Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam - HFVBT Book Review and GIVEAWAY

Publication Date: January 2, 2018
St. Martin’s Press
eBook & Paperback; 352 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Lost Season of Love and Snow from the publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  The review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias. 

The Why

It's no secret that I love historical fiction. Always have and probably always will.  I've read a few books about the Tsars, Catherine the Great, and Anastasia. I had never heard of the Pushkins before this book.

First Impressions

Honestly...when the book first arrived, I was a little disappointed in the cover.  It felt sweet and romantic to me, and I'm not usually that kind of reader.  
As I began to read, once Natalya meets Alexander, I was even more worried that I would not like the book bc of the swoon factor.
About the time the couple began to settle into married life and began having a family, I couldn't put the book down.

Reading and Summary

Natalya was 16 when she met famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin.  The beauty of her family, she was expected to carry the weight of the family's survival on her shoulders.  She needed to marry well...essentially whatever it took.
She fell in love with Alexander and he with their futures were blinded somewhat to the early warning signs in their relationship including Natalya's need for some semblance of self beyond her beauty and Alexander's jealousness.
It's no spoiler how the story ends.
Alexander is killed in a duel defending Natalya's honor, and a country blames Pushkin's flirtatious wife for the downfall of more than one man.

My Perspective


Things I'm Googling...the very best part of historical fiction to me :)

the Decembrists
Alexander Pushkin
Natalya Pushkina
Evgeny Onegin
Tsar Nicholas
Charlotte of Prussia
Tsarskoye Selo
Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy - "The American"
Georges d'Anthes and Ekaterina

Natalya herself...after Googling some, I decided I agree with the author...Natalya was misunderstood...while beautiful and flirtatious, she was trying her best to live in a world that she perhaps was too independent for...a mind of her own, and it seemed she tried her best to do what was expected of her while also keep her creative husband creating...while also enjoying her own life.
The reality of any creative relationship is that someone has to bring in an income.  And someone has to keep the outsiders happy while waiting for the creative to create.  And have babies, and keep servants, and dress nicely, and balance the household budgets, and smile just enough for the tsar while also keeping him at arm's length, etc, etc.
The world they lived in had expectations, for Natalya, even more than the expectations for any other woman in her situation since she had to act in her father's stead where her sisters were concerned, and somehow she and Alexander had to meet those expectations.  Theirs really was an almost impossible situation.

I felt Natalya's story affected me somewhat like the story of Queen Katherine Parr.  Both women were strong enough to live life within the confines of society but also still maneuvering more comfortable places within that stifling society.  Neither disappeared when the men they were married to died either. Both married others and went on with their lives.
I'll take that kind of history over swooning any day.


Swooning never impresses me...I got tired of Alexander's whining.  However, I feel after reading some of the author's writing about the book, that her intention was just that.  Not only to show the feminist version of Natalya but to show a feminist version of society's expectations for men as who may not live up to those expectations specifically.

The fact that tsars, emperors, kings, rulers of any kind were able to take a woman, any woman he saw fit (married or not) and make her his makes my blood boil.

The Bottom Line

I enjoyed the book and am glad I didn't let my first impressions push me away from it.  I'd still like to know more about Natalya.

The Author

Jennifer Laam

Jennifer Laam is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacyand The Lost Season of Love and Snow, all from St. Martin’s Griffin. She is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management. Jennifer has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, and currently resides in California’s Central Valley. When she is not busy writing or reading, Jennifer spends her time obsessing over cosplay, trying new vegetarian recipes, line dancing, and spoiling cats. She works for her alma mater, University of the Pacific.
For more information, please visit Jennifer Laam’s website

You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 8
Tuesday, January 9
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Wednesday, January 10
Review at Creating Herstory
Thursday, January 11
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Friday, January 12
Monday, January 15
Tuesday, January 16
Wednesday, January 17
Guest Post at Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, January 18
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away 2 paperback copies of The Lost Season of Love and Snow! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
Giveaway Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on January 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Embed Code: Lost Season of Love and Snow

Friday, January 5, 2018

TLC Book Review - Just Sit by Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz

9:58 a.m.

