Monday, October 31, 2016

Half Assing Halloween.

Well, it's Halloween. I have to be honest and tell you I have zero idea where the hell October has gone, but I'm glad it's over and I'm onto November. I have lots of doctor appointments this month so I'm going to start the month totally optimistic about my body falling apart.

No matter what, I somehow always manage to get the kids to Boo at the Zoo near our house every year and this year I was a little worried. Last year was a bit iffy with Penelope and she mostly cried in her stroller with her duck costume on, so I wasn't sure how it would go with her this year, let alone with Lucy. Lucy isn't dressed as anything this year because she's so little, she just has a Halloween onesie and I carried her in the carrier the entire time, so no pictures of her. BUT..

Penelope is a bee this year. I really wanted her to be an octopus but she cried and shook her head no in the store, but hugged this costume, so bee it is. She wore it pretty willingly so that was nice.
Olivia is a cat and she came up with her costume all on her own based on an idea out of her American Girl magazine. Jackson wanted to be a skeleton and thank god I found this super easy costume that he can wear over his regular clothes. He was pretty happy even if his mask is crooked.
It's hard to get a picture with all three, but you can see here Penelope was totally over having her hood on.
She really liked seeing the animals though and kept pointing at things. Our little zoo has had a lot of hardships: from losing our polar bear, to the flood that killed a lot of animals and destroyed structures, lack of funding and dwindling attendance- we just don't have as much to see as we did even when Olivia and Jackson were little. It's pretty disappointing because for the price you pay to get in, you really aren't getting any value. Total bummer. BUT, I still try to support the zoo and honestly? We're short on things to do around here so we do try to go once in awhile.

Tonight the big kids are going to trick or treat, and Olivia is having a friend come with and spend the night, and it's my turn to walk with them. Which means Matt gets to stay home (warm and dry) with the littles. Our plan is to basically then stay up and eat/hide the good candy from the kids. It's kind of nice they have no school until Thursday so I don't have to worry about waking up over exhausted kids for school. Which THANK GOD because last night was rough with Penelope and Lucy. Both of them were up a lot for no real reason so needless to say, I'm exhausted today. I clearly deserve candy.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Resurrection

You see? Reading roll. I've got even more reviews lined up for next week, lambies. Hang on to your britches.

Resurrection - Laury Falter

The second and final installment in the two-book series, Apocalypse Chronicles...a dystopian romance about five high school seniors who set out to cure an apocalyptic world of a contagious infection.


Bestselling author Laury Falter finishes off this two-part series--a dystopian romance filled with an electrifying plot, a powerful romance, and unexpected twists.


I have to preface this review by telling you that this is book two in the Apocalypse Chronicles and I'm a fan of Laury Falter. I didn't love this book. I know, I just didn't and I actually feel genuinely bad about it. I will also admit I'm not a huge fan of zombie books anyways but because I had read the first one and I'm a fan of Laury, and I wanted to know what happened to Kennedy and Harrison.. I found this one on Amazon and thought now is as good a time as any to read it.

And then I was kind of disappointed. Honestly, I think the main problem with the book for me is that I just don't like zombies and I have a hard time getting into books centered around them, so that's obviously my own fault. If you are a fan of zombies, specifically in a YA novel, you are going to love book one and two of this. You will, so just ignore me because I'm clearly not the judge for this.

But this is book two, so the virus has already gotten out and most of the country is now The Infected, sans this small little group of Harrison, Kennedy, Mei, Doc, and Beverly. There's more non-Infected out there, but this is the group of teenagers we're following. We know from book one that Harrison also is infected but he's basically a bizarre science experiment and isn't like the droves of Infected they are encountering. Kennedy is human but she's in love with Harrison and he loves her, and they are like a way mature teenage couple essentially leading the other three towards finding a scientist who can help them with finding the cure with the knowledge they have.

My other problems with this book is Harrison and Kennedy's relationship. I mean, I get that they are teenagers who are basically out to save the world so you already have some built in dramatics, but come on. Some of their relationship is definitely eye roll worthy. Secondly, this felt so much like that movie Warm Bodies. Truly. Especially once the zombies kind of change and we find there is a cure... blah blah blah.. I can't ruin it for you but it reminded me of the movie the entire time. I can only give this book 2 stars because it was just OK. I was kind of let down, but I still love you, Laury. Keep writing.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Everything I Left Unsaid

I've been on a reading kick again so I feel like I'm flying through books rather quickly. My goal is to really tackle things that are on my bookshelf that I haven't gotten to yet. Mostly so I can justify buying more books as I see them go on sale.

Can we also acknowledge the greatness of used books? It's not just for college, kids. You can find almost all of your books in a used version on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and it's really worth it. I've scored a bunch of books for dirt cheap and even with shipping, it's significantly less than what a new book would have cost me. I'm not snobby about my books because my favorite day of the year is the library book sale and I've found some real gems there, so I love used books. Yippee.

Anyways. Let's talk this book.

