“Lost Among the Living” By Simone St. James

Concept: ★★★★★ – The concept of this book was well thought out and very unique. “Lost Among the Living” is set in 1921, a few years following the first World War. The author artfully twines a novel that expertly addresses issues that were active in Europe, while spinning a tale of a not-quite-widow and the challenges she faces after her husband disappears in the war. Weave in a ghost, a family full of secrets, and a house with footsteps that follow people down an empty hallway; then you have yourself a novel!

Writing: ★★★★★ – As always, I was very much a fan 6a015390e082b4970b01b8d1b6f7a6970c-600wiof St. James writing. The language and rhetoric style she chooses to use in her historical novels is delectable. Perhaps my favorite part of reading her novels is imagining the amount of research she may have had to complete to accurately write a story from a different decade. Another amazing attribute that she possesses is her capability to write a fiction novel around challenges that were very real and present in the post-Great War era.

Character Development: ★★★★☆ – As always, St. James has a way of gradually introducing characters throughout the entire novel. I feel as though this is what sucks me so deeply into her stories, the fact that I get to know characters at their deepest levels as I read. The only character that I found to be less developed in this novel was the villain. I felt as though it made his role obvious, but perhaps that’s just me.

Plot: ★★★★★ – A not-quite-widowed woman, a recovering addict, a lonely woman, and a mysteriously dead little girl, all woven together into a novel that develops slowly into a page-turning novel. With so much activity, it was hard to keep up at times! The author expertly stitched together a breathtaking and nightmare giving read!

Pacing: ★★★★☆ – The greatest downfall to this book was when the main character said, “Things moved quickly after that.” Even though the book was attention grasping and full of endless twists, I really was frustrated that St. James couldn’t come up with a less obvious transition to the climax and end of the story.

Ending: ★★★★★ – The ending was, well, short and sweet – and, boy, do I mean sweet! The bad guy was proven guilty and the good guys lived on, happier than before. The only one who didn’t get the happy ending is the little girl who was long ago passed. Of course, if you want to know who the bad guy is, I suggest reading the book or checking out the spoilers below!

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Spoilers below!

Continue reading ““Lost Among the Living” By Simone St. James”

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“Bring Me Back” by B. A. Paris

Concept: ★★★★★ – The concept of the way in which “Bring Me Back” By B. A. Paris is being told seems too recognizable during the first part of the book. The author played on the then and now writing pattern that too many authors seem to use these days. However, in the second part of the book, her decision to use this method is backed up by how the storyline plays out.

Writing: ★★★★☆ – The author maintains a steady writing pattern, continuously giving the reader enough to manipulate, but letting the story play out as a page-turning mystery. Paris wrote in a manner that was easy to follow, yet supported the entirety of the plot. The only thing that I didn’t like was her lack of physical description of the main character. Beyond his height and his age, I truly feel as though I have little idea what Finn looked like.

Character Development: ★★★★★ – If I could give Paris six stars for character development, I would. She effortlessly created five – or six – main characters, both now and then. Not only that, but she transitioned them throughout the story in a way that mirrored and emphasized the plot! Truly spectacular!

Plot: ★★★★★ – To say I didn’t have an inkling as to how the story would finally end is a lie. I had ideas, I had a lot of ideas. What made the plot great is that I had no idea which idea was right, nor did I have any idea how the main character would come to find out the truth behind Layla, Ellen, and their Russian dolls.

Pacing: ★★★★★ – The pacing of this novel was fabulous. I couldn’t put the book down. I had an ARC – provided by Net Galley – that was in an e-book format and I’ve been reading this book on my Kindle, on my phone, on my iPad and pretty much anywhere else I could pull it up for the last three days!

Ending: ★★★☆☆ – Although I honestly loved this book, the ending wasn’t great. Did it answer all of the questions created in my mind as I read it? Yes. Did it do it in a creative way? No. The note, found after all is said and done, is a cliche way to reveal all of Layla’s secrets.

Cover Art: ★★★★★ – Since this book isn’t published yet, I was left to Google for the possible cover art. I was able to find two versions, which are pictured below.

At first, I was a bigger fan of the one on the left, with the broken  Russian dolls littering the cover. However, once I realized that the shattered wood on the right cover represented a shattered person or the broken cottage where love was initially found, I decided both covers were excellent works of art.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC of Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris!

Spoilers and an overall review below! 

