Friday, February 5, 2016

In the Land of Armadillos

It seems so long ago, but it was only in 2013 where I read and reviewed Helen Maryles Shankman's debut novel The Color of Light, which is to this day, one of my favorite books of all time. Everything about that book was magic for me and I cannot tell you how many times I have re-read it because I just loved the characters and the story so much. I have been waiting for another book from Helen all of this time and finally, we have one. And it is just gold.

In the Land of Armadillos - Helen Maryles Shankman
***A Spring 2016 Discover Great New Writers selection at Barnes & Noble***

A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

Somehow in my excitement I missed that this was basically a book of short stories, which I'm not usually a fan of. Thankfully, while they are short stories, they are all related and they all are happening simultaneously so you feel like instead of short stories, they are just bouncing from different points of view of different characters. I want to apologize that I did not get this review out in time for the Holocaust Memorial Day, because this book is such a stunning portrayal of those dark days. No other event in history evokes the sadness and heartache like the Holocaust and it started when I was very young and read The Diary of Anne Frank, and it just terrified me that people would be killed for really no reason at all. Just the religion they believed in, basically. 

I knew that if anyone could tackle this topic with grace and emotion, it would be Helen. And she nailed it. The first story is of a Nazi officer who is easily a Jekyll and Hyde because he's writing to his wife as if his day job isn't horrific. Then he goes about his day and casually speaks of murdering countless people and just hopping over to the bar for drinks. To have something in that point of view is just... it hits you in the gut. 

I could summarize every single story but it would ruin the book for you but I tell you what- the stories are a combination of fiction and folklore and it makes it all seem real. I really felt like I was reading about actual events, with actual people, and I was struck by the beauty of it but also the horrific nature of the Holocaust. While reading this I found myself looking up information and images and I was struck by several stories which talked about people digging their own graves only to stand next to them and be shot. One image I saw was a row of shoes, people were asked to take off their shoes before they died and I just... I saw the different sizes and how worn they were and I wondered what were these people's last thoughts? What could that have possibly been like? Then other stories the Nazi officers really believe themselves to be good guys, or act indifferently to the atrocious acts of murder they are committing each day, and I just wonder- what the hell happened to these people where they just lose humanity? How do you lose your humanity? 

If you are at all interested in reading about the Holocaust, you absolutely need this book. It's one of the best books I have read in a long time that takes you through a full range of emotions and leaves you feeling grateful that you have never had to encounter anything like this in your life, and likely never will. You can find this on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. Just an absolutely stunning read. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bookworm Box: December

I'm going to get a little bitchy on this one and tell you upfront that the great quality of the books is no longer cutting it with this box. I know, it's a harsh way to start the post but I've damn near had it.

First off, let me start by saying I fully understand the December box was VERY delayed because of an order of books being ruined and needing to be replaced and then all of the flooding in Texas, where the Bookworm Box headquarters is. I get it, those are both things out of your hands, that sucks, but you know- you're a business. If you haven't liked their page on Facebook, you wouldn't have known about your box being delayed because an email never went out to people who paid. Oh, I stand corrected- some people got emails, some did not (I didn't), and when I emailed to ask where my box was, I was referred to their Facebook page post, which they copied and pasted.

Now, I understand that this subscription box is done solely with volunteers and the money goes to charities. In 2015 they donated a LOT to charities and that is another one of the things that keeps me hanging on. Like, should I be pissy when my money is going towards a good cause? Do I have a right to be like that? Most people make donations and get nothing in return, but I'm getting a box of stuff.

But let's talk about that box of stuff. First up, stop sending the pens and chapsticks. Seriously. I know you probably got them at a ridiculous discount if you ordered in quantities of 5,000 or more but I can't be the only one feeling screwed over when we get yet another chapstick and pen so you can get rid of them.

