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Weekly Top Posts: 2022-11-27
2022-11-27 05:00 UTC

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Sunday Reflections – 20 November 2022
2022-11-20 16:00 UTC by Michelle

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Reading:  The Last Party by Claire Mackintosh

Listening:  Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Watching:  Ole! Ole! It’s World Cup time, peeps!!! It’s a good thing since both of my football teams are not having the best seasons. Outside of football, I’ve caught up on Derry Girls, The Witcher, The Rings of Power, and Great British Bake Off. Jim and I also enjoy Celebrity Jeopardy, and any true crime shows that catch our eye. We recently finished The Inside Man with Stanley Tucci and David Tennant. It had a strong beginning but lost its way towards the end, but David Tennant and Stanley Tucci are, as expected, fabulous in their roles.

Cooking:  The kitchen isn’t getting that much use these days. Jim travels a lot this month, and I can never find the energy to cook a meal for only me. I recently joked with Holly that food is my love language, and apparently, I don’t love myself enough to bother. It isn’t that so much as not having someone to clean up after I make a mess. Too much work for one person.

Enjoying:  As odd as it may sound, I thoroughly enjoy the weather. Granted, it went from temperatures in the 70s to the 30s in twenty-four hours, but snow quickly followed. So far, we have had snow flurries daily, and I am here for it.

Planning:  We finalized Holly’s return trip for winter break, so we are counting down to when we will see her again. She started her list of foods she wants to eat while home, so I have meal plans to make again to fit everything in during her visit.

Feeling:  First of all, I am thankful for modern medicine. I’ve had a migraine that waxes and wanes for over a month and counting. The only thing that keeps me functioning is Excedrin Migraine. I have some medical appointments in December to see if we can get to the bottom of this and a migraine-specific pain medication to try (after two weeks of waiting for insurance approval – thanks, United Healthcare!). Still, it would have been a much more miserable month without the miracle of Excedrin Migraine.

Second, I am pretty content with everything these days. Jim and I have had a blast going to concerts on school nights (the horror), making spur-of-the-moment plans, hanging out with friends, and enjoying the lack of school district drama. Jim’s travel has been out of control this fall, so we haven’t found a good routine yet, but we are enjoying ourselves when we can. Holly is enjoying Dundee, and Connor is doing well in Denver. Knowing our kids are out in the world doing well makes the empty calendar and silence worth it.

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Weekly Top Posts: 2022-11-20
2022-11-20 05:00 UTC

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Novel Nuggets – October Releases
2022-11-19 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Yes, I’m still here and have been reading up a storm. This means I am even further behind in writing reviews than last month. My goal is to catch up on outstanding reviews by the end of the year. Let’s start with those new releases from October.

The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco
The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco was a perfect read for October. With its tropical paradise setting, ominous curse, and mysterious narrator, Mx. Chupeco sets the tone from the opening page. Add in a mostly unlikeable Hollywood crew, and you honestly do not know if it is so much a horror story as it is a much-deserved comeuppance. Interestingly, a reader could interpret The Sacrifice as a warning story regarding imperialism since the Hollywood execs land on the island laughing at native superstition and lack of technology.

Mx. Chupeco does an excellent job of keeping readers guessing while keeping them on edge. They create an intriguing combination of curiosity and tension as the events on the island become more ominous while remaining baffling. Readers will need to continue to read to get answers while feeling a considerable level of anxiety at the creepiness of the events. It is precisely what you want for a spooky read, and I recommend The Sacrifice the next time you want to scratch that horror itch.

Malice House by Megan Shepherd
Malice House by Megan Shepherd surprised me. I was not expecting the level of gore or horror that I read. Don’t get me wrong. I liked what I read, and the story continues to haunt me.

In Malice House, Ms. Shepherd plays with the adage regarding the power of the pen wherein the pen, or another artistic medium, literally has the ability to bring monsters to life. As if monsters hunting you are not enough horror, Ms. Shepherd adds untrustworthy acquaintances, a dark and creaky house that may or may not be haunted, odd burglary attempts, and a strange neighbor to the creep factor. Where the story ends is not at all expected and is what keeps you thinking about Malice House long after you finish it. For any reader, there is no higher praise than that.

