Monday, December 28, 2015

A Madness So Discreet

I can't even remember what month I got this in my OwlCrate box, but I am so annoyed with myself that I didn't break into it right away. Absolutely stellar book.

A Madness So Discreet - Mindy McGinnis

Grace Mae knows madness.


She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.



When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.



In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.


The book takes place in 1890 in Boston, and we begin in an insane asylum. Quickly it's obvious that while some of the people in the asylum are there for legitimate mental illnesses, but most of them are there for things that are easily absurd. The story centers around Grace, who finds herself in the asylum, and we can infer from other people's observations about her that she comes from a seemingly wealthy family, and presumably one with a high social status because she's to be treated better (kind of) than other patients. Grace is also pregnant, which is what lands her in the asylum- to be pregnant out of wedlock with a bastard child in 1890 goes against every social and moral standard, so she's to spend her pregnancy locked up. Her baby already promised to a caregiver in Grace's ward, and her future uncertain.

Grace has taken to not speaking because the road that's she been on to get to this point is pretty horrible (which we find out more about who the father of her child is later on). There is a point in the story where, after being sexually propositioned basically, Grace loses it and stabs a man with a fork. That sends her to essentially one of the worst "treatments" I have ever read and the ending result of the treatment hardens Grace in a way that we all see coming but man... it's so hard to read. So hard.

Anyways.

So then she finds her non-compliant self down in what is basically a dungeon basement and she "meets" a pillar of support, Falsteed. Falsteed warns her of Dr. Thornhollow, who performs "procedures" on the worst, non compliant patients and it leaves them quiet and docile. Grace longs for this because she just wants to not remember her past, the traumas she's been through, and her losses. After meeting Dr. Thornhollow, she is interested in his work and he finds her interesting and peculiar and from there they hatch a plan to rescue Grace from her current asylum and she would assist him on his study of serial killers.

Fast forward and Grace finds herself in a much better asylum in Ohio, where she meets a group of friends who are kind to her and she finds this a much nicer living arrangement than in Boston. She goes on "adventures" with Dr. Thornhollow and they become friends though some suspect them of more. The second half of the book is like a beginning look at the study of serial killers, like profiling 101 if you will. We also learn about vengeance and how maybe the justice you want isn't always the best.

Some notes about the book:

  • I want SO much to talk about the relationship between Grace and Dr. Thornhollow but everyone will think it's a spoiler but ugh... I want so much more. SO MUCH. 
  • When Grace is in Ohio, she has a friend who is in the asylum because she suffers from small pox. It had been awhile since I looked up small pox and holy hell- don't do it, friends. DON'T DO IT. Especially during lunch. 
  • One of my favorite passages in this book which made me burst out laughing is on page 201 and reads, "Grace's throat itched to join them, but it was not only subterfuge that kept her mouth firmly shut. Emotions had welled close to the surface, and she thought her heart had never felt so full as it did standing next to the defiled grave of a whore while lunatics sang the national anthem." Just the visual of this? I felt like I shouldn't laugh but I really couldn't help it. 
Overall? This book is absolutely stunning. It's a beautifully written, absolutely horrifying, amazing book. It starts out as a punch to your gut and you are immediately filled with an immense sadness for not only Grace but the general treatment of mentally ill people but also people who were locked up for petty reasons, and you don't know if you are going to make it to the end. But it's like a slow break in the clouds as you read this book and you are left feeling hopeful for not just Grace but for the rest of the cast of characters. 

You can find a copy of A Madness So Discreet on Amazon but also on Barnes & Noble. It would be a great thing to purchase with a Christmas gift card! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Golden Yarn

Now, the first two books of this series has been on my to-read list for awhile but when I got the chance to review this one, I jumped in and figured I'd catch up later. Which admittedly, put me a little behind and I was a little lost for part of the book because I didn't know the backstory, but overall, great book.

The Golden Yarn - Cornelia Funke
I had a friend who is familiar with the first two books tell me that she really is like the "German J.K. Rowling" which is really true because Cornelia's stories are just as complicated and layered as Harry Potter. I will say though, it doesn't have the charm that makes Harry Potter live in the hearts as so many. I think if enough people gave this series a shot, they'd be enthralled with it as well. Also, I read this book twice because as I finished it, I felt like something wasn't quite right and truly- on my second reading I somehow missed small details that you'd think pointless but in the end, they really mean something after all. Which is how I felt about Harry Potter, so I have to give it to this author, brilliantly written.

And while I don't know the other two books, I was absolutely hooked. Clearly I have missed so much so I am missing some very basic, probably pretty crucial, character development so that makes me sad. Here's what I thought: poor Jacob. Does he just really never catch a break? He fights a LOT of demons in this book and there are things that threaten his future and I just... I don't know. I felt terrible for him and I really have to know what's going to happen in book four. I feel very on edge.
Kami'en and.. a fairy? A dark fairy? I mean, I'm not 100% sure what a dark fairy is but that story line was SOLID. Admittedly, I teared up. The dark fairy needs to be killed in order to save Will's girlfriend Clara, but ugh. I can't tell you how that ends up but man... good stuff.

