May 29, 2015

Tune in Tonight: Alias

I've always loved talking about movies and TV shows on my blog, but it wasn't until I guest posted for Book People Talk Movies (created by Lindsey from Bring My Books) that I even thought about making it a regular thing. But now I can't wait to share my absolute favorites - both old and new - with you every month!

The Stats

Alias: The Complete First Season
TV Network: ABC
Length: Five Seasons (2001-2006)
Genre: Action | Drama | Mystery
Creator: J.J. Abrams
Buy on Amazon | Buy on iTunes | Watch on Netflix

The Story

Golden Globe Award-winning actress Jennifer Garner (Best Actress In A Television Series, 2002) is Sydney Bristow. Syd's not exactly your average grad student. Her life might appear normal, but she's hiding a secret life working as a spy for the CIA. Sydney's world is turned upside down when she learns she may work for the very enemy she thought she was fighting. Now she's entangled in a covert lifestyle where she is forced to question the allegiances of everyone, including those closest to her. Entertainment Weekly says ALIAS is "a spy-fi roller coaster of killer gadgets, double roundkicks, triple crosses, poignant confessionals, cliff-hangers, sliced-off fingers, conspiracies, outrageous outfits, exotic locales, flirtations, mythologies -- and that's just before the first commercial break." +

The Stars

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow
Michael Vartan as Michael Vaughn
Victor Garber as Jack Bristow
Ron Rifkin as Arvin Sloane


Carl Lumbly as Marcus Dixon
Kevin Weisman as Marshall Flinkman
Bradley Cooper as Will Tippin
Merrin Dungey as Francie Calfo

The Sneak Peek


The Sell

Alias is the first TV show I became so obsessed with! I've watched it over and over again through the years, and it's remained my favorite. The first two seasons are the best, but it's all worth watching. After binge re-watching the first season recently, I decided to highlight it in this feature! Here are five reasons you need to see it.

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1. THAT PILOT.
I didn't start watching Alias when it first aired - probably because I was in middle school at the time. But in ninth grade, one of my best friends convinced me that I had to watch this show. She was obsessed, and I wanted to be able to discuss it with her. I remember browsing at the Blockbuster across the street, spotting Alias on DVD, and renting an entire season. I was hooked from the very first beginning. This is my favorite TV pilot because it packs so many punches. You get a glimpse at everything I love about this show in a single episode!

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2. SYDNEY BADASS BRISTOW + HER MISSIONS & DISGUISES.
Sydney Bristow has always been my favorite TV character. She made being a spy and double agent look so easy and so badass. I loved that she's fierce but still feminine. She's strong, but she has moments of vulnerability and weakness. She can take care of herself, but she still turns to the people around her for support. And don't even get me started on her missions and disguises! After binging the seasons on DVD, I was finally caught up and able to watch live. I couldn't wait to see what Sydney would be wearing every single week!

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3. FROM FRIENDS TO FOREVER LOVE. 
With this single look in the pilot, I immediately started shipping Sydney and Vaughn. This was before I even knew what shipping was, and I was still reeling from Sydney's loss earlier in the episode. I can't tell you how much I love these two! While some of their best moments come in the second season, there is still a lot to love in the first. The antagonism in Sydney's first meeting with Vaughn as her handler, throwing her pager into the ocean, Sydney demanding a promotion for Vaughn, breaking into the Vatican together... I could go on and on!

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4. THOSE CLIFFHANGERS, TWISTS & SEASON FINALES.
I can't remember for sure, but I believe I watched the entire first season in like two days. This show was made to binge watch. There are so many crazy cliffhangers and twists! From close calls on Sydney's missions to the fear that she'd be caught as a double agent, I loved watching her try to bring down SD-6.  Even when I re-watch, I still find myself at the edge of my seat and unable to look away. And those season finales?! If you're watching this for the first time, you better have the second season on hand... and grab the third while you're at it.


5. THE MUSIC MOMENTS.
As I've mentioned, Alias was my first TV show obsession. From shipping Sydney and Vaughn to buying Alias-related books, I couldn't get enough. But there's something else I did for the first time because of this show: I would look up songs that played during certain episodes, buy my favorites on iTunes and then burn my own soundtracks. I'd even make a CD cover and track listing. Yes, you read that correctly. There are so many songs I'll always associate with Alias, though some of the music is different if you watch on Netflix. 

The Snippets

Screencap Source
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Man: Who are you working for? I'll not ask you again.
Sydney: Okay. Get a pen. ... Write this down. E-M-E-T-I-B. You got that?
Man: Yes.
Sydney: Okay. Now reverse it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  

Vaughn: Are you romantically interested in anyone?
[Sydney gives him a look.]
Vaughn: Could be a question.
Sydney: No, I'm not.
[The lie detector indicates a lie.]
Vaughn: Interesting.

