Review: Welcome to Serenity by Sherryl Woods

Welcome to Serenity Book Cover Welcome to Serenity
The Sweet Magnolias
Sherryl Woods
Romance
MIRA
November 25, 2007
Audiobook
408 / 14 Hours
Public Library
January 13, 2023 - January 22, 2023

When Jeanette Brioche helped launch The Corner Spa in Serenity, South Carolina, she found a whole lot more than professional satisfaction. She discovered the deep and loyal friendships that had been missing from her life. But even the Sweet Magnolias can’t mend the terrible rift between Jeanette and her family or persuade her that the holidays are anything more than a season of misery.

Pushed into working on the town’s much-loved annual Christmas festival, Jeanette teams up with the sexy new town manager. Tom McDonald may be the only person in Serenity who’s less enthused about family and the holidays than she is.

But with tree decorations going up on the town square and a bit of romance in the air, Jeanette and Tom take a fresh look at the past and a hopeful look into the future. Together they discover that this just may be a season of miracles after all.

My Review

Welcome to Serenity is the fourth book in The Sweet Magnolias series and the first to center around someone other than one of the three Sweet Magnolias, Maddie, Dana Sue, and Helen.

This book, surprisingly (to me anyway!), is also a Christmas book. (I really wish I hadn’t continued to delay my library hold until after Christmastime! haha)

Jeanette, who runs the spa at The Corner Spa (the spa and fitness center The Sweet Magnolias launched in book 1) is talked into representing The Corner Spa on the council for the city’s annual Christmas celebration. Unfortunately for Jeannete, because she despises Christmastime.

Meanwhile, Tom, the new city manager, is also forced onto the council by the mayor. If we thought Jeanette hated Christmas, she’s got nothing on Tom, who is a regular Scrooge!

Overall this was a cute story. It’s a typical HEA romance. What I didn’t like so much was how quickly Tom fell for Jeanette. He went from “that woman was rude to me!” to “I can’t get her out of my bed, I must convince her to date me!” If you can look past that (I did) you’ll find a pleasant sweet romance.

Both Jeanette and Tom had valid reasons for hating Christmas, and learning about and watching them overcome their pasts was enjoyable.

As a bonus, we get to know Mary Vaughn a little better. In the previous books she’s very much been painted as a villain, but now we get to see her from an outsider’s – Jeanette’s – viewpoint. And what Jeanette sees is a woman who just needs a friend. I really appreciated the friendship that developed between the two women, and I hope that if I continue with this series we will get to see more of that.

I’ve probably said it in my previous reviews, but I’ll say it again. The Sweet Magnolias books are very different from the Netflix TV Series (especially after book 1!) so if you’ve already watched the show, brace yourself for the differences in the books.

NetGalley Roundup – January 2023

I’m going to try something new, in order to hold myself accountable and keep myself in check with NetGalley.

Each month (theoretically…) I will list the new NetGalley titles that I’ve been approved to read, the publication date and genre, a very brief summary, and why I chose this book.

I will also include my current, at time of writing the monthly roundup, feedback ratio. (This is the percentage of reviews I’ve submitted in comparison to the total number of books I’ve been approved for.)

This first one is going to be a big one, as I’ll be including everything from my backlog that I plan to tackle.

Here goes!

Current Feedback Ratio: 75%

Four Found Dead by Natalie D. Richards

Four Found Dead by Natalie D. Richards (May 2, 2023) – YA Thriller

ABOUT: A group of teens get trapped in a defunct shopping mall with a killer on their last day of working at the attached movie theatre.

WHY I chose it: I chose this book because 1. I used to work for a movie theatre (it’s where I met my hubs!) and 2. I’ve read two other books by Richards, years ago from NetGalley, and really enjoyed them. I’m currently reading this one and not liking it AS much as I remember the previous, but I’m still enjoying it.

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell (March 6, 2017) – YA Fantasy

ABOUT: A burlesque troupe of slave girls escape during a performance, enlisting the help of a dangerously charasmatic wanted man.

WHY I chose it: I’m just now getting back into YA fantasy (THANKS C. J REDWINE!) and this sounded like an interesting read. There are at least 3 books in this series. And I liked the cover. 🥴

Financial Fives by Gary Grewal

Financial Fives by Gary Grewal (October 16, 2020) – Non-Fiction, Finance

ABOUT: “…a quick-read personal finance book with actionable tips on each page.”

WHY I chose it: Let’s be real, I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to retire someday! LOL I will take any and all personal finance tips.

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur (May 25, 2021) – YA Romance

WHAT: a “rom-com about a hopeless romantic who vows to show his childhood crush that romance isn’t dead by recreating iconic dates from his favorite films…”

WHY I chose it: The cover on this one is super cute. I also thought the concept was super cute!

Pusheen the Cat’s Guide to Everything

Pusheen the Cat’s Guide to Everything by Claire Belton (January 10, 2023) – Comic

ABOUT: “Pusheen the Cat is back with a brand-new collection of adorable comics, expert advice, and silly antics featuring Pusheen and all her friends!”

WHY I chose it: It’s Pusheen. Do I need any other reason to have requested this book??? I’ve flipped through some of the pages, but have not yet sat down to read it. I need to get both my kids together and sit down with them and just page through, because I know they’ll appreciate it as much as I will, if not more!

Sweeter Than Chocolate by Lizzie Shane

Sweeter Than Chocolate by Lizzie Shane (January 17, 2023) – Romance

ABOUT: Lucy’s chocolate shop—and their secret recipe for Cupid chocolates—has been in the family for generations. Rumor has it, if you eat one on Valentine’s Day, you’ll meet your soulmate. Now, her family’s chocolate shop legend is at stake.

WHY I chose it: FINALLY I’m getting approved for audiobooks! Y’all, I can fly through audiobooks like nobody’s business, but books I have to read with my eyeballs take MUCH longer. I selected this book because 1. It was an audiobook!!!! and 2. I’ve been on a cute romance kick lately. (I’ll have to get some of my recent reads, from before I started blogging again, here on the blog.) Anyway, this one seemed really cute.

Off the Map by Trish Doller

Off the Map by Trish Doller (March 7, 2023) – Romance

ABOUT: “Trish Doller’s idyllic romance Off the Map proves sometimes a wrong turn can lead to the exact right destination.”

WHY I chose the book: This sounded like a cute “travel” book with two characters who aren’t looking for love. It just sounds cute.

Mr. & Mrs. Witch by Gwenda Bond

Mr. & Mrs. Witch by Gwenda Bond (March 7, 2023) – Paranormal Romance

ABOUT: “…a couple discovers at the altar the surprising secret identities they’ve kept from each other.”

WHY I chose this book: It’s basically Mr. & Mrs. Smith (the movie with Brangelina), except SHE’S a secret witch, and HE’S a secret witch hunter! This sounds like absolute chaos in the best way!

The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton

The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton (March 7, 2023) – Mystery/Thriller – Women’s Fiction

ABOUT: “Sasha Severn has returned to her childhood home with one goal in mind—find the mythic research her father, the infamous Last Beekeeper, hid before he was incarcerated.”

WHY I chose this book: I love a good mystery/thriller, especially if there’s personal drama involved. This one could be really good, or really boring. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know once I get around to reading it!

Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller

Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller (March 28, 2023) – Historical Romance

ABOUT: Hotel of Secrets is chock full of banter-filled shenanigans, must-have-you kisses, and romance certain to light a fire in the hearts of readers everywhere.”

WHY I chose it: For starters, the cover is pretty. Nothing super unique about it, but I’m a sucker for a pretty cover! Secondly, on occasion, I enjoy a good historical romance. Plus that little blurb above sounds fun!

Tell Me What Really Happened by Chelsea Sedoti

Tell Me What Really Happened by Chelsea Sedoti (April 4, 2023) – YA Mystery/Thriller

ABOUT: “There are stories about the woods around Salvation Creek and the people who have gone missing. Now their friend is one of them. A riveting, fast-paced YA mystery told entirely through first person police interviews of four teens over the course of a few hours.”

