In the current political climate, I’ve been very stressed out. The only thing that truly makes me feel better is watching animal videos on Youtube and Loyal: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism, and the Devotion of Dogs by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. If you can’t already tell from the title, it’s full of stories about how amazing dogs are. If you’re like me and you get really emotional about dogs, you’ll probably cry and then tell everyone you know about the amazing stories in this book. Also, please comment on this page and tell me all about the animals you’ve loved. I need more than 38 animal stories to keep me going.
Before I wax poetic on how amazing the dogs are in this book and why it’s the perfect book to have around when you need a pick-me-up, I need to say that I was sent a free copy of Loyal in return for an honest review for a TLC book tour. You can pick up your own copy here at National Geographic!
For the longest time, I only had disdain for Kindles and other eReaders. “Nothing can ever replace books,” I said, “Books are the best and reading on a screen is dumb.”
Well crap, I was kind of wrong. Don’t misunderstand me – I love paper books and my bookshelf is my favorite thing in my apartment. In Nov. 2015, I was scrolling through Amazon on Cyber Monday and I noticed there was a great deal for Kindles. I knew that I wanted to travel sometime soon and that I’d want to travel as light as possible. You just can’t do that when you’re carrying a bunch of books. So, I grit my teeth and bought it.
And you know what happened? I ended up loving it. I got one that is only 6″ tall, glare free, and there’s no backlight, so it looks as if you’re actually reading a paper page. I needed it to be easy on the eyes because I like to read at night before I go to sleep and I already spend all day looking at a computer. The battery lasts for a whopping three weeks, so unless you’re traveling for very long periods of time, you don’t even need to bring a charging cable with you.
It’s small enough to fit in most purses or large coat pockets, so it’s perfect for traveling light. If you’re laying in bed, you’ll never drop the book and lose your place. Even if you’re reading a 600 page book, it’s as light as a feather, which makes it perfect for elderly people who can’t lift a lot (bonus: you can make any book large print), and you’ll never get a paper cut.
My sister and I went to the Netherlands last year and we only took a backpack each as our luggage (honestly, it’s the best way to travel – the airline can’t lose your carry-on). I was so glad I brought my Kindle with me on the trip. I downloaded several books before we left, so even though I finished a book on the flight back, I didn’t even have to pause before I started the next one. I carried the Kindle around just about everywhere we went. It fit perfectly in my purse and I even carried in my rain jacket pocket sometimes.
I don’t just use it for traveling though. I took it to work and I’d read it during lunch. None of my coworkers knew that I was reading romantic trash novels if they couldn’t see a cover. That’s actually one of the best things about the Kindle. You can read whatever trash you love most without fear of judgment from other people, because for all they know, you’re actually reading Anna Karenina or some other tome instead of the latest Lisa Kleypas novel.
The Kindle versions are also cheaper than the hard copies. I bought all eight Outlander books because I wanted to have my own collection (my mom owns the hard copies) and be able to carry them around with me whenever I want. They’re excellent travel books because they’re long and engrossing – perfect for long flights – so I was able to save money by downloading the Kindle versions.
There are also a ton of free Kindle books on Amazon. They’re not all great, in fact, most of them are self-published and not good, but you might be able to find some free gems. Amazon also has this new thing called Prime Reading, where if you have a Kindle device (or the app) and Amazon Prime, you can “borrow” books indefinitely on your Kindle and then you just “return” them when you’re done.
I’m a big fan of my Kindle. It’s light, small, and does exactly what I need it to do, which is let me read, not hurt my eyes, and travel well. So far, it’s been perfect!
If you love stories of personal growth, goat puns, and adventure, then why haven’t you read Unbound by Steph Jagger yet? Answer: because it just came out this year, so you probably haven’t heard of it yet. Let me just tell you that it’s the next Wild and Eat, Pray, Love. That’s right, people! It’s another story about a woman going on an adventure around the world and she’s gonna learn stuff about herself and emerge a whole new person! And you’re going to love it.
Before I get into my thoughts on the book, let me just say that the book was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review by TLC Book Tours. You can get your own copy from HarperCollins here and read more reviews here, here, and here! Below you’ll find a full synopsis of the book and you can learn more about Steph Jagger.
Ok, now that we’ve got some of that business out of the way. Let’s talk adventure!
It’s about to get real. So many people have strong feelings about the Harry Potter series, myself included. One of my favorite discussions is finding out which of the Harry Potter books is someone’s favorite and which is their least favorite. Harry Potter was such a huge part of my childhood. I went to three midnight book releases and four midnight movie releases. I dressed up as Hermione for countless Halloweens and was extremely disappointed the year I turned eleven because an owl didn’t show up with a handwritten letter from Professor Dumbledore.