Lots of loose ends at this book which only opens the door for book four, and since this is a new release, we have a long wait. What you do know is that the world beyond the mirror is expanse and it is complex. Nothing is really what it seems, every character is complicated and everything comes together... we're just waiting to see how all of these strings of story come together in the end. It's like a giant ball of yarn. We know some of the strings, and we know what they can do together, but when they all come together in one large ball... what will we have left? What kind of ending are we going to get?

I guess we wait.

I highly recommend this series if you have a Harry Potter fan in your life because I think they will really appreciate the complexity of the story and I think they will appreciate all of it coming together as it does. Easily.

To find out more about the Mirrorworld series, or her other books, you can visit Cornelia Funke's website HERE. You can find your very own copy of The Golden Yarn on Amazon right now. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

A break would be super great.

As we wind down 2015 and we're looking at 2016, I can't help but really wish for a break. Things feel like they've been pretty tough this year. I haven't worked much so financially that's not fun. Matt has, in turn, worked a lot more and found out that he's worked the number of hours of two normal people, if you don't count the hours he has put in December yet.

Matt and I came to some hard decisions this year about being done with some things and going forward with plans to make that actually true. But in true fashion, it's like the universe has to show us who is actually in charge so we have an even tougher year ahead of us in 2016. We find out in another week if it's like normal tough or if it's call-in-serious-reinforcements tough. It's frustrating to know that no matter what we do, the universe has ultimate say and here we are.

Then on top of that, I'm really struggling with depression, likely brought on by the stress. I've been sicker than hell every day. Some days I get up and think finally, it's passed me over but then no. It comes back and I've hardly gotten anything done. I feel like a complete useless sack, basically.

I'm trying to not let the stress of everything get me down because Christmas is my absolute FAVORITE season. I haven't done any baking yet. I don't have our Christmas dinner planned out yet. I can't even speak of the horrors that is my laundry pile. I also won't talk to you about how badly my house needs to be cleaned. I just... I just want a break.

I can see why a lot of people hate this time of year. I feel like nothing goes our way and I hate feeling that if we can just make it until tax time things will get better. We do so well every year and yet every year, the end of the year does us in no matter how well we plan.

I know it'll all work out and things will be fine but I can't help but think I must have really screwed up in a past life to get this one this time around.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sometimes it's just really hard to be a mom.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty emotional. The month of December always ends up being really hard for me, mostly because if there is ever a time I am reminded that I am an adult and I don't have people to make things better for me, it's December.

All of my holiday shopping is done. I'm struggling to get my holiday cards out because yet again, I picked a ridiculously time consuming card to make and yet again, I failed to trim down my list so it remains at 185. (Next year? Next year I will be under 60- that's my goal.) But I'm broke, Matt is working as much as he can, the kids all have parties to go to and friends they want to see and I just don't have it in me to entertain other people's kids. My anxiety is through the roof and it's like, anything you can imagine being piled onto my plate? It's on it.

But that's for another day.

Today I'm going to talk about a really great thing I found online yesterday by total chance. An absolute fluke, and it sucked about an hour of my time yesterday. And another hour today because it reminds me that while my current situation seems like crap, it could always be worse.

On CNN right now there is this mini docu-series about Giving Birth in America. Now, being the United States you would think we'd be pioneers in medical care and surely maternal and child care but you'd actually be wrong. Did you know that the maternal mortality rate in America has been consistently on the rise since 1990? That's a pretty staggering thing to think about because we all know someone pregnant, we just assume in this day and age, you go to the hospital, have your beautiful babe, and come home. But so many mothers are not coming home. In one of the videos it mentions how 17.8 in 100,000 women (as of 2011) will die during or after childbirth. Some reasons include obesity related issues, your age, and lack of affordable access. In some low income areas, Planned Parenthood provides prenatal care for those who cannot afford a regular OB or perhaps don't have reliable transportation to get to one. Another reason for the increase? One in three mothers will end up with a c-section for a host of reasons. Twenty years ago, that number would have been one in five.

Another video on there talks about a midwife who provides prenatal care to uninsured women. The odds of her being paid anything are slim, and then you look at the women who move from one state where they had care, and now to a new state where they don't. The women have really valid reasons for the situation they are in and it's really staggering to me to think there are some people who would like to completely end any kind of assistance for these people. I tried to think, if I was in any one of their shoes, I have no idea what I would do. I wouldn't have the first idea of where to look for help or what steps to take to get myself on track. And I'm a college educated person.

And it isn't just that. In another video, it talks about people who live in really rural areas where a hospital could be two hours away. It's one thing to go into labor and have to drive two hours, but what happens if you have a complication once you are home? It's not like you can pack up the entire family and just drive two hours to get to a hospital- women find themselves weighing the risks, how badly do they need to go in?

