Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book Review: Now You See Her

If you didn't know, Linda Howard is my favorite author. I don't know why she's my favorite, she just is and I own a lot of her books. I think almost all of them, actually. I should do an inventory on that again, just to make sure. I've had this one on my shelf for a long time, I found it at a library used book sale and got it for $1 but I'm only not getting into it.
Now You See Her - Linda Howard
A talented painter in her early thirties, Paris Sweeney has achieved enviable success: her work sells at an exclusive New York City gallery, and her popularity is at an all-time high. Life is good, and Sweeney, as she prefers to be called, is content.
But lately, Sweeney's dreams -- lush, vivid, and drenched in vibrant hues -- seem to echo a growing restlessness that has taken hold of her. Suddenly, impulsively, Sweeney falls into a night of intense passion with millionaire Richard Worth. Now, the true dangers of her all-consuming urges are about to be revealed where Sweeney least expects it: in her paintings.
After a creative frenzy she can barely recall, Sweeney discovers she has rendered a disturbing image -- a graphic murder scene. Against her better instincts, she returns to the canvas time and again, filling out each chilling detail piece by piece. But when a shattering, real-life murder mirrors her creation, Sweeney falls under suspicion. With every stroke of her brush, she risks incriminating herself with her inexplicable knowledge of a deadly crime. And every desire -- including her hunger for Richard -- is loaded with uncertainty as Sweeney races to unmask a killer.
I have to tell you that this book is set in the mid to late 90's (my copy was published in 1998) so there are some things that haven't aged well. The sexual assertiveness of Richard probably wouldn't sit well in a book published today maybe. Also fun was a small quip about the "millennium compliance" of businesses, which was a big thing back then. Even I remember it! So if you're ultra feminist and won't stand for anything like that, maybe steer clear.

In this one we have Sweeney who has recently, out of nowhere, started seeing ghosts. She has no idea what is causing it and she doesn't see all ghosts, just randomly. Her hometown started looking at her like she's got significant mental health problems so she decided to move to New York City under the assumption that she would fit in a little better, or at least wouldn't stand out as much. All was going well until she started essentially sleep painting. She gets up in the middle of the night randomly and paints. Unfortunately she is painting things like dead people. So, not great.

Enter Richard. He's the soon to be ex-husband of Candra, who runs the art gallery that Sweeney showcases and sells her work. Candra is up a creek without a paddle because when the divorce is final she is likely to be in dire straits so she starts doing some illegal things in order to stay afloat. In the meantime, Richard has taken interest in Sweeney, who is pretty oblivious to sexual attraction all together.

While Richard and Sweeney are heating things up with flirting and almost daily visits, Candra is putting herself in danger by trying to blackmail a senator. All goes to hell when Candra comes up dead and it is up to Richard and Sweeney to basically solve the case especially when they look like the best suspects.

Overall? I really liked this. With most Linda Howard books, I flew through this in two evenings. I always like that I think I can solve who did it but the final unwrapping of it comes together and there is always a little bit I didn't see coming and I appreciate that.

If you are a fan of Linda Howard, you will love this one like you do the others. The writing is good, the characters are pretty alright, and it plays out like a corny Lifetime romantic suspense movie and sometimes that's just what you need. If you're coming here looking for a steamy romance or some real grit to it, probably keep walking. But if you're looking for a quick read that you'll be rooting for Sweeney to get her junk together and just go to bed with the guy already, this is your next read.

This post contains affiliate links. Happy reading! 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Book Review: Down on Me

I don't know what it says that I'm starting to recognize the models on the cover of books. Like this guy? His name is Jake. Jake is Meghan March's husband. She is a lucky, lucky gal.
Down on Me - J. Kenner

Tight muscles. Vibrant Ink.
Meet Mr. January. Winter’s never looked so hot…

Certified bachelor Reece Walker wants two things — to save the local bar he manages and to get Jenna Montgomery into his bed.

He has a few ideas for the bar. But Jenna... well, he’s going to have to rely on cold showers, because she’s been his best friend for years, and that’s a line he just can’t cross.

Until one wild kiss on a dark night changes everything. Now Reece is certain Jenna’s meant to be his.

And with long nights in bed, sensual caresses, and deep, lingering kisses, he sets out to thoroughly convince her that friends can be lovers, too.

I haven't read a book from J. Kenner in a long time and while this does have a couple of hot scenes, it was really different than what I've read from her before. Previous books were steamy and this one is lighter fare and sets up the rest of the Man of the Month series. Each book will feature a different man and this one was Reece.

