Book Review: Three & Out, by Laura Chapman

Having read the first two books in the Queen of the League series, I was looking forward to catching up with Harper, to see what life had in store for her and her crew. One thing is for sure: it’s never a dull moment! Although Harper finds herself stuck in a job that she’s less than enthusiastic about, what’s going on in her personal life and other external conflicts really add to the chaos in her world. Particularly when one of Brook’s good friends shows up out of nowhere. Or when Brook’s employers do all they can to stir the pot.

And speaking of bad bosses… Harper never would have imagined she’d find herself in such a tough compromising position. Brooke’s job is very important to him, to the both of them. When his boss crosses a line that should have never even been embarked upon to begin with, she’s not sure which direction she should go in, who she should talk to, or if she should say anything at all. I really liked how Laura Chapman approached this- I felt as though it was a very real and honest look at how a woman, in this case Harper, feels when stuck in the middle of a bad situation.

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I could see just how much growth Harper has had since First & Goal and Going for Two. It wasn’t so long ago that she’d been single, and while she enjoyed and appreciated her life as a single woman, it was like her story really began when she met Brooke, because she discovered so much more about herself. Fast forward to the present, moving out of state, starting over where she doesn’t know anyone, and having conversations with Brooke about potentially starting a family. Is she even ready for such a huge commitment? Are either of them?

And as always, there are layers of fantasy football league scenarios- while I haven’t signed up with any league as of yet, every time I read one of Laura’s novels, I always feel this immense need to do so! She makes it sound so fun, and I love that it showcases how fantasy football isn’t just a man’s game. What an awesome way to empower everyone into being part of something they enjoy. Three & Out is definitely a big win in my book for Team Chapman!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Book Review: Close Encounters of the Furred Kind, by Tom Cox

The adventures of The Bear, Ralph, Shipley and Roscoe continue in this heart-felt novel about the close bond a man has with his cats. So much so, the cats have taken on very human-like characteristics, particularly The Bear, who has a habit of gazing into your soul, making you feel stripped bare of everything you hold dear. It sounds unnerving, but totally relatable. Any cat owner can tell you, felines have a way of looking into the very core of who you are and what you represent.

Tom Cox shares with us the journey he’s on with his pets, whether it’s relocating six hours away, or fending off the notable strays that cross his path, to falling in love with one of those strays, attempting to bring him into the fold. In telling his story, we’re reminded of the importance of having a pet in our lives. Combined with that, is the relationship Tom has with his parents, particularly his father, who is represented as a larger-than-life character, speaking primarily in ALL CAPS in nearly every sentence.

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I appreciate the honesty behind the realism of life with four cats, plus or minus one or two, if you count the strays. I also appreciate Tom’s self-deprecating humor. While he knows owning four cats isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you end up yearning for the four he has. I loved reading about the way his cats live, the freedom they have to explore the great outdoors around them, the life I’d imagine most felines were meant to live. He wants the very best for his pets, because to him, they are family.

I’d have to say, what I appreciated most this go around, having read The Good, The Bad, and the Furry (also a great read, reviewed here), is the emotion and sweetness we witness within and for each cat. They’re not getting any younger, and that’s very much reflected in Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. There’s a big push to appreciate what you have even more, to cherish every moment you have, not only with your pets, but with your humans, too. Living life to the fullest every day, because none of us know what tomorrow will bring.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Book Review: I Am the Ocean, by Samita Sarkar

Samita Sarkar thought she was destined to spend her entire life running.

Never giving herself a moment’s rest, she studied hard and graduated from university with top grades, and then promptly began a tireless job search. But although she thought that she had done everything by the book, life still hadn’t given her any answers. She knew that God had a plan, but what was it?

Stricken with anxiety while facing midsummer heat and sizable life decisions, the thrifty twenty-something Canadian—who had never before travelled for travel’s sake—purchased a discount bus ticket for what she thought would be a few weeks of reprieve in The United States. Embarking on her journey with nothing but a small suitcase, a broken handbag, a killer manicure and a copy of “The Bhagavad Gita,” Samita would spend her days wandering streets and beaches, and her nights in jostling buses or on cramped couches. Marvelling at the beauty around her, Samita finally discovered what the world has to offer to those who stop running, while learning lessons that would set the course of the rest of her life. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

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I Am the Ocean was a beautifully written novel; a chronicle illustrating the trials and tribulations that can come from a physical and spiritual journey. While I’ve barely stepped foot outside of the country I’m from, the adventure Samita takes us on made me yearn for travel, to embark on my own journey through places I’ve never been, to learn from cultures dissimilar to my own, yet in so many ways, exist in the same vein.

