have done it. Or could they? This really made me suspicious of everyone, and I loved how the mystery unfolded. I also really dug how the library plot was interwoven. There was a really great narrative about why libraries are beneficial to communities which I obvs loved. All around, I really enjoyed this one.

Read this book if - You want a cozy mystery with a side of library love.

After my Exploreading, I returned back to my book queue to check out some unique reads.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane was one of those books that just kept me thinking - in a good way. This is a fiction read (although it reads like a nonfiction memoir) where the main character decides to re-invest in her friends. She realizes that so much of friendship has become via social media, and she wants to change that. She yearns for the way she used to be connected to her friends, and so she decides she's going to visit them. Not just a visit as she's passing through, or for a meal of food with someone in the same town, but an actual visit where she stays with each of them. She identifies four friends from different phases of her life that she's going to go see, and the book chronicles this experience. Through these visits, some things have stayed the same, while other things have definitely changed. In the meantime, she's also navigating both past and present relationships with her family which adds another layer to these visits. For me, this is one I'm still thinking about as I wondered what it would be like to go on this adventure with my own friends. Her assessment of the current state of friendship could not be more right on, and it's made me continue to reflect on how I connect with my own friends. My only critique is I wanted to know even more about her friendships. Because I was so drawn in, I wanted more background, more about the visits, and just more of what was happening. All in all, this one is an enlightening and emotional read that I'd recommend checking out when it hits shelves in May!

Read this book if - You want a fiction read that's a unique reflection on friendship.

Southern Discomfort by Tena Clark was a book shared by a colleague who'd heard the author speak this summer and just raved about her. Y'all - WHOA. This was one heckuva memoir, and I was in tears by the end. Much of the book focuses on Tena's tumultuous childhood. She has a mother who is an alcoholic and a father who is regularly unfaithful. Amidst all the turmoil, they decide to get divorced in a time (the 1960s) when this was not all common. Tena honestly chronicles the dynamics of this, as well as how she navigated her own sexuality in a place and time where this wasn't widely accepted. This one was incredibly powerful as she does not hold much back from what life was like for her as a kid in this volatile environment. She also shares how these relationships changed through the years, and where she found comfort (and challenge) along the way. This is a memoir focusing on the stories we don't often know. While the story on the outside can look perfect (as her father was one of the richest men in town), the realities of a situation can be far different. I so appreciated the candor of her emotional sharing in showing how we all have stories and people that define and impact us along the way.

Read this book if - You want a powerful and painful memoir on the stories that shaped someone.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Book Reviews: Windows into Worlds and Stories of Redemption

You know the drill at this point, right? This round was full of some feels y'all! 

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams was outstanding. This is an emotional read, but worth the journey given the beauty of the writing. This is a memoir (posted posthumously) built around the author's terminal cancer diagnosis at 37. She uses her writing to chronicle the emotions of living with this disease. This includes her relationship with her husband, young daughters, and extended family. The title speaks to the fact that it is somewhat of a miracle the author even made it to adulthood. Born blind, her own grandmother wanted her parents to have her euthanized. After coming to the United States as a refugee to escape the turmoil of Vietnam, she is able to eventually get surgery to restore some sight. She spends some time on what it means to overcome such obstacles to achieve all she has, but really this is a reflection on the emotions that come with coming face-to-face with your mortality. There are days where she details the beauty in the world, and there are others where she is overcome with the pain and grief of cancer and what this means for her, as well as what will never be. By the end of this one, I was a mess of tears. However, I also found such power in this story. Throughout, she stresses the importance of living while you're living. Given her situation, she has a unique understanding of working with the time you've got, and her message is going to stay with me for awhile. Thanks to Random House for the ARC that I'm a bit behind in reading. The good news? This one is out now, so no need to wait on a release date to check this one out right now.

Read this book if - You want to really got up in your emotions. You want to read an honest, emotional, and powerful reflection on the impact of cancer.

