Friday, March 30, 2018

Happy Friday Thoughts

I'm going to practice something that I put to the wayside but I need to pick it up again, it's about laying out some things that made me happy this week or that I'm grateful for. 

1. My very first article for the Duluth Moms Blog went live this week, My Brush With Death: I Survived an Amniotic Fluid Embolism, is up so I'd love it if you went over there to read it, like it, share it, comment on it, whatever. It's gotten a lot of love on Facebook but it would be great to see traffic to their blog, too. 

2. Penelope is almost out of her terrible two's and it's so great. She's more vocal and can have a conversation with you, she's funny, and she can really be a sweetheart when she wants to be. 

3. My mom got a BRAND NEW car this week and I'm so happy for her. She's never had one brand new and she deserves it. I hope she loves it. 

4. I was pretty proud that I not only got Easter baskets done early, I got the eggs for our little egg hunt done, AND I got Jackson's birthday presents wrapped (his birthday is the fourth) early. I kind of felt like my old self for a hot second. 

5. I had therapy this week but I also saw psychiatry. I got a new med to replace one and so far (knock on wood) I feel like this one is working better and I'm hopeful I'm almost at the end of the road with psychiatry, assuming nothing significant changes. 

6. I did some kind of exercise every day this week (again) and I might even increase the resistance on my recumbent bike again. 

7. Matt assures me that we ARE getting a fence this year and he's in the process of working out the details. That gives me a lot of relief and piece of mind about being in the yard this summer. Last year I just couldn't because I can't chase down toddlers and I was having panic attacks, but this year? This year will be better. 

8. I went to church and had lunch with my dear friend, Cassandra. It was so great to catch up with her, it's been too long. 

9. Cassandra and I are going to see Jay Z and Beyonce's Encore 2 concert. Obviously this should be number one on the list. That means I have five concerts on the calendar for this year already. YES. 

10. I got to take a nap every single day this week and it was GLORIOUS. 

What made YOU happy this week? 

Book Review: The Darkest Promise

I've only read part of this series but thankfully, they are all their own separate story part of a bigger picture, but the author does a great job at catching you up!

The Darkest Promise - Gena Showalter

Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him - until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile and seduce her into his bed.

As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever.

Alright, so in confession, this is book 13 in the series and I've only read seven of them- not even in order. It's highly unusual for me to do that but this series is something I wouldn't normally pick up but I've been grabbing the books from library sales or reviews and piecemealing it together. I vaguely remember Cameo because I was thinking her doom, of never feeling joy without losing her memory, would be one of the hardest ones to have. They are all really awful in their own way but to never feel joy, or happiness? No matter what? That's kind of rough.

Can we talk about Lazarus? Because I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. He is so alpha, is probably the most alpha character I have ever read and it was so perfect and so much of what Cameo needed.  Anyways, so Cameo escapes to the realm that Lazarus rules over and he knows it's because she's destined to be his mate, also his greatest strength and weakness. But it can't be happy ever after because when he finds his mate, his body will harden into a crystal and he's in there forever.

Makes sexy times tricky.

And sexy times there are! Holy hell, lambs. I have forgotten how well Gena Showalter can write these scenes but she does not disappoint, and for two characters facing such dire futures, they can get it on like today is their last. Hot damn.

I'm giving this one a 4 star rating, only knocking it down because there were some funny spots but other points where humor is used and it doesn't fit the scene so much. But honestly I'm just getting nit picky here, it's a pretty great book and a stellar addition to this series.

One of the handiest things is if you get the Mass Paperback, in the back of the book there is a timeline of all of the other books, so if you haven't read them or it's been awhile, you can catch up. Each book has a quick summary and main events that happened so that going into this book you're not so much in the dark. This is SUCH a great feature and I'm glad Gena Showalter took the time to put this together for readers, it's so helpful.
   

Book Review: The Runaway Rock Star

I have to just tell you that I am like twelve books ahead of schedule for my Goodreads challenge, that never happens. I have so many books I'm in the process of reading and so  many great review ones coming up, I'm not in the mood to take a break at all!

The Runaway Rock Star - Veronica Blade

An infamous bad-boy rocker falls for a small-town girl who has no idea who he is. Considering his reputation, that’s probably a good thing. 

After his latest escapade splashes across the tabloids, Grammy-winning bad-boy Liam Blackwell questions his own choices. He alters his appearance, hits the road and drives until hunger forces him to stop at The Wagon Wheel. Mesmerized by the pretty bartender, he lingers and, with each passing moment, staying becomes easier to imagine. But he doesn’t do relationships and Emma isn’t a one-night kind of girl. And when this small-town girl learns all about his big city life, wouldn’t she dump him anyway? 