WHY I chose it: Not gonna lie, when I decided to start reading & reviewing on NetGalley again at the end of 2022, I went on a spree requesting YA mystery/thrillers. This was one of those. I’m intrigued by the fat that it’s told entirely through police interviews, I want to see if Sedoti can pull this off.

Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose

Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose (April 4, 2023) – Mystery/Thriller – Women’s Fiction

ABOUT:She was the perfect wife, with the perfect life. You would kill to have it... Then Ciara is found murdered in her own pristine home, and the house of cards she’d worked so hard to build comes crumbling down. Everyone seems to have something to gain from Ciara’s death, so if they don’t want the blame, it may be the perfect time to air their enemies’ dirty laundry.”

WHY I chose it: Okay, NetGalley has GOT to stop sending me emails with books they want me to read, because whey they sound as good as this one, I’m GOING to request it! Look at that blurb above! How could I pass this one up???

Throwback by Maureen Goo

Throwback by Maureen Goo (April 11, 2023) – YA Romance

ABOUT: “A time-hopping, big-hearted adventure about a teen who travels back to the ’90s to team up with her teenaged mother.”

WHY I chose it: I’m an 80’s baby that grew up in the late 90’s, early 2000’s so I am REALLY looking forward to this blast from the past! I’m so excited for this one, I think it may jump in front of some of the earlier books! I’ve heard about Maureen Goo for many years, but have never actually read one of her books. Maybe I’ll be a new fan? Plus, I’m hoping to learn a little more about Korean culture. Both of my sisters are adoptees from Korea.

You Won’t Believe Me by Cyn Balog

You Won’t Believe Me by Cyn Balog (June 27, 2023) – YA Mystery/Thriller

ABOUT: “Willow is alone, confined to a bed with restraints. She can’t remember how she got there…or how long she’s been there. An old lady appears in her room to feed her twice a day. Granny doesn’t talk, but Willow can hear thumping from somewhere beyond her door. It’s not Granny’s shuffling steps. It’s too loud to be Granny’s cat. Is it someone? Something?”

WHY I chose it: This was another casualty of my mystery/thriller NetGalley request binge. I’ve read another book by Cyn Balog and I liked the twisty ending enough on that one to request this one!

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher (Nov 28, 2023) – LGBTQIAP+ YA

ABOUT: “It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other… ” Too bad Art is into Gwen’s brother, and Gwen has a huge crush on lady knight Bridget Leclair.

WHY I chose it: Did you READ what I wrote above? This isn’t enemies to lovers, this is enemies to allies. Because according to the rest of the blurb, they team up to cover for one another. I can’t wait to see where this goes! NetGalley has actually given me a CRAZY long time to read this one (yay!) so I won’t get to it for a while… unless the mood strikes me. 🙂

And that’s it… for now!

As I acquire new NetGalley titles (OH PLEASE NO! I already bit off more than I can chew! 😂 ) I will be adding them to my reading list, linked in the top menu.

So, did any of these titles catch your interest? Share in the comments!

Review: Not The Witch You Wed by April Asher

Review: Not The Witch You Wed by April Asher Book Cover Review: Not The Witch You Wed by April Asher
Supernatural Singles #1
April Asher
Paranormal Romance, RomCom
St. Martin's Griffin
February 2, 2022
Audiobook
341 Pages / 12 hours, 15 minutes
Public Library
December 29, 2022 - January 12, 2023

A fake relationship between a magic-less witch and a wolf shifter turns to more in the start of a bewitching new paranormal rom-com series. Magic-less witch Violet Maxwell wants nothing to do with alpha wolf shifter Lincoln Thorne―the man who broke her fragile, teenage heart. But when the two of them are forced by arcane Supernatural Laws to find mates, Violet and Lincoln agree to fake-date their way to a fake-mating in order to conjure themselves some time. The joke’s on them. When old feelings make a reappearance―along with Violet’s magic―they both realize there’s nothing fake about their feelings. But there are old secrets and looming threats that could snatch away their happily ever after, again. One thing’s for sure: magic doesn’t make dating and love any easier. In Not the Witch You Wed, April Asher brings all the hilarity and sweet, sexy moments you love in a romantic-comedy―plus a fun dose of magic―to this spell-binding new series about being sexy, single, and supernatural in New York City.

My Review

Not The Witch You Wed is the first book in the Supernatural Singles series.

This light paranormal romance is the story of Violet, the eldest triplet in a magical triad… except, Violet doesn’t have any magic. Or does she? When she runs into her old flame, Lincoln, the man who broke her heart years ago when they were in high school, suddenly Violet’s nonexistent magic makes an appearance. And as if that isn’t stressful enough, Violet is informed that, as the eldest of the magical triad, she must find a mate and commit to a witch bond. SOON.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, the alpha of his werewolf pack, is trying to break down the alpha system within the shifter society he hates. But in the meantime, he’s getting closer and closer to his own due date to take a mate.

Lincoln doesn’t want a mate, and neither does Violet, but what they both need is to buy time. What better way than to pretend they’re courting one another?

Can Violet forgive Lincoln for breaking her heart all those years ago? Will Lincoln ever be able to tell her what really happened back then? And can they each succeed in doing so without falling in love with one another?

This was a slow start for me. I read book 2, Not Your Ex’s Hexes first and that one grabbed me from the get go. This one, because it has a little more world building (that I promise helps make book 2 make more sense!), took a little more time to get going. But once it was going, I did enjoy it quite a bit. It’s a cute, light, sexy, romance that doesn’t take itself seriously and sometimes that’s just what we need in our lives, amiright?

REVIEW: Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

Not Your Ex's Hexes Book Cover Not Your Ex's Hexes
Supernatural Singles #2
April Asher
Paranormal Romance, RomCom
St. Martin's Griffin
February 7, 2023
Ebook ARC
352
NetGalley
November 14, 2022 - December 27, 2022

In April Asher’s next Supernatural Singles novel, Not Your Ex's Hexes, a one-night-stand between a willful witch and a broody half-demon conjures an adventure that wouldn’t be complete without several magical mishaps. For her entire life, Rose Maxwell trained to become the next Prima on the Supernatural Council. Now that she’s stepped down, it’s time for this witch to focus on herself. And not think about her impulsive one-night stand with Damian Adams, a half-Demon Veterinarian who she can’t get out of her head. Neither of them is looking for a relationship. But when Rose is sentenced to community service at Damian’s animal sanctuary it becomes impossible for them to ignore their sparking attraction. A friends-with-benefits, no feelings, no strings arrangement works perfectly for them both. After a sequence of dead-end jobs, it’s not until Rose tangos with two snarly demons that she thinks she’s finally found her path. However, this puts Damian back on the periphery of a world he thought he left behind. He doesn’t approve of Rose becoming a Hunter, but if there's one thing he's learned about the stubborn witch, it was telling her not to do something was one sure-fire way to make sure she did. Working—and sleeping—together awakens feelings Damian never knew he had...and shouldn't have. Because thanks to his ex's hex, if he falls in love, he'll not only lose his heart—but his humanity.

My Review

What a cute story! The book is far sexier than the cover implies.

Rose is a witch who has just stepped down from being next in line to be Prima (head witch) not to mention just got out of a REALLY bad relationship. She’s not looking for anything permanent in her life, just some sexy fun.

Enter veterinarian Damian, a demon with a hex from his witchy ex who, like Rose, has no intention of starting anything serious.

What starts as friends with benefits soon turns into more. But can Rose and Damian defeat Damian’s hex?

Very cute book. Filled with all kinds of witchy puns and catch phrases (“Hex me!” and referring to your girls as “Bwitches” among other things.) I’ve already checked the audiobook of book 1 from the library to read Rose’s sister Violet’s story.

Special thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for a complimentary ARC in exchange for my honest review!