The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera is the much-anticipated prequel to the tremendous They Both Die at the End. As with the first novel, you know that Mr. Silvera will break your heart by the end of the story. Even though it is easy to predict how Orion and Valentino’s stories will end, the predictability does not take anything away from the heartbreak that does indeed occur.

In
The First to Die at the End, Mr. Silvera cleverly connects the characters from both books while setting up a third story to the Death-Cast series. How he does it is subtle and requires an almost perfect memory of everything that occurs in the first novel. My only complaint is that because the story occurs with the very first Death-Cast call, I was hoping for more answers regarding the Death-Cast itself. We meet the founder of the company and creator of the prediction system after all, so it would stand to reason that we get more of a behind-the-scenes peek at the system itself. Instead, the focus is on soft skills rather than science. It’s a small disappointment in what is a clever and emotional addition to what is still one of the best novels I’ve read.

Princess of Souls by Alexandra Christo
Princess of Souls by Alexandra Christo is a fascinating Rapunzel adaptation in which the heroine can see someone’s death by touch. That is a rather unfortunate gift to have, and it means Selestra has had an isolated upbringing. The sympathy you feel for her is instantaneous, made more palpable once you understand how cold and unfeeling her mother is. Nox adds a refreshing breath of irreverence, mystery, and thirst for revenge and provides an excellent impetus for Selestra to learn more about her powers.

As much as I love book series, I enjoy a stand-alone every once in a while, and Princess of Souls provides a satisfying arc for Selestra’s story once she starts taking an active interest in her own life. I love Nox, and his scenes are so enjoyable, but I’m glad this is a one-off. Extending it into a second book would have stretched the story too thin. Princess of Souls is excellent as it is, and Selestra is a welcome addition to the list of strong heroines who learn they are even stronger than they ever believed possible.

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra
Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra is another novel that surprised me. I wasn’t certain what to expect but quickly found myself drawn into its lush descriptions and an intriguing mystery involving royalty and monsters. Katyani has quite an exciting past and present, and I adore her fierceness. She is a woman who knows her worth and will not let anyone or anything tell her she’s wrong. As the story unfolds, we learn the depths to which people will go to obtain or maintain power, which is ugly. Katyani’s world implodes, and we can only watch and wait to see how she handles it and what happens next.

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is the type of novel that draws you in so entirely that you lose track of time. The setting is almost magical in its luxury while being exotic at the same time. The characters are intense, while the magic feels almost subtle but is anything but that. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Katyani and would love to explore more of her world. This is another stand-alone, but in this instance, I would love it if Ms. Mahrotra would set another novel in this world of hers because I want more.

The Sevenfold Hunters by Rose Egal
The Sevenfold Hunters by Rose Egal is a novel with a little bit of everything. It is set in a boarding school for those who like that trope. The boarding school happens to be training future alien hunters, complete with cool equipment for those who want their science fiction or spy novels. The aliens, who inhabit human bodies, survive by drinking humans’ blood, making them more vampiric, appealing to the fantasy lovers out there. While it may not look like this mash-up doesn’t work, I am here to tell you that it does. It works so well that I could not stop The Sevenfold Hunters and mourned when I finished it.

What makes The Sevenfold Hunters work is the cast of characters. We see the novel unfold through two main characters, both of whom appeal to readers for varying reasons. Abyan is strong and intelligent, a born leader. She knows how to get the best out of her team and leads by example. When we meet her, however, past traumas begin to affect her, causing erratic behavior that is not normal and becomes downright dangerous to her team.

Meanwhile, Artemis is Abyan’s exact opposite. She is not strong, and she is not that intelligent compared to the rest of her team. We see the two women struggle and search for answers and cannot help but feel their pain and confusion as we try to put together the clues they uncover.

What we find through their research is not anything I expected. Their discoveries became one big game-changer in how I viewed the entire story and the team’s place. Ms. Egal makes sure to leave plenty of questions unanswered but not too many as to create a frustrating cliffhanger. Instead, I can only sit, wait, and think of potential answers until there is news of a second book. Please don’t make us wait long!