When a stranger walks into The Wagon Wheel wearing leather and a sexy grin, Emma Taylor is instantly drawn to him. But raising a child alone is hard enough at twenty-one without adding his kind of trouble into the mix. Though Emma sees more in Liam beyond the bruised knuckles and tattoos, she can’t risk temptation again or allow herself to hope for love, because when he inevitably blows out of town, he’ll just be another guy who broke her heart. 

I'm giving this a strong four star rating. Had this had more actual love scenes, this easily could have been a five star, I just didn't realize that Veronica Blade writes "semi clean" novels. Overall though, it was pretty good.

We have Liam, who goes by stage name Nick Black, who has had enough of his celebrity and the spotlight, so he decides to shave his goatee and cut his hair, take out the car he never uses, and hit the road. He lands in Gardnerville, Nevada, in a run down little bar where he meets Emma. Emma the show stopping, gorgeous, single mom bartender. By the end of the night he's helping out behind the bar, staying at her place, and falling in love.

The beginning of the book starts of hokey and fully unrealistic, but once you get beyond that and realize that these two were made for each other? It's an adorable romance. You won't find any sex scenes, but plenty of PG-13 heat and this is fully about falling in love with someone for the right reasons... even if he's lying about his life, small details, right? It's clear this is the start of a series, and I'm sincerely hoping Emma's friend Breanna is the second book with one of Liam's band mates, maybe even the one trying to get sober... or maybe the one Emma's is doing books for. Either way, I'm all in.

   

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Week in the Life: school assignments and toddlers gone wild

I feel like we haven't done a whole lot, and I maybe have already shared these, but I didn't move them in my computer files so maybe I didn't. So let's talk anyways. 

The girls are getting to the point where they like to have their hair done, an improvement from screaming while it happened. But Lucy especially wants to be a big girl and have as Penelope has dubbed it, "a tony tail". She's very proud of it and occasionally pats her head to make sure it's still there.  
 Jackson continues to win Big Brother of the Year awards because 98% of the time, Penelope and Lucy give him such a hard time and are little monsters for him. On this day Lucy sat there with her doodle pad and she wanted Jackson right there
 So he sat there and offered help when she got frustrated. Then she hugged  him and then promptly refused him to hug her back. You'll notice her tony tail, right? 
 Olivia had a class assignment to make a crap ton of cupcakes. I convinced her to make mini cupcakes and to be fair, I didn't supervise the mixing of her ingredients. I'm no Martha Stewart, but I have never had cupcakes deflate into themselves. 

Needless to stay we were up far later than I wanted to be making a different batch. 
 Lucy likes baked good and she'll smile like this when she's being goofy. 
Don't let this innocent face fool you- we found a place that does pre-pre-school two days a week for a few hours starting in the fall. You bet your ass I'm sending her in the fall. She's a LOT of work. I'm pretty sure we're coming out of her terrible two's (just as Lucy is starting hers) but even still, the bad days are far outweighing the good ones. I think she needs more structure than I can give her. 

I need some good ideas for activities that both girls can do. So many that I've found on Pinterest have small things Lucy will absolutely try to eat, or there are things that require far more patience than I have anymore. The search continues. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Weight Loss Wednesday: Screw you, body.

Last week I was pretty down on myself, and it's hard not to be. This week I have decided that even if I can't lose weight, I'm going to do something every day to exercise because I can't get any worse. I'm going to try really hard to maintain where I'm at if nothing else, I don't want to keep setting records for my worst weigh in yet. 

So. 

Every single day last week (except Sunday) I went three miles on my recumbent bike. It takes me about 25 minutes to do it and I have it on the third resistance setting so it's not super taxing but it isn't easy, either. 

On Monday I did my mile on the treadmill. Admittedly, I could have (and should have) done more but I'm going to fix that this week. If I can get two days on the treadmill in, I'll consider it improvement. 

If you are a long time reader of the blog you will likely remember my brief stint with vlogging. I was at my peak of fitness during those and I was working hard to do 5K's and I was able to briefly get down to a size 10 pant. 

Sigh. 

I miss her. I miss her for a lot of reasons, not just because she was a fit bitch, but because she was really the best version of me. I don't know if I can get back to that but if I could just get a little of that spark... I feel like I could move mountains. 

