Books Lately Vol. 5

I’m putting together the books I read the last two months as I really didn’t read much in April.  I wasn’t having much luck at finding anything at the library + nothing was coming up on my hold list.  However, that all changed in May when I was able to get my hands on Ania Ahlborn books as you can clearly see! 

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture In Crisis – J.D. Vance

From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

I think this book came up on my Goodreads recommendation list & I thought it sounded fascinating.  Apparently so did everyone else as I had a hold on this book at the library for what felt like months.  This one actually took me awhile to read.  While I knew it was a biography/memoir, I guess I thought it would be more of a sociological book as well based on the description.  As in, discussing the “hillbilly” culture more as a whole rather than his own experiences.  

Brother – Ania Ahlborn

Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.

But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…

Jana & Steph both reviewed this book which sparked my interest.  I was even more intrigued after reading the synopsis on Goodreads so I added it to my library hold list shortly after.  I LOVED this book & could not put it down!  I feel like it was the perfect mix of horror and psychological thriller.  It was graphic in some parts but not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I was thinking it would be like the movie Hostel or Saw or something like that but not to that extent).  What I enjoyed most about this book was the psychological part– Michael was actually “adopted” by this family and doesn’t feel like he fits in.  But he goes along with his older brother Rebel because that is what he knows along with the fact that there would be repercussions by “Momma” and Wade if he disobeys.  Also, the whole family dynamic is something else which was definitely interesting.

Pretty Baby – Mary Kubica

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.  Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

Out of the three Mary Kubica books I’ve read, I think this one was my least favorite.  The story just felt “fluffy” in a lot of parts which made the story drag on.  I think it would have been so much better if she had just gotten to the point rather than making it a nearly 400 page book.   I thought that the underlying story was really interesting —  girl in foster care runs away, steals a baby, and makes her way to Chicago where she meets Heidi who has her own set of issues.  I also enjoyed the Omaha references as she mentioned several places that I’m familiar with!  

The Devil Crept In – Ania Ahlborn

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

I’m not even sure what I read.  This book started out super slow & I contemplated giving up.  I skimmed a few reviews on Goodreads so I knew it would eventually get better… which it did, thankfully.  But then it got to the point where I was like WTF and I couldn’t stop reading it.  This book kind of reminded me of the movie Jeepers Creepers for some reason as that was what I kept picturing in my head whenever it mentioned the “creature” in the woods.  I didn’t think this book was as good as Brother just because I’m not a huge fan of weird monster/zombie-type books.  

Within These Walls – Ania Ahlborn

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed up crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback. So when he’s promised exclusive access to notorious cult leader and death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the opportunity is too good to pass up. Lucas leaves New York for the scene of the crime—a split-level farmhouse on the gray-sanded beach of Washington State—a house whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners; runaways who, thirty years prior, were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. Lucas wants to tell the real story of Halcomb’s faithful departed, but when Halcomb goes back on his promise of granting Lucas exclusive information on the case, he’s left to put the story together on his own. Except he is not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I read ANOTHER book by Ania Ahlborn.  I am obsessed!  It reminded me of a Stephen King book as it had sort of a supernatural aspect along with a Jim Jones/Charles Manson vibe.  It was a very long book & I felt like I was reading it forever.  The author could have omitted some characters or certain parts to shorten it a little.  I also didn’t find it to be as graphic as the other two books although the situation when Jeffrey Halcomb was found by the police was slightly disturbing – let’s just say it involved a ritualistic killing of a pregnant woman.  Overall, the story wasn’t terrible but then again, I’ve always been fascinated by cults & how people get involved with them.    

Didn’t finish:  Twenty Days of Turin – Giorgio de Mario –  I really tried with this one.  I even read the first few pages while I was at the library before I checked it out.  I got about 100 pages in and couldn’t stand it anymore.  Maybe because it was originally written in Italian & then translated?  It was boring & hard to follow.  

My goal for this year was to read 25 books as I had gotten out of the habit of reading for so many years.  I’m over halfway there already & have no plans to stop anytime soon!  

Life According to Steph

Currently [ June ]

Hello Monday!

Today is my first day back to work after being gone since the 31st!  While I know I’m going to have a lot of work to do these next few days, I definitely needed the break for my sanity.  I feel a little bit more refreshed & ready to tackle everything.  

Planning |  I can’t think of anything that I am planning right now other than maybe some new workouts.  However, I feel like that is something I am always trying to plan!

Wishing |  For more time off from work.  I wanted to do some “spring” cleaning, specifically our spare bedroom (where all of my junk is stored), the garage, and the kitchen which did not get entirely finished.  By the time we got back from St. Louis last week, I had zero motivation/energy to get things done.   I started on the bedroom this past weekend but still have some work to do!   

