The Smart Lioness Guest Post

The Smart Lioness Guest Post

I’ve missed you, loyal readers (well, the eight or so of you that exist)! This post is long overdue! I’d blame it on life and work, as most wayward bloggers do, but I also had a bout of pure laziness/lack of motivation. Alas, let’s not dwell on the past and dig right in to the present – after all, it’s the most wonderful time of year!!

 

A while back, I had the honor of writing a literary guest feature for a sweet childhood friend of mine, Hillary, for her company blog The Smart Lionesssmartlioness

Hillary and I went to elementary and middle school together, and though our paths have diverged since then, we have been able to keep in touch through the power of social media ;).  Since then, Hillary has nabbed a bachelor’s in Human Development and her Master’s in Clinical Health. She not only teaches at our hometown college, but also has started her own business from the ground up! Her passion is female empowerment, especially by helping women with a history of abusive or toxic relationships. She has created a blog with features from women of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles, a loyal Facebook following, and an array of programs to help women achieve their goals and work toward healthy relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. Personally, her programs and support pages have encouraged me to achieve my own personal work and fitness goals. The Smart Lioness is her passion and she works on it every single day in addition to her academic position – whether it be her Facebook live chats, her blog posts, her downloadable planning sheets, or her weekend brunch groups.  Basically, she is the definition of a GirlBoss and an incredible asset to our hometown of Dothan, Alabama.

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Photo credit http://www.chloebeephoto.com/

 

I think there are an abundance of websites and blogs that push this new trend of “self-care;” and though I certainly think having time to relax is important, I have issues with too much encouragement of wine time or food indulgences. What makes Hillary’s business unique and special is that she finds ways to give you balance without tipping over into the realm of overindulgence or laziness. Instead, she helps you become productive while staying mentally sane!! Plus, she’s just a wonderfully empathetic and witty person to be around in general. I highly highly encourage you to check out her course catalog (especially the Dare to Roar challenge that I myself have taken!) and start on your own journey to mental health and balance.

 

What program from The Smart Lioness would be most useful for you? How do you find balance in your work week? I’d love to hear!

True Crime Time in Virginia and Kansas

True Crime Time in Virginia and Kansas

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(These are my Virginia and Kansas picks for my Make America Read Again challenge – to read the full list of books this year, click here.)

Winter is coming, y’all. I am currently wrapped up in my late grandmother’s crochet blanket she made many moons ago, my 90’s style Meg Ryan turtle neck, leggings, and fuzzy Halloween-themed socks keeping me warm in this 29 degree wind chill. The best part about living in Atlanta? These cold spells are SHORT – instead of the six months of dreary winter, we get little hints and peeks of chill and then return to our normal 70-degree afternoons.

The only sad part about this cozy situation is that I didn’t get to spend all weekend curled up with my piles of books. I had two days of Continuing ed classes, tickets to this month’s musical at the Fox Theater (not complaining about this one at all, especially as the husband is finally back from all his work travels so he could join me), and an overflowing list of errands to run. It was a wonderful weekend, if a bit busier than I would’ve liked on this frigid weekend. Still, I managed to squeeze in some precious time in my book nook. Round two of my Halloween-themed reads cuts rather close to home and explains why I love podcasts like My Favorite Murder and shows like 60 Minutes: nonfiction crime.

Let’s discuss.

Continue reading “True Crime Time in Virginia and Kansas”

Witchy New England Reads

Witchy New England Reads

hocuspocus

(Psst, these are my Connecticut and Rhode Island  picks for my Make America Read Again challenge – to read the full list of books this year, click here.)

The heat wave FINALLY broke here in Atlanta (as the handmaids would say, “Praise be”) and I’m embracing my favorite season of the year with ALL THE THINGS. We’ve got baby pumpkins on our coffee table, butternut squash soup is on repeat for our weekly meal plans, and I’m planning a Nora Ephron movie marathon this weekend and a day of leaf-chasing in the mountains.

…But of course, let’s not forget the best part of this season: FALL BOOKS.

October is especially near and dear to me as it is the season of tricks (and treats, because I totally didn’t make it all the way through Whole30…but can you seriously blame me when all the best candy is out in full force right now?!?).  I absolutely LOVE mystery books and thrillers. Though I have a bit too much of an active imagination to read true “horror” novels — I avoid books with crazy amounts of gore, especially this month as my husband has had to travel for work for most of October and Lord knows I can’t sleep with all my house lights on for the entire month — I DO enjoy a good page turner or who-dun-it novel. I even wrote my senior thesis on gender issues in the novel Dracula.