Book Review: Starlight Nights

I'm trying to stay on top of my monthly book subscription box books, but I am failing miserably. It's out of control yet I can't stop myself. I want them ALL.

Starlight Nights - Stacey Kade

At twenty-three, Calista Beckett is trying to overcome her early fame and fortune. The former savior of the world on Starlight is now a freshman at college--miles away from L.A. and her former existence. She sees it as her start to a new life, a normal life, one where she won't make the same mistakes she made before--a brush with heroin addiction and losing her freedom to her controlling mother, thanks to a court order.

Eric Stone played her older brother, Byron, on Starlight. But she's been in love with him pretty much since they kissed--her first kiss--while auditioning. When Eric shows up on campus out of the blue asking her to return to California for a role, Calista's struck immediately by two things: first, in spite of everything that's happened, she still feels something dangerous for him, and second, she's absolutely determined not to let him ruin her life again.

Only Eric's not giving up so easily.

I have to be honest and tell you that had this not come in my PageHabit box, I wouldn't have chosen this one to read. It comes in at almost 400 pages and honest to goodness, at least 100, maybe 150 pages of it could be written out. It's so slow to start that I almost put it in the DNF pile, but I wanted to read the annotations and understand why they were there.

In this book we have a really hard to like heroine, Calista, and easier to like Eric. Both were actors on a hit TV show back in the day, they had a tragic falling out involving another actor on the show, and because neither one of them have any kind of maturity or communication skills, they go years without talking. Until Eric branches out on his own and is making a web series from a book that Calista loves, and he wants her for the lead. Only she isn't acting anymore but doesn't really seem sure about being in college and all of that. Throw in an over the top stage mom (Calista's) and an asshole dad (Eric's), and you've got more drama than even necessary. This is a follow up book to 738 Days, which I hadn't read but didn't need to because it was all recapped in this one.

Overall I'm giving this one a solid two stars. It was alright. It wasn't great, it's not one I'd read again, and it's not one that I would buy for my friends, but I wouldn't stop them from reading it. The book does have a sweet ending and once their romance gets going (almost towards the END), it picks up in interest.

  


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Dangerous Game

If you're a Heather Graham fan, she's back with another solid book!

A Dangerous Game - Heather Graham

The third novel in the New York Confidential series by long-established NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Heather Graham. This is the author's romantic-suspense stream, in addition to her successful ongoing mass market paperback paranormal romantic suspense series.

Psychologist Kieran Finnegan is thrust into the middle of an investigation into human trafficking when a desperate woman shoves an infant into her arms and then flees...only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street. Despite the fact that it isn't an FBI case, Special Agent Craig Frasier starts poking around, because Kieran can't stop thinking about the child and the victim. Their one lead comes through the pub, Finnegan's on Broadway. One of the waitresses also volunteers at a church outreach center, and had been in contact with a distraught young pregnant woman, whom she recommended Kieran to as someone who might be able to help her. When Kieran goes to the outreach center to do some off-the-books investigating of her own, she is approached by two women who are worried for their missing friend, and who reveal that they were part of a human trafficking ring that did business in babies. As Craig and Kieran delve deeper into the underbelly of NYC trying to find out more, the dangerous elements of the ring come to the surface, hoping to silence Kieran before she exposes them. 


The third book in the New York Confidential series, A Dangerous Game is a stand alone, you definitely don't need to read the first two to understand what is going on in this one. In this book it starts with Kieran, getting ready to leave work for the day, suddenly confronted by an unknown woman in her office, handed a baby, and the woman runs out only to be murdered out in the street in broad daylight by an unknown assailant. Nobody, especially Kieran, knows who the woman, or the baby, are or why she would seek Kieran out like she did. You get the immediate impression that Kieran is someone who wants to be involved in helping people so she can't let this rest.

Her FBI boyfriend, Craig, agrees to be put on the case part to ease Kieran's mind but part because it has the feel this could be tied to the Russian underbelly of New York City or some kind of immigration scam. Either way, he's on the case.

This book isn't big on romance so if you're going into this looking for that, keep looking because while Kieran and Craig are a couple, it's not a prevalent story line in the book. They're a couple and they stay a couple. I actually liked this book because sometimes you just need a break from romance, and you get to see the "inner workings" of the FBI more in this book than in previous ones, I suspect. When you get to the end and Graham is weaving all of the story lines together neatly you realize it's a very current problem I'm sure law enforcement are facing around the country but particularly cities heavy with immigrants, such as New York City.

Fast, entertaining, suspenseful read, sure to be a favorite if you're a Heather Graham fan or if you have read the first two books!

