Show Us Your Books – August Edition

 

Happy Show Us Your Books Link-up Day! Spoiler alert: I didn’t *love* anything I read this month. And I get really wordy in my reviews. (But that’s nothing new.) Here we go!

 

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Goodreads * Amazon

Um, you guys? I read this back in June but forgot to include it in last month’s SUBY post because I completely forgot I read it. I re-opened it in mid-July and couldn’t figure out why my Kindle showed I was at the end. Didn’t I just read the first couple of chapters and then get distracted by something else? Nope.

This is one of those psychological thrillers where I figured out the twist REALLY early on, but then convinced myself that I had to be wrong. This does get bonus points for having a really good red herring, but overall it was just ok. The ending was a little too unbelievable to be satisfying. I reviewed “Behind Closed Doors” by the sane author back in August of 2016 (wow it doesn’t seem like that long ago!) and I think I enjoyed that one more. Not sure I’ll pick up a third one by this author, though.

(Complimentary e-book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Decluttering At the Speed of Life

Goodreads * Amazon

Clutter is something I’ve been dealing with in a major way lately. If you didn’t know, I’m living in my mom’s house while she’s in a nursing home, but a lot of factors have prevented me from ever really “nesting” here, mostly that she wants to move back home as soon as she’s strong enough to, and that I want to move back to Florida as soon as I can afford to. The main problem is that my mom has SO MUCH STUFF everywhere that there’s not really room for *my* stuff, too, so the house pretty much always looks cluttered. (For instance, since every dresser and closet is packed full of her stuff, I’ve picked up little plastic bins at the dollar store that I’ve organized socks, underwear, t-shirts, etc. into.)

I’ve also realized in the past year or so that unless an item either makes my life easier or is really useful, I’m probably not going to get that much joy out of it. Cute decorative thing? Meh. Extra phone charger that I can just leave in the car so I can keep my main one at home? SO WORTH IT.

So hey! A book on dealing with clutter!

This book strives to make decluttering really simple by establishing basic boundaries and practices. For example, if you have a sock drawer, you’re limited to the number of socks that will fit in that drawer. Seems obvious, but how many of us have tons of “homeless” objects because we have more than will fit into their designated space? Her methods remove most of the emotion from decluttering. Rather than “does this pair of socks bring joy to my heart?”, it’s more, “Okay, my sock drawer holds 20 pairs of socks, so which 20 do I use most often or like the most?”

You know how there are a lot of Self Help books that don’t really have revolutionary new ideas, but they still motivate you to change by whacking you over the head with basic things you already know (at least on some level) until they sink in? That’s where this book falls. It’s hard not to read a page about cleaning out your pantry without wanting to go check for expired food that might be lurking in yours.

I do wish they had included checklists in each section. Most chapters follow the structure of following a de-cluttering process in a specific room or area of your home. While the steps of the process are firmly stuck in your head by the end of the book, it would have been useful to have something to glance at as you worked on that room when you get overwhelmed and need a nudge in the right direction.

I did love the quote, “There’s a difference between something being useful and actually using something.” I also liked when she addressed people who may be dealing with physical limitations (from mobility disabilities to anxiety that makes things like decluttering super hard) with “Do what you can, whenever you can, as often as you can.” I can sometimes only handle 5 minutes at a time without getting overwhelmed and exhausted, but if I do those five minutes as often as possible, real progress happens.

I think that with this kind of book, it’s all about finding the one that offers a method that really speaks to you. If other decluttering books haven’t worked for you, this one is worth picking up – it might be the one that finally hits home. I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t one that resonated strongly with me.

(Complimentary review copy via NetGalley)

 

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Goodreads * Amazon

So.. this book. The cover and title caught my eye on NetGalley and it sounded kind of interesting, but I’ve been trying to only request books I REALLY want to read so I passed on it. But then I saw a couple of people highly recommend it online, so I went back like a month later and downloaded it. I am so sorry about how long this review is going to be, but….arrrrgh.

This is one of those instances where judging by how the author writes, I’m supposed to know who she is? But starting out, I have zero clue. I eventually deduce that she’s a lifestyle blogger, but… dude. I’ve been in this blogging thing since 1999, so I’ve seen more “famous” bloggers come and go than I can even begin to count, and bloggers with followers in the bazillions are a dime a dozen now. Given the “you probably think this and that about me” tone, I’m guessing the intended audience is mostly her blog readers, not the public at large?

