Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 10 Posts Of 2016

This year was a busy year for me, with work life, mom life, and personal life constantly colliding in ways that alternated between exhilarating and heartwrenching.
  • WORK LIFE: This year, I published the much awaited second book in my Fantasy trilogy, Selkie II. I attended two signings, and for most of this year, I loved writing just as much as I ever have. The publishing world continued to open up to me, I made new friends, and I'm thrilled with the way I've grown more comfortable as a business-woman.
  • MOM LIFE: My daughters are growing into beautiful and kind-hearted young women right before my eyes. My oldest daughter is entering the teen years with excitement and pride, and I'm thrilled to watch her mature as she becomes the woman she will someday be. My youngest is a budding bookworm with a soft heart and a huge personality, and I've enjoyed watching her learn more this year about the world around her. Together, they are my biggest accomplishment and my dearest source of pride and joy. If I do nothing else right in this life, I will always be proud of my part in raising them to be who they are.
  • PERSONAL LIFE: After a long effort to work things out with my former partner, deciding to really call it quits and move my life in other directions has opened my heart in ways I never expected. The changes this brought into my life have been whirlwind and terrifying - but my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds, I've learned more than I ever expected to about recovering from adverse circumstances, and I'm finally in a place where I accept myself unconditionally.
Much of the above-mentioned growth has become the catalyst which changed this blog in such a strong way. Now, it's more than just another author blog, more than my effort to sell books and reach readers. Now it's an outlet, and I hope very much to see it become a community. Sure, I'll still talk about books, but I also plan to talk about other things, too - like movies and music, mental health and my pursuit of happiness, my favorite things, and maybe even a few sponsored posts, so that I can support my blog, my writing, and my family, all while sharing the best of everything in my life with you, my readers.

For now though, let's end the year on a high note - with a look back at what you loved the most about this blog in the last twelve months. Here are ...

The Top 10 Posts of 2016

1.) "Responsibility May Be Heavy ... But At Least It's The Good Kind" - in this post, I talked about my own responsibilities, and how I feel about bearing up under the burdens.

2.) "Fighting For Freedom" - in this one, I talked about why Fighting For Freedom is one of my favorites of my books, and how closely its subject matter aligns with my personal life. As this year went on, I felt more and more connected to this story - to the point that I had to take a break from writing it. I hope to see a return of my ability to put my own personal circumstance aside, so that I can continue to share Christine's story.

3.) "Self-Confidence And Body Positivity" - here, I made a point to address a review on Fat Chance. The reviewer accused me of fat-shaming in that book, and as a plus sized girl who wrote the story in hopes of giving the rest of the world a glimpse at what plus-sized life can really be like, I was justifiably upset. The rest of the review didn't bother me, and I'm really fine with the fact that all books are not always satisfying for all readers - but I couldn't sit back and let anyone accuse me of fat shaming without saying something about it.

4.) "What #BodyPositive Really Means (To Me)" - the body-positive movement was still very much in my newsfeed and it came up often in conversations I shared with friends, so it was still on my mind, and judging by the pageviews, I wasn't alone. This was truly about body-love though, and how I manage to love my own body - despite what is often negative societal feedback.

5.) "Saturday Sentiment: I Can't Vlog, So ..." - I love vlogs, and every so often I think I'd like to give it a shot. And I usually do - I pull out the camera and record some footage, but then I watch it, delete it, and continue to believe that vlogging is not for me. In this post, I talked about how I feel about that, how I plan to deal with it, and where to go from there.

6.) "National Pregnancy And Infant Loss Remembrance Day" - on October 15th, seeking a good blog topic, I went hunting for "National" days. I think there's a National day for just about everything now, but this one resonated with me because I've experienced miscarriage. So ... I wrote about that, sharing some of my story, how I remember the child I never got to hold, and how that lost child reminds me to be grateful every day for my daughters, who walk and talk and live and breathe - although sometimes with a bit too much fervor.

7.) "Selkie: An Excerpt ... And A Surprise" - not very link-bait-y, but at least it's self-explanatory, right?

8.) "Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- My Depression Is My Fault, Part II" - this post was the sixth in a seven-post series about Depression. In this series, I explored the societal view of Depression, addressing the stigma and the perception of Depression in society, as well as the reality of life with this crushing illness.

9.) "Christmas Eve: A Peek Under Our Family Tree" -  in this post, I shared some of what kept the magic alive for my family this Christmas, despite the things our family was going through. I also shared a little peek at what was going under our tree, with my thoughts and hopes for how the gifts I chose for my daughters might be received.

10.) "Five-Star Reads, 2016" - these were my favorite books this year. It's not always easy for me to find five-star reads, as I generally reserve the five-star rating for books that I truly loved or which impacted me personally. So this post was my list of favorites from 2016, and I hope you'll love some of them too.

Also, don't forget that I'm starting 2017 with a personal challenge to blog every day in January - except for Sundays - so don't forget to check back here often as the new year gets off to what I hope will be a wonderfully empowering and incredibly exciting start.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve: A Peek Under Our Family Tree

It's hard to believe it's Christmas already, isn't it? But it is Christmas, and holiday cheer will not be denied; so this year I wanted to invite all of you to share some of what has made Christmas magical for my family, despite the hardships that have plagued us this year.

This year, just like every other year, my daughters and I have made a point to recognize our blessings. 2016 may have touched us with a sense of loss and a certain fear of the unknown as we move into 2017 ... but my girls and I are still blessed to have each other. The three of us definitely do our fair share of arguing and infighting, but beneath the layers of sibling rivalry and mother-daughter power struggles, we share a bond that is strong and secure. My daughters and I are an eclectic mix of feminine softness and cynical badassery, and despite our troubles, our Christmas season has come together and managed to perfectly reflect how very much we love each other.

There aren't many things quite as cheerful as a Christmas tree, and looking at ours has perked us all up so much! Sparkling lights, festive ornaments, and years of tradition simply cannot help but be merry. This was the first tree my kids ever decorated without their dad, but they handled the job with an underlying strength and determination to find joy that made me incredibly proud.