The Why
Ever since reading Dan Harris's book 10% Happier, I've been interested in meditation and have even "sat" a time or two first thing in the mornings.
I've probably developed my "mindfulness" practice more than my meditation practice, however.
I was a natural when the opportunity to read and review Just Sit came along.

First Impressions
When the book arrived, I was first excited simply by the format!  Harback, slick cover, simple, inviting illustrations, and almost a graphic novel type feel to the inside.  I was pretty sure just from the physical aspects of the book that I would like it...and most likely keep it. 

Reading and Summary 
As I started reading the book, I was further enamored by the repeated illustration of the foxes in meditation pose - simple, eyes closed, mudra, fluffy tails supporting their knees (do foxes have knees?), cushion, buddy meditating, peaceful...and the beginnings of the mantra that actually runs throughout the book.
Basically, meditation is a practice...and just like anything else we might choose to add more of to our lives, meditation takes practice...and a letting blaming acceptance of ourselves and our lives, who we are and out place in the world...and just being.
But you have to Sit.
There's a lot in the book about Why people choose to meditate or Why they should and then the Hows of meditation with suggested "exercises" for building a practice as well as specific meditations for varying times in our lives.
But the bottom line is you have to Do it.
You have to Sit.
Just Sit.
Just Sit is not only the title of the book, but it is a phrase that is repeated continuously throughout the book.

My Perspective


the quotes - "You cannot make me happy.  You are not my happiness." (160)

the history lessons - meditation has been around for 5000 years...that's a lot of interesting stuff to learn about :) 

humor - the authors take their own advice and don't take themselves too seriously...their humor made the book feel more personable and not like just an instruction manual.

the illustrations - I've said this before and I've said it again...even non-readers would appreciate this format.

the graphic novel feel - see comment above ;) 

the instructions with illustrations - the best I've seen really

tough love - "Get over yourself" "So What" "Deal with your Shit"

the yellow boxes throughout - famous meditators - except Richard Simmons (149)...his was the only box that didn't include info about his mediation practice.

the pink boxes throughout - "Notes from the Cushion"
My favorite was on pg. 156...about Elizabeth...which also surprised me given my negative reaction mentioned below about alcohol

the biological explanations of why meditation works, the vagus, the fight or flight, the chakras (I did want more explanation of the suggested colors here in the chakras section)

the science

the end of multi tasking - "Let that shit go."

8 weeks to build a practice - I'm definitely going to do this...the other section that I multi starred for a return visit is the section on Loving Kindness meditation...I know I will do this once I return to work next week.


repetition - I know the phrase "Just Sit" is the title and the main point the authors are trying to make...but...I wish I had a dollar...

snide remarks
I smirked right along with the authors until pg. 78 when they mentioned making time for meditation "before your afternoon chardonnay or AA meeting."
pg. 83 "make it a double" innuendo

Chapter 6 and 7 felt out of place to me...almost as if these chapters could be an explanation or justification as to why anyone would want to meditate in the first place.

Meditating as a way to self soothe (23, 42) ...but repeated mentions of drugs, alcohol, and/or hangovers...(as a recovering alcoholic, it seemed counter productive to me...if you're learning to self-soothe via meditation as is the author's literal and inferred suggestion, why would you continue to use other substances...why especially would the authors actually discuss drinking and meditation at the same time? (129)
In an otherwise very valuable section of the book on mudras, the authors purport that the "chin mudra" is good for "...heavy drinkers and potheads" (121)
"Don't be a Quitter" as the subtitle for the question on drinking and meditation...huh?

I realize my perspective is a very specific one, but it is mine.

Pg. 97 "Help and Support" - the author suggest googling phrases like "save me"
"I think I have a drinking problem" "I want out" phrases to find meditation aids...
I couldn't help but feel the areas in the book where someone who really might need help shouldn't have been treated so glibly.

pg. 154 - suggesting meditation as a aid for dealing with depression instead of medication.
Now hear me out here.  
Of all the fantastic, well thought, researched even sections of this book, this one very important section is basically 3 short sentences as an answer to someone who "struggles with depression"...the authors do later on suggest that someone who is struggling seek outside help...I just think this section is dangerous.