Everything I Left Unsaid - M. O'Keefe

I didn’t think answering someone else’s cellphone would change my life. But the stranger with the low, deep voice on the other end of the line tempted me, awakened my body, set me on fire. He was looking for someone else. Instead he found me.
 
And I found a hot, secret world where I felt alive for the first time.
 
His name was Dylan, and, strangely, he made me feel safe. Desired. Compelled. Every dark thing he asked me to do, I did. Without question. I longed to meet him, but we were both keeping secrets. And mine were dangerous. If I took the first step, if I got closer to Dylan—emotionally, physically—then I wouldn’t be hiding anymore. I would be exposed, with nothing left to surrender but the truth. And my truth could hurt us both.


I first heard of this book on one of my favorite book blogs, Herding Cats & Burning Soup, and because Anna (the blogger) loved it, I added it to my future shopping list. Then it sadly sat on my shelf for months until I was looking for a book to read that wasn't part of an organized review and man alive- I feel ashamed that I waited so long to read this!

Granted- I'll be honest and told you I was a little worried when I started the book because it is a little weird until you get into it. Which sounds strange, but it's hard to explain. We have Annie McKay, who is on the run from an abusive husband and she's basically lived an incredibly naive and sheltered life. Everything she experiences since leaving her husband and the farm is a new experience for her and she's trying to figure out who she is at her core. So she finds herself in a really run down, sad little trailer court/campground and is renting an RV turned trailer home that is basically a pile of crap. But it's her temporary pile of crap and she's bound to make the best of it while she makes a plan. Then the phone rings, a phone that's shoved into a hiding spot in the RV, so the natural thing is to answer the damn phone. Someone leaves a cell phone, you answer it like any good citizen would.

Enter Dylan. Dylan sounds like a hot piece of hunk on the phone and he immediately perks Annie up. She gives him a fake name, because she doesn't know who this guy is after all, and at the end of the call he gives her the kind of bizarre task of watching on her neighbor, Ben, but gives no reason why.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out who Ben is but honestly, nobody cares, because this book quickly takes a turn into the phone sex book of all time. What Fifty Shades of Grey did for dirty emails, Everything I Left Unsaid is doing for phone sex. Quickly their "relationship" turns into tasks for Annie to help her discover herself all the while torturing Dylan on the other end. Dylan isn't without demons himself and while we don't figure them all out in this book, you're given enough that you are automatically signed up and ordering book two on Amazon Prime and hoping it actually pulls through with it's free two day delivery this time. Then I realize there is a third book and, so far, it's only available as an e-book and that's ABSOLUTE SHIT because I've gone on an e-book hiatus since my Nook is acting wonky and I absolutely refuse to get another e-reader because I hate them. I have decided I hate them. So there.

Anyways.

So I hope book three comes out on paperback and that book two doesn't end on a cliffhanger like this one does so I can emotionally handle the wait. Because UPS guy is supposed to come tomorrow and you bet your ass I'll be waiting for him. You hear that, UPS? Get here early, none of this 8:00 at night crap.

*sigh*

Overall? Loved the book. It starts off weird and I got nervous, and there ended up being no reason. I don't really normally like characters like Annie because they can be overly whiny but I really felt endeared to her and rooting for her. And Dylan.... oh Dylan. He's like the Beast in The Beauty and the Beast, he's a burn victim locked up in his fortress, away from everyone, and you just want to fix him because underneath the burns he's a good seed, despite his past. I really liked his character, I'm hopeful that book two goes more into his backstory, so again, UPS- hurry the hell up.

I highly recommend it if mama needs a little book lovin. It will serve you well, mamas. Batteries not included. ;)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Frazzled

I'm kind of on a roll with books for kids as of late, and if you have a child in the ages of 8-12, this is something you might want to add to your holiday shopping list for them.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters & Impending Doom - Booki Vivat

Meet Abbie Wu! She’s about to start middle school and she’s totally in crisis.

Abbie Wu is in crisis—and not just because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because the lunch ladies at school are totally corrupt or because everyone seems to have a “Thing” except her. Abbie Wu is in crisis always.

Heavily illustrated and embarrassingly honest, Frazzled dives right into the mind of this hilariously neurotic middle school girl as she tries to figure out who she is, where she belongs, and how to survive the everyday disasters of growing up. With Abbie’s flair for the dramatic and natural tendency to freak out, middle school has never seemed so nerve-racking!

Packed with hilarious black-and-white illustrations and doodles throughout, Frazzled takes readers through Abbie Wu’s hysterical middle school adventures. 