You’re not going to want to read this if you haven’t read the books. Also, if you haven’t read the books, what the fuck are you doing with your life? Get to it.
So, here’s my definitive ranking of the Harry Potter series. Prepare for babbling.
There’s nothing more alarming to me than someone who doesn’t have a favorite book. If you can’t name one even from your childhood, then I don’t think we’re going to get along.
Don’t get me wrong – movies and TV are great ways to consume stories and our culture (I especially appreciate television because hello, Character Development!), but there’s something extra special about books. You get to almost literally (literarily!) step into someone else’s mind and possibly see the world a little differently. Even if you don’t travel very often, you’ll still get to see the world and other worlds that are only in someone’s imagination.
People who don’t read books just baffle me. They always seem to have a limited world view and can’t understand how to step into someone else’s shoes or see the other side of any argument except their own. One of the things that scares me most about Donald Trump is that he doesn’t read anything (not even his own executive orders). And it frightens me when people say the humanities don’t matter in school, but in reality, they teach us about our own humanity and about seeing the humanity in others.
This book was a slow burn. If you prefer something that is really fast paced that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen might not be for you.
However, if you don’t mind waiting to find out what the real intrigue of the story is going to be because you spend most of the book learning about the neighborhood and the cast of characters who live there, then definitely grab a copy of Whalen’s book for free from Prime Reading. Personally, I don’t mind a slow burn because character development is my favorite thing about stories.
The Things We Wish Were True is set in a North Carolinan neighborhood during summer. From the outside, the neighborhood looks completely normal and probably even a really boring place. In some ways, it reminded me of my own small hometown where people tend to settle down and have kids or they go away for a while and come back to buy a house. There are several characters through which you see the neighborhood and you discover the problems that lie beneath the seemingly-idyllic surface.
It’s mentioned briefly and not a lot of weight is put on it, but the almost perfect neighborhood has suffered a loss. A little girl was kidnapped recently but people seem to just want to look away from the “Have You Seen Me?” posters and billboards. It’s too terrible a thing to happen in their town and they are too caught up in their own problems to really put a lot of thought into it (at least, that’s how I saw it). The few brief mentions of the girl weren’t enough for me to truly worry about her and I was surprised when the discovery of the girl was a huge moment for one of the characters. Though, perhaps I just got sucked into the other characters’ hesitation in even thinking about it too much.
Interestingly, it’s not the kidnapped girl who brings people in the neighborhood together. It’s the near drowning of a little boy named Cutter at the local pool where everyone spends the hot summer days. He’s saved by a man named Lance whose wife had abruptly left him and his children in order to assess if she wanted to continue the marriage. Cutter’s older sister, Cailey, goes to stay with a lady in the neighborhood named Zell because her single mom wasn’t going to be able to stay at the hospital with Cutter who was in a coma and work her multiple jobs. Lance starts a romance with Jencey who came back to town with her daughters after leaving as a teenager because of a stalker. Her husband was recently arrested for fraud and she had nowhere else to go but home. Jencey had a romantic relationship with Everett in high school, but he’s now married to Bryte who loved him in high school, but was best friends with Jencey. Those are all of the characters through which the book is written (each chapter is a different POV). Everything is connected and yet they all have their own specific problems and secrets that contribute to the suspense of the novel.
If this ever gets made into a movie, I can see Hollywood execs turning it into a creepy suspense thriller where “everything is not as it seems” and “can you even trust your neighbors anymore?” When in reality, it’s more like a love letter to small towns and the people in them and the secrets they harbor. It shows how a community comes together when one of their own is threatened and how the secrets they keep might tear them apart.
The Things We Wish Were True made me miss my small hometown with its quiet neighborhoods and people who say hi to you on the street even if you don’t know them (a habit that continually baffled me as a child because I was taught not to talk to strangers but there goes my mother saying “hi how are you?” to a random old lady walking her dog).
TL;DR: this book isn’t a thriller, but it is an interesting study of small town life and how kept secrets might keep that neighborhood together or how it might tear them apart. It’s definitely worth it to download it for free off Prime Reading on your Kindle like I did!
How would you feel if the person you had planned to spend the rest of your life with was suddenly gone? Except…they weren’t really gone? In Everything We Keep, Kerry Lonsdale explores grief and moving on, but with a special and unexpected twist.
The book opens on a funeral scene that was supposed to be a wedding. Aimee Tierney just buried her childhood sweetheart, James, on the day that was supposed to be her wedding day. I’ve experienced loss, but I can’t imagine the agony of burying someone and your future together on the day you were supposed to join together for that future.