We didn't find as much time this Christmas to read our usual nightly Christmas stories (Merry Christmas: Treasury of Stories and Songs), but we did enjoy our annual visit from Caesar, (our Elf on the Shelf). He took it easy on us this year and didn't create as much mischief as usual (One time, he decorated our tree without us. He's also finished our eggnog without permission, had parties with the Barbie dolls, contracted the Elf Flu after an accidental touching incident, and created lots of other trouble. But we love him anyway.) - mostly, he just moved around the house from place to place and the girls had a great time searching for him each morning. Eden tells him she loves him, and has told me multiple times that she thinks of him as a little brother. He wasn't entirely innocent though - one morning, we found him hiding in the fridge, wrapped in a dishtowel to stay warm. Another morning, we woke up to find him stuck to one of the kitchen cabinet doors. Somehow, he'd managed to "duct tape" himself up there using bandaids, and we spent the morning trying to figure out how he managed to tape both of his own hands. Sometimes he even brings early gifts, and this year he brought the girls each a set of Christmas bell ornaments to hang on the Christmas tree.

We also took the time to enjoy our favorite Christmas songs - and although this has been the first year in a long time that we didn't drink more than our share of the best eggnog in town, we still enjoyed what we bought with exactly the same sense of joy as always.

Thursday night, we met up with my cousin and her son for a little mini-road trip - we picked up some dinner, drove into Sevierville to experience the wonder of Shadrack's Christmas Wonderland, and had lots of great conversation time together. It was a great show, our kids got to exchange their gifts together, and we had some good laughs. When we got back to my neighborhood, we drove around to check out the lights near our house, and even caught Santa sneaking through someone's living room! (I suspect they used something like this.)

I'm toning Christmas down a bit this year, both in keeping with our much less festive mood and the changes in our financial situation, but, like every year, the most exciting and anticipated part of Christmas - especially for the kids - is the gifts. This year, I talked to my girls about how neat it would be to do "1 thing you want, 1 thing you need, 1 thing you wear, and 1 thing you read," and while they were accepting, I did hear some quiet talk between them as they expressed hopeful relief that "at least Santa doesn't come up with stuff like that."

So here's a little peek at what's under the tree this year for my family:

One Thing You Want:
  • One of the things my kids have really loved this year is the Our Generation dolls they got from their grandparents last year for Christmas. These are beautifully similar to the seriously overpriced American Girl dolls that girls all over the country are still going crazy over, but they come without the second mortgage and work just as well at meeting a little girl's need to nurture something of her own. (Two of ours are named Willow and Jenny.) Each doll originally came in a little armoire case big enough to hold the doll, the book she came with, and her clothes and accessories ... but Eden's case didn't take long to break, as it went through an initial period of pretty heavy use. So all this year, she's been squeezing both of her dolls together in one case, and I've heard no small amount about how crowded it must be in there. So when she opens her gifts this year, I really hope she's thrilled to find this doll case, which will have room for both of her dolls, as well as pockets for their wardrobe and accessories, AND a cool set of bunk beds she can tuck the dolls into when she's playing with them.
  • For Joey - an Asus Zenpad tablet. Her tablet broke earlier this year, and I told her if she could hold out until Christmas, she'd get one under the tree for sure. While this one isn't exactly the one I had planned to get, it'll work just fine for what she needs, and I also found her a super cute case to keep it safe and protected (hopefully.)
One Thing You Need:
  • My oldest daughter can out-eat anyone she knows, including me, her dad, her teenaged uncle, any of her grandparents, and every one of her friends.We often joke that eats like a growing boy, but the truth is she eats way more than any growing boy we know. Between that, her changing sense of personal fashion taste, and the simple fact that she's entering the teen years, she needed clothes. So she'll open a box full of unmentionables, which I hope won't embarrass her too greatly. Tucked into that box, just for fun, is a set of socks in fun patterns that are meant to be worn mismatched. I doubt she'll wear them out of the house, but I know she'll have fun wearing them at home and pairing the different patterns together.
  • My youngest isn't nearly such a good eater, so getting her to grow has been a hassle over the years. But she did finally have a strong growth spurt this fall, and was therefore in desperate need of some unmentionables of her own. She'll open a box very much like her sister's, but without the mismatched socks. She's just a little bit obsessive about things being matchy and "just right," so her socks are just plain white with pink toes and heels. No matching (or mismatching) needed, which helps keep things simple when it comes to getting her ready to face each new school day.
One Thing You Wear:
  • I could easily have made this a cheater gift and given Josephine the jeans she needed, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, and she's been begging all year for a pedometer, so her "something to wear" will be the CUBOT Wireless Activity Wristband in black. I didn't want to spring for a real Fitbit because I'm not sure she'll really use it all that much, but I thought this would be a great way to let her try it out without spending a fortune. The version linked here is the blue one - much prettier, but I chose black because it would match all of her clothes and I know that's something she would care about. It seems I wasn't alone in that idea, because the black version is now currently unavailable. (Edited to add: Don't buy this. Find out why, and what you should get instead, here.)
  • For Eden, I chose these foldable headphones by Onanoff, which are extra cool because not only do they fold for easy storage, but they also have a limited volume range. This is something I love especially, because a string of ear infections as a baby have left her with lingering issues that keep me very conscious of her hearing and the health of her ears. I like knowing that I can give her these without worrying that she'll damage her hearing any more than it already is - and I love that these have a piggyback function that will allow Joey to plug her earbuds into Eden's earphones. Now, they can listen to music or watch movies together easily, without everyone else having to hear whatever the girls are watching.
One Thing You Read:
  • For this gift, I did take the easy road, and instead of carefully hunting for a book and excitedly buying and wrapping it, I'm going with an Amazon $10 Gift Card for each girl. My favorite thing about this is that they can choose what they'd like to read based on their interests right now - sometimes a kid just really needs to feel in control of something, and I know they'll love the rush of independence they'll get from being able to choose something for themselves.

One last thing before I head off to enjoy the rest of the holiday with my family: someone asked me recently if I was going to give myself anything for Christmas - and I did. For more about this, make sure you're signed up for my monthly email newsletter! The December letter goes out tomorrow, and that's where you'll find my Christmas gift to myself, so sign up while you still have time. Or, you could follow my blog with Bloglovin.

*Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click that link and purchase the product, I will receive a (probably very small) compensation. I am, however, committed to only sharing products I genuinely love and trust to be of great quality and value. Any opinions expressed are my own, are 100% honest, and are not affected by my participation in the affiliate program.*

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Sentiment: I Can't Vlog, So ...

Okay, y'all know how much I love YouTube, right? And you know that the people I like to watch on there are a mix of topic-based, lifestyle-type channels and follow-me-style vlog channels. Some of the people I watch even manage to juggle both types, with a channel for their topic-based videos and a separate channel for their vlogging.

You know what though, I really can't even say why I love those vlogs so much. Generally, it's nothing exciting; they aren't all travel vlogs or anything really sensational - they're just people, living their lives. Sure, sometimes something more exciting happens, but generally the vlogs I watch are just a string of video clips like, "Hey, camera people, let's go to Target," or "You know what I've been thinking?" or, "Hey, wanna watch me put my Christmas tree up?"

Maybe vlogs are my guilty pleasure. I don't even know why I love them, but I do. And here's the thing - I'm not alone in that, otherwise they wouldn't be such a big deal. But maybe I can explain it to some degree like this:

  1. I'm a single mom. I have two kids, both of whom have ADHD and are often extremely loud and rowdy even when they're on their medications. It's easy enough for me to deal with usually because I'm used to them, but they can be overwhelming for other people, and I'll tell you the truth; it's a little isolating. The other side of this is that I'm a single mom 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My kids' dad isn't really around a lot, and most of my family are too spread out to be able to spell me now and then so I can get some time to myself. And the people I do know that are close enough geographically to be able to maybe do that sometimes? They're mostly single parents too, so they're just as overwhelmed as I am, and the last thing they want to do is take on more in their lives. I get it, but like I said, it's a little isolating. So, one of the vloggers I really love to watch is a single mom like me. She talks honestly about what it's like when she's overwhelmed and frustrated, and she's just as honest about how much she loves her kids and how dedicated she is to making sure they know they're loved - even when she has to lay a smackdown to make sure they know they're being raised right. She's winning life right now; she's successful, and she's building a good life by pursing her dreams in a way that's true to who she is and what she wants her world to look like. She inspires me to keep pushing on when I think I can't anymore. (To see why I love her, check out her topic-based channel here, and her vlog channel here. She's also a master at co-parenting, and has a spectacular relationship with her ex, who is the father of her children. He vlogs too, so you can get the dad perspective here.)
  2. I was only recently diagnosed with PTSD, but I knew it was there a long time before I finally went to therapy and asked for help dealing with it. If you've been following me for long, you know that I grew up in a variety of abusive situations, and that those situations have (in part) led to me continuing to choose abusive situations in my adult life. Now I'm dealing with the consequences of the choices I've made - but in the meantime, my personal life is a mess, my mental health is a challenge to maintain, and ... well, that can be a little isolating too. So, another vlogger I love to watch is a girl who suffers from anxiety that's sometimes crippling. She talks about mental health and meditation, mindfulness, and her efforts to live a positive and happy life. She loves cats and makeup, travel and nature and laughing. And when I watch her vlogs, I find myself laughing too. Her smile is infectious, her excitement is downright joyful, and the way she and her boyfriend play together always makes me laugh. She reminds me to keep track of my own mindset, and inspires me to give myself the compassion I need sometimes. (Check out her topic-based channel here, but only if you're prepared to be immediately addicted to her utter cuteness. Then when you're ready to be hooked forever, go see how cute she is here, on her vlog channel. Her boyfriend has his own channel too, where he posts a mix of all sorts of things sporadically; that's here.)
  3. I also suffer from depression, as I've mentioned several times here before. Well, you know the old saying, "Laughter is the best medicine?" In my experience, it really is; sometimes you just need to kick back and laugh until you feel better. For that, I always turn to the same hilarious guy, who posts mostly topic-based videos, rants, and challenge-games. He never fails to make me laugh, and even his vlog channel is entertaining and funny. (Check him out on his main channel here, and his vlog channel here. For his older stuff, which is also utterly hilarious, click here.)
All that, to say this: Sometimes, watching all those vlogs makes me forget how utterly difficult it is to stand in front of a camera, staring at your own face in the screen, and talk to people who may not ever choose to listen. Now and then I'll think, "Man, that looks fun. I think I'll try it." And I'll download an app or pull up my phone camera or even go all out and dig out my for-real camera, and I'll film something. Then I'll watch it, gag a little at my own awkwardness, and decide (again) that vlogging isn't for me. But blogging? That's totally my jam, right? So, while I plan to continue my regular Saturday posts, and (as of right now) I'm going to keep Sunday completely off my blogging schedule, I'm planning some big things for this site in 2017 - beginning with my own blog-mostly version of the daily vlogs I love so much, largely inspired by the recent influx of content due to "vlogmas."

I'm changing it up in a couple of ways though, the first of which is purposely not beginning in December. For one, December is a month where everyone's newsfeed is already full of holiday busyness, and if you're a person who follows multiple channels and/or blogs, the last thing you have time for is someone else to jump on the bandwagon. For another thing, December is a busy time for me and I want to spend my holiday moments focused on my kids, without adding the stress of another daily thing to the top of the pile. But ...

January is always a great time to start something new, and this blog has been an amazing way for me to step out of my comfort zones and edge my focus in new directions. So I'm thinking during the month of January, I'm going to ATTEMPT daily blogging (except Sundays) - under the context that if it works out, I'll keep it up indefinitely. I've been prepping for this idea for a while, and since I'm a sucker for weekly-style posts and social media conversations, I've spent this week brainstorming post ideas and "weekly" topics that I can rotate through here on the blog, as well as creating a list of fun post ideas that may not fit a specific day but still align perfectly with who I am and what I like to write about.

I'll be honest; this has me genuinely excited. I feel like it's going to be lots of fun, and I'm really looking forward to building a larger community on this site - and I think it'll be a good way for me to connect with readers who have been disappointed in the way I've had to cancel most of my event plans for 2017. Think this way, you get more of my writing, my life, and my focus - and hopefully, through your comments and interaction, I'll get to know more of you better.