   

Book Review: A Mother's Book of Blessings

If you are looking for a Mother's Day gift, I've got you. Pair this with a sweet note, some flowers, and maybe a spa certificate, and you will be winning it this year.

A Mother's Book of Blessings
With ageless wisdom for every occasion, this elegant little book is the perfect gift for mothers looking for a little dose of enlightenment. Illustrated with exquisite vintage art, it's filled with time-honored proverbs, enriching parables, uplifting quotes, and inspiring poetry that encourage readers to contemplate and celebrate life's milestones. These illuminating words and their invaluable lessons, drawn from cultures around the world, will resonate with families from all walks of life. Whether commemorating the birth of a new baby, celebrating a graduation, a birthday, a housewarming or a special holiday, this timeless treasury provides guidance and encouragement for everyone: an enduring keepsake readers will turn to again and again. 
This book is another gem from National Geographic, and I'm telling you- they have the BEST gift books, aside from their travel books. You wouldn't think this would be a mine of goodness but it absolutely is and I enjoyed paging through this.

Full of beautiful, and sometimes vintage like, illustrations, all 350 pages has a short poem, proverb, or thoughtful statement about the cycle of motherhood. Beginning with becoming a mother and ending with gratitude, it covers every challenging stage. Whether it's "new baby", or "travel", and every important milestone, you'll find yourself nodding along as each one speaks to a mother in a new way.

This would make an excellent gift for a new mother, your mother, your grandmother, or yourself. It's thoughtful, it's beautiful, it's sweet, and it's a gentle look at motherhood and the challenges (and rewards) of being a mother in every aspect.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Reviews: The Raven Room & Savage Bonds

Here's a series I don't know how to feel about.

The Raven Room - Ana Medeiros

Anything you can imagine. Everything you crave. For the members of The Raven Room, it’s every fantasy fulfilled. But for some, that desire is a matter of life and death. 


Drawn by needs he cannot control, Julian ventures to The Raven Room, a secret and exclusive sex club in the underbelly of Chicago. It goes beyond sex. It goes beyond kink. The Raven Room is the only place where Julian finds release from the dangerous urges that threaten to destroy the successful life he’s worked so hard to build. 

When the police link the Raven Room to the death of a young woman, it threatens to expose a number of powerful people—people who would kill to stay anonymous...

Meredith’s body can’t get enough of Julian. He has opened her sexual horizons to tempting new possibilities. But out of bed she’s an aspiring journalist, and The Raven Room is the story she’s been looking for. By writing an exposé on the club and its elite clientele, she plans to launch her career. 

As Meredith embarks on a sexual journey into the forbidden world that Julian inhabits, questions emerge, and dark appetites threaten to swallow her whole. How much can she trust the man who has laid bare her erotic nature and how much will she sacrifice in order to protect him?

It's been a long time since a book made me gasp in an uncomfortable way. Almost to the point that I was ready to put the book down and not finish it, but I did because I was so close to the end anyways.

I don't know how to even describe this book, to be honest. It's not a love story, and it's not really about the relationship between Julian and Meredith at all, they are really good friends who happen to have sex periodically. It's not really about Julian and Alana, who have the most bizarre and absolutely brutal sex I have ever read (and that's saying something). There's Meredith trying to write a story on The Raven Room, we see a little bit of what happens there, but it's tame compared to what Julian dishes out for Alana. We learn about Julian's rough beginnings and these twins he misses? Pines for? I have no idea. Then there are girls being murdered with ties to The Raven Room. The whole thing is all over the place and it was hard to know what this book was really about. It certainly isn't as described because honestly, Meredith's role in her "sexual journey" is such a minor part of the book it seems not worth noting at all.

I'm going into book two feeling uneasy and uncomfortable, I can't imagine Julian getting worse but I think that's where we're heading.

   



Savage Bonds - Ana Medeiros

Journalism student Meredith Dalton is driven to launch her career with an exposé on The Raven Room—an illicit and exclusive sex club hidden in the shadows of Chicago’s Chinatown. 

But Meredith's also driven by desire for her lover, Julian Reeve, a card-carrying member of the club who has expanded her sexual horizons. When Meredith uncovers evidence that the recent murders of two women are connected to The Raven Room―and possibly to Julian—only tracking down the true killer can prevent her from an impossible choice between her two passions.

Unsure who to trust, Meredith zeros in on the killer and a web of organized crime. But what are the consequences of diving deeper and deeper into a dangerous world unwilling to relinquish its secrets?