As Aimee was escaping the funeral, she was confronted by a woman who claimed to be a psychic and that James was still alive. Aimee tries to dismiss this idea and believe that James really did die in a boating accident in Mexico. She still keeps James’ clothes in the closet and his paintings on the wall, while she also tries to move on with her life.
The books spans almost two years. In those two years, Aimee buries James, opens a restaurant, and meets a handsome photographer named Ian. But she can’t let herself fall for Ian with even the slimmest of possibilities that James is still alive. She heads to Mexico to find answers with Ian in tow (he really loves her, okay).
I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t get into details until later in this post and I’ll give you warning before I do.
Here’s what I thought of the book [free of big spoilers]:
It would probably make a good romance film to be released on Valentine’s Day. It’s a romance novel with thriller and intrigue parts that kept me reading. As a reader, I was invested in finding out what happened to James, I liked seeing how Aimee was able to move on and yet in the ways she wasn’t, i.e., keeping James’ suits in the closet.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t love this book and I didn’t hate it either. I was marginally invested in the story and it was engrossing enough that I wanted to finish it. It was good, not great. I wouldn’t jump to recommend it to anyone because the writing didn’t blow my mind. But I liked it. The twist’s reveal and the ending made reading the rest of it worth.
The book did win all of these awards so far [I got them from Kerry Lonsdale’s website] so maybe I just have romance novel fatigue. Which is completely my fault because I keep reading them.
Here’s what I really loved about the story: James is still alive. Well, his body is. Aimee flies to Mexico and meets Carlos. Carlos looks very similar to James, he has his paintings (that disappeared from Aimee’s garage!!!), and he has been dreaming about Aimee’s face.
I was expecting that maybe one of James’ secretive parents had a love child and left it in Mexico (they seemed like the people who would do that). Or maybe Carlos was just James’ doppelganger and it was all a coincidence. But, what really happened is so much better than I was expecting. James was dead. Sort of. Because Carlos is the product of a dissociative fugue. He’s technically James but James’ personality and memories are no longer there. James experienced a traumatic event that forced his brain to protect himself in this manner.
I find psychological stuff like that so interesting. So the revelation about the fugue made the book good for me. But what really hooked me in at the very end was the epilogue. It was a dream James had about his traumatic incident and when he woke up, Carlos was gone and James was back. AND THEN THE BOOK ENDS.
I need a sequel because everything just got REALLY INTERESTING.
If you’re reading this and you’re saying to yourself, “well I’m not a feminist,” and you’re about to click away. Just wait a second and read a few more sentences.
Do you think men and women should be equal socially, economically, and politically? Basically, do you think that men and women are equal? If yes, then I hate (love) to say it, you’re a feminist. Yeah, even if you’re a dude. Welcome to the club.
If you looked at that definition and thought “yeah, still no on the whole feminist thing,” then by all means, click away and continue “making America great again.”
2016 is ending and with 2017 is coming something I wish was still a joke: a Trump presidency. With most of the country (she won the popular vote, y’all) appalled and scared of what may come of the new administration, many people turn to positive voices that give them hope and empower them. For me, that’s feminist and inclusive voices. Whether it’s some of my ass-kicking aunts or an actress standing up for herself, I am applauding and storing those memories away for a time when I’m not feeling my best.
Over the next four years, feminists are going to have some tough times, but with some of these entertainment outlets, maybe we can all relax for a few hours, laugh, and enjoy our fellow feminists.
This is an amazing podcast hosted by the one and only Jessica Williams and the one and only Phoebe Robinson. You might remember Jessica Williams from The Daily Show and Phoebe Robinson just came out with a book called You Can’t Touch My Hair. It’s a live comedy podcast with a wide variety guests up to and including, Danielle Brooks, Zasheer Zamata, and John Mulaney and Nick Kroll as their characters in their Broadway show, Oh Hello.
Every episode is hilarious and has a 100% guarantee of making you laugh on your morning commute. 10/10 must listen.
Want to see a kickass woman of color literally kick ass? Answer: WHO DOESN’T? Priyanka Chopra is the main character in this show about FBI agents learning the tricks of the trade at Quantico, but it also jumps to the future when her character, Alex, is accused of bombing Grand Central Station. It’s exciting, it’s awesome, and totally binge-worthy (I hate that phrase, but it fits here).
I think that we can all agree that last week was rough. Donald Trump is the president-elect and Hillary isn’t. People are running rampant and committing hate crimes. People are realizing that their family members actually voted for the guy and it’s going to make the upcoming holidays so so awkward.
