Book Reviews: If I Stay Duet

I found myself in possession of a Kindle, which I had been trying to hold off on forever. But this great opportunity presented itself, and I couldn’t resist. The best part of having a Kindle for me is taking advantage of the library’s e-book collection. We don’t live near the great library system where I was a patron anymore, but I can easily log in and request the electronic version of these books. I can also ask for multiple books and not worry about their many due dates and scheduling a trip to return the books to meet all the due dates. And downloading them is very easy with Amazon. It doesn’t require any kind of special software or updates. It’s just easy. I’ve had the Kindle since February and have read at least ten books in this fashion and haven’t bought very many books since.

With all that said, one of the genres I have been tearing through in e-book form is Young Adult. Several titles are being released each month, both by seasoned authors and by newcomers and they’ve been so good! I have quite a few to talk about, so I’m going to try and break them up over the next few posts. First up is the popular If I Stay duet by Gayle Forman, a veteran in the YA genre.

If I Stay

Mia Hall is seventeen, and has just barely survived a terrible car crash that has taken her parents and younger brother. As she lies unconscious in the hospital, her extended family and boyfriend, Adam, wait with bated breath to see if she will wake up. As this is happening, Mia is in a state where she is able to see her those around her, and decide whether she will fight to live to be with the people who love her on Earth or die and go with the people she loved the most. She travels to places in her memory with her family, her grandparents and Adam, and we learn what kind of ordinary and simultaneously amazing life Mia led. Music plays a big role in the story as Mia is a cellist, Adam is a guitarist, and her parents were rockers. The story was engaging and even though I knew where it was going, I liked having a back story and peeling back the layers of Mia. There were moments that felt trite and slightly out of place, but I still liked it. 3/5

Where She Went

Adam Wilde has been living the musician’s dream. He’s made it. He’s about to start the international leg of tour with his band. He is in a relationship with a Hollywood starlet, and he basically gets what he wants. But he is riddled with anxiety. He can’t handle the press and the screaming fans and the constant talk about what he is doing. After a dark period of mourning his relationship with Mia, he just can’t go back to that place. It’s been a few years since the accident, and Adam accounts what happened after Mia woke up, but only from what he knows. It takes him three years to find out the rest of the story after Mia packed up and went to Julliard without much of a goodbye. Now, on this night in New York, before she goes to Tokyo and he goes to London, they have the chance to open up to each other and find love again.

I have to say I enjoyed reading from Adam’s perspective more than I did from Mia’s. I also really like resolution, which this book gives us. I would rate this one similarly, but give it a smidge more for feeling like a complete story. 3.5/5

Have you read these stories? How do you feel about the flip in perspective? Is that a device you enjoy in general? Or would you rather just hear from one person the whole time?

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Contemporary Reads

After emerging from the depths of WWII, I thought I needed to get into some summer reads to get away from sad stories and also to take a mental break from winter.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I love this lady, along with the majority of my peers. And I was looking forward to this book, as well. But from, literally, page one, you can tell that Poehler was not that into writing this. She lets us know how hard it is to write a book, and I would have to agree with that sentiment, but I got this sense that she felt she had to write a book because her contemporaries had done so. That being said, Poehler does not shy away from the tough moments. She tells us exactly how hard some situations have been in her life, and the joy she gets out of doing what she does. I get the sense that she is a fierce and loyal friend, and that her friends love her, because they even wrote parts of her book. I also relate to her feeling so strongly about things. One particular instance felt so true to how desperately I have felt the need to be forgiven or to be heard. And so, even though I didn’t love it, I still think it was great to learn a little bit more about the fantastic person that is Amy Poehler. 3/5

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I read this book so quickly. It only took me one day to get through. It was really easy to read, but not necessarily that enjoyable. The Post family goes on vacation to Mallorca with Franny, the mother, at the helm. She is a food and travel columnist and is married to Jim, who has recently been phased out of his job as editor at a major publication due to some poor decisions. Franny and Jim have invited along their daughter, Sylvia, almost off to college and their son, Bobby, who lives in Miami. Bobby has brought along his older, gym-obsessed girlfriend. And Franny’s best friend, Charles is also there with his partner, Lawrence. Lawrence might be the only character I liked, as he is on the outside looking in and seems to be as close the voice of reason as we will get. With everyone in close quarters, we see the Post family fall apart as they deal with problems old and new. I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and felt like the whole book needed the to be tagged #firstworldproblem. 2/5

