The Home I Left Behind, a New Pup, and a Book Review

I’m going to be honest here, I have only read one book since my last post.  My husband and I went on a vacation, we got a new puppy, and the next thing I knew, it was time for another blog post and here I am with only one book to review.  Also, I’ve been a bit consumed by the news as of late.  2020 keeps getting stranger and stranger.  However, reading is not a race.  I’m not disappointed in myself, because I’m still reading, but also living and I don’t need to reach a certain quota. 

For our vacation, we spent two nights in Asheville, North Carolina, then headed down to Wilmington for 3 nights.  I used to live in Wilmington and would often escape to the mountains.  Since moving from North Carolina back to my home state of Indiana, I have been back to Asheville several times, but hadn’t been back to Wilmington in about 4 years.  Why? Well, I like going to the mountains in the fall and it’s a much shorter drive.  Also, it breaks my heart each time I go to Wilmington, because I left a huge piece of who I am there.  You see, a piece of my heart will always be there, because it was there that I became who I am now.  I would give anything to live there again, but really, I miss the water.  I so badly want to live near the beach again.  I miss the fresh seafood, my toes in the sand, the rushing water of a wave meeting my feet and splashing against my calves.  I miss the freshness of the sea-salt air.  Wilmington also happens to have a charming downtown area.  I miss it all.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry on the drive home.  Luckily, my husband fell in love with it too and though we can’t move for another 10ish years, it was nice fantasizing about living at a beach town.  Jeremiah has family in Hawaii and wants to move there.  I would love to as well, but there are a lot of things to consider with a move to Hawaii.  The number one being cost. A coastal Carolina town seems a bit more doable.  Either way, I find comfort in knowing we both want the beach and it’s not too far off in the grand scheme of things.

So we also got a puppy.  Hands down the dumbest decision we’ve ever made.  I blame it on Covid. She was an oopsie.  I have wanted a Bernese Mountain Dog ever since living in Wilmington 10 years ago, when I first met Ziggy, a berner who frequented a dog friendly bar I also frequented.  When Jeremiah and I moved into our house last year, we ended up getting his dream dog, a dachshund named Popeye, and I came to the relationship with my rescue, Harls Barkley. We became a 2 dog home and I continued to daydream about a berner until one day during far too much quarantined time, I found a berner puppy and without thinking or much talk at all with my spouse (I ran to him and asked him if we could after I had already made contact) we decided to say yes.  The day after our vacation was over, I drove 2 hours north to pick up Frankie.  Frankie is adorable and I love her, but also, 3 dogs while trying to get pregnant… not smart. The first full day with her, my husband had to stay the night away for work and I was overwhelmed.  Our two dogs hated Frankie (they are warming up to her now).  Harlan went into a full depression and Popeye became aggressive toward her.  It broke my heart that my selfish desire for this puppy broke the hearts of my other fur babies. And even though she’s the best puppy I’ve ever had in that she’s basically potty trained and hardly cries in her crate, she still has accidents and needs watched.  Day 1 with Frankie = boat loads of tears.  So if you’re thinking of adding a third dog to your home, I would advise you not to.  But like I said, I do love her.  She’s not going anywhere.  Hopefully this all gets easier.    

2020.  The year of the pandemic.  The year of the BLM movement.  The year you unfollow friends on social media, because politics.  The year you say the wrong things on social media, because nothing is the right thing to say.  The year you just try to stay away from social media in general.  You know what, 2020? I’ve been trying to give up social media for awhile.  Thanks for the push.  I am actively lessening my time on facebook, because facebook is 100% the worst.  Newsflash people, you don’t get your news from facebook.  Also humanity… let’s have some.  I’m trying to move more toward instagram and even with that, I’m trying to minimalize my time.  The less time I spend on social media, the more time I have to read and write and spend time outdoors. Yes please. Sign. Me. Up.

Now onto the ONE book I have to review!