I looked this up on Amazon to get the link for this post fairly early on in reading it, and noticed that 94% of its almost 3,000 reviews are 5 stars. Am I the only one that gets a little suspicious about that kind of thing? I mean, even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which is obviously the best one in the series) only has 76% five star ratings. I later learned that the author promised to reply to anyone who left a review and sent her a screenshot of it, so out of 300k Instagram followers, it totally makes sense that 1% were happy to type up some lavish praise in exchange for a message from someone they like following. (I read through a LOT of reviews to try to figure out what the hype was. I do find it amusing that most of the two and three star ones said it was either too religious or not religious enough.)

Overall, I was pretty “meh” on the book. The topics are kind of all over the place, it often feels more like a memoir than a self-improvement book (and a lot of her personal life stories seem pointless and mundane), and while the author seems to try to be relatable by sharing her “flaws” and referring to readers as “girl” and “sister” (?), she’s just… not. At one point she describes getting Bell’s palsy, which temporarily paralyzes part of her face, while on vacation in Paris. She literally says, “I’ve never felt sorrier for myself than in that moment” to describe when she was getting her photo taken in front of the Eiffel Tower because she had to wear sunglasses and couldn’t smile normally. I don’t know about y’all, but the most “poor me” moments of my life have totally been on multi-country European vacations, too.  (I learned from reading reviews that her husband used to be a Disney exec, so… they’re doing pretty okay in the dollars department. I feel like authors in that category often don’t understand how impractical their life advice might seem to other 99% of the population, and how we might be less impressed by your successes knowing how many huge advantages you had that helped you achieve them.)

I think that the main problem with books written by bloggers or YouTubers is that they have so many people who comment on everything they post saying how brilliant and perfect and inspirational they are that they begin to, at least on some level, truly believe it. Most people with even a moderate following can Instagram a picture of their morning coffee and get a hundred, “OMG I want to be you, you’re so perfect.” comments. Most chapters felt like she just wasn’t qualified to be offering advice on the topic she was covering. (The chapter on diversity is cringe-worthy, and the chapter on fitness is horrifying. She refers to losing weight as, “literally the easiest thing in the world.” Did you guys know that you just need to burn more calories than you consume? That’s it!)

She writes about how raw it feels to share with the book’s readers about things like the way she allowed herself to be treated in her first relationship (before the guy magically became awesome overnight and she wound up marrying him?), but the unhealthy relationship that it’s so embarrassing to write about? Sounds like almost any 19-year old’s first relationship. Of course you did stupid things to try to make sure he liked you – you were a teenager who had never been on a date! So many of the stories in the book are along those lines – completely un-noteworthy. Things you’d probably tell your best friend about when they happened, but not at all the kind of thing you’d still be talking about years later.

Overall? I think this would have been much better off as a memoir with a bit of “inspiration” mixed in than an attempt at giving advice. A good self improvement or motivational book is about the reader, while this is 95% about the author and 5% “You can, too!” Since the writing is clearly aimed at people who are already fans of hers, I think it would have been just as successful in sales if it was written as a memoir and could have avoided the “let me tell you how to live despite having zero qualification to do so” thing. Also might be better if she’d picked a side on it being a religious book or not, since as I mentioned above she seemed to annoy people on both sides by trying to straddle that line.

Again, sorry for the novel of a review, but the inflated ratings make me want to put a truly honest review out there to balance things out a tiny bit. I read a bunch of 1-3 star reviews that were like, “I saw that this was a bestseller and got amazing reviews so I bought it… am I the only person that doesn’t understand the hype?” I’m not trying to be harsh or look down on anyone who DID love it and got inspiration from it. That’s awesome. I just want to save others who get a few chapters in and start thinking, “This isn’t great. What am I missing? Everyone else seems to love it, it must get way better.” from wasting precious dollars and reading hours. I didn’t hate it, and some chapters were interesting to read, but it’s not the masterpiece that reviews seem to imply.

 

A note unrelated to the actual book: I will *never* request a title from this publisher again, because someone thought it was a great idea to put notes about the ARC being copyrighted material in the middle of the text on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Advance copies generally have a note about it being an uncorrected proof and not quoting the text without checking the final copy at the very beginning of the book, but I’ve never seen one have anything after that, let alone on literally every page. To make it worse, something got messed up in the formatting so instead of “DO NOT DUPLICATE”, in the middle of a random sentence you’d have the word NOT (which often made me think the author was being sarcastic) and then in the middle of the next line, “DO DUPLICATE”. It’s impossible to get into a book when you’re trying to read a sentence and you get yelled at by caps lock words on LITERALLY EVERY PAGE.