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This was a book that I highly anticipated reading because I had heard so many good things about it. In an Italian seaside town with very little to its credit, Pasquale sits dreaming of how to make his hotel a prominent tourist spot, just like the Cinque Terre and other towns near his. His father has just passed away and his mother is ill, so he has left university in Florence to aid his family. On one of his daydreaming days, a boat appears with a young woman. She is blonde, American, and quite ill. Dee has been sent by the publicist of the epically failing movie Cleopatra to rest and recover. Dee and Pasquale develop a friendship, and Pasquale, always wanting to do what is right, goes to seek out the man who has sent Dee to his hotel. What ensues is a little crazy, corroborated by a story that is happening in present day. This story is purely fictional, but the mention and involvement of people who are real, however fictional, muddles the story, and it gets too complicated. I wished that certain fictional stories were developed a bit more, and certain other stories were not as elaborate. It was okay, but not as great as I thought it would be. 3.5/5

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I loved The Rosie Project, so naturally, I had to continue with Don Tillman’s story. Don and Rosie have relocated to New York for Rosie to work on her MD-Ph.D at Columbia and for Don to teach. In less than a year of marriage, Don has experienced a lot of change to shock his system simply by adding Rosie to his life. But now, things are about to get even crazier when he finds out that Rosie is pregnant. Don immediately throws himself into research to understand and help Rosie through pregnancy. His desire to do everything right is hindered by his fundamental difficulty to understand the emotional side of becoming a parent. Added to all that, Don has taken on many little projects and problems and has woven himself into a difficult position with a lot of little lies, deceptions, and omissions. With all the balls in the air, Don starts to lose the most important person in his life. I enjoyed the audiobook version of The Rosie Project, and decided I would listen to this one also. All the things that I loved about the first book got a little muddled in the second story. It’s over-complicated and so the ending feels a bit rushed. I enjoyed it, but wish the story was scaled back a bit to really highlight how great Don Tillman is. 3.5/5

Not every book is going to resonate with me to the point where I would give it 4 or 5 stars, but it bums me out a little that I’ve read 4 books in a row without having a huge hit. Do you ever go through a bit of a lump in the books you’ve read? Coming up next will be a slew of YA reviews that I’m excited to share with you!

The World War II Novel

Somehow, at the beginning of the year, I ended up reading four books about some aspect of World War II. There seems to be no end to the stories that can be told about the war, and I thought I had the formula down pat. But I’m glad to say that each of these novels gave light to different experiences. Some facets are similar, but I was glad to learn new things and hear a different perspective.

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Last year, Moyes U.S publisher started to release more of Moyes work that had been released in the UK prior to the fame she gained with her recent titles. Since I loved all of them, I bought everything I could from her. This was one of them. During the war, many British men were stationed in Australia to help the Allies in the fight against Japanese forces. Many of these men met and married the local women. At the end of the war, there were ships that brought these women to Great Britain to be reunited with their husbands. This story follows one particular ship that was actually part of Britain’s naval fleet carrying both soldiers and these young brides on its farewell voyage. Through the eyes of three young women, the captain, and a Marine officer, we find out how this journey went. I liked the book and appreciated the way Moyes used different perspectives as she has in her other work, but this book was a slower read for me. I loved the ending. Moyes has such a talent for writing endings, and I found a few of the characters endearing, but it fell a little flat in the middle. 3/5