Lastly, the moms who really need the mental health care post baby. We have all heard of a horrific story where a mother kills her baby and later claims she didn't know. And I can tell you from first hand experience that it is totally possible to have those thoughts and feelings and 100% love your baby with everything you have in you.

It is terrifying.

Even worse is when people brush you off and tell you that you have the baby blues, it'll get better, just get some sleep, stop trying so hard, and everything else well-meaning people say. It's really the last thing you want to hear and you want to scream, "As if I'm doing NONE OF THESE THINGS ALREADY".

But then you'll just look like a crazy person and people assume you suck as a mother. And then you worry about that- do people think you are a terrible mom because you obviously don't love your baby enough?

It's really a tragic situation. The mental health issues in the country are pretty damn atrocious enough but to add otherwise totally healthy women to your list of people who have serious depression and anxiety issues simply because they gave birth, sends the system over the edge. They tell you to just tell your doctor and they will tell you to get more sleep or eat better or get outside once a day for a walk or something. All of those things will help in time, but sometimes they won't. And in that case you have to be the only advocate for yourself and not leave the god damn office until they give you something that will calm you down.

Because as shitty as it is to be on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication (or both if you're super special), it works. The stigma to being on these really sucks but it sucks a lot less than crying for no reason and wondering why you are so sad when you have such a great life.

So I invite you to watch the video series. There are four short videos (find them HERE) and I recommend them for all mothers. Anyone who wants to maybe be a mother some day. Or even those who have zero desire to be a mother so you understand the plight mothers face.

Then call your mom and tell her you love her.

Monday, December 14, 2015

7 months.

I'm so late. Seriously, each month it seems I'm getting the Penelope update out later and later. Hot mess, I am.

So let's talk about what Penelope is like at seven months.

First up, she's been sitting since last month but she's not wobbly at all anymore. Occasionally likes to throw herself backwards to see if I'm paying attention. Which, I'm not always because you know, things.
She sucks on her pacifier ALL OF THE TIME because she is teething, still. We must be in the running for the longest teething process of all time and I'm staring at her mouth daily thinking, where the hell are they already? But she's now chewing on anything that she can get her gums on. Today it was the ottoman. Yesterday it was the top of Matt's shoe. She doesn't discriminate. She's an equal opportunity chewer. 
But once in awhile you can get pictures of her without something in her mouth. She is in love with toys. She enjoys taking them out of bins, putting them back in, and repeat. We pulled out the foam blocks and she was most excited because she could chew on them.
She enjoys eating stickers, it should be noted. She doesn't like to eat baby food. She was a little agreeable with warmed pears but other than that, it's a battle. Hates food. Large baby. Not sure what is happening.
She enjoys shaking the crap out of things. She tried to shake Twinky the other day but he's gotten smart and doesn't sit right next to her right now.
Other than that, she continues to be the best and easiest baby. It looks like she's trying to wave sometimes but it looks more like a fist in the air right now. She babbles, and has said "mama" and "dada" and "baba" pretty regularly. She's currently trying to make "woo woo" noises which is ridiculously cute and involves a lot of drool.

So... another few weeks and you'll see her at 8 months. Can you even believe it?! I certainly can't.

Friday, December 11, 2015

In The News: Trump dumped, Saint is marching in, and drugs are bad.

Oh man. I skipped last week because let's face it- all that was important was the mass shooting in San Bernadino and I just didn't have it in me to find something funny. Because it's not funny. The gun situation in this country is out of hand and it's terrifying to think that people think the solution is more guns. It's like giving drug addicts more drugs because maybe if they have enough bad experiences they'll quit. It's insane.

Anyways.

Let's talk this week.

Trump was dumped. Donald Trump has always been a moron but I'm not kidding, the fact he has lasted this long in the running of the Republican nomination is astounding to me. It's terrifying. I cannot use enough adjectives to cover what an insane situation this is right now. To recap, he was on a morning show and wouldn't answer questions so they cut to break. They came back and he was still talking. Now some people will say this is just smart and shows he won't take shit. I think it shows he's an arrogant asshole who believes he should always get the last word despite how rude and disrespectful he is. That's not something to be proud of. I won't even talk about the absurdity of the things he's said this week because honestly, if you are a Trump supporter I suggest you file your fear away and look at the base of his comments. Take away everything you know about what's happening and listen to the statements without all of the context he fluffs around it. These are hateful statements that should scare you. He essentially hates everyone who is not white and Christian. And I don't know where you live but that's not the majority of this country anymore. You need to be seriously worried.