The Soundtrack

Since there isn't an official soundtrack, I've created a playlist of my favorite Season One songs for you:

May 28, 2015

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #1

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. I love this kind of content so much that I decided to start incorporating it into my blog by highlighting my loves and lusts and each season. I've enjoyed it so much that I wanted to turn it into a monthly thing. I'm going to continue doing a larger seasonal post each quarter, but in the "off" months I'm going to do themed mini editions. So, here are the Butter London polishes I'm so obsessed with:

Pinks: Rosie Lee & Dahling
Reds: Knees Up & Chancer
Purples: Molly Coddled Toff
Blues: Sprog Slapper


Here's photographic proof that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Butter London nail lacquer! 

Since their bottles are a little wide, I turn them sideways on my nail polish shelf. You know, the one my husband made me when my polish collection got out of control. Butter London is my favorite, though I also like:


Because I love painting my nails, I don't mind buying more expensive brands. However, I get almost all of my Butter London polishes in sales on their website or with Ulta deals. My favorite is the 2 for $15 special, and I take major advantage of that sale whenever it rolls around. And then my order arrives, and I have to arrange my shelves all over again... It's way too much fun!

Are you addicted to nail polish?
What's your favorite brand or color?

May 27, 2015

Welcome to Hundred Oaks

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: December 1, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Series: Hundred Oaks #1
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Brief Thoughts on Catching Jordan
I started my series binge at the very beginning, though I'd been told by a few friends that this was the weakest book. I thought about starting with a different one, but I wanted to be able to appreciate the character cameos later on. I'm not a sports fan and only like the Friday Night Lights TV version of football, but I still found Jordan's story interesting! I loved that she was a quarterback and stood out in a male-dominated sport. I enjoyed the way her team listened to her and followed her lead as captain. I wish she'd been a little less judgmental of other girls and hated the way her best friend used girls, and yet I was still rooting for them. However, Jordan very quickly went from "not at all interested in guys" to crazy over the attractive new guy who was very one-dimensional. Their whole relationship progressed so quickly, and I had a number of issues with it. Certain things felt inconsistent, and I was surprised by how sexual it was at times. This whole series is actually a lot more mature than I expected! But what did I love? The family dynamics! She's got an awesome older brother, an incredibly supportive mom and some issues with her father but you know he cares about her. Seeing her relationship with her mom and dad was definitely a highlight for me. While this is my least favorite, I knew I wanted to read the second book when I finished. | So Okay With It

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Series: Hundred Oaks #2
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Brief Thoughts on Stealing Parker
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I was both pleasantly surprised and a little shocked by the story. Parker's perfect life is in shambles after her mother's secret comes to light. Her family is coming apart, her friends have ditched her, and she's abandoned the sport that used to bring her so much joy. Because she's hurting, she starts making rash decisions. She's confused and not really thinking clearly, but it makes sense for her character. I ached for her, and I kept wishing the people in her life would notice what was going on. She writes prayers/letters to God, and they broke my heart. You can see just how lost and confused she is about what she believes and what's happening in her life. She pursues a hugely problematic relationship with someone, and both people do things that made me livid. However, I hold the other person (an authority figure) way more responsible because he's an adult. It's an uncomfortable situation, and it was definitely my least favorite part of this book. But, at the same time, I can see how it's crucial to Parker's growth and loved the strength she found in herself because of it. My favorite aspect was her friendship with Drew and Corndog. She relaxes around both of them and they brought out the best in her. Corndog, in particular, quickly became my favorite Kenneally boy. My third favorite in the series! | So Liked It

Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Series: Hundred Oaks #3
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Brief Thoughts on Things I Can't Forget
Of all Kenneally's book, I think Things I Can't Forget is the most polarizing. Kate Kelly has always been the good girl, but she's carrying a huge secret. She's about to spend her summer as a camp counselor, and she's hoping to put the past behind her. Kate is a really difficult character because she's very judgmental. She's grown up in church and never questioned what she believes. I think most readers will be immediately turned off by her attitude, which is likely Kenneally's intention. And while I didn't like Kate, I was mostly just sad for her. She's in a church where the rules matter more than a personal relationship with Jesus, so it's not surprising that she thinks and acts the way she does. I appreciated the message that Kate is questioning her faith, needs to decide for herself what she believes and can't force those beliefs on other people. But Kate herself isn't really what bothered me about this book. This is influenced by my own faith, but I was deeply troubled by the fact that the book only portrayed judgmental Christians or ones who believed in God but basically did whatever they wanted. Both exist, so it's realistic, but I was never able to enjoy the book because of it. I'd love to see more faith in YA, but I was disappointed with its portrayal here. I wouldn't have continued this series if I'd read this one first, though I loved seeing Parker and her boy again! | So Okay With It