I read Shiner by Amy Jo Burns, a southern grotesque novel about a snake handling preacher’s family.  I love a good southern grotesque novel and not nearly enough of them are published these days.  This book had all of the sub-genre’s features: a southern setting, low income, families off the grid, a grotesque deformity, murder, religion, etc. But somehow it was missing something.  Some parts of this novel felt rushed and some aspects didn’t fully come together.  I felt that the first half of the book made it seem like the book was going to be about one thing, and then it turned into something else entirely.  While I enjoyed this one, with it’s southern flare, it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be.  It was just very average. 3/5.

I did just start listening to Such a Fun Age and have started reading The Last Flight.  I also have more really exciting Book of the Month books to get to before July and my book club book! My next post should have much more reviews!

Happy reading y’all!

Sunshine Gets Your Body Moving and Books

It has been absolute nourishment to my soul to have warm weather and sunshine.  I’m so grateful for this change in weather and what comes along with it.  Suddenly, there is color again and I absolutely love it. 

I’ve been running a 5K almost daily, followed by a 2.3 mile walk, so long as it’s not raining out.  My dog, Harlan, loves it.  The other day it was raining and he was so confused that I hadn’t taken him out yet, that he actually brought me a leash.  It was adorably sad. I had pretty steadily walked him in the winter months, but temperature definitely affected that and when we did go out, our runs/walks were much shorter.  Anyways, I’m really pushing myself to get my 5K time under 30 minutes.  For some of you out there, you may be thinking that’s very doable and easy and may even scoff at my efforts, but my 5K started at 36 minutes and in the course of about 6 weeks, I’ve gotten it just under 32.  12 minute miles have become 10:30 minute miles. Just because I’m slow, doesn’t mean I’m not working hard, that’s for sure. Now, to get those miles under 10 minutes…

Talking about working hard, since my last post, my husband and I have been killing it when it comes to our home projects.  We moved into our home a year again May 6th.  We knew we would be focused on the inside of the house first and then, eventually, work hard on the outside of our home.  We’ve been dreaming up our front and backyard renovations for at least 9 months, and now, it’s all finally coming together.

  1. We had the deck sanded and stained a beautiful gray color
  2. Put solar powered lights on our deck posts
  3. Got nice patio furniture
  4. Built a stone patio in our side yard
  5. Spray painted our bistro set and got some potted plants to fancy up our new stone patio
  6. Continued fancying up the side yard by cleaning the chaises, adding cute cushions, and putting up a pretty bird bath
  7. Outlined two garden spaces in the side yard and planted hostas
  8. Weeded, mulched, and framed our trees in the front and back yard with stone
  9. Dug up a long row along our fence line and planted blueberry and raspberry bushes
  10. Had large raised garden beds put in
  11. Began the process of planting vegetables and fruit
  12. Dug up two large ugly plants that were by our garage

Now all there is left to do is have the trim on our house painted and weed and plant flowers in our flowerbed in the front of our yard.  It feels good to have accomplished so much in the past two weeks.  I don’t think I even realized just how much we’ve done, until I typed this out. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it!

Aside from completing a million yard projects lately, my husband and I have been doing a lot of grilling out.  I mean, why wouldn’t we? We have spent so much time working on the backyard, now we want to enjoy it!  It’s been a nice change of pace, cooking and eating outside, and based on what my weather app says, it’s supposed to be in the 80s tomorrow, here in Indiana. 

This time of quarantine or social distancing has made me very thankful for my quiet little life.  It has made me appreciate the little things, and has obviously made me pretty productive.  Well, it made me productive reading wise too.  Let’s catch up on my recent reads 🙂