Through it all, she never loses focus on her spirituality. Not even when she’s tempted to. There are many roadblocks along the way, but Samita knows she’s going to be okay, regardless of the rough road ahead of her. She shares her own insights with the other adventurers who are out exploring, the ones who are complete strangers, but feel like kindred spirits. I was amazed at the level of trust she exudes. I don’t know if I could ever feel comfortable sleeping on someone’s couch who I’d only interacted with through online transactions, or share space with a plethora of other females who I’d only met that same day, but I think that’s part of the message here. That maybe it’s okay to rely on human compassion and kindness, even in the strangest of circumstances.

There was a time, years ago, when looking for an adventure wasn’t so out of the ordinary. I’m thinking of the ‘60s/’70s, when those seeking adventure would hitchhike their way across the country in search of enlightenment, in double slugbug VW’s, or out of commission school buses. Samita’s story reminded me of those days, a time where life was a little simpler, and we weren’t so encumbered with the heavy burdens life often throws our way. I really appreciate her views and the free-spirit she has, grounded within her spiritual beliefs.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Book Review: Where Am I Now, by Mara Wilson

A former child actor best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and out of place: as the only kid on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, a Valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and a grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl. Tackling everything from what she learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to discovering in adolescence that she was no longer “cute” enough for Hollywood, these essays chart her journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. They also illuminate universal struggles, like navigating love and loss, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Candid, insightful, moving, and hilarious, Where Am I Now? introduces Mara Wilson as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up female.(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I was eager to read this debut novel, for many reasons. After recognizing Mara from some of my favorite movies, I wanted to discover who she really is. Most of us only know her as the adorable little girl on screen. I also wanted to know what it was like for her, living the life of a child celebrity, the sort of impression it made on her. If she harbored the same sort of passions, interests or concerns that I did, and still do, as an adult. Most of us want to know if we can identify and relate with a celebrity.

Mara is as down to earth as any one of us, even after she’d been thrust into the spotlight at such a tender age. The people she chooses to surrounds herself with and those who give her immense support are a testament to her never becoming bigger than herself. Remaining humble, even with the incredible opportunity she’d been given. And it shows. So much of what she has to say gives thanks to those who helped her, guided her into becoming the person she is today. Whether that’s parental guidance, friends, teachers, even those who weren’t the best influences ended up becoming some of the best teachers for her. Something to learn and grown from.

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I appreciate how incredibly candid she is. In all honesty, I didn’t expect that. Maybe because I still envision her as the little girl from Matilda, or the baby sister in Mrs. Doubtfire. We often have this ideal image of someone, especially when it’s someone who’s had a certain persona that’s been presented to the general public. It’s apparent just how much she’s grown up, a uniquely talented and brilliant individual. Her own person.

While Mara provides plenty of background stories related to the movies and television shows she’d been part of, a lot of what she talks about relates to her own personal struggles and moments of clarity. Having felt as though she’s a square peg amidst a sea of circles, it’s in finding her own path in life and gaining personal acceptance that makes Where Am I Now? so inspirational. So many of us can identify with her struggles, an aid in finding our own voice, when sometimes it might feel as though it’s too difficult a task.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Murder at Mistletoe Manor: A Mystery Novella, by Holly Tierney-Bedford

Klarinda Snow is the innkeeper of a beautiful, historic bed and breakfast in Windy Pines, Idaho. Guests come to Mistletoe Manor to escape from their troubles while enjoying the scenic mountain town. When all seven rooms of the inn get booked on a Tuesday night in December, Klarinda is excited about having so much business, but a little confused as well. After all, her inn normally isn’t exactly a destination hotspot. The guests have barely settled in before strange things begin happening. Is this the most accident prone group of travelers ever, or is someone out for revenge? (synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

“Accident-prone” is putting it lightly. It seems nothing can go right at Mistletoe Manor, not for any of the surprise guests or for Klarinda and her crew. She tries so hard to keep it all together, doing her best to put on a brave face, yet she can’t control the constant turmoil surrounding her idyllic bed and breakfast.