REVIEW: All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

All the Dangerous Things Book Cover All the Dangerous Things
Stacy Willingham
Suspense
Macmillan Audio | Minotaur Books
January 10, 2023
Audiobook
Hardcover: 336 | Audiobook: 9 Hours, 55 Minutes, 34 Seconds
NetGalley
January 6-11, 2023

Following up her instant New York Times bestseller, A Flicker in the Dark, Stacy Willingham delivers a totally gripping thriller about a desperate mother with a troubled past in All the Dangerous Things. One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally. Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year. Isabelle's entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.

My Review

Wow. I just finished this audiobook and I’m still trying to process everything I listened to.
What begins as a search for a missing son, turns into a journey into the secrets we all carry.

What a wild ride.

As a mother myself, my heart ached for Isabelle. I can only imagine what it must be like to have your child go missing.

But this book is so much more. As the author says in the afterword, this book is the story of women. All of the women in the book have their own secrets and complicated histories.

I really can’t say a lot about this book without spoiling the ending or the journey. I will tell you this, the journey is amazing and the ending is satisfying. I lost count of the number of times I gasped in shock as another theory about what happened to little Mason, or what’s happening in Isabelle’s backstory, came to light.

This book is absolutely worth the read. (Or even better, the listen! The audiobook narrator did a great job, I almost forgot it was one woman speaking for each of the different characters! Including children and men!)

Thank you Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for an advanced release copy of this audiobook.

I’m Back!

Hi! It’s me! I’m back!

Oh yeah, in the time I’ve been gone I quit straightening my hair and have been embracing my curls.

May 29, 2019 was my very last blog post. Wow.

This blog post has been a long time coming. Literally years in the making. 

What’s happened since then? Well, a lot. 

First, let’s tackle why I stopped posting.

The short answer? Life. Life just got in the way. But let’s dig into the long answer.

I believe it was around the time of my last post that my part time job offered me the chance of full time hours. Full time hours really cut into the time I had available for reading, writing, and especially blogging. Suddenly my 4 hours a day committed to my day job doubled. Plus, I still had a family to take care of, as well as my publishing work for Melange Books and our imprints, Satin Romance and Fire & Ice Young Adult Books

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. You know what else happened in 2019? The extensive ad campaigns for the 2020 US Presidential election. This was a real mind trip for me, as I had (and still have) very strong feelings toward that election. But I won’t get into politics here.

Okay, so the election was over. What stopped me then? Well, you may have heard of this little virus called Covid 19. It was everywhere. Nobody knew what was happening, people were being hospitalized and dying at alarming rates. My brain was not in a place where I could do anything more than keep reading and listening to learn what the hell was going on in the world. 

Covid sucked. For sure. But for the first year, it didn’t personally affect me all that much. Sure, I knew people who had been diagnosed with the virus— hospitalized even—but I didn’t know anyone who had died. My heart ached for those who did experience that, of course, but my day to day didn’t change much. My husband still went into work every day. My kids did “Zoom School” at home, and I’d check in with them throughout the day to make sure they were staying on task. 

Due to the nature of my day job, I never stopped going into work. In fact, I was the only employee at my small company going into work in the beginning of Covid. I’m not going to lie, aside from the fact that I had to leave my house, I liked being there alone. I could put on music, an audiobook, or a movie and just do my job with zero interruptions. Aside from the few months when my gym was closed, I continued to drive to the gym on my lunch breaks and lift weights.

TANGENT

Literally my only gym selfie. I’m too self-conscious to take photos of myself in public with other people around!

Feb 2020, before the world ended.

Speaking of lifting weights. I’m pretty sure I performed a bad deadlift and “mildly” hurt my back. On January 10, 2020 (my birthday), I “treated myself” to a day of doing nothing but sitting at my computer and playing The Sims 4. Boy did that backfire! I’m not gonna lie, I’ve never had proper computer chair posture. I’m literally the absolute worst. (After this mess I bought a kneeling chair with no back to force myself to sit upright, and these days I sit on a balance ball on top of my under-desk treadmill!) And this day was the straw that broke the Caroline’s back. Almost literally. I sat for so long in a slouched, scrunched up position (8+ hours probably, because time has no meaning when The Sims are involved!) and the next day, I could barely move. My entire back had seized up. 

Learn from my mistakes. When someone tells you to sit up straight, do it! It was weeks before my back didn’t hurt anymore. It was so bad my chiropractor said there was literally nothing she could do for me, I needed to get my back muscles to relax. And by early March, my hip was still aching so bad I actually went to a doctor. She diagnosed me with SIJD (Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction) which basically meant that the hip wasn’t moving properly in the joint on one side, causing the other side to overwork and become very, very sore. 

She sent me to physical therapy. I think I attended 3 sessions of physical therapy, and then the following happened.

/END TANGENT

On Thursday March 25, 2021, Covid struck too close for comfort. I woke up that morning around 3 am alternating between chills and hot flashes. I remember getting out of bed and searching my entire house for the thermometer. I finally found it and I was feverish—100.2°. I was shivering so badly that my husband woke up. I remember him finding more blankets to put on me and it wasn’t enough, I couldn’t get warm. He snuggled up against me, and it still wasn’t enough. I texted in sick to work, said it was probably a flu bug, I’d had a pretty nasty one the year prior. I spent all of Thursday in bed resting. 

Friday I felt great! I had an appointment for a rapid Covid test and I had texted my boss and coworkers “My test is at (such and such time), once I have my negative results I’ll be back in the office!” 

Except… my test wasn’t negative. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot of CVS, answering the call with my results, and feeling the numbness wash over me as the woman on the line told me I had tested positive. What? How could that be? I washed my hands. I wore my mask. What did I do wrong? Where did I pick up this nasty virus? (I still don’t know the answer and honestly, it ultimately doesn’t matter.) I texted into work. “Guess I won’t be in. I’ve joined the Covid club.” I stopped at work to pickup my work laptop, there were some pieces of my job that could be done from home. They set it outside the front door when I arrived and I put it in my car and left.

Easter was just around the corner. I’m normally super ahead of the game with having everything ready for my kids’ Easter Baskets. But this year, I had been planning to go to Target that upcoming weekend. I had absolutely nothing for their baskets. So, I placed an order for curbside pickup (my first time ever!) and had my kids goodies deposited into my trunk. 

Thank goodness I did too, because even though I felt great that day, it was downhill from there. The next week I spent alternating between fever and no fever. The body ache Covid symptom you probably heard about? It wasn’t my body that hurt. It was deeper. It felt like my bones hurt. It was hell. I was exhausted, my head hurt, I was coughing up a storm, and my throat ached. I had zero appetite. My fever peaked on March 30, at 100.3° but the reading I took after that was “only” 102.6°, so I kept waiting it out. My husband was getting concerned. 

My Covid fever history
While I felt well enough to take my fever, my thermometer has an app that stores that info.

I ordered a finger oximiter from Amazon to check my oxygen levels. When I was laying in bed they were fine, mid-upper 90’s if I remember correctly. However, when I stood up they dropped. I remember walking from my bedroom to the living room —only a few steps—and collapsing on the floor. “I’m… fine…” I panted, as my oximeter alarm blared that my oxygen levels had plummeted to 70%. Once on the ground, they quickly ticked up… 75%… 80%… 83%…. 88%… 

April 1st, one week after my symptoms appeared, my husband called the ER and described what he was witnessing. They said to bring me in. So we packed a bag. I remember him being mad because I insisted I needed my iPad and my chargers! He thought I was being ridiculous. But I got the last laugh. Because the ER admitted me.

At the hospital, my vitals were fine. I had no fever. I must have looked and sounded pretty bad though, because they moved me into a room that was no bigger than a closet, and shut the door. They first ran an EEG, which was fine. They put an IV port in my arm, but when I asked for IV fluids, they said no. You guys, I was so thirsty! At some point they ran a CT with contrast, which was an interesting experience. The tech warned me “It will take a minute for the contrast to work it’s way down your body, when it hits your abdomen it’s going to feel like you’re peeing. You’re not.” And he wasn’t kidding! 

I was wheeled back to my closet room to wait. All I had to entertain myself was my phone and the battery was draining quickly. 

Then they came with my CT results. “You have bilateral glass shards in your lower lungs.”