Tia Mowry isn't pregnant, and stop asking. Tia has a cooking show, which I've admittedly never seen because I'm too poor for cable TV. But apparently she's put on a few pounds which in Hollywood means you've kicked up rumors of being pregnant. Turns out she isn't, and she's taking to Instagram to say that asking someone if they are pregnant is a form of body shaming. And... I have to agree. I guess I never really thought about it after I had Olivia and Jackson but now that I've had Penelope and I've really tried to lose weight by watching what I'm eating (and portion sizes) and doing something active everyday, it's not coming off. My shape is changing, kind of, but weight is not coming off. It's depressing. Any man who says a woman's figure should and could bounce back ought to be punched because it doesn't. It's bad enough as a woman to look at what pregnancy and child birth does to your body on the inside but also on the outside, we certainly don't need anyone letting us know that we look bigger. Stop being assholes.

Saint. I can't even. First it was North, and that's ridiculously stupid all on its own. It's stupid, I said it. But as soon as I heard they were expecting a boy, I KNEW, it was going to be over the top stupid. Kanye is so full of himself I'm surprised his head hasn't morphed out of his ass yet so it was only a matter of time. I mean, I'm surprised he hasn't held the kid out the window like Michael Jackson because honestly, we all know he wants to. But Saint? Never mind the fact that pretty much every message board someone was cracking jokes about Kim dating someone from the Saints and how maybe it was a tribute to all of the players she had sex with. Which, cruel but... probably true. But Saint? I feel terrible for this kid because he better be REALLY good at something as an adult otherwise he's going to look like a moron working a fast food joint with Saint on his name tag.

Scott Weiland. I posted this earlier in the week but it's really profound. It's a letter his ex-wife Mary wrote in regards to his passing and what it means for his kids. What really struck me to the core was how she said they didn't just lose their father, they lost him years ago, but what they really lost was their hope. And, as a parent, I can't imagine what she is going through right now in trying to navigate her children through the stages of grief, hoping it doesn't derail them in the future. It's a really poignant piece on how as a society we actually encourage the excess of rock and roll and how really, it's a selfish act. We don't think about the artist, or their families, but we just want more and more of them, even if it is awful. Then we almost bask in their passing and say, "I've been a fan since the beginning" and it's really embarrassing to say you supported that behavior. It's sad. So my heart goes out to his kids because man, what a shit set of cards they were dealt.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I Love My Pet Elephant

I am absolutely love children's books, even more so because I have three kids who love to read and be read to. It's been a fun little spurt of fun book review opportunities for them to participate, and this was no exception!

I Love My Pet Elephant - Lauren Micchelli

Here is a cute little story about a girl who happens to have a pet elephant named Pete. The book covers all of the things they like to do together like sledding down snowy hills, ride bikes, swim, and more. The pages are beautifully illustrated, the story is an easy read and kids are engaged. I'd say easily a beginning reader could master this book with little help from you, and is a GREAT book for an older sibling to read to a younger sibling! We have a Horton the Elephant stuffed animal which Penelope played with while Jackson read her the story, and they both had a good time, especially when Jackson started making elephant noises and pretending to be one! I highly suggest this book if you have a kiddo in your life that likes books that are a little bit silly, full of imagination, or pretends to have a fantastic pet like Pete. You can ask what would they do if they had a pet elephant, it's sure to be a fun conversation! Lots of easy rhymes as you go through the story of this girl and her best friend.

You can buy I Love My Pet Elephant on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course. Lauren Micchelli actually has written several children's books so if you are looking to make a fun little book set as a Christmas gift, you can find her other books on Amazon as well.

Lauren Micchelli is a newly published author, having penned her first book in 2014. She has since continued the Snootzytime Adventures of Maddie and Murphy series, and went on to publish A Day of What Ifs and I Love My Pet Elephant. Impressively, she was the recipient of the New Book Award 2015 for I Love My Pet Elephant. You can find Lauren on her website and also Twitter!

There is a fabulous giveaway happening where you could win 1 of 5 print copies, 1 of 3 ebook copies, or an Amazon gift card! Good luck and happy reading, friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Precious One

Normally I have this up first thing in the morning for all of you who read blogs when you get to work instead of working, but....... I decided to rock Penelope to sleep for her morning nap instead. It's amazing what rocking a baby to sleep does for your stress level.

The Precious One - Marisa De Los Santos



In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once. 

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices — Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings — The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.


Marisa de los Santos is not a new to me author, in fact I remember reading one of her books called Belong To Me way back before I was a book reviewer simply because the cover with the rain boots was pretty. I really enjoyed the complexity of that story and as it turns out, the complexity of this story is why I loved it.

The story is written where we hear two voices: Taisy and Willow. They both share the same father but have very different mothers and very different lives. Taisy's parents divorced when she was in her major developing years, where you really need to know your parents love and want you. Parents get divorced and her father remarries a woman who is the polar opposite of her mother and her father has a new daughter, Willow. Willow is the prodigy- she is everything that Taisy and her brother are not. She's the golden child, she's does everything in her life to make her father proud of her not just because it's expected but probably because she knows first hand what happens if you don't- you end up like Taisy, seemingly outcast.