Let's start with this: Comment below and tell me what kinds of posts you'd like to see, or leave a question you'd like me to answer in a future post.

And until next time,
Happy Reading,
B.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Five-Star Reads, 2016

Some of you know that I make it a point to review just about everything I read. I'm not as good about reviewing everything I listen to (like audiobooks and stuff like that), but I do try to review every book that I read, because as I've grown as an author, I've grown more and more aware of how important reviews really are.

But you guys, I am a PICKY reader. So many things irritate me, from insta-love to menage, to gratuitous sex and swearing to bad grammar and shady editing - many of which I have also fallen victim to. No one can be perfect.

Anyway. Because I'm such a picky reader, it's rare for me to finish a book and rate it with a five-star review, and I have be pretty impressed in order to give a five-star rating (partly because honesty is important to me, and partly because it isn't the stars that matter so much as it's the genuine feeling and the total number of reviews). So I thought, with the year coming to a close and a new year of reading upon us, I'd give you guys a list of my favorite five-star reads from this year - maybe you'll want to check them out for yourself.

01.) Girl Least Likely to Marry, by Amy Andrews. (Contemporary Romance). The blurb says:

Talk nerdy to me.

Samuel Tucker is absolutely the last person scientist Cassie Barclay would ever date. Yes, he's gorgeous, but he's also far too cocky for his own good and thinks that Pi is a tasty afternoon treat. So when he asks her to dance at her friend Reese's non-wedding she's wondering why on earth she says yes!

Tuck is used to people assuming he's all brawn and no brain, and amuses himself by winding Cassie up. But when he finally takes her to bed, suddenly it's Tuck who can show Cassie a thing or two! Can he convince her that love and sex having nothing to do with logic and everything to do with chemistry?

(See my review here.)

02.) A Dance with Destiny (series), by J.K. Ensley. (Epic Fantasy). The blurb says:

BOOK ONE: Every curse has a blessing and every blessing has a curse. When you stand face to face with your destiny, will you be able to tell one from the other? Good versus evil, daylight over darkness, Angels or demons ... the age-old epic battle rages through the universe. But, what if a pure and loving heart unintentionally caused Angels to fall, demons to rise, and blurred the line between heaven and hell?

BOOK TWO: Jenevier had bargained with God, tried to reverse the sun, erase her murderous crime. Alas, you must be certain you can pay the price before the bartering begins. After wrongfully killing Merodach, she trades her soul for his life and wakes up all alone in a strange new world. She must pay her price, learn her lesson, and discover her intended blessing before she can start over. But along with her epiphany, she'll find a whole new realm complete with its own set of problems. There's no perfect place in this universe because we're not perfect creatures. No matter where you find yourself, there you are. If you step into paradise dragging all your tainted and scarred baggage with you, then it's no longer paradise. Your flawed heart removes the bliss, negates utopia.

BOOK THREE: Swapping her mantle of ultimate celestial power for the miraculous blessing of a beloved child, Jenevier no longer wields the ethereal mask of Life and Death. Trading Netherhood for Motherhood, her quiet days are now filled with the blissful thoughts of a fairytale family and an unmatched joy ... the likes of which she never dreamed possible. The fractured love she shares with Varick has stood firm through the test of the ages. They have walked through the fires together and emerged, not unscathed, but gloriously scarred. When Fate rolls the dice once more, will the former Angel of Death be strong enough to meet the awesome challenge? Will she be able to see through the debilitating pain of loss, wipe away the bitter tears of betrayal, and grasp the incredible Blessing awaiting her? Or has extreme adversity left her too shattered and broken to fight back?

BOOK FOUR: After surviving an epic battle, an epic betrayal, and a heart-shattering epic loss, Jenevier is still reeling from the devastating pain. Setting the universe back to rights and calming the chaos left in the wake of her dark husband's wrath is all that's keeping her tormented soul from crumbling into tiny, irrecoverable pieces. She returns to her homeland with a glimmer of hope pleading loudly within her heart. With Alastyn by her side and Jezreel now happily wed to the elegant Elven Prince, Jenevier lets the immense joy of their long overdue reunion wash over her. Caught up in the euphoria of charmed love and amazing new revelation, she never sees the treacherous onyx-eyed little devil lurking about the ancient trees of Mangladune ... until it's too late.

BOOK FIVE: When the summons comes down to go to Earth, Jenevier doesn't bat a lash ... until Uriel says he is to accompany her. Nothing good ever happens when one of the Archs shows up at her door. Then again, she has never faced a trial quite like this one. Jenevier had oft been warned ... A single mistake upon the eighth layer can cause unfathomable consequences. She soon learns the painful truth in those words - choosing to go against Uriel's wise counsel proves tragic. Finding herself with no one else she can turn to, Jenevier joins with her bonded Dragon, Nilakanta, and heads back to the realm of Earth in hopes of mending what she inadvertently rent. Minus her wings and her claws, she vows to do the impossible. Alas, the situation proves just that ... impossible. In her darkest hour - absent friends and minus hope - Jenevier finds a surprising ally in the most unlikely of all Angels. Will her new savior help bring peace back to Earth ... or will he rain hell down upon it?

BOOK SIX: The epic conclusion.

(The link above is for the six-book boxed set, but I read the series in two parts, the boxed set of 1-3 and then the boxed set of 4-6. You can see my reviews here and here.)

03.) Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (Children's Fiction). The blurb says:

"I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid - but his new classmates can't get past Auggie's extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times Bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie's point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community's struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

(See my review here.)

04.) Girl in the Water, by Dana Marton (Romantic Suspense). The blurb says:

He doesn't mind breaking rules, just never his own. Rule #1: You don't seduce the woman you protect.

After the death of his wife and twin sons, Army vet Ian Slaney is a shadow of his former self. On the path of self-destruction, only his best friend's disappearance in South America pulls Ian back from the ledge. He rushes to Brazil, only to discover that his friend was murdered. The single lead in the case is also the single biggest obstacle - Daniela, a mysterious beauty very much in need of protection, with a host of secrets hidden in a dark past. As the two of them track down clue and try to untangle an impossible case, they draw the attention of all the wrong people, and danger follows them back to the US.