Reece is a pretty nice guy though at the beginning I wasn't so sure, but you quickly realize he's in love with his best friend Jenna and he's trying like hell to ignore it. She also is in love with Reece and again, she's terrified to ruin the friendship trio (her, Reece, and Brent) so she's avoiding the very clear issue she's having.

The book was actually really short, even if it was 250 pages. The pages go quick and I felt at times this story was a bit rushed and we could have done for more drama or secret rendezvous, something, so it's almost like they had no story at all. My second meh moment is Reece supposedly hasn't slept with anyone the entire time Jenna was gone but the night she comes home? He's in bed with a nobody? What? That just felt like a major eyeroll and kind of pointless? I mean, I get a random hookup but why that night and not any other night she was gone? It was just weird and it almost felt like the author forgot she has that as the beginning when she threw in the "haven't slept with anyone this whole time". I don't know if it's just a weird part of the story or a big editing miss.

Regardless, this was a 3 star for me. I didn't love it, but it gave me just enough to be mildly interested in the rest of the series.

If you aren't following me on Instagram  you really should be because I've got cover reveals, new releases, and freebies happening more and more often so come find me (@sarastrand9438)! This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book Review: Groomed (non fiction)

It feels like it has been forever since I've read a non-fiction book and I'm really glad that this was the one to break that dry spell.
Groomed - Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good

Someone in your past sold you a false story about who you are and what you’re worth. It has been holding you back for too long. Take control of your future.

A staggering one out of three women in America was a victim of sexual abuse at some point in her childhood. No matter how many years it’s been, if that’s your story, those scars are probably still with you. But even if that’s not part of your story, this book is for you. Women today have been groomed for a lot more than just sex.

Using her own story of abuse, family tragedy, and rebellion, Elizabeth Melendez Fisher guides readers toward an understanding that grooming is oftentimes subtle, but it’s always life-altering. In Groomed Fisher incorporates the language and lessons gained over the past decade working with sex trafficking victims and her work in ministry and counseling before that. She draws out five specific ways that women have been groomed, from physical appearance to spirituality to finances, and shows how those manipulative messages have affected the way we see our worth and how they’ve oftentimes stifled and limited us. From there Fisher offers readers a way to overcome their past, starting with the all-important but rarely explored idea of a selah, or a time of rest and reflection, and exploring active ways to forgive and move forward to a new level of freedom.

No one has to be defined by her past. No one has to live for her groomers. It’s time to take a look back at where we came from to escape the messages of our past and take control of our future.

'What was your first secret? You know, the thing in your past, probably in your childhood, that forever altered the way you understood everything? ...
...The memory of your first secret probably still stings, even after all these years. It's not pleasant to talk about. Perhaps someone warned you never to talk about it. Yet it's never far away. It reaches into your life now. It comes to your mind when you're alone, without distractions."
Those passages happen on page 5 and its how I knew I wasn't ready for this book. I wasn't ready for it to be the gut punch that it was. The truth is I do have a secret. I have several, actually, but I have one that I think about every day. When I think of it, it plays out in my head as if I'm reliving it all over again. I have never talked to anyone about it except for my therapist because at 30something years old I felt like I had to tell somebody. Somebody who would believe me. Somebody who would understand that it was trauma, that it will stay with me my entire life. It's why I'm standoffish with men. I'm a bit of a bitch to them if I think they are interested. I have to head them off at the pass. The only exception would be with Matt, I felt like he would be OK, but there have definitely been times that I felt not nearly as experienced and felt like I was in over my head.

It all stems back to my secret. All of the issues I have with Matt, and even some of the issues I have outside of him, goes back to my secret. The paranoia of people talking about how they should handle me, what am I going to do, going to say?

So I say nothing. My entire life it was always ingrained in me to not say anything. Nobody will believe you, what are people going to say, you're going to make me/us look back, there are always consequences for saying stuff like this, people have their own problems, what good is it going to do?

I think about the boy who gave me my secret a lot. I only know his first name. I wonder how he turned out. I wonder if there were other girls. Was I the first? He wasn't much older than me so where did he learn that? Of course I'll never know but I think of it often. Part of me wants to know if anyone else knew but a part of me doesn't. I would hate to think people knew and didn't do anything. But I know after all of these years it affects me all of the time.