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It starts with a large stash of cash, and several secret invitations Klarinda has never seen before. Each guest has an invitation in their possession, no clue as to who sent them or why they’ve been invited to some remote B&B in the middle of nowhere. Even Klarinda is kept in the dark, with no proper reservations and no notice given. All she can do is get her guests set up in their rooms and make them as comfortable as possible.

From there, all hell breaks loose. And you never really know the next calamity. Just when you think things will settle down for the inhabitants of Mistletoe Manor, is when the next tragedy strikes. Klarinda runs around to tidy up the messes, but things get too out of hand, even for her, to the point where she has to seek outside help from local authorities. And even the authorities are scratching their heads in confusion. What is happening in their small town?

I really enjoyed the characters who inhabit Mistletoe Manor. There were some who are proven aggravators, the kind who add just the right amount of drama and chaos to the mix. It really helped to create a “who done it” atmosphere, because there were moments where I was trying to determine the culprit of all the trouble, and just when you want to pin it on one guest, you discover there’s no way it could have been that person. Because, they’re dead.

This was the perfect mystery novella, sprinkled with a holiday vibe. A great read for this time of year, and one that will keep you guessing, nearly every step of the way.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

A Drakenfall Christmas, by Geralyn Corcillo

In the spring, Mark and Maisy fell in love in the story “Upstairs, Downstairs … and the Lift in Between.” Months later, the magic of Drakenfall is still in the air, and spiced with cinnamon and mistletoe as Mark and Maisy welcome guests and get involved in kerfuffles with staff as they celebrate their first Drakenfall Christmas together.

In an uncharacteristic turn, unflappable house manager Glynis Ferry seems to be getting her duster ruffled every time she catches sight of Shaun Fletcher, the new head groomsman. And Pippa Taylor, a whirling dervish of a domestic, works below stairs to make the magic happen for everyone else, but will there ever be enough magic left over for her? There will if most worthy valet Kafi Cholo has anything to say about it, as he tries to spin holiday magic every which way. But his best laid plans always seem to go awry, even with Maisy helping out as his faithful sidekick.

But what about his grandest of schemes, set to take flight at the Drakenfall Christmas Ball? He’s depending on guest Jamie Tovell, who’s depending on guest Lea Sinclair. And even if everything goes off without a hitch, will the secret Maisy’s been hiding from Mark all season pop up at the most inopportune moment to set everything asunder? It’s a Drakenfall Christmas … topsy turvy, but generously sprinkled with laughter and lavishly frosted with romance. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The holiday season will always represent a time of simplistic comfort, for me. A time to set aside our differences, to share in the love and laughter with those who mean the most, like friends and loved ones. While reading A Drakenfall Christmas, I felt as though I was catapulted back into a simpler time, magical and beautiful, which couldn’t come at a better time, considering everything going on right now in the world around us. I let my worries go while I fell in step with Mark and Maisy, proprietors who go above and beyond to ensure a wonderful time at Drakenfall, making me yearn for the opportunity to visit a place like it.

I enjoyed the budding romances between all of the characters. Geralyn has this unique way of creating tension between love interests, so you’re not quite certain at times whether they’ll end up together, or not. Even when you want them to, or not. It makes for an exciting read. A great example of this would be the sparks that fly between Jamie and Lea. Or the totally potentially inappropriate feelings (or so she thinks) Glynnis has for Shaun. And who does Pippa really have a crush on?

The snark factor doesn’t go unnoticed, either. There are a few nosy, irritating characters who are put in their place a few times, a real treat. Most of us can identify with the need to quiet someone when they’re being annoying, but we never really feel we have the chance or privilege to do it. While immersed within those particular scenes, I laughed out loud, living vicariously through those moments. If only I can replicate that in the real world! Maybe someday, I’ll be able to find a place like Drakenfall, a much-needed respite from chaos. Until then, I’m content to read about it through the eyes of the wonderful characters Geralyn has created, characters who stick with you, forever.

FYI: I read the story, “Upstairs, Downstairs… and the Lift in Between”, giving backstory into the relationship between Mark and Maisy. While Drakenfall stands well alone, “Upstairs, Downstairs” is well worth the read, and can be found in Love in an Elevator: A Romantic Comedy Anthology.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

The Me Before I Became Me

Hello Thursday! Meet my blog group, comprised of a fantastic group of ladies  who will dazzle you with insight on various topics.  After reading my post, check out their blogs as well. Just click on:

Froggie (Tracey): One frog’s distinct voice on the world around her.