Bottom Line

I did like the book.  
I will keep it on my shelf and most definitely refer to it as I push myself to do what I believe the authors truly intended their readers to do:
Just Sit.

I more than likely will not recommend this book to those who are hurting, in early recovery, and possibly not even fellow "recoverers" in long term sobriety as I am. I would, however, be interested to see if they felt the same way I did...or if it's just me being sensitive.
Or feeling the authors suggest we refer to ourselves :) 

10:46 a.m.

Other Stops on the TLC Book Tour

Tuesday, December 26th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, December 28th: Life By Kristen
Friday, December 29th: Openly Bookish
Tuesday, January 2nd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, January 4th: Peppermint PhD
Friday, January 5th: Writing and Running Through Life
Monday, January 8th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 9th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, January 10th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, January 11th: A Bookworm’s World
Friday, January 12th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Two Good Dogs - 1st Book Review of 2018 - Two Good Dogs by Susan Wilson

11:37 a.m.

At some point and time in my life, I listened to Susan Wilson's One Good Dog on audiobook.  I think.
This is why I have a love hate relationship with audiobooks.
I can't remember anything.
I know I enjoyed it, and I know that the dog's voice was one of my favorite parts of the book...but when I don't have the book book...I remember just enough to drive me bonkers.

One Good Dog is a story of redemption.
Adam March should be happy with all the trappings of life that he's set in motion for himself.
Yet, as life goes...he's not.
One day he flips out and loses everything.
Through community service and the love and need of a dog, he begins to find himself and set a much better life in motion.

Two Good Dogs is Wilson's continuation of that story.
Adam's life is much changed, and he and Chance the pit bull have gone through a lot together and are still actively in recovery with Chance being trained as a therapy dog to assist Adam when he needs it most.
Adam meets Skye Mitchell and her 14 year old daughter through his new work with start ups.
Skye is herself a survivor of an abusive relationship and husband (Cody's father) who was involved with drugs.

As is suggested by the title, there is, of course, another dog as well.
And a young street kid named Mingo who is in desperate need of guidance (although he doesn't know it and wouldn't admit it anyway).
Skye's daughter is a survivor of a crime.  She's witnessed a murder, but her mom doesn't know it.

There's a lot going on in this book.
Maybe too much.

Now, overall, I loved it...because I love the dogs...and I love the advocacy parts.  
But gracious, the story had so many offshoots that I really felt could have been developed more.  
Any one of them could have made a novel.  

child endangerment
drug use and abuse in rural areas
young adult focus
murder mystery
hiding in plain site
rekindling an old inn
dog fighting
2nd chances
teenage daughters
single parenting
street kids

I couldn't help but feel that Wilson had a lot of ideas for this book but maybe couldn't decide which one she wanted to stick to so she threw in a smattering of all of them?  

The chapters are interspersed with the narrative and Chance's voice.
Chance's voice is the one I liked best.
No surprise there.
I couldn't help but wonder if Wilson has ever thought about writing a novel from the dog's perspective...something akin to Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie series?

I would read for sure!

Here's just a smattering of Chance's voice:

The unhappy girl seems tense to me as she takes my seat.  I'm happy to sit in the back, give her the priority seating even I am rarely afforded.  Even though Adam keeps up a stream of tongue language, she does little more than give him back one word at a time. Words I know. Yeah.  Fine. Good.  I can sense Adam's growing regret that he's allowed this creature in our space.  Although I have only limited experience, I find teenage girls to be mysterious, more like cats.  73

My friend has no permanent name, so he's called by a number of things: Buddy, Pal, Bub.  I get a little confused sometimes because I've been called all of those endearments at one time or another, although Adam maintains Bud exclusively for me.  A distinction, I know, but one that is important to me.  I want to always be his Bud.  We've seen a lot together.  My new friend respects that, and that's why he's such a joy.  This guy, Buddy-Pal-Bub, has breached my natural reserve.  It's like we were once littermates, now reunited.  105-106

Dawg should have gone with us.  I fear that he will spend most of his time in the pen that they built, not a cage, exactly, certainly not a chain, but not a home.  I worried myself into squeezing my head over the edge of the half-lowered car window, barking like some undisciplined cur, calling to Lucky to keep the faith.  We'll be back! 234

I'd left Adam sitting on the couch, holding an object in front of his face and touching it gently every few minutes.  I think it's called a book, but don't quote me. 315

  Final Words:  You do need to be a dog lover for this one...without that perspective, I'm afraid this story will leave you short.  


