Tea & Book Chat: Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson & Robin Wasserman

I realize I will have to format this review a bit differently, otherwise it would go on forever! I’m not going to be giving a synopsis for each of the short stories but I will give you a brief glimpse of my feelings for each.  Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I was hoping to.  Everyone on the internet seems to the think that it is extremely important to read these stories before starting Lady Midnight and while there were a couple of plot points that are definitely important, I didn’t really think it added much to the story overall.  Although I am curious if my opinion will change after I read Lady Midnight so stay tuned!  I like the overall story arc (SPOILERS FOR THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS SERIES AHEAD SO BEWARE): and that it follows Simon during his time at the Shadowhunter Academy leading up to his Ascension.  Like most short story collections, there were some that were great and others that were okay.  If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s to avoid the Goodreads synopses for each story because they basically tell you exactly what you’ll be reading.  Here’s my breakdown:

Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #1) by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

This story serves as an introduction to the Academy and Simon’s new life training to be a Shadowhunter.  I was a bit disappointed with this first story because while I felt that there was some foundation laid, it was a bit boring overall.  Upon finishing, I found myself hoping that the next 600 pages in this book would be more action-packed.

The Lost Herondale (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #2) by Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman

This second tale held a lot of promise for me because of the title alone (I love those Herondales)!  This one ended up being a bit heartbreaking. It’s a prime example of the Shadowhunter motto of “the law is hard, but it is the law.”  I liked this one overall, especially Catarina Loss’s portion but it was not my favorite of the bunch.

The Whitechapel Fiend (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #3) Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

I definitely liked the stories that Maureen Johnson co-wrote more than any of the other co-author’s works.  This story actually is my favorite for several reasons.  1) We get another Infernal Devices tale which just warms my heart and 2) it involved Jack the Ripper! I’ve read the first two books in Maureen Johnson’s Jack the Ripper series as well and I love that she got to revisit the famous murderer and come up with yet another outcome of the story.  I’m assuming this was fun for her to co-write since she already had done so much research on the backstory.

Nothing But Shadows (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #4) by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

Again, this story was okay.  I didn’t feel that it added much to the Shadowhunter mythos despite the Will Herondale cameo.  It focused primarily on Will’s son and how he met his parabati.  I imagine this was included since Cassandra Clare seems to be exploring parabati more in depth than she did in the original series.  I do love the concept and I’m glad this relationship will play a bigger part in Lady Midnight but I didn’t really need this story.  I also enjoyed Simon’s character development as he decides what type of Shadowhunter he wants to be.

The Evil We Love (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #5) by Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman

This story also seemed unnecessary to me.  I enjoyed the present day antics between Isabelle and Simon but the history of Valentine’s circle was something I enjoyed reading about less than I had expected.  I suppose I wouldn’t mind reading Jocelyn’s take on everything since her perspective changed much earlier than other Circle members, but I didn’t find that Robert’s tale made me feel any type of sympathy toward him for the way he treated Alec.

Pale Kings and Princes (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #6) by Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman

This one didn’t do much for me.  I liked the twist at the end and the look into the lives of Helen Blackthorn’s parents, but I didn’t think it was enough to warrant an entire story.

Bitter of Tongue (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #7) by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

My favorite part of this story was getting to see more about Andrew Blackthorn.  He played a small but majorly significant role in City of Heavenly Fire and I’ve definitely been curious about his fate.  My heart hurts for him and I really hope that Lady Midnight could offer some type of resolution for his situation.  He is truly awesome.  Again, didn’t add much overall, but I did enjoy this one at least!

The Fiery Trial (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #8) by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

This one is another favorite of the bunch which I’m sure you can guess judging by the co-writer!  I think this is the most important story within the whole novella collection because it addresses the ending of City of Heavenly Fire and it sets up the Lady Midnight protagonists (Emma and Julian) as parabati.  I think Simon’s revelations during the ceremony are going to play a huge role in the Dark Artifices series and I love the outcome of his and Clary’s meeting with Magnus Bane.  This story made me so happy!

Born to Endless Night (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #9) by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

This story is completely outlandish.  Obviously I love seeing more Magnus and Alec and oh the feels because they are perfect but nope, this just came out of left field. Why? WHY?!

Angels Twice Descending (Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy #10) by Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman

This is the only story that I read the Goodreads synopsis for and boy am I upset that I made that choice!  Once I knew the premise and exactly what was going to happen minus the actual character names I knew exactly what would be happening to who.  It was still sad and it broke my heart but I found this to be quite predictable.