Secondly, STOP IT with the bookmarks. Please don't call bookmarks that are advertising other books as "swag". That's not swag- that's shit we throw out because nobody needs 300 bookmarks in their life. You just don't. Oh, and magnets. I know you got a bulk deal on those, but I have one on my fridge and it doesn't even hold anything up so now it's in my trash. This month we also got what I think are socks? Like really short ankle socks? It's not even a freaking matching pair. I don't know. Those might just get tossed.

All of the stuff from the box for December.
Admittedly, the books look stellar. I've had the Dina Silver on a to-read list so I'm happy to have gotten that. I do like that we are getting two books in the box versus the standard one in pretty much every other box out there. I'll give them that.

But what has really just done me in? The January box is late. LATE. It's not even being packed and mailed until today, and it is now February. I emailed them and said, where the hell is my January box, and I get a "Oops! We're running behind!".

Um? YOU'RE A BUSINESS. You are guaranteeing a product after receiving payment. You have sat on my January payment ALL MONTH and you don't feel like it's worth it to be really quick about mailing the product out? Especially when you said we'd get our December box the second week of January (late) and then January boxes would be mailed the following week. Which makes the January boxes already two weeks late, three by the time I actually get it. So what, February will be delayed because you just did January and February is a short month?

I think the overall concept of this subscription box is great. I do. I love supporting charities with my reading addiction, it's a win win for everyone.

But it's failing in the swag department, and it's failing badly in the timely delivery of the product. If you say you are going to ship on a specific date of the month, by fucking god, you better ship on or before that date. That's good customer service. Instead, they are relying on all of us customers to feel badly and be always understanding that it's strictly volunteer based and the "we can't help it" mentality.

Don't even get me started on how many times they've switched the company they use for monthly billing. This was a good idea, but it has been poorly executed. If I had gotten my crap together and realized it was February, I would have cancelled, but I've been charged so I guess I'll get a February box. And eventually my January box, which I still haven't even gotten any kind of email shipping confirmation for.

So if you are looking for a book subscription box- there are so many out there doing it better, and more efficiently, than The Bookworm Box. I know they are relatively new but here's hoping they get their shit together before others jump ship.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

12 weeks. First hurdle done.

I haven't been feeling well the last few days, which is why I haven't updated you about my twelve week prenatal visit. But I have photos so that should make up for it.

So on Friday I had a super busy afternoon and I figured I had it all timed perfectly so I wouldn't be rushing anywhere. Well, when you are a patient in one of the best (and busiest) OB/GYN offices in your area, nobody gives two craps about your really awesome planning.

Because everybody is all, "LET'S GIVE BIRTH RIGHT WHEN SARA HAS HER APPOINTMENT!"

Normally, I wouldn't have cared but because I was doing the first trimester genetic screening and ultrasound, I had to come with a full bladder. And it was as full as it could possibly be because I am an over achiever like that. So I'm sitting in the waiting room, legs crossed, rocking back and forth so I didn't pee my pants. And of course, I keep feeling like I have to sneeze and I know damn well that if I did, I would have emptied my bladder on that floor in five seconds flat.

Thankfully for the custodians, I did not.

BUT!

I got to stare and listen to some super strange people. First off, the girl behind me can't have been more than 19, maybe 20, and she's there with what looks like a parole officer or something. This girl is pregnant with her second child and she's there for her 20 week appointment, just had her ultrasound (it's a girl!) and then decided the basement waiting room with spotty reception is the best place to call baby daddy, who is also in jail, to tell him the good news. But she's got the volume as loud as it goes and talking into it like it's a walkie talkie* and he's screaming at her that of course it's not his because he isn't "able to have girls"**.

*I hate this. Please do not use your phone as a fucking walkie talkie. Nobody around you gives a crap about your conversation, hold it up to your head like you're supposed to do with a phone. 

**This right here is why we need comprehensive sex ed in schools. This guy ACTUALLY believes he is incapable of producing a female child. *sigh*. 

Anyways. So I finally get called back, and I don't know why, but I keep getting brought to the ultrasound room way in the back, and that's where I learned I had lost my baby (the baby before Penelope), and ever since then, I have high anxiety when I go in there. Like I need to just brace for the worst.