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman was a middle grade novel that had a bit of "Breakfast Club for kids" vibe. Kiana shows up for her first day at a new school, and through some first day chaos, she ends up in Room 117 with a group of students known as the Unteachables. This is a group of students that the school's educators have kind of given up on for one reason or another. This year, the school has assigned Mr. Kermit to class. Mr. Kermit is counting the literal days to early retirement. He once had the joy of teaching, but having to take the fall for a cheating scandal wiped that joy from his work. Overall, this was a story of redemption. It was about the power of finding your people to believe in you, so that you can believe in yourself. Sure, there are some aspects of this plot that seem unrealistic when it comes to how schools work, but the sentiment of the emotion is what counts for this read.

Read this book if - You're looking for a sweet middle grade novel about rediscovering joy by finding people who believe in you.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert's Story by Debbie Tung was a book I absolutely loved. I mean, y'all, it's a collection of comics about being an introvert! I loved the relatability of this one. Throughout, I smiled and nodded as I knew just what she was talking about in nearly all of the vignettes. I appreciated that these weren't outlandish situations, rather these were simple, everyday feels that introverts know well. This was overall just a gem of a read. I loved the illustrations and how it was just page after page of introvert truths. If you are an introvert, you'll find yourself in many of these. If you're not an introvert, this is one that'll give you a window into the experience. This one is just full of humor, of honesty, and of love for that introvert life!

Read this book if - You want a unique (and illustrated!) look at the life of an introvert.

Mascot by Antony John was a middle grade novel that was a wonderful story of redemption. I read about the plot of this one, and I knew I wanted to read it. What I didn't know was that it was about the St. Louis Cardinals. I had to chuckle when I picked it up only because I'm married to a Cardinals fan, and I'm a Royals fan. Team allegiance aside, this one was a beautiful story. It centers on Noah. Noah is confined to a wheelchair after being injured in the car accident that killed his dad. With this, Noah is trying to adjust to his new normal. Certain friends have faded, his mom is navigating her own grief and aiding him, and he can no longer play baseball. When a new kid (known by the nickname Double Wide) comes to town, Noah finds a new ally to get through life. This one hit me in the feels throughout. First of all, it shows how Noah navigates so much unexpected change. Second of all, it shows the power of finding friends to support you. Third of all, it is about second chances for so many of its characters in varied ways. Oh, and there's also this really great subplot involving Fredbird that added some humor to the mix which I appreciated. The reason I find myself reading more and more middle grade fiction is books like this. They contain stories of kids navigating really tough stuff with such authentic emotion. I love the depth with which they tell a story, and I just can't get enough!

Read this book if - You want a middle grade book all about second chances. You are a St. Louis Cardinals fan and/or from St. Louis - You'll appreciate the connection.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Reviews: Books, Bravery, Politics and Trucks!

This is one of those quartets where the books could not be different, but I really, really dug them all.

The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper was a political thriller that was all kinds of interesting and intense. It takes place in the 1950s and focuses on Charlie who has been appointed to Congress. He's a young veteran, and he's not quite sure of what awaits him in his new DC life. The story begins at the end with a concerning situation. It then rewinds back to the beginning of Charlie's time in DC explaining how he got from then to now. Political thrillers are not normally my thing, but y'all this one kept me reading and wondering as the story of what happened was pieced together. Through his time in DC, Jake is exposed to a whole new world of secrets, alliances, and shady dealings. He tries to make sense of it all, while also figuring out who he can trust - and who he can definitely not. While this is fiction, it's also built around historical events, including the McCarthy trials/concerns about communism. Many of the characters are the power players of the time, and it was fascinating to read about them in this way. It was also both fascinating and terrifying to consider some of the parallels of this time with the current realities. This one took me on one heckuva ride, and I so enjoyed it. Maybe I'll have to check out this genre more!

Read this book if - You want to try out a political thriller. You want a political thriller that is full of all the secrets and scandals. 

