Sunday, August 30, 2020

Starting Fresh in September: I'm Ready for Fall!

Well. August 2020 certainly is a month I will never forget. My city of Cedar Rapids and the surrounding communities are still digging out from the derecho that hit on August 10th. The National Weather Service categorized it as a level 3 hurricane. It struck fast, lasted for a little over an hour, and unleashed destruction everywhere you look. 

In the past few weeks, I've been busy in a few different places: work and home. Work (the Marion Public Library) is keeping me feeling just a bit off-kilter. Our library sustained extensive water damage, and we have had to move the entire collection out of the building and into a facility where I'll be working for the next 14 or so months while our new library is being built. Our staff is scattered across Marion in a few different spots. The good news is that we have a rock star director and deputy director, and they have been working very hard to secure a temporary library location, which will open in a few weeks. It's small, and will house our newest additions to our collection for our patrons, along with computers, a printer, and wi-fi. Our staff has been working through a nasty heat wave unboxing, shelving, shifting books, getting organized so we can begin operations again and continue to serve our community. Thankfully, we have a break in the heat (fall temps can show up anytime!). I also took a break from working out at the gym for the past three weeks, and I hope to return tomorrow. Little things that help reframe daily life and keep me calm. 

My house--I am so lucky. With the help of my partner, and a great group called 8 Days of Hope, my big tree is now gone. Only a very large stump remains. My backyard has been transformed from one with a bit of shade, to one with no shade at all. It's hard to step outside and look at it. It's still a bit of a mess with a whole lot of sawdust around, dead grass (No rain & hot temps for weeks), and all my plants and flowers are dead. My partner's skid loader tore up my yard as he worked to get the largest and heaviest bits of the tree out to the curb. I've kept one piece of the tree, but haven't figured out just what I'll make from it. Next Spring I'll have a whole new yard to work on...replacing shade plants with full sun plants. So yes. I'm so lucky and grateful for whatever higher powers protected my home during the storm. 

Today I'm finally grocery shopping to replace some of what I lost during the 12 days I had no power. Keeping it light! And yesterday, I visited a few bookstores. As I've said before, books are my ultimate comfort go-to. Some people watch movies or tv to escape; I read books. It's been a very hard year reading-wise. I've struggled so much, more than I think I've ever struggled to read in my life! Between being physically tired and mentally fried, I spent a lot of nights just staring at the TV, watching Food Network. Couldn't land on any one of the many books I've got at home. Nothing clicked. But I certainly wanted to buy a few things this weekend, and hope it kick starts my reading flow again. 

Here's what I'm reading in September: 

I've been waiting for this book all summer!  I loved the Iron Druid Chronicles. A magical man with a terrible curse, and a mystery to solve. And he likes craft cocktails. Win win! 

This series has been around for a few years, and I never read it. Now it's going to be on Netflix and I can't wait! Found this at the Swamp Fox Bookstore in Marion, Iowa during a fundraiser for the library. Enola is the sister of Sherlock Holmes, and a mystery solver herself. Young adult. 

Another book I've been waiting to be released. I'm a big Susanna Kearsley fan, so this one was a no brainer. Each author writes a novella, with a cursed watch as the theme. Historical, mysterious, and a little bit of the unknown. I figured this would be a good way to return to reading--novellas are a bit longer than a short story, but not as long as a novel. 

Historical fiction by one of the best. This is about two women who are transported to penal colony Australia, and an aboriginal woman who has been displaced from her family and society. 

I've had an advanced reader's copy of this novel on my bookshelf for a few months. A young adult fantasy novel about a young woman who wants to belong, but may become a pawn to higher powers if she chooses the wrong path.

I hope you are all safe, well, and taking care of yourself while Covid-19 still rages. Iowa, unfortunately, has numbers that just keep going up. I plan on keeping myself safe with limited shopping trips, and lots of at home reading. I've had pumpkin everything on my mind lately, so I think today is a great day to make a pumpkin dessert of some kind, and I'm bringing out the crockpot for a tasty meal tonight. 

Take care and I'll be back soon with reviews! 

The Bookalicious Babe

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Derecho Update from Cedar Rapids

I've got a few moments this morning so I thought I'd update everyone on what's been happening here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa since I last posted. 

We continue to clean up. The National Weather Service has determined that we had a category 3 hurricane blow through Iowa. Cedar Rapids was the hardest hit area, along with Marion, which is a small city that borders Cedar Rapids. It's part of our Metro area, and where I work at the Marion Public Library as the Collection Development Manager. 