Which, no need to this time because Baby Four is very active.

Obviously too soon to tell what we're having, but Baby Four did karate kicks and was doing somersaults all over the place. Which I am sure is going to just be a total treat in a few weeks when I can feel it!

Then I got to see my doctor, who I really like. She's just very laid back and nothing worries her and she's just very much a "it is what it is" kind of gal and that's great. It's super great unless you're dealing with major depression and feeling awful about it.

We talked about depression medication options and though my nurse practitioner 4 weeks ago said I ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES take Lexapro (which is what worked for me a few years ago), that's what my doctor prescribed me. She tells me it's a Class C drug which means they are pretty sure it's fine to take, but they haven't done drug testing trials on it during pregnancy because to find that many women willing to risk their baby in the name of prescription testing is next to impossible. But she's sure I'll be fine.

So I reluctantly leave.

I went home later on and did some basic Internet searching and you guys- I am terrified to take this. I can't even tell you how many pages and discussions boards I found with people talking about heart defects, breathing issues, etc that baby developed while mom was on Lexapro. I have friends who assure me it'll be fine but it's the worrier in me that's like, if it will happen to anyone, it will happen to me. 

But I also feel really awful so realistically, I have to do something.

So I went to the pharmacy to get it. And they refused to give it to me. I'm not kidding. They refused. Told me I should ask my doctor for more information because I was pregnant and there are known side effects and risks.

So.... I left without it. I have a call into my doctor but fuck. It's so frustrating. Again, I'm mentally debating to myself- is it better to just be sad the entire time with a few good days and know I'm not putting my baby at risk OR do I say my mental health is worth more than the risks? If something, heaven forbid, happened to the baby because of me being on this, I would go right over the edge. I would feel endlessly guilty and like a horrible mother. I don't know that I'd really recover from that, you know?

In the meantime, I am down four pounds in the last four weeks and have a bump.
12 weeks

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Owlcrate: Magic

Yikes- I am so behind in updating you on my subscription boxes! If it makes you feel any better, I haven't read any of the books in my Owlcrate or Bookworm Box yet, but I wanted to share with you what I got anyways.

The theme for January 2016 Owlcrate box was MAGIC. Now, I knew that could mean a whole bunch of themes but we were given the spoilers that we'd have a Harry Potter themed item AND a Funko figurine, which are kind of *the* thing to have now. So when my box came I was pretty excited!

I only took one kind of terrible photo (sorry) but you get the idea of what we received:


  • A Harry Potter Funko character. They sent out five different characters, but everyone I know (including me) ended up with Dumbledore. Which... whomp whomp. I was hoping for Snape but hey- that's how it rolls. So Dumbledore is hanging out on my bookshelf. 
  • We also got a second Harry Potter item, a Patronus Lip Balm from Geek Fire Labs. It's a mint and white chocolate scent, which I admittedly have not opened yet because white chocolate scent usually triggers a migraine so we'll see. But it's a cute little chapstick. 
  • Evie Bookish created two super cool art pieces for us in this box. First is a book mark based off of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle (I love that author, LOVE HER) so that's pretty cool. Secondly we got an art print insired by Sarah J. Mass' Throne of Glass, which I haven't read but I love this piece. 
  • Lastly the book we got was Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley. I wanted to start this the weekend I got my box but then I looked at my calendar and realized I have a LOT of review books I need to be working on. So this pretty will have to sit on the shelf a bit longer. We also got an exclusive letter from the author (which I've been storing in the inside cover of my book) and a paper doll kit. Which, if we're being honest- I threw out because who has time for that shit? I certainly don't. 
I have to tell you, Owlcrate is easily one of the most reliably great book subscription boxes currently out there. The books are always new releases, most of the time they are hotly anticipated new releases and the items you get are super fun and unique. If you are looking to try Owlcrate, head over HERE and sign up, even just for one month. If you don't like it, cancel by the first and you're done. It's a box of happy mail every month- who couldn't use that?! 

