Here and Gone – Haylen Beck

Fleeing her abusive husband with her two children, Audra is stopped by a cop in the middle of the Arizona desert. A routine stop turns into a bust for possession for drugs Audra has never seen before … but the worst hasn’t happened yet. Audra is soon to have the fight of her life to save everything she loves.

Here and Gone


Here and Gone easily drew me into the story, and the real world quickly drifted away. I finished reading it in a few hours. The feelings stirred up while reading Here and Gone included fear and anger, and those feelings were hard to shake off.


The characters fit well into their roles; all were well-done. Collins was the “good” cop, desperate but not really a bad person. Whiteside … he was dark. The “bad” cop, with no conscience and nerves of steel. My favorite character would be Sean, Tandy (even though he only had a short role), or Special Agent Mitchell. It’s really hard to decide. Especially nice was how Beck showed the inner turmoil of the characters without flat-out explaining it, like in this section:

“When he finished, Mitchell remained still, her gaze on the notebook. The muscles in her jaw bunched. After a few moments she inhaled, exhaled, and got to her feet.” pg. 194


If you enjoy great writing and are a fan of thrillers, then this is definitely a book for you.


Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire – Eugene H. Peterson

The author of As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Peterson, is a pastor – and you can tell in his writing. Divided into teachings from each gospel, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is full of fascinating information. I frequently found myself reading aloud to my husband from this novel. Unfortunately, it simply wasn’t keeping my attention. I kept being distracted by other books. This book is really only for those who want to learn and are able to focus to do so.

However, if you can focus, there is quite a bit going on in this book. Peterson has a lot of valuable insight to offer. One example of this insight is as follows:

“They [the Israelites] did not want to live by faith but by sight. … They wanted gods they could use to get what they wanted, like the gods they had in Egypt. … True, in Egypt it hadn’t worked to their benefit, but that was because they didn’t own the gods. … And when you stop to think about it, so do we [want gods]. ”

pgs. 31-32

If you stop and think about that passage, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. As Kingfishers Catch Fire requires the reader to stop and think frequently, so do not pick up this book looking for a quick read. It requires time and effort. A notebook to take notes with would also be helpful.

Recommendations: this is the kind of novel that would be good for a long-term Bible study group or someone who really wants to delve deeper into the Word of God.


Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Nighttime Mania: Rainbow Kaleidoscope

People with mental illnesses often see things other people don’t see. What they see or experience could be nearly anything. Mania doesn’t necessarily mean people see things that aren’t there, but in cases where mania is part of a different illness it can easily occur that way.

Mania is different for different people - this particular experience literally included rainbows all over the room, as displayed in the interpretive sketch.

Nighttime Mania:

One night in March, I was manic and unable to sleep. Having just started new medication recently, we were still adjusting the dosage. I have a friend who works nights, and thus is usually awake at odd hours. Sometimes he gets weird texts from me … such as the one he got this particular night:

“It’s back ward s the rainbow room but head spinning kaleidoscope s don’t spin heads only rainbows.”

Yes, the words were spaced like that.

To explain what the text meant, I drew an interpretation of the visuals I saw that night. My head had felt like it was spinning, and a kaleidoscope of rainbows covered the surfaces in the darkened room. Although I was literally seeing these rainbows, people who have seen the sketch say it looks like how mania is described as being (not seeing).

Nighttime Mania, the kaleidoscope I saw in the darkened room.
Nighttime Mania, the kaleidoscope I saw in the darkened room.
A Word of Caution:

Mania can be (and probably is) experienced differently by everyone, but it can be very interesting. Personally I find it quite fun – although that doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. The “fun” of mania can cause problems too – problems with making bad decisions that seem okay in the moment, or with acting in a way that we normally wouldn’t. There’s a whole host of things that could happen. We have to be careful. The person best equipped to give reliable advice is your doctor – please listen to what they have to say.

Happy Friday!

XOXO, Nicole

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie

As Approval Junkie was written by a comedian, I’d expected it to be funny. It wasn’t for me, though. I suspect Salie was aiming for an older, more experienced audience to better appreciate her tale.

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie review

Approval Junkie:

Faith Salie is a genuine approval junkie. Whether she’s looking for roles on T.V. or getting the best grades possible or even choosing a dress for divorce court, Salie always tries to please others – until she learns that it’s really herself she needs to please.

