Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Show Us Your Books Best of 2016: The Lucky 13

This post has been thrown together in the quickest of fashions...a lot of copying and pasting...I give no apologies.  Excuse the typos or edits needed.  I'm not even proofreading.  But, but, but how could I not participate in an annual wrap-up of my favorite link-up?!?  Thank you to Jana and Steph for another amazing year of hosting this wonderful community of booklovers.


The first book that I read all year quite possibly is one of my favorite thrillers, unexpectedly, that I've read in years:  I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.  My review for this one: 
"Thriller readers: read this book. You know when you're reading and think you've got it figured out...then you change your mind... then think "well, maybe"... then you are completely wrong...then you are kinda correct, but there's a twist...then you've figured part of it out but it doesn't matter because the book is still so good? That was this book for me. I stayed up past my bedtime because I couldn't put it down. There was a teensy tinsy part of the end that bothered me, but I still highly recommend to those who like this genre."

January offered up another unexpected thriller:  The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad.  What I said about it at the time:  "
"I had never even heard of Eric Rickstad, but the book sounded like one I might like. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the characters, and how the storyline came together with some loose ends that left me wanting more. 4.5/5"

It must've been my year for stumbling upon new authors and great crime/mystery/thriller books because here's another one:  Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
"You know how some thrillers like to slowly build with a foundation and character development before the action takes off? Not this one. On page one, the lead character is holding his murdered best friend in his arms. Action from the start!
I enjoyed the story set in Melbourne and Resurrection Bay (not sure if this is an actual place or not), Victoria, Australia. It had me guessing and re-thinking my opinions about where it was going and who were the villains. The pace was quick, and some twists were unexpected.
I enjoyed the characters. Admittedly, I'm unaware of any book that I've read with a deaf protagonist. That element to the story was an interesting addition to a crime-based thriller.
If you can get your hand on this one, I recommend it."

Don Winslow's follow-up to The Power of the Dog (a book on my Best of 2015 list) was phenomenal:  The Cartel by Don Winslow.
"Think The Godfather; instead of The Mafia, it focuses on Mexican drug cartels. No, not The Godfather. That isn't violent or horrific enough. Think The Sopranos multiplied by 1000.
And, to think, I've been to every border town that is featured: Juarez, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Tijuana. I think that made the book all the more intriguing. And frightening. This book is not for the faint at heart. The violence is ruthless and plentiful. The characters are well-written, and I was cheering for some, aching for others, scared to death of the villains.
Both of these books (this is a sequel to
The Power of the Dog ) would make epic movies. I looked at the author's website, and guess what, they are in "pre-production" for movies."

When asked my favorite author, I often reply "John Sandford" because I've read the most books by him than any other.  I am loyal to both his Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport series, and this year's Davenport installment was a big winner for me:  Extreme Prey by John Sandford.  Honestly, I do not think you'd need to read any previous books in the series to enjoy this one (if you like these kinds of books.)

Another favorite author that I'm loyal to?  Karin Slaughter, and this year's Will Trent book was another great one for me:  The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter.
"The story is gripping, and the characters are well-developed. Stories that are inter-connected include foster care, child abuse, personal relationships, domestic violence, parental relationships, the power of sports stars, and more. Does that seem like too much? It isn't. Slaughter works all of the stories together to make for a great read."                  


My favorite friend who I've known for over 20 years recommended this book to me.  I don't think she's ever steered me wrong with a book recommendation:  Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent.  My review:
"A memoir that is almost impossible for me to "review". Uplifting, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking. Culturally and socially, this book is educational. Morally, this book is inspirational. Lessons of love, faith, forgiveness, change, philanthropy, and more. I respected the honest (sometimes brutally, painfully honest) description of the pain and suffering of a terminal illness. It made the other parts of the story carry merit and truth...parts that a reader could assume were sensationalized or exaggerated. For any person of faith, read this book. For others, read this book. Everyone, read this book."

My review for Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming sums up what I thought of the book at the time, but it doesn't tell you that his story has still stuck with me months after reading it:
"Alan Cumming is an example of living a childhood with violence, fear, self-doubt, and self-loathing...yet he did not let his past define him or ruin him. He learned, grew, and came out a stronger, healthier person because of it. A really interesting memoir of the past and present. I need to look up his "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode... 4.5/5"

Cultural/Historical Fiction:

I have repeatedly praised this book and author, and I'm happy to see other book lovin' bloggers agree with me:  The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi.  My thoughts that I shared at the time:
"If you've read Khaled Hosseini's books and found them fascinating and powerful, then add this to your "to read" list. A captivating book that is both emotional and educational about two generations of Afghan women who faced hardships including abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional), loss, loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, and more. If you are like me, you'll read this book, then want to go save alllllll the girls of the world that are denied opportunities and treated as inferiors for being female."