Anyways. Though this book isn't long, it is just over 200 pages, it is a really fast read and you'll be glued to it. You will identify with a lot of it because through the author's very personal stories she explains grooming and how we are all groomed in some way. Most of it we don't even realize and looking back in hindsight is startling to realize how close we were to someone who didn't have our best interests in mind. It isn't even just sexual abuse, it can be as simple as the way we handle a crisis. Maybe you don't step in when someone could use help because you're taught to mind your own business. Maybe you are in a not so great marriage or relationship because you have someone telling you to just deal with it, "think of the kids", "nobody will love you like I do",  "you can't afford to be on your own", "at least you have some control on how he treats the kids if you're there", that kind of thing. Those messages groom you to believe the treatment you are enduring is ultimately OK.

The author talks about the skill of learning to identify these messages and reconciling the reasoning behind them isn't about you. That your feelings are above those and you gain power by rejecting that behavior.

I really, really liked this book and I found myself re-reading passages and having to take a break to think about it and try to understand my past traumas in a different light. It makes you understand the sex trafficking epidemic, how these kids fall into this and how incredibly skilled these predators are. They really don't have to do anything nefarious, it's just specific, guiding comments that can alter the frame of mind of a child so easily. It's pretty scary as a parent but it also helps you how to stay connected with your children.

I have to give this one 5 stars because I enjoy a non-fiction that I can connect to personally.

A huge thank you to W Publish Group, Thomas Nelson, and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review! All thoughts are my own, and this post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Review: Only a Millionaire

All good things must come to an end, and sadly, this is the last book in J.S. Scott's The Sinclair series. It isn't the end of her books and I think my next series is likely going to be her Accidental Billionaire series. I received a few gift cards for Christmas I can use to get books so I think that's what I'm going to go for, so you'll see more reviews of those eventually.
Only a Millionaire - J.S. Scott

It has been a year since Brooke escaped to the lovely coastal community of Amesport, Maine, where no one knows her real name or what she’s been through. Now she’s finally heading back home to California. That means saying goodbye to Liam Sullivan, her millionaire blond god of a boss who’s fulfilled every one of Brooke’s fantasies. If only in her dreams…

Liam has his fantasies, too—and he’s not letting Brooke go. When he confesses his feelings, it opens the door to an incendiary romance that’s been a long time coming. So has Brooke’s own confession: that the woman Liam is falling for has been living a lie.

But there’s a secret about Brooke that even she doesn’t know. When it’s revealed, it’ll put a whole new spin on her past, her future with Liam, the true meaning of family, and the rewards of following her heart. 

Easily my least favorite in the series and I think it's because Liam isn't nice. He has been an asshole in every book and for a guy who says he's "secure in his masculinity" the fact he isn't a billionaire and "only a millionaire" really bothers him. He is judgmental and assumes any/all of the Sinclairs are total jerks before he meets them and then reluctantly agrees that they really aren't and he was wrong (without ever saying that). By the time we got to this story I didn't really give a dang if he found love or not.

Buuuuuuut.... Brooke's story really wraps this series up because there were some things even from book one that weren't mentioned in some of the later books, so I forgot about them, and she wraps them up. We meet her siblings (who the Accidental Billionaires series is about), and this book kicks start that series while also closing this one down. That reason alone is giving this one 2 stars for me because I like how the author expertly wove this loose end through an entire series to use as the start of another one. That is a crafty author right there.

Brooke herself in this book was alright, definitely nothing to write home about and while she had a fairly awful story, she's kind of a moron? I mean, her fear was that she "lied" to Liam; therefore, he wouldn't want anything to do with her so she's willing to just go home. It's an absurd story line and I was glad this was only 144 pages. The scene where he just happens to be near her home and they have fantastic sex is maybe my only favorite scene of the book and that bummed me out.


It's weird to finish a series that I purchased a long time ago and they had been sitting on my shelf this time, but here we are. This post contains affiliate links. Happy shopping and happy reading! 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Books, Cuties, Clarinets, and Barbie Sacrifices.

It is only mid-January but we've had a pretty full month. I have two more doctor appointments to get through this month and that's my psychiatrist and therapist. Both easily my favorite doctors and I'm trying to get as much lined up before the trip I go with Olivia on. In March her and I are joining a bunch of other eighth graders from her school and going to Washington D.C and New York City. It's about a week long, lots of walking, and lots of stuff to see and do. It will be a fun trip, I'm just worried I'm going to get sick or get disoriented, all of that. So we'll see. I'm getting everything that I can in order before we go so I'm as prepared as possible.