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Lady's Command

I know, I'm late! I usually have these ready to go for you but I fell asleep last night before I could type this up. Whoops!

The Lady's Command - Stephanie Laurens

The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.

Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage…

Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.

Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.

But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.

A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.


So, obviously from the title and the cover you can tell this will fall under the historical romance category. Now, I'm admittedly not the biggest historical romance fan, but on occasion I've picked one up and I'm always pleasantly surprised, and this one was pretty solid.

Some of the best things about this book include the writing style and of course, the leading woman, Lady Edwina Delbraith. The writing style of this books feels more like an authentic historical romance- does that make sense? Most of the historical romances I've read sound like modern day conversations and that's not really what it would have been like in the early 1900's and even older. Stephanie Laurens knows what she's doing and she has a command on the voice of these characters and it really sets her books ahead of so many others. My other favorite is definitely this lead. When you think of women and these earlier time periods, they are expected to be the modest, quiet, demure companion for their rugged, authoritative, charming husbands. I think our lead male, Declan Frobisher, really thought Edwina would be that but oh- is he completely wrong. Edwina has her own agenda, it's clear she's very intelligent, can read people better than anyone, and knows how to get her way subtly. Declan knows he has his hands full when she demands that she accompany him on a secret mission. It turns out to be an asset to have Edwina along, but it's very unconventional, to say the least.

The only drawbacks to this book is that the mystery element isn't really very strong. If you are buying this book hoping for mystery- keep shopping. But if you are a fan of historical romance and you want something that feels like it was written during this time period, this is a book you should have in your collection, hands down. My other drawback is I was hoping for more passion. Now, I know that in the 1800's modesty is a thing but I was hoping for a little extra oomph. The lack of it doesn't make this a book I would pass up because I did like the story and I wanted to see what would happen with Edwina and Declan on their epic journey on the high seas. It was a cozy read next to my fireplace over the weekend, for sure.

You can get your own copy of The Lady's Command on Amazon. In the meantime, you can follow Stephanie Laurens on her website as well as on her Facebook page.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Halo

The worst part about a series is that no matter how much I struggled through the first one, I am compelled to keep going. Surely this is a registered mental illness.

Halo - Alexandra Adornetto


Three angels – Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, the youngest and most human – are sent by Heaven to bring good to a world falling under the influence of darkness. They work hard to conceal their luminous glow, superhuman powers, and, most dangerous of all, their wings, all the while avoiding all human attachments.

Then Bethany meets Xavier Woods, and neither of them is able to resist the attraction between them. Gabriel and Ivy do everything in their power to intervene, but the bond between Xavier and Bethany seems too strong.

The angel’s mission is urgent, and dark forces are threatening. Will love ruin Bethany or save her?


So I found this book on some list on some blog as being the first in an "amazing trilogy" and I was fresh off of Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush series which was gold. Absolute gold. I was in the mood for another angel series and while I knew this couldn't be a replacement for Becca Fitzpatrick, I remained hopeful. I found all three books of the trilogy on a used book website for less than a dollar each and it turns out they were library copies, and I felt like I got super lucky.

You know why these were less than a dollar? Because, I'm making an assumption because I haven't read book two or three yet, but this was b-o-r-i-n-g. This took me WEEKS to read. Weeks. Absolutely ridiculous. I would have stopped reading it if it was a stand alone and not in a trilogy that I own the rest of but here I am, feeling obligated to finish.

So where to start? Well I should start with the author being 18 when she wrote this. She has a strong educational writing background and wrote her first novel at 14, I believe. To write a trilogy at 18 is a lofty goal so I'll give her that. But let's be real, over half of this book could, and should, be edited out. There is literally no reason for it other than the fact she clearly wanted to write a long ass book for basically no reason. Secondly, you can tell the author is a teenager because of the contents of the book. Yes, it's a YA book but the entire thing has a high level of immaturity that no adult author, seasoned in basic relationships, could fake.