Continue reading ““Bring Me Back” by B. A. Paris”

Day Nine: 9 Things Everybody Needs To Know Before Starting Keto

The Best Side Effects

To begin, I’ve tried a lot of different methods for not only losing weight but also a447a303b7533ba246d78936e03d87e9maintaining. Today is my ninth day eating a ketogenic diet and this is by far the best dietary choice I’ve ever made! Since I started keto:

  • I’ve been around sick people and – for the first time in a really long time – I haven’t gotten sick.
  • I went an entire weekend without having to take nap.
  • I can stay up past ten p.m. and still feel amazing in the morning.
  • I wake up in the mornings feeling refreshed.
  • I have no heartburn (and before I started, I was taking Zantac every day).
  • I have regular bowel movements and my stomach doesn’t twist anymore.
  • I save money because I make the majority of my meals at home, from scratch.
  • I actually know what’s in the food I eat.

I feel better and, if I keep feeling better, I will never want to stop living a ketogenic life.

Nine Things You Need To Know Before You Start

Before I started living a keto friendly life, I read so many different blogs an articles because I wanted to know, for a fact, that I was making a healthy decision. I mean, it didn’t sound legitimate that – if I cut back on my carbohydrate intake and increased my fat and protein consumption – I’d actually lose weight.

However, while you’re surfing the web and checking out info, you most likely will run into recipes with foreign ingredients, worries about the keto flu, and many other concerning things. Then you might start questioning whether you can even do this. The answer is: Yes, you can. So, before you start freaking out about spending too much money and feeling lousy, check out these nine things you need to know:

Number One: The “Keto Flu” is very real, but also very preventable. On my first day, I literally had a meltdown in my car because all I could think about was a turtle sundae from Culver’s. My head was pounding, I was so tired, and – I swear – if anyone had so much as looked at me the wrong way, I would have attempted to attack them. So, yes, the “Keto Flu” is a very real thing.

Keto-fluPerhaps it’s a combination of your body going through sugar and/or carb withdrawals and dehydration, but you also have to remember that you are essentially “reprogramming” the way your body works – so your body is confused. It’s been burning certain fuels your entire life and suddenly you’re telling it to do something different.

So, to help curb the effects of the “Keto Flu”, drink a lot of water (I was pushing 96 ounces per day, using my Contigo water bottle), get the excess sleep your body is craving, and up your sodium intake (it’s okay, you need extra salt to retain water).

Number Two: There are some weird ingredients that you will eventually need. Unfortunately, this is true and the special ingredients aren’t always the most affordable – actually, normally they are just plain outrageously priced. That’s totally okay, though, because you don’t need them all right away. In fact, I haven’t needed any yet, but I keep purchasing them – one at a time – because I know that I might need them one day.

meme10A few of these weird ingredients that I’ve run across, so far, include cream of tartar, almond flour, guar gum, and xanthan gum. Together, buying these four ingredients will add about $45.00 to your shopping trip. However, if you buy one at a time, you can survive at least four weeks without need any of these ingredients and you add maybe $10.00 to your grocery total.

In case you can’t live without bread, some of the keto-friendly “bread” recipes – like Cheddar Garlic Biscuits – don’t even require any “fancy” ingredients. 

Number Three: Your ketone levels do matter, but don’t make them a primary focus. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t even buy a box of Ketostix until my fifth day of maintaining a keto-friendly diet. I should note that I did invest in a Keto-Mojo for blood ketone testing last Friday (ordered it online, so I bought the Ketostix for initial testing). This was mainly due to the reasoning that – in accordance with basically everything I’ve read – the test strips for a blood monitoring device range from $3 to $5, on average; but if you by a Keto-Mojo Founder’s Club package, you get test strips for $.99 a piece – for life.

Back to the point of number three: yes, your levels matter. During the first week, keto-funny-memethough, you will most likely feel your body shift out of “Keto Flu” mode and into ketosis. You’ll suddenly just feel better and will probably have a gross, metallic, sweet taste in your mouth. Do realize, though, that people progress into ketosis at different paces; so, the speed that your friends obtain the goal may be different than the time it takes for you to do the same. Trust the system and don’t get discouraged.

Number Four: You need fiber so, for the love of God, eat veggies. Depending what version of the keto diet you are personally embarking on, there may be different “carb limits”. However, right now I’m eating less than  30 grams of carbohydrates per day and I can confidently say that the majority of those carbs are from natural sources of fiber – aka vegetables.LC-BG-veggies3_good_2400px_3 (1)

If your wondering why eating a lot of vegetables – and fiber – is important, just think about what happens if you accidentally eat too much cheese and then evaluate how much cheese you might add to your diet if you increase fat and protein intake. You don’t want to be constipated, do you?