I can't remember if I signed up to review this or if this is one that just comes to me with the hopes I'll have time to review it, but I'm sure glad it landed in my mailbox, that's for sure. I have two kids who fit into the recommend 8-12 age group so they are working on reading the book now that I'm done with it. I have one child (Olivia, age 11) who is an avid reader, she flies through books quickly and likes to try different genres. I have another child (Jackson, age 8) who likes to read, but will often get discouraged if it's too challenging for him or if it's "too long". The great part about this book, which seems like it's kind of a trend in books for this age group, is that it's illustrated throughout and almost like a comic, but not really that same format. It basically makes the almost 250 pages go quickly and for kids like my son, who gets easily frustrated if he feels like he isn't reading fast enough, this is a good confidence booster book. They'll finish it pretty quickly and it's a great story.

But let's talk about the story because even my old self laughed at this book because I don't care how old you are, you remember middle school. You remember the fear of your first day and every day of doom until the end and this book really captured it. The book is about Abbie who is starting middle school and she's pretty concerned. She doesn't have any real interests or talents and she already feels lost when she can't figure out what elective to choose, so she ends up in dreaded study hall. Her mom is thrilled to send her off to school and her siblings are all special and great in their own right, but Abbie is just Abbie. She dreads being compared to her older, great-at-everything older brother. She has the worst homeroom teacher, she's split up from her friends, and it's a really tough transition from elementary school.

I absolutely loved Abbie. I could really relate to her and all of her dramatic, my-life-is-over theatrics and worries are ones I know I had when I started middle school. It's such a tough time for kids and it really can feel like the end of the world. The story is written well, accompanied with fun illustrations, and I think kids are going to relate to Abbie and her worries. I highly recommend this book and like I said before, you might want to read it quickly yourself to revisit the dramatics.. just for fun.

Friday, October 21, 2016

To The Brink

Honestly, I feel like I'm at the brink in real life, but today it's a book review I'm talking about!

To The Brink (The First Force Series #4) - Cindy McDonald

Tess thought her life would settle after the death of her husband, Ballard Crafton. After all she’d escaped Russia with the formula to his secret serum that transforms ordinary soldiers into unstoppable machines. She was certain the Russians thought Ballard’s notes were lost in the explosion that destroyed his lab, but one man believes that Tess possesses the precious information, and he wants it for his own wicked agenda. 

Hired assailants dog her night and day. She needs help and she needed it weeks ago. Now she turns to First Force for protection only to find the team is away with only one operative at First Force headquarters holding down the fort—Dan Garrison. 

How can Dan keep her safe when he isn’t sure that he believes her story? How can Tess gain his trust, and how can either of them deny the underlying passion that is exploding between the fine line of deception and danger?

I am such a fan of this series and I get excited every time one of them comes out, so when I was contacted by the author to review this one, I was all over it. Um, yes- I'll take another of the First Force hunks, thankyouverymuch

The great thing about this series is that technically these are stand alone books and you'll be just fine no matter where you hop in. BUT. If you read from the books in order, it adds a whole other layer of greatness because the story builds over time. I also have to say, because I don't think I mentioned it in reviews for the other books, but the author does a great job at bringing the previous books' characters into each book while focusing on the "main couple". It's like revisiting old friends, it's really nice to catch up with them again. 

Anyways. 

So this book centers around Tess, who is on the run now that her bad guy husband is dead. His brother (and his goons) are after a serum that essentially could turn a regular guy into a super fighting machine, basically. A Hulk of sorts; which obviously, would be a bad thing in the hands of the wrong people. Tess is on the run and she knows that if she can get to the First Force team they could ultimately help her but she has to decide, is she able to trust them to hand the serum over? Or should she get rid of it herself? Enter Dan Garrison, the lone First Force member on duty once Tess arrives. He's a hunk, swoon worthy and the complete opposite of her husband. Dan knows that his directive is to get that serum because First Force could use it (they are the good guys) but they could also decide to destroy it too, but either way- he needs to gain Tess's trust, at all costs, to get his hands on it. 

We also have the criminal aspect of this, headed by August Crafton, the brother of Tess's dead husband. Turns out, he's as disgustingly creepy as the criminals in the other books so the author did a bang up job there. Once you figure out how he has been tracking Tess, ick. So icky and creepy and you know she's going to hate herself for not figuring it out since Tess is a bit of a techie. 

Overall? The romance element? So great. The thriller element? Also great, and it's in solid company with the other three books. You won't be let down by this story and if you've been with this series already you'll be so happy with the turn of the story. And can we all get a hell yes about book 5 being Casey's story? CAN WE? Yes, we can. *I'm excited* to say the least. Swoon. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

AFE Update: making lists and getting nervous

**If you are new to the blog, please read my post about Lucy's birth first, that way you'll know why this post is relevant and learn what AFE (amniotic fluid embolism) is** 

I've said before but October is kind of a chill month for me right now. I've had a busy August and September, and not much action in October, but November is going to be busy. It starts with MRI appointments, literally on the first. I am having two MRI's in the same week, along with brain testing (sounds ominous and sketchy, doesn't it?) which is apparently a repeat of testing I had done when I was in the hospital. I'm having it done at each hospital in Duluth and the neurological team is going to basically conference together and figure out what to do with me going forward and maybe give me (hopefully) some idea of what my future is going to be like. 