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore has received a lot of mixed reviews.  I was initially excited to read it, but then had my reservations due to so many negative reviews.  The book was marketed with the plot being centered around a young girl who has a brutal crime committed against her, and how that crime then shakes up this old Texas oil town. When I first started the book, I was like, I don’t understand how so many people didn’t like this book!  The first 30-50 pages completely sucked me in and the writing was stylistically pleasing.  Sure, the author didn’t use quotation marks, but neither does Cormac McCarthy and I love his books. Anyways, I was sold, but just like my initial excitement turned to reservation expectation wise, so did my reading enjoyment.  Wetmore started throwing in multiple other women’s perspectives and the heart of the story changed and for me, it was lost entirely.  Some readers have suggested that this book is really about a Texas oil town and not a horrific crime that set the plot in motion.  I would agree, but I wish the author would have stayed with the crime aspect.  She missed an opportunity in exploring Mary Rose, one of the main characters, in making this more about the town than the tragic event.  Mary Rose was fighting for Glory/Gloria, the young girl who had been assaulted, when no one else was or seemed to even care.  Her heart was bleeding for this young girl and I loved those scenes, but the rest of the characters I honestly didn’t care about.  I wanted the book to be about what it was marketed as and what it started out as, but it wasn’t.  This could have been a 5 star read had Wetmore not changed direction. 3/5.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center was nearly perfect.  This is the second book I’ve read by her.  Earlier this year, I read Things You Save in a Fire, which was also amazing.  This one was even better. And now, I’m a full fledged fan, so I need to read more of her books ASAP!  She has a new one coming out this summer.  I will definitely be getting it.  Anyways, How to Walk Away is about a young woman who becomes injured after a proposal goes wrong.  She has to learn how to emotionally and physically walk away from her old life and I was in tears before page 30.  Books make me emotional sometimes, sure, but before page 30?! Are you kidding me?!? That’s how real it felt though.  Center pulls readers in so affectively and kudos to her, because this book required quite a bit of research.  My only gripe about this book is that the Ian character changed too abruptly and perhaps his tragic past was a little too far fetched or too much.  Still, this book otherwise, was so good, I can overlook those gripes and give it a 5 star rating.  I highly recommend this one! 5/5!

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, a novel about Adele, her troubled marriage to David, and the woman who comes between them, was a compulsive read. I was addicted to the relationships being built, but moreover, was waiting for the fall.  The build up was really great.  There haven’t been many books where I was reading and got upset that I couldn’t read faster, but this one was definitely one of those books.  There was some shakiness when it comes to character development in one character in particular, and the ending, while shocking was honestly a little too far fetched.  I will say as little as possible about the ending in hopes of avoiding spoilers, but I felt that I wasn’t all that surprised by who was ultimately behind everything, and while the concept of how they were behind everything was new, it was almost too outlandish and I could have assumed that something would have come from where that came from.  That probably reads very confusingly, so maybe re-read this review after you’ve read the book and you’ll get what I’m saying.  I also feel that Adele’s true character was revealed far too soon.  For these reasons, this one gets a 4/5.

I decided to read Beach Read by Emily Henry after seeing so many glowing reviews for the book. This light read was basically a Hallmark movie.  Now, I love Hallmark movies.  They are light and fun.  The acting may not be great and the script is typically meh, but it’s mindless enjoyment.  I can be doing other things around the house while watching a Hallmark movie, or I can be doing work on my laptop, and regardless of what I’m doing, it doesn’t matter.  It’s predictable and I know exactly what’s going to happen.  Initially, I was not interested in Beach Read, because I felt like that’s what this was going to be, but again, there were just so many good reviews! Unfortunately, this was my Hallmark movie.  It was a light and easy predictable read.  It was enjoyable, but the writing wasn’t amazing and the characters weren’t amazing and everything was just OK. Some people cited that they loved this book, because it was laugh out loud funny.  I didn’t find that to be the case.  I actually felt like the attempts at humor were attempts that tried too hard.  If you’re looking for humor, look into some Jonathan Tropper books.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing on romance or chick-lit.  As you read earlier, I loved How to Walk Away, but Katherine Center’s books have so much more in them and are like watching classic rom-coms from the 80s and 90s.  Beach Read, while enjoyable and overall fine, was your basic Hallmark move. (3.5/5)

I just finished High Achiever by Tiffany Jenkins.  You’ve probably seen her videos on social media.  I would imagine you’re living under a rock if you haven’t.  Her page is called “Juggling the Jenkins.” I’ve always thought she was funny, so when I heard she had a book that was more or less her tell-all regarding her past addiction, I was intrigued.  I got the memoir and devoured it.  It was an incredibly easy read.  I felt like she was just telling me the story and could easily visualize and “hear” her as she did, just due to my familiarity with her.  Her story, though, broke my heart in the best possible way.  Even though I know she’s clean, I still found myself rooting for her as a I read.  This woman has been through so much and really is an inspiration.  I’m happy that she has overcome her addiction and has changed her life.  She seems really grateful for her sobriety as well.  This one won’t win any big awards, and may not be a profound piece of literature, but it is well worth reading.  Especially if you or someone you love struggles or has struggled with addiction.  (4/5).