Tree debris is everywhere. The National Guard arrived in town about a week ago and has been working to clean up the debris. It's hard to imagine, but literally every block of Cedar Rapids and Marion (and all the surrounding small towns) have damage and trees down. Every. single. home. No one escaped without some kind of damage to their property. The City of CR is working block by block to pick up tree debris, and plans on making three trips around the city to collect it all. 

I finally had power come back on last Friday. I was without power for 12 days. I spent the first week at my house at night, but ended up staying at my partner's home for the next week. He borrowed a generator from a friend so at least we had some lights and a fan! We managed to save a good amount of our food, but ended up having to throw away a lot of defrosted meat and fish, along with other groceries. I consider myself very lucky. My home sustained minimal damage, and what food was spoiled we can replace. So many are not so lucky. 

I did lose a few trees in my back yard. One tree was a Japanese maple that my friends at Barnes & Noble gifted me when my dad passed away in 2004. It was snapped by another tree falling on it. That made me cry more than anything. My big old tree is coming down; today is the last day the crew will be here to finish up cutting it down. I've cried about that, too, even though it was a tree that caused me lots of aggravation over the years-it dropped branches and bits and pieces continuously! But it also suffered a lot of damage and was best to take it down. My partner and I measured the trunk yesterday and with some calculations, figured it was about 100 years old. Which fits in with my home, which was built in 1927. My yard already looks completely bare. I can say with 100% certainty that I will never have a tree planted close to any future home I live in ever again. I've seen so much destruction from trees falling on homes, cars, garages. Homes split in two by trees crashing down on them. Cars crushed. 

I've been busy helping haul tree debris, and working with my fellow library staffers moving our collection out of our damaged library and getting it set up in a temporary space. Lots of organizing to make it easier for us to find materials when we are ready to open again in our new, temporary spaces. We've been serving the community by volunteering where help was needed, and having a tech space set up at a nearby park for people to recharge phones and personal devices. 

Clean up and getting back to "normal" will be a very long process. 

I haven't been reading much; I've been so tired at night I can't focus long enough to read more than a few pages. But a new month is not far away, and I plan on getting back to it and diving into the books I've got waiting here at home. 

I am healthy, I have food and a home, a job, and good people around me. I am lucky. 

My tree after the Derecho. 

My tree after the crew has worked on taking it down. August 24th, 2020. 

Measured the trunk of the tree for posterity. 

The debris behind my house. This it what every home is like on every block of Cedar Rapids. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

When You Live in Iowa and a Hurricane Arrives on a Monday Afternoon...

I don't even know where to begin this post. Some of you may be aware of the bizarre and destructive weather we had in Iowa on Monday, August 11th. Known as a derecho, it was an inland hurricane. Iowa is a landlocked state, and we've always been super sure a hurricane would never touch us. Well, Monday that all changed. What we all thought was going to be a severe thunderstorm turned out to be straight-line winds clocked at 100-115 MPH for 45 minutes straight. Add in some rain, thunder and lightning. The aftermath is appalling and so heartbreaking I think my whole city of Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities are still in shock. When I called my insurance agent, I cried on the phone. She was the first person I'd talked to outside of this area since the storm. 

There is not one block, one house, one business, one apartment building, one park or street that is not damaged in some way in Cedar Rapids, which is 75 square miles. A population of approximately 130,000 people. We've been without power since Monday when the storm hit. Sirens went off, and most people had a chance to take cover for what we thought would be a quick storm. Many people were caught in cars, businesses, and out for lunch. Folks usually have days to prepare for a hurricane-we did not even have 10 minutes. 

For the first few days, there was no phone service; couldn't even call 911. Gas stations were closed; when a few did open, the lines to get gas for cars, chain saws, and generators were blocks long. My boyfriend and I drove 40 minutes south of CR to find a gas station. We borrowed a generator from a friend after his smaller, older generator fried his deep freezer. We have a freezer full of meat, cheese, and fish that we have to bag up and toss. Easily over $500 in food. Food we'd been steadily buying and freezing during the ongoing pandemic. 
You can't find a chainsaw, chains, oil for sale in Iowa. They're all gone, or people are price gouging online. The National Guard arrived a few nights ago to help with tree debris clean up. There are parts of Cedar Rapids that won't have power until Tuesday, 9 days after the derecho. I'm on day 7 with no power, as is my boyfriend. Luckily, water is working fine and we have water to drink, flushing toilets, and showers! 