Also, this was a #36booksfor36 read. So far, this has been such a great challenge, and I have loved the stuff people have shared with me, especially because a lot of this stuff I would never have found my way to otherwise!

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder by Reshma Saujani was a book that I just needed in my life. It was a beautiful reflection on the realities of how our own aspirations can get in the way. This book focuses on reframing/eliminating perfectionist thinking. Rather than expecting that we have to have flawless execution, she really stresses that there is power and joy in learning in the journey. She talks about how with women we often are afraid of fear and failure avoidance. In reality, the best thing we could do for ourselves is feel these things. She talks about how we can often not go for what we want because of this, and that's just wrong. I loved that this book was part "Here's our reality," then "Here's what to do about it." The steps shared were simple and actionable, and they're ones I could see myself implementing. I read this book because I was needing some inspiration and affirmation, and it so did that for me. Thanks to NetGalley for the sneak peek, and I'd highly encourage y'all to check this one out when it's released in February!

Read this book if - You are a woman looking for a bit of a pep talk and action plan to make 2019 an awesome year. You want to overcome that pesky perfectionist that lives inside of you.

The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tale of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy was a book I chose to read for a very personal reason. My grandpa drove a truck for 43 years. He died when I was a teenager, so I never really got the chance to know him as an adult and ask questions about that part of his identity. I loved getting a look at the world of trucking in this one. Y'all, I learned so much. There were so many passages where I had to read aloud to my husband because I just had no idea. It was so interesting to get this inside look at the industry. I really appreciated the reflections on just how much care and consideration truckers put into the transportation of goods. It really is a science, but also there's an emotional component. I also liked how it took the time to just explain sides of the business I have always wondered about - Y'all I finally know how a weigh station works! This was a story that gave me an amazing window into a world I knew little about, and I'm now more fascinated than ever.

Read this book if - You want an inside look at the trucking industry - specifically movers. You want to read about an industry you don't know much about, but would like to learn. 

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence was just a gem of a read. This is a collection of letters to books that the author (a librarian) has come across. She writes letters to the books she loves, she writes letters to the books she hates, and she writes letters to the books who's time on the library shelves has drawn to a close. Throughout, there is so much humor and love. As a reader, I appreciated how these letters acknowledge that we don't love all books equally, and we all have those books who make us feel things - both good and bad. I also laughed out loud at times as the letters to these books were just too real. Honestly, it made me want to go and write some letters of my own. I could have guessed this was a book that was going to be my jam, but I actually loved this short, quick read with so much heart even more than anticipated.

Read this book if - You want a delightful book about the joy of reading.

Oh, and since this is a book about books/reading, it completes my first Exploreading challenge.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Reviews: Strong Women, A Textbook Thriller & Self Work

Hey, here are more books.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was outstanding. I'm obviously later to reading this one. However, it deserves all the praise and admiration for the story it tells. If you're not familiar, this one is about two sisters during World War II. It focuses specifically on the role of these women (and many women whose stories aren't always told) during World War II. Vianne and Isabelle could not be more different, and some of the story is the struggles of their relationship. However, more than anything, this book is about the decisions they make - Decisions for their personal safety, for the safety of their family, for the safety of others they've just met, and even decisions for their country They are each placed in impossible situations throughout the book and find way(s) to navigate through. Y'all, this book is both beautiful and heartbreaking. I was absolutely captivated by the story. It was the kind of book you finish, then find yourself just sitting and staring off into the distance because you have so many feels about what happened. I could gush on and on and on about this one, but if you haven't found your way to this one yet, you must.

Read this book if - You love historical fiction. You just want a book that's beautifully written.