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: December 3, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Series: Hundred Oaks #4
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Brief Thoughts on Racing Savannah
I grew up riding horses, so I was probably predisposed to love this book! And I'm a sucker for love stories where the characters come from two different worlds... I think I can blame that on my Pride and Prejudice obsession. Savannah's dad takes a job at Cedar Hill Farms, and the owner's son is supposed to be off limits. They keep spending time together, and neither one can deny their attraction. But let's talk about the setting first. I think my love for horses and my familiarity with life in a barn is a big reason this is my second favorite book in the series! I loved the moments Savannah spent with Star, trying to figure out what he was afraid of and pushing her dad to let her take risks while riding. As with previous Kenneally books, I was so happy to see that family was important to Savannah and to Jack. Though not without problems in this book, it's refreshing to read about characters who are close to their parents. Past characters (and some of their siblings) appear in Racing Savannah, and that's one reason I love this series. I love how connected everyone is, and it's so fun to see where characters end up in the future. But what about the romance? It wasn't my favorite. I liked Jack, but then he royally pissed me off. And he never quite got back in my good graces after that, though I was so proud of Savannah for standing up for herself. | So Enjoyed It

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Series: Hundred Oaks #5
Add on Goodreads

Brief Thoughts on Breathe, Annie, Breathe
And now we get to my favorite book in the series! Having read all five books in the span of three days, I can definitely attest to how much Kenneally's writing improves over the course of the series. I think it's enjoyable from the very beginning, but I think it's strongest in Breathe, Annie, Breathe. From the plot to the characters, this is the book I'd be most likely to re-read. Annie hates running, but she's determined to finish a marathon in memory of her boyfriend. She's grieving his loss and blaming herself for it, but the race gives her something to focus on. However, training is harder than she ever imagined. She's got an excellent coach helping her along, but her body can barely take the pressure. Of the whole series, I was the most emotionally invested in this story. There's something about Annie's guilt and grief that drew me in, and I was proud of the way she started to move on. Of course, it's not a Kenneally book without some romance. Jeremiah Brown completely won me over, and he and Annie balance each other out perfectly. He's my second favorite Kenneally boy, but Jeremiah and Annie might be my favorite Kenneally couple. They have a lot of issues to work through - individually and together - but I loved getting to read about that journey! | So Loved It

May 26, 2015

A Book for Every Destination

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic and invite everyone to share their answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so I obviously love this feature!

Every year, I look forward to this Top Ten Tuesday topic. I have a tradition every year (2012 | 2013 | 2014), and this one is no different. I have way fun putting together "themed bags." I sorted books based on destination, just like last year. No matter where your summer takes you, I've got a book for each place from my TBR!

Top Ten Books In My Beach Summer Bags


At the beach, I want to read something light and mostly happy! I need it to keep my attention, but I also want to be able to set it down and pick it up without any issue. You never know when you'll want to pause for a little walk or some time in the water. P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han and The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon seem like the perfect fit. One is a sequel I've been dying to read, and the other is a promising adult debut!

find that loot: lip balm | tote | sea spray | sunglasses | coverup


I love visiting the mountains in the summer! You've got the benefit of slightly cooler temperatures, and it's also usually a quieter vacation. Since I'm often sitting outside with just my husband and our puppy, I'm more likely to pick up a more thoughtful or quirky. I've been dying to read Mosquitoland by David Arnold because of all the rave reviews, and Ana of California by Andi Teran is on my list because it's a retelling of Anne of Green Gables.

find that loot: water bottle | granola bars | moisturizer | sandals | tote


As I said last year, you're either sitting on the dock or out on a boat if you go to the lake. When I'm on the dock, I'm up for a read with some depth or a slower pace. Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown is historical fiction book that sounds just right! When I'm out on a boat, I don't read much unless we stop for a rest. In those cases, I'm more likely to grab a magazine. One of my favorites is Garden & Gun because it's Southern heaven.

find that loot: hair bands | gum | tote | sunglasses | swim suit


If you can't venture far, there's nothing wrong about soaking up some sun in your own backyard. The best part? Air conditioning, snacks and the bathroom are just steps away! I like to play music, paint my nails and then pick up a book. A unique fantasy like The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen would be my first choice, but I'd also be drawn to a dark mystery like Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan. Sign me up!

find that loot: headband | speaker | nail polish | tote | sunglasses


I don't know what your neighborhood pool is like, but mine is absolutely packed with little kids. It's fun to see their excitement, but it's not that conducive to reading. It's a little bit like the beach for me where I want engaging and fun reads. I'd be most likely to grab Charlie's Glass Slippers by Holly McQueen if I wanted a contemporary book or Tarnish by Katherine Longshore if I was leaning toward historical fiction.

find that loot: sunglasses | totelip balm | towel | sandals

May 22, 2015

When You Find a Friend

When You Look For It
Every book I read growing up convinced me that I needed to have a "best friend." I had good friends in high school, but I wanted one person to confide in. Leave it to me, the lover of hate-to-love romances, to find a best friend in the one girl I'd always said I couldn't stand. She was nothing like I'd imagined, which taught me to stop assuming I knew anything about other people. For years, we'd laugh at the way our friendship started. With that crazy beginning, I thought I'd found someone who'd be my friend for the rest of my life.