Their father, Wilson, suffers a pretty horrific heart attack (that Willow blames solely on herself) and in his recovery he essentially demands Taisy and her brother Ben to come see him for an "extended visit". Also in this recovery, Wilson decides it's best if Willow (who has been sheltered from everything her entire life) continues her education at an actual school versus at home. It's not funny, but some of the things that happen to Willow are kind of hilarious because we all know what school is like but for someone who has never experienced it, it's a pretty harrowing experience. She hates everything about it and clearly, all of the students don't like her.

I absolutely was absorbed into this story even though Wilson is an absolute ass. He just is. Sometimes I wonder if it's hard to really craft a character that nobody could like, how can you possibly think of all of the ways to make him absolutely despicable despite the fact that he clearly thinks he's done the best possible job? This author nails it. I really liked Willow and Taisy as well because it's clear they just did the best they could with what they were given and in a way, it's a great lesson in parenting, really. What too little love can do and what helicopter parenting can do, both crippling a child but in very different ways.

Overall? I loved this book. I absolutely loved it, Marisa de los Santos really needs to be one of my go to authors because she is such a talent. Adore her and this book.

If you are still struggling with a good book gift for someone, I highly suggest this one. You can find The Precious One on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also connect with Marisa on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Maybe Not

I'm going to share what I got in my Bookworm Box tomorrow, but today I'm going to review one of the books that came in it! I'll give you a spoiler: this was the best Bookworm Box yet. We'll talk more about it tomorrow.

Maybe Not - Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover, the New York Times bestselling author of Maybe Someday brilliantly brings to life the story of the wonderfully hilarious and charismatic Warren in a new novella, Maybe Not.

When Warren has the opportunity to live with a female roommate, he instantly agrees. It could be an exciting change.

Or maybe not.

Especially when that roommate is the cold and seemingly calculating Bridgette. Tensions run high and tempers flare as the two can hardly stand to be in the same room together. But Warren has a theory about Bridgette: anyone who can hate with that much passion should also have the capability to love with that much passion. And he wants to be the one to test this theory.

Will Bridgette find it in herself to warm her heart to Warren and finally learn to love?

Maybe.

Maybe not.


OK, so this is a novella and I've said it before but it's worth saying again: I am a huge fan of novellas. If you are that person who is all, "Ugh, I'd like to read but I never have time to read", then you really need to invest in novellas. They are always so short (this one is 120 pages, not including the sneak peak of her next book) so there is literally no reason to not read.

Stop being stupid, folks.

Anyways.

First thing, I have read a few other books by Colleen Hoover so I know I'm in for a fun romance with some pretty great sexy time scenes. The description says this is "wonderfully hilarious", but I'll tell you I didn't laugh. This isn't a hilarious book. It's your run of the mill romance and the guy is kind of a moron with an inflated ego and they play pranks. Pretty much all of my expectations for this book were met and it's pretty standard.

Let's talk about what drives me nuts in romance novels that are trendy now: a pissed off, angry girl. It's so cliche. Wah- bad things happen to me so I'm going to be a bitch towards everyone, all of the time and be as immature as possible and then wonder why nobody likes me but I'm going to pretend I don't care because I hate the world.

Authors- I am SO SICK OF THIS CHARACTER. Sick of it. Frankly, it's becoming the thing if you can't quite develop a character but you want to get your new book out to just do this and go with it. Just stop it. Stop it already, it's enough, the horse is dead, stop beating it to death.

*sigh*

So that's my rant for this book. And before you comment and say, "But SARA! Did you not read what happened to her? It's AWFUL, you are a terrible person!", shut up. I read it, I get it, but I am also tired of this being the default result when someone has been through a tough childhood. Stop it. There are more possibilities out there and I am begging you to find them because I know plenty of people who have something traumatic happen to them and they would not act this way.

What I did like? I liked the sexy scenes. Let's face it, that is kind of the point of a romance novel and Colleen does a fantastic job of it. She's always very solid here and she delivers again.

Honestly? I'll give this book 3/5 stars. It's a fun little book and I think if you don't read 50 romance novels in a year (at least, like me) that you will likely enjoy this more than me. Not to say I didn't enjoy it, I did, but I am also glad it was only 120 pages versus a full length novel. I will say, I am looking forward to her next book, Maybe Someday because the characters Ridge and Sydney (which we meet in this book) get their own story in Maybe Someday and I'm intrigued.

You can find Maybe Not on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. Obviously you can get it in an e-format but you know I'm pro print so I'm going to suggest this as a fun stocking stuffer because it can easily be squeezed into a stocking!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shop small, make a big difference.

Lots of you know that I have my very own Etsy shop, Scrapin' Sara, and I don't make a ton of money on there but anything I do make basically goes back into buying new things to tinker with and make. I make handmade cards (mostly) but I have also done custom baby books, picture frames, ornaments and a few other things. I make treat bags for classrooms, too.