Number Five: At first your friends might not understand, but they’ll come around. We live in a society that has lived of the premise of fat being bad since the 1960s so when you’re friends suddenly see you layering on the cream cheese and 732d3dc0114a1c788a1eadb5c53e2452butter, they might not completely understand. In fact, if they care about you, they’re likely to try to talk you out of it – especially if they don’t know someone who has tried to maintain a keto diet.

While this might be annoying or discouraging, let your results show them that it is working. If they’re concerned that you’re going mess up your health, check out my blog Keto & Cholesterol to scientifically argue with their reasoning. I have people in my life who don’t believe in – or understand – how the ketogenic lifestyle works, so you aren’t alone.

Number Six: Join a support group. It doesn’t have to be an in-person group. In fact, Facebook is loaded with groups of specific “types” of people – whether you be a veteran, woman, male, or powerlifter (or just about anything else). You might be thinking, “Oh, I can do this on my own!” You also might be right, but I can honestly tell you that, if you’re experiencing something that you might categorize as weird, someone else has experienced it too and the only way you’re going to find them – as well as their magical solution – is by searching for them. What better place to search than a keto specific group with thousands of members?

Number Seven: Know you’re likely to succeed. Did you know that the success rate for people sticking with a low-calorie diet is roughly 50%, versus the nearly 75% success rate of ketogenic eating? That means that, if you’ve tried different diets before and failed, you’re more likely not to do it again. I mean, three-out-of-four people succeed in maintaining a healthier life by committing themselves to the ketogenic lifestyle.

All you have to do is not be “the one”, cause we all know there’s always one.

Number Eight: Keto is a lifestyle, not a diet. While researching and planning on starting the keto “diet”, I saw this fact everywhere. Leading a ketogenic friendly life isn’t really a diet. Sure, when you start it, you might want to lose weight. Yet, while your on it and so many aspects of your health improve – from mental health to lower blood glucose levels – you’ll realize that you always want to feel energetic and better than before. Does that mean you’re committing to not eating bread for the rest of your life? Nah, not really. Take a break from keto, re-evaluate your macros (especially if you’re starting it for weight loss, those will change), eat some carbs – which will likely make you feel horrible – and then, bounce right back into your keto lifestyle.

Number Nine: Get creative! Here you stand, at the edge of a cliff that can change fab0740a556f064096e929b6614b4475your life from what it is to what it could be. The only thing is that you have to maintain a low-carb, high fat, and high protein diet. So, take those requirements and change them into stuffed chicken breasts, tasty salads, and delicious desserts. Recommendations for new recipes are everywhere and most of them are free. If you want some ideas, check out the Keto Recipes I’m Dying To Try!

Recipe Review: Bacon-Wrapped Spinach Artichoke Stuffed Chicken

This week, I tried out three new recipes. One of them was for Bacon-Wrapped Spinach Artichoke Stuffed Chicken, originally posted by Ashlyn on “Belle of the Kitchen”.

Modifications

I did modify the recipe, ever so slightly. First, the original recipe called for 4 large chicken breasts, sliced in half. This was modified because let’s be honest, Ashlyn and I probably have very different understandings of the term “large”. So, instead, I purchased 1.55 pounds of Organic Chicken Breast, which turned out to be two very large breasts. After that, I sliced them in thirds. I then used a tenderizer to make sure all of the slices were about even in thickness. Furthermore, I adjusted my recipe on MyFitnessPal to reflect 6 servings, as I only had 6 breast slices to use. (Note: I did not modify any of the other ingredients amounts to do this, I just stuffed my slices with a little extra deliciousness!)

The next modification I made was substituting the 10 ounces of frozen spinach with 2 cups of chopped, fresh spinach. This wasn’t actually intentional, but I forgot to buy the frozen spinach and my stellar roommate has some fresh stuff left over!

The final modification I made was to the cook time. I should warn everyone that I am super neurotic about not eating undercooked food, so I used my meat thermometer and cooked all of the breasts until they were cooked to 175° Fahrenheit (it took about 70 minutes).

Prepping It

I was actually surprised by how easy this recipe was to prep! Furthermore, it was also really fun to make (I mixed the creamy artichoke and spinach mixture with my hands).

I was cooking a few other things at the same time, but I would estimate that it took about fifteen minutes to prepare all of the stuffed chicken breasts, wrap them in the bacon, and shove them in the oven.