I had Covid pneumonia.

I was being admitted to the hospital. Just not that hospital. They didn’t have room for me. I think I was brought to the ER at 8 pm, and it was around 3 am that I was being loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital clear on the other side of the Twin Cities where I live. It took them hours to find a hospital that had room for me. 

After enjoying my first ambulance ride (not that exciting!) I was wheeled to the Covid ward of my new hospital. I believe it was in the ER they gave me my first dose of meds, a steroid to help my lungs. And remember that hip pain I was attending physical therapy for? FINALLY GONE! 

The next 2 days were a combination of solitude, 3ish times a day visits from people in hazmat suits, and bingeing Criminal Minds on my iPad. (See, I knew I would need it!)

Unfortunately, it was also meds and being stabbed with needles. They put me on Remdesivir, which is an antiviral to stop the spread of the infection, and continued giving me the oral steroids. They also kept stealing my blood. I think it was the second morning I woke up to a nurse stabbing me in the hand with a needle to draw blood. I wasn’t even fully awake! I screamed so loud they probably heard me on the other floors. The next day when the nurse came for my blood I was awake, and I tried to decline. She told me what they were testing for—blood-clots among other things—and I reluctantly agreed, but only if she would take the blood from anywhere but my hand, which was by this time a giant bruse.

I was admitted in the wee hours of Friday April 2nd (after going to the ER in the evening of April 1st) and they agreed to release me Saturday afternoon. I wanted so badly to be home with my family for Easter. I was sick of being locked in a room by myself, not seeing another human face. (Hazmat gear, remember?) I jumped at the chance to leave. My doctor told me I was much better, that the steroid and Remdesivir had done their jobs and I had turned the corner.

I was very happy to go home, but I still had weeks before my general doctor was willing to let me go back to work. “But I managed to walk 7,000 steps yesterday!” I remember telling her, only to be scolded because, “Your lungs are still healing. You need to take it easy.” I was only allowed to move from point A to point B until she cleared me. 

The hospital room was welcome after the broom closet ER room!

During covid I never lost my sense of smell or taste—except chocolate. For about a day and a half I could not taste chocolate, and let me tell you, it was awful! I remember biting into a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, my absolute favorite candy, and all I could taste was the fake peanut butter inside. I had someone else try another one from the pack and they confirmed it tasted normal. It was me. Fortunately, that went away pretty quickly. However, I couldn’t eat a Reese’s for over a year because they never did taste right until Halloween 2022 when I tried again. Aside from that, I became very sensitive to salt. Even a little bit tasted like someone dumped the whole shaker on my food. That went away too! In the year after Covid I would have phantom smells, cigarettes. Looking back, I think it was any time I was around a perfume/body spray kinda smell.

During Covid, I also lost 8 lbs in that first week. I don’t weigh that much to begin with, so it was a pretty significant loss. I like to tell people, “I lost 8 lbs on the Covid Diet. 0 out of 5 stars. Would not recommend.”

I was so glad to be home from the hospital and able to get some fresh air! (Double masking for the protection of my family – none of whom caught Covid from me during the whole time I was sick! Including my husband who refused to sleep anywhere but our bed.)

Okay. So that was a good two months of my life, having and recovering from Covid. Surely that’s the end of it right? No way could things get worse, right? 

Wrong.

Remember that hip pain? When the steroids ended, the pain came back. Once I was well enough, I went back to PT. Except now, my heel was numb. And my leg started having a tingling sensation.

Historically, when I get tingling in my leg, I go see my chiropractor and she pops me back into place and it goes away. Except she couldn’t fix me this time. And each PT session made me feel worse. It got to the point where I could not lay down. I couldn’t sleep. I was sleeping on my living room floor because the solid wood beneath the carpet was less painful than my mattress. 

Eventually, I was able to get an MRI to see what was happening inside my back and the results were… impressive. I had an 8mm herniation in my L5-S1 disc and it was compressing my left L5 nerve root, causing my pain and all my symptoms. I also had a smaller 2mm herniation at my L4-L5 on the right side, but we ignored that one because it wasn’t causing symptoms.

My MRI
A composite of two of my MRI images. On the left is the side view, showing the disc bulging out. On the right is a top to bottom view. Do you see the little black circle to the left of where it says 7.73 mm? That’s the right nerve root. The disc material had spilled out and completely blocked the left nerve root, resulting in pain every waking moment of my life.

I quit PT. I tried rest—except I still had to work. And my work involved lifting large 11 lb boxes repeatedly during the day. Eventually I got the order of no lifting, and then I became a burdon to my coworkers who had to pick up my slack. 

Long story short, after 3 months of pain, 2 epidural steroid injections (that were nothing more than a bandaid), a couple rounds of Prednisone (an oral steroid) and another attempt at physical therapy, I had back surgery. 

Looking FAR from my best, but so, so happy for surgery day! I was absolutely terrified (I’ve never had surgery before!) but it was 100% worth it for me.

Do I regret my back surgery? No. I only regret that I was neglectful of my body enough that I needed the surgery. I truly believe that if I had not had the surgery, I’d be in more pain than I am in now. Because my pain isn’t completely gone. It’s mostly gone. I can ignore it mostly. But my left heel is still partially numb and sometimes I get a muscle spasm in my foot that is absolutely excruciating. 

What caused my disc to herniate? Pure speculation here but I believe it to be a combination of decades of poor seated posture, the poor gym lift mentioned above, weak muscles after my battle with Covid, and a sneeze. That’s right, while laying in bed sick in bed with Covid I twisted to the side to grab something and at that moment I sneezed. I felt a pop. I screamed in pain. Then moved on with my life. I think that’s the moment I went from a bulging disc to full on broken.

So, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking, “Holy crap, Caroline, surely something good has happened to you in the last almost 4 years?!?” and you’d be right! I have had some good things happen.

In January 2020 my family was supposed to go on our first out of state vacation—a Caribbean cruise—obviously Covid put a pin in that plan, but we did rebook for January 2021 and had a wonderful time enjoying the 80° temps while back home in Minnesota it was much, much colder! My husband and I also had our very first trip to Vegas with his extended family, which was 3 days of fun. 

Hubby and me at the Bellagio gardens in Vegas!
My youngest, Mina, and me on the beach in St Maarten.

And the biggest news of all? I was recruited for a new job! I left my previous job and started a (mostly) work-from-home job and it’s been so good for my mental health. I’m a homebody, so being able to roll out of bed, walk to my desk in my living room, and start my day has been amazing. Of course, like every job, there are pieces of it I’d rather not have to do, but find me a job that doesn’t have that! I’ve been with my new company for about 9 months now and my coworkers and supervisor and boss are all amazing. They’re so helpful. If I’m stuck on something, I know I can go to any one of them for help. I even helped a friend/former manager of mine get a job working with me, so I have someone I can chat with on Teams throughout the day who already gets me! 

So, what am I doing posting here now? 

It’s time. I think I’m finally getting out of the (almost) 4 year crud I’ve been in, and I want to get back to the things I’ve loved in the past, including book blogging and writing my own books. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written this post in my head over the years. Laying in bed, sick with Covid. Hunched over, suffering from awful back pain. Wanting to get this all off my chest, and out there for anyone brave enough to read all of my rambling! 

So if you made it this far, wow! Thank you!
(Now go purchase a copy of one of my books if you haven’t yet. 😉)

Book Release & Fitness Update!

I’m THRILLED to announce that SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT (a clean, teen romance) will be available June 18, 2019! You will be able to get both ebook and print copies.

This book is the first in my Sol del Mar High series. Each book will stand on its own, but they do happen in chronological order, so to avoid any spoilers I am recommending they be read in order.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Summer was the girl who had it all: good grades, a spot on the high school volleyball team, and a best friend since elementary school. Then she was diagnosed with lupus…and her best friend betrayed her. Now she’s cutting ties, because nobody should have to deal with someone as broken as her.