Going into that, I'm a little bit worried. I haven't been totally honest about my memory and just every day normal stuff. I've had what I call "brain blinks" and the best way to describe it is my brain literally blinks in and out. Like one of those Viewmaster toys where you push the lever and the screen clicks into a new image- it's like that. One minute I'm fine, and the next it's like my brain pauses a second and bam- I can't remember why I'm where I'm at, how I got there, what I'm doing, and sometimes I'm not sure where I am, but then blink- I'm back to normal and it's like nothing happened. Truthfully? It's scary. It's terrifying, actually. I'm afraid I'm going to leave a kid behind somewhere or worse. One time last week I was driving and suddenly forgot how to get to my kids' school. I driven there hundreds of times and bam, totally forgot and then it clicked and I was totally OK. 

So we'll see what the neurologists have to say. 

Next up- diabetes insipidus is kind of a pain in the ass. Thankfully, the medication I got works on the lowest dose so I've been managing it well. Except I get outrageously thirsty at random times. I'm working on keeping my water intake at a steady level (it's not necessarily good for me to drink a bunch at once and then go an hour or more with no water, I have to even it out), and that's been tough. Sometimes I forget because I'm busy with kids, and then I realize I'm over the top thirsty (it's similar to running a couple of miles and being dehydrated and wanting to chug water) and then it kind of messes me all up and I'm peeing a whole bunch and then thirsty again and it's kind of how it is the rest of the day. 

I was also diagnosed with Sheehan's Syndrome and that's been fun. I was told that I have to write down every symptom or weird thing I experience because some of it will be tied to Sheehan's, and the rest... well they aren't sure, but I need to make a list anyways. So here's the list I have so far (aside from what I've already mentioned) 
  • I definitely feel dumber. I have a hard time explaining things I absolutely know that I know. Things that I could have rattled on about without thinking about it, I can't even get thoughts organized enough to talk about them. 
  • I've got no period. I know, most women would shout with glee! And I am, truly! And by no period I mean I've only had 5-7 days (not in a row, totally sporadic days) of light spotting since giving birth. That's it. But before you get all excited for me, just know I'm in PMS hell. I am constantly flipping between two options: option 1 is a total PMS week complete with migraines, moodiness, and cramps from hell where I feel like I'm being stabbed, and option 2 is hot flashes where I'm pretty sure I'm going to burst into flames. It's horrible. Clearly my hormones are stuck and it's not good. 
  • My entire body hurts. I can't really explain this well, but I basically feel like I've simultaneously run a marathon and been physically assaulted. All of my insides hurt, head to toe. My hips feel like they are going to fall out of their sockets and my back hurts I can hardly move. It's really awful.
  • The fatigue, my god... the fatigue. Even if I manage to get eight hours of sleep at night, I wake up feeling like I haven't slept at all and I can barely get going. I could sleep all day if the opportunity presented itself. I don't even get the bursts of energy I used to get, this is just absolute fatigue all of the time. 
  • Guess who has gained 20 pounds in a MONTH?! This girl. I can't even tell you how because my diet is managed well. Sure, I'm not exercising but that's because I'm so damn tired and when I walk for even a short while the body pain is excruciating. 
  • Another side effect of Sheehan's is lack of a sex drive. Which, I feel really bad about, because I know it's an important thing to Matt but the thought of staying awake, and having energy for it... not there. I don't even have any kind of urge. 
  • Depression. It's bad. I have my first official counselor appointment in November and I'm not even optimistic about it but I know I need to go. I need to fix myself, one thing at a time. 
So yeah, that's all I've got so far. HA! But seriously, I feel like I'm falling apart. Matt said I'm the best actress he knows and it's kind of scary. But more on that another day. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air

I have had this on my to-read list for a LONG time. Well before it was published and released out into the world. I had read all of the teasers and articles I could find on the internet about Paul Kalanithi and his story just tugged at me. So I bought the book the day it came out and then it sat on my shelf for months, until just last week when I felt like now was the time. It was time to get into it. And wow.

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.
 
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
 
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.


I'll be honest, I don't think my review is going to do this book justice, but I'll tell you what, if there was ever a book that kick you in the balls, it would be this one. The book is really three parts for me: Part 1- In Perfect Health I Begin, Part 2- Cease Not till Death and the Epilogue. The Foreward by Abraham Verghese is kind of blah for me and I was a little worried from reading that that I was going to be bored. Also, the Prologue was meh for me as well and written by Paul. 

But Part 1 is all about his time debating what to do with his life career wise, why he chose being a doctor and more specifically, a neurosurgeon. What is really fascinating is the frank way he talks about the profession behind the scenes, surgical procedures and becoming automated at it, and then the stories about patients. There was a line on page 102 that reads, "How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients." and it really touched me because I know so many people in the middle of chemo and radiation, tests and procedures that doctors don't know how successful they'll be, and then my situation where nobody knows what to really do with me and it's like, how true is this? But what was also touching in this section is how he talks about his mission in life and work was to figure out the meaning of life, how to die with integrity, and how it all comes together to be able to say it was a meaningful existence, which is something I think we can all relate to, I know I certainly can right now. 