Now our days and nights are filled with the sounds of chain saws, generators, and yes, sirens. Every day gets a little better. More and more power is being restored to parts of the city, along with more gas stations up and running. Grocery stores are open, too. There are even some restaurants that are operating. 

I've taken photos and they do not even begin to show the magnitude of the destruction. Our local newspaper said 50% of our tree canopy in Cedar Rapids is gone. We are known as a tree city; our city symbol is a tree. So many houses and businesses damaged by trees and wind. Block after block of tree debris along the streets, waiting for city crews to reach us. 

My library took a big hit, and had extensive water damage. The Marion Public Library building is not a place staff or patrons can return to--it is beyond repairing. I still can't wrap my head around that. We are moving forward, and already had a new building planned and will be breaking ground in October. Until that building is finished (2022), we will be operating out of other spaces, providing library services to our patrons. 

I will be taking a bit of a break from the blog while I work through this enormous life event. Iowans are strong, tough people, for sure. Giving and generous. However, we are all just a bit broken right now. Recovery will be months; school buildings were so damaged we have no idea when school will start, and what that will look like. Businesses that were just hanging on through the pandemic will probably close for good. Farmers lost so many corn crops it will create a ripple effect around the world. 

My family members are safe and doing well. My friends are okay, too. Some are dealing with a lot of damage to their homes; others are struggling with the additional stress this all brings to us. I can't say I've slept more than 4 hours a night this past week. My boyfriend has worked so hard all week; working himself to exhaustion. His belt needs more notches cause he's lost so much weight. But we will get through this, one day at a time. 

Here are some links to stories that may help give you perspective on where Iowa stands: 

https://www.thegazette.com   (our local newspaper)



Take care, stay safe. I will have updates! 

The Bookalicious Babe 💗💗💗

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

I finally got off my duff and concentrated on a book long enough to finish it. I've been bouncing between 3-4 books since August 1st and not making headway in any of them. However, Home Before Dark took over and the more I read, the more invested I got in the story and couldn't put it down. And since today is National Book Lover's Day, I thought it was appropriate to have a relaxing Sunday and read all morning. 

Home Before Dark is the first book I've read by author Riley Sager, and I'm happy to say I'll definitely be reading more. This was a blend of thriller, ghost story, and mystery all rolled into one. I honestly didn't know where the story was taking me until the very end. 

Maggie Holt's life has been ruled by her father's infamous haunted house memoir, published when Maggie was around six years old. In it, her father tells the story of their experience living for just a few short weeks in Baneberry Hall, an old estate in the Vermont woods. His book House of Horrors describes the increasingly uneasy happenings in the house, which culminate in Maggie and her parents fleeing one July night, never to return to the house again. The memoir made her parents rich, but tore the family apart. It also caused Maggie to have a somewhat miserable childhood. Her parents wouldn't discuss the book and whether or not it was true, and Maggie was always known as "that girl". Now her father has died, and to Maggie's surprise, he has left her his whole estate-which includes Baneberry Hall. He never sold it, and Maggie doesn't know why. Now she's returning to get the house ready to sell, and also to dig deep and find out if her parents made everything up or if the home is actually haunted. 

As Maggie returns, she's not very welcome in town. Her father's memoir made the small town and some of its inhabitants infamous, and even though it's been 25 years, the resentment is still strong. Maggie just wants to quickly renovate the place, put it up for sale, and never see it again. However, things begin to happen that make Maggie question everything about her father, his memoir, and her own memories of that long ago July. If she can't remember specific things that happened in the book, does that mean they never happened? Or was she so traumatized by it all that she simply can't remember? 

I was completely ready for a spooky horror novel. What I got was a puzzle that slowly unfolded, and kept me trying to figure out what exactly happened at Baneberry Hall 25 years before. Why is Maggie's mother so reluctant to talk about it? Why is Maggie having horrible night terrors of Mister Shadow coming out of the armoire in her room, just as she did as a child? Is the place really haunted? And if so, by whom? The history of the house is steeped in sadness and a whole lot of death. 

This was a great read. Every other chapter is a chapter from the House of Horrors memoir, and that definitely kept me glued to the pages! 

Rating: 5/6 for a thriller with a supernatural element that leaves you guessing: is it true? Twists and turns that make it hard to figure out until the very end. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

August Reads: A Mixed Bag of Genres

It's so darn hard to narrow down what I want to read every month. Too many choices; and yes, I'm the "squirrel!" kind of person when it comes to new books. 
However, I've got an interesting mix this month, and I noticed that they're genre heavy this time around. I'm really happy that I am the type of reader who enjoys a wide variety of books both non-fiction and fiction. There are definitely times when I want something light and happy (romance) and other times when I want to dig into a thick historical fiction novel. I've also noticed there seems to be more novels that most would consider in the horror genre popping up every month. Maybe it's making a comeback. 