Alright, this book made a little more sense to me and it didn't feel as if the author was trying to go in several directions all at once. In this book we focus more on Meredith, which is what I thought we were going to do in book one but no, that was all Julian. I actually had to take away all the sexy times so I could appreciate the suspense part of this book, which could have been so much more if it didn't get clouded with the sex. Sure, it's erotica and it needs the sex but this would have been great if that was taken away and this was just a suspense with some sex in it. Does that make sense? It's a bit slow moving which almost made it a DNF, but I wanted to know about Tatiana and her ties to Thompson. I wanted to know what the heck is happening and of COURSE- it ends on a damn cliffhanger. So now I have to wait for book three, but there isn't enough suspense to keep me waiting for it. It's not one I'm going to set a release date alert on.

Overall? I'm giving this one 2 out of 5 stars, an improvement from book one but not tremendous.

   

Friday, March 23, 2018

Spring Break Fun: Kalahari, Wisconsin Dells

The kids were really lucky this year that they got to do something fun over spring break. The first few days were them going to Minneapolis/St. Paul and being tourists with my inlaws and family friends. Olivia took some photos with her phone, but most were blurry and I have no idea what they were of. But both Olivia and Jackson said they had a really good time and it's good for them to get new experiences. 

Matt and I knew we couldn't do any kind of fantastic trip some of their friends were taking, but we decided we would book two nights at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells and just not tell the kids.
And that's just what we did. We went to lunch, told the kids we were going to run an errand and almost five hours later we're pulling into the parking lot. They had no idea I had packed our bags and it was right behind them the entire time. To say they were surprised is an understatement! 
We had a great time in the Indoor Theme Park! The big kids basically left Matt and I and did their own thing but I was able to get one quick photo of them on the ferris wheel in the cart behind us.  
Penelope LOVED IT. She kept saying she was "so happy" and it was "so fun". I'll have to get her to the fair this summer but I think Disney would be so much more fun for her!  
Even Lucy had a great time even though she didn't really understand what all was going on.  
We rode the carousel, Lucy loved it.  
Ugh... how huge am I getting?!  
Nobody loves the carousel more than Penelope. Absolutely nobody.  

The entire next day was spent in the waterpark area, which was the reason we came!
 Penelope was ready for it in her new swimmy suit. 
 Lucy didn't much care for the swim diapers and kept grabbing herself. Such a lady. 
 Once again the big kids ran off to find water slides they could both do so we didn't see them again until lunch time. But Lucy had a great time in the toddler area. I do wish the toddler area was a bit bigger because when you're stuck in one small area all day it gets a bit boring for the grown ups. 
 Penelope kept laying down and telling me she was floating. She in fact, was not floating, but I wasn't going to argue with an almost three year old. There is no point in torturing yourself. 
 You can tell we swam hard because little Lucy was zoned out waiting for lunch and I thought for sure she was going to fall asleep on us. We decided I would take her back to the room for a nap and both her and I took a three hour one! 

Matt ended up taking all four kids to the pool, by himself, later that night because I wasn't feeling well and didn't think I could sit in a chlorinated area anymore. 
We left the next day and man, we were exhausted. 

I would highly recommend Kalahari, it was a fun resort with a lot to do. If you're travelling with little kids, I'd probably opt for Great Wolf Lodge, there was more for the younger crowd. I also highly recommend going literally anywhere else to eat versus Kalahari. Everything is SO expensive (a mediocre breakfast for us was $70 and two of them got cereal). The last morning we ended up spending $25 on donuts and milk and calling it good because I couldn't spend another $70 on something that would normally cost us so much less. They do have a nice buffet that had "picky eater" selections, so you know where I went! 

Overall it was a great couple of days. I'm glad we splurged and went away for a bit, it's kind of nice to do that once in awhile. Jackson had been telling my mom that we used to do fun things and now we don't. Part of it is because traveling with six people is an undertaking, but also because I have limitations that I didn't before and that makes it hard. I have a hard time planning things because I don't know how I'm going to feel and that's a big part of us getting out. But this ended up being OK. The car ride back was a bit rough but I managed. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Weekend love: the Great Lakes Aquarium

My mom was telling me the other day how she had a conversation with Jackson, as they often do when she picks him up from school and brings him home. But this one hit home for me because he told her that he misses when Matt and I would do things with them and we'd go places. You know, before the babies, and that makes me feel two things: angry because I'm doing the best that I can and it's not recognized and sad because I'm doing the best I can and it's not enough. I hate feeling like I'm a terrible mom and it's something I struggle with on the daily. It makes the voices in my head that tell me I should just kill myself that much louder because obviously I would be doing them a service. 