How’d It Taste

In the end, all of the “hard” work paid off. The meat was thoroughly cooked and so tender. Mix that with incredibly creamy spinach artichoke dip and slightly crunchy bacon and you have a gold mine! I know that I will definitely be making this recipe again. Overall, I’d say it deserves a definite five-star rating! Thank you to Ashlyn for posting this incredible recipe!

 

“The Scorch Trials” (Book Two) James Dashner

Concept: ★★★★☆ – The concept of “The Scorch Trials” (Book Two) By James Dashner was excellent, as the author took a commonly assessed theory of the future of the world and turn it into a novel. After escaping the Maze, the Gladers are hopeful that the deceit and evil that WICKED represents is over. Unfortunately, the morning after they are rescued and brought to a safe haven, they realize that the “Trials” are still just beginning.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, grab a copy of “The Maze Runner” (Book One) By James Dashner, or check out my review here!

Again the Gladers are left to their own devices to face the challenges that the over-arching government, WICKED, seem to think are necessary for the survival of the human race. Remembering only as far back as their own first day in the Maze, the Gladers adjust quickly to an uncontrolled “real” world. Made up of a desert, a broken city, and a dusting mountain… what could possibly go wrong as these boys face the unknown to arrive at an undefined destination.

Writing: ★★★☆☆  – Think about when you’re writing a paper for a class and then, out of nowhere, you lose all motivation and suddenly what was a craftily developed thesis turns into a “C” paper, at best. That’s kind of what the concept in this book reminded me of. At first, the descriptive essence of the novel dragged me into the book. I was in the desert, the climate had changed, and the world had quite literally lost it. The first two-thirds of the book were so… painstakingly defined. I was there with Tom, Minho, Brenda, and even Jorge. Then, towards the end, it actually started to feel as the author was rushing through the motions to bring the book to an end. He did an excellent job catching the interest of the reader enough to pull them in for a third novel, but – except for that – the third portion of this book felt as though the author wrote it in an inattentive state, causing disinterest for the audience.

Character Development: ★★★★☆ – Although this book had a substantially lesser amount of character development than its predecessor, Dashner does not fail to appease his audience, fulfilling the reader’s desire to know each of the characters and “who they are”. In this novel, the author builds on the personalities of the Gladers, which are already familiar to the readers – assuming they’re like me and refuse to read a series in the wrong order. One thing that disappointed me is that, even by the end of the novel, the girls in Group B aren’t entirely familiar. We know how many there are and a few of their names. I’m hopeful that this will be settled in the third novel in the series!

Plot: ★★★★☆ – The plot was creative and well written, however, it wasn’t necessarily original, per say. It’s not that every book I’ve ever read is about a group of kids marching through a dystopian city in order to save their own lives, knowing little to nothing about the reality of how the world works. (Sound familiar… I think so, too.) However, given the setting of the book, Dashner tossed in a few flares to make sure that people would be able to decipher the happenings of his book from the happenings of other end-of-the-world fiction. Again, like the first book, no matter how clear the plot seemed, a turn of the page threw me – the reader – back to the starting line.

Pacing: ★★★★☆ – If the pacing in the first book had been so superb, my rating would have most likely been five stars for this novel as well. Unfortunately – or maybe it is fortunate – that isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, this book is action-packed and I still had a hard time putting it down. Yet, there are portions of the book that just feel like fluff, ensuring that the author hits a word quota. The book definitely got where it was going, it just took a little too long to get there.

Ending: ★★★★★ – Even though it may have taken a few minutes longer to get there than I would have preferred, the ending was both spectacular and disappointing. Scorch TrialsDisappointing because, if this was real life, I would hate to be the characters in this book. Thankfully, I’m only reading the books, so bravo James Dashner! The ending was a finale to a topsy, turvy, roller coaster of a novel.

Cover Art: ★★★★★ – Like the cover of “The Maze Runner”, this cover did an excellent job encompassing all aspects of the book. From the dry heat of the desert to the lightning storms and back to the broken down city, every aspect of the plot is covered in this cover.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Spoilers below!

Continue reading ““The Scorch Trials” (Book Two) James Dashner”

‘Twas the First Day of Keto

Day Number One (278.2 lbs)

By this point in time, if you haven’t already heard of the keto diet, you must be living under a rock. Of course, just because you’ve heard of it doesn’t mean you’ve spent hours online, clicking one link or another, trying to find out how to do what everyone else seems to be able to do – lose weight.