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Weekly Top Posts: 2022-11-13
2022-11-13 05:00 UTC

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Novel Nuggets – May Releases
2022-10-05 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Slowly but surely, I will dig myself out from under this self-made mountain of a review backlog. All I can do is tackle it one book at a time. Here are some goodies I read months ago that were all released in May.

Book of Night by Holly Black
Book of Night, the newest novel from the consistently excellent Holly Black, is as mysterious as shadow itself. Or, at least, that is what I thought after first reading it. Now, I believe I did not appreciate what Ms. Black accomplished with her novel. Most of this is my fault, as I can look back and admit I was not in the right headspace for the book. I spent too much time trying to understand Charlie and her world that I got lost among the weeds.

Book of Night is a novel that needs and deserves your undivided attention. It is not a complicated story, but there is a complexity that requires a little more from a reader than usual. When the characters in a novel can make themselves look like someone else and when something as subtle as a shadow moves, you need to pay attention.

Even though I did not give Book of Night my undivided attention, I still enjoyed the story. Ms. Black does what she does best, presenting Charlie in all her morally ambiguous glory in a world where there is no such thing as a hero. It is a novel that I want to read again to appreciate better the nuances of the story and Ms. Black’s very gray world.

Tear Down the Throne by Jennifer Estep
I adore the world Jennifer Estep built for her Crown of Shards and Gargoyle Queen series. I always look forward to reading her novels, knowing that the world-building is stellar and her characters even better. As the middle story of her Gargoyle Queen series, Tear Down the Throne did not disappoint.

I am particularly impressed that while it might seem like a formulaic romantic fantasy novel, Ms. Estep keeps me guessing. I rarely know where the story is going; in this case, I have no idea how the story will end. Maeven and Leonidas remain as much of a mystery to me now as they were when we first met them in the Crown of Shards series. Plus, I adore the side characters. Grimley is charming in his rough manner, and Reiko has her charms. I find everything about the story delightful and cannot wait to get my hands on the third book!

Family of Liars by E. Lockhart
Like so many others, I was blown away by E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. It was such a gut-wrenching story that I knew I wanted to read the prequel, Family of Liars. While not as strong as the first book, I appreciate the Sinclair family much more after reading about what happened to the previous generation.

Unfortunately, most of what I would want to say would create spoilers for anyone who has not read the first book, and that is something I do not want to do. I can say that Family of Liars is just as atmospheric and that setting still captivates me. I particularly enjoyed the chance to understand the family better, and much of the dynamics that play out in We Were Liars make a lot more sense now. You do have to read that one before you get to Family of Liars, but that is Ms. Lockhart’s intention anyway, so you lose nothing by reading the prequel last. Either way, you are in for a delicious, mysterious treat!

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian is not my favorite novel of his, but that means it is still a powerful novel that others will enjoy. While I understand that it is set in an earlier time when such things were de rigueur, I struggled with the idea of these wealthy Americans coming to an African safari expecting to remain living in the lap of luxury. Again, I know that is just one of the many points Mr. Bohjalian makes throughout the novel, but it made me not want to read the story. The inanity of most of the dialogue before the action starts is cringeworthy.

Once the kidnapping occurred, I would like to say I started to enjoy the story a bit more, but I can’t say that I did. Sure, things take a much more serious turn, and more than one character surprises me with their selflessness. Yet, I still struggled with the entire concept – that people from Hollywood have enough power and wealth to influence the political situation in Africa. The part of my brain that kept telling me that the attitudes and speech fit into the era in which the novel is set kept fighting with the other part of my brain that was disgusted by the ignorance and racism the characters embody. Maybe this means that Mr. Bohjalian accomplished exactly what he set out to do, but that didn’t stop me from doing a little happy dance when I finished The Lioness and moved on to my next book.