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Two of my blogging friends highly recommended this book, so I knew I had to try it out. Ursula is born to a wealthy family in 1910. Her life is interesting, because she dies and is reborn over and over in her life, as early as right after her birth. There’s no explanation, and no one else knows. Ursula is not even sure she knows, but she starts remembering things or having weird feelings around specific potentially difficult moments, so she lives it a different way than the first. Spanning the time from the Great War to the Second World War, we see the many ways Ursula’s life could have gone, from mundane differences to huge great world events. It felt like a British Forrest Gump of sorts. I really enjoyed the writing, but some of the repetition was a little too much to go through. I still really liked it and would recommend it. 4/5

China Dolls by Lisa See

I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by Lisa See, and when China Dolls was released, I put myself on the hold list and waited MONTHS to get my hands on it. See is from Los Angeles and has a great following, so it took a while. This novel follows the story of Grace, Helen, and Ruby who meet in San Francisco at the auditions for The Forbidden City nightclub. This nightclub was the first to open with only Chinese entertainers. Grace is a talented dancer who grew up in the Midwest with no idea of Chinese traditions or culture. Helen grew up in a wealthy, traditional Chinese family in Chinatown. And Ruby will do anything to achieve the fame and fortune she knows she deserves. The three ladies become instant friends, and their friendship is tested by ambition, jealousy, the war, and men. What struck me about this book was all the research See did to really capture the time period and paint a picture of the Asian American performers in this period. While the main characters are fictional, many characters mentioned were real, and she incorporates them so well! Some of the story is slow and the girls can get petty, but I am now so interested to find out more about this time in history. Her notes at the end of the book and her website provide great resources, so I’m excited to do a little digging. 3/5

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book was critically lauded last year, and landed on many “Best Books of 2014” lists, perhaps all of them.  It deserved the praise. The story follows two young people through the majority of WWII in Europe. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her father, who is the Head of Security for the National Museum, the keeper of the keys. He is a talented locksmith and woodworker. To help Marie-Laure become independent, he builds a model of their neighborhood in Paris and teaches her to use it to learn her surroundings. This works until they are forced to leave due to the German Occupation and they flee to a little seaside town to live with Marie-Laure’s great uncle and his housekeeper. In Germany, Werner is a bright orphan who learns to tinker and fix things early to entertain his sister and the younger children. He is recruited by the Hitler Youth and his skills take him many places as he helps find resistance fighters and Allied soldiers. Their paths will cross, but between these stories, there are several others: a museum caper, an unexpected group of resistance fighters, and other stories of hope and light. Every character is fully explored and no one feels limited. The writing is beautiful and I loved every minute of it. Every minute. 5/5

Phew! That’s a lot of WWII stories. Have you ever unintentionally gotten into a specific genre? I’m glad to have moved on to a few light-hearted contemporary reads that I’ll be happy to share with you soon!

Book Reviews: The Legend Series

I recently finished the Legend series by Marie Lu. Since I got all these books so close together, I wanted to review them individually and as a series.

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Legend

Right from the beginning, this book caught my attention. The story alternates between two perspectives. Day is an outlaw, living in the streets of a Los Angeles in the distant future. He has run away from his family who live in the poor sector and their home has been marked as having the plague. June Iparis is a star pupil training to be a soldier of the Republic. Her brother is a captain in the army, and they live a comfortable life in the Ruby sector, with their dog, Ollie. When June’s brother is murdered at a crime scene involving Day, their two lives are forever changed and forever linked. June begins working for the Republic and is determined to take Day down, but in meeting Day, her eyes are opened to the Republic’s crimes and how they have affected her family. I loved the back and forth in this story. I also liked the imagery of Los Angeles. I could picture familiar streets that I have often visited. This was an enjoyable read with a lot of quick action. Lu says she was inspired by the relationship between Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables and that led her to write Legend. I could certainly see that connection, and I quickly moved on to Prodigy. 4/5

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Prodigy

June and Day’s story continues as they face a new Elector Primo of the Republic. The Patriots have tasked Day with a huge task in exchange for helping Day’s family. June factors into the plan as a respected darling of the Republic. What they find out leads to more back and forth between the two, and a rift they may not be able to overcome. I don’t know how to talk about this book without giving away much of what happened in Legend. I like that we learn more about the plague, about the Republic’s structure, and a little about the world immediately outside of the Republic. This one moved a little slower for me, but I still enjoyed it. The relationship between June and Day really develops in this story. There’s a little more humor, as well. 3/5