Some Valuable Information:

Approval Junkie read very much like a self-help novel (not necessarily a bad thing) at parts and I struggled to stay focused throughout most of the book. It wasn’t all slow, however. Salie provided some valuable information in a chapter about listening; “There’s a huge difference between listening to help yourself seem funny or smart or right and listening to help someone express himself.” Pg. 88.

Somewhat Offensive Parts:

There were parts that I found somewhat offensive as a Christian, so be warned if you decide to pick up Approval Junkie that a small portion of the book does consist of references to Jesus in a not-so-reverent way.


Although I found that the story didn’t draw me in, I would still recommend it to other women, particularly mothers. Salie wrote multiple chapters and sections on motherhood, attempting to become a mother, and related struggles.


Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Fifth Petal – Brunonia Barry

Wow. I tore through this book! It’s my favorite book so far this year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it remained at least in my top five even when the year is over. Although I have not read The Lace Reader (also by Barry), The Fifth Petal easily holds its own, and the series does not need to be read in order. I didn’t even realize this was the second book until after finishing the novel – but now I’m definitely going to be checking out the first one.

Barry weaves fact and fiction, mystery and mythology in a spellbinding work that I couldn't put down. The Fifth Petal is everything a mystery lover could want.

Barry’s writing kept me so involved that I thought about The Fifth Petal even when not reading, and more often than once read long into the night. There were times when I worried about the story being mostly resolved with the usual bookworm problems – “too many pages left”; but The Fifth Petal – though not entirely happy – met the perfect end.

Perfect Blend of Mystery & Thrills:

Despite The Fifth Petal being marketed as a thriller, it wasn’t too spooky for the faint of heart (like me) – even reading with only light enough to see the page wasn’t too anxiety-inducing. Barry found the perfect blend of fantasy, mystery, fact and fiction – and she left just enough questions at the end of the novel to keep readers guessing (in a satisfied way) long after the last page is devoured.

The Fifth Petal is everything I ever wanted in a mystery, and I can’t wait to read Barry’s other novels – they are sure to be just as amazing as this one was.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Beauty Begins by Chris Shook & Megan Shook Alpha

Beauty Begins focuses on women, with a strong emphasis on inner beauty and the Bible. Each chapter ends with reflection questions and a prayer. Even with two authors, the writing flowed smoothly. I loved that the last chapter was written by Kerry Shook and Jordan Alpha (husbands to Chris and Megan) – it was good to get the men’s perspective as well.

Beauty is about more than what is on the outside, as we see in Beauty Begins.

More Than Looks:

Shook and Alpha didn’t just focus on beauty – since the book was about inner beauty they also talked about relationships, culture, fashion, and more. I particularly loved a section that talked about teaching your children: “Far from being disqualified, you are actually in a great position to talk to your kids if you have made the same mistake in the past” Pg. 66. Although I’m not a parent, I saw in that quote wisdom that can apply to friendships, too.

Since there were many great quotes throughout Beauty Begins, I cannot only use one. Pg. 68 says, “You impress people when you talk about your strengths, but you influence people when you admit your struggles.” That gem reveals so much. We read throughout the book that focusing on outer beauty keeps us focused on things other than God – this shows us that inner beauty allows us to be vulnerable and genuine. We are learning to show our true beauty.

Just Let Go:

On pages 79 & 80, Chris wrote a story about her son on the monkey bars talking about how he was scared to let go for fear she would not catch him. She caught him, but he only let go when he could not hang on any longer. Her story is reminiscent of us with God. He is always there to catch us, but we resist letting go, preferring to hold on until we cannot hold on any longer. Beauty Begins has a major focus on trusting God.


Since I cannot spend this whole review quoting Shook and Alpha, let me leave you with this recommendation and a final quote. I loved reading how Megan talks with God, and so will include it as the final quote: “Sometimes I even buckle the passenger seat belt to acknowledge His [God’s] presence, and then I just talk” Pg. 91. If you want to trust God with your inner beauty and rely on Him, this is a good book to read. It’s not a “how-to” book, but rather a kind of guide to point you in the right direction.

Good luck on your journey!


Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Anxiety: The Symptoms Return

Do you ever feel like a failure for taking yourself off medications that you “don’t need anymore” only to end up right back on them?

That happened to me recently. I took myself off my anxiety medication a few months back. When the anxiety got so bad I could barely leave the house, that’s when I couldn’t lie to myself about the necessity of it anymore.