I am a self-professed Ruta Sepetys fangirl.  Every book of hers I've rated 5 stars.  Out of the Easy is:
"Colorful characters, an intriguing story, and a depiction of seedy New Orleans in the 1950s come together for a delightful book. Highly recommend."

I suppose you'd call this a "western" too, but I loved loved loved The Thicket by Joe Lansdale.  The characters are quirky...but warning: the story is violent.  It's a little like a Tarantino movie wrapped up in a novel.


I owned this book for almost a year before I picked it up to read.  Shame on me.  I should've dove into this story sooner:  I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
"Heartbreak, art, family, love, tragedy, self-discovery, and a little whimsy too. Some parts of the story, I predicted; others, I didn't...but I enjoyed the ride. I had high expectations, and this book exceeded them."

Contemporary/Literary Fiction:

Jana praised this and told all of us to read this.  I finally did and was not disappointed:  Please Come Back from the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos.
"I really enjoy when certain aspects of a story are left open for personal interpretation. This book has that element and so much more. There are layers of lightness and darkness, and the storytelling is both easy, yet heavy. I have no idea how to adequately review this book expect to say I loved it."

Have you read any of these?  Or are they on your tbr list?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Cheer

I didn't exactly plan a holiday hiatus from the blog, but that's what's happening.  We closed shop.  I've shopped.  I've wrapped presents.  I prepared some Christmas sweet treats.  I have visitors from Texas and am playing tour guide.  We'll celebrate Christmas.  We're going to the beach.  We're going camping.  And more........

I want to join in the Show Us Your Books "Best of 2016"...but I don't know if I'll be there or not.  I'll certainly be reading all the posts at some point.  Jana and I intended to do our playlist post, but we opted to wait until 2017.

So, I truly hope you and yours are surrounded by love, laughter, and happiness this holiday season.  Yes, that sounds so cliché, but it's true.  See/chat/read you soon!

Hugs & Smooches,

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Aussie Author Challenge 2017


Hey.  Guess what.  I'm participating in (another) book challenge.  Surprise, surprise.

This will be my 3rd year to tackle the Aussie Author Challenge.  As an American living in Australia, I am intrigued by the number of musicians and authors that I have discovered since moving here.  This challenge has helped facilitate finding some amazing authors that were born and/or now live in Australia.  Check out this link to find out more.  You can limit yourself to only tackling only 3 books for the entire year by an Australian author.  That's pretty easy peasy for a book challenge, am I right?

I've just started my last book for the 2016 challenge, so that I can reach "kangaroo" status, and I'll be aiming for that again in 2017.  I've read more than 12 books by Aussie authors this year, but for some reason, they were mostly by women.  I need to complete the "male authors" category.

"Kangaroo" status consists of:

KANGAROO: Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 3 genre.

Here's my preliminary list (subject to change):

Male authors:
1.   Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric
2.   Working Class Boy by Jimmy Barnes
3.   The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
4.   Suspect by Michael Robotham

Female authors:
5.   Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
6.   The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
7.   Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla
8.   We Ate the Road Like Vultures by Lynette Lounsbury

Authors new to me:
9.   The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
10.  So Much to Tell You by John Marsden
11.  After Darkness by Christine Piper
12.  I Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday's Seven Snapshots vol.103

Monday morning vibes...we stayed at a hotel next to our shop last Sunday night because we had to be there at 5:30am Monday morning (and our commute from home is about an hour and a half.)  This was my view Monday morning. 

Monday was also my 2nd wedding anniversary. This is the card and gift I gave my husband. I'm such a romantic. 

A customer emailed and asked what pearl strand necklaces we had left in stock. I know this customer well, so I sent this photo back as the reply.  What? Didn't I tell you that "jewellery model" is my future career?

Got these babies in the mail this week. C'mon February!

The end is here. Post to come in the future sharing my thoughts on closing our business.  I have a lot of thoughts to share. I just need to be able to sit, reflect, and write. 

Some customer gifts wishing us well...beyond appreciative. 

Sunday...all day...has been cleaning, packing, and moving shop. One of those bottles pictured above may need to be cracked open tonight. 

Next week is Christmas!  Eeeeek!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'Tis the season for stories from retail

I was able to jot a few stories down that I've witnessed over the last two weeks from the wacky world of retail during the holiday season...........

Guy comes into store wanting to buy his girlfriend a gift.  They got in a big fight, and he wanted to apologize and let her know he's not going anywhere.  Why did they argue about?  That he found her "meth pipe" in her bag...but she hasn't used it since January...so, clearly, there's nothing to worry about.  He bought a bracelet.