Friday, December 22, 2017

Candlelight Mornings

This morning is the first "everybody sleeps in" morning of the holidays.  No exams for my last school-age child and late night re-runs of Friends mean she'll be down till noon or later.  The oldest is in her bed downstairs as well.  We sat with her a while last night as she wrapped gifts and watched That 70s Show.  I do not need to get pulled into another tv show.  That's for sure...but it's good to spend time with my girls doing things they like to do...and it's even better that sometimes they don't mind me doing those things with them.
I'm not a perfect mom.  I hope I'm done trying to be.  All I can do is go from here.
Happiness and resilience may be the best gifts I can give them anyway.

We closed on our house yesterday.
Owning two houses at the same time was not great.  It created a lot of stress and lack of funds. Yeesh.  We are both incredibly glad that our house sold quickly.  We know that's not the case with a lot of people who have to buy before selling their old house.

I struggled with panic as we sat in the lawyer's office yesterday.
I had to walk outside on the porch and let the sun warm my face and a cool wind wash over me before I could get myself back together.  
Once the closing attorney called us in and began passing the multitude of papers across the table for us to sign, my breath once again became shallow.
I started talking at that point.
Chit Chat.
Nothing special...just talk.
A distraction.
It worked for a while and got me out of there in one piece.

My big girl Layla had her regular vet checkup yesterday, and we may be facing a health crisis with her.
She has what may be a tumor on her cornea.
We'll make an appt. today to see a canine opthamologist in Ocean Springs.
Yes, that's really a thing.
Our local vet said that one of his partners "probably could" remove it for pathology but the best guy for the job is in Ocean Springs.
I'ma take a "best guy for the job" over a "probably could" any day.
We're talking about an eyeball here.
Not to mention a member of our family.
We don't do that "it's just a dog" thing here.

I picked up a turkey this morning.
At the local Spay and Neuter Clinic.
True Story.
P.S. the turkey was frozen.


I also got to talk to an old teacher friend of mine at the Spay Neuter Clinic.
I haven't seen her in a while and couldn't get over how fabulous she looks. 
Weight Watchers.
All these people keeping looking fabulous with Weight Watchers.
And when I say fabulous, I don't mean skinny as a rail with their skin hanging off.  
When I say fabulous, I mean "glowing" and healthy...with smiles on their faces...and smaller pants.
I can't do gimmicks.
I've seen the sassy commercials that talk about WW as an old way to lose weight.  
WW has been around a long time.
It's stood the test of time a lot longer than some of the new ways to lose weight and I think more importantly, to maintain it...learn how to a spade a spade when it comes to emotional eating...encourage people to take part in realistic exercise that be sustained for a lifetime.
I like that.


I spent entirely too much time last night on Amazon reading reviews and sales pitches about Essential Oils and diffusers. 
Who knew there were so many options?! 
I finally chose one and ordered it.
We shall see.

I'm ready for a nap this morning.
And may very well take one before the lunchtime meeting today. 
The room was so hot yesterday that I had to eat two snack bags of Skittles in order to stay awake.
Re-read the paragraph on Weight Watchers now.


I'm way behind on book reviews, so to clear my brain, I'm probably going to do a couple of shorter snippet posts with several reviews in one.  
My brain will like that I think.
Clear those shelves and move on.
My brain is having a hard time with ebooks right now.  
Does anybody else forget they have books if they only have them on ebooks?
I may have to let those go for a while.  
The main benefits I've found with ebooks is that they are much more convenient when traveling and if you're buying books, ebooks tend to be cheaper.
That's pretty much it.
I give up on audio books.  I'm too visual...I'm too tactile.  I need to hold and touch the pages.  I need to underline things.  
Audio books make me kindof nuts.  
I end up having to re-read a book I liked anyway so I'm not sure what the point is.
I'd much rather listen to a podcast.  