When You Let It Go
Things changed in college. It didn't happen overnight, but I didn't see it coming either. It felt like it was happening at the worst possible time, and the whole situation was isolating and lonely. I was heartbroken, and it changed something in me. It sounds a little dramatic, but it's like I was mourning the friendship. I was, to be honest, bitter about the whole thing. I became insecure about my other friendships and distrustful of people.

When You Least Expect It
Around this same time, I moved into a house with two of my closest friends for my junior year of college. I was excited about living with them... but also kind of dreading it. You see a different side of people when you live with them, and I wondered what would happen next. One of those friends was a girl named Lauren. She was in my sorority, and I’d known her since freshman year. And despite all my insecurity about friendship at that point in time, I realized that I liked her even better the more I got to know her.

Fast forward eight years, and I recently got home from a trip to the beach with her. We ditched our husbands and spent five days in the Keys. It was, quite honestly, heavenly. We read books, ate an insane amount of chips and salsa, talked about the important and the silly stuff, shared memories and made new ones. And at one point on the trip, the thought crossed my mind – I would have missed out on this if I'd let my bad experience define my feelings on friendship.

When You Open Up
It's scary to to open your heart. It feels like a risk, and the reward isn't guaranteed. Sometimes you'll show a part of yourself to people who won't really see you. You'll let people in and later have to let them back out. You'll have friends for a season that you thought would last forever. But then there are moments that prove it's all worth it. There are people who remind you that being brave and loving deeply is how you're truly known.

The friendships with permanence, the ones that change you from the inside out, are the ones that are honest. I can talk to Lauren about everything from the color I painted my nails to the pain of dreams deferred. But at the end of the day, I'm often still cautious in friendship when I want to be courageous. So while my vacation offered much-needed relaxation, it was also an overdue reminder that there's beauty in loving other people.

When You Let People In
Eight years ago, I met Lauren and liked her. We went shopping for socials and debated options for date nights. We'd walk together to tail gates, and sweat our makeup off in the sun. We'd watch The Bachelorette in pajamas and had no shame in being the only adults in the theater for the Justin Bieber movie. We'd dance on bid day, roll our eyes at chapter, and tried to solve the mystery of who was stealing food from the snack room fridge.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth asks Darcy when he began loving her. He responds by telling her, "I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." That's what happened with Lauren. In the midst of all the silliness and shenanigans, I got to be real with her. It made all the difference, and my life is better because of it.

You never know who those people will be for you, but don't you want to find out? As a freshman in college, I didn't know where I'd be today. I lost one friend, but I gained one, too. One friend broke my heart and another friend helped it heal. And here's the thing – I'd go through it all again to end up where I am now. I can invite people into the mess or only let them see through a filter. I know which one feels safer, but I also know which one leads to real friendship.

I don't want to give up the chance at laughter in order to guard myself against tears. I want to show up – in the big moments and the small. To apologize and forgive. To ask questions and tell jokes. To be brave and a little scared. To see someone's story and be seen in return. So, here's to the friends who inspire all of that and more.

May 21, 2015

Buy the Book / No. 3

Buy the Book is a monthly feature where I share a gift guide inspired by something I've read. It's a little play on "by the book" since all of the gifts come directly from quotes or scenes in the book featured and, you know, since it's all stuff you can buy. I'm including a snippet from the book for each item so you'll know why I picked it!

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

He turned and checked the backseat. "Yup. Duncan predicted you'd pack a cooler of snacks."

1. Stanley Adventure Cooler ($65) - You can tell what kind of person Helen is early on and learn that her brother seems to know her quirks. But you'll have to read to find out the other reason this item made the list.

This kid was not someone I could relate to. He adored my awful brother. He had ditched medical school for no apparent reason. And he was about to unzip his pants and relieve himself into an Evian bottle. In the passenger seat of my Subaru.

2. Evian Natural Spring Water, 24 Count ($29.38) - This moment made me laugh so hard! Helen sees Jake a certain way, but I could tell almost immediately that there was something intriguing behind all his teasing.

"The question is, do you want to play Scrabble?" He held out a box of travel Scrabble for me to see.

Of all things. My favorite game.
"I am way too tired to play Scrabble," I said. But he stepped closer and sat down on the bed. I let him.

3. Scrabble Folio Edition ($33.99) - The best part of this game of Scrabble is that there's a bet involved... and let's just say it's a scene you won't soon forget. You'll see a different side of Jake in this moment!

"Maybe you think you're a tough guy. But I'll tell you something: The only tough guy in the Absarokas is Mother Nature, and she is going to drag your ass up and down the block." / / "... I found I liked looking at contour maps. Everybody else seemed to see squiggly lines and patches of color. But I for some reason looked down and saw it all in 3-D."

4. National Geographic Absaroka - Beartooth Wilderness East Map ($11.95) - I absolutely loved the setting, so I had to include something for it. And Helen's unprepared for the wilderness, but her map skills come in handy!

"At Outfitting, I tried on several pairs of boots. Beckett said it was best to rent them unless you had your own well-broken-in pair, which I didn't, of course. The rental pairs were certainly well broken in -- by other people's stinky feet."