Guy comes into store wanting to buy two presents - one for his girlfriend and one for his ex-wife, but he still "likes to keep the ex-wife happy", if I know what's he's sayin'.  He bought two necklaces.

Guy comes into store and thoughtfully buys girlfriend emerald earrings.  He specifically liked the emerald ones because his girlfriend is Colombian, and Colombia produces a lot of beautiful emeralds.  Girlfriend comes in a week later and rudely states "I don't like these. I won't wear these. I am Colombian, and I don't need anyone buying me emeralds. I have emeralds."  After calming the ungrateful hag down, she selected a diamond necklace to exchange for the emerald earrings.

Guy comes into store and looks at a variety of items.  He selects a ring and negotiates a "best price", even a further reduction from the already discounted price.  He says he is going to his bank and "will be right back" with the payment.  We never see/hear from him again.  (This happens all.the.time.)

Lady comes into store to check to see if her ring is ready to collect.  She has her claim ticket out, but she is a repeat customer, and I know her.  I also know that the ring isn't ready quite yet, that Neil has been working on it, and point out that the due date marked is another 3 or 4 days.  Her response is "well, can't he get it done early for me?"  I have a few diplomatic responses for this and assure her it will be due on time.  Her reply "well, if he is so busy, why isn't he back there in the workshop working?"  After (fake) laughing and assuring her again that I would phone her as soon as it was ready, she says again "No, seriously, why isn't he here working?"  Finally...I responded truthfully "he's in the toilet."  Really...can't my guy just do his urination and defecation business without having to justify it to a customer?

Guy comes into store wanting to buy diamond earrings.  After an extensive discussion that includes price comparisons to large chain stores/big box stores...the quality of their product, their buying power due to volume purchases, etc...guy tells me that I am very knowledgeable and have provided him excellent service, but he's still going to buy from them because they are cheaper.  Awesome dude.  Thanks. 

Guy comes into the store and really likes some earrings that are on sale for $699, but he says he better bring his wife in just to make sure she'd like them.  He brings her back.  She selects a different pair of earrings that are on sale for $2,100.  His reply? "Darling, if that is what will make you feel special, let's get them."  See, there are some lovely stories too.

Linking..... with  Kristin and reminding you to be kind to your helpful retail workers:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Heartbreaking and Heartwarming


I have a friend named Kim.  She and I were on dance team together at Texas A&M and lived together with another roommate in a duplex.  Kim is/was one of those radiant people...beautiful inside and out...smart and sweet and upbeat.  She was even a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader - she's that all-American girl that you want to hate and envy but just can't because she is so genuinely nice.

Kim is a mother of two, a little girl named Viv and a little boy named Sawyer.  My heart is breaking for Kim, her family, and her loved ones. 

Kim's words:
Sawyer ... ...
November 21, 2008 – December 12, 2016

Sawyer did not lose his battle with medulloblastoma brain cancer; he kicked its ass for 20 months. 

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear; 
and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling) 
~ E.E. Cummings

Something like this happens, and I stop in my tracks.  I reflect.  And, honestly, I ask myself "what can I do to be a better person and give more to the world?"  Please, in Sawyer's honor, hug someone you love a little tighter, spread kindness to those that need it, maybe (if you feel so inclined) donate to your local children's hospital, hospice care, or cancer research institute. 


Today, we celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary.  I failed as a good little blogger because I had no "anniversary" post ready to honor this event.  But, when I heard the news about Sawyer, this guy is the one who held me and wiped my tears.  He is the one that recommended we find out if there is somewhere specific Kim's family will recommend donations to be sent.  He is the one who mentioned Viv, Sawyer's sister, and how tough of a time this will be for her.  I'll be honest - he isn't always known to be compassionate or tender-hearted, but I am the fortunate one that knows that side of him does indeed exist, and I know it well.  In this moment of heartbreak and grief, my heart was warmed by the realization that this is the one who is by my side during such times. 

If you want to read about our special day, you can do that here:  The best wedding ever*
Happy anniversary to us!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I show you my books, you show me yours... vol.23

Jana & Steph are bringing us book lovin' bloggers our favorite day of the month again - Show Us Your Books day!