Roar by Cecelia Ahern is an upcoming short story collection. Each of the thirty story focuses on a woman in a unique challenge or situation. These situations aren't unlike ones women are often faced with in life. The difference is these women have very literal experiences of happenings. For example, what if when you were embarrassed the floor literally opened and you were swallowed whole? Or what if your biological clock was a literal timepiece? Or what if there was a way you could be literally invisible due to your identify? This was such a unique read. There were so many of the stories where I thought to myself, "Yup, been there," and I could totally relate to what was being detailed even with the added literal layer. It was an intriguing read given the dynamics of each story, and I so enjoyed it. However, with enjoyment, it was also a reminder of the honest realities that women face. The ridiculous scenarios really didn't seem that ridiculous given the layers of truth that were interwoven. It was just such a creative way to tell this tale. Thanks, as always, to my pals at NetGalley for the sneak peek of this one to be released in April.

Read this book if - You want a unique look at the experiences of women.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz was an interesting thriller. It begins with a woman on the run after finding her husband dead at the bottom of her stairs. She's not responsible, but she can't take any chances. You see, the thing is she's been on the run before. What follows is a series of changing identities, city hopping, and trying to figure out who she can trust. For me, this was interesting enough, but also I found as I read there wasn't a character I could get attached to which I tend to like. Because the main character "changes" so much, the journey in the read is really about trying to figure out who she actually is. So much of the story is on shaky ground because it kept shifting along with her journey. There were some email exchanges throughout that provided some "stability" to the story and created more intrigue which I did like as a storytelling medium. For me, this was one was a thriller that kept me reading, but there are others that have captivated me more.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that revolves around changing identities - a lot of changing identities.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Workout for Teens by Paula Nagel was a book I read more for professional curiosity. This book focuses on exercises and strategies grounded in therapy techniques. What I liked about this book was the way it defined certain mental health struggles. It did a really good job of framing up what these thoughts could feel like and how they could manifest. I think this book could be a good starting point for self-work, but oftentimes these work best with a professional involved. I know that was true in my own experiences. This is perhaps going to sound weird, but I also wish this book had more pictures. There were some comics that explained a "Before" and "After" in the book, and I felt like there should be more of that. I think these are heavy topics that require lots of words to explain, and pictures can help break some of this down further. Overall, I think this has potential as a "companion" piece, but not as a standalone. This is another one I owe a thanks to NetGalley for the preview as this is due out in February.

Read this book if - You want an introductory look at mental health in teenagers.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Reading Resolutions for 2019

While I'm focusing more on attitude than resolutions overall in 2019, I did have some resolving to do in one specific area - Reading, of course!

As I've grown and expanded my reading empire, I've tried to think intentionally about what 2019 looks like for me as far as books are concerned.

Resolution #1 - Complete my own Exploreading Book Challenge.

This will actually be the third year of me having a challenge. I'm historically really good at creating these challenges, but good at fully completing them. In 2017, the challenge was just too many things. In 2018, it was more just kind of forgetting it was a thing. 

alicia silverstone oops GIF

So, for 2019, I came up with twenty challenges to take on with my reading. I held over some of my favorite challenges from year's past, kept a few things that I really want to do, and I pulled over a few things from other reading challenges that I think would be neat. Here's what I'll be taking on:

P.S. If you need your own reading challenge, feel free to join me.

Resolution #2 - Find/Build more of a reading community.

In the last year, I've focused more than I ever on sharing what I'm reading with others. I've posted my reviews on my blog, as well as my Instagram, and then there was that obvious thing of starting up Club Book Mobile. For 2019, I want to make sure I'm not just pushing out content, but also engaging in conversation, finding book-ish spaces, etc. I want to be intentional about building this aspect of my reading.

reading rainbow lol GIF by LeVar Burton Kids

Resolution #3 - Read XXX books.

I have an idea for a quantity of books I want to read this year. However, that's not a number I publicly share. I don't like the number to get in the way of the joy I have in reading, so it's just something I keep in the back of my mind for me.

  baby book story reading GIF

Resolution #4 - Attend more in-person events at my library/local bookstores.

