january reads

Man, I kicked 2021 off with a bang and read 12 books in January! I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up that momentum all year long but we shall see. Ok here are my honest reviews of my January reads…

You Had Me At Hola – Alexis Daria

This was a good first read for 2021! Jasmine and Ashton are cast as exes on a new American telenovela. They get off to a rocky start but in time begin to really get to know each other. I loved the behind the scenes aspect of filming a TV show and I’m a big fan of books that give you perspectives from both leads. My only con with this book is that it’s semi-predictable but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! *I listened to this via audiobook.

Genre: Romance (forced proximity + secret lovers trope)

Steam rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Rogue of One’s Own – Evie Dunmore

Ok, I am now obsessed with a good regency romance. This is the second book in Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series. Lucy is a hardcore suffragette who has taken ownership of an English publishing house. She and her fellow suffragettes are hoping to help women all over England by publishing essays against the marriage property act, that is, until Lucy’s childhood nemesis makes a reappearance as the co-owner of the publishing house. Enemies to lovers is one of my favorite tropes and I do appreciate when a man swoons after a woman! I loved this one and can’t wait to read the rest of the series (Bringing Down the Duke is the first and the next one comes out later this year). *I listened to this via audiobook.

Genre: Romance (enemies to lovers trope), Historical Fiction

Steam rating: 🔥🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas

Agh. If you are a fantasy fan, this is a MUST READ. Feyre is taken to the magical land of Prythian for killing a faerie. She becomes a captive of the Spring court, where everyone is masked and no one seems particularly pleased by her presence. Tamlin is the head of the Spring court (there are 7 courts – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Day, Dawn, and Night) and is under a curse that can only be broken by Feyre. That’s all I’ll say about that! This book is long but it kept me hooked from the beginning. Since it’s the first in the series, there’s a lot of set up and introduction to this magical world but stick with it. Feyre is a strong and fierce female lead so I was all about the girl power and such. There’s also so much action and adventure and tension and triumph. It does get a bit dark so I haven’t been able to read the second one yet but I still highly recommend. *I listened to this via audiobook.

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Steam rating: 🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Love Your Life – Sophie Kinsella

I might be alone in this, but I don’t think I’m a fan of Sophie Kinsella. This book was so weird. Like, SO WEIRD. I’m all about a slightly unrealistic meet cute/romantic comedy but Ava and Matt fall in “love” at a week long writing retreat in Italy and then continue to see each other once they get back to the real world. However, they couldn’t be more different. I think Kinsella wanted us to root for their differences but to me it just seemed like a bunch of red flags that they didn’t belong together. IDK, I guess they learn more about one another but if Ava were one of my best friends, I’d be telling her to run. Bleh. .

Genre: Romance

Steam rating: 🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem – Manda Collins

Another great option for those of you who love a regency romance! Lady Katherine wants other women to be able to defend themselves while there is a murderer on the loose so she writes a report about the latest murder. This report gets Inspector Andrew Eversham kicked off of the case due to missing a key piece of evidence in the latest murder. Katherine heads out to a house party for one of her long time friends and becomes the witness to the next murder victim. Eversham comes out to the party to investigate and together they work to find this mysterious serial killer. I loved the mix of mystery and romance! I am excited for more from Manda Collins. *I listened to this via audiobook

Genre: Romance, Mystery, Historical Fiction

Steam rating: 🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mr. Right Across the Street – Kathryn Freeman

This one was SO CUTE. Our heroine, Mia, moves to a new town where she knows no one. She’s a self proclaimed computer nerd with an ever changing hair color who loves ogling the guy across the street as he works out every morning. Low and behold, the guy across the street, Luke, is also the owner of the bar downstairs. He begins showing her around her new town in a series of non-dates that obviously turn into dates. But there’s more to Luke than what meets the eye and it makes things a little more complicated. Again, this book was just super sweet and I love when a man is pining after a woman. I was a big fan! *This was an advanced reader copy (ARC) from NetGalley but it’s out now!