5. La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX Hiking Books ($175) - If you're going hiking, you definitely need some boots. While Helen rents her pair, I chose these with absolutely zero knowledge of hiking. Like Helen. (Beware of blisters!)

Windy also gleaned a lot of her wisdom about happiness, and what it is, and how to approach it, from a very thoughtful book by Richard O'Connor called Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy. Windy's idea of appreciating Three Good Things every day came from that book. {From the Acknowledgments}

6. Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy ($13.87) - Helen and another hiker discuss being happy and what you hold on to and remember about your life. It was one of my favorite parts of the book!

"Anyway, I brought you a present. To replace your lost list." He held out a folded piece of paper.
"What is it?"
"It's a poem."
"You wrote a poem?"
"No. It's Pablo Neruda. My favorite poem by my favorite poet."

7. One Hundred Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda ($15.45) - You'll have to read the book to find out why Helen loses her list, what was on it, and what poem she's handed. But trust me when I say it'll make you swoon.

"Sorry I broke your glasses," I said, as we started across the rocks to the path.
"Nah," Jake said, sliding the broken glasses arm into his pocket. "It's nothing a little duct tape can't fix." (218)

8. Warby Parker Winston Glasses ($95) - I just love Jake and his little hipster glasses! They are mentioned several times and are particularly important in this scene, though of course I can't tell you why. READ IT.

9. Duck Brand Metallic Color Duct Tape ($3.39) - You never know when you'll need a roll of duct tape, especially when you're out in the woods. This isn't even the first time it's used in the book either! Survival 101.

"In fact, in that moment, I was Pickle: a mangy-looking mini dachshund with a tail that never wagged and a foul temper. Maybe that's why we got along so well." (82)

10. My Dachshund Keychain ($8.95) - Oh, Pickle! While the dog on this keychain might be a little cuter than its literary counterpart, I couldn't resist including a little something to commemorate this crazy animal.

"If it were up to me, he'd be crammed back there with his duffel, and I'd be up front, alone with all the music I'd collected for the journey: Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Indigo Girls. The plan had been to sing my lungs out on the drive west, to team up with everybody from Annie Lennox to James Brown and belt out every emotion in the human repertoire. And then, hopefully, by the time I hit Wyoming, to be done with them all."

11. Joni Mitchell Hits ($5.99) - Helen has this vision for how her entire trip will go, and nothing turns out the way she plans. I liked that she had to let go of her expectations, especially since this was the least of the disruptions. 

May 20, 2015

"Three Good Things."

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Release Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It's supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother's even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can't imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen's well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen's own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.

Thoughts on Happiness for Beginners
Happiness for Beginners wasn't on my radar until Estelle from Rather Be Reading tweeted about it. Then, she wrote a note about it on Goodreads, and it was her reference to Liza Palmer that sold me. You may already know, but I'm a huge fan of Liza Palmer. That's all it took to convince me I needed to look into this book!

A few days later, I was browsing in the book section of Target. It's the same place where I discovered my first (and favorite) Liza book - Nowhere but Home - so it's probably fitting that I'd stumble upon this one there, too. With a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and Estelle's praise bouncing around in my brain, I grabbed this book, read two pages, and immediately took it to the check out. Once I got home, I took a quick picture for Instagram and figured I'd stick it on my shelf for later. But I couldn't get those first two pages out of my mind, and I realized I was desperate to know more about these characters and what happened next. I planned to read a few chapters that night... and then stayed up until I'd read the whole book.

I finished the book and knew it was going to be an all-time favorite for me. I texted Estelle to freak out over the book with her, and then I told at least four of my friends that they had to read it. And the best part? I pushed it so hard (and apparently so effectively) that two of them bought it the next day and both read it within the week. Yes, y'all, it was that kind of book for me. It's one that I read at exactly the right time and made me wonder, "What if I'd gone my whole life without reading this book?!" Because honestly the summary didn't sound bad, but it wasn't calling my name either. Thank goodness I listened to Estelle!

At it's core, Happiness for Beginners is a simple and somewhat familiar story. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two, divorced, and determined to get a new perspective on life. She signs up for a wilderness survival course when her annoying younger brother suggests it - though he certainly wasn't expecting her to follow through by choosing the most dangerous one available. Helen thinks it will be the chance she needs to reinvent herself, until she finds out that her brother's even-more-annoying best friend will be there, too. She's not sure what to expect on this three-week adventure, but she's in for quite the surprise.

While the summary seemed a bit generic to me, the story inside was anything but. Katherine Center's writing took this story to another level. I cared about the characters from the very first page and that continued until the very last one. I fell in love with Helen - her heartbreak in the past, her discomfort in the present, and her hope for the future. She was both vulnerable and guarded, weak and strong, brave and scared. I could relate to her on so many levels, despite having very different life experiences, and it made me so attached to her story. There's someone else inside who really stole my heart, but I don't want to give too much away. Let's just say that the guy in this book is now firmly in my list of top ten favorite book boys... and maybe even in the top five. He's smart, passionate, kind, helpful, and will have you swooning as soon as you get to know him.