The key to my serenity I think is to keep all this stuff balanced somehow.  
Not overwhelm myself.
Let things go.
More discipline.
Write things down.
Check off the list.
Copy over things that don't get done.
Take naps.
Spend time with my dog.
Light a candle first thing in the morning.
Say my first prayer of the day by candlelight.
Keep it simple.
Apply grace to myself and others.
Speak kindness.
Say Merry Christmas as many times as possible.
Be nice.
Stay out of traffic.

Did I mention take naps?


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Acceptance and Amazon Prime

As a part of active recovery, a gratitude list is paramount for me.
What I want to do here weekly is not just be thankful for the easy stuff (although that does have a place)...but I want to take the negative and spin it positive.
This practice has truly helped me become more mindful and aware of life's simplicity...a simplicity that I miss when I'm racing around.
One day at a time.
Keep coming back.
It works if you work it.

8:41 a.m.

1.  AA - if it wasn't for AA meetings, I would most certainly be drinking again by now. Most certainly.  I've stepped up my meetings and have come to love the midday meeting close to my home.  

2.  my children - they have no idea how grounded they keep me.
no idea.

3.  FedEx - they will deliver my middle daughter's Christmas on time in Montana.
Doesn't matter that I essentially had to buy the box a plane ticket to make it there before the resort she's working in closes the mailroom on Friday.
Run, Run, Rudolph!

4.  the Furminator bath my GSD will receive today. GSDs are called German Shedders for a reason. PSA for those thinking of getting one.

5.  my hairless house after said dog gets the Furminator treatment.  Keeping my fingers crossed anyway.  Could seriously use one of those iRobot thingies for the upstairs and the downstairs...just afraid the pittie mix would attack them or retreat into panic mode...or both.
True story.

6.  literally and figuratively closing doors on the past - Closing on our old house happens today - I'm all about owning only one house at a time - so is my wallet, and so is my husband's stress level.
I'm not sad.
That's a little weird to me.
But, I'm going with it.

7.  Amazon Prime - seriously, do I even have to explain this? I bow to you, Amazon, your free shipping, easy returns, fantastic customer service, and a Christmas shopping season I can deal with.

8.  early morning shopping - get out, get it done, go home...before the rest of the world catches on.  Only for things I can't get on Amazon of course.

9.  Gift cards - seriously - who doesn't love to go shopping on someone else's dime.  I know my girls do and I am happy to oblige.  
Ditto what I said about Amazon in #8.

10.  Year 2 - the year of Resentment - brought up by a 3 year chip receiver at yesterday's noon meeting.  I'm not happy other people have experienced unhappiness.  What I am grateful about is the crazy things in my head are actually NORMAL.
It's ok to be ok and then not be ok.
Guess what?
Life is like that for everybody.
Not just alcoholics.
Recovering alcoholics just live it drowned in memories of booze.


11. Acceptance - topic of last night's meeting - I'm learning.  I will probably keep learning for many many years to come.  I'm in trouble if I ever think I know it all.  So thankful to have that pressure removed.  
I don't have to know it all.
There's time each day to learn.

12.  my husband who knows how to get the hot water heater to heat our water for my nightly shower...and his willingness to put down whatever he's doing to make hot water happen for me when I've decided it's time.

13. bedtime - I don't always like it because I can very easily get caught up in IG, FB, Twitter, etc. long into the night.  But, bedtime is almost as important to me as this list.  I'm much better when I adhere to 10 p.m. bedtime.
If it's not done by 10 p.m. it's not getting done.
Amazingly all those things not done by 10 p.m. seem to be just fine waiting till morning so far.


Take a look around...Stop for a minute.   
Find one thing you are grateful for.  Just one.
I'd love for you to post it in the comments :)