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Tea & Book Chat: Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein

Personal Thoughts:  After reading Caraval and Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy, I was really craving a solid contemporary read.  I tend to like switching up genres often so after so much time in other worlds, I felt ready to revisit our own.  I had remembered that Alexa and Rachel both enjoyed reading Shuffle, Repeat and so I plucked it from my shelf and settled in for a cute fluffy romance.  Shuffle, Repeat delivered exactly what I was craving and it has since become one of my favorite contemporary YA novels in existence.  Fun fact: Jen Klein is a writer for Grey’s Anatomy– which is a show many people love but I could only handle watching the first episode of because medical procedures do not sit well with me.  It makes no sense because give me a gory show like Dexter where people are murdered and I’m fine but start operating on someone in my television and my body will begin to involuntarily shake with aversion.

Plot Summary: June is a senior in high school with no license and no plan to learn to drive.  Her mother and she move into a new house, close to her mom’s best friend who just so happens to be the mother of Oliver, your typical all-American high school football playing jock.  The mom’s arrange a carpool for Oliver to pick June up and drive her each morning only they quickly realize they have opposite outlooks on likes, completely different tastes in music and they clash on just about everything imaginable.  The pair decide to make their mornings more bearable by entering into a bet; each time one of them is able to provide sufficient evidence that high school doesn’t matter (June) or is a pivotal time in your life (Oliver), they’re able to add a song to the morning playlist.  Then they shuffle and repeat.

Critique: Shuffle, Repeat is a wonderfully crafted slow burn romance.  The pitch accurately compares it to When Harry Met Sally because of the opposites attract factor.  In the beginning of the novel, both June and Oliver are dating other people and neither feels jealousy toward the other which I absolutely adore.  Love rooted in friendship is a recipe for success in my opinion so to watch these two characters with such opposing viewpoints find common ground and form a bond of friendship before any romance is on the table is so satisfying and believable.  Another aspect of the book that I really appreciated is that (for the most part) people aren’t confined to a single social group.  Sure, everyone has their immediate group of friends but it’s not unusual for some people to bounce between groups.  Everything about all of the characters (both main and side) felt very organic and real.  One of June’s best friends is gay and another is bisexual and it’s never treated as out of the ordinary or as a coming out story.  They just are who they are, no questions asked.  Klein also explores both June and Oliver’s relationships with their parents which I love to read about because family is such a focal point of youth that can often be overlooked in YA.  Lastly, the polar viewpoints on the importance of high school were so interesting to read about.  It really got me to think about my own experience compared to where I am now, how the past has shaped me and my own mindset throughout it all.

Do I Recommend?: Yes indeed! If you enjoy contemporary romances like Anna and the French Kiss or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I would definitely suggest checking this one out!

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Ends of the World (The Conspiracy of Us #3) by Maggie Hall

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly series hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly awaiting.  This week I’m choosing The Ends of the World by Maggie Hall which is the third and final book in The Conspiracy of Us trilogy.  The series is often referred to as The Da Vinci Code for teens… except it’s really good!  The first book wasn’t my favorite but the second definitely upped the stakes and I love the turn the the story took.  If you’ve read the first two books, you’ll also know that the title of the third is very appropriate.  Previously, each book debuted in January but the finale has been pushed back to mid-July of 2017.  I’m kind of excited to have this to look forward to mid-year since January is usually a pretty big month for book releases.  And I love the new cover.  The purple dress is so pretty!

The Circle is hers.

But Avery West has lost everything else: her mother, the family she’d just found, and the one boy she trusted. In their place are unfathomable power, a staged relationship that makes her question every real feeling she’s ever had, and a mission to find the cure to the virus that’s made her own blood a weapon.

Then disaster strikes, turning Avery, Stellan, Jack, and Elodie into the most wanted people in the world. To clear their names and the growing rift between the families of the Circle before the world dissolves into World War Three, they’ll have to make a desperate, dangerous final race for Alexander the Great’s tomb. What they will find inside will mean the world’s salvation—or destruction.

Avery will have to decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice—for the world, for family, and for love—in this thrilling conclusion to the Conspiracy of Us series. (via Goodreads)

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Little Loves #8: Holiday Edition

Hi everyone! I’m back with my next installment of Little Loves.  Little Loves is a post series I created as a way to acknowledge and appreciate more of the little things that are making me happy every day.