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Champion

Day and June have gone their separate ways, but a specific situation has called them back together. Day is assimilating to status, and June is making sure that she can keep Day happy when she asks him to do something she knows he absolutely will not agree to. The world expands a bit further, as we get to find out more about the war and the world beyond North America. Much like Legend, this book is action-packed, with so much happening in just a few days time. I thought this story was the perfect end to the trilogy and ended so perfectly well. I will leave it at that. 4/5

As far as dystopian trilogies go, I think I might have to declare this one a top contender. I can’t decide if I like it more than The Hunger Games yet. They are neck and neck. I definitely like it more than Divergent. The back and forth makes perfect sense. Right away, we have two established voices. They are very different, but their relationship and understanding of each other develops so wonderfully and is continuous throughout the three books. I’m glad I could read them back to back, because there wasn’t a need for a break between them. I’ve heard this is being made into a movie franchise. The characters are very distinct, and I can’t see anyone out in the film industry playing June and Day. Maybe Hailee Stanfield as June, but that’s it as far as current stars go. My hope is that this film becomes an opportunity to launch some newcomers.

Are you over the dystopian trilogy? Or are you still lapping it up like I am?

Podcasts

Now that E and I carpool to work most days, I don’t really get a chance to listen to an audiobook in the car as much as I used to on my long commutes. A couple of times a week, we drive separately, and that’s when I listen to my new favorite form of audio entertainment: the podcast. Here are a few that have caught my attention.

 

After the past eight weeks, I don’t think anyone can utter the word “podcast” without thinking of Serial. It is all the rage, a true crime investigation rehashed by Sarah Koenig, one of the writers at This American Life. I caught on to Serial fairly early on, just after the second episode had aired, and I must tell you, I was hooked. Most others have had the pleasure of a binge-listening session with five or six episodes. I have had to agonizingly wait for each week to hear more about the case and then spend the next six days overanalyzing everything I heard. My Thursdays have become days full of anticipation as I try to find a 45-minute window in which to catch these episodes. There is no episode this week of Thanksgiving, so you may want to check it out.

 

Slate’s Culture Gabfest is great for pop-culture fans like myself. These three Slate editors sit down weekly to discuss topics in music, literature, film, television, and technology. Whether it’s a rousing discussion over Taylor Swift or a fun chat about how emojis are affecting our communication, I enjoy this weekly roundtable of things to notice in pop culture. They also end each show with “endorsements,” recommendations of entertainment to consume. I love it!

I also enjoy Inside the New York Time’s Book Review. Usually, there’s an interview with the author of a book reviewed in the NYT, news in the publishing world and an overview of the bestseller’s lists. I also like This American Life.

I’m also going to give my endorsement for the Podcast app. It’s an extension of iTunes and makes it really easy to listen to these podcasts right from my phone. If you subscribe to a podcast, it will automatically download the newest episodes for you, and if you are having trouble catching up, it won’t download any more when it notices you haven’t been listening to a particular one. Most podcasts are free, too, so it’s worth a shot! Do you listen to any podcasts?

When All the Holds Come In

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the library and left with this pile.

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Obviously, I was very excited to dive into these books, but I had just walked away with a similar pile the week before. So, how do I handle this situation?

Well, I know that some of these books are in high demand and I will likely not be able to renew them, so I start there. I also realize that even though many others have liked these books, I may not. That allows me the freedom to just stop reading books that aren’t really catching my fancy and put them in the return pile.

And sometimes, I just can’t get to them all or finish the one I really like. I accept defeat and put myself back in the queue to receive it again. Usually, the second time around, it’s even better. I’m thankful for the library system, and how it tests my patience and how it forces me to pace my reading out. But there are some hold piles that are just too big for three weeks and life.

How do you request titles and avoid/deal with this situation?

A Literary Blast from the Past

I grew up as a reader. I read a variety of books, but a couple of series kept me reading regularly.