This book contained some of my all-time favorite dialogue, and I can only hope I'll find more of the same in the author's backlist. It's so sharp and witty - I wanted to underline whole sections of it and read it aloud to my husband. With great writing and fantastic characters, I knew within a few chapters that I was already obsessed with this book. And then I realized that the setting was excellent, too. I'm not really an outdoor person. I've gone camping, hiking, and rafting before, but it's not my preferred way to spend my leisure time. However, I identified with Helen's reaction to the wilderness and just loved the way it came alive on the page. I didn't necessarily want to join her there, but I can't complain about experiencing it through her while reading.

And ultimately, I loved the heart of this book. I was rooting for Helen and adored her personal growth. I desperately want to talk to you about some of the themes, but I feel like it's kind of thing that's best if it slowly works its way into your heart while you read. There are some profound ideas expressed, and I imagine that every reader will find a different one that speaks to them.

Happiness for Beginners exceeded all of my expectations, and it's earned a spot on my forever favorites shelf. I started flipping back through to find a quote for my review, and ended up reading it again. If I love a book enough to read it twice in one month, it's definitely earned my highest rating! It's about getting lost so you can be found. Seeing with your heart, and not just your eyes. Finding and choosing to remember the happiness around you. It's got hope, longing, anticipation and more on every page. BUY IT, AND I'M NOT SAYING PLEASE.

So Quotable
"But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one."

May 19, 2015

Best of Blogging

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Favorite Posts on My Blog

When I discover a new-to-me blog, I'm so excited if they highlight some of their favorite or most popular blog posts in their About section or sidebar. It gives me a feel for their writing style and what best represents their blog. A few months ago, Renae from Respiring Thoughts used a freebie Top Ten Tuesday to share ten of her favorite blog posts that she'd written in the last three years. I absolutely loved the idea, and it gives me the motivation I needed to add a few favorite posts to my Hey Y'all page. So, here are ten of my favorite posts from the last four years of this crazy, but amazing, journey.


To celebrate 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, I spent a week talking about my lifelong love for this classic. I admitted to collecting copies of the book - something that started accidentally and grew into an addiction. My collection has changed since then (so many new copies!), but this post has remained one of my favorites.


This post is one of my favorites because it contains two things I absolutely adore: discussions about series and Britney Spears gifs. I talked about the different paths my series addiction can take, and I still remember how much fun I had brainstorming the different "types" and figuring out what series matched each one.


I made it a goal to write more discussions posts in 2014, and this favorite came out of a conversation and read-along with Kelly from Belle of the Literati. She's an emotional reader, but I tend to be more analytical. I shared differences between the two types and admitted that I enjoy reading critical reviews of my favorite books. 


I'd had the idea for this post simmering around in my brain for a few weeks before I finally wrote it. It was so time consuming! Looking back, I'm so glad I went for it. I'm a big fan of non-fiction, and I loved sharing advice on how to find the right non-fiction for you. I like talking about stuff that's not discussed often by other bloggers!


While I've loved blogging, it's definitely changed the way I read. I've written a number of posts about those changes, but this one was an important reminder to myself. I'm inundated with opinions on books every day, but I read for me. I want to trust my gut and not pay too much attention to ratings and reviews from others.


Although Get Organized on Goodreads post is my most popular blog post, this one is my personal favorite. I love creating tutorials and sharing organization tips, so this post is very representative of the way I try to go "beyond books" on my blog. I'm always on the hunt for cool things I can get everyone else obsessed with, too!


Of all the reviews I've written on my blog, this one will always be my favorite. I binge read this series and absolutely fell in love with it. I don't think I've ever had so much to say about a book before, but I love the way the post turned out. Even better? I've been told it convinced a number of people to give these books a shot!
If you'd told me four years ago that I'd start reading fantasy (let alone love it enough to host an event about it), I would have thought you were insane. I don't know when and how it happened, but blogging changed all of that. This post represents how my reading tastes have expanded and it's with Alexa from Alexa Loves Books!


I knew I wanted to include at least one Top Ten Tuesday post among my favorites, but which one?! Of course, it had to be the "Top Ten Things I LOVE in Love Stories." I loved talking about my favorite types of romances, the they evoke, the moments that make me swoon and pairing each one with the perfect gif.


The post that sparked a blogging trend! I've loved May Books for a long time, but I didn't discover traveler's notebooks until earlier this year. I decided to write a post about my newest obsession, and then I got the book blogging world hooked on them. Like I said, I love talking about organization and cool things I find online!

May 18, 2015

Series Speed Date: Round #8

This section will cover any key details about the series.

The Scarlet Series by A.C. Gaughen
Books In Series: Scarlet, Lady Thief and Lion Heart
Released: February 2012 | February 2014 | May 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury | Walker Children's
Pages: 287 pages | 308 pages | 348 pages
What do these covers say about this series?