💖 the Empire Magazine Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them special edition magazine which plays two videos! Thanks to my friend Dan for bringing it to me from the UK 💖 flannel Christmas tree sheets from Target- they’re so cozy that I never want to leave my bed in the morning! 💖 all the candles- bookish candles, Christmas candles, you name it, I love it 💖 burning my gingerbread Anthropologie candle on my night table while reading and admiring the reflection of our fairy lights! 💖 Caraval by Stephanie Garber- this book is pure ~magic~ 💖 peppermint everything but especially peppermint Ghiradelli products 💖 the hot chocolate bar at Erika and Alex’s Ugly Christmas Sweater party 💖 Maureen visiting NYC and finally getting to meet her IRL 💖 everything plaid and rustic and cozy and copper 💖 Moscow Mule mugs because they’re rose gold and beautiful and I even drink water out of them at this point 💖 snow! 💖 Christmas decorations 💖 spending a day in a recording studio helping our brother-in-law and sis-in-law record music 💖 mulled wine 💖 mini vacations and all the family time 💖 not being in the middle of any tv shows- I feel so free to be productive and do other things when I get home 💖 Harry X-Mas to You- Andrew did all the art for my Funko video and I’m so thankful I was able to participate this year! 💖 the KonMari method – my apartment looks like a whole new place and I’ve loved every outfit I’ve worn and night I’ve spent reading in my decluttered room since I employed her principles 💖

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Tea & Book Chat: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Untitled #1)

Personal Thoughts: It’s been so long since I’ve written a book review since I’ve been giving all of my recaps on my BookTube channel at the end of the month but I really wanted to get back into them and it seemed perfect to do so with Caraval by Stephanie Garber.  Caraval is without a doubt, a new favorite of mine.  I love it so much that I preordered an additional copy once I was less than five chapters in.  I’ve been talking about this book on my channel for quite some time- it was my most anticipated read from BEA but I somehow put it off until recently and I’m so happy that I did! While I would’ve loved to welcome this story in my heart earlier than I did, it was quite nice to read it with all of the lights, scents and general coziness that the magic of Christmastime provided as a backdrop.

Plot SummaryCaraval is the the story of Scarlet and her sister Tella who live on a conquered island with an abusive father.  Having heard tales of the magic of Caraval, a traveling immersive performance that occurs annually, from their Grandmother, the girls both write to Legend, the mastermind behind the game.  After years of unanswered letters, Scarlett finally receives a response along with three tickets to this year’s game- one for Scarlett, one for Tella and one for Scarlett’s fiance.  When Scarlett arrives on the island, she discovers that this year’s game hits very close to home as her sister Tella has been kidnapped and the object of the game is to find her before the other participants she’s competing with.  Participants are reminded two times before the games begin that everything occurring in Caraval is just a game and to not get swept away no matter how real things feel.  But really, is it?

CritiqueCaraval is one of the most sensory reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving into.  I’m basically obsessed with the descriptive language Stephanie Garber used and I’m still amazed that she was able to so perfectly capture and relay the experience of Caraval to the reader.  There was not a single drop of magic lost in translation.  Each of our three main characters (Scarlett, Julian and Tella) were so well developed that they felt like actual people.  The story is told from Scarlett’s perspective and the amount of character growth she underwent throughout the game is overwhelming.  I love reading about characters who live within a set of boundaries, often self inflicted, who then break out and challenge their norms and Scarlett fit this description to a T.  Despite Tella being kidnapped and therefore absent from the majority of the novel, I still had no trouble knowing her character.  She is just as developed as her sister who graces every page.  And then there’s Julian, to trust him or not to trust him?  Either side you fall on, you will inevitably fall victim to his charm.  As for side characters, everyone is important and I especially love the air of mystery surrounding Legend.  I became so intrigued with the story and so addicted to Scarlett solving the cryptic clues and finding her sister that I can honestly say I let Caraval sweep me away (I even had to text Alexa at the climax of the story since she had finished earlier for moral support because I was laying in bed screaming WHAT IS REAL LIFE?!?!).  Another incredible selling point of Caraval is that despite it being labeled as the first book in a series (THANK GOD BECAUSE I NEED MORE) the story wraps up very nicely.  There’s no cliffhanger ending that leaves you dying for answers BUT there is an intriguing piece of information that you’ll be eager to explore.

Do I Recommend?: A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

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Coming Soon: Revamped Book Reviews!

Okay, so, I’m just going to come out and say it… it’s been FOREVER since I’ve written a book review.  I’ve still been recapping all of my thoughts for BookTube and I did several video reviews for the first time since I started my channel but I’ve been feeling like something is missing.  I realized that I truly miss writing down all of my feelings about the books I read.  I love the process of reflecting upon the story and carefully choosing the correct words to convey those feelings I have to everyone who reads my blog.  I enjoy reading other book blogger’s reviews and I’m excited to get back into the game with a new revamped strategy for posting reviews.  Since this is MY blog (no offense, I love you but I do this for me ultimately!) I love adding a bit of personal commentary but I also struggle with doing so in a written review because a lot of the time, readers are looking for fact based opinion to help them determine if they want to read the book or not and I also want to provide that.  So, going forward I think I was able to find a good balance!