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The Dear America series

Oh, these books! I read as many of these books as I could get my hands on from the ages of eleven to fourteen. I’m pretty sure my love for historical fiction comes from these diaries of young women living through specific points in history. I loved the diary aspect of it, because the girls felt relatable. Book Riot just posted an article about Dear America, and it prompted me to write this very post. I also loved the Royal Diaries spinoff series which was based on the lives of young women in royal history. I can probably attribute these books for why I keep journals and write as much as I can. Some of my favorites in this series were: The Winter of Red Snow, pictured above about the winter at Valley Forge; When Will this Cruel War be Over?, a Civil War diary; and Dreams in the Golden Country, a turn-of-the-century immigrant’s story, featuring the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

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The Baby-Sitters Club series

Taking it back even further, I think I was in the second grade when I first picked up a BSC book. It was not Kristy’s Great Idea. I don’t know that I actually would have continued if I started with Kristy. I think I read a Claudia book first, and then I read a few Mallory books. Claudia is obviously the coolest original BSC member, and I related a lot to the bookworm big sister that was Mallory. I realize that most of the series was written by ghost writers and that each book followed a formula. It was easy to figure out how to skip most of the first two chapters, considering they were just intros and an explanation of the club. I think I read about 100 of these books, including some of the Summer Specials. These books were like episodes of Full House. I just couldn’t get enough. I remember when we used to go to the library or the bookstore, there would be a whole shelf unit of BSC books. Now, I think there is only one shelf with a few of the original stories introducing the first four girls and a couple of subsequent stories. It’s a little sad and definitely less 80s-tastic, but I’m glad some of them still exist.

I was also a fan of Madeline, Amelia Bedelia, and a few novels, such as Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. What did you love to read as a kid?

Book Reviews: Catching Up

Here’s a quick update on the books I haven’t managed to review yet this year.

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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I read this book long before my summer dance project and meant to review it earlier with a few other books, but then the other books were never read. Mamah Borthwick Cheney was a real woman, living in Chicago at the turn of the century, whose husband commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build them a house in his new signature style. She and Frank actually fell in love and became the subjects of a scandalous affair, when they both left their spouses and children and ran away to Europe. Mamah eventually divorced her husband and moved with Frank to a house he built in his hometown of Spring Green, Wisconsin. This novel works to fill in the holes and give Mamah a more complete story. Horan’s Mamah is intelligent, caring, and a bit cavalier. But she also struggles with living with an artist and discovering her own passions and purpose. I have to say I didn’t love this book. Mamah is definitely a strong woman, but I found times when I couldn’t empathize with her, and questioned her decisions. I also didn’t like the ending, which is true to what happened in real life, but is pretty terrible to stomach. 3/5

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image via bn.com

 One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

 I don’t even know where to begin. It’s no secret that I’ve been an avid fan of Jojo Moyes since reading Me Before You, but I think this newest novel is wonderful. Jess is a woman who works really hard. Her husband left her with his teenage son, Nicky, and their young daughter, Tanzie. She also has her aging dog, Norman. Nicky is constantly being bullied, to the point of hospitalization and Tanzie is a remarkable little math-whiz who has just been offered the opportunity to attend a private school after her scores were through the roof. But Jess can’t afford that school, and she just wants to protect her family from the world immediately outside their doorstep. When the opportunity arises for Tanzie to compete in a math competition for scholarship money, Jess pools together everything she’s got and gets them going until her defunct car dies about three miles outside town. And that’s when, Ed, who has his own host of problems, but has a nice Audi and some spare time, shows up and decides to drive them through the country to the competition. This book is full of humor, heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. This book also made me think and be thankful for the ease and convenience of my life when it’s not available to everyone, not just on the other side of the world, but right out in our communities. Jess is representative of so many people, and you just want her to catch a break. I just loved this book so much and blame it for giving me serious book hangover. I couldn’t read anything for two months after. Nothing stood up to that. Oh, Jojo. You’ve done it again. 5/5