So I thought maybe to help you shop and support other Etsy sellers, I would showcase a few here and maybe you'll be inclined to support other people just trying to make a little side money AND give a completely unique gift you know someone won't get two of (or already have).

Jenns Bookshelves
Jenn is an avid reader and I "met" her on a book promotion/sharing Facebook page just recently. She makes adorable book marks, planner accessories and so much more. She offers 15% off for bloggers who shop with her, use code BLOGGER15 at checkout!
These make CUTE planner accessories, but you could even use them as bookmarks. These would make a cute teacher gift. 

Again, these can be used as bookmarks or planner accessories. If you know someone who is into the country chic trend, this is going to be perfect for them! 

I know this girl personally, we rocked it out in high school Ecology class. But she has been busy making so many things for her shop, while raising three kids, and helping her best friend with her cancer benefit. If you want to learn more about Mirra's story, click HERE
If you are big into essential oils, I think you are going to adore this shop! I have seen her items first hand, they smell wonderful and they work really well. I think you could but a really cute gift basket together just of the items out of her shop, which are all really inexpensive!
Honestly, I probably need this in my life. I have really terrible anxiety (a post for another day, lambs) and this would be a perfect thing to just have in my purse for sure! She also has a headache one (teacher gift, anyone? HA!) if you get headaches while at work or school, or lets face it- home. If you want to support a stay at home mom who goes above and beyond helping others in the community, this is the shop you want to help out!  

I know this gal too and I'll have you know- she has GOATS. And like, a ton of other animals but let's be real, I only care about the goats. One of these days I'm going to just show up at her house and play with her goats. And maybe lure one into my van when she isn't looking. 

CMT Farm makes a whole ton of products including goat milk soap, lip balm, natural cleaning products, etc. Are you shopping for a guy in your life? You need to get him the Beer Snowflake soap. These are made out of goat milk and actual beer brewed locally in Duluth, MN. Another really great item is the Natural Laundry Soap (good for 20 washings). And again, if you like to support a local business who also gives back, this is a great shop! If you purchase any of the Hope's Soap items, a portion of your purchase goes to the American Bear Center to help continue their efforts in the preservation of bears in northern Minnesota.

Next week I will talk about more great shops- stay tuned! 

The Travels of PJ Mouse review AND giveaway!

I know a lot of us parents really struggle to find age appropriate, reading level appropriate, fun books for our kids to read. It really is a struggle and it can be just as frustrating for your kids as it is you. Today I'm reviewing two books by author Gwyneth Jane Page. I read book one and two as a series but they can certainly be stand alone reads.

Definitely age appropriate for kids anywhere between seven and ten. The reading level is about second grade. My second grade (seven year old) Jackson read these with ease to me as part of his at home reading time.

The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse - in Canada
PJ Mouse, an adorable little stuffed animal, was lost and alone until young Emily heard his cries for help. Now, along with his new family, PJ gets to travel the world-discovering exciting new places and people along the way! Come join PJ on his first adventure across Canada as he hikes on a glacier in the Rockies, finds a salt lake in the prairies, and walks on the ocean floor in Nova Scotia.

First, let's talk about the illustrations. Jackson pointed out that they look like someone colored them in with colored pencil, and he really enjoyed that. Also, the illustrations really complimented the text itself, which sometimes in chapter books for kids they are mostly just little doodles with no real point to them. These definitely go with the story and make it a fun read.

The story itself was pretty adorable. We start off by meeting PJ Mouse (he isn't a real mouse but rather, a stuffed little mouse), who fell out of a bag and into a puddle. Everyone walks by him except for Emily, who spots the poor little mouse soaking wet and cold. Emily's mother agrees that they can bring him home and that's the beginning of his grand adventure. In book one PJ visits lots of places in Canada such as Niagara Falls and Quebec City. But he also visits a glacier and the ocean floor (which was Jackson's favorite chapter). The only thing Jackson didn't like is some of the wording, or how things are phrased, are a bit different than what he's used to, but that's on account that the author studied and lived in several places around the world. If anything, it was a fun way to explore how students learn different ways to say something in English, depending on where you are.

You can find this book on Amazon, it would be a really great stocking stuffer for the little reader on your shopping list!

The Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse - in Queensland

Come join PJ on this, his second adventure, along the coast of Queensland, as he snorkels at the Great Barrier Reef, chats with a Loggerhead turtle in the midst of a great undertaking, and explores the tropical rainforest - until he ha to be rescued by one of the local friendly wildlife.

I'm going to start by telling you that Jackson really loved this book. He said this one was by far, his favorite of the two. In this book, PJ gets to go boogie boarding, which Jackson asked me why there were boogers on a board, which made me laugh and we had to take a break from reading. It also talks about the Great Barrier Reef, which they studied briefly in first grade so he knew about that and had a general idea of what PJ was seeing. 