Genre: Romance (friends to lovers), Contemporary

Steam rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Thousandth Floor – Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor is a fun and futuristic! Set in 2118 Manhattan where a thousand story tower now soars over the city. Not unlike today, there are the haves (upper tower) and the have nots (lower tower) and Katharine McGee is great at writing the teenage mind from several different perspectives. There is a LOT going on in this book. Some of it is cringe but I will keep reading the other two in the trilogy. More opinions to come!

Genre: Science Fiction, YA

Steam rating: 🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon

Y’all know how important diverse reads are – especially diverse romance. Fans of Indian Matchmaker on Netflix will love this one! Dimple’s parents have found a match for her, the only problem is that they failed to let her in on that fact until after Rishi introduces himself. Dimple is set against being matched but gets partnered with Rishi on a big project in a summer program they are attending. Young love ensues! This book was sweet and innocent and I would definitely recommend it! *I listened to this via audiobook.

Genre: YA

Steam rating: 🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Just Last Night – Mhairi McFarlane

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Mhairi McFarlane can do no wrong. Just Last Night broke my heart and put it back together again. The book begins with Eve’s life-long friend getting hit by a car which totally changes the trajectory of Eve’s friend group. I don’t want to give away too much because this book did not go the direction I thought it would and I loved that! Pick it up as soon as it comes out in May 2021! *This was an ARC from NetGalley.

Genre: Romance (forced proximity)

Steam rating: 🔥🔥

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Alright those are my January adult reads! I also read three upper elementary chapter books that I am counting in my books for the year but figured y’all didn’t really care about them. 😉 Ok PLEASE let me know if you read one of these because I need to talk about themmmmm. And also, should we bring back the virtual book club?? Let me know!

trauma is a bitch

Amiright?!

*I want to preface this post with the fact that everyone’s trauma is different. Please, please don’t compare your trauma to someone else’s. It’s not a “who got hurt the worst” game. And everyone deals with trauma differently, this is just one viewpoint.

My trauma started with our infertility and losses and really culminated when my oldest, Lainey, was born at 24 weeks gestation and spent 4.5 months in the NICU. I was in full on survival mode during that time. I have seen my counselor for almost 5 years, and began seeing her shortly before our second miscarriage. I highly recommend seeing someone if you’ve been through trauma. It has been the best way for me to process.

Anywho. Here are a few surprising things I’ve learned about trauma.

The trauma response was not automatic.

While I was still in survival mode, it lasted several months after Lainey came home. I kept waiting for some sort of big moment where I fell apart but it never came. Gradually I started to notice changes and it really came to light when I was pregnant with Emmy. Thoughts that I couldn’t keep away. Scenes that haunted my dreams. Compulsions that I had to act on – it didn’t matter how ridiculous they were. And then I started to notice that those things were becoming more frequent and disturbing. I had the hardest time understanding why it took so long, though. I mean we were out of the NICU, Lainey was fairly healthy, I was pregnant with another little girl – I should be happy! But that trauma response is not automatic and it make take time before effects begin to show.

Surprising things will trigger you.

At some point during therapy (I honestly can’t remember if it was before or after Lainey was born), we came up with an “only happy things” rule. There was too much going on in the real world, that I didn’t need to subject myself to sad or scary books, movies, music, etc. That was a firm boundary I set and it helped immensely. At the beginning of the year, I started experimenting with my “only happy things” rule (albeit, subconsciously). I was feeling better (aka suppressing my emotions) and knew there were some books that had been on my to be read list for a while. While these books weren’t inherently sad (well, most of them), they did include death and hardship and, ya know, LIFE. Couple that with getting lazy on my meds – remember, I was feeling *better* – and it makes for lovely nightmares and raging OCD.

This frustrated me to no end. I should be able to read a story that is not about death but has a death in it AND BE FINE. But I’m not. And I’m learning to be ok with that. Not happy about it, but ok with it.

When I told my therapist I wanted to read other genres she said that my life is a horror genre – LOL.

Just like the response is not automatic, the processing is not automatic.