So here I sit, on day one of my keto journey. My emotions right now are all kind of mixed and jumbled. On one hand, I feel excited and ready. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many carbs in one morning… ever. Isn’t it funny how you never notice something until you can’t eat it?

Anyhow, there are a couple purposes for this blog. The first is to list my goals and the second is to discuss my thoughts.

My Goals

The most important purpose of this blog is really to declare my goals and reasoning for doing this. That way, in a week when I’m really craving a big bowl of macaroni and cheese, I can stay on track and have a list of reasons.download (1)

  1. To like what I see in the mirror – After twenty-eight years, I am comfortable announcing that I feel completely comfortable with myself, mentally. However, when I look in the mirror, the person I see looking back at me isn’t who I want to be.
  2. To decrease my need for medications – After serving in the military, I have depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, both of these are considered to be side effects of a obese lifestyle.
  3. To improve my health – There is nothing worse than going to the doctor and being diagnosed with one thing and one thing only, obesity. Even if I have other underlying issues, the big red flag prevents most doctors from acknowledging them. It’s honestly just exhausting.
  4. To live longer – As many people are aware, being obese shortens life expectancy. I want to undo that and live – happily – as long as possible. This is the first step.
  5. To not look back with regret – So many times, I’ve thought about starting to eat healthy. Unfortunately, I normally decide not to. Now I look back to those moments, whether they be nine months ago or four years ago, and I know that I don’t want to look back at this moment with the same perspective.

My Thoughts

I can imagine that having thoughts or concerns regarding the keto lifestyle is normal. I mean, suddenly I’m cutting back on carbs and revving up the fat intake. How the hell is this going to eventually eliminate my body fat?!? How is this even possible?

  1. What if I don’t go into ketosis and just get fat? – Seriously, what if I somehow do everything all wrong and gain a shit ton of weight, but lose none? OH MY GOD!
  2. How bad is the keto flu, really? – I’ve read so much about it. I’m really not looking forward to it, though.

Like I said, this is day one, so I don’t have much left to say. Bring on the fatty foods and take away the carbs! I’m ready for this…. I think!

 

 

 

“The Maze Runner” (Book One) By James Dashner

Concept: ★★★★★ – I can honestly say that everything about this books concept – the plot, the characters, the ending – was beyond original. The author not only created a world that was vastly different than ours, but he also created a storyline that continuously left me – the reader – guessing!

Writing: ★★★★★ – I think that any author who writes a dystopian novel must have the ability to write in a descriptive manner that can create an entire illusion for their audience. James Dashner not only managed to do this well, but he managed to lace every word of his novel with mystery. From the names of the characters – Newt, Chuck, Thomas – to the rise and set of the sun, Dashner created a spiral of endless unknown.

Character Development: ★★★★★ – Whereas some people could think Dashner lightened his work load by how he developed characters, I think the complete opposite. At the beginning of the novel, we meet Tommy – “named” after Thomas Edison – who happens to know about as much about himself as we do. However, the author was able to weave his entire life together, from the lingering snippets of his previous life to his friends during the now, Dashner developed his main character from the bottom up. I think he was able to develop all of his characters in this manner, saying as the reader knows them based on how they interact with Tommy.

Plot: ★★★★★ – What aMazes me is that I read this entire book, thought I had figured out every piece of the plot, and then realized during the epilogue that I literally have no idea what the hell is going on.

The goal of this novel: Escape the Maze.

The goal of the series: No fricken idea.

Pacing: ★★★★★ – The pacing of this book was excellent. It fit the speed and urgency that it seemed as though the characters had throughout the book. I never found myself reading a chapter and wondering when the hell it was going to end, which is great. The novel tugged me in and – if I hadn’t know better – I might have thought I was relying on the mystery of the Maze being solved as well.

Ending: ★★★★★ – For a singular novel, with no sequel or prequel, this ending sucked. For a book series, this ending was AMAZING. Normally, I get kind of bored of a subject by the end of the first book – either the first book was way too long, the urgency fades, or the plot just sucks – but in this case, I feel like writing this review is taking too long. I just want to keep reading.

Cover Art: ★★★★★ – I think the cover was intriguing enough to catch my eye, but at the same time mysterious enough to not really give away any secrets. Within the first few chapters, I was able to confidently acknowledge that the image was a close up of the walls of the Maze. I think the most interesting part is how the cover discreetly displays objects that have significant roles, or moments, in the novel.

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Spoilers below!

Continue reading ““The Maze Runner” (Book One) By James Dashner”