Kane is the guy who never gives up. When he puts his mind to something, he gets it done—no matter how many broken bones it takes. So when a chance encounter at the urgent care throws him in the path of Summer, the girl he’s secretly had a crush on for years, he’s determined to win her heart.

Despite her vow to keep people away, Summer finds herself falling for Kane’s charm. Will the boy who never gives up be able to win—and keep—the heart of the girl who is afraid to let people in?

You can add to your Goodreads shelf here.

Or Preorder:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo

Google Play and Apple Books are still processing, but will be available shortly.



My Health and Better Eating Journey

I intended to write another post on this sooner, but c’est la vie. I got busy!

Things are going pretty well for me. I’ve been pretty successful cutting out added sugar. I have a couple grams per day, but coming from a candy/cookie/ice cream addict, this is a giant leap forward!

NOTE: I’ve decided to go for a low carb, high fat, moderate protein food plan. (I don’t like to call this a diet, because diets end. I plan to eat healthy for life. With cheats allowed more often once I reach my target!) I would love to go full Keto (cutting down to the bare minimum of carbs, if you don’t know what Keto is) but I don’t feel the desire to go that extreme. At least not yet!

A typical day for me for food looks like this:

Breakfast:

2 eggs fried in either coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. I’ve been making it as an janky omelette, because I can’t make an omelette to save my life. So it’s somewhere between an omelette and a breakfast skillet!

To my egg mush I usually add all or most of the following: deli turkey, shredded Italian style cheese, spinach, onion (green, red, or sweet), tomato, and avocado. If I don’t have avocado, I sometimes add this guacamole stuff we get from Costco in individual packets. It’s not spicy, but it is very salty, so I prefer the fresh avocado and salt it myself with pink Himalaya sea salt.

Now that berries are in season and affordable, I’ve been pairing this with a small handful of strawberries, blueberries, and/or raspberries. Right now I also have cantaloupe. (Not a berry, I know, but fruit!)

I was struggling to eat my minimum daily calories, so I’ve also added a cup of milk with a scoop of strawberry protein powder. In the past I’ve saved this for post-workouts, but on days when I know I won’t be working out I’ll drink it with breakfast to boost my calories and protein for the day.

Lunch:

This is where the sugar comes into play. I make my own trail mix with salted peanuts, walnuts, pistachios (my favorite!), pecans, almond slivers, hazelnuts, and a couple of dark chocolate covered almonds. They’re my reward for eating all the nuts! In all it’s about half a cup, and it fills me enough and it’s a TON of calories! (Like, 550 calories!)

Sometimes I bring a salad, or carrots and hummus. (Which reminds me! I forgot to buy hummus today at the store! Dang it!)

Dinner:

I do way better with dinner when I plan ahead. Unfortunately, I’m REALLY bad at planning ahead! Some foods I’ve made in the past month:

  • Bunless burger (I add all the toppings: lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado when I have it, and yes ketchup – more added sugar, but it’s minimal) and eat it with a fork.
  • Salmon burgers (they sell these at Costco. They’re a little pricey, but they’re a good source of omega-3’s. I add mayo to mine, which is surprisingly NOT awful for me! I get the kind with olive oil.)
  • Grilled chicken breast. My George Foreman grill has been getting quite the workout between the burgers and chicken!
  • For side dishes I’ll have either salad, steamer bags of veggies, or I’ll heat up non-steamer veggies (usually broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, or some mix of those.)

We bought some marinaded salmon from Costco recently and tried that last night. It was pretty good, but I had a hard time eating my full 5.3 oz fillet!

Trouble:

Evening is when I run into trouble. I go to bed late-ish. Usually between 11 and 12. And I get hungry between dinner and bed, and I HATE going to bed early. I’ve read all about intermittent fasting, but it’s just not for me. If my tummy is grumbly, I’ll stay awake thinking about how hungry I am.

I’ve caved and had cereal (I’ve been pretty good about avoiding the sugary stuff, and the times I have caved, I’ve discovered I didn’t even like it anymore!) and granola bars (bad choice! Even the “healthy” ones are PACKED with too much added sugar!)

So, I need to find better snacks for myself. I bought the ingredients to try a Keto “copy-cat” Frosty (from Wendy’s.) I’m hoping to try that in the next couple days.


Fitness

This is where I’m thriving! Food has always been a challenge for me, but if I decide to work out, I’m good at sticking to it. At least for a while. But this time I’m more determined than I’ve ever been before in my life, and being about a month into this endeavor, I feel confident!

Week 1: Worked out 3x (weight lifting x2, yoga x1) for a total of 1 hour 20 min

Week 2: worked out 3x (cardio with weights x3) for a total of 1.5 hours

Week 3: Worked out 4x (weights x 2, cardio with weights x1, and PiYo x1) for a total of 2 hours, 15 minutes

Week 4: Worked out 5x (weights x3, cardio with weights x1, Piyo x1, and a 4 minute tabata that barely counts) for a total of 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Week 5: Still going, but currently I’m at 3 workouts (weights x1, cardio x2) for a total of 1 hour, 44 minutes. I over worked my legs a bit by not taking a rest day between the full body weight routine and the cardio, so I’m giving myself 2 rest days now.)

Finding time to exercise has been pretty easy. Weekends I just pick a time and go with it. Week days I’ve been either exercising right after work, or after dinner.

Not included above are my walks. Each day the weather is nice and we don’t have anywhere to be right away, I go on a walk around the neighborhood with my kids. We usually go about a mile, give or take.

Step Count: The recommendation is 10,000 steps per day. That’s been pretty impossible for me, so I set my own goal at 6,000 steps and even that was a challenge. I’ve since upgraded from a FitBit One, which was clipped to my shirt, to a FitBit Charge 3, which I wear on my wrist.

THE DIFFERENCE YOU GUYS! The Charge 3 tracks more steps, but when compared for half a day, the count wasn’t too different between the One and the Charge 3. I do have to take off the Charge 3 if I’m sitting and folding laundry because it thinks I’m walking.

I love that the Charge 3 tracks my sleep cycles (how accurate it is I don’t know, but it sure is fun!) AND it has the option to REMIND ME to get up and MOVE every hour if I haven’t taken 250 steps that hour! I’m a very competitive person at times, so I really like trying to get the 250 steps every single hour.

So between the Charge 3 motivating me to get up and move more often, and all my exercise I’m doing anyway, my step count has gone WAY up!

Weight

Ah, weight. That’s what it’s all about, right? Losing weight.

Now, I’m not super overweight. Technically, for my height I believe I’m within the “healthy” range, but I do have enough flab around my middle to make me very self-conscious. I was always the kid who was super skinny. I was teased in middle school and called “toothpick” because I was so scrawny.

So yeah, weight has always been a big thing for me, and I’ve always identified myself as “skinny,” but looking in the mirror, that’s just not true anymore.

This muscle was NOT here a month ago you guys!

My goal is to lose 15 lbs. But that may not even happen because I’m gaining muscle. (I HAVE BICEPS YOU GUYS!) My ACTUAL goal is to lose the belly flab from incubating two humans AND not even trying to battle a severe sweet addiction that was pretty out of control up until recently.

So I’ve been tracking my weight daily. (Well, almost daily. I forgot a couple of days. Whoops!) I’ve been logging my food to make sure my calories and macros are not out of control. But looking at the weight drop, and then bounce back, is pretty disheartening.

And then I had a wake up call. I read an amazingly helpful article on Medium (I believe it was Medium anyway!) and the author said to ignore the day to day weight fluctuation. It’s going to happen to everyone. (And I already knew that, but it still felt like all my hard work was for naught!) Instead he said, take every reading from the scale for a week, add them up, and divide by the number of days. THAT is your weight for the week. As long as that number is moving down each week, you’re making progress.

So I did it.

Week 1 to 2: -1.44 lb
Week 2 to 3: -0.23 lb
Week 3 to 4: -1.68 lb
Week 4 to 5: (this week is still going, but I’m betting I’ll drop a little bit!)

Seeing the numbers like this makes me believe what I’m doing is working. And I keep reminding myself that I’m building muscles.