Ian wants the murderers. Daniela wants Ian to acknowledge the hot sparks of passion between them. But convincing Ian to set aside his protective instinct proves more difficult that teaching a water buffalo to tap dance.

Take yourself on an epic romantic adventure to another world, with a spellbinding story about love and hate, honor and evil, hope and justice set against the exotic backdrop of the teeming Amazon rain forest.

(See my review here.)

05.) Slammed, by Colleen Hoover (Contemporary Romance, Women's Fiction). The blurb says:

Falling in love can feel like poetry. Or it can feel like a slam to the heart. 

Colleen Hoover’s romantic, emotion-packed debut novel unforgettably captures all the magic and confusion of first love, as two young people forge an unlikely bond before discovering that fate has other plans for them. 

Following the unexpected death of her father, eighteen-year-old Layken becomes the rock for both her mother and younger brother. She appears resilient and tenacious, but inside, she's losing hope. Then she meets her new neighbor Will, a handsome twenty-one-year-old whose mere presence leaves her flustered and whose passion for poetry slams thrills her.

Not long after a heart-stopping first date during which each recognizes something profound and familiar in the other, they are slammed to the core when a shocking discovery brings their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together and the forces that tear them apart. Only through the poetry they share are they able to speak the truth that is in their hearts and imagine a future where love is cause for celebration, not regret.

(See my review here.)

06.) The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (Teen and Young Adult Fiction). The blurb says:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

(See my review here.)

And now that you know which books were my favorites in 2016, drop me a comment to tell me yours! After that, head out and pick these reads up for yourself - or a friend!

Until next week,
Happy Reading.
B.

*Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click that link and purchase the product, I will receive a (probably very small) compensation. I am, however, committed to only sharing products I genuinely love and trust to be of great quality and value. Any opinions expressed are my own, are 100% honest, and are not affected by my participation in the affiliate program.*

*Also a Note: Due to unforseen personal circumstances, I will no longer be attending Romancing the Smokies 2017. I wish I could give more details about this, but if you've been reading my recent posts here, you'll know that things have been complicated in my personal live recently. I wish there was a way to promise you guys that I could make it work, but right now I just can't, and in the meantime I'm just trying to hold on for the ride. I'm still writing, but committing to attending an event of that caliber is simply more than I give right now. Believe me, I'm sorry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's Been A Hard Year - My Journey To PTSD Diagnosis

This year has been a year of change for me, with so many things in my life looking completely different today than they did even a few months ago. Other things, of course, are still the same:

  • Motherhood has its ups and downs - downs like this week when my youngest daughter has been insanely hyper and incredibly frustrating, but ups like last night when my children worked together to pack a bag of donation items for the families recently displaced in the Gatlinburg fires. Joey spent the evening brainstorming items that could be given, such as deodorant, toothpaste, blankets. She sorted through her books and chose some to donate, her mind haunted and her heart aching as she contemplated the devastation felt by the children who lost their homes and possessions. Eden sorted books as well, but ultimately her largest donation was a pile of stuffed animals she wanted to share - even though the loss of them broke her tender heart. She chose them all carefully and kissed each one goodbye, telling them all to be good snugglers for whatever child they ended up with. Seeing her tears, I reminded her that she didn't have to do it, and that she especially didn't have to give up things that were meaningful to her. And her answer, given tearfully as she tucked her beloved stuffed ponies into a bag she knew she would never see again? "It's for a good cause, mom. Some little girl has nothing now, and if this might help them feel better ..." Needless to say, the ups make the downs worth it.
  • Writing has its share of ups and downs too - this year has been hard emotionally, and has had perhaps more than its share of downs as my kids and I evolve and learn to accept the sometimes devastating effects of what is for all intents and purposes, a divorce. Obviously this has taken its toll on my writing time as well as my ability to be creative, but there have been ups too, such as the launch of my Patreon page, where readers can now subscribe for just $1 a month to read exclusive short story content. As this page grows and meets the goals I've set for it, there will be lots of other benefits, giveaways, and subscription options added, and I'm excited to see where it goes. In the meantime, I'm still writing novels too - with the publication of Selkie II (click here for the blurb, cover, and buy links) behind me, I'm now focused on writing Still Fighting For Freedom, the second book in the Freedom Series. This series has become increasingly personal in recent years, and I'm excited to be writing the next part of Christine's story - although its personal nature does make it a much slower and more difficult process.
  • It's still hard to know that the grandmother who had such a large part in my raising no longer remembers me (thanks for nothing, Alzheimers, you bastard). Looking back at the last decade, I can see her decline in a way that I couldn't before, and things that I resented her for now bring me to tears. It started with her never seeming to have time to talk when I called her ... so I called less often because I felt rejected and didn't want to bother calling someone who didn't want to talk. It started with her not coming to meet the girls and I at my moms when we'd come over to visit, always having some excuse not to bother, and me not wanting to invite her anymore because she never came anyway. Now, it will end with her feeling uncomfortable when I speak to her, because I call her Grandma and she's not sure she remembers why (although I believe she knows she ought to), and me not speaking to her as often as I should, because I don't want to make her uncomfortable. She's not gone yet, but she's going ... and I miss her already.
  • My mom is still the same - such as that is. Many of you who have followed me here know that my mother is extremely unhealthy, and has been for most of my life. In recent years, she's been declining at a rate which I find terribly alarming and heartbreaking but also somehow painfully slow, as I'm privy to all the worst of the details. Currently, she's still living in her home alone, despite the best efforts of myself and my brother, and while she is no longer physically stable enough to be living alone, we are told that because she is still (mostly) mentally sound, there's nothing we can do to force her to seek better care. This year alone, she's been in ICU more times than I can count; she's had a broken hip, broken arm, broken collarbone, and twice, broken ribs from falling. The last time she was in the hospital (Thanksgiving night), when the doctor came in to do the usual spiel about DNR orders and CPR efforts, my mother was informed that CPR is not an option for her anymore at all ... With her heart failure progressing rapidly along with osteoporosis, COPD, diabetes, and a dozen or so other diagnoses, her body is simply too fragile now to withstand the effort even if the effort were made. So ... she's not gone yet either, but she's going too.
Those points together, those few things that have stayed the same, have lead me to the major changes that came into my life this year. My personal life in itself has almost always been tumultuous, as many of you already know, but in 2016, I began to truly recognize several of my relationships for what they were, and not for what I had hoped them to be. I recognized various patterns of abuse sprinkled throughout the relationships I've chosen for myself, largely modeled on abusive relationships I saw and experienced as a young person - and I saw those patterns intensify when I began to experiment with setting boundaries and sticking to them.
  • I lost the closeness of a friendship I had treasured for a long time, but had to pull back from because it wasn't a supportive one for me.
  • I lost contact with someone I cared about, because in drawing inward to process everything that's been going on, I couldn't open up enough to be fully present.
  • There are others too, which are best not mentioned here.
But those major changes, in conjunction with things that were playing out for me long before I even had a chance to see them for what they were, have led to other things that I hope will soon get my life going in a much happier direction.
  • In April 2016, I wrote a seven-post series about Depression and its impact not only on my life, but on my writing (Posts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven can be found by clicking the desired post number, or you can find the series in its entirety here.). This series was a turning point for me, during which I realized how deep my struggle with Depression had really become.
  • During the late summer, I found the Spartan LifeCoach, a YouTube channel by a man named Richard Grannon. I had stumbled across the channel by some connection to Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the common experiences of those subjected to Narcissistic (and other kinds of) abuse, and as I got deeper into his videos, he began to talk more and more about something called Complex PTSD, which I had previously known (and written about in Wrestling Harmony) as PTSD by proxy. For the first several weeks after I found this channel, I spent every spare moment I had devouring those videos, thrilled to have finally found some understanding of certain symptoms that I had been dealing with personally for most of my adult life. It gave me new perspective on certain circumstances, and set me on an entirely new path to mental wellness. That channel changed my life, nurtured my understanding of myself, helped me find compassion for my own issues, and gave me the strength I needed to begin contemplation of a HUGE thing that I hadn't yet had the courage to attempt (No, not that thing. Keep reading.)
  • About six weeks ago I saw this video - and while my personal circumstances, both recent and otherwise, are very different from the video itself, the imagery and the way I related to it broke my heart. I cried until my eyes ached. And I have watched that video, sobbing, several times since - not because the crying is cathartic, but because the end is an inspiration.
  • Five weeks ago, I saw a suggested group on my Facebook sidebar - a PTSD support group. By that time, my belief that I had Complex PTSD had already been greatly solidified by my own personal research, which was extensive. But I didn't have a diagnosis, not yet. I joined the group anyway, thinking that I would find solidarity there, and guidance. And I did.
  • Four weeks ago, I was online, researching trauma therapists. I found two that looked good for me, contacted both of them, and heard back from one of them within the next two days. This person was willing to accommodate certain issues I have, and so I made an appointment.
  • Three weeks ago, I sat down in an office, utterly terrified and unsure of myself. It didn't take long for the conversation to start flowing though, and I have never felt quite so validated as I did when I just kept telling things, and I watched my therapist (who specializes in trauma, by the way) sit back in dismay and shake her head with a whispered, "Wow." I've seen her twice now, and she "wow'd" the second time too ... and there's still so much more to say. Most importantly, she was able to look through some screening information and combine that with our talks to confirm the diagnosis I expected, which was both difficult and encouraging. Still, I hope looking at my life in such an honest way will help me to move past what I've been through, so that I can build something new from the rubble.
Like I said, it's been a big year for me, and with all of that going on, I still had goals to keep in mind. In December 2015, I wrote a review post that was both a review of 2015 and a list of goals for 2016. It wasn't anything fancy or extensive, just a list of things I wanted to accomplish: stop kicking myself when life gets in the way and I can't write, publish three books, keep blogging regularly, keep up with my newsletter giveaways, stay active on social media, grow my street team, and attend two book signings. And how did that list work out? I did get better at being compassionate with myself, I didn't publish three books. I did keep blogging regularly, I didn't keep doing my newsletter giveaways (after certain feedback led me to believe they were unnecessary). I did stay active on social media (for the most part), I did grow my street team, and I did attend both signings I had planned in 2016. So as I approach the end of 2016, honestly just glad to still be in one piece, I can look back and say that with everything that's been going on, five out of seven ain't bad. 2016 may have been a mess, but I'm calling it successful anyway.

And now, I'm off to get some writing done before it's time to create goals for 2017. So until next week,
Happy Reading,
B.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

An Earworm Infestation - 10 Holiday Tunes You Won't Want To Stop Singing

Really, this should have been no surprise at all, what with the weather getting colder and the seasons changing over as winter comes on. The Christmas season always leaves my family and I ripe for them - earworms.

We have a shed in our backyard, and it's full of random stuff - clothes that are too small for Joey but still big enough for Eden, furniture we should really get rid of, toys the kids don't play with anymore. Old things we probably don't need. Recently, I've been searching through the shed, getting rid of things, donating whatever's still useful. And with Christmas coming, it just feels good to do it, you know? To clear away the clutter, and to do it in a way that's helpful to others.

But I get bored out there by myself, avoiding spiders that have come in to hide from the cold, cobwebs that may or may not fall on me and send me screaming into the yard like an idiot, and bad memories that accidentally got stored among the boxes. So ... I take a pocketful of earworms with me when I go out there - in the form of my favorite Christmas album. Haha, I had you going there for a second, didn't I?

But what the heck are earworms anyway, right?

Earworms are "sticky" songs, songs that get into your head and just won't go away, songs that play themselves over and over in your memory, sometimes for hours, usually without your consent. These songs are why we joke about being "Rick rolled," why we have memes all over the internet about how common it is to hear a simple turn of phrase and have our minds instantly connect to music we may even have thought we'd forgotten. Some of us (like me) will even burst into song out loud, mid conversation, which I suppose switches back and forth from being hilarious to being annoying for those subjected to these unexpected musical interludes.

I've always had this, this tendency to have songs just get randomly stuck in my head - often, it happens in such a way that they become nearly impossible to remove ... unless I do it by replacing one "sticky" song with another.