Another thing about these books we liked was the last chapter in both books PJ talking with the cat. In book one, he meets the household cat, but in book two it's a chat with the cat. Jackson didn't think it was so believable that PJ and the cat would be friends but they truly are and PJ recounts his adventures to the cat who misses him when he's gone. In fact, the cat uses PJ as a sort of pillow, until the cat finds Star Bear, which Jackson thought was hilarious. 

What I really liked about the book is that there is so much fun information about things we otherwise might not learn about. Jackson liked reading how sea turtles lay their eggs and agreed with Emily that they do, indeed, look like ping pong balls. 

Overall? We really liked this book as well. This is a really great series and we look forward to seeing more soon! You can find this book on Amazon as well, and I really think any child would enjoy these. It's a fun little book with a stuffed mouse who comes alive. Who doesn't love that? 


Meet the author and illustrator:  

Gwyneth Jane Page (Jane), who holds an MBA from Simon Fraser University, has called many countries home. She grew up in such places as England, Peru, the USA, and the Caribbean, and has also lived in Australia and Canada. She now resides in Victoria, BC with her husband and four children. The PJ Mouse books are based on Jane's family trips with the real stuffed animal, PJ, who was found by Emily, Jane's youngest daughter.

Megan Elizabeth, Jane's second oldest daughter, has lived in Canada and Australia and travelled extensively with her family
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and PJ. Having been artistic since she was a little girl, illustrating the PJ Mouse books has enabled her to combine her love of travel with her love of art. Megan completed her studies at VanArts and is now building her career as a professional photographer as well as an illustrator. She currently resides in Victoria, BC with her family.

Connect with Jane on her website, Twitter, or Facebook


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Guest Post: how travel influenced the PJ Mouse series

Oh, what a treat for you today. Tomorrow I am posting a review of Travel Adventures of PJ Mouse and I'm also going to have a giveaway for it. The book is geared towards young readers, I'd say ages 7-10 and my second grade son (age 7) was able to read the book to me with little difficulty and he really enjoyed it. But you'll read more of our review tomorrow. Today though, I have a guest post from the author, Jane Page. She'll give us some information about her love of travel and how that influenced her adorable book series of PJ Mouse.
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Why My Love of Travel is Such a Big Part of the Series by Gwyneth Jane Page
I lived in quite a few places as a child including: Boston, USA; California, USA; England; St. Lucia; Peru; Vancouver, Canada; Montreal, Canada; and finally Victoria, Canada. Living in different places gives you lasting memories. I can't really remember much of daily life when I was just at elementary school in Vancouver. I can remember some things obviously, but not compared to how much I remember from years when we were away.
I can remember sitting on the bar as my mom cleaned the pub they owned in Boston when I was about 2 years old. When I was 4, I can remember learning to swim and row a boat when we lived in St. Lucia. When I was 8 we lived in Peru, and I can remember visiting Machu Picchu. I also went to an all-Spanish speaking Catholic girls school. I did not understand a word. I spent 3 months just listening and then suddenly started speaking Spanish. After a year I was fluent. I can still speak some Spanish. It was a great way to learn a language.
I also recall visiting some of the poor areas, where we bought some hand-made Peruvian items, and seeing the kids playing. It struck me that just because these people were poor did not necessarily mean that they were unhappy. Our western culture demands that we have a house, car, endless activities for our kids, etc, to be happy. When I saw these kids playing in their village, on dirt roads, and laughing and having fun, I realized, even at the age of 8, that happiness is not conditional on our western society assumptions. We do not all need to be the same or have the same things. Sometimes travel can open your mind to new ideas or ways of seeing things.
Travel also provides adventure and experience that you otherwise would not have. There is so much beauty in the world and such diversity. Yes, going places can involve some risk, but there is also risk just walking out your front door in the morning. I would rather go and try something or somewhere new and be wrong than never try.
Finally, you never know whom you are going to meet, people that would not otherwise cross your path. I have friends all over the world. I love meeting new people on a trip and then staying in touch and meeting up again later, maybe somewhere else.
I hope kids will be inspired by my books to live their lives, to discover new places and people, to enjoy the world around them and to look after it. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Whistling Women

It's another review! Two for you today! I know, I've been a reading nut. 

Whistling Women - Kelly Romo

Life went terribly wrong for Addie Bates in San Diego, and she’s been running from dark memories ever since. For fifteen years, the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony has provided a safe haven for Addie to hide from the crime she committed. But when the residents pack up to go on exhibit at the 1935 world’s fair in San Diego, Addie returns and must face the thrilling yet terrifying prospect of reuniting with her estranged sister, Wavey.

Addie isn’t the only one interested in a reunion. When her niece, Rumor, discovers she has an aunt, Rumor is determined to bring her family together. But it’s not so easy when the women are forced to confront family secrets, past and present.

Set against the backdrop of the 1935 world’s fair, Whistling Women explores the complex relationships between sisters, the sacrifices required to protect family, and the devastating consequences of a single impulsive act.
 