Merry Land Girl (Melissa): Tales of a suburban mom who likes to talk about pop culture, books, Judaism, family, friendship and anything else that comes to mind.

Darwin Shrugged (Denise): Civilized Observations in an Uncivilized World

Denise often comes up with thought-provoking ideas. This week is no exception with, Remember me…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Sara I used to be, before I morphed into the Sara I am, now. It happened after I’d found a large stash of my poetry hidden away in a shoe box. I was looking for inspiration, trying to find my way back to Sara the poet. It’s been years since I’d written a single stanza, and I needed something for my writing class.

Amidst the rather bad poetry, I saw glimmers of a young woman who surrounded herself with words. Not much has changed there. I read every day. I’ve done that for several years, but it’s never been my own works, my own words. It seems I put those aspirations away once I’d decided it was time for me to “grow up”. Get some “real” aspirations.

But why do I have to? I mean, if writing is something I’m passionate about, why stop? Why do I feel like I have to shelve the things that inspire me, if it might not measure up to some ideal of what’s acceptable or not?

Like the proverbial snowball effect, thoughts tumbled down a slippery slope of remembrance, bringing me full circle to the other things I used to enjoy, like-

Roller Skating: I could be described as a certifiable “rink rat” when I was a kid. My father DJ’ed the local roller rink, and when I wasn’t in school, I was roller skating. This went on for several years. I made some lasting friendships, had my heart broken a few (or more) times, and thrived within a very unconventional childhood. I still have my quads, passed down to me from my little sister when she outgrew them. They’re sitting in my garage right now, outdoor wheels on, ready to be worn again. Every time I see them, I’m filled with a desire to slip them on and go for a roll around the neighborhood. I swear I will, one of these days.

Singing: Singing had always been  a part of me, just like breathing. So much so, I’d annoy friends and loved ones with my constant warbling. Which is probably why I felt a little awkward during a recent karaoke stint. A friend had asked that I duet with him. He had this notion that I was the old Sara, the one who couldn’t shut up, who had a somewhat decent voice and could carry a tune. Years of choir will do that to a voice box. But, I don’t sing nearly as much as I used to, an understatement, really. Often my radio is turned off. When I listen to music, it’s during a run. My brain is always focused on the next thing, the next task, that I completely block out any opportunity to sing. And while I was a good sport and did the duet, I wasn’t near as confident as I once was. Later I went solo, choosing Young MC’s “Bust A Move”. That was a lot of fun!

I need to sing more. We all need to sing more! It doesn’t matter how you sound. Singing is good for the soul. It just feels good, whether you’re singing, screeching, or rapping to Young MC.

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Dancing: If I could figure out how to post home movies on here, I’d flood this post with my ridiculously fun dancing. I used to choreograph routines with my best friend. We’d pick random songs and come up with something we felt was very creative and artistic, wearing unique outfits she’d created. She’s a dynamite seamstress. Whenever I visit my hometown, I visit her. And whenever I visit her, we pop in the home movies, watching our antics. I enjoy dancing, still do, but there never seems to be the time for it. Or I totally embarrass my kids if I do a shuffle through a store that’s playing music, like Old Navy or the local grocer. I’ve often felt the urge to get up and bust a move, no pun intended, Young MC. I really need to just do it, even if it’s for a few minutes in the comfort of my own home.

Me in my very early 20's... dancing
Me in my early 20’s… dancing

It’s not like I’m devoid of hobbies and interests. Over the years, I’ve picked up some new ones. Like running/fitness. Blogging. Taking care of my family. I don’t want to let that go. But, I want to incorporate some of the old Sara back into my life.

I can wear my roller skates while walking with the kids to school. And while you may not see me at a karaoke bar anytime soon, it doesn’t mean I won’t be belting out my own personal rendition of some Alanis Morissette song while driving in the car. Or Nirvana. Always Nirvana.

And if you see a woman dancing in the aisles of your local grocer, just allow her to carry on. Or join her, if you’d like. Maybe you’re looking for the you before you became you, too.

A Mom On The Run

Africanist, artist & woman

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Happy, Healthy & Fit

The real key to happiness is a lifestyle which encompasses good health, being active, and a positive outlook on life