As I focus on building community, I want to check out what's IN my community when it comes to books. There are plenty of talks from authors, events around books, and just fun stuff to do, and I want to stretch myself and attend some of these things.

old school dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kids

Resolution #5 - Be intentional about content creation

I'm working this year on planning out more posts. It means I can share even more book-ish stuff with y'all, and it enhances the quality of the content I curate. I love a good plan, so this is just adding that into my reading mix.

excited back to school GIF by PBS KIDS

I'm really looking forward to what 2019 holds for my reading life. Stay tuned y'all!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Book Reviews: First Four of 2019 - Math, Milk & Mysteries

With a new year, it's time to start my reading anew!

Janie Face to Face by Caroline Coomey was my final revisiting of the Janie Johnson saga. While the first two books were full of all the nostalgia feels (which I loved), the second two were just kind of "meh" for me. For this one, I have a mixed bag of emotions. First, there is a true crime writer who wants to cover Janie's story via a book called The Happy Kidnap. There was something to that title, and that was an unexpected twist I quite enjoyed. Second, I struggled with some of the timing. The references to social media didn't align with how old the characters should have been based on the years/ages of the characters in the first books. As a nostalgic reader, it bothered me. I think it was done given this book was written in 2013, but it still was an annoyance for me throughout. I like accuracy and consistency. Third, there is the continuation of the story of Janie and Reeve. I sort of liked this, and I sort of didn't. I don't want to spoil how this goes down here, so I won't. Overall, this one had some thrills and twists that gave some closure to the series. Would I have been fine had I just the original two? Absolutely. However, once I started reading, I couldn't stop. So, if you grew up with this series and start re-reading, you either need to just re-read the first two, or you need to read all five. You do you, y'all.  

Read this book if - You've read Books 1 through 4 of the series.

One of the loves I found in 2018 was middle grade/J fiction. I read more of it than I have since I was of the age for the genre. I'm continually amazed at how much heart and depth these stories have, and I anticipate you'll see many more of these in this year's reads.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen was a story I just loved. The story is told from Felix's eyes. Felix is a 12 year old who lives with his mom. Due to an unfortunate series of events, he and his mom are living in a van. Felix keeps this secret from everyone, including his closest friends and teachers at his mom's request. She also assures him that it's only temporary, and throughout you see how Felix explains different scenarios, as well as how he and his mom learn to get by. Through Felix's eyes, there is a heartbreaking and honest portrayal of the experience. It conveyed to me a better understanding of the realities of this situation as it's certainly not uncommon. In addition to navigating his lack of a home, Felix is trying to make it onto his favorite TV quiz show. This was a humorous subplot that fit quite well even with the emotion of Felix's living situation. Ultimately, his reality and appearance on the quiz show come to a head in an unexpected way. Y'all, this book had so much heart through Felix's reality, and I absolutely loved it.

Read this book if - You want to look at poverty, resilience and friendship through a kid's eyes that has honesty and heart.

The Night Before by Wendy Walker was a thriller that I could not put down. Literally, y'all, I read it in one sitting. Laura decides to give online dating a go. However, when she doesn't return home, her older sister Rosie is convinced something terrible must have happened. The story is told through both Laura and Rosie's eyes. Laura's is told in the night before (annnd the title makes sense!), and Rosie's is told in the day after. Through alternating narrations, the timelines converge, and the truth is revealed. The twistiness of this one was so great! I thought for sure I had it figured out, and then the twists went in a completely different direction, and then they did again. This one isn't out until May (thanks for the sneak peek, St. Martins Press), and I feel quite confident in telling y'all that this will be a thriller that people are going to be buzzing about, and they 100% should be! Is the first week of the month too early for me to say this is one of the best thrillers of the year? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Read this book if - You love a thriller with all the unexpected twists. You want something that'll keep you turning all the pages to know what went down.