But that's for another day. 

This weekend though I decided we would go to our local aquarium for the otter's birthday party and we were going to have fun. Even if it was only for 45 minutes because that's all we could do with it being so crowded and two toddlers. 
Yeah, I've got Penelope on a leash- come at me, bro! She's a terror who won't stay in a stroller, she won't hold onto your hand, and she will go limp noodle on the floor if you try to tame this girl in any other way. A leash has been my last resort and she doesn't fight me because it's a butterfly and for now she's cool with butterflies and she's got room to roam. But the looks I get, seriously, it's brutal. People are talking about me and just once I'd like to tell them to give it a whirl without the leash and then judge me. Jerks. 
I have to get one for Lucy because she copies anything Penelope does and she's just too big for the toddler carrier. She pulls backwards to get out, as demonstrated. That and only Matt can wear it because it kills my back front or rear facing.  
The big kids had fun, got to see the turtles and alligators that they wanted to. Were kind of creeped out by the electric eel, but that's alright.  
I saw Dory. We had a chat. It was nice.  
Penelope wanted to take a selfie but I told her she had to keep her eyes open. She's clearly doing so. She's such a smart ass, even at the cusp of three. I'm so screwed with her. 

So overall it was a fun 45 minute jaunt out of the house. I was exhausted because I apparently no longer sleep during the night so I got next to no sleep. I have to do better about getting out into the world, as overwhelming as it is for me now. I hope it's not this tough forever. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Workout Wednesday: Progress in the wrong direction

You guys, I've been saying that 212 pounds has been my heaviest weight. This week? This week I came in at 216. 

A new rock bottom. 

I have to get serious and see what I can do to curb this out of control free fall into morbid obesity. 

I've got my diet on check. I eat much smaller portions, I eat salads and challenge myself to make all of our meals at home. We have our cheat day, Saturday, where we go out to lunch as a family and it's been a tradition of sorts for years. Since Olivia's baby days. I refuse to give those up. 

I've been doing great at exercise! 
Matt cleared an area in the basement and moved my treadmill and my elliptical down there, I have my recumbent bike in my office (handy because I do it while I read at night or as I'm waiting for lunch to cook). I'm doing at least 30 minutes a day. Using my inhaler as prescribed. I even got the OK to taper down on my steroids a bit (from 20 mg to 15 mg) a day and so far, I haven't gotten sick or noticed any adrenal crisis signs. 

I've been doing my pelvic floor exercises and squats, my resistance band exercises for my arms. I don't know why I'm gaining weight. And don't give me the "muscle weighs more than fat" crap because I'm not at that point yet. I am feeling so defeated. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: The Final Six

This isn't my usual reading material but it had an interesting premise, one that feels relevant to the current changes in climate, so I decided to give it a shot.

I'm so glad I did.

The Final Six - Alexandra Monir

Set in the near future, this action-packed YA novel—already optioned by Sony—will take readers out of their world and on a quest to become one of six teens sent on a mission to Jupiter’s moon.

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

It's not very often that I read a book and think, "this would make a great movie" but this one hits that mark. It's very much like The Hunger Games, teenagers from around the world who possess certain markers (ability, education, physical traits, etc) are selected to be one of the 24 who compete to become the Final Six- those six are charged with colonizing Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. While most of the candidates relish the idea of starting over and leaving a climate torn Earth behind, Naomi is not one of them. She hasn't experienced the loss and devastation the others have and she would be leaving behind her family, but more specifically, her brother Sam behind.

Add to the fact that the entire mission feels doomed to begin with and Naomi knows what the dangers and unknowns are. She isn't buying into the conveniently fluffy information the leaders are feeding the contestants so she decides she's going to use her smarts, and hacking program, to infiltrate one of the leading AI robots to get the information she desperately seeks about Europa, the RRB injections they've been getting, and more. Nothing goes as planned, especially the relationship between her and Leo, the candidate from Italy.

Just as we start to get some answers and real drama, the Final Six are chosen and it's devastation!! It leaves you on a major cliff hanger, and nothing is as it seems because the one person who wants to go and doesn't get chosen, gets pulled aside for their own mission that rivals that of the Final Six.