My anxiety symptoms seemed better, so I took myself off medications. Then they came back.

Return of Anxiety Symptoms:

I started blurting out random words and phrases to cut off the chatter in my head. Blasting music through earbuds to help me ignore all of the people talking to me. There are sounds that make no sense that just spill from my lips, sounds that derail the train going round and round in my brain. I hide in dark rooms crouched in corners, trying to keep the panic from finding me. It always does.

When I could no longer fake normal, that is when I realized that the dreaded anxiety medications really were necessary. Lying awake for hours, reviewing every conversation in my head for mistakes – that’s when I knew that I’m not okay. I still pretend. Three times a day is really annoying for taking medications … so I miss doses. It’s foolish, you don’t have to say it. I’m already telling myself that. Even as I’m hiding from everyone who cares for fear of being annoying, I’m pretending that the anxiety isn’t an issue.

Wait, what?

Didn’t we just have this conversation?

It never ends, you see.

We – me, myself, and I – always have this conversation. The anxiety gets unbearable, and keeps us locked inside our mind. Then we go back on the medications so we can leave the house again without panicking when someone walks by. When the medication does its job and we feel better, we stop taking it. It isn’t necessary anymore! That is the lie that we keep repeating, wishing it were true and trying desperately to believe it.

Sometimes I do believe it. Until the medication is out of my system, anyways. So for now, I’m back on anxiety medication. We will see how long it lasts this time.

Changing Together and Finding Ourselves

At the end of January 2017, my husband and I were married for a year and six months. It wasn’t until those last six months, though, that we started finding ourselves together – as a married couple.

Leaving home doesn't mean that you drop everything you were taught - but sometimes it's better that we branch out and do our own thing. These are some things my husband and I have changed together.

The first year of marriage, everything was different. New town (for me), new people (also for me), new home (for both of us) and of course new lifestyle – neither of us has ever been married before, or lived with a partner before. That first year was a lot of adjustment. Even though we both felt that our marriage seemed to come naturally – it didn’t really seem strange to live together, or wake up in the same bed; it seemed right – we were still learning how to live together. So during that time, we primarily did what our parents did when we were growing up – shopping in a similar way, spending the way our parents did, doing the things we had watched our parents doing.

After Time Away:

A year and a half later couldn’t be more different from how we started. These past six months we have found our own routines and preferences, things neither of our parents did (or that we are aware of them ever doing).

  • We buy “fancy” cheese (a few we have tried include “blueberry vanilla goat cheese” – a favorite, “rosemary and olive oil asiago cheese” and “balsam and fig goat cheese” – yum) a few times a month at the grocery store, and eat it on mini toasts – a fun semi-healthy snack that allows us to try many new flavors.


  • Also, we go to a “cultural” restaurant once a month. For us that means choosing a restaurant outside of our culture/experiences/and sometimes our comfort zone to try other foods. We tried a Thai restaurant due to starting this practice, and LOVE it! Hopefully we will be trying an Indian restaurant soon.
Different Spending Patterns:
  • Shopping for clothes once a month, regardless of whether we need clothes, helps our budget. There is a price limit that we can spend per person a month. It does NOT roll over to the next month. Growing up, we outgrew or wore out our clothes close to the same time. Then we had to go buy new clothes all at once. With our method, we always have clothes that are in good shape/fit us and can spread out the clothes buying. It’s also kind of fun, and if we are particularly broke one month, it wouldn’t be a big deal to simply not buy new clothes that month.


  • We have budget meetings where we sit down and discuss our spending and financial situation together once a month. Sometimes we miss a month when it is particularly busy, but then the next budget meeting we do the month we missed as well.
Branching Out with Dinners:
  • We don’t necessarily eat the same dinner every night (or even most nights). When my husband lived at home, he ate whatever his mom fixed for dinner. When I lived at home, I usually fixed dinner and could choose what I wanted to fix within reason. Everyone ate it and would complain if a certain meal was featured too often.

The first year of marriage especially, I made dinner nearly every night (or we had leftovers, but those were usually lunch, not dinner) and we ate the same things. A year and six months later, I usually prepare dinner about once a week (except for special occasions). I cook a big casserole/pot/whatever and we enjoy those leftovers when desired. Other than that, we “fend for ourselves”.