Men With the Pot by Kris Szymanski and Slawek Kalkraut
If you aren’t on TikTok or have seen their posts on Instagram, then you probably have no idea why I jumped at the chance to look at the Men With the Pot cookbook before its release date. Kris Szymanski and Slawek Kalkraut only cook outdoors in the most gorgeous settings, and their ASMR is outstanding. Not to mention what they cook looks delicious. For long-time followers of their feed, the cookbook won’t hold much in the way of new recipes. Almost all of the recipes included are ones they featured at some point in time, which is cool. What is not cool is that the authors don’t adapt their recipes for kitchen cooking. While they say it is possible, many of their directions are for highly variable cooking by an open flame and not for ovens or stovetops. This aspect of the cookbook disappointed me because while I appreciate what they do and make as an art form, they freely admit it takes them hours, if not all day, to make one of their recipes from start to finish over a fire as they intend. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love cooking that much. While it was cool to look at the recipes, the ingredients used, and their techniques for making them, I can’t say Men With the Pot impressed me as a useful tool. Entertaining? Certainly. Practical and an excellent addition to any home chef’s arsenal? Not so much.

Nightwork by Nora Roberts
I feel like a broken record when it comes to any of Nora Roberts’ novels because I say they are all amazing. That said, I believe Nightwork is the strongest novel she’s published. Usually, her main characters are all too human with all the associated foibles, but still good. Harry Booth is not a good person. He is a burger and steals from all sorts of people to make a living. Sure, he tries to go straight, but he can’t quite shake using his talents. The fact that everything Harry, and subsequently Miranda, face are a result of his previous actions makes for a surprising and complicated story, much like Dexter without the gore…and dead people. While Nightwork does contain the romantic storyline that is Ms. Robert’s trademark, Harry himself is not your traditional Nora Roberts hero, and I am here for every minute of it.

Hide by Kiersten White
Like many bibliophiles, I cannot answer who my favorite author is because there are too many authors to limit that answer to just one. Instead, I have a special list of authors who make up my auto-buy list. Jay Kristoff, Samantha Shannon, Holly Black, and Nora Roberts are just a few of the authors who make that list for me. Kiersten White is also on that list, so it was with eagerness I picked up her latest book, Hide, and started reading. What unfolded was something I wasn’t expecting but which I enjoyed nonetheless. I wouldn’t say Hide is my favorite novel by Ms. White, but it does reiterate how well she can create spooky stories with plenty of eerie twists. Her mash-up of old-school horror, fantasy, and psychological thriller doesn’t work as well as I hoped, but I still think her writing is strong. Thanks to Ms. White, after reading Hide, I will never look at amusement parks in quite the same way again, which speaks volumes.

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Novel Nuggets – Mid-September Releases
2022-10-04 15:00 UTC by Michelle

September is THE month for publishing. It must be the idea that kids are back to school or something. Still, every year, I find myself inundated by review copies of highly anticipated sequels, the buzziest of buzzed books, and other new releases that make me drool. It also means that no matter how hard I try and how often I read, I always end up behind with not just my reviewing but also my reading. Because I am so hopelessly behind in both, here are the books I have read that had a September 20th release date.

Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros
Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros is an engaging power struggle story that involves a rather unusual found family. Having lost her family while a young child, Toma is the most sympathetic of the characters. Somehow, despite being abandoned quite literally in the middle of nowhere by her mother after losing her father in an accident, she is not just kind and knowledgeable about hunting and foraging but also street savvy despite having not seen another human being for years. Then there is Vanya, a natural rogue who can’t help charm everyone he meets, which Mr. Polydoros ensures includes the reader. As they rush to rescue Toma’s sister and Mikhail’s throne, it becomes not just a race against time but also an exercise in sociology as our hapless group learns a little more about each other and the society they live.

What makes Bone Weaver different from other stories is Mr. Polydoros’ inclusion of magic, but not just any magic. Toma’s foster parents happen to be among the benevolent undead, a.k.a. zombies who retain enough of their previous consciousness to be able to overcome their desire for human flesh. In the ultimate definition of unusual relationships, these zombies provide a nurturing environment for Toma and much-needed affection and companionship during her formative years. Then there are the bogatyr, those unique humans born with the ability to manipulate nature. This is magic that does not involve spells, rituals, or herbs. No one knows why some people have these abilities, just as no one knows why someone raises from the dead. Not everyone has these abilities, and it becomes a have versus a have-nots scenario. Adding this aspect to the political intrigues and ongoing civil war makes for a complicated but fast-paced story that is easy and enjoyable to read.

Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland
I fell in love with Justina Ireland’s novels after reading her Dread Nation duology, but in my opinion, her latest novel, Rust in the Root, is her best yet. Not only does she give readers insight into the everyday racism Black women face, but she also includes a fantastic argument against capitalism. Ms. Ireland cleverly disguises her anti-capitalist sentiment within her fascinating story of the mystical arts versus industry and technology. Laura Ann Langston is a formidable young woman, powerful in her own right and unwilling to settle for an ordinary, quiet life not using her gifts. She is self-deprecating, unashamed, honest to a fault, and entertaining in that honesty. It is a pleasure to follow along with Laura and her fellow mages as they search for answers.

Ms. Ireland’s verbal jousting is par excellence. At the same time, I appreciate any opportunity to learn more about what it is like to be a Black person in a society ruled by white supremacy and systemic racism. Rust in the Root is an easy and enjoyable way to become more anti-racist. However, even if that is not your thing, Ms. Ireland’s newest novel is beyond clever, highly entertaining, and fascinating in its twist on the 1930s in a world torn between technology and the more earthly, natural approaches to power.

Direwood by Catherine Yu
Direwood by Catherine Yu should be a book I adore. After all, it is a gothic horror story about vampires. Usually, that would be enough to earn an automatic A. Unfortunately, I could not get into the story enough to enjoy it. The vampires were too one-noted, and Aja is a bit too annoying in her inability to view the world in any way other than superficially. Add to it the weird, blood-sucking butterflies and caterpillars and the red rain that no one else seemed to notice, and it felt like Ms. Yu was trying too hard to make her vampire story different from the million others in existence. She doesn’t explain much of anything, so you slog through the story hoping that something will make sense soon. It doesn’t help that I could not keep awake while reading it. No matter what time of day, I found myself nodding off while reading even a few pages. All of this is to say that I was not a fan of Direwood. There are much better examples of gothic horror stories and way better vampire stories.

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Novel Nuggets – More September Releases
2022-10-03 15:00 UTC by Michelle

September is THE month for publishing. It must be the idea that kids are back to school or something. Still, every year, I find myself inundated by review copies of highly anticipated sequels, the buzziest of buzzed books, and other new releases that make me drool. It also means that no matter how hard I try and how often I read, I always end up behind with not just my reviewing but also my reading. Because I am so hopelessly behind in both, here are the books I have read that had a September 13th release date.

I'm the Girl by Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers’ novels always manage to destroy me, and I’m the Girl is no different. All Georgia Avis wants is for others not just to recognize but also to reward her beauty. After all, beautiful people run the world; it is something we all know because we see it daily in the news. At seventeen, Georgia is impatient and ready to do what it takes to reap those rewards owed to her. What she endures with no complaint and, even worse, no idea about its heinousness hits you in the gut. Georgia does understand the world even though she appears naive and innocent, but what strikes the reader the most is her belief that there is no other way to obtain what you want. It is as heartbreaking an idea as it is repugnant. Watching Georgia maneuver not only a murder investigation but also the life of the highly wealthy as she tries to obtain everything she wants is Ms. Summers at her finest.

Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer
Defend the Dawn is the second in Brigid Kemmerer’s Defy the Night series, which certainly does not disappoint. There remains that urgency that drives the first book as Tessa and Corrick continue to search for solutions to the Moonflower shortage. This time, we get out of the kingdom and learn more about some of the surrounding kingdoms with plenty of danger and action to drive the plot. At the same time, Tessa gets the opportunity to sit and reflect on her growing feelings and on everything she discovered in the previous book. There is plenty of smoldering, but there is also the necessary reflection to lend legitimacy to Tessa’s feelings and potential relationship. Ms. Kemmerer does add a spark of cruelty with one heck of a cliffhanger ending, but I cannot fault her for that choice. It just heightens the anticipation to see how it all ends.