There’s no end date here. It’s not like after a year, 5 years, 10 years, you’ll magically be healed and have processed everything you need to process and you’ll be good to go. Again, super frustrating. I would love for this to be something I can just check off of my to do list, but it’s not. Bryan reminded me that there will be a day where I’m not as affected. That day will come. That day is not today.

Welp. That was super uplifting. But hopefully something in there resonated with you. Actually hopefully not because I would not want you going through this too. But if it did, you aren’t alone.

Give yourself some grace and self love – I’m telling this to myself too.

2020 reads + 2021 challenge!

This last year I challenged myself to reading 46 books – double what I had read in 2019. Though it was down to the last second, I did it!

I have loved reading ever since I was a girl. My parents would ground me from reading when I got in trouble. I devoured book after book for years. And then *boom* trauma happened and even reading became too difficult. At the sign of any conflict in a book, I would clam up – fearful to feel whatever hurt these fictional characters were going to feel. I stopped reading as much. And then pretty much stopped all together. When I finally was able to start picking up books again, sometime after Lainey had come home, I made my “only happy things” rule. That helped me ease back into my bookish ways.

Though I still stick pretty closely to my rule, I am slowly allowing myself to feel things again. That being said, I do love a good rom-com and I definitely judge a book by it’s cover – oops!

Here are my 2020 reads:

My goal in 2021 is to read 52 books – a book a week! I made this challenge tracker so feel free to download it and make sure you tag me!

I’m already three books into my goal this year and they have all been a delight. You can follow my reads on instagram under the “books on books” highlight OR let’s be friends on goodreads!

what to read and watch after you’ve binged bridgerton

Little Women

The most recent adaptation of Little Women is the perfect movie to watch if you are hungry for more independent women after finishing Bridgerton! Love and heartbreak, friendship and betrayal – you can’t go wrong with this classic tale. You can watch on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Reign

Not the same era as Bridgerton, but Reign is a delightfully royal series about Mary, Queen of Scots. If you need a series with some of the more *ahem* intimate moments, you’ll love this retelling of the infamous queen. You can watch on Netflix!

To Have and to Hoax/To Love and to Loathe (April 2021)

To Have and To Hoax is the first in the series by Martha Waters (To Love and To Loathe will be out in April 2021). Both books are regency era, so if you miss hearing about the goings on in the ton, they will be perfect for you! They are also both rather entertaining and had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. I can definitely identify with the women toeing the line of what is socially acceptable!

Bringing Down the Duke/A Rogue of One’s Own

Evie Dunmore’s series called “A League of Extraordinary Women” begins with Bringing Down the Duke. We get a view into society from the vantage of less well off women who want an education equal to their male counterparts while also championing the right to vote in England. I haven’t read A Rogue of One’s Own yet, but it’s on my list and the third in the series comes out in September 2021.

The Selection Series

I read all of this series in about a week! The best way to describe it would be The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor. I know dystopian can scare some readers away, but it’s not too dystopian ya know? The story sucked me in with all of the love, drama, and secrets – Lady Whistledown would approve!

Downton Abbey

OK am I the worst for admitting that I’ve never seen Downton Abbey???! I know. I feel like it’s blasphemy. But now it is next on my “to be watched” list! It’s available on Amazon Prime.

The rest of the Bridgerton book series

The next book is The Viscount Who Loved Me, Anthony’s tale, and you better believe I have it on hold at the library!

Belgravia

Belgravia is based on a ball that took place the night of the Battle of Waterloo and follows the events following that evening in the London neighborhood of Belgravia. You can watch on Prime, Sling TV, or YouTube TV.

Sanditon

Did you know that Jane Austen had an unfinished book called Sanditon that she was working on before her death?! Me either. But PBS has turned it into an 8 episode series that you can watch now on Prime Video!

Enjoy! Let me know which one you are starting next!!

3 podcasts to listen to right now

I’m a big podcast listener. I love being able to learn something new in short bursts and while doing something else because I don’t like to be alone with my thoughts. Anyone else?? Just me? Ok fine. I also love using podcasts to diversify my narrative. I have a singular view of the world but I can change that by learning from those who are different from me.

Anywho, here are 3 podcast episodes you need to listen to right now.