The next issue I take with it is for as much as we're teased about Gabriel and Ivy and their status in Heaven, they are basically useless characters in this book. We have Bethany, who has zero idea of what the hell she's doing as an angel and of course, falls in love with a boy with some kind of hero complex and they are inseparable. Enter bad boy villian who doesn't really do much. Well, he does do a lot of bad things but it's overshadowed by page after page of us reading about Bethany and how great she thinks Xavier is.

And while I understand the book is about angels on Earth to help out, they seem pretty useless and not helpful. But the book is really over the top preachy. The book also ends with a rather lame ending, we have a huge build up and then.... nothing. I'm not even sure if I'm really going to bother with book two or three or if I should just put this trilogy in the donation bin. But I'm not anxious to read anything else by this author because it was really terribly written.

So. Whomp, whomp- total disappointment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Keep swimming. I'm supposed to keep swimming, right?

I know when I last wrote a legit blog post last week I left it kind of on a dark, sad, depressing note. I wish I could tell you things have turned around but I'm a pretty terrible liar so I won't insult you doing that.

Things are really tough. It feels like it comes and goes like waves. Some days I feel really great, I feel like things are really turning around, that maybe it was all just a weird phase and I'm on the road to feeling normal. Everything is good, Penelope is awesome, Matt and I are doing awesome, Olivia and Jackson are being amazing, the pets aren't puking, all is right in the world.

Then there are other days where I know, from the moment I wake up, that it's going to be a bad day. I can't tell anymore if everything is actually bad and awful, if I'm making things be bad and awful with  how I feel, or if it isn't bad or awful and I'm seeing things in the wrong lens. I'm not even sure anymore if the things I see happening are really happening, if I'm exaggerating them, or if I'm losing my mind all together.

I sat down with Matt, twice now, and really laid it all out on the table for him. Everything I feel, everything that I perceive to be real and happening, and I basically just get a blank stare. The logical portion of my brain is telling me his lack of response is not because he doesn't care but because he really has no idea what he should or could be doing. Matt is that person who has zero ability to make anyone feel better because he has no concept of what empathy or sympathy is. None. That's a post for another day, but it leaves me feeling guilty for burdening him with this. It's like telling someone your deepest, darkest, scariest secret and that person can't do a damn thing about it, but they know about it, so it eats away at them, too.

I've reached out to some friends and they are legit worried. I don't want people to be scared, I really don't. I am not a danger to myself or my kids, or even Matt. I really am not. What I am is sad. I'm sad and I feel this crushing cloud of depression over me and I can't get out from under it. I want to, but I'm stuck.

And this is where I have to say how fucking lucky I am to have the friends that I do. I'm not kidding. Earlier this month I got a box of cookies in the mail from a high school friend who thought it would cheer me up because I had mentioned how I didn't have it in me to bake over the holidays. I was so grateful to know that someone is paying attention to me, and in that small moment I didn't feel like I was doing it by myself, if that makes any sense. I had one friend bring us pizza for dinner two weeks ago. This weekend I had a friend bring me pickles and Twix candy bars. I think everyone is really scared at what has happened to me and I want to reassure everyone I'll be OK but some days I just don't know if that's true and again, I'm a terrible liar and I don't think it would be very reassuring.

But I'm trying. I'm trying really hard to be normal and good. I'm eating really well, I'm getting outside even if it's just to walk up and down my sidewalk a few times, I'm doing some light exercise because the thought of anything more makes me unexpectedly emotional. I see my doctor on Friday and she already called me with some medication options, none of which ever worked for me even in the highest doses in the past, so I have this fear she's going to tell me I have no options.

As my one friend said, I'm trying to find rational ways to make my depression a non-issue. I'm trying to find the source of it so I can fix it, and make it all go away. It's like I cannot accept that I have something mentally wrong with me. And god help me, if I hear, "you're a strong person, one of the strongest I know- you'll get through this" one more fucking time, I might punch someone.