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber
The Ballad of Never After is another sequel that ends with the meanest but most surprising endings, but it certainly is one wild ride of a story. In this second book of the Once Upon a Broken Heart series, Stephanie Garber continues Evangeline’s search for her happily ever after, including yet another tenuous partnership with everyone’s favorite bad boy, Jacks. What makes the sequel so powerful is that we learn a little more about the Prince of Hearts’ past, revealing him to be a much more complicated Fate than readers possibly imagined. The Ballad of Never After moves swiftly and is one of those novels that is over before you want it to end – always a sign of an engaging and well-written story. With that ending, it will be a long wait until the third book’s release!

Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco is dark, complicated, and sexy, and there is so much to love within its pages. I particularly love Mx. Chupeco’s use of morally ambiguous characters to blur the lines between good and evil and human and monster. They do this with great effect, particularly around Remy’s relationship with his father. Silver Under Nightfall may be a book about vampires, but they are not the scariest monster Remy battles, making it a book with monsters that is all too realistic in its portrayal of relationships. Plus, it has excellent spicy scenes to help keep you warm as the nights grow cooler.

The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti
In each and every book, Deb Caletti manages to break me down to the most basic of levels AND builds me back up to become a person filled with a greater sense of female empowerment, better insight, and a more positive outlook towards humanity. With The Epic Story of Every Living Thing, this feels especially true. Some of it is because it is a pandemic novel, and Harper stirs up all those same emotions that we all felt creeping out of our homes after lockdown, confused about the rules of wearing a mask, wondering what is safe and what is not. Part of it is the fact that Harper has anxiety, and Ms. Caletti is exceptionally good at portraying what it feels like to live with anxiety. For me, what struck me hardest of all is the domineering nature of Harper’s mother and the overbearing, highly regulated relationship they have. Harper’s story stirred up so many emotions that I had to take reading breaks to ease my own anxiety and turmoil.

What makes Ms. Caletti a stellar author though is not just her ability to allow readers to share in her character’s emotions but rather how she builds both her characters and her readers back up after dragging them down to the lowest of lows. As Harper learns to break the ties that bind, you simultaneously discover your own strengths. While Harper releases her fears, you relinquish yours. What once felt impossible now feels possible. It is a feat very few authors can accomplish, yet Ms. Caletti does it time and again. The Epic Story of Every Living Thing is simply the latest example of her greatness.

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Sunday Reflections – 02 October 2022
2022-10-02 15:00 UTC by Michelle

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Reading:  Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Listening:  Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Watching:  Anyone else watching Dahmer on Netflix? If you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend it. Evan Peters does a phenomenal job portraying Jeffrey Dahmer in all his sick patheticness. It seems weird to say that we are enjoying the limited series, but Jim and I, for various reasons, are doing just that. Be warned though. It is so psychologically dark that we find we can only watch one or two episodes at a time. There is no binge-watching this one!

Cooking:  I spent several months trying out Blue Apron, to the point where the recipes started repeating. Someone else recommended HelloFresh to us, so now we are trying that. So far, I like the recipes a bit more, and they are MUCH easier to make. After finishing a Blue Apron recipe, my kitchen would always look like a tornado. The HelloFresh ones take one or two pans at most with so much easy clean-up. We will try them for a few more weeks and see if we want to continue. If anyone else wants to try them, I have lots of coupons for free meals for either service. Just let me know!

Enjoying:  It looks like we are actually getting a true autumn complete with cool temperatures, gorgeous sunny days, and enough rain to encourage the changing colors. No jumping right into winter for us this year!

Planning:  There is nothing to plan. The calendar is empty, and we can do whatever we want. It is wonderful and weird all at the same time!

Feeling:  For all those who wonder, Jim and I are truly doing well. I won’t lie and say it has been easy. Leaving London to fly back to the US was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. However, once we picked up the dogs from my parents and arrived home, I was okay and have been since. For one reason or another, Holly manages to text me at least once a day, and I live for that. Plus, I know her returning flight. Hey, we parents take what we can get!