What I’m Reading

I’m between e-books/audiobooks at the moment, but I listened to the audiobooks for the following recently:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kawn – LOVED this one! I didn’t want to stop reading. Every character was WONDERFUL and I really enjoyed the narrator! I can’t wait to see the movie one of these days!

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard – The narrator on this one semi-ruined the book for me. I really hated the accents she made for the characters. This is the third in the series. (Well, 4th in the series released, but from what I understand you don’t need to read Sightwitch as part of the series order. So I didn’t.) Story wise, I enjoyed this one. I loved getting to see more of Aeduan and getting into his head. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy with light romance, this is a series worth checking out. I love the characters, though the plot/magic is a little confusing, it’s not so bad that you can’t read past it.

Print books:

I have a number of print books started. I have a bit of book ADD going on. My focus right now is A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (third in the Song of Ice and Fire series) and The Baby Game by Randall Hicks.

So….. scroll up and pre-order SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT if you haven’t yet, and let me know if you have any favorite healthy recipes for me to try!

New Year, New Me – Days 1-3 Of My Health and Better Eating Journey

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since my last post. Where have I been? Right here, as always. But I’ve shifted my priorities, and not all in a good way.

I’m still leaving mini-reviews over on Goodreads. (Link in the sidebar!) I aim for every book, but I’m less strict with myself than before, so I’m sure I’ve missed a couple.

I’m still writing, which for me is a better use of my time than blogging. (Sorry readers!)

And I’ve been addicted to the app Game of Sultans on my phone. I almost quit, but then I was given leadership of my union, and felt obligated to my teammates to stay play. And I don’t do things halfway. If I play a game, I FULLY COMMIT. Even if it negatively impacts my life. I am trying to cut back though.

So, why the title of this post? Especially in May, which is far from the new year? Well, it’s been nearly a year since I last posted, and I’ve made changes in that time, as mentioned above, but I’m also working on making BIG changes going forward.

Image courtesy of @jamin-djuang-116234

Hi. I’m Caroline, and I’m a sugar addict.

If you don’t have a sweet tooth it’s probably easy to brush off or roll your eyes at anyone who says they’re addicted to sugar. Just stop eating it, right? But no, it’s not that simple. Especially for a picky eater like me. But, I recently made the decision that NOW is the time to make big changes in my life.

If you keep reading you can see just how bad I am about making good food choices. In short: candy and ice cream and minimal veggies.

All this sugar is slowly killing me. And my body shows it, both in how tired and sluggish I usually am (even after a full night of uninterrupted sleep) AND in the stubborn bit of belly fat I can’t lose (and I can’t blame that on my baby, who is now 7 and a half years old!)

So… it’s time for a change. And I’ll admit it, my primary motive for starting this attempt at change is a vain one. In just about 2 years my family is planning a cruise to the Caribbean and dammit, I want to look healthy and good in a bathing suit, and this change needs to start with saying sayonara to sugar. Because I’m an addict and I need to change things.

Courtesy of @PixaBay

I made this difficult decision on Friday – 3 days ago.

Actually, let me back up a bit. I made the decision to get healthier almost as soon as it was decided we were going to make this cruise happen. The better eating plan (I refuse to call it a diet, because diets are something you do for a little while, and I plan to change how I eat FOREVER) was started Friday.

So, I started with fitness. I’ve been trying to go for roughly mile long walks with my girls after school/work, but the weather has been pretty crummy lately, and if it’s too cold I get really bad cold headaches and have to waste at least twenty minutes of my life after the walk waiting for the headache to go away.

So I dug out my workout DVD’s. Les Mills’ Body Pump and The 21 Day Fix are my primary go-to’s, but I know I can also find some good ones on YouTube, and I have PiYo (another BeachBody workout I don’t care for as much.)

Why am I sharing this with the world via my blog? Because I know I’m not the only one with a sugar addiction. I’m not the only one who leads a sedentary life. (On a good day I MIGHT log 3,000 steps on my FitBit.)

I hope that by blogging my journey with sugar reduction, I might inspire someone else. And blogging might keep me more accountable.

NOTE: I am not a health or fitness expert. Everything I know, I learned from the internet, but I do try to locate reputable sources. I welcome anyone to leave comments with sources if I ever give flawed information so that I can learn and so can my readers!


BEFORE:

I feel like I should tell you my usual (bad) habits, to get a feel for what my diet and activity level was like before I started working toward this goal.

Activity: I don’t have a very physically demanding job. My work space is pretty small, so even when I have to do a lot of walking, it’s not a lot of walking! I mostly sit at my desk and process orders, except for when I’m grabbing the items for shipping from the shelf, 15 steps away. After work, when the weather is nice, I try to go on at least a mile long walk, but that’s a newer habit I’m working on building, not my norm, and definitely won’t be happening come winter! (Come summer I’m hoping for a morning and afternoon walk.)

I’m not really overweight, technically I think I’m in the recommended range for a 5’5″ woman, but my belly blubber and lack of energy tell me I need to make changes.

I also “pass” my yearly physical, except my August 2018 numbers put me at high risk for my HDL (good cholesterol.) I came in at 33 mg/dl when the ideal goal is to be above 60. How do I fix this? Cutting the crap and more exercise. (Important to note, I was working at a hotel for over a year and I ate a LOT of free cookies…. Gone are my days of free cookies, but now I need to kick the chocolate to the curb!)

Breakfast: Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or some other breakfast cereal LOADED with oh-so-delicious and awful for me added sugars, topped with 1% milk. And I never ate ONE serving, who eats only 3/4 cup of cereal? NOT ME!

Lunch: On a work day, usually way too much candy (I’m talking at least 6 of the Hershey Nuggets mentioned above, usually more – a serving size is 3 and that’s 150 calories and 16g added sugar!) or chocolate chip granola bars (usually, at least 2-3.) Sometimes I’d stop at Panera and pick up an Asiago bagel and a couple pads of butter (I’d buy two at a time, one for that day and one for the next.) If I had a good reward on my account, I might get a panini, chicken noodle soup (in the cold months), or a strawberry salad when it was in season. But the panini and salad weren’t often, because I don’t have the money to spend on expensive takeout. I can afford my two bagels at $2.99 a week no problem!

Dinner: I don’t mind cooking, but I hate coming up with ideas for dinner. In the past my go-to meal was pizza. My mother-in-law taught me to make dough and sauce and we would eat that at least once a week. It’s been a while since I made pizza though. Most nights are “fend for yourself” and I might have another bowl of cereal, or a can of creamy chicken noodle soup with a ton of saltine crackers, maybe we’d make homemade panini’s or burgers. Sometimes grilled chicken (my favorite is on a toasted bun with pineapple, lettuce, and a sweet chili mayo mixture I make.) In the last month or so I’ve been making stir-fry, in an attempt to get more veggies into my diet. I really hate veggies, so this is a REAL struggle for me.

Snack: As mentioned before, I would snack on ice cream or another bowl of sugary cereal, and maybe some more chocolate while I’m working at my computer.

Now – ONTO THE PRESENT!


DAY 1: Friday

On Friday I decided I needed to get serious about my health.

I had big plans of making a healthy grilled chicken dish for dinner. Until I got home and discovered we were out of chicken. I don’t know what I ate for dinner, as I hadn’t started logging my food yet, but I’m sure it was something like a bowl of cereal. I did refrain from eating a bunch of chocolate at lunch, so that was something.

When hubby arrived home from work, we ditched the kids at home and went to Costco together in search of some healthy foods, including the giant bag of Perdue Chicken Breasts. I seriously love these because they’re the PERFECT chicken breast for grilling on the George Foreman grill, cutting into chunks for stir fry, anything really!

I also picked up a bag of pistachios. I haven’t had them in forever, but I want to incorporate more nuts into my diet and these were always my (way too expensive) favorite.


DAY 2: Saturday, May 4, 2019

This was when things got real. I spent the day doing laundry and tracking my food.

Weigh In: Weighed myself first thing in the morning and was down 1 lb from the last time I weighed in Friday morning.