I’m going to be breaking down my reviews into sections for “Personal Thoughts:” – these will be a mish-mosh of thoughts, opinions, feelings and outside factors that influenced my choice in reading the book, any background info I feel like sharing about how I acquired it (don’t worry, it will always clearly state if I’ve received an ARC), whether there’s a specific cover that speaks to me more than others and just the general ambiance of my reading experience.  Next I’ll delve into a “Plot Summary” – while I did include the Goodreads plot summary in my previous reviews, I’m going to try my hand at summarizing on my own (unless I’m feeling super lazy for some reason or if I feel like Goodreads really does say it better than I can in my own words).  After I will provide my “Critique” – this will be the actual review portion where I’ll talk about all the elements I use to rate books which include plot, characters, pacing, enjoyment and writing style.  Then finally, I’ll end with “Do I Recommend?” which seems pretty self explanatory.  I hope you enjoy this new format!

I’m still planning on infusing my channel with some more video reviews but I may just review certain books both ways which is what I’ve done in the past.  Oh and best of all (IMO), I’m going to start using images I’ve taken as opposed to a boring graphic of the cover.  I seem to take lots of photos of the books I’m currently reading (especially if I’m loving them) since they’re the most easily accessible and it’s almost like a book photo diary of sorts.  I’ll also still be using the rating system that Andrew created for me because it’s beautiful and I love it and how could I not?  I hope you like my new system!

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Waiting on Wednesday: Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly series hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly awaiting.  This week I’m choosing Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham.  The Gilmore Girls excitement is real in my household.  I recently joined the Gilmore Girls fandom after my husband insisted that I would love it.  We binged watched the series (a re-watch for him) and I could not get enough.  One of my favorite aspects of Gilmore Girls is the atmosphere and the way the seasons are portrayed so I couldn’t be more excited that the upcoming Netflix episodes cover a year in Stars Hollow.  But anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about books here so when I heard that Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai Gilmore, is coming out with a non-fiction book of essays that has Gilmore Girls in the title not once, but twice, I insta-preordered it.  I can’t wait for this and the new episodes and the Funkos and just all the Gilmore Girls things.

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between

In her first work of nonfiction, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood recounts her experiences on Gilmore Girls—the first and second time—and shares stories about life, love, and working in Hollywood. This collection of essays is written in the intimate, hilarious, and down-to earth voice that made her novel, Someday Someday Maybe, a New York Times bestseller.

“This book contains some stories from my life: the awkward growing up years, the confusing dating years, the fulfilling working years, and what it was like to be asked to play one of my favorite characters again. You probably think I’m talking about my incredible achievement as Dolly in Hello, Dolly! as a Langley High School junior, a performance my dad called “you’re so much taller than the other kids.” But no! I’m talking about Lorelai Gilmore, who, back in 2008, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again. Also included: tales of living on a houseboat, meeting guys at awards shows, and that time I was asked to be a butt model. A hint: all three made me seasick.”—Lauren Graham (via Goodreads)

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November Small Goals

I’ve seen a bunch of people post small monthly goals and I really like the idea of re-centering and re-evaluating everything more frequently.  It’s awesome to make yearly goals but it’s also easy to lose focus or forget about them entirely over the 365 day period we’re aiming to accomplish them in.  Having small monthly goals to help get to those bigger picture yearly ones is something I’m eager to try out!

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1) Keep up with November Bookstagram challenges – I recently got some new lighting equipment and I am just over the moon excited about all things photography lately.  There are currently about five challenges that I feel committed to keeping up with (fortunately some of them have crossover otherwise I would be overloading you poor people with posts) and I’ve been prepping for them for the past two weeks.  They started yesterday and I’m thinking of rounding up my posts here at the end of each week in case you’re not an instagrammer.