Part 2 is all about his diagnosis of lung cancer, the journey through treatment and ultimately, death. Once you know death is your last option, everything else has been exhausted, how do you do that the right way? Paul and his wife Lucy debate on having a child- she worries if they don't, will he be disappointed to not have left anything behind? He worries that if they do, she'll be raising their child alone. But together they decide to have a child and their daughter Cady is born in the aftermath of chemo treatments not going as planned. 

Paul never got to "finish" his book but I think it's ultimately fitting that the ending paragraph is this: 

"When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing." 

And that right there punched me in the gut. Because you think about the people you have lost that you wish you could have done more for. It's so easy to forget that the time you did spend with them was meaningful and maybe it was enough. Paul only got eight short months with his daughter but in that time she was able to fill the rest of his life with happiness. I can't think of a better way to go, to be honest. 

The last part is the Epilogue, written by Paul's wife, Lucy. She really did such an amazing job closing the book out with the final chapter of Paul's life. She gave a great, personal point of view of what that was like for her, and for him, and touched on other things in their marriage that Paul wrote about. And you just want to hug her, because you feel like you just went through it all with her by the time you get to the epilogue. 

I guess after having died twice during the birth of my daughter, I feel a need to figure out why I'm still here. I clearly haven't finished what I was meant to do, but what is it? It's so hard to know, but I'd like to think that if I were dying of cancer I'd have enough in me to write this beautifully. Amazing book. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fractured

Can I just get all fan girl with you for a minute? Because I have read and reviewed every book by Catherine McKenzie and I have loved them all. I would have flipped a table to get an early copy of this book but, thank goodness, I was able to get one. Then I forgot about it during the whole thing with Lucy and her birth, but then I found it on my shelf and SQUEALED when I remembered.

Then I promptly devoured it over the course of a weekend.

Fractured - Catherine McKenzie

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly. 


I'm really having a hard time writing reviews for books I really enjoyed that don't contain spoilers, but leave you absolutely needing to read this book. The very cool thing about this book is that if you've read others by Catherine, this one feels totally different. Her other books are light and fun, and they have a little real life seriousness to it, but overall they are light reads, but this one is heavier. I mean, she has a stalker and is harassed throughout the book so right away we're in for a treat and it's nice to see an author go down another alley in their writing and not fall victim to basically being stuck in a rut with the same kind of story and characters. This isn't to say this is so different that if you're a fan of Catherine's you might be hesitant- don't be! The book has a great cast of characters, the story has some humorous parts mixed in and honestly? You can see this playing out as a Lifetime movie in your head, just please don't cast Tori Spelling as Julie because ugh. 

The other thing I'm becoming a fan of even though I swore I wouldn't, the changing point of view. I'm always going to prefer one point of view for my stories but when done right it really works, and that's what we have here. It does switch from past to present, but we also have Julie and the neighbor across the street. And the book basically centers around The Event (which I can't tell you what it is because it ruins the story and just know that I am basically squirming in my seat to freaking spill all of the beans and then talk incredibly fast about how I didn't know WHAT was happening the entire time and oh-my-god what do you think about it?!)  and you don't know if Julie is the cause of it or a victim. The town has run wild with gossip and honestly, there are so many twists to the story that you don't know what the heck is going on until the end. 

And what an ending. 

I also have to give props because I finished The Girl on the Train a week or so ago and that was such an epic let down of a story and this book totally turned psychological thriller around for me. It's not just that but it has the author's chick lit charm in it that made me love her writing to begin with so I feel like I can't plunk this book into a specific genre. It's a mix. It's a really great mix and honestly, if you have a friend who likes to read- consider Fractured for a Christmas gift. Seriously. 


And in the meantime, you can follow or stalk (haha- see what I did there?!) Catherine on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

News of the World

I've been on a reading roll now that I'm hardly sleeping at night again. Terrible for me, but yay for you, right?

News of the World - Paulette Jiles

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. 


So I have to confess that I wanted to read this book because it's not my normal go-to read and I've been watching documentaries on Netflix during Penelope's nap time so I thought I'd be super into this. Also, it is just under 250 pages so I thought it would be a quick read for me, but I have discovered since my embolism in August, nothing is quick for me anymore. Also? I don't know if it's the writing, if I'm just not smart after all, or my reading comprehension skills are busted because I really struggled through this. I found myself re-reading sections and then it dawned on me, the punctuation in this book is way off. Normally I'd write it off as not a big deal because advanced copies sometimes haven't gone through their final edit and it's par for the course to spot errors. But this seems like a specific writing style because there are no breaks to allow for such punctuation, so it really makes it difficult to read passages where there is dialogue. So for that alone, that made me lose interest when I realized I wasn't going to enjoy this as a leisure read, I'm going to have to work for it. 