 

 

Before now, my biggest pet peeve for ARCs was when the publisher didn’t at least give it a perfunctory run through Grammarly or something before releasing it into the world to thousands of reviewers, but this was so, so much worse. Imagine going to the screening of a movie and someone’s phone blaring the original Nokia ringtone every two minutes. At first you’re like “Wow, that’s annoying, but surely they’ll fix it soon?” but then no. Every two minutes. It rings during the quiet, sad moment. It rings during the hero’s dramatic monologue. You seriously consider just walking out of the theater after 20 minutes (or in my case, after 5% of the book), but you want to at least try to see what happens. Still, you can only put like 70% of your energy, at best, on trying to concentrate on the plot, because the other 30% of your brain is busy plotting ways to kill the idiot with the phone set to super loud ringer.

And it’s not like this is a new Harry Potter book or something. I’ve seen a couple of people mention it online, but it’s not a book with big hype. Chill, publisher dudes. Nobody was considering duplicating it. Judging by other ARC reviews I saw on NetGalley, they just annoyed the hell out of reviewers (and probably caused a TON of people to give up on trying to read it) for no reason. Uggggh.
(end rant)

(Complimentary review copy via NetGalley)

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Goodreads * Amazon

 

The recent movie adaptation made me want to re-read this, so I got the ebook from my library. I know we read it in 4th grade, and I may have re-read it sometime after that, but I had zero memory of what happens. Like, ZERO. And it was nothing at all like I expected, but still a fun re-read as an adult. I can’t help but wonder how much of it I understood as an 8 or 9-year old? I know it made a big impact at the time because it was so different from any other books I’d read, and even now when sci-fi and fantasy are way more prevalent, it stands out as unique. It wasn’t as amazing as I remember it being, but if you, too, haven’t read it in a few decades, it’s a fun way to pass an afternoon. (And I’d be curious if you have the same, “Wait, did I understand any of this as a kid?” reaction, too!)

 

That’s it for me this month! Head over to Life According to Steph and Jana Says to check out the link-up and see what dozens of other bloggers have been reading lately!

Friday Favs – Ten is Five!

Happy Friday, friends! Here’s what I’ve been loving this week:

 

 

1. I learned about the Potterless podcast this week and have already binge listened to like 35 episodes. (EEP.) It’s a podcast by a guy in his early 20s (he’s 23 at the beginning of the podcast but 25 by now) reading the HP series for the first time. If nothing else, I highly recommend episode 0 to Potter fans, because it’s only about 10 minutes long and he lists out everything he “knows” about the series based on memes and seeing the first few movies long ago. It’s a really fun podcast and it’s both interesting and hilarious to hear him trying to guess plot twists and get things terribly wrong.

 

2. I asked my cats to review the Fancy Feast Gourmet Naturals dry food that we got for the Chewy Influencer program this month, and I think that their review translates to “IT SMELLS SO GOOD WE COULD NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU GOT HOME.”

 

 

The Chewy box arrived just as I was about to leave the house, so I opened it to double check what was inside (I get to choose the complimentary products we review each month, but my memory is pretty terrible), and then left the house for a couple hours. I came home to the above. Clearly, the cats investigated what was in the box and were like:

 

(I haven’t used that meme in a couple years. Feels good to bring back a classic.)

Despite the original, um, enthusiasm, the food got kind of mixed reviews from the cats. They were excited about having something new at first, but most of them preferred their regular dry food if they were offered both. That said, I do love the move towards more natural and sustainable ingredients. We got the ocean whitefish flavor, since their usual favorite flavor for dry food is seafood. Now I kinda wish I’d picked the Filet Mignon and Seafood flavor, which I *almost* picked because it sounded like something they’d be into,  but I switched to Ocean Fish at the last second. Maybe next time!

 

4. I’ve had deer in my back yard multiple times a week lately. Probably because it hasn’t been mowed in a million years, but why mow when you can get your lawn professionally manicured by deer? I actually had TWO deer back there yesterday evening, but I couldn’t see them well through the trees. Still – makes me feel like a Disney princess surrounded by woodland friends.

 

5. Tennyson turns five years old tomorrow! I can’t believe I have a kindergarten aged son. (This pic is from his first birthday, but he basically hasn’t changed in appearance at all.)

 

I’m about to head to the living room for some hot vacuuming action – I know how to party on a Friday! My to-do list has been such a heavy weight on my shoulders lately that I’m hoping a couple of days of hard work will lighten the load a LOT. Speaking of shoulders, I have an appointment with a new chiropractor on Tuesday and I am SO EXCITED. This is how you know you’re old. (Well, not really, since I’ve been getting adjustments since I was 16, but still.) My whole body is so out of whack that I’m legit daydreaming about how much better I’m going to feel.