  1. A friend recently recommended an episode of This American Life called “The Problem We All Live With.” It is a deep look into an accidentally desegregated school district in Missouri and the inequality that is all too prevalent in education today. I actually had a really hard time listening to it because this is a reality that I see every day. It breaks my heart and lights a fire under my ass, all at the same time.

2. Ok I would not consider myself a goal-driven hustler but I found the “Pricing 101: How to Get Paid What You’re Worth” episode of Goal Digger: The Podcast to be super informative. Especially for all of the women (and even more specifically, women of color) out there that are getting paid LESS than their male counterparts.

3. Finally, I’ve posted about this podcast before but I am posting again because I think hormone health is SO important. The Healthier Together podcast with Liz Moody did an “Ask the Doctor: Hormone Edition” with Dr. Aviva Romm and it was quite informative. Hormone health is a a marathon, not a sprint, and this episode will give you a place to start.

If you listen, please let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

getaway trip

I’ve been listening to a podcast about sustainability recently and one of the episodes was about Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Of course, I immediately diagnosed myself with NDD even though it’s not a real disorder. In that podcast they stated that the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes outside every day doing unstructured play. Four to seven MINUTES a day. What the what?! Getting outside and getting away is so good for our mind, body, spirituality, etc. and it is something that we have to prioritize in our life. 

A few weeks ago, Bryan and I did just that and went to Getaway House right outside of Tyler, TX. Getaway has what they call “outposts” outside of several major cities across the United States. It is essentially a tiny house in the middle of the woods and IT. WAS. GLORIOUS. We did nothing. We read, we did crossword puzzles, we talked about dreams and plans. Bryan decided we need to get a tiny house – which sounds like a terrible idea, ha!

Here’s what I suggest you bring with you: 

– Books (notebooks, books to read, puzzle books, any kind of books)

– Groceries – We ran by the grocery store on the way out of town and grabbed some snacks and ingredients for meals! 

– Comfy clothes – For real, we just laid around all day to bring your comfies. 

– Coffee filters – That was the one thing that wasn’t provided that we ended up needing! 

Ok guys. Getaway. Enjoy the silence. Or the music. And enjoy the time in nature! If you choose to take time at a Getaway House, use code RACHELMLEWIS for $25 off your booking.

weight watchers update

Ok so they say it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make a lifestyle change. I don’t know who “they” are but they’re probably right. I am on day 21 of weight watchers and it is definitely starting to become a habit.

Let me remind you of a few things: I do not own a scale. I have no idea what my “before” weight was or what my current weight is. We don’t talk about bad foods for us in our home – everything is good for something. Ok, moving on.

5 things I’ve learned so far:

  1. PREP PREP PREP
    Here’s where I think any “diet” fails – preparation. And that has by far been the hardest part about this whole thing. I hate saying that I’m busy because everyone makes time for the things you prioritize but I have a hard time prioritizing meal prep! What has helped has been finding a friend to meal prep with. I make double the recipe of a few meals and my friend makes double the recipe of a few meals and we swap. It has truly been such a lifesaver!
  2. Eat real food
    WW has so many zero point foods and, guess what? ALL of the zero point foods are REAL foods. Nothing processed, just eating food in it’s original form.
  3. Greek yogurt is KING
    Y’all. I hate yogurt. Hate it. Won’t allow it in my house. Unfortunately, WW loves to use Greek yogurt as a substitute for a lot of things. I was so annoyed when I first bought some at the store. I even decided only to get a single serve because I thought there was no way I would like it. BUT GUYS, when Greek yogurt is in something (like the WW two ingredient dough), you can’t even taste it. Speaking of the two ingredient dough – it’s Greek yogurt and self rising flour and it makes this wonderful almost sourdough type bread and it’s all I want to eat anymore.
  4. Eat whatever the eff you want.
    Here’s what I believe (and I have no nutrition experience or expertise or anything like that), some foods are good for your body and some foods are good for your soul. I love that WW has directed me towards more foods that are good for my body, but I am still happily going to enjoy some foods that are good for my soul.
  5. Pay attention
    I have loved paying more attention to how my body feels after eating certain foods. Do I sleep better? Am I more energized when I eat an egg for breakfast rather than a muffin? How is my mood? My therapist would be so proud of me for noticing these things.