As promised, I did draw a winner for my first book giveaway.  They have until next Thursday to claim their prize.  If they don’t, then I will re-draw!  I hope your days have been as blessed as mine.  Happy reading y’all!

Marie Kondo-ing Life

I don’t know how long you all have been quarantined, but I’m wrapping up week 6 on my end.  My husband, who serves in the military, was away at a military class until last Friday, so it’s been great having him home (finally) this week. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what things “spark joy” in my life.  If you know the reference then you might say I’ve been Marie Kondo-ing my life.  I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I personally value and love myself as the person I am.  If I do love and respect my person, then I need to evaluate all things in my life.  If it’s not bringing joy to me or if it’s causing problems, then keeping those things in my life is not being kind to myself, right? I’ve been pretty introspective and ultimately working towards being the best version of myself.  So my question to you, dear reader, are the things in your life– the habits, the routines, the relationships, and job—sparking joy?  Is there something you need to break away from? Maybe something you want to explore? 

What better time than now to better yourself?

I hope you’re being kind to yourself, offering yourself grace, and taking this time to create positive habits or lifestyles.  I hope you’re allowing this time of social distancing to better yourself.  Why don’t we all just Marie Kondo our lives together!  Anyways that’s all I have for you between my “life binding.”  I hope it gives you pause to think. 

Now, let’s talk books.

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads.  It centered around a cult, which maybe I’m twisted, but I love a good cult story.  I have always found it fascinating how one person’s ego and search for power could culminate in several others blind fellowship.  Typically those people are easily preyed upon, which, from a psychological standpoint, makes them even more intriguing.  Unfortunately, while this book had everything I would want, perhaps my hopes were too high or the execution wasn’t quite where it needed to be or both.  The plot was fine, but it did get a little cheesy by the end.  Perhaps even cliché?  The pacing wasn’t very great either.  My heart completely broke for the main character though, and I would say the character building  as a whole was solid.  This book was decent, but didn’t really stand out as special.  3/5.

I would say Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was my next book, but I had actually started it several weeks ago.  It was, however, the next book I finished.  I used to read several novels at a time, but don’t typically do that anymore, because I feel like it makes me lose focus.  However, I do make an exception when it comes to lengthier novels.  Anything over 450 pages is a little daunting to me, so I take my time with these longer novels.  Anyways, this particular novel was actually very closely based off the true story of Pino Lella and his involvement in WWII.  It shows the Italian side of the war, an aspect not often looked upon.  Pino is an incredibly likable character and this book definitely made me cry. Boy did it ever.  I was a sobbing mess by the end of it.  However, what really was remarkable about this book was the afterward when we learn each characters’ truth.  As it turns out, Pino Lella was a complicated man who tried to move past the war, but deep down, I don’t think he ever did.  Some of his life is less admirable, but that only made him all the more real.  I really enjoyed this novel.  It was an easy and engaging read that also turned out to be quite the adventure.  I would definitely recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction or WWII based literature.  4/5.

Just last night I finished Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn, a family saga with roots in magical realism and Hawaiian folklore.  The writing style was somewhat experimentally edgy in that it was so beautifully written, but also had moments of vulgarity from the characters.  I couldn’t decide if this cheapened the writing or if it made it stronger, because clearly the writing was well-done while still holding true to the characters, who, at times, were crass.  Due to this novel’s lyrical prose, it was one to savor making the pacing slower.  Unfortunately, I found myself frustrated with every character at one point or another and kept waiting for everything to culminate in a larger sense plot wise, but it never did, despite it hinting otherwise.  This debut novel had such great potential with it’s hints of magical realism and Hawaiian folklore, and while it was good, it just wasn’t great. 3/5.