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I also REALLY love a good book about witches.  A couple of weeks ago, I realized I actually had several “witchy” reads on my Make America Read Again list, as well as some mysteries and thrillers. And they all happened to be set in New England, so it’s a perfect time for me to read books set here as this is the time of year when I truly miss my days as a Boston girl. To get us in the holiday spirit, I’ll be having a couple of posts about these books – first up, lets talk about all that hocus pocus.

Continue reading “Witchy New England Reads”

5 Books That’ll Make You Cry (in a Good Way)

5 Books That’ll Make You Cry (in a Good Way)

Is it weird I occasionally love a sad story? I used to hesitate recommending books that left a tear in my eye, thinking something must be inherently wrong with me if I sometimes enjoyed a drama or tragedy that pulled on my heartstrings.

However, over the past few years I’ve realized that these types of stories serve as a catharsis – something for me to fix my emotions on and connect with in a deep way, similar to a moving piece of art or a compelling film. Can you think of a better feeling than being completely immersed in a character’s story, whether it’s happy or sad? Although I love comedic and light hearted stories just as much, often they don’t move me or motivate me as much as stories with gravitas do. Thus, sad stories continue to reign my reading stacks!

This summer I ran through a series of serious-minded stories, and most of them were fantastic reads. Here are a few I recommmend (have your Kleenex handy):

Continue reading “5 Books That’ll Make You Cry (in a Good Way)”

Midwest Reads – “Little Fires Everywhere” and “The Nix”

Midwest Reads – “Little Fires Everywhere” and “The Nix”

I realized this weekend that I am incredibly behind on my “Make America Read Again” posts. I have read for about 25 states, yet haven’t reviewed most of them. Mea culpa, y’all! Balancing work and play isn’t always easy, especially when you’re spending the month of October on the whole30 diet and your whole life is meal prep and clean up and label reading…but that’s for another post.  Let me start to catch up by reviewing two more Mid-west state books for Ohio and Illinois!

 

Continue reading “Midwest Reads – “Little Fires Everywhere” and “The Nix””

Planting Roots, Reading Books: “Sing, Unburied, Sing!” Review

Planting Roots, Reading Books: “Sing, Unburied, Sing!” Review

(Note: this book review is my Mississippi pick for my Make America Read Again challenge. to read the full list of books this year, click here. I also was given this advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and Scribner publishing, thank you to both for the honor and opportunity.)

 

Before moving to Atlanta, Charles and I experienced a season of life that we dubbed “the Nomadic years.” Between the two of us, we spent the past decade bouncing between Greenville, Charleston, Boston, Los Angeles, and Birmingham. We both took a strange sort of pride in our amalgamation of home-bases, of being from a little bit of everywhere (but of course, always claiming Alabama as our true home).  We were used to constantly shifting, adapting, and never committing to one city or friend group because after all, a few months or a year later, we would be moving on again.

So now that we’ve moved to Atlanta, we sometimes struggle with the realization that this city of Coca-Cola and Chick-Fil-A will most likely be our home for the next several decades.  How does one establish the adult-version of home??!

It took us several months to adjust to this new way of life – of driving to work instead of walking or taking the subway, of oppressively hot summers and laughably nonexistent winters, of strangers who stop to talk to you just to talk and not to ask for money or favors. It wasn’t until this summer that we truly started forming real roots in this town, reaching out to old friends from high school and college who are now based within “the ATL,” or branching out into new social circles. But once we did, our summer plans exploded into dinner dates, weekend volunteering, and day trips across the state line. Every weekend since June has been absolutely packed, y’all. And we didn’t even take a big vacation!

So, suffice it to say my plans for the “summer of writing” were completely dashed. C’est la vie, it was still worth it.

However, Charles and I were getting a bit run down with all the excitement- the only “home-cooked” meal we had for weeks was the occasional random salad we threw together, our laundry basket was overflowing, and our cats (d’Artagnan and Gilbert, named after literary characters naturally) were feeling rather ignored.  So we spent this Labor Day weekend regrouping and resetting our lives.

 

Green Gables State of Mind
When exhaustion hits

 

 

And of course I made time for a whole lot of reading :).