Here's what I've read since the last link-up:

1.  Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo -  a delightful little book that is nominated for Best Middle Grade/Children's Book on Goodreads Choice Awards 2016. 4/5

2.  Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken - Don Winslow's The Power of the Dog & The Cartel may have ruined all other fiction books about the drugs, gangs, and violence on the U.S./Mexican border (because they were just SO good.)  That being said this was still an entertaining enough read.  3.5/5

3.  The Girls by Emma Cline - DNF - Rebecca Jo mentioned something last month about wanting to drop kick a book that she didn't like.  That's how I felt about this pretentious, try-hard story.  I didn't even make it to Evie joining up with the cult.  I couldn't get there.  I used to not quit books, but my book lovin' blogger friends have taught me that if something ain't workin' for me, then it is just fine to move along.

I know that people have fled war torn countries for ages, but this book feels timely and relevant. Yes, this is a work of fiction, but anyone that wants to close borders or not help refugees should read this heart-wrenching book.  4.5/5

5.  Cross the Line by James Patterson (Alex Cross #24) - There are better Alex Cross books than this one, but it still (as Steph says) passed the time just fine. 3.75/5

6. Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre - A bookstagrammer (is that what we're calling these folks) that I follow gave a glowing recommendation for this one, so I picked it up, and I'm glad I did.  There's a whole lotta crazy goin' on in this book.  If a quick-read crime/mystery/thriller with crazy ass characters is your thang, then I recommend this book.  4.5/5

7.  Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - What I loved about this book: strong female characters, a depiction of the important roles that females played during WWII, and a strong female friendship.  Because of those things, I really wanted to love this book, but for some reason, I just liked it.  Maybe it's timing.  I'm busy.  I'm distracted.  My mind is going a million miles a minute with lots of things going on..  So, maybe I wasn't able to get absorbed by the story the way I needed to be.  3/5

8.  Escape Clause by John Sandford - I'm a John Sandford fangirl.  I've read every book in the Lucas Davenport series, and now every book in the Virgil Flowers one.  As most series go, some are better than others, but for me, they've all be enjoyable.  Sandford's characters are truly, well, characters.

Currently reading:  Plan B by Jonathan Tropper

Now is the time that I pimp my book challenge.  Many of you know it, but just.in.case you don't, check it out - Book Challenge by Erin.  Kick off your new year by reading books amongst a community of supportive, encouraging book lovers.  Click the links below:
Our goodreads group
Our facebook group

Hooray for books!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday's Seven Snapshots vol.102

'Tis the season that I send several overseas packages. 

This is one of the libraries I frequent. Ain't too shabby. 

Christmas drinks with my fellow Texas A&M grads at Blu Bar (level 36 of the Shangri La hotel.)

These were our views....

...Sydney was really showing off her beauty this week. 

Christmas drinks turned into Christmas shenanigans. 

Worked 6 days this week with long hours, but I still managed to get some presents wrapped too. 

Friday, December 9, 2016


Eight years ago, I landed on Australian soil and began my life as an "expat".  Honestly, I'm not sure that I even knew the term "expat" then.  What I did know...this was going to be a massive life change and challenge with new adventures in store for me. 

The term "rollercoaster ride" is often used as a metaphor for life when we experience peaks and valleys, highs and lows, twists and turns, fear and exhilaration. The last 8 years of my life could be described by all of these things and more. 

And, would you look at that. Bon Jovi has a song on their new album titled "Roller Coaster", and it's one of my faves.  How fitting.   

Happy "expativersary" to me!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Different Way to Celebrate December

You may have heard me mention jenn (she likes lowercase) around these parts before.  She's the only blogger buddy that I know and am friends with in real life, or as the kids say it "irl".  Like, we've shared a meal in person kind of friend.  (Not that I wouldn't be happy to do so with many others of you...there's just this thing called an ocean that separates most of us.)  In fact, I've known her since before the world of blogging...way before.  We shared the same homeroom from 9th through 12th grade. 

She created this super clever, creative, fun scavenger hunt of sorts that helps put some positivity, goodness, and kindness out into the world.  Here's a recap of her November adventures.  She's doing the same for December.  I know, I know.  Decembers are crazy busy for all of us.  But, I'm going to try to squeeze a few of these activities into my month.  Why don't you join us?