I'm going to start by telling you that this book is a little over 400 pages so it's no joke. Secondly, so much of it could be taken out and the story would not suffer. Just, it's a public plea from me to authors- just stop it. You can stop adding all of this fluff, none of us want the fluff. It doesn't add to your story, it makes a person want to put it down. 

But don't put this one down, read through the fluff, because it's worth it. It almost reminds me of K.L. Cook's The Girl From Charnelle, which is a book I absolutely adore and I think about it often. Whistling Women centers around two main characters, Rumor and her aunt Addie. Addie, upon the death of her parents, finds herself in an orphan asylum, but once her sister Wavey is able, she brings Addie to live with her and her new husband, Ty and they have a baby on the way. You don't find out until almost the end, but something pretty horrific happens between Wavey, Ty, and Addie and it sends Addie to lose her way in life and she finds herself spending most of her adulthood on a nudist colony, which is properly sinful back in those times. Addie finds herself in San Diego, where Wavey lives, and she knows her time is almost up at the nudist colony because she's getting older, and she wants desperately to reconnect with her sister. 

Rumor and her older sister Mary live with their mother, Wavey. Wavey hasn't done so well either, she's gone through two husbands and currently has a rotating door of boyfriends and comes home drunk too often for Rumor's liking. Inadvertently, Rumor discovers Addie is her aunt and that's how the snowball towards a really great conclusion starts. 

I really enjoyed this book. I tell you though, the first half is boring. Absolutely boring. I almost gave it up but then I really wanted to know- what could Addie have done to warrant her sister abandoning her? The other things I wish were stronger: Mary, she could have been a much bigger player. She's featured heavily through the book but she doesn't really do much and she should. Also, Ruby? Ruby is a brief character where if you aren't paying attention, you'll miss it- but her connection to Papa Jack and his upset the last time he sees Mary and Rumor during the day- did something happen with Ruby? It's kind of a point in the plot that was maybe going to be more, then decided against and instead of scratching it all together they muted it a bit, if that makes sense? Commit to it or don't at all, it's confusing otherwise. 

Overall? I really enjoyed this book, a solid 4/5 stars for sure. 

You can find Whistling Women on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course. You can connect with Kelly Romo on her website, Facebook, and Twitter



One Step Too Far

Hi Lambs! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving break, and as you can see, I'm back at it. I have a few reviews for you this week and a really great list of fun shops you've never heard of that you should shop at- so stay tuned. But right now, review time!

One Step Too Far - Tina Seskis

To be fair, I actually read this book way back in 2013 for the first tour it was on. I didn't love it then, and I'll share that review with you now and then a few thoughts after I read it a second time: 

Then
I will start by saying that this was a weird book. It was good, but there were so many parts where I started to really hate Emily not just as a mom and wife but as a person. Even though I can sympathize with wanting to just start all over because it's hard. Life is hard but you add the duties of motherhood and being a good wife into the mix, it's even harder. But she has had a lot of confusion and inner demons her entire life and I guess over time, it just gets to be too much. 

The secret that essentially drives this book, it's what keeps you reading because you want to know what it is, isn't earth shattering. I read it and was like, "Ok. No reason to freak out, totally something you could work out.". But given the personality of Emily, I understand why it would be a big deal for her. 

Things I didn't like about the book- is that she seems really cold. I mean, the thing keeping me back from running away is knowing it would screw my children up forever. Now, she thinks it's doing her son a favor but come on.... does anyone really think that? I mean, somewhere in your mind you have to know this is wrong. Then she moves into the most bizarre living situation with all of these randomly put together flatmates and eventually develops a drug habit along with shoplifting and yeah. How a person thinks this is the way to turn your life around is beyond me. 

I so badly want to give my two cents on how the book ends because I hated the ending. Oh, did I hate the ending. The only thing about the ending that I did like is that everything had closure. A lot of authors like to leave loose strings and you're left wondering what the characters did after all, but this book ties it all up. Nothing is left to your imagination, you get the answer for everything and I really appreciated that. Especially with this book weaving different points of view and just bizarre topics into the story in general. So overall... I'm a 2/5. I just... I just can't give it more. I really struggled through it and I felt myself irrationally angry through most of it and I just can't give a book more than 2 for that because it's not one I would pick up again and it's not one I would necessarily recommend. 

Now
I have to say, I know a few people who would really enjoy this book considering I have more reader friends and they all have very different tastes from me. Secondly, I think I really am in the minority when it comes to this book. Even after all of this time, I knew what the "twist" was and I thought perhaps reading it again knowing the twist would make me appreciate it more but no. I still thought it was not as huge as it's portrayed to be. But admittedly, I am not the person who has this kind of thing happen to me and freak out. I'm very much not a freak out kind of person. It's like, yes- that's a totally terrible tragedy but dang, your reaction is pretty unwarranted, you nut job. 

I will say again that I am very much in the minority and I think people are enjoying it far more than I ever did so maybe don't listen to me at all. At least on this book. I'm usually always right.