I didn’t know it, but I started reading Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling on the same day the world was ending. I took the book with me to vote so I’d have something to do while waiting in line. I read it that night too when I realized Trump won Pennsylvania, and thus, the presidency, and I gave up watching the news and went to bed dejected and utterly horrified at the prospect of tomorrow.
I’ve long been a fan of Mindy Kaling. I love The Office and her friendship with BJ Novak is serious goals. I’ve also been watching her show, The Mindy Project since season 2 aired (I’m slow on the uptake sometimes). My friends and I went on a roadtrip in 2012 (back when the concept of a Trump presidency wasn’t even a thing yet) and we listened to Mindy’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns). Mindy’s voice means driving through Portland, Maine with my best friends and trying a lobster roll for the first time (fucking delicious, by the way. Everyone needs to go to the Portland Lobster, Co. immediately).
When I’m Gone is about what happens to Luke Richardson after his wife of 16 years dies of cancer. He’s suddenly a single parent of three and he doesn’t quite know how to cope…until the first letter from his wife arrives in a blue envelope. His wife wrote them before she died to help him mourn and transition to his new life. But what he doesn’t know is that Natalie had some big secrets.
But what are the secrets, you ask? Well, you’re just gonna have to read it to find out. And if you have Amazon Prime, you can read When I’m Gone for free with Prime Reading, which is what I did. Or you can check out Emily Bleeker’s website to find out where you can buy it.
Back to why this book made me cry myself to sleep. This book is primarily about loss and learning to cope with it. It spoke to me in particular because I lost a friend suddenly in a car accident a few months ago. It’s something that I’ve been trying to cope with and yet my mind still reels sometimes because I realize all over again that it’s real, it happened, I went to the funeral, and saw where she’s buried.
I can’t know whether this book would make me cry so much if I hadn’t lost my friend this year. I typically don’t cry during movies and while I read books, but in the past couple of months, I’ve read a couple of books that remind me of my friend’s death and I just can’t stop the tears when I read them.
In the beginning of When I’m Gone, Emily Bleeker accurately portrays the disbelief, the numbness mixed with profound anger, and just the utter sadness of losing someone close to you. And that’s what made me cry.
Some quotes that I highlighted in my Kindle are:
Grief seemed to chase away the comfort of sleep, and he longed for a night where he could drift off into a blissfully unaware dreamworld, where life was potentially weird, but definitely less paralyzing.”
This reminded me of what it feels like at the beginning of grief. You’re too sad (as if “sad” is a strong enough word for what you feel when you’re mourning) to sleep, to relax, because your mind, body, and soul are consumed with such intense feeling.
Why do the strong ones always seem to go first?”
Grieving leaves us feeling weak. We see the people we lost as the stronger ones and we wish we could take their place instead. We’re helpless to do anything, especially when something like cancer is slowly taking over your loved one’s body. If doctors and modern medicine couldn’t save them, how could you?
But the feeling of helplessness persists even when the death happens suddenly. You couldn’t have possibly seen this coming, so you’re powerless to do anything to prevent it.
How could everyone else find it so simple to slip back into life, the world revolving, businesses opening and closing, buying and selling, when the pillow on the right side of his bed was empty every night?”
This quote spoke to me the most, because it’s something I’ve wondered before. The people mourning a death have been irrevocably changed and their lives are suddenly upside down. And yet, people unaffected by it can just continue on with their lives as if nothing happened – because for them, nothing has happened.
It boggled my mind when I went into work the Monday after my friend’s funeral. Everything was normal and I wanted to scream “DON’T YOU KNOW ONE OF THE BEST PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET DIED LAST WEEK? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” But instead, I said nothing. I didn’t tell anyone that the weekend was one of the hardest of my life. I couldn’t tell them that I made eye contact with my friend’s parents during the funeral and my soul crumbled inside me.
If you’re looking for a book that might give you a good cry, definitely read When I’m Gone. It’s not just a story of loss and grieving. It’s a story about family coming together in the face of unimaginable adversity and finding family in people who aren’t related to you. The book spans several months after the death of Luke’s wife, so you see him and his family grow through all of the stages of grief together.
There’s a mystery in his wife’s letters that keeps you interested (did her secret really die with her or will Luke find out the truth?). And you also find out more about Luke and Natalie’s relationship and about their backgrounds.
I don’t know if I’d read this book again, especially since I know the result of the mystery in the letters, but I’d recommend it for people going through a loss. I’ve had a difficult time crying lately and this book opened up the flood gates, and it’s what I needed.
TL;DR: When I’m Gone is a pretty good book and it’ll likely make you cry your eyes out in your bed at 11pm all by yourself.