And in the winter time, that's when it gets really bad - because I no longer have any power at all over what earworms I'm going to encounter. Every store is playing holiday music, every radio station switches over to the merriment of the Christmas season. TV shows are focused on the holidays, movie channels are focused on the holidays, and half of YouTube is getting ready for Vlogmas, the practice of vlogging from December 1 until Christmas. Often, their vlogs are about their Christmas prep, their shopping, their cooking, their travel plans.

Their holiday tunes. "Just hear those sleigh bells jinglin', ting-ting-tinglin' toooo ... come on it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with youuuuuu ..."

So I thought, what better time for a list of my Top Ten Favorite Holiday Tunes - I mean, besides the Snowed In album that I still listen to about a million times every holiday season? The following playlist is ten of my all-time favorite Christmas songs - the ones I still like no matter how many times I hear them, the ones I know by heart ... the ones I can't help singing along to, regardless of the season. Enjoy, and I hope these tunes help make your Christmas as merry as mine.


*Note: This post contains an affiliate link. This means that if you click the link and purchase the product, I will receive a (probably very small) compensation. I am, however, committed to only sharing products I genuinely love and trust to be of great quality and value. Any opinions expressed are my own, are 100% honest, and are not affected by my participation in the affiliate program.*

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My 10 All-Time Favorite Movies

In the last few months, I've been steering my blog/newsletter more and more into the territory of what's commonly known as a lifestyle blog. I want to be sure that I'm talking to you guys about my books in a way that you can relate to, but I also really want to create a community where you feel like you know me in some ways - and through your comments and emails, I'll get to know you in some ways, too. In addition to that, I'd like to be able to talk about more than just books, because my life in itself is much more than the stories I write. And to that end, I know that your life is much more than just the books you love to read.

So far, I like the way that's been going - I like that I get to exercise my non-fiction writing muscles when I pull articles together about positivity and mental health, I like that I can talk to you guys about my books and my journey as a publisher, and I like that this new direction means I can write more casual things more often - like my Top Ten lists, my favorite things that month, my wishlist items, my ... everything.

But my favorite thing about all of those possibilities is that I can do it in a way that's fun for everyone here, I still get to use and explore my own voice, and, judging from the page views on this site, you guys seem to enjoy the new format too.

So today, I thought it would be fun to share my top ten all-time favorite movies with you, along with what I love best about these movies in particular. Make sure you leave me a comment below to share which of these movies is your favorite - or if my enthusiasm helped you find a new movie to love. Maybe even a new movie for someone else to love? Christmas is on its way too, so any of these movies might make a great gift!

So, without further ado:

01.) Grease - big surprise, right? I still remember how I felt when I first saw this movie, how much I loved the characters, the actors, the songs. The story. The costumes. Over the years, I learned new little factoids and interesting tidbits about the story, and I've only grown more obsessed -- but Grease 2? No. It's just not Grease.

Did you know that when they filmed the scene at the end of the movie where Sandy is all dolled up for Danny, they had to sew her into those pants? Also, the "hickey from Kenickie?" Those were real -- Jeff Conoway insisted that they must be, and insisted on applying them himself.

Little things like that make the film richer for me -- it's like I have little inside jokes with the movie itself somehow. Strange, I know, but those little things are actually why this movie is my number one top favorite of all time. I can't not watch it ... if it's on tv and I know, I'm watching. If the movie is handy to me, I'm putting it in. If you invite me to see it, I'm probably going to be there. I even watched Grease Live ... and despite the crowd of people around me who hated it because it was different from the original, I loved it for nostalgia's sake. And, I learned a few little facts about it too, so I guess that's the ticket for me. Besides which, learning what I learned about Grease Live left me with some serious respect now Vanessa Hudgens that can never be shaken. The girl has work ethic, for real.

02.) Next up, Dirty Dancing - I can't remember a time when I wasn't in love with this movie, and it's probably the entire reason that I love dance so much, even though I can't actually dance. I want to learn ballroom dancing, but not the boring kind. I want to learn the sexy kind, the kind that makes your skin heat up and your heartbeat trip over itself -- and I'd be willing to bet that if I could go back through the formation of that particular part of my personality, I'd see a mental image of something from this movie.

It's just so iconic ... the forbidden first love, the passion and excitement. The watermelon scene where I felt just like Baby because I always felt like an awkward girl. The ... everything. I don't even have words for it, you guys. And the part at the end where Johnny has to stand up to her dad because he's being misjudged?? That he had the courage to do that, for her? Seriously? I swoon for real, and don't even get me started on that last dance. The scene was beautifully executed, the chemistry felt exactly right between Johnny and Baby, the dancing was sexy and beautiful ... and when it ended with Baby being a total badass and her family having to finally accept her as a young woman in spite of the name she couldn't escape?! Love. That's all. I just love it. In fact, I love it so much that I'm actually pissed off about the remake and will probably refuse to ever watch it.

03.) Annie - I can hardly find the words to express how much I love this classic - or why. The old sweet story of a lost orphan girl finding the most perfect home through nothing more than sheer luck and irresistible charm has always been one close to my heart. The music, the story, the actors, everything. The moment when Oliver Warbucks realized he was in love with Grace, the secretary who guilted him into keeping Annie in the first place ... the acting, the ... everything. I still love everything about that movie.

When I was little, I sang the music along with the movie, and often had the songs "stuck" in my mind long after the movie was over ("Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow, you're only a day away ..."). Now, as a mother of two daughters, I still get the music from the movie stuck in my head, though now and then it's a bit different ("Little girls, little girls ..."). I still remember being a little scandalized as a little girl, watching Miss Hannigan pouring booze into her bathwater, and I remember being sad for all the other orphans who didn't get to go with Annie. It still brings me to the edge of my seat to watch Annie struggling to get away from Rooster. What a jackass that guy was, huh?

I haven't seen the remake though because the abundance of movie remakes these days is so annoying (why remake something that was already timeless, amirite?) so if you have, leave me a comment and tell me how it compares with the original. Is it good? Am I missing out?

04.) Titanic - I love this movie. Like seriously, there's never going to be a time when I'm not in the mood to watch it; every time it's on tv and I can watch it, I'm there. This is one of the first movies I remember actually seeing in the movie theater, and I actually loved it so much that I went to the theater several times to see it. Once it left the theater and moved to the dollar theater, I went and saw it there twice, too.