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Exit September. Enter our new life.
2022-10-01 14:45 UTC by Michelle

We dropped Holly off in Dundee, Scotland two weeks ago. Just like that, Jim and I are on our own again after twenty-two years of diapers, daycare, ear infections, tantrums, sleepovers, belly laughs, arguments, sports, dance, music, homework, and everything else about parenting. It sure as hell doesn’t feel like twenty-two years.

September was a weird month. For so many years, it has been a month of new beginnings – of new clothes and school supplies, new teams, and new classes. This year, it felt like an ending. While everyone else was busy getting into the back-to-school spirit, we were dealing with visas, documentation, logistics, and luggage. Taking Holly to Dundee was not a new beginning for us but the end of life as we know it. We will adjust because that is parenting, after all. Parents learn to adapt and adjust to each new stage, and this is our next stage.

Of course, Jim left for a business trip three days after returning home from the UK, so we haven’t figured out this thing called empty nesting. I can say that I am doing a lot better than I thought I would. It helps that Holly left all of her books and art supplies, most of her clothes, shoes, jewelry, and bags. Connor, when he left for school, took everything in his room and all but permanently moved out right then. Knowing her room is essentially the same as always is a great comfort, albeit one I did not expect but welcome all the same.

Thanks to the beauty of the internet and WhatsApp, we text at least once a day, which also helps ease the ache of her absence. It isn’t easy trying to keep a respectful distance, granting her the freedom of attending university away from home while trying to learn about her new life, but I think we are managing it. Or, Holly shares what she wants to share and so forces us to respect that distance, which is so Holly that I can do nothing but laugh and let it go. Still, I do love any time she wants to let us catch a glimpse of that life. Or ask a question. Or say hi. Something she has been pretty good at doing these past two weeks.

She only started classes this week, so it is too soon to say how she is faring. I can say that she found dance classes immediately and discovered that there is a dance competition team as well. During that first welcome week, she also joined at least one club. Between dance, her club, and her seven flatmates, I know she is working on staying busy and making friends. She seems happy, which is all we can ask for now.

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Novel Nuggets – The first of September’s Releases
2022-09-12 15:00 UTC by Michelle

September is THE month for publishing. It must be the idea that kids are back to school or something. Still, every year, I find myself inundated by review copies of highly anticipated sequels, the buzziest of buzzed books, and other new releases that make me drool. It also means that no matter how hard I try and how often I read, I always end up behind with not just my reviewing but also my reading. Because I am so hopelessly behind in both, here are the books I have read that had a September 6th release date.

Blood of Troy by Claire Andrews

Blood of Troy is the sequel to Claire Andrew’s Daughter of Sparta series, and it is everything I want in a sequel. Not only do I continue to adore Daphne and her determination to prove herself as not just equal to but better than her fellow male soldiers, but I ship her relationship with Apollo. In this case, I also appreciate Ms. Andrews’ take on the Helen of Troy story. No longer is it about Helen’s beauty starting a war but rather about two war-mongering leaders who only care about combat and the loot they could obtain from war. It is a modern and feminist take on a classic story, complete with a relook at the Trojan Horse and the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus involved in the war. With the introduction of yet more players within Daphne’s life, I can’t wait to see where Ms. Andrews takes Daphne’s story next.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah takes the idea of heroes and heroines and turns it on its head. Koral is so bitter, angry, and traumatized that you find her slightly abhorrent even as she tugs at your heartstrings. At the same time, Ms. Berwah shows the insidious nature of power in a world that is nothing like current-day America but certainly has many similarities regarding the haves and the have-nots. Monsters Born and Made is a difficult read because of the raging emotions swirling within Koral and fueling her actions and also because it is bloody and raw, violently brutal, and ruthless. I loved every minute of it.