2) Blog 2-3 times per week – It’s no secret that I’ve been neglecting my poor blog for the past couple of months but I sincerely want to change that.  In addition to life stuff (which I wrote about here), I’ve been struggling with what to post because 9 times out of 10, I want to talk about books I’m reading or loving, but then I inevitably feel like I should be making a YouTube video about the book content I want to create instead and that’s what I end up doing. *shrug*

3) Try to reduce stress – Andrew is so great at not letting things stress him out when they’re uncontrollable.  I am not.  Toward the end of October and the first day of November I’ve been trying to remind myself to take deep breaths and think about whether a minor thing will really leave a lasting impact on my day.  The answer has always been ‘probably not’ so far and it’s allowed me to feel a bit more relaxed.  (One video that helped a lot is Simply Kenna’s How to Stay Positive – she’s one of my favorite YouTubers!)  I’ve talked a little bit about how I have major anxiety on here in the past but luckily I’ve felt like I’m in a good place mentally lately.  I think it started with New York Comic Con when I promised myself that since we were staying in the city for the duration of the event, I would do whatever came our way and not let stress or fear or the worry of tomorrow get in the way of enjoying myself. I’ve also been savoring any time we have at home.  Even if I’m just sipping a cup of hot chai tea in a cozy sweater and catching up on BookTube, I always take a minute to think about how enjoyable whatever I’m doing is and remind myself that no matter how stressed I feel, I have these kinds of things to look forward to at night and on weekends that I truly enjoy.

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Waiting on Wednesday: This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly series hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly awaiting.  This week I’m choosing This is Our Story by Ashley Elston.  In addition to the hauntingly beautiful cover (seriously, the shadows of the 5 boys, the deceased one having a hunted deer head and the typography of This is Our Story also saying His Story, it’s just brilliant), the synopsis of this book gives me Raven Boys vibes (only because there are four boy best friends, not because the story seems at all similar).  There was a fifth but he mysteriously died when the five of them went into the woods one day.  None of the surviving boys are talking although any of them could be the killer.  It ends up falling to Kate Marino to solve the case of the River Point Boys and get justice for Grant.  I love a good mystery and I have such high hopes for this one! I’m planning on reading it as soon as its delivered!

This is Our Story

No one knows what happened that morning at River Point. Five boys went hunting. Four came back. The boys won’t say who fired the shot that killed their friend; the evidence shows it could have been any one of them.

Kate Marino’s senior year internship at the District Attorney’s Office isn’t exactly glamorous—more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys’ case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won’t let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has her own reasons for seeking justice for Grant. As she and Stone investigate—the ageing prosecutor relying on Kate to see and hear what he cannot—she realizes that nothing about the case—or the boys—is what it seems. Grant wasn’t who she thought he was, and neither is Stone’s prime suspect. As Kate gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all—and if Kate doesn’t uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line…including her own. (via Goodreads)

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Bookshelf + Life Update!

There’s no place like home<3.  Andrew and I have been exceptionally busy the past few weekends so I took full advantage of our first weekend back home in our lovely apartment.  I spent the majority of Saturday morning reorganizing my bookshelves (after watching 3 hours of BookTube in the AM) and while it’s not perfect yet, I’m quite pleased with my favorites shelf.  I decided to mix genres and keep my absolute-cannot live-without novels together (it’s the two shelves with The Raven Cycle, Fangirl (4 copies lol!), Lunar Chronicles, Anna / Lola / Isla etc).  I also shifted some things to allow for a fourth Harry Potter shelf since there are so many new Funkos coming out and I obviously preordered them all.  My favorite new addition to my shelf is that I hung up all of my Happy Hello Co. bookmarks since I rarely ever use them while reading anyway and I used washi tape that Melissa sent me for my birthday to decorate.  I also love how cute the bows are but sadly they’ve fallen about 5 times since I hung them and no matter how much tape I use to hold them up, they just seem to be too heavy so this photo will forever immortalize what could have been if my bows weren’t being so stubborn.

Also, I apologize that I’ve been a bit MIA from blogging lately.  I think I really needed a break because between work, commuting and some personal stuff I’ve been quite burnt out.   I would really appreciate if everyone could send their positive thoughts and vibes to my mom since sadly, her cancer has returned which is a huge part of why I haven’t felt like doing much lately.  She’s been battling it for 5 years and this is the second time she’s had to go for chemo but it’s affecting her much more than it ever has in the past and it’s really upsetting to me because my mom has always been the strongest person in my life and I’ve always been incredibly close with her.  I’ve talked to her on the phone every single day since I moved out a couple of years ago in addition to seeing her in person pretty often (I’m lucky that we live close to each other) but I just wish I could do something to take her pain away.  Sorry, that was more than I was planning on sharing but sometimes once you get typing the words just flow!

But anyway, having this wonderful weekend at home has helped me to evaluate some things and I realized how much I miss being creative and blogging and taking photos and the happiness that comes along with it.  I had a realllllly long bookstagram photoshoot session just before I sat down to write this post and I cannot wait to share all my photos!  So basically, I’m thrilled to be getting back into the swing of things right in time for my favorite season, CHRISTMAS.

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