This was SO MUCH like The Hunger Games, and I liked it! I normally don't care for a sci-fi dystopian, but this one kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I knew maybe three quarters of the way in that I was going to be stuck on a cliff hanger and now I can't wait for book two. I so hope I get the opportunity to review that one because now I'm invested in this story, I have to follow it to the end. It would make for an incredible movie as well, we have the space drama, Europa's unknown, finalists you love for their tragic back story and the finalist you don't like at all, then you have Naomi and Leo. I didn't much like Naomi, she comes off as incredibly self absorbed, she isn't able to look beyond her little bubble in the world and see that the majority of people are experiencing tragic losses as a result of climate change. She's just worried about her brother who, let's face it, is probably going to die anyways. Maybe I'm callous but it seems like a wasted effort to save him in the face of current events in the world.

Anyways, I'm giving this a solid 4.5 stars. I'm only knocking it down because Naomi is so self absorbed it made it hard to really like her at all. I'm hoping now that she's had her epiphany at the end of this book that she gets her head in the game for book two.

   

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review: She Asked For It

This book came inside of my February My Guilty Pleasures book box and Willow Winters is a new to me author. I think. Her name is familiar but I can't remember if I've just added her books to my to-read shelf on Goodreads or if I have actually read her before and just can't recall book titles. But it looks intriguing even though I had an uneasy feeling about the title and the back description.

She Asked For It - Willow Winters

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

You’ll tell me you don’t… but you already think you know what my story’s about.

You have no idea.
Just like the people sitting in this courtroom.
She asked for it. That’s what they keep saying.

And no, it’s not because my skirt was too short or I was drunk at a party.
It’s nothing like that. It’s because of what I like and how I like it.

They’re judging me as I sit in the front row, my eyes drawn to the man on trial.
If I’d known it was going to end like this, I never would have gone home with him.
But he’s the type of man I just can’t say no to.

I wanted to feel his lips kiss down my neck.
I dreamed of running my fingers along the rough stubble on his jaw.
I craved his hands on me, pinning me down.
I needed to whisper his name in the dark, late at night.

You still think you know what happened? You don’t.
He’s innocent and I enjoyed every second I was with him.

Let me tell you my story, all about how I asked for it. 


Alright, this story was kind of... strange. I thought it was going to end one way and it ended much differently than I thought. We have Allison, who is literally going to be the female character you hate the most if only because she's an idiot. She has some kind of trauma in her past and you think she's been raped or something and no, it's not really even her trauma she's running from. She's set on ruining her life until she completes something... we don't know what she's even doing. Dean is more straight forward, he knows he's got a troubled past but he's actively trying to make changes and better himself someway and then he meets Allison, which makes him feel things differently. He wants her, he's willing to do what it takes to get past her walls even at the risk of his freedom, literally.

Couple things, I really liked Dean and I feel like maybe I shouldn't have. He's got anger issues and he likes his sex rough but you know it's probably going to be a fun time so you're willing to over look it. Allison is just the worst. I really didn't like her and then in the end when she's just completely unhelpful to Dean and lets him basically hang on his own and he's like, "Nah babe, it's cool"?! No. I didn't like it and I didn't like her. He should not have been so nonchalant and should demand a whole lot more from her than his no lying rule which she already broke.

Overall? I'm giving this one three stars. It was alright, I almost didn't finish it, and Dean saved it for me.
   

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dance Weekend #1: Brainerd

We actually have two competitions again this year and I know some families find it cumbersome, I think it's fun. We aren't a competitive sort of family, I've always told my kids to do their best but have fun, who cares if you win? We're here to do something fun that we normally don't get to do. I don't want my kid to be the one pouting if they don't do well, I just want to know they had a good time. 

So I go into these weekends looking at it like time away from the chaos of the house. This time it was kind of a big deal (for me) because I drove us to a new place without incident and I got us home safely, too. I didn't get lost and I didn't get distracted or overly tired. Sure, I medicated myself, but I felt pretty OK. 
You know what I forgot, though? My CPAP machine and sleep aid medicine. I don't sleep well away from home and I totally forgot it and paid the price on that. I should also mention that our hotel was fine, except my bed was broken! It was completely busted in one corner so I felt like I was going downhill but backwards. Not a fun feeling to wake up to when you already wake up kind of disoriented anyways!

So the morning of we rush over to the high school in Brainerd, which is really very nice.  
 Got Olivia all ready for her first dance, Hip Hop. This is a special session so they just started this routine in January. 
 But it's a fun group of girls. 
 The team that won first place was far and above our team, but we still placed second out of three teams. 
 Olivia was beyond excited about that. 