With that said, the characters are pretty great. Our central character, Captain Kidd, is in his seventies and has been in three wars over the course of his life. He now goes from town to town reading the news from newspapers for a dime a head until one day he's basically given a young girl to take to a town over 400 miles away. He feels pretty confident, having raised daughters with his now deceased wife, so he agrees and off he sets. The problem, is that the girl was kidnapped by the Kiowa (Native Americans) when she was six (she's 10 now), she has forgotten the English language, and it's clear she doesn't want to be going to San Antonio (let alone with Captain Kidd) and she makes the journey pretty miserable because she won't just go easy into the night. But over their journey, the both of them forge a friendship since despite their age difference, have many similarities. Once they get to San Antonio though, Johanna doesn't really want to go with her long lost aunt and uncle (because her parents are dead so this is like a next-of-kin situation) and Captain Kidd doesn't really want to let her go because despite the headaches she's caused and her escape attempts, he's formed a bond with her. 

Overall? It's a good book. It would actually be an interesting read for high school students as a lot of discussion on the mistrust of strangers and those of another culture could be discussed, as well as the morally complex ending. Captain Kidd struggles with leaving Johanna but can he (or should he) risk becoming a fugitive himself? And as mentioned at the beginning of the book, this is at a time where the 15th amendment was just ratified, giving all men (despite race) the right to vote, and one of the characters made a comment that he couldn't take the girl because she was white and he was black- they'd encounter all kinds of trouble and frankly, it would look badly on him. Which can maybe be drawn from current news, perhaps? I don't know. But the books lends itself to discussion for sure and with it being under 300 pages it's really ideal for a quick read. 

You can purchase your own copy of News of the World on the Harper Collins website as well as on Amazon


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Bitch is Back

No, this isn't a post about how I've gotten my groove back, sadly. But it's a follow up book to The Bitch is in the House, but you don't need to read the first to read this. Calm down!

The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier 

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

"Born out of anger," the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of post feminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these "bitches"—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the "original bitches" (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a "new wave" of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow. 


The great thing about books like this one is that every chapter is an essay so it so easy to read this book in between errands, coffee break, kid nap time, whenever. I flew through this book and found myself relating to some of the essays and not so much with others, but they were all equally good in their own right. I never got the chance to read the first book but after reading this one, I have to get the first one because I think I can really relate to that one at this point in my life more than I can with this one. This one is now geared towards women in their 40's and beyond, phasing out of active parenting, looking at or entering retirement, going through different life transitions, etc. I'm still in the thick of a relatively young marriage, four kids, still hoping Social Security stays around because right now I'll never get to retire. 

The other great thing about this book is that it really covers almost every scenario women face. The only thing that kind of stood out to me is that aside from the one essay where the writer lives just above poverty, everyone else seems like they are financially well off and as someone who doesn't know what that would be like, it's hard for me to relate to them and their problems. Which sounds silly, I know. 

Every essay is expertly written and each have their own unique voice where it feels like you're sitting in a circle listening to everyone just vent and let it out over good dessert. This would make for a fun book club read and have each participant share which essay they relate the most to and why, particularly if your club has a wide range of ages. 


Monday, October 10, 2016

... but you look good!

Things post AFE (amniotic fluid embolism) are really hard. I'm discovering that there aren't a lot of resources out there to help me and even the doctors and counselor aren't really sure what to do for me. Beyond reiterating how lucky I am to be alive and I should just remember that every time I feel really bad.

Which yeah. I'm lucky. I know that. I know that every day and knowing that I was that close to dying is terrifying. I really can't explain to you what it feels like if you don't know what it's like to know that the only reason you are alive is because someone paid attention to a small segment in a conference about a "combination of drugs that might work but you don't need to really remember because the likelihood of you ever encountering this in your career is slim to none". My anesthesiologist paid attention and remembered and saved my life.

Anyways.

I'm going through a whirl of emotions right now. Most days I feel just blah. I'm not happy, I'm not anything, really. I'm faking my way through the day. I guess it's a good thing I have Penelope and Lucy with me all day because they are the only reason I even bother getting out of the bed every day. Olivia and Jackson are pretty self-sufficient so they don't need me to be on them all of the time. Which I suppose isn't good for them either because they need their mom and I just... I can't. I really don't have it in me to do it anymore.

It also makes me feel like the worst person in the world because I've started avoiding people. I make plans and I feel like, at that moment, it's going to be good to get out of the house. And then it comes and the thought of seeing people, talking to people, and dealing with the awkward encounters with people is just too much. Because it's come down to people not knowing what to say to me, but feeling like they should say something to not be rude, so they ask the general, "How are you doing?" and we both know you don't really want to know. So depending on the day, I'll either say, "I'm hanging in there" or some days I'll say, "shitty, but.. that's just how it's going to be" with a smile on my face because I feel like I need to smile to not scare people. Because if you really knew how I felt, you'd be scared. And I'd probably be committed. But no matter how I reply, it's always followed with the generic, "Well you look really good!" and I want to ask- how did you think I was going to look? Because I now know what it's like to have an invisible illness and it really sucks.