I will continue sharing favorite recipes I find and some “hacks” if you will as I continue my WW journey.

Interested in joining me? Get a free month using this link!

Love y’all.

world breastfeeding week

It’s World Breastfeeding Week! When I first saw posts celebrating this week, my heart hurt a little bit. Which surprised me because I honestly didn’t think I had any sadness surrounding my breastfeeding journey. And I am still not sure I do, because I love where both of my girls ended up and I loved that Bryan could help with feedings – LOL!

Right after Emmy was born.

I’ll give short explanations of each of my journey’s with the girls but first I want to point out that however you feed your baby is FANTASTIC. Seriously. I know you see “fed is best” and if you’re anything like me you still experienced some shame around not breastfeeding or supplementing, or pumping or WHATEVER. I have had friends who have had absolutely extraordinary breastfeeding journeys and I have had friends who weren’t able to breastfeed for whatever reason. Each mama and baby are doing what is best for them.

First time feeding Lainey with a bottle! She was about 3.5 months old here.

With Lainey’s early birth, I began exclusively pumping and was actually able to work my supply up to a pretty decent size. Lainey was taking teeny tiny syringes of donor’s milk and then my milk through her feeding tube. She was also on a milk fortifier to add calories to her milk – that didn’t end up sitting well in her gut. There was also a period of time when she was exclusively fed through IV nutrition so she has truly seen it all! Around 4 months old I was DONE exclusively pumping. Just DONE. Lainey had developed an intolerance to my milk and between NICU trauma and just the general suckiness of exclusively pumping, I was so frustrated and NOT about to add diet changes into the mix. The nurses and doctors were so supportive of my decision to stop and we ended up finding a formula that worked for Lainey’s tummy and she was fed by bottle and g-tube for the first year+ of her life.

Tube feeding meant Lainey could sleep through her feeds!

Emmy needed formula from the very beginning. Her sugars were low so she spent a minute in the NICU and we supplemented with formula while trying to make the breastfeeding thing work. Emmy was a little lazy on the boob (ha!) so after trying and working with lactation specialists, and pumping, and googling, we stopped breastfeeding at 4 months and moved to formula. We moved to a more natural formula for Emmy and she became much happier!

Emmy loved her baba.

With both girls, I had obviously been through some trauma and had postpartum PTSD/OCD flair-ups which made the desire to breastfeed non-existent. It was a HUGE help to me to be able to rely on Bryan to help with feedings. Wherever you are (or have been or will be), know that YOU are the best person to make the decision for you and your baby!

xo, Rachel

my favorite multi-use products

This post may contain affiliate links. All thoughts and opinions are my own. A few deals: currently new customers can get 20% of at beautycounter with the code CLEANFORALL20. Also, use this link to get $10 off of your purchase of $50 or more at credo.

Recently I have fallen in love with multi-use products. Here’s what I mean by multi-use: one product that can be used for cheeks, lips, and eyelids. With quarantine and barely wearing makeup, I just love the simplicity! Here’s what I’ve tried and what I’m loving.

Moving from top to bottom in the above picture:

  1. Olio E Osso Tinted Balm in No. 8 Persimmon – $28

    I liked this one A LOT! The color was not what I was expecting based on the picture. It is a lot oranger than it shows on any website you go to purchase from. I was worried about how it would look when I took it out of the box but it ended up being a perfect summery shade. I’d say this product lasted most of the day but I definitely could have benefitted from a reapplication.

2. Axiology Lip-To-Lid Balmie in Rosé – $14

The Axiology Balmie is a super natural look and I love that balmies are zero waste. They seem small but they just aren’t in typical packaging. They are long-lasting and I didn’t feel the need to reapply later in the day.