One of my goals for my 36th year is to read #36booksfor36 that have been recommended to me by friends and family. Y'all, so far, this has been a fantastic endeavor. Two recommendations were already on my best of 2018 list. For this one, at the recommendation of one of my best friends from college, Hillary, I read her favorite play.

Proof by David Auburn is a play that has just four characters. However, with these four, there is so much depth. Catherine has spent years caring for her father, Robert, a brilliant mathematician. With his death, her sister Claire has returned, to get his estate in order, and to get her sister to move to New York City with her. In addition, Hal, a former advisee of Robert's, is looking through his papers trying to understand and learn from the work he left behind. He looks to Catherine for one particularly significant discovery, and it might not be at all what it seems. Y'all, this had me so absolutely captivated. I would not have guessed just reading dialogue (much of it around math notes) could pack so much emotion and intrigue!

Read this book if - You want to read a play that has so much depth and emotion in unexpected ways. 

Onto the next quartet! Let's do this 2019!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Becoming Unapologetic

If I'm being honest (and I am obviously), I've been sitting on this post for about six weeks now. Although when the title first came to mind, it was going to be in a completely different direction. Then, I just never wrote it, but I also couldn't stop thinking about it. 

You see, this post started as something inspired by my favorite professional wrestler (yes, I have one of those) Becky Lynch. Back in November, I went to see Monday Night Raw at the Sprint Center. Becky Lynch unexpectedly showed up, and it was incredible. She came, and she dominated, and she was just totally and unapologetically herself in the moment. For context (in case that's your thing?), here's what went down:

Also, I was then THIS close to Becky as she exited the arena. So, that was totally awesome.

ANYWAY. As I said, that's where this post started way back in early November. I was going to write a post more about loving what I love (professional wrestling being one of those things as a rediscovered love from my childhood) and not apologizing for that. It wasn't a bad idea for a post, but it also just wasn't the post that I was totally all about. So, I didn't write it, but I kept thinking about the concept, and thinking about it some more, and still thinking about it some more.

Which brings us to now. . . 

So, as we look to a new year, y'all should know that I'm really sh*tty at making resolutions

For the past two years, I have picked a word for my year. I'm all about it in this moment. Then, I go ahead and forget about whatever that word was within the first month for the year. I also tack on a bunch of other goals as I think about the year to come, and I tend to forget about those, too.

I'm not saying that goals are bad for me, but the way I've been framing them isn't working.

So, this year, I'm coming into the year in a very different way.

No, seriously. I really am.

A few months back, my coach had me pull together all the words and goals I'd made for the year. At times, this was a bummer experience as I saw all those unrealized moments. I stumbled upon words I didn't even know I picked. Not exactly how this is also supposed to work. 

With this exercize, my coach surprised me (in a good way) of what I should be doing.

I needed to be better at gifting myself some grace.

I have been putting so much weight on my words and goals that I don't give myself any breathing room. I don't give myself any space to actually do.

I put so much weight on the perfect plan and set of goals that they don't mean anything. I'm so focused on the end destination that I completely disregard the journey. I forget that plans change, goals can shift, and that there can be joy in a process. 

So, this year, I'm focusing on being unapologetic. Things might not be perfect, and I don't need to apologize for that and/or feel like that's a totally bad thing. I might not adhere entirely to the plans I've developed, and I don't need to apologize for that. I need to allow myself to have the grace to adapt and shift and re-assess. I really just need to be.

You know as I write this out, it's weird because technically I DO have a word for the year with unapologetic, but at the same time I don't have a word for the year.

becky lynch no GIF by WWE

Although, what I'm really saying this that this year I'm focusing on attitude. I'm taking the moments at they come. Instead of writing the story for 2019 before it happens, I'm allowing it to just happen. Do I have goals and hopes and plans? Obviously. However, it's all in how I take them on. I'm going to really focus on being in the moment(s) that make up the year.

So, if you need me in 2019, I'll be over here channeling my own brand of that Becky Lynch attitude.

talking smack bring it on GIF by WWE