Valentine is my next read!  And with this quarantine, I have a long list of books to get to! If you have subscribed to my blog, you are entered into a chance to win Miracle Creek, my favorite book of last year! I will be notifying everyone of the winner on May 1st!  In the mean time, spread the word and read on dear ones!

32, D.C., and books, of course

I started the year in a reading frenzy, but after going back to work after Christmas break (I’m a teacher), and getting back into the groove of things, it’s much harder to find the time to read as often or as quickly.  Plus, I’ve just been busy.  Since my last post, I’ve been to Washington D.C. for an all expenses paid conference on global education and I turned 32.  I’ve finished two books and started another.  More on those later. 

I’ve always been an overachiever/perfectionist.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  I often stress myself out with the amount of work I put on myself, but it feels good to be successful and maybe I just crave the positivity of an “I’m proud of you” or a “good job!”  I also love to travel, so when an email crept in my inbox about applying for a global education program through Fulbright, I applied.  I found out I was accepted in July and then started a graduate level course on global education in September.  The next step was D.C.

I had never been to D.C. before.  I could write on this experience for quite a bit, but there are books to talk about!  The highlight reel is this: I saw all of the famous monuments, ran a refreshing 3.5 mile run with my friend (who also happens to be my boss), learned more about global education, and most importantly learned more about myself.  All in all, not a bad getaway.  Perhaps the biggest moment of the trip was my friend’s encouragement for me to be honest with the higher ups of Fulbright about my life plans.  More on this later… maybe.  Anyways, it worked out well.  I was afraid to be vulnerable and honest and damnit if it’s not hard enough being a woman, but it all worked out better than I could ever imagine.  I was originally scheduled to do my field experience in Thailand (which was my first choice), but am now going to Morocco (which likely would have been my first choice had I known it was an option).  This change will work out much better for me personally and I’m so excited!

Life between the binding has been eventful to say the least, but I did somehow manage to get my reading in.  

My sixth book of the year was The Night Circus, which started with such promise.  I was completely enchanted and I think that’s a perfect word for what this book brings to the table: enchantment.  Unfortunately, the middle of the book lagged on and the plot seemed to fizzle out.  It did pick up and finish strong though.  There was definitely a magical quality about this book, aside from the obvious.  The love story was captivating, but I wish it would have started sooner.  I wasn’t invested in many of the side players either.  This book had so much potential for me, but ultimately fell short of the mark.  However, it has stayed with me.  Initially, I might have given this book a 3/5, but I’m feeling now that it is at the very least a 3.5. 

Little Fires Everywhere was the pick for my book club this month.  Which, by the way, if you don’t have a book club, you’re doing life wrong.  I love meeting with my ladies every month to catch up and talk about our lives over snacks.  Talking about a book we all read, just makes it all better, because there’s solidarity in what we’re doing, but we all come with differing perspectives.  I digress.  Little Fires Everywhere was the hit book of 2017 and has maintained it’s popularity by continuing to be on the best-seller list.  Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are even starring in a Hulu series depiction of the novel. Basically, people love this book. Me, not so much.  I didn’t hate the book.  I actually enjoyed it just fine and found myself more invested about half way through. The first line of the book starts with action and immediacy, however, that shortly fizzled out for me.  I felt like this book was buried in exposition.  I craved dialogue and maybe more of a sensical formal.  While this wasn’t my favorite book, man is it complex.  It’s going to be a great book to discuss at my next book club meeting and I can’t wait! 3.5/5

I’m currently listening to Sing Unburied, Sing and wow.  Jesmyn Ward is a master of poetic nuance.  I’ve previously read Salvage the Bones and both novels are similar in that they really transport you to a very specific life; characters are fully realized, lovable, and redeeming; and they are a slow burn in the best possible way with rich language that takes your breath away.  I find myself stopping and just wrecking my brain over how effortless this style seems for the author, yet how complex it is really.  She is a genius wordsmith and character builder and I look forward to finishing this book up.  Right now, this book is looking like it will end up being at least 4 stars for me.

That’s all for now.  Find a book, let life happen, and remember that all good things happen between the binding.  Happy reading!