If I’m preparing something I offer to fix him some of what I’m having, but if he isn’t interested he makes himself a sandwich, a bowl of tuna salad (we eat just the filling with no bread), has cereal, or eats a leftover out of the refrigerator. Usually I make myself a salad, since salad is my favorite food. We keep fresh broccoli, tomatoes, bell pepper, and lettuce/spinach in the refrigerator for these salads. When I cut up the produce, I slice the broccoli stems (he doesn’t mind them), a few pieces of the broccoli head, and some bell pepper and bag it for him to snack on later.


  • Many of our meals are meatless, which kind of goes along with the point above. This is not because we do not enjoy meat, but because meatless meals are much more affordable. We both come from families where meat is featured in virtually every dinner.
Loving Where We are Headed Together:

These are some of the ways that we have differed in our marriage than from either of our parent’s marriages. I’m interested to see where we are six months or a year from now; if we have kept these practices or established new ones. These practices are fun, but spending ones can also easily be dropped for a month or so if money is tight. They are especially meaningful to me, however, because they make us more unique as a couple. We are not “following our parent’s footsteps” – we are striking out on a different path and finding our own place together.


How has your lifestyle changed if you are living on your own or together with a partner?


Lola – Melissa Scrivner Love

Failing to see who the true leader of the small gang, The Crenshaw Six is could be a huge problem for the Mexican cartel. She lives in the shadows, with everyone misjudging her as harmless – but Lola should not be underestimated. There are huge decisions to make, sides to choose, and punishments to deal out.

It's a man's world - but in this thriller, some women should not be underestimated. Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola really brought to light how invisible women can be. A great example was on pg. 53 “She doesn’t fear Lola, because in Mila’s mind, they are equals. Women in a man’s world.”

Positives & Negatives on Details:

A fast paced and interesting read, some parts were pretty intense and had me wanting to throw the book. Lola was a well-developed character, and I liked reading Lola narrating her own tale. In some parts I appreciated the glossed-over description, where what could have been quite gruesome wasn’t too bad to read at all – but in other parts I wished for more details.

I also wished to read more of how the story ended. There were a few parts that felt a little unfinished. That aside, it was nice to read a tale from the wrong side of the tracks, to see the world how Lola sees it. To see that not everything is black and white, not everyone is all good or all evil – and sometimes those who appear good really aren’t good at all.


Lola was a very good read, although I would not call it a thriller. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to see the world from another perspective. The narrator grew up in a bad area, the victim of bad parenting who decided to make something of herself – not good, but not “all evil”, either.


Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Greek Yogurt Avocado Tuna Salad

Last year my husband and I went breadless with our tuna salad, and ate it from a bowl with less mayonnaise than our previous version. This year, I learned there are ways to make tuna salad even healthier – while it tastes better!

A fresh tasting, delicious alternative to traditional tuna salad.

In all honesty, I was very nervous about this tuna salad. Avocado has never been one of my favorite things – or even something I usually eat. We happened to have some that I had forgotten when making homemade sushi, though, so into the mix it went. It made me feel much braver when my housemate tried it and said it tasted “super fresh”. I tried a little bit at that point – it really did taste fresh! This is my new go-to tuna salad recipe.

  • 2 cans tuna in water, drained
  • 1 avocado, mashed
  • 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 large cucumber, diced
  • 1 small handful dried cranberries
  • 1 stalk green onion, diced
seasonings to taste:
  • salt & pepper
  • dill weed
  • garlic powder
  • Creole seasoning
  • celery seed
  • hot sauce (optional, lemon juice would also be good without spice)
Directions for Yummy Tuna Salad:

Drain the tuna, mash the avocado, dice the cucumber and green onion, and mix all of the ingredients (together with your preferred seasonings) together in a small bowl. I used a cereal bowl and it was the perfect size.

You can eat it directly from the bowl, or (if you are not ready to go breadless) this is delicious on toasted whole grain English muffins with a little bit of butter. Don’t force yourself to avoid your favorite things so much that you end up bingeing – permanent change comes from moderation, not avoidance.

  • In a bowl, this makes about 1-2 servings. 
  • On English muffins, this makes about 4-6 servings. 

P.S. Before trying this tuna salad, I thought avocado wasn’t really my thing – I’ve definitely changed my mind since, and am now looking to try it in other things. Maybe homemade mayonnaise would be a good candidate to experiment with! We’ll see.

Greek yogurt avocado tuna salad on a toasted English muffin.
If you try the recipe, let me know what you think!