Winter Reading Challenge: Drop In by Sara Harvey Yao (spotlight)



Drop in: Lead with Clarity, Connection, and CourageDrop In
written by Sara Harvey Yao
published by She Writes Press, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBooks, Target, Book Depository, Goodreads

About the book – from Goodreads: In a society that deeply values productivity, speed, and external rewards, we often find ourselves with less of what we really long for: space, clarity, connection with others, and a sense of well-being. Our attempts to improve our lives and bottom lines by adding more to our calendars, expanding our to-do lists, and constantly being plugged in to technology is backfiring. Instead of getting more done, our minds are spinning, leaving us stressed, disconnected, and unable to focus.

Drop In challenges our assumptions about the effectiveness of our busy lives and offers a compelling alternative approach to success by inviting people to learn how to drop in to the present moment. Deepening our awareness of the present moment, asserts Sara Harvey Yao, is the most efficient and sustainable way to navigate the complexities of work and life and to access our clarity, connection, and courage so we can lead more powerfully. Full of practical tools, Drop In will help busy professionals get out of the spin cycle of their minds and tune in to their already-existing wisdom and clarity”



Sara Harvey Yao

About the author: Sara Harvey Yao is the founder of Yao Consulting Group and has personally developed more than 4,000 leaders across the globe and specializes in the area of executive leadership and presence. Sara’s skills are favored by countless executives from leading companies – among them Microsoft, Brooks Athletics and Coinstar. Whether working one-on-one with clients, as a team facilitator or as an inspiring speaker, Sara is deeply committed to guiding clients to deeper awareness and clarity about unconscious behaviors, ego tactics and communication styles that hamper aware leadership.

Sara’s Background and Education: In 2002, Sara left her decade-long career as a Leadership Development Director for several technology and communications firms. During her role as an internal consultant and coach, she earned her frequent flyer gold status on dozens of trips to work with leaders in places as far-flung as London, Lubbock, Seoul and St. Paul. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications and a master’s degree in Organizational Management.

Find Ms. Yao here: webFacebook, Twitter



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Jaclyn’s Review: What’s Left of Us by Amanda Maxlyn

What's Left of Us (What's Left of Me, #2)What’s Left of Us
written by Amanda Maxlyn
published by Amanda Maxlyn, LLC, 2014

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & NobleAmazon, iBooksBook Depository, Goodreads

Did I enjoy this book: Yes! This one was another good read! I like the idea of following up on characters after the end of a story I enjoy, so I’m a big fan of sequels. This one definitely delivered. This book kept things (mostly) light and happy, with enough drama to keep the story moving forward. It became a little predictable–around the middle of the book, you could tell how it was going to end. This book is also just as steamy as the first book–whew!

You can read my review of the first book, What’s Left of Me, here.


Would I recommend it: Absolutely. This was a quick and easy read. Like the first book, this leaves you feeling connected to the characters and happy at the end. Sometimes it’s nice to read a book that doesn’t make you think too hard and just lets you happily escape into someone else’s world–this is that book.




About the book – from Goodreads:

The heartwarming conclusion to What’s Left of Me.

Love found me three years ago.

I’m cancer free, happily married to the love of my life, and working toward my dream career.

Our life is complete. Perfect, really.

Or is it?

I’ve always wanted a family of my own, but never dreamed I could have one. Now Parker’s ready to make my dream our reality.

But sometimes our dreams are haunted by our deepest fears. Fears of failure, having a child, and in our case … death. How do I help the person I love get over his fear when I’m still trying to overcome that same fear myself?

Together we must learn What’s Left of Us.


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Jaclyn’s Review: The Next by Stephanie Gangi

The Next 
written by Stephanie Gangi
published by St. Martin’s Press, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & NobleAmazoniBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
This one is tough. I love the plot of this book–I love the idea of it. The first 1/3 of this book was written SO WELL. This book frequently switches voices/perspectives, so you’ll see the same scene played out through the eyes of different characters. I love this approach to writing. This was especially great at the beginning of this book, since Joanna is dying of cancer and doesn’t speak–you get her inner monologue as well as the external view of the situation from her daughters.

 Unfortunately, the writing really dragged down the plot of the story for the rest of the book. Once Joanna dies, you get her perspective as a ghost (not a spoiler, since this book is described as a “ghost story”). The writer spends so much time describing mundane details and, essentially, whining through Joanna’s voice–the book just gets difficult to read. The plot is still good, and I think it was a good decision to keep part of it told through Joanna’s voice–it just wasn’t executed well.