 

Review: Sing, Unburied Sing!

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Y’all, this latest novel by Jesmyn Ward (out tomorrow!) was such a deeply compelling read. This was the first story by Jesmyn Ward I had ever read, though I’ve seen her in several interviews and already knew she was an intellectual, articulate creative. Plus she is a Southerner and her story settings are in the South, so I already knew her work fit right into my wheelhouse.  The opening pages proved my gut right – Ward is incredibly gifted at transporting you into her Mississippi.

The sky has turned the color of sandy red clay: orange cream. The heat of the day at its heaviest: the insects awoken from their winter slumber. I cannot bear the world.

Ward’s novel is a Mississippi Delta-styled Odyssey, as twelve-year-old Joseph sets out on a roadtrip with his less-than-stellar mother Leonie, his toddler sister Kayla, and Leonie’s best friend Misty. They are heading up to Parchman to pick up JoJo and Kayla’s white father (Leonie’s boyfriend) Michael from jail, where he has spent the past three years serving time for drug dealing. Meanwhile, JoJo and Kayla’s grandparents (and their true parental figures) as the grandmother is suffering from her bout of cancer. Naturally, several disasters ensue.

This book is the epitome of a dysfunctional family novel, and Ward does not hesitate to bring in the dark and grisly for this realistic portrayal of life in the South. The opening chapter includes a rather ghastly description of JoJo slaying a goat with his grandfather for their weekly meal prep. When reading this book, the writing causes you to use all five senses – whether you want to or not, you and those characters are smelling and seeing and hearing the same things.

“I washed my hands every day, Jojo. But that damn blood ain’t never come out.”

 

Every theme you can think of for a typical Southern novel comes into play in this book – race relations, poverty, religion and superstition, substance abuse, family dynamics, and agriculture come sharply into focus in turn. And yet each issue is brought to the reader’s attention with such grace and subtlety, you hardly understand what Ward accomplished until about thirty pages later. And she handles some of the more volatile subjects with such care and reality, it’s truly a work of art.

The majority of the book is a character study, but an added layer to this story is the theme of ghosts, both literal and figurative. Evoking the style of Toni Morrison, spirits do haunt several of the characters; but other family members are merely are haunted by their past. Part of this novel is about the ability to move from the past, to forgive yourself as well as others, to learn from your mistakes – or the failure to do these things. Mostly, Ward displays a deep and unabiding empathy for her characters; for their intrinsic humanness, for their custom combinations of vice and virtue.

Frankly, this novel ripped me apart a bit, and I think the ghosts of JoJo and Kayle and Pap are going to stay with me for quite some time.

This book is going to be big, y’all. Read it, read it, read it. (With tissues). Again, it’s being released TOMORROW!

Rating: 5/5 Stars, if not more

Read if: You love Southern Fiction, family-driven novels, you’re a human with a soul

 

 

Now that I’m back to the blogging world, what books did you read over the holiday weekend?  Do y’all have any suggestions on books to read that are set in New Mexico or South Dakota? I’m still struggling to find books for a few states… 

 

 

5. Ivy League Issues in Massachusetts

5. Ivy League Issues in Massachusetts

(Psst, this book review is my Massachusetts pick for my Make America Read Again challenge. to read the full list of books this year, click here.)

For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a legit super genius patent lawyer extraordinaire. Not that I am biased or anything.

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Charles’ law school graduation

He and I have gone to school together since we were in middle school, and he has always aced every test, paper, quiz, and presentation. He was one of two people in our graduating college class to have a perfect 4.0, and the only one in his major (Chemistry) to accomplish this GPA, considered one of the most difficult programs in the country.  He broke the record for the highest Organic Chemistry test scores from our school and won the adoration of our professor (who would write notes on his test like, “You have an incredible future in Chemistry”, smiley face included), and he had only taken that class FOR FUN with me, while I was forced to take it for my pre-med curriculum.

PS: I impressed exactly no one with my Orgo grade, but I got really good at doodling the chemical structure for TNT over and over.

So when he got accepted into Harvard for the Organic Chemistry PhD programs, no one was surprised.  What we were surprised to discover, however, was the incredibly toxic and manipulative environment of the department. That’s why this book, Chemistry, by Weike Wang, resonated so deeply with me.

 

Continue reading “5. Ivy League Issues in Massachusetts”