EXERCISE: I did a 30 minute Body Pump workout and was really feeling it. (I’d done the same Body Pump workout on Wednesday, and Yoga on Thursday.) Because I’m just getting back into lifting weights, I’m sticking with the lighter 5lb weights on my barbell and the shorter 30 minute workouts. Gradually, when I feel ready, I’ll up to my 10lb weights on the lifts I know I can do, and move to the longer workouts.

FOOD: Was I perfect? No. But I’m not going for perfect. I’m not going to cold turkey remove all sugar from my life. I’m going to work on making healthy choices, but if there’s a moment where I feel the need for a single piece of chocolate, I’m going to look at my nutrition for the day and decide if I’ll allow myself to cheat.

Everything I ate on Saturday.
Some portion sizes are guesstimates.
Oh, and the BBQ sauce I had to just pick one from my options – this was a homemade sauce that The Husband got from a co-worker, so I have no nutrition stats on it.
I also have read that sugars found in milk and fruit should not really count against me since they’re natural sugars.

I do want to limit all sugars, but right now my main focus is added sugars.
So, excluding natural sugars I’m looking at 58g of added sugars.
Yikes.
If one teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams,
that means I consumed about 14.5 teaspoons in under 24 hours.

DAY 3: Sunday May 5, 2019

A lazy Sunday for me! I folded more laundry (seriously, I feel like laundry is my life sometimes!!!)

Weigh In: Forget to weigh in today. But that’s okay, because weight fluctuates a little bit from day to day.

EXERCISE: I planned to do yoga today, since I was still a little sore from the Body Pump session yesterday. Instead I put in 21 Day Fix Lower Body Fix and holy cow were my legs feeling it by the end! I was dripping sweat and absolutely feeling the burn!!!

FOOD: Time got away from us and we didn’t have time to make dinner, since it was a school night for the kids, so we ended up eating canned soup or Ramen. I opted for a can of Campbell’s Creamy Chicken Noodle with a handful of Saltine crackers, knowing full well this was an AWFUL choice. I did try to limit my crackers, so that’s a small victory. And at least it wasn’t sugary cereal? I ended up going over my calories, but my FitBit One doesn’t do a great job of tracking anything that isn’t walking, so I honestly think I may have burned those 80 calories I went over by. (Anyone have the FitBit Charge 3? Does that do a better job tracking exercises that don’t involve a lot of walking, but heart rate increases?)

I was pretty hungry shortly after breakfast on Saturday, so today I opted to double things and use a whole cup of guacamole on two slices of toast with two fried eggs.

For lunch, I went with the least sugary cereal option – regular Cheerios only have 1 gram of sugar per serving. I did add one packet of pure cane sugar to sweeten things, and cut up some strawberries and added those in.

Excluding natural sugars, I was sitting at 30g added sugars.
I’m down to 7.5 tsp of added sugar today vs 14.5 yesterday.
I need to get all my sugars down though.
But this isn’t a race, it’s a learning process.

Eating that bedtime bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios was a bad choice

DAY 4: Monday May 6, 2019

Today I’m feeling optimistic!

Weigh In: First thing in the A.M. and down 0.6 lb!

Exercise: I should’ve done another workout DVD, but I didn’t. I DID go on a walk with my kids though, so I upped my step count, got some fresh pollen-filled air (and itchy eyes), and earned some extra calories. I have a feeling I won’t get to work out again until Wednesday, aside from a walk.

Eating: Today was so much easier! I was going to double my avocado/egg/toast breakfast like I did yesterday, but I burnt one slice of toast when I went to the basement to weigh myself. Whoops! One was enough though. I did almost cave and eat some chocolate twice during the day, and in the evening when I saw where my sugars and total calories were at, I opted to allow myself one Hershey’s Nugget as a treat. AND IT DIDN’T EVEN TASTE THAT GOOD! The nuts for lunch were a killer on my overall fats for the day, but better fats from nuts than sugars? I think? The Panini’s I made for dinner were DELICIOUS and the Ciabata rolls I bought were healthier than I thought! The Husband said we could eat that every night and he’d never get sick of it. Next time I’ll probably add some more deli turkey to the Panini for the calories and protein since I did struggle to reach my caloric goal today. I’m not extremely under so I’m calling it a day and going to bed. AND LOOK AT THOSE SUGARS!!!

Look at those sugars!
Only NINE grams of ADDED sugars! That’s only 2.25 tsp!
I also feel like I’m craving the sugar less.

I did struggle with the nuts, because trail mix always has something sweet – raising or chocolate candies or both!
I’ll be adding a couple chocolate covered almonds to the mix to sweeten it up, and adding a variety of other nuts/seeds, as I adjust to less and hopefully, eventually no, sugar.

Oh, and you can see at the bottom that FitBit did give me extra calories for my walk. Because it knows my steps, but can’t calculate my other workouts.

SUMMARY: The first days were hard, but by day 4 things are getting easier. I do need to find more food options. Eventually I’m going to get REALLY sick of avocado/egg/toast for breakfast! And I’m still not getting NEARLY enough veggies. A handful of carrot sticks with hummus won’t cut it. (Have I mentioned how much I HATE carrots? But they’re such an easy and healthy snack.)



TRACKING TOOLS: I do my tracking with MyFitnessPro – I have a hard time tracking my workout videos with it, so I usually leave those out and just track my food. I like that MFP gives me the breakdown of my macros (fat, protein, carbs) and even lets me customize them if I so desire.

Because I have a FitBit, I connected MFP to my FitBit app and I can see it all there (but have to go into MFP for the Macros.)

Both the FitBit and MyFitnessPal aps are available on Andorid, OS, and on the computer.


MY WRITING LIFE: Even though I’m going to be focusing on my health and fitness journey here, at the end of the day I’m still a writer.

I’m VERY excited to announce that my YA contemporary romance, SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT, will be released in June. No official date yet, and cover reveal to come! I’m waiting for my writing partner to send me her final thoughts (tomorrow she says!) so I can make any final tweaks, then it goes to my editor, and then I’m sending it to NetGalley. (So if you’re a member of NetGalley and in good standing, be sure to watch for my book!)

My editor is VERY QUICK, so I anticipate probably being done with this book by the weekend. It’s been a year long labor of love, and I’m very proud of what I’ve created.

My NEXT project is a teen paranormal series. I’ve got a very loose outline and the first chapter written, so I’m HOPING by fall to have something ready for my editor, but let’s be honest, deadlines aren’t my forte. I say fall, and it may be fall 2020. Either way, it’s in the works. Along with the sequel to SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT.

If you haven’t checked out any of my other teen books yet, both PEACE IN FLAMES and SUMMER OF PEACE are available wherever ebooks are sold!


REVIEW: Spies, Lies, and Allies by Lisa Brown Roberts






Spies, Lies, and Allies Book Cover




Spies, Lies, and Allies





Lisa Brown Roberts





YA Contemporary Romance




Entangled Teen




E-ARC



Summers are supposed to be fun, right? Not mine. I’ve got a job at my dad’s company, which is sponsoring a college scholarship competition. I just found out that, in addition to my job assisting the competing interns, I’m supposed to vote for the winner. Totally not what I signed up for.

My boss is running the competition like it’s an episode of Survivor. Then there’s Carlos, who is, well, very distracting––in a good way. But I can’t even think about him like that because fraternizing on the job means instant disqualification for the intern involved.

As if that’s not enough, an anonymous informant with insider intel is trying to sabotage my dad’s company on social media...and I’m afraid it's working.

Much as I’d love to quit, I can’t. Kristoffs Never Quit is our family motto. I just hope there’s more than one survivor by the end of this summer.

My Review

Omigosh! This was such a fun book!

A word of warning: This book is chalk full (CORRECT PHRASE?) of nerdy Star Wars references and IT. IS. AWESOME!