Go forth and have an awesome weekend!

 

Friday blog linkup

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Friday Favs – August Begins

Happy Friday! I can’t believe it’s already August. Pumpkin spice everything is just around the corner!

Here’s what I’ve been loving this week:

 

1. Sabra has a new black bean dip that is so good! It’s not super spicy, just right.

I just ate it with tortilla chips, but I just realized how amazing it would be paired with a cheese quesadilla. I need to test this theory ASAP.

 

2. I’m getting a pretty noticeable flip flop tan line. I consider this a sign of a life well lived.

 

3. I got a new notebook! And it was 88 cents! Yassss. I’m still using the dragonfly one that’s been literally falling apart since like the third day of use, but I’m excited to switch to this one ASAP.

 

4. This article on Vulture was a fun read! Writers from Sex & the City plotted out what current-day episodes would look like, from goat yoga to #MeToo.

5. I don’t really have a #5 this week! I just finished invoicing writing clients, and I’m getting ready to head over to the thrift store where I work on Saturdays to pick up a couple of hours. Our electricity went out in the middle of the afternoon last Saturday, and it turned out that it was out for the entire town – stoplights and everything! So we wound up going home at 3:30 instead of 6:30. I’d normally just pick up extra writing work to make up for those missed hours, but it’s been a slow week for that, too! (Ok, TBH there’s been plenty available, but I’ve been sick and haven’t been able to talk myself into doing much.) A couple of hours is barely going to feel like work (hopefully), and then I get to come home and work on a post about the cave I visited earlier this week! And then soooo much sleep, because these antibiotics are kicking my butt.

Not the most exciting favorites this week unless you’re like me and get excited about hummus and a notebook.

Hope your weekend is lovely and filled with adventure!

 

Friday blog linkup

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Friday Favs -Goodbye, July

 

Happy Friday, friends! I’m late finishing this up (it’s almost 10 pm. on Friday, eep!) so I’m just jumping straight to my favorite things this week!

1. If ever a shirt was made for me, it’s this one:

Fount it at Kohls – it’s available online here and on sale for $10! They’re junior sizes but I’m broad shouldered and booby and the Large worked for me, so it’s not the usual teeny tiny juniors sizes.

 

2. Speaking of the meowers, they’ve been hard at work reviewing food sent to us by Chewy.com for their Chewy

Influencer Program. This week, they tried out the Victor Turkey & Salmon Dinner Canned Cat Food. I’d never heard of this brand before, but the can says they’ve been around since 1950. We got a 24-pack and most of the cats were fans. This is a pate, but it’s a little more moist than your average pate, which I think contributed to the cats liking it.

 

 

3. I spotted these on my last trip to the good Target in Springfield and grabbed them on a whim. I love Sweet Earth but it’s really hard to make a good frozen quesadilla. These are SO GOOD, though! The “meat” is vegan, but the quesadillas contain cheese so they’re actually just vegetarian. I made them on the stove instead of in the microwave, which I think made a big difference. (The package says they take 5 minutes but I definitely spent at least 10.) There are 4 other varieties but they all contain ingredients that just don’t appeal to me (SUPER bummed about the mushrooms in the Tuscan one!) I’m guessing they must be new? I’ve definitely never seen them before now, and I pay close attention to the healthy frozen stuff section.

 

4. When I got home from my thrift shop job last weekend, I set a bag of clothes I’d scored at work that day down for ONE SECOND and this happened:

 

This is why I can’t have nice things.

 

5. Best tweets this week:

 

 

Have a fantastic weekend!

 

Friday blog linkup

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to the Lake

If you follow me on Instagram, or even read my blog occasionally, you know I go down to the lake several nights a week to relax by the water. It’s only like a two-minute drive and it’s amazing for clearing my head. After a day behind the computer, the fresh air and long walks are magical.

Except, as you probably heard, last week my lake killed a bunch of people. (Link is to a recent CNN story, but there are a billion out there.)

I still have way more questions than answers about the whole thing. It seems like literally everything that could go wrong did.

The area where it happened is about a half hour drive from me, but only a few miles if you measure straight across the lake. Everyone in my town seemed to know the storm was coming. I woke up from a nap and saw the storm warning so I made a quick run to the store for cat food before it hit. I almost snapped a photo of the massive black clouds rolling on, since they were juxtaposed against glowing sun and fluffy white clouds. At the store, the radio was broadcasting the storm warning. A tourist asked if that was for our area. Yup. As I was leaving, another woman came into the store and told the cashier he should bring in the outdoor clearance items ASAP because a big storm was coming. I got home and fed the cats, and then had a call from my mom freaking out about this big storm coming in. Moral of this paragraph: It was a crazy storm and way more intense than expected in some areas, but everyone KNEW it was coming.