This list isn't everything I'm reading; I'm still working on Action Park and The Cooking Gene from last month. Some non-fiction takes me a bit longer to finish, but I'm enjoying both of them very much. I've also got a few books on my Nook that I'm reading, too. 

Here's my August book list:

I've had this romance sitting at home for months! A sequel is coming out this fall, so I best be reading this now. A historical romance about a woman who must convince a man of means to support the suffragette movement in England. 

A novel about a young woman living in a puritanical society who discovers she's got a bit of magic, and something in the woods is calling her...

A woman returns to her childhood home--an infamous haunted house chronicled in a tell-all book by her father. Weird things start to happen again; is it really haunted after all?

A thriller about a murdered bibliophile and the manuscript that may be at the center of her mysterious death. You can read the book two ways-straight through, or taking the cues on certain pages and reading it that way. Either way, I can't wait!

Dublin, 1918. The flu continues to kill, World War I still rages; and three women gather together on a maternity ward to care for patients and cope with a world that is full of trouble. 

A stylish plus-size blogger gets a chance to be the bachelorette on a national TV dating show. She's sure it's all a bunch of garbage; however, she's in for a few surprises. 

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm ready to start my August books. Can't wait to share my reviews with all of you throughout the month. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and happy reading! 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Dating Makes Perfect by Pintip Dunn

I haven't read a YA novel for a very long time. Quite honestly, I'm afraid if I start diving into YA, I'll go down a rabbit hole and never come out again! Same goes for children's fiction, too. Sometimes thinking about everything I want to read overwhelms me and I panic and hyperventilate. I kid you not. 

Sometimes, however, the book universe magic happens, and I'm given the opportunity to read a novel that ends up being so utterly charming and lovable it actually changes the course of my reading plans for the rest of the year. In a bizarre, whirly-gig 2020, what's another shift in my universe? So yes, I'll be incorporating YA into the remainder of my 2020 reading choices. 

Dating Makes Perfect had me from the first few pages. I can't say that about a lot of books. Most of the time I have to read about 50 or so pages before I get invested in a story-but Winnie and her family are so engaging I was sucked in immediately. Winnie's older twin sisters are off in their first year of college-and dating a lot. It's a bit of a backfire on Winnie's parents, who forbid their daughters from dating in high school. They wanted to spare their daughters some heartache and also respect their Thai culture. Now Mom wants her daughters to get married and have grandbabies STAT but they've announced since they couldn't date in high school, they're going to spend YEARS dating. Oops. So Mom and Dad have decided Winnie can practice date in high school, so she's ahead of the game when she goes to college.

This is great, only they've picked the young man Winnie has to practice date: Mat. Ugh. Mat and Winnie had been friends all their lives, until about four years before, when suddenly, they went from friends to enemies. And there's a new cute boy who just moved to town that Winnie has her eye on...this could spoil things. 

Mat and Winnie have such great chemistry and they sizzle on the pages. Of course their past friendship break up is based on lack of communication and hurt feelings. Mat's willing to go along with the fake dating so he can take a trip after graduation--a trip that rests on his cooperation. Dates are pretty simple: driving Winnie home from school, meeting her at a local festival, accompanying Winnie clothes shopping. However, as they spend more time together, it's apparent both have deep feelings for each other. Can they untangle those feelings and repair their broken friendship? How can Winnie reconcile her feelings for Mat with her desire to obey her parents and be a good Thai girl? 

I absolutely loved the incorporation of Thai culture into the story. I appreciated reading about a first generation Thai-American and the difficulty in navigating honored traditions and modern life. Winnie grows by leaps and bounds in this novel, from a young woman who is afraid to go against her parent's wishes, to a young woman who owns her voice and shows her family and Mat just what she wants. Heck yes, I even got a little sniffly a few times. 

This novel will be published in August in the U.S. I've already talked to a few co-workers about how much I loved it, and I will certainly be recommending it to friends and family. 

A big thank you to Entangled and NetGalley for an advanced reader's copy. 

Rating: 5/6 for a completely delightful novel full of characters you will fall in love with very quickly. The weaving of Thai culture with modern American life was so good! I will definitely read more of Pintip Dunn. The chemistry between Winnie and Mat was palpable, and their romance was realistic and full of humor, tears, and great conversations. 

Available in August in paperback, audio, and ebook.