We had a quick lunch and then had to get ready for their next, and last dance, for Kick. 
 In this group we were up against four other teams. They've done this routine since September and when I saw it in December, they did so well. It was spot on and just really great. 
I was surprised they came in fifth so they didn't get ribbons. The girls were bummed but Olivia said she had a lot of fun and enjoyed watching other teams from different cities dance. Our team just isn't a competitive dance group and that's OK. I'm glad the girls are getting these experiences and as I told Olivia on the car ride home, which was exhausting, you learn so much more from losing than you do winning. You're still left with goals and something to work towards and that's pretty alright. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Olivia Twist

Do you love the retelling of classics? I do and I have a couple I'm going to do for you this year (yeah, I'm looking ahead) but let's start with this one. It's a reimagined version of Oliver Twist.

Olivia Twist - Lorie Langdon

Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Olivia Twist is an innovative reimagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale Oliver Twist, in which Olivia was forced to live as a boy for her own safety until she was rescued from the streets. Now eighteen, Olivia finds herself at a crossroads: revealed secrets threaten to destroy the “proper” life she has built for her herself, while newfound feelings for an arrogant young man she shouldn’t like could derail her carefully laid plans for the future.


This book was so good I had a hard time putting it down. You know the story of Oliver Twist, but this is so rich and full of London goodness, dare I say it's better than the original? It's in the same time period but it feels modern, like this could be a modern day retelling almost. The author does a great job with her words so you picture the scenery, the children, the other characters, you get the feel and the grit of the scenes, she just did a really great job with this book. In the back it says this has been in the works for 35 years and you can tell because it's just written so well.

I did not expect a love story between Olivia and Jack, The Artful Dodger, but love story is what we got. A slow moving, rich cat and mouse game ending in a sweet romance. This isn't a retelling so much as it is a "what happened next?", and we find Olivia and Jack off the streets and no longer orphans. Though separated and Olivia no longer disguised as a young man, she and Jack find themselves in the glittering echelon of London society. Though they are no longer orphans, old habits die hard and they are still thieving independently to further their causes until one evening when Olivia realizes why Jack looks so familiar, he's her Artful Dodger, the orphan who took her in and helped her develop her skills, so to speak. The way it plays out and how their relationship develops is fun because Jack doesn't realize how good Olivia, who used to be Ollie, has become and how she continued to pull one over him. But when he realizes who she is and their relationship develops, it is so sweet. Jack can be himself, though he doesn't feel like he deserve her but he does! And she deserves him! It's PERFECT.

I loved this one so much and it was so much better than the original for me. I really adored this one. It's a great read for the YA audience, but even my 12 year old is loving it right now so this really spans the readership groups.

   

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Happy mail in the form of: Book Boxes!

I am obsessed with book subscription boxes and there needs to be some kind of therapy group for it. Right now I'm getting The Bookworm Box and PageHabit regularly, but this month I added a one time, just to see how it is My Guilty Pleasures box, which is know called Totally Booked Crate. 

Which, if you're going to change your company's name and website? Maybe a little shout out email to your customers so they don't search for you, not find you, and assume they just got ripped off for $29.99, mmkay? 

So let's talk about  my boxes! 
My February box from The Bookworm Box is pretty solid! I am in the two book box (you can choose one book, if you want but then you get a larger swag item) so I got two books, some bookmarks, a pen, and a little hand warmer. I've already read one of the books, SEE THROUGH HEART, and it was so good!! So, so good you guys. So good that I've added her other books into my Amazon cart for the first chance I get money. Pretty excited about it. 

I heard about the My Guilty Pleasures box (now Totally Booked Crate) through another blog and I decided I wanted to give it a try since they have a one month only option, so that's what I did for February. The theme was "Girls Do It Better". 
Our box contained SHE ASKED FOR IT by Willow Winters, which is my current read, a knit hat, a "girl power" candle, a tea blend from Adagio Teas that I threw out, a vinyl sticker (which is new to a book box for me and I kind of love it), and a little art print. Overall this was a fun little box and they have three sub genres to choose from: young adult/fantasy, historical romance, or contemporary/new adult romance, and I chose the last one. Next month the theme is "Sea of Lies" so I'm on the fence about it. We'll see if I can get through a couple more books before I add to my collection!

I'd love to include my PageHabit box for this month but it STILL is not here. Frankly, this is all kind of unacceptable. It shipped February 19 and here we are, still waiting. I've already contacted them once and finally the package started moving but it's stalled again and I don't know why it's taking THIS LONG to mail a package via UPS. It's nuts. Get your crap together, PageHabit.