These covers aren't my favorite, but I don't hate them! My favorite aspect is how Scarlet is portrayed on them. On Scarlet, you see the way she clothes herself as a boy... though I refuse to believe that anyone would be fooled by this disguise. On Lady Thief it feels like she's on the prowl for something and trying to stay hidden, which I love. She's the most feminine version of herself on Lion Heart, and I think it's fitting for the story inside.

Based on the summary, what can you expect going into this series?

The Scarlet series is a retelling of the Robin Hood story. If you're familiar with the folklore about this heroic outlaw, you may have more expectations going into the story. My only previous experience with Robin Hood is the Disney movie, and I know from other Disney movies that their version isn't always close to the source material. I knew he stole from the rich to give to the poor and was aided by his band of "Merry Men." I didn't know much else, but A.C. Gaughen doesn't focus on Robin Hood. Instead, her story centers on Will Scarlet - a character from the original legends. In this version, Will Scarlet is a girl. It's a secret known only to Robin and his men, but even they don't know much about her. When a legendary thief taker arrives in Nottingham, Scarlet's past catches up to her and everyone is in danger because of it. I was so excited to read Scarlet once I read the summary because it promised danger, adventure, bravery, loyalty and love. And it absolutely delivers!

What are some highlights of the series?

An exciting twist on a familiar, legendary tale.
A resourceful and brave heroine fleeing past demons and meeting new foes.
A handsome and honorable outlaw who wants to protect the people under his watch.
A pair of kind and loyal friends who will do anything for the ones they love.
A petulant and evil prince who stops at nothing to get his own way and gain the throne.
A world where the rich prosper, the poor suffer, and it's a risk to do what's right.
A story of past regrets, remarkable secrets, beautiful friendships and incredible strength.
A love story that defies the odds and overcomes the obstacles.
An epic and emotional tale infused with humor and hope.

How will you feel closing the last page?

Emotionally drained! I binge read the entire series in less than a week, and I was anxious and nervous for these characters the entire time I was reading. Scarlet has this rough, lower-class dialect that totally works for her character, but it threw me off the first time I sampled this book. So, I decided I was going to listen to Scarlet on audiobook instead. While I loved the reader, I ended up ditching it about four hours in because I HAD to pick up the book myself to read faster. The characters are headstrong and occasionally frustrating, but they won my heart from the very beginning. I was rooting for them and completely hooked on their story.

While Scarlet was an exciting read, Lady Thief absolutely blew me away. It took the tension to a whole different level, and I think I cried at least three times while I was reading it. The stakes are higher than ever, and I honestly didn't know how in the world these characters would make it out alive. No one told me that Gaughen was going to take my heart and practically traumatize it in the second book! There's definitely no "middle book syndrome" at play here. In fact, Lady Thief was my favorite book in the entire trilogy. 

By the time I got to Lion Heart, I was scared. Gaughen had already put these characters through the ringer... What was coming next?! While the plot of Lion Heart was probably the weakest of the three books, I thought it was an emotionally satisfying read. The romance takes center stage, and I had absolutely no complaints about that fact. I was desperately in need of swoon after the emotional devastation of the previous book! It didn't have the same tension as the previous books and was a bit anticlimactic, but I still loved the book overall. My one issue? I wish the book had just one more chapter, or possibly an Epilogue, because it ends a bit abruptly. I needed just a little more in those final moments, but I still loved this series!

Summing up this series in just three words?

Romantic. Emotional. Heart-Pounding. 

Is this series worth your time?

I would recommend this series! I flew through these books, and I love when I get so invested in a story that I almost forget the characters aren't real. It read like a cross between fantasy and historical fiction, and it made me even more curious about the legend of Robin Hood. I might have to do some more research about him now! While Lady Thief was definitely the standout book, I thoroughly enjoyed spending my time with Scarlet, Rob, and the rest of the gang. But be warned - these books are an emotional roller coaster. Prepare your heart... and possibly have tissues on hand. I considered giving these a Commit rating because I see myself re-reading them, but I think the series overall is a bit inconsistent so I downgraded them one level in my scale.
*I received a copy of Lion Heart from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

May 15, 2015

Reflecting on Review Books

As you may already know, I've partnered with Alexa from Alexa Loves Books this year for The Picky Pledge. We're holding each other accountable about the books we've acquired in 2015, and I've been pleased with our progress so far. We're making more intentional reading choices and are already seeing the benefits.

Alexa and I were recently discussing books signings and the questions that arise at events with multiple authors. Should you get something signed by everyone? How do you decide? She mentioned turning it into a post, and I wholeheartedly supported the idea. I haven't been to a ton of author events, though I live near a city with a number of bookish events, so I didn't feel like I had much to say on the topic. But Alexa has lots to share today!

Since part of her discussion involved deciding what to buy at a signing, it had me thinking about another aspect of acquiring books - getting them from publishers! While I love having the opportunity to read books early, I've read fewer review books this year and am so happy with that decision. Today, I want to talk about the random things that have been on my mind lately regarding review books.