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson may seem like a Carrie knock-off, but trust me when I say it makes Carrie look like a children’s story. Not only is Maddy’s story bloody and brutal, but how Ms. Jackson reveals her story is brilliant. Throughout the reveal, we get a first-hand glimpse of not just the everyday, overt racism non-whites face but also the millions of microaggressions they also must overcome. Ms. Jackson does this with no apology or filter, forcing you to review your words and behaviors and cringe. This aspect of the story can be a brutal reminder that even the most well-intentioned white person is guilty of some form of racism. But everything Maddy faces when her classmates discover her true heritage is nothing compared to the everyday abuse she meets at the hands of loved ones. It is this, alongside the cruelty of teenagers, where the horror resides. By the time you get the whole picture and understand exactly what went down on prom night and why Ms. Jackson blows your mind at not just the depth of Maddy’s story but the nuances of it as well. It is a brilliant story that is perfect for horror lovers working to become anti-racist.

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Sunday Reflections – 11 September 2022
2022-09-11 22:37 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading:  The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber

Listening:  Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Watching:  What else but football?!? 🙂  Don’t worry. Holly and I are still working through Veronica Mars, and we are all rewatching New Girl. Based on recommendations from friends and family, Jim and I are watching The Secrets of Skinwalker Ranch. It doesn’t impress us after five episodes, but everyone keeps telling us to stick with it. It makes for good background noise, if nothing else.

Cooking:  With us leaving soon, I’m just trying to eat up the fridge, so we had a lot of leftovers this week. I did manage to make a copycat Cheesecake Factory pasta recipe and used my slow cooker for the first time this fall for a fiesta chicken. It was a good mix of old and new recipes.

Enjoying:  Football. Cooler weather. Planning for our trip. Spending time with friends. The end of summer. My autumnal decor.

Planning:  This week, it is all about our upcoming trip. Mail to hold, clothes to pack, packing for the dogs and the kid, making sure she has everything. And now, we have to plan for the national holiday, which will be the Queen’s funeral while we are there. Since nothing will be open, we must ensure we have places we can visit and food for that day.

Feeling:  Jim and I were discussing that it is beginning to feel surreal that we will be flying over to London with Holly but leaving without her. I admit to at least one panic attack and one crying jag at the thought. Plus, we are having so much fun with her this summer that it isn’t making the idea of letting go any easier. These next two weeks are going to be very, very interesting.

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Sunday Reflections – 28 August 2022
2022-08-28 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading:  The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

Listening:  The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Watching:  Junior Bake Off is now on Netflix!! I discovered it when I was having a particularly bad week, so it came at the perfect time. Liam and Rav are two of the best judges; they are so generous, kind, and inspirational. Why can’t we all be like that?

Cooking:  I’ve been subscribing to Blue Apron for several months now, and I like it. I like that I don’t have to hit the grocery store that much. The recipes have mostly been successes with some misses, but I’ve learned which ones to ignore and which to pick. The serving sizes are perfect for just Jim and me as well. So this week saw me making a three-cheese and caramelized onion pizza, spicy Italian sausage and pepper subs, prosciutto focaccia sandwiches, and chicken enchiladas. Delicious!

Enjoying:  I’ve been working out for almost a year now, and my workouts remain the highlights of my week. It helps that my trainer became my friend. In fact, Jim and I are at a local summer Renaissance Faire with my trainer/friend and her husband as you read this. I’ve gotten to the point where I can see muscle again and know that I am much stronger and healthier than last year. Going each time and pushing myself to lift or do more is almost intoxicating.

Planning:  We bought plane tickets and reserved a cottage outside Edinburgh for four days. Jim is still searching for a place to stay in London, and we are working out our plans. Right now, all we know is that we fly into London, will be driving to Edinburgh after landing, and spending the night in our rental cottage before we take Holly to Dundee and get her settled into her flat. Her welcome week officially starts on the 19th. Our plan is for Jim and me to stick around Scotland for a few days just in case we forgot something or she discovers she needs something else. Then, we will head down to London and see some sites. We are all excited even as we are a bit nervous and scared.

Feeling: I am going through a rough patch mentally, so my emotions are all over the place right now. My doctor added another medication to my regimen, and she finally prescribed a legit migraine medication instead of having me rely on Excedrin Migraine all the time. I am supremely thankful for my therapist, who was able to fit in an emergency session when I was in an anxiety spiral. I know I will get through this because I’ve been doing the work and learning more about what makes me tick. Still, I hate feeling this way.

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