In the meantime, life keeps moving, and here's what's shaking, bacon.
Did I tell you I got a really good box from The Bookworm Box in December?  The book looks good, it was a neat bookmark, but it also came with a book light! Easily the coolest/best swag we've gotten! I only get the one book box but I get a physical book and a few days later I get an ebook in my email so technically I get two books. I didn't renew for January, and I'm on the fence about February.
Penelope and Lucy are little jokers. They crack me up every day and are super lovey dovey together as of late. They always have been but I hear one asking for a hug from the other more often and it is really pretty cute. 
Matt has given me a new desk (post on that later, maybe Thursday), and Penelope was pretty excited to be able to hold the wood he was cutting off. She ended up decorating it for me and I've since threw it out because I'm trying to minimize, not add to the pile. But she was really proud and keeps telling people she cut wood.
I finally started putting my multi photo frames together and got them put up! The bottom one with the quote was a Christmas gift from Olivia. All of the photos were ones she had on her phone and she picked them out, got them printed, and found a frame. Grandma Renae helped take her places, but she was so proud of it and I completely love it. The top one is one that I got as a gift years ago and I've had next to my work desk since and I finally got it put together. It took FOREVER and I really love it. A lot of old pictures, some recent, and it is the only one with the three photos that I have of my parents. That's really all I have aside from the few from my wedding. I really need to get more. 
I was shopping before Christmas and found this shoes and immediately texted Matt a photo saying these would make a great gift. He went to the store, showed them my text, and that was one of my gifts! Every single time I wear these out I get a ton of compliments on them. (They were at Journey's if you want a pair of your own!)
Another thing the Bookworm Box does is they have a store. You can shop it in person somewhere in Texas OR you can shop online and that's always fun. They currently have a sale on unsigned books so I decided to go take a peek. I ended up spending $50 to get the free shipping and came out with an entire series and one other book that sounded interesting. 
I ended up getting an extra book, earbuds in a case, pens, pins, chapstick, cup holder thingie- whatever its called, and a mini book in my box as extra bonus. So if you want to go SHOP THE SALE, it goes until January 31. I also highly recommend you get on their email list because every couple of months they have a half off sale and all of the books are 50% off and that's always a great deal. Last year I got a bunch of books between $3-8, so that was really nice.
Jackson had his first band concert last week, he plays clarinet, and he was so excited the night before to tell me he had a small speaking part to introduce a song. He did a great job reading in front of a lot of people, then the entire band sounded really good. I was pretty impressed. 
It was really adorable to see him be so proud of himself. I think sixth graders don't really know what to expect when they have a band concert so it's kind of stressful getting ready for it because it isn't like the elementary school sing-a-longs. He said he had a good time though and is excited to see how they do in the spring.

Speaking of band, Olivia gets to play with the high school pep band as an experience to show kids what high school band is like. It's obviously much more fast paced, learning more songs in a shorter amount of time, and even the pep band practice is tough. She has like two weeks to learn 15 songs or something? All I know is she practices a lot every night and she's doing well because I can identify songs with even just her flute. I think I am going to go see her play, I don't know if anyone else is going to come with me because its at a basketball game, so I might bring a book. 
All of us (except Matt) has been various forms of sick. Penelope and Lucy have had a cold and on/off fevers and Penelope has an awful cough so I kept them home from school on Friday. That was pretty crappy because I had to get an oil change that day so Matt had to leave work to take my car because the two littles looked like death and I didn't think I should take them out and infect others, which was a smart idea because it took almost two hours. Matt was not happy. Over the weekend Jackson and I were sick and I'm still not feeling great, it feels like I have fluid in my lungs and it hurts. I have to ask the pulmonary doctor about that when I go in March.

Hilariously, Penelope told me that Barbie also was sick and so she was going to see a ritual doctor. She actually said "ritual doctor". Where did she learn THAT?!
Two weeks ago she found this book on our kid lit bookshelf and wanted me to read it to her and I said absolutely not. Completely not appropriate for a four year old. Though she has become obsessed with Scooby Doo and has seen every episode on Netflix of every show. We can thank Olivia and Jackson for introducing her to that.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets

I could not be more excited about how my year in books is right now. I know we're only three-ish weeks in but everything I have read has been so good and I am loving it!

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets - Annie England Noblin

Laid off, cheated on, mugged: what else can go wrong in Maeve Stephens’ life? So when she learns her birth mother has left her a house, a vintage VW Beetle, and a marauding cat, in the small town of Timber Creek, Washington, she packs up to discover the truth about her past.