REQUEST

Avoid boredom browsing. I already mentioned this in my first check-in post, but it's worth repeating. I'm on track for my goal of reading no more than 36 books for review this year, but I'm still guilty of boredom browsing on NetGalley and Edelweiss! I don't always end up requesting books, but it does put even more books on my radar. It's not the worst thing in the world, but I want to learn to be more content to read what's right in front of me instead of always thinking about what's to come. I don't need to always be on the hunt for more books!

Ask why and when. I've spent more time this year evaluating why I want to read a book for review. In the past, I used to request or accept a book if it simply sounded good. Now, I'm forcing myself to ask this question with everything I consider reading for review. Here are a few reasons why I consider accepting a book:
  • Build a Relationship: I generally read digital review books, but I do receive pitches from publicists. When deciding if I want to read a book, I'm sometimes tempted to accept if I want to establish a relationship with that publisher. While it's not a bad reason, it's not necessarily the right reason either.
  • Intrigued by Cover/Summary: Who hasn't had a book cover catch their eye while browsing online? I'm definitely guilty of judging a book by its cover, but it's not a great reason for me to request a book! As for the summary, that's a more legit reason to request - as long as I don't focus too much on buzzwords.
  • Heard Good Things: Have you ever read a book's summary and written it off only to find yourself adding it back to your TBR after hearing good things from other readers? This actually happens to me pretty frequently! However, I'm trying to get this type of book from the library instead of for review.
  • Like the Author: If I've liked an author's past books, that will make me more curious about what they write in the future. This has led me to some awesome books, but I've also read some books solely because of the author. I need to focus a little less on who wrote something and a little more on what's inside!
  • Dying to Read: This is the best reason to read a book for review, and it's the one I'm trying to focus on this year! If a book falls into one of the previous categories, I now pause before requesting or accepting it. But if this is my reason, I have no doubts about whether or not I want that book on my TBR.
Figuring out the why is helping me make better reading choices. As for the when part, I'm making myself look at a book's publication date so I don't overwhelm myself with books releasing at the same time.

Assess my level of interest. This is where I'm trying to take a cue from Kelly from Belle of the Literati. She's careful about what she adds to her TBR, but in the best way. Being more thoughtful about my interest in a book is making a big difference in how I feel about what I read. If I'd likely buy a book when it's released, I let myself request it. But if it's something I'd probably check out from the library first, I'm learning to step back and save it for later. I can wait until it's released or until I've heard more about it before committing to it.

READ

Decide on timing. In the past, I've read a book immediately if it was one I was highly anticipating. But I'm not good about writing my review as soon as I finish and would often end up re-reading it to write my review. Lately, I'm trying to put more thought into when I read review books. I'm not going to force myself to wait if I can't resist, but I do take the publication date into consideration. And if I read it too early, I don't get to fangirl about it with everyone. I don't want to read a book so early that it feels like old news by the time it releases.

Don't fear the DNF. Since I'm trying to be thoughtful about what I request, this hasn't been as big of an issue. But it's a little different with review books I've accepted or ones that are unsolicited. When I accept a review book, it's for review consideration - not necessarily coverage. I won't accept a book if I don't genuinely want to read and review it, but I also don't stress if doesn't end up working for me. I'd rather stop reading a book than push through and write a negative review. Time is too short to read a book just because it's from a publisher!

Deviate from the plan. While I'm paying more attention to when I read review books, I've also realized that plans can change. I love creating a seasonal TBR for that Top Ten Tuesday topic, but I don't always read everything on my list. And I like to create a loose schedule for reading review books, but only if I give myself the freedom to deviate. If a book is calling my name, it's okay to drop everything and read it. And if I'm just not motivated to read a review book, I can wait a while - even if that means I'm reviewing it after it's released.

REVIEW

Say it honestly. I want my reviews to balance casual and critical. I don't analyze every nuance of a book, but I want to be thoughtful and add something to the conversation. However, my opinion is subjective and based on my reading history and personal preferences. So while I'm not afraid of writing a critical review or emailing one to a publicist, I want my reviews to be both both honest and kind. There's been some blogging drama in the past year or so, but I don't ever want to hesitate to say how I really felt about a book.

Spread the word. Writing a review is important, but it's not the only way to promote a book. I feel like you often hear a lot about review books right around their release date, but then the buzz dies down. But there are lots of fun ways to highlight favorite books - talking about them on social media, highlighting them in fun features or including them in memes like Top Ten Tuesday - weeks and months later. This doesn't just apply to review books! It's also my favorite way to draw attention to stuff that's under the radar or from an author's backlist.

Savor the variety. When Alexa and I looked at our reading statistics from last year, we were both surprised to see just how much we'd read for review. While I'm so thankful for the opportunity to read advance review copies, I realized just how much my reading habits had changed since I started blogging. I wasn't re-reading favorites or picking up as many older titles, and I wanted more balance in what I read. I want to continue to be an eclectic reader, which meant had to be pickier about review books. And I haven't regretted it at all!

How do you decide what to read for review?
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