I had an intake appointment with a mental health counselor on Friday and my first actual appointment isn't until November. I googled the counselor I was given and she's so young. Like, fresh out of college and I realize I'm at that weird age where I don't want to listen to what someone younger than me has to say. Because what can this chick possibly tell me about what I'm dealing with? Can someone with no actual life experience tell me anything? I don't know. I'll go because I need to do something but I'm not even optimistic about it anyways.

Then there's the questionnaire. They give you four pages of yes/no questions and honestly, yes or no is very limiting. What do you do if yes feels too scary to say, but no would be lying? I'm a kinda. They obviously ask if you're suicidal and I'm not, I don't actually want to do something that would end my life but some days I feel ambivalent to being alive. Like if I happened to get hit by a bus, I'd be maybe OK with it. Because I came back from the dead for this. I hurt all of the time, I can't remember shit, nobody has answers, nobody can tell me if I'm going to get any better than this, I don't want to get out of bed, I don't want to parent anymore, I don't want to leave my house but I'm also sick of being here. I can't say my depression has ever been this bad but I'm officially in a dark hole and it's not even scary. Maybe that is what scares me, I don't even care I'm in the damn hole. I'm just hanging out and faking it for everyone else.

Towers Falling (and winner!)

If all goes according to plan, I'll have a book review for you every day this week. I know. I've been kind of balls to the wall with reading so hopefully you'll find some new things to add to your fall reading lists this week. But first, we have to announce the winner of a copy of Helen Maryles Shankman's new book They Were Like Family To Me:

Congrats, Anne!! I've emailed you so check your junk mail if you haven't seen it yet. Thanks for entering, lambs!

But now it's review time. This one is one that I picked out for my daughter out of her classroom Scholastic order form because the kids had asked me about 9/11. I ordered a non fiction book but then I saw this and thought... yes. Yes, I will order a fiction book because sometimes I think fiction books written about real things gets to a kid better. It's more interesting and easier for them to relate to so I ordered this one too.

Towers Falling - Jewell Parker Rhodes
From award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes, a powerful novel set fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks.

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

You guys- get this book. Get this book not just because of the 9/11 aspect of it and how well done it is, but this is a great look at children who come from all kids of economic and cultural backgrounds. It's like the perfectly integrated school where there is really a little something of everything and these kids, while learning about the world around them, learn about the peers around them. The center of the story though is Deja, who is living in poverty and moved to a new school, struggles to make friends. She also struggles with seeing how, though she's in poverty, there are other tragedies around her and that the most important thing is she still has her family and family is your home, not the structure around you.

But it isn't just the poverty and the 9/11 story line but it's also the nuances of Deja and her family. I won't give it away as its like a secondary story line in the book that ties into the 9/11 theme, but once we learn about Deja's father, it almost makes her home life even more tragic than just the fact that their large family are living in one room of a homeless shelter.

This is such a great MG (middle grade) novel but it would be good for third grade and above, to be honest. The theme is written so well that it brings the horror of 9/11 to their level in a calm, informative way. I had a really great discussion about 9/11 and cultural differences with my daughter, and we talked about how it relates to what we see on the news today. I really think this would be a great addition for a classroom book shelf as well.

Friday, October 7, 2016

October: RSV Awareness Month

This post was sponsored by AstraZeneca as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.


I consider myself to be a pretty experienced, seasoned parent. I have navigated through different illnesses in the 11 years I’ve been a mom and if I haven’t seen it, surely my mom has, so between her and I, I’ve always felt pretty confident in taking care of my children. Fast forward until March 2016 when my almost one year old daughter, Penelope, got sick with what I thought was a common cold. I treated it as such but over the course of a week she progressively got worse and worse. Finally one day when I got her up for the morning and she looked like she was struggling to breathe, I knew I had to act and act quickly. 

Penelope, resting in the emergency room

Once in the emergency room we learned that she actually had RSV. I hadn’t ever experienced RSV and only remember seeing a pamphlet about it briefly in the waiting room of our doctor’s office. But here I was, dealing with this first hand in my daughter. We were lucky because the doctor told us that RSV is scary and can quickly turn into a life and death situation because babies lungs are so fragile.

October is National RSV Awareness month and it’s important that all parents recognize the signs of RSV, know when to bring their child in, and how to prevent the illness from happening. Almost all children under the age of two will contract RSV but the severity will vary. RSV is a common seasonal virus that peaks between November and March, and usually causes mild to moderate cold like symptoms, but can quickly escalate and lead to hospitalization, especially in infants who may be at a higher risk. I also didn’t know how contagious RSV was, the child will likely recover in a week or two, but can spread the virus for a few weeks even after recovery, which is why prevention is key. 