December 1, 2016

it's ten this time because a) time, b) money and c) it's my bloggy and i can if i want to. mental floss compiled a list of fourteen days to celebrate in december. i'm using some but not all because of the aforementioned reasons. if you choose to blog about this, photos are required, but they don't have to be selfies (see reason c). you can do them in any order you'd like. they do not have to be tied to their day. you've until december thirty-first to complete this thing.

one. december first. national pie day. also national eat a red apple day. buy, or if you're feeling especially awesome, bake an apple pie and take it to the servers of a favored restaurant. they bring you food and drink at your beck and call. be sweet and bring them some treats.

two. december second. national salesperson's day. i've done more than my share of time in retail hell. i know how dreaded this time of year is for the gals behind the counter. when you're out shopping for those special gifts, ask an associate what a good pick-me-up would be. what can you do to put a bright spot in her day? chances are good it'll be a simple as a cup of starbucks or, in the case of one of my manager friends, a route forty-four diet coke from sonic with hardly any ice in it.

three. december fifth. bathtub party day. things are about to crazy, yeah? or maybe they've done so already? all the shopping and the baking and the trimming of the tree... treat yourself to a time out. snag a favored scented shower gel from bath and body works (or wherever you go for that stuff... i'm partial to bodycology's white gardenia, which can be found at the grocery store for like four bucks), pour a glass of wine, put on some music or listen to a bit of an audio book you've been dying to read but haven't had the time. give yourself a blessed hour. your family will probably thank you for it.

four. december sixth. st. nicholas day. surely you know a nick or a nicholas (or maybe a nicole?). take some time out of your day to send a special note to that person. 'tis the season...

five. december tenth. nobel prize day. here's a list of the laureates in literature. choose one and share a line or two from a work you admire.

six. december twelfth. poinsettia day. pick up one of these gorgeous creations and take it to a friend you've not seen in some time.

seven. december thirteenth. national cocoa day. take a breather from the christmas shopping. treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate.

eight. december fifteenth. cat herders day. surely you know someone who's got one too many cats in his or her house. and surely those cats are wreaking havoc on the christmas decor. find a cute cat card and send it their way. they may be needing the reminder of why they love the things right about then.

nine. december twenty-first. winter solstice day. the longest night of the year. the hardest time of the year for some. there are those who are grieving. there are those who are in the throes of some pretty wicked depression, and this time of year is NEVER good for them. find a way to bring them some warmth, to shed some light. check with your local service organizations and see what you can do to help those in need. take some flowers to a senior living facility. treat a friend who may be grieving to lunch or a movie. or just sit with them for a while. listen.

ten. december twenty-eighth. national card playing day. we spend so much time on our phones or sitting at computers being "sociable". try getting a group of friends together for a game of hearts or spades, uno, skip-bo or phase ten. turn the television off. sit at a table and enjoy each other. have a game night. unwind.

Monday, December 5, 2016

My mother as a pin-up

I've been on a roll with tattoos lately.  I'd had a "wishlist", and I've been knocking those out since finding my little superstar of an artist, Melanie Milne.  In October, I got a tattoo in honor of my dad, and I mentioned one was in the works in honor of my mom too. 

My mother taught baton twirling in my early childhood.  She can still pick up a baton and do some pretty impressive tricks with it.  She taught me in my early years.  We marched in parades and went to competitions.  She was/is energetic and enthusiastic, and everyone loved/loves her.

Me...during my baton twirling career
Rewind to times before my childhood...and before she was my mom...this woman was a drum major during the 1960s.  Not just any drum major, but she led a band of over 300 members, and this band's claim to fame during their tenure was they played the National Anthem during the opening of the Houston Astrodome. 

I used to work with a guy that went to high school with my mom.  He told me that when she took the field that all eyes were on her.  He may have been slightly infatuated all those years later. 

Fast forward...I'd always wanted a pin-up of some sort, and I wanted a tattoo inspired by my mother.  Drum majors, majorettes, baton twirlers, and even pin-ups are "Americana" identities.  It just seemed to work together.  In fact, when I told my tattoo artist my idea, her reply was "that is sooo American, and I love it!"

So, here we are.  She's working.  I'm wincing (in pain).  We're both singing to Eagles Greatest Hits vol.2 and talking about her recent trip to New Zealand.

And...the finished project...I just love her!  (her as in the tattoo, my mom, and Mel, my artist)

My mom has her own sound when she sends me a viber message.  I heard it as I was getting the tattoo.  She asked what I was doing.  So, I sent this in return.  Let me clarify, my mom doesn't like my tattoos, so I had to tell her to not be mad.

Her response was that it was "nice", but she hoped the picture was just a drawing on paper and not on my body.  Ha! 

What do you do that drives your mother crazy?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday's Seven Snapshots vol.101

This red velvet donut with buttercream icing and candy cane decorations was as sensational as it looks. 

I might've got carried away with tree decorations this year...my back patio trees even have lights. 

I love the jacaranda tree in front of my house. I don't love sweeping up after the jacaranda tree. 

I had a realization that yes, I am old, when I walked through H&M and decided everything was crap. 

A book & my snuggly boys ... Not a lot of things that are better than this. 

Street art in Newtown

Sunday brunch with a girlfriend was a great way to end the week. 

 Happy weekend to you!