Learning |  That I need to stop shopping, seriously.  Going through my closet this past weekend was kind of an eye opener as far as the amount of clothes I currently have.  I filled up two garbage bags worth of stuff that will most likely be donated.  I don’t have the patience for trying to sell things on Ebay or Poshmark right now!   

Browsing |  Books to add to my library list.  I’ve been on a huge horror kick lately & I love that Goodreads gives me recommendations based on what I’m reading.

Going |  Outside a lot more!  We finally got a patio set for our back yard over Memorial Day weekend which was something that we have been wanting to add for quite awhile now.  It’s so nice to be able to sit outside in the evenings!

Have a great day everyone!  Linking up with Anne & Erin!  

Friday – Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

Hello and happy Friday!  I’m taking a break from the St. Louis recap posts to join in on some Friday favorites today!  I’m planning to get a few errands done today so that I can enjoy these last few days of vacation before going back to work again on Monday.  I will say that a week & half off from work has been GLORIOUS.  I need to do it more often!  🙂  

After a week of not doing ANY sort of exercise + eating junk, I was really feeling it!  I hit up a Body Pump class for the first time in months which was a good way to get back into my routine.  Yesterday, we went to the 12:15 TBC class and pretty much died!  The trainer decided to do one of the toughest workouts – a 300.  Their version of a 300 involves doing 20 reps of different exercises and then running the stairs once;  then 15 reps of everything & running stairs twice;  then 10 reps & running stairs three times;  finally 5 reps & running stairs four times.  Doesn’t sound bad when written out but when you have to do 20 burpees & then immediately run the stairs 4 times, it’s kind of ridiculous.  Oh, and by running stairs, I mean running up & down three flights.  I’m super sore after all that so I might take it easy today.  🙁  

We renewed our Costco membership a few weeks ago & stocked up on some things when we got back from our trip.  Including this 4 pack of Halo Top pints for only $11.99!  Just one pint is normally about $5 (regular price) or $4 (on sale) at our regular grocery store so we definitely had to pick this up.  I haven’t had any Halo Top since my dairy-free venture at the beginning of May!  

We also went to Aldi for the first time yesterday!  I don’t know why we’ve never shopped there before because we got a lot of good stuff for an amazing price.  

I found a pair of slip on sneakers at H&M in St. Louis for only $18 and passed them up.  You think I can find them online?  Of course not.  I plan to hit up the one here but I doubt they will have them!  I’ve been wanting a new pair for quite awhile now but have been super picky!  The ones I thought I wanted from Target were a disappointment as they were super uncomfortable just walking around the store.  So now it’s between these three….


Sunday marks our one year anniversary!  I can’t believe it’s been a year already!  The day went by so quickly after months of planning but it was so much fun.  I wish I could do it over again!  Minus the heat…. I love hot weather but 100 degrees + a heavy dress was NOT fun.  

Lastly, I wanted to share that my friend Alice just launched her blog last week & I’m so so excited for her!  Check it out:  A Silver Lined Life.  

Have a great weekend everyone!

Linking up with Andrea, Erika, Narci, Amanda, and April!

St. Louis Trip – Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour, Local Breweries, and MORE Food.

Friday, our second day of the trip, was a little bit more laid back so we took our time getting ready that morning.  We picked up some coffee from Crave which was an old church that they renovated into a coffee shop.  I didn’t get any pictures but it was definitely interesting!  

We took an Uber downtown to meet up with Marty & Dawn for lunch at the food trucks.  We walked around, quickly ate, and then all headed off to Anheuser-Busch for a brewery tour.

The brewery tour was FREE!  And they gave out a small sample of Bud Light or Budweiser + a free full size beer at the end! 

Loved seeing the Clydesdales! 

After Budweiser, Dawn had to get ready for her other job that evening so Marty, Curtis, and I headed over to 4 Hands Brewing for a flight of their beers.  

After 4 Hands, we went to Schlafly for another flight of their beers.  Although nothing beats a fresh Michelob Ultra straight from the brewery, Schlafly was pretty good & a lot better than 4 Hands.  



We headed back to their apartment after Schlafly and laid around for awhile & tried to figure out what to do for dinner.  We decided to Uber over to The Hill neighborhood & went to Zia’s as I had been craving Italian food for some reason.

Sorry for the crappy restaurant lighting but Curtis got their lasagna while I went with the BEST fettucini alfredo I’ve ever had!  I don’t know what they put in that sauce but it was amazing.  After dinner, we Uber’d back to Marty & Dawn’s place.  We were going to go out once Dawn got home from work but were all pretty exhausted by then so we just called it a night!  

Phew, if you’ve read this post & the last one, thanks for sticking around!  We did a LOT of stuff and I wanted to try to capture as much as I could.  🙂  I really wouldn’t mind going back to visit again because it’s such a neat city!