3. Ere Perez Beetroot Cheek and Lip Tint in Fun – $26

Ok, honestly the bright color really drew me in on this one. And beetroot?? So random but sounded cool so I went for it. This tint really is more of a stain and definitely is long-lasting. Also, the color “fun” is VERY pink – VERY PINK. I don’t know if it’s a daily color for me but it’s a mood, for sure.

4. Beautycounter Color Pinch Cream Blusher in Hibiscus – $38

This is another nice and neutral color that I think would look good on any skin tone. As with all beautycounter products, a little goes a long way so I really only needed a dot of color on each cheek and it lasted all day. The only downside is that there isn’t the shade variety that’s available with some of the other products.

There you go! One product for eyes, lips, and cheeks! Perfect for summer, someone who loves the minimal makeup look, or someone always on the go.

xo, Rachel

top 10 reads of 2020 so far

Ok so this is actually the top 12 books but that didn’t have the same ring to it… My goal for 2020 was to read 46 books! That would be double what I read last year. I’m currently 30 books in so I’m happy with my progress! I mainly listen to audiobooks I check out from the library using the “Libby” app. I love audiobooks because I can listen while working on other things (laundry, blog posts, etc.). There are some audiobooks where I can’t stand listening to the narrator so I try switching to an ebook or print book before giving up on the book entirely!

Here are my top ten(ish) books of 2020 so far in the order that I read them!

Love from A to Z

This was one of the first books I read in 2020. Love from A to Z follows Zayneb as she is suspended from school for confronting a teacher’s anti-Muslim teaching. She goes to stay with her aunt in Doha, Qatar where her path crosses Adam. Their meeting is both a marvel and an oddity that unwinds beautifully.

Well Met

The enemies to lovers trope is one of my favorites and Well Met does not disappoint! Emily gets roped into helping her niece at a local Renaissance fair where she meets Simon. Simon is uptight and annoying, except when he starts acting at the fair. His double personality confuses Emily – are the feelings real or just a part of their fair characters?

Love and Other Words

Ok there have been a couple of books this year that don’t pass my “only happy things rule” and Love and Other Words is one of them. A love story decades in the making between Macy and Elliot with lots of heartbreak and family secrets AND ALL OF MY TEARS.

99 Percent Mine

Darcy has been in love with Tom Valeska ever since she laid eyes on him as a young girl. The only problem is that her twin brother met him first and they have been best friends ever since. Tom moves back to help Darcy restore her grandmother’s house and, well, YOU KNOW.

The Hating Game

Same author as 99 Percent Mine with my favorite enemies to lovers trope. It is seriously SO good. Office rivalry, job promotion, love affair. Loved it.

American Royals

A book about what life would be like if America had become a monarchy instead of a democracy. The Washingtons are the royal family and they have a lot of royal secrets. Perfect for fans of The Royal We!

The Friend Zone/ The Happy Ever After Playlist

Ok I grouped these two together because they are a continuation of the same story. These both did NOT follow my “only happy things” rule. They tackle infertility and loss in the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful way. But it was hard for me to get through them because they were so real.

The Bromance Book Club/Undercover Bromance

I loved BOTH of these books. They also continue characters from one book to the next which is so fun. Gavin gets roped into joining a secret book club with some prominent men in his city. The only catch is that they only read romance books. The goal? To woo their women! Book two is about the only single guy in the group, Braden Mack, and his quest to open himself up.

Tweet Cute

This YA book was SO AMAZING. I was turned off by the name but I was pleasantly surprised. Pepper is helping her mom run the Big League Burger twitter account and ends up in a twitter feud with a small, local grilled cheese shop. Eventually she finds out that her classmate Jack is the one behind the feud and chaos ensues.

Real Men Knit

A sweet and sassy story about four brothers who take over a Harlem knitting shop after their mom passes away. This book centers around Jesse, the youngest brother, and Kerry, a young woman who worked with Jesse’s mom at the knitting shop. Let me just tell you, I am looking forward to more stories about the Strong brothers!

There you go! My favorite reads of 2020 so far. I’m looking forward to more reads this year. Have any suggestions?? Make sure to comment below and they might get added to my list! 🙂

xo, Rachel