She arrives to the sight of a cheerful bulldog abandoned on her front porch, a reclusive but tempting author living next door, and a set of ready-made friends at the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets, where women knit colorful sweaters for the dogs and cats in their care. But there’s also an undercurrent of something that doesn’t sit right with Maeve. What’s the secret (besides her!) that her mother had hidden?

If Maeve is going to make Timber Creek her home, she must figure out where she fits in and unravel the truth about her past. But is she ready to be adopted again—this time, by an entire town…? 

To be honest, I'm really bummed out that people on Goodreads aren't loving this as much as I did because there weren't tons of animals in the book. Listen, there is a jerky cat and the sweetest dog ever and animals who wear sweaters and women who put sweaters on stray animals. It's adorable and this book is so cute.

The book alternates present day Mae and the past with Annabelle. Annabelle had given Mae to a couple for adoption because she was really in an impossible situation (which we learn of), but when she dies, she leaves her home and all of her worldly possessions to Mae. Mae, currently in a slump in her life, feels like she should go to her birth mother's funeral even though she never knew her. Once she arrives in Timber Creek it's like walking into a whole new world. People recognize her immediately since she looks very much like her mother, and the townspeople take her in as one of their own and she decides to stay awhile and evaluate her life.

The cast of characters in this book are so fun and if there was ever a time that I wished I lived in a community like this or wanted to move to a fictional little town, it was now. I loved all of them, even the crank across the street. It has a sweet romance in it and I even really loved that though there aren't really any "steamy" scenes in it.

If you are looking for a fun, but light, read that will make you smile and maybe even laugh, this is a really great choice. A book that could have been bogged down by the past and Mae learning it all was lightened up with the characters.

Overall, I'm actually giving this one five stars because I know I'm going to read it again, and honestly, I was sad for this to end and I really loved all of the characters. I also enjoyed this enough that I want to read more from this author because she has a great way of giving you a heavy topic but distracting you with fun stuff. I think you're going to enjoy this.



I have to say thank you to William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and sending me a copy to review! This post does contain affiliate links, and all opinions and thoughts are my own. Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Weight Loss Update- Clinic Visit #2

It feels like forever since I've updated you but I am going to do it periodically now because my momentum is seemingly slow. Which, I guess is good and bad. I wish it were faster but I'm glad I'm not losing dramatic amounts of weight quickly because that's not good either.

So if you remember, right before Christmas I went to my first appointment with a weight loss doctor. He's the step you take before you consider weight loss surgery. I am firmly in the "I refuse to do any kind of weight loss surgery" camp and I'm OK with that, but I also want to lose weight. He put me on a diet and it's not strict as in what foods I can eat, but I do need to keep my calories in the 1700 range per day, and my serving sizes of things need to be the palm of my hand. My goal of protein intake is 75 grams of protein a day spread out (so like 25 grams per meal, basically), and ideally I would be losing 1-3 pounds per week. Which... that didn't totally happen.

My starting weight was 206 pounds, and my goal weight is set for 160, so I obviously have a long ways to go.

Today I had my first check in appointment and I am down to 204 pounds, and I lost half an inch from my waist. While it's not some spectacular progress, he said he's impressed considering I started my diet right before Christmas and its the worst possible time to start so I guess that's something.

I don't see him again until the end of March so I should have lost 10-30 pounds by my next visit. Which.... that sounds fucking DAUNTING. I mean, obviously I'm shooting for the 10 pounds because I just don't think 30 sounds reasonable given how my first month has gone. All of that means I have to make a few more changes, so....

  • No more soda. I'm going to struggle here because though I drink 8 ounces every other day... it's too much sugar and I just can't do it. 
  • Exercise. I know I could have lost more this month if I had actually exercised, so I'm going to do that again. I moved my recumbent bike to the living room so I really will have no excuse not to. I have time in the morning once I drop the girls off at school that I can do it. I also want to have Matt pull my treadmill out again (it is currently folded up and I can't get it unfolded) so I can walk on that because I am definitely not steady enough to walk in snow and on ice right now. 
  • No  more fast food. Not that we eat it a lot now, but I have to cut it out completely because this will also help with curbing our spending, too. 
My portions right now are good, I'm consistently under my calorie range each day and I feel OK about it. The protein thing is an issue, I really cannot get up to 75 grams, but he told me if I'm in the 50-60 range that I'm "in the zone" and he's OK with it, so at least I am not a complete failure there. 

Are you trying to lose weight this year? What's your goal for that? Do you have any amazing low calorie recipes that are super easy (or crock pot)? Of course I'm cruising Pinterest but I'm encountering far more fails than successes with those so if you have a tried and true one, I'm open to them!