All in all, this book was OK. I wanted to like it more than I did.


Would I recommend it: I struggled with this, but I would not recommend this book. I would return to this book night after night, but not to find out what happens next–only to get to the end.



About the book – from Goodreads: Is there a right way to die? If so, Joanna DeAngelis has it all wrong. She’s consumed by betrayal, spending her numbered days obsessing over Ned McGowan, her much younger ex, and watching him thrive in the spotlight with someone new, while she wastes away. She’s every woman scorned, fantasizing about revenge … except she’s out of time.

Joanna falls from her life, from the love of her daughters and devoted dog, into an otherworldly landscape, a bleak infinity she can’t escape until she rises up and returns and sets it right―makes Ned pay―so she can truly move on.

From the other side into right this minute, Jo embarks on a sexy, spiritual odyssey. As she travels beyond memory, beyond desire, she is transformed into a fierce female force of life, determined to know how to die, happily ever after.


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Melissa’s Review: Caught Between Two Curses by Margo L. Dill

Caught Between Two Curses
written by Margo L. Dill
published by Rocking Horse Publishing, 2014

find it here: (affiliate links) AmazonBook Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I’ll be honest with you: If I’d have seen the cover of this book before I started reading, I’d have given it a pass. I know, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but yeesh. So yeah. It’s . . . cute, I guess. Utterly predictable but fun. Maybe I’d have enjoyed it more if I was a baseball fan.


Would I recommend it: Not really.





About the book – from Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either-it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs. Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time. Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life-and time is running out!


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DNF: Black and Gold: Formation by General Asa

Black and Gold: FormationBlack & Gold: Formation 
written by General Asa
published by General Asa, 2015

find it here: (affiliate links) AmazonGoodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Where I stopped reading: location 48 of 2414 on my e-reader

Why I stopped reading: General Asa published this book too soon. It’s in serious need of several more rounds of editing, revising, and proofreading. The story has potential, but it also has a plethora of grammatical errors, punctuation misses, and unwieldy prose.




What others have rated this book: According to Goodreads, the average rating for Black and Gold: Formation is 4.5 stars. There were 2 ratings and 1 review on Goodreads. There was 1 4-star and 1 5-star review on Amazon. Just because I didn’t finish this book doesn’t mean you won’t.

About the book – from Goodreads: Malvia is a world caught in constant war. The three remaining races slaughter their way towards a victory that has escaped them and others for over a thousand years. In the west exists a great Kingdom belonging to the horned, grey skinned race of the Rell. To the north, behind walls of jagged steel and rock, are the Orc Territories where the savage Greenskins live. In the west, ever fortified and watched over by the Inquisition, is the Empire of the humans.

As the war continues there are many who seek to capitalise on its carnage, its pain, and its horror. One such man is the Summoner: a mysterious warrior whose name and past is well known to all in every corner of this violent world. But what plan has he concocted to make his mark on Malvia and what is in store for not only those who stand in his way but those he desperately seeks?

(The world of the Black and Gold is a large and vibrant one. If at any point you feel confused or lacking in knowledge feel free to dive into the Imperial Encyclopedia found at the back of the novel which can assist you with all you find in the story).


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In the Kitchen: Blue Apron: Seared Chicken & Mashed Potatoes

In theKitchen


Hi, Everyone!

In an effort to spend less time meal planning and more time reading, I decided to give Blue Apron  a try. It costs less than taking the whole family to a restaurant, and it seemed like a fun way to add some new recipes to my repertoire.

Tonight: Seared Chicken & Mashed Potatoes with Kale, Mushrooms, & Verjus


It’s been about a year since I tried Blue Apron. I decided to call it quits last time for two main reasons–lack of nutritional information and high calorie count per meal. Happily, the former has finally been addressed! Yay! But . . . 620 calories per serving, 330 of which come from fat? Ugh. No thanks.


I decided to try stretching the meal to serve 4 instead of 2. It would hardly be enough for 4 adults, but with the addition of two extra potatoes and some chicken from a roast I made earlier in the week it was more than enough for my family of four (two of whom are under five).



. . . there’s just something about cooking with fresh herbs . . .