Some signs to watch for are your obvious cold symptoms coughing and/or wheezing as well as a fever. Some infants (including Penelope) had signs of gasping for breath, and her chest looked like it was caving in when she would breathe and her nostrils expanded more than what I considered usual. And as a parent, you can tell when things don’t’ seem quite right so trust your gut and go in. While there is no magic cure for RSV, there are things you can do that your doctor will discuss with you.

Since Penelope recovered, and now that we have two month old Lucy, I’ve become hyper vigilante about hand washing (a good practice to reinforce with older children anyways), we wash toys and surfaces with disinfectant frequently, and we limit our contact with crowds, especially now that we’re into cold season again and the back to school germs are making the rounds. We aren’t smokers anyways, but if you are consider keeping second hand smoke away from your child. Their lungs are so sensitive and it can lead to future health problems as well. Having been through this once, I can tell you it’s terrifying to watch your child struggle to breath. Please visit the RSV Protection website to learn more about RSV and what you can do to protect your child this season. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Best Man

I'm pretty excited that I've had some children books to read and review this fall because I'm a big fan of giving books as gifts for Christmas. If you get a book from me, you'll know that I spent some time trying to find a book I think you'd like. And with kids, winter break from school can get long so I always make sure my kids have a new book or two that they can read over break. This book would be a fun read for them that I think they can relate to.

The Best Man - Richard Peck
Newbery Medalist Richard Peck brings us this big-hearted novel about gay marriage from a kid’s endearing perspective

When Archer is in sixth grade, his beloved uncle Paul marries another man—Archer’s favorite student teacher. But that’s getting ahead of the story, and a wonderful story it is. In Archer’s sweetly naïve but observant voice, his life through elementary school is recounted: the outspoken, ever-loyal friends he makes, the teachers who blunder or inspire, and the family members who serve as his role models. From one exhilarating, unexpected episode to another, Archer’s story rolls along as he puzzles over the people in his life and the kind of person he wants to become…and manages to help his uncle become his best self as well.
 


I can't remember for sure, but I'm certain I've read other books by Richard Peck. I at least know that he's popular in the middle school crowd, but even my daughter in fifth grade has read some of his books and she's been waiting to read this one.

The book revolves around Archer, who in his own right, is in the middle of puberty and middle school and it's tough for any kid. The story does start with a wedding and the introduction of Lynn Stanley, who would grow to be his best friend despite how uncool it is to be a middle school boy with a girl best friend, let alone one who basically saves him despite him asking to definitely not be saved by a GIRL. Archer's character reminds me so much of my son, a little un-cool, sweet, and trying to just get by and not get picked on. I love Archer's family, I love the hilarious way the author writes the story as well, for a YA book I was laughing quite a bit.

But the meat of the story is when Archer's uncle Paul, the super cool uncle everyone wishes they had, gets married to a guy. Which is confusing anyways to Archer but the other groom is Archer's favorite teacher, which makes middle school life even more complicated. I absolutely LOVED how this story handles gay marriage and it's really presented like it's no big deal. Just a really cool day that lets you wear a really cool suit that you'll be sad to outgrow.

If you follow my reviews you know how elusive a five star review is, but I have to give this book five stars. I do, it's that good. I'm such a fan of this book and I flew through it in one evening. I think we can all relate to Archer's school troubles but combine that with his family and life outside of school, it's such a sweet story, with a great lesson on love and friendship, and it's written with such humor. It's just a really great story. Totally recommend this for your kids- they'll love it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

They Were Like Family To Me Book Blast and GIVEAWAY

Critically praised, beloved by readers, In the Land of Armadillos has an evocative new cover and title, They Were Like Family to Me. Now in Paperback! Available October 4. 

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland's towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. 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 Jewish creator of his son's favorite picture book; 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: silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect "his" Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker, 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, They Were Like Family to Me is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.  

“One of the most original and consistently captivating short story collections to have appeared in recent years…(They Were Like Family to Me) is a singularly inventive collection of chilling stark realism enhanced by the hallucinatory ingredient of top-drawer magical realism, interrogating the value of art, storytelling, and dreams in a time of peril and presenting hard truths with wisdom, magic, and grace.” Jewish Book Council 
 “Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce's Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany's invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman's prose is inventive and taut… A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” Kirkus Reviews 

“...by turns forthright and tender, oblique and intimate, brutal and ethereal…Though each story stands beautifully on its own, it is the completed tapestry of interwoven details that finally reveals the entire picture and provides the full emotional depth of the collected stories…The author’s greatest accomplishment is in leaving the horror to speak for itself, and instead giving voice to the enchantment.” Historical Novel Society 

About the Author: 
Helen Maryles Shankman’s stories have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her stories have appeared in The Kenyon ReviewGargoyleCream City Review2 Bridges ReviewGrift, Jewishfiction.net, and other publications. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Color of Light and the story collection They Were Like Family to Me. She lives in New Jersey, with her husband and four children.

Purchase the Book:

Giveaway