All Laurel wants is to be close to her dad again. He’s a workaholic, so she thinks, what a better way to spend time with him than as a summer intern at his company? If nothing else they’ll have an hour long ride in the car to bond and maybe a chance to spend lunch together. After begging and begging, her dad finally gives in. But there’s a condition. Laurel will be an  assistant to the interns, and she will be spying on them. Because all of the interns are competing for a crazy awesome scholarship.

But as the daughter of the boss, Laurel feels like a fraud. She doesnt fit in with the other interns. And as soon as the rules are laid out, she wonders how she will survive the summer. The worst rule of all, no fraternizing with the interns or they will lose their chance at the scholarship. Enter NAME. He’s cute and Laurel begins to fall for him, after disliking him for a while.

I love that this was not an instalove story. The romance was backseat to the plot, but still a big part. It’s a story of love, father/daughter relationships, and just growing up. Really the best part was all the Star Wars mentions though. So funny.

This is definitely a teen romance I recommend for all YA contemporary fans.


Quotes

(Believe it or not, I scaled back on the number of quotes I had highlighted. This book is hilarious and awesome!)

“So, what am I doing for the Empire this summer? Plotting the destruction of peaceful planets like Alderaan?” I thought a Star Wars joke might be a fun way to start our first morning as coworkers, but Dad Vader doesn’t look amused.
“I’m not the enemy, Laurel,” Dad snaps. “Also, I’m your boss, so watch it.”

It’s cliché, crushing on the quarterback, but I think it’s a high school requirement, like taking U.S. History.

 

“Oh,” Dad says. “I almost forgot. Laurel, please introduce yourself.” Way to make me feel like chopped liver, Dad Vader. I’ll remember this when the Rebels storm the Death Star.

I wish I was like Rey in The Force Awakens, brave and tough. Or Princess Leia, snarky and brilliant. But right now, I feel like a young Anakin Skywalker, when no one thought he was capable of piloting his own Podracer, let alone winning a race.

Trish is finished so I take her place, relieved to be interacting with an inanimate object. I expect her to leave as my cappuccino brews, but she doesn’t. She watches me like a hawk stalking a baby rabbit. I hope she kills me fast.

“Clever I am. Surprised she will be.”
“Dad, you’re not Yoda. How many times do we have to go over this?”

We stare at each other. It’s not one of those Hollywood omigod-we’re-going-to-kiss moments. Instead it’s awkward and uncomfortable. I glance around, noticing we’re the last ones on the rooftop. How did that happen?

“Number one: introduction.” He glances up and grins. “We did that on the first day, in case you forgot. I even got your name right, unlike some interns.”
I roll my eyes and try not to reward him with a smile. He can sense victory, though, because his grin deepens in a way I’ve never seen. Wait—does he have two dimples? This is completely unfair.


Apology

I was supposed to partake in a blog tour for this amazing book. It was read in time, I even had the review written up the day I finished it…. but I didn’t schedule ahead of time, and then I got the flu. I’m a month late getting this posted and I feel really guilty for that, but hopefully the author, publisher, and blog coordinators understand that sometimes crap happens and it is what it is. Sorry. 🙁

 

REVIEW: The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates






The Memory of Fire Book Cover




The Memory of Fire




The Waking Land #2





Callie Bates





YA Fantasy




Del Rey / Random House




June 5, 2018




Digital ARC




464




NetGalley




March 12 - 14, 2018



The land has awoken, and news of magic's rebirth has traveled across the sea. Jahan, a daring noble who has been concealing his powers, is finally ready to stop hiding. Now he returns to the imperial capital, where the use of magic carries a death sentence. There, he must face his dark past, learn to embrace his gifts, and prevent an all-out war across the kingdoms.

My Review

Last year I read and fell in love with The Waking Lands. When I learned there was a sequel coming (and a third book next year! SCORE!) I HAD to get my hands on it.

The Waking Lands was told from El’s POV and we were introduced to Jahan, who I quickly fell in love with. (He has a bit of an Adrian Ivashkov thing going on, if you’ve read the Vampire Academy and/or Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead you know what I’m talking about. Totally swoon-worth!)

So quick recap – this is a fantasy series in which magic is a crime and anyone caught practicing is sentenced to a fate worse than death. The magic of the land was awakened in the first book (get it? The Waking Land?). That’s basically what you need to know.

The Memory of Fire is Jahan’s story and picks up after the events of The Waking Lands. We learn so much about his past, especially his childhood. His memories were tampered with by the witch who trained him (against his will) and all he knows is that he has to get his brothers away from her. But when he returns to his adopted homeland in an attempt to act as emissary or ambassador on behalf of El’s land, nothing goes as he expects it to. Due to his alliance with El, he is no longer welcome in his former home. Now he must try to make peace between the two countries and keep himself alive.

I absolutely loved the characters and the entire storyline in this series. I plan to get a copy of the books in print for a permanent home on my shelf. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy! (Bonus: This series has GORGEOUS covers!)


Quotes

“It’s too dangerous. If you stay here, we can fight together.”
“But if I go to Paladis, I can fight for you.”

My secrets are as comfortable to me as a second skin. But that’s not the way it is for Elanna, who holds up truth like a banner.

When she kisses me gently, lightly, I think I can taste the bittersweet tang of tears on her lips. Or maybe the tears are my own.

It seems as if no matter how hard I try to help my brothers, I can never save them.

I came here to win peace for Elanna. I didn’t come here to lead a revolt—not one doomed to failure.

It takes all of my power not to lunge onto the carpet and seize her. But what would I do? I can’t sweep her away like a prince in a fairy tale. Not in front of the entire imperial court. Not with all the witch stones and bells.

Perhaps this is why I was never able to give El the commitment she wants, the honesty she deserves. Because I am not a whole person, and I will never be. Madiya took that from me, but somehow I can’t shake the feeling that it’s my fault. That I did something to deserve it.


My (Writing) Life

Oh boy, it’s been a helluva month! I spent much of May with an awful flu bug. I missed five days of work and spent a week sleeping on the couch so that maybe The Husband could get some peace. It was awful, I thought I was going to die, and nothing could be worse. (I’m a bit melodramatic…. writer ya know?)

I’m finally over that, but barely a week later and I injured my back. Not sure how, but I did it. It was starting to feel better, then like an idiot, I tried to lift a too-heavy bag of potting soil from a shopping cart and – POP! CRACK! – there went my back. Way worse than before. I spent the entire weekend in bed, unable to move, crawling from my bed to the bathroom and kitchen. At my dads recommendation, I saw his chiropractor on Monday and she aligned my hips. My lower back muscles are a solid knot though, and I’m on a steady diet of ibuprofen and a muscle relaxer at night. I’m doing a few stretches she prescribed as well. I’m hoping she can do a little more tomorrow at my next appointment.

So, because of all that, I hope you can forgive me for staying away so long! Even now, sitting at the computer is uncomfortable, but I’m woefully behind on my reviews and I need to get them posted.

I have decided to make a change as far as the blog goes. From now on I only plan to post YA reviews. I know I don’t post a lot of non-YA reviews, but now it’ll just be YA. I figure, I write YA, reading YA is my passion, it just makes sense.

In my writing world…. I didn’t do any while I had that flu. I was miserable and binged TV shows on the ABC Freefom app (all of Siren, Shadowhunters seasons 2-3, and Famous in Love season 2). The back injury has been good for writing though. My goal for JuNoWriMo isn’t 50k words, but rather finding time to write every day. I’ve missed two days, but I’m still improving from where I’ve been before. My YA contemporary romance (code name SIGA) is coming along nicely. I’m getting really close to the end of the first draft. I already have a lot of things I need to add/change/expand upon when I start working on the second draft though, but I’m actually mostly excited for that.

If you were looking for either of my novella’s at other retailers, I’m happy to say that Peace in Flames is available everywhere now! Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, and I’m working on getting it into OverDrive, Scribd, and a couple other vendors. I’ve also got it available to buy in PRINT at Amazon, B&N, and Lulu. For the time being, Summer of Peace is still in Kindle Unlimited, but on July 28 will be available everywhere.

That’s about it for now. Hoping to get some more reviews posted soon. But we’ll see. You know me, always busy busy!