 

I’ve posted about these weird storms several times this summer.

 

A few minutes into it, I tried to check the radar on my phone but I have the worst internet everrrrr, so it wouldn’t load. After many tries I gave up and pulled up my county fire department’s Twitter – I can always tell how bad a storm is by how many incidents they’re responding to. Instead of the usual trees and power lines down, I saw this:

 

 

After sending that screencap to a friend with a  note that storms usually don’t freak me out but this one was a little eerie, I went over to their Facebook after the storm cleared up to see if there was more info, and saw that they had clarified that the Belle wasn’t involved. (And yes, if that sounds familiar, I just posted about the Branson Belle a few weeks ago.) After a bit, other Facebook users began posting that they heard one of the Duck boats was involved. It wasn’t long before the FD referred to it as a MCI – mass casualty event. (I clearly remember that because someone posted a reply saying that they hoped everyone was ok, and it took ALL of my willpower not to point out that if it was being called a MCI that um, no, NOT everyone was ok. By far.)

I’ve been through all kinds of feels this week because this literally hits so close to home. Not just geographically, but like, I do the hiking trail that passes through the Branson Belle parking lot fairly often, so I KNOW how close to the sinking site that there are boat ramps where they could have driven out. I have walked down them to the water. It’s close to home in the sense that I got a sudden, super strong headache when the air pressure changed as the storm hit, and it lasted from Thursday night until Sunday. It’s close to home in the sense that I was so, so, so thankful when all of the bodies were recovered not just for the obvious reason of closure for the families, but because I know that there was no way I could go back to sitting with my feet in the water when there was a literal possibility of someone washing up next to me.

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I hated the “Branson Strong” images that started popping up on social media the next day, because I associate that kind of phrase with terrorist attacks. I was home in Orlando when Pulse happened. What happened on my lake was a horrible tragedy that almost definitely could have been prevented, but it is NOT the same as a single human choosing to devastate your entire city. They’re just entirely different kinds of awful.

Last night, though, I finally hit the point where I needed to go back. I NEED the fresh air and the sound of gentle waves and the little turtle heads popping up out of the water. Not taking those walks to decompress at the end of the day was really messing with my mental health. I’ve been waking up from lake nightmares unable to breathe.

 

 

I took my notebook and my bottled water with me as usual, but I ended up just sitting down by the water feeling all of the sadness until it started getting dark. I think I actually asked the lake, “Seventeen people?” at one point, as if I was accusing it, as if it was a beloved pet who had accidentally been incredibly destructive.

I went back tonight, walked around for awhile, sat by the water until it was almost dark again. It’s almost meditative.

 

 

For the record, I’m not trying to be like “Oh poor me, I lost my evening relaxation place” when a bunch of people lost their lives. I just wanted to share a bit of the weird way that an event like this affects people in the local area, even when they aren’t personally involved. It still *feels* personal. I feel absolutely horrible for the people who were on board the Branson Belle and watched it all happen. I can’t imagine seeing people in that kind of peril and knowing you can’t do anything to help. I feel bad for the teenage girl who survived who keeps being told in interviews that she’s meant for great things, because holy crap is that a lot of pressure to put on a young girl. I feel bad for the Belle employee who pulled at least two people from the water who didn’t make it. I can’t imagine how it haunts him. I feel bad for the hospital staff – I’ve been to that ER a few times and it’s always crazy. They’re so not equipped to deal with a sudden rush of people in critical condition, not to mention all of the extra press around.

I try not to get stuck in the loop of “What if?” What if ONE passenger had stood up when the water started getting choppy and put on a life vest, even though they’d been told they wouldn’t need them. Would others have followed? What if they had tried to head in two minutes sooner? (Under normal lake conditions, they could have made it to one of the boat ramps in 1-2 minutes max.) What if that family of 11 had gotten stuck in traffic and missed that particular boat? What if this had happened when I went on the Ducks as a kid? My mom is afraid of water and I remember her being nervous the whole time, so it was probably me who talked her into going. Is someone feeling guilty about dragging a nervous family member along on last week’s fateful trip? There are a million tiny details that can suck you into that rabbit hole of realizing how many decisions we make in a day that add up to big things.

Sorry that this is more of a stream of consciousness than a carefully crafted narrative, but my mind is still in a weird place.  I’d be curious to hear from you guys if you’ve ever been through something similar – the weird feeling when your community is shaken by something that doesn’t directly involve you?