Not the nicest produce I’ve ever used, but still decently edible looking

At first I was annoyed with Blue Apron for double packaging the chicken. Then, as I reached for my own zip top bag to use my favorite quick-and-dirty ‘coat the chicken with flour’ technique, inspiration hit. I’ve no idea if this was the intended use for said bag or if Blue Apron was simply trying to avoid icky chicken goo should the bag accidentally rip during transport. Both, maybe. Brilliant, Blue Apron! Thanks!



Obligatory Food Close Up

Two adult-sized plates and two preschool-sized plates. Works for me!

Yeah, that’s a Quick Bunny spoon, and yah, that’s not how silverware goes. My son’s learning to set the table, okay?

If I make it again: 

I wouldn’t coat the chicken in flour, nor would I add cream to the greens. I would also swap the kale out for green beans or a warm spinach salad or something . . . Husband isn’t a fan of wilted greens.

Did my kids eat it:

1.5 year old: Ate everything like a champ, threw her bib on the floor in epic mic-drop fashion, and blew spit bubbles at me.

4.5 year old: Refused to eat the chicken until I told him it was “just nuggets with no bread on top,” shunned the mashed potatoes because a green thing had touched them, and then ate all of his and his father’s mushrooms and asked for more. More mushrooms. My son. ASKED FOR MORE MUSHROOMS. It was a weird day.

Melissa kitchen




Melissa’s Review: Book of Immortals: Disciple by Kassandra Lynn

Disciple (Book of Immortals, #1)

Book of Immortals: Disciple
written by Kassandra Lynn
published by CreateSpace, 2014

find it here: (affiliate links)  AmazonGoodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I did. It took me a few pages to get used to the reserved, almost detached way Celine narrates, but it makes sense given the setting. After re-reading the teaser blurb, I must admit it wasn’t clear to me that Celine was dead. I guess I thought, especially once she found another person in her situation, that it was going to be some sort of “and then I woke up from my coma six months after the plane crash” ending. So I guess my question is this: if Celine is really dead, and Shann is Celine’s reincarnation, why doesn’t Shann think she’s in a real place? Why does she assume the people she interacts with aren’t real? She can accept reincarnation and immortality and living underwater for 49 days in a world that appears to be based on the last book she read, but she can’t fall for her senior apprentice because he’s not a real person? It was just a bit inconsistent to me.

This book is weird. Like, GOOD weird. It’s got a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Magic: The Gathering vibe, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Don’t let my confusion deter you–this book is really, really cool.



“Even luck is a type of strength.”

“I’m merely carrying out my heart’s deepest wishes without the influence and pressure of other people.”



Would I recommend it: Yes. Go for it.




About the book – from Goodreads: Librarian’s note: Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781500641573.

Following her death in a plane crash, Celine discovers that neither heaven nor hell is an option for her. Miraculously, she’s transformed into the antagonist of the book she’d read prior to her demise. Now she must navigate this strange new immortal life, knowing that the antagonist’s journey won’t end well. Between covering up her devil ancestry in an immortal school and trying to understand her feelings for a senior apprentice, can Celine circumvent her impending doomsday to create a favorable plot twist?


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Melissa’s Review: Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Girl Underwater

Girl Underwater
written by Claire Kells
published by Dutton, 2015

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & NobleAmazon, iBooksBook Depository, Walmart, TargetGoodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It’s possible I shunned my parenting duties, asked Husband to order takeout, and spent the entire evening sitting in my favorite reading spot. I think the kids slept in their clothes last night . . . But I digress.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s got perfect flow–the right amount of back-and-forth, the right intensity. The story doesn’t come together too quickly or too slowly, and though it’s pretty obvious which man Avery will end up with, the hows and whys are less predictable. The prose is lovely. The characters can be a bit cliche at times (I mean, Colin ought to have SOME flaws, right?), but it didn’t bother me too much. In sum: this is the best book I’ve read in a long while.



“As he pretends to doze, the snow sneaks through cracks in the roof, settling on our heads and shoulders. It reminds me of a finely tuned performance: nature’s silent display of beauty, wonder, and merciless power.”

“He must’ve brushed his teeth after that coffee, which I know is a weird thing to think right now, but it streaks across my mind anyway, a grain of comfort in the chaos.”

“Or maybe it’s just the accumulation of things, the dutiful progression of time marked by the dutiful collection of meaningless possessions.”



Would I recommend it: Absolutely.




About the book – from Goodreads: An adventurous debut novel that cross cuts between a competitive college swimmer’s harrowing days in the Rocky Mountains after a major airline disaster and her recovery supported by the two men who love her—only one of whom knows what really happened in the wilderness.

Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, she took swim lessons at her community pool and captained the local team; in high school, she raced across bays and sprawling North American lakes. Now a sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked team, she struggles under the weight of new expectations but life is otherwise pretty good. Perfect, really.

That all changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. She is one of only five survivors, which includes three little boys and Colin Shea, who happens to be her teammate. Colin is also the only person in Avery’s college life who challenged her to swim her own events, to be her own person—something she refused to do. Instead she’s avoided him since the first day of freshman year. But now, faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on each other in ways they never could’ve imagined.

In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real world, it’s anything but.


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Melissa’s Review: Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

Small Admissions

Small Admissions
written by Amy Poeppel
published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I loved it! Poeppel’s characterization is fantastic (if a bit over-the-top), and I thoroughly enjoyed the slow reveal. I LOL’d (for real) several times, and I spent some quality time comparing Kate’s friends and family to my own. Small Admissions is a lot of fun–I binge-read it in a day. Keep writing, Ms. Poeppel! You’re delightful!



“So–for the record–you’re encouraging me to work with a young, unqualified, troubled, sweaty person?”



Would I recommend it: This is a lovely, lighthearted book. Read it.



About the book – from Goodreads: 
For fans of The Nanny Diaries and Sophie Kinsella comes a whip-smart and deliciously funny debut novel about Kate, a young woman unexpectedly thrust into the cutthroat world of New York City private school admissions as she attempts to understand city life, human nature, and falling in love.

Despite her innate ambition and Summa Cum Laude smarts, Kate Pearson has turned into a major slacker. After being unceremoniously dumped by her handsome, French “almost fiancé,” she abandons her grad school plans and instead spends her days lolling on the couch, watching reruns of Sex and the City, and leaving her apartment only when a dog-walking gig demands it. Her friends don’t know what to do other than pass tissues and hope for a comeback, while her practical sister, Angela, pushes every remedy she can think of, from trapeze class to therapy to job interviews.

Miraculously, and for reasons no one (least of all Kate) understands, she manages to land a job in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. In her new position, Kate learns there’s no time for self-pity or nonsense during the height of the admissions season, or what her colleagues refer to as “the dark time.” As the process revs up, Kate meets smart kids who are unlikable, likeable kids who aren’t very smart, and Park Avenue parents who refuse to take no for an answer.

Meanwhile, Kate’s sister and her closest friends find themselves keeping secrets, hiding boyfriends, dropping bombshells, and fighting each other on how to keep Kate on her feet. On top of it all, her cranky, oddly charming, and irritatingly handsome downstairs neighbor is more than he seems. Through every dishy, page-turning twist, it seems that one person’s happiness leads to another’s misfortune, and suddenly everyone, including Kate, is looking for a way to turn rejection on its head, using any means necessary—including the truly unexpected.


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Melissa’s Review: Hindsight by Mindy Tarquini


written by Mindy Tarquini
published by Sparkpress, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble, AmazonBook Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
It’s a cool concept, but Tarquini struggles to keep the (many, many) story lines straight. This book fights entropy the whole way through. I mean, I understand why–no doubt it’s difficult to look at every person and see not only their current incarnation, but also their entire collection of past lives–but I could have done with a few, um, fewer layers, as it were. I like the writing style–it’s delightfully irreverent–and I must say the back-and-forth between Eugenia and Mary made me LOL more than once. Plus, I mean, Chaucer. So. Epically cool idea, fun writing, but a bit more (too?) confusing for me to fall completely in love.


Would I recommend it: It’s worth the read if you keep all the story threads organized.



About the book – from Goodreads:

Tarquini’s innovative concept is paired with realistic characters and sparkling wit, making this enjoyable novel a keeper.”
–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Finalist, General Fiction — 2016 USA Best Book Awards

Redbook Magazine, Best Books of 2016


Born this time around into a South Philadelphia Italian-American family so traditional, she and her siblings are expected to marry in birth order, Eugenia lives a simple life―no love connection, no controversy, no complications. Her hope is that the Blessed Virgin Mary (who oversees her soul’s progress) will grant her heart’s desire, the option to choose the circumstances of her next life. But when a student reveals he shares her ability, Eugenia suddenly finds herself setting up a Facebook page and sponsoring a support group for others like her, an oddball odyssey, during which she discovers she must confront her current shortcomings before she can break the cycle and finally live the life of her dreams.

A layered contemporary fable, Hindsight reminds us to live this life like it’s the only one we’ll have.


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