image via bn.com

image via bn.com

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

When Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, and Dax Shepard are involved in one film, my ears perk up. I was so curious about the movie version that I had to get my hands on the novel it was based on. In the aftermath of his father’s slow, painful death from brain cancer, Jude Foxman returns home to sit shiva with his mother, two brothers and sister. He’s recently been separated from his wife after an act of infidelity he can’t come to terms with. And his life is basically falling apart. While sitting shiva, tensions that have been pulsing under the surface for years are just waiting for their release. Jude tells stories of his past, explaining things well in the past that still effect his family to this day. Between spurts of grief and the oddities of being home after many years, Tropper does a really good job of showing how universal these feelings really can be. The story does get a bit fantastical and a little too weird, but it was an amusing, entertaining read, with the perfect deadpan voice. Jason Bateman plays Jude Foxman in the movie, and I didn’t get to see it before it left theaters, but I can totally picture Bateman nailing Jude’s personality and observation style. I hope to catch this one at home, and let you know how the movie went. 4/5

The Fall Frenzy

As it does every year, the travel season for my work, no matter how much or how little travel I have, tends to knock all energy and inspiration out of me. The hours are filled with constantly checking my calendar to see what’s coming next, in the next hour, the next day, the next week. When I’m out, I’m constantly checking Yelp reviews so I don’t end up in a fast food drive-thru, which inevitably happens at least once a trip just because I’d rather eat in my room with HGTV. The Property Brothers were my constant companions this trip. I now find my self looking at house listings and thinking about how the space would look with two walls torn down.

Those are the tough parts of travel. I try to make it less tough by venturing out and enjoying the area. Last week, I was in Las Vegas, so I saw Britney Spears. It was more than a little ridiculous, but really fun, and I’m glad I went. It was like I was a teenager again. The next few days, I was in Reno, which doesn’t have as much excitement, but does have Lake Tahoe to the direct west. So I drove up to see the lake, and on my whole drive, I went from sunshine to rain to snow and to a beautiful rainbow in less than two hours.

Now, travel season is over. And as usual, I’m feeling antsy to write and to keep my blog going. This month, I’ve joined a group of my blogging friends to post 3 times a week. I’m always hesitant to tell everyone that I’m blogging for a challenge. It tends to make me feel pressured to find something to write about. However, I think I’m evolving a bit with what I want to talk about, beyond the books I’ve read. We might be seeing a few more life (mostly puppy) updates and a little bit more about other entertainment I’m consuming. I’ve also embarked on a new project with my best girl friends, so I’m looking forward to letting you know about that in due time. I think having a goal of writing more will let me experiment with how those things work within my little space on the Internet.

A Summer Update

Again, I’ve been absent for a while. It does seem that my wishes for 2014 have come to fruition in full swing this summer. To recap, E started a new job in March. His commute was horrendous, so we moved across the city, and I became a patron of public transportation.

Well, I have even more news!

1) We celebrated our second anniversary. We kept it pretty low-key. We had mangomosas and pancakes at home the day before, and went out to dinner on the actual evening of our anniversary. It was kind of perfect.

2) My time on the Metro was short-lived. This month, I started a new position! It’s closer to home, and pretty close to where E works. So, we get to carpool on occasion, which has been nice. Although, E told me this evening that he almost forgot to pick me up. Ummmm. Please don’t forget me!

3) Our biggest news, though, happened in between the other two events, but has been the biggest change in our lives, thus far. I would like to introduce you all to our newest family member:

Pinto!

On our anniversary, we spoke a little more seriously about getting a dog, and within a few weeks, we were meeting this little guy and making plans to bring him home. I’m so happy he’s with us! He has a great personality, is mellow most times, but can also be an unstoppable force of energy depending on his mood. He’s really smart, too, which is impressive, but also terrifying. We love him, and I just melt when he curls up next to me and rests his head in my lap. It’s been a learning experience and adjustment for both E and me. I’m glad we waited some time to figure out which dog would fit into our lives. We are still trying to figure things out, but we’re so happy. And his cute face doesn’t hurt either.

So, that’s an update of my life completely derailing my blog.

Have you had a summer of big change?