Seriously, I love this movie. The Titanic has always been one of my strange fascinations, so I love anything to do with it - the stories about the survivors, the stories about the ship and what happened to it, the stories of undersea exhibitions to recover items from the ship. Books, documentaries, this movie, the museum we have in Pigeon Forge, everything - I love it all.

But even if I wasn't obsessed with the Titanic's historical significance ... Leo and Kate as Jack and Rose? Oh, you guys, there's no going back at that point. Those two had such a beautiful chemistry, and they're both so incredibly talented. You could see sometimes, the little jokes that passed between them during the filming, and I love that they've had a lasting friendship ever since. The movie itself though - suspense, drama, romance, comedy. What more could a girl ask?

05.) Forrest Gump - I'm not sure there's anyone in my world who hasn't seen this movie, and if there is, they'd better not tell me. It's not just the undeniable popularity of this movie, and it's not just my loyalty to all things Tom Hanks. It's the message behind the movie, the lesson behind the lines the actors were paid to memorize. It's the coming to life of a man-child, always innocent in spite of the different things that happened to him, always loving, honest, and open despite the people who hurt him and the traumatic circumstances he lived through. And don't even get me going on how beautifully he loved Jenny.

06.) G.I. Jane - This movie inspired me in so many ways. A lot of you know about my childhood and my mother's second marriage, so I won't go in depth about the way the abuse I saw as a child impacted me as a young woman. But this movie ... watching a woman stand up and compete in a man's environment? Watching her prove her worth and her viability, her strength and her determination to succeed? Watching her work hard and get pissed and finally have to really take a stand? That movie set the stage for me to be able to do those things in my own life.

It set the stage for that something inside me, that spark of defiance in me that allows me to talk about my past, to write about it, to use it now as a way to build my life instead of as a crutch to lean on. Because of this movie, I have to courage to write books like Fighting For Freedom. I've had the courage to stand up to people who would discount my contribution or use me as their personal doormat. Jordan O'Neil was the first to make me believe in the inherent strength of a woman - even in the face of the very worst betrayal.

07.) The Notebook - Another Nicholas Sparks story, because I LOVE his work. For me, the Notebook is one of those timeless love stories, something that sticks in the corners of your heart and gives you hope for the kind of romance we just don't hear about anymore in real life. Summer love turns into something that lasts forever, despite all the obstacles - and there are so many. I loved Noah and his romanticism, Allie and her fiery personality. The fun, old-world feel of the movie itself, the costumes, everything.

I loved the actors together in this too, and felt like they worked together beautifully despite the many stories I have heard about how much Ryan Gosling and Rachel MacAdams hated each other while working on the movie. I confess I did love seeing them together in the press though, and was sad when they ended up breaking things off. I still love watching them work, both together and apart.

08.) Mary Poppins - Oh my gosh, another movie that doesn't need a remake but is getting one anyway. What's with that anyway? Why can't Hollywood ever just leave well enough alone? I mean, it's not like there aren't lots of great stories out there begging to be made into movies, right? And what was wrong with the original Mary Poppins?

Julie Andrews was amazing as Mary Poppins, but perfectly stern and incredibly beautiful in a gentle way that still appeals to children around the world. She and Dick Van Dyke were spectacular together, and the casting for Jane and Michael Banks was spot on. Not to mention the story itself - the wonder of a magical nanny who found exactly the right way to reach a family who needed her touch. Mary Poppins was (and is) a beautiful story, truly kind and witty, very sweet, and fairly pretty.

Because of the chaos in both my parents' homes, I first saw this movie when I was the youngest girl in my house at a group home in Debary, Florida. Due to lack of space, I had been placed in a house with a number of older girls, all in various stages of personal need and distress. In our house, each set of two bedrooms shared a bathroom (they're called "Jack and Jill bathrooms," how cute is that?), and I still vividly remember the girl I shared with. She was a kleptomaniac - but she was the "big sister" who taught me to shave my legs.

09.) Enough - Like G.I. Jane, this movie taught me a lot about my own power as a woman, especially in the way of my right and ability to stand up and defend myself when something pushes beyond the boundaries that I set for myself. Enough touches on domestic violence, but in the most empowering way, and I love the way it portrays Slim's journey back to self-sufficiency. I admired the way she rebuilt her sense of safety, and as a woman experienced in the ways and patterns of domestic abuse, I could easily relate to little things in the movie that other people might have found to be overboard - such as the baby monitors and the physical training.

This is a powerful story, which not only touched on the place inside me that has seen and experienced violent abuse, but also lit a spark of inspiration in me when it comes to my own belief in my ability to persevere.

10.) Save the Last Dance - This movie had a major impact on me as a young woman, and again, gave me something to relate to. I wasn't a dancer and I hadn't experienced the death of a parent, but I had been in interracial relationships, and I had experienced the strangeness that emanates from people on the outside of those relationships. To this day (and especially with the reheating of the old interracial tensions in America) I still proudly align myself with the idea that All Lives Matter, regardless of color, size, or origin, and that NO life matters more than another because of those factors. But perhaps this is because I have seen the deep mocha of a black man's skin against my own, just as I have seen the creamy white of my own skin close beside the olive tan of the Puerto Rican boy named Benny who asked me to run away with him when we were in high school.

Save The Last Dance gave me a great story that touched my heart, a soundtrack that got my blood pumping, a girl I could relate to, and a boy every girl could love. The dancing was both beautiful and inspiring, and the cast was completely on point, and this movie remains a timeless classic.

Let me know in the comments if you've seen any of these movies (and if you're reading this by email newsletter, you can comment here) and which ones you recommend, If you haven't seen them, I hope you'll choose one and give it a try, then come back and tell me what you thought. Runners-up for my list of favorites include: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the Harry Potter Series, A Few Good Men, Something's Gotta Give, Beastly, 10 Things I Hate About You, and many, many more.

Until next week,
Happy Reading (and movie watching),
B.

*Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click that link and purchase the product, I will receive a (probably very small) compensation. I am, however, committed to only sharing products I genuinely love and trust to be of great quality and value. Any opinions expressed are my own, are 100% honest, and are not affected by my participation in the affiliate program.*