A Very Darren Crissmas

Going to concerts during the week can be difficult with my work situation, and this week was extra complicated as I was in the middle of some training all week – but I managed to slip away a bit early to head to Ridgefield for Darren’s Crissmas show.  I had purchased a VIP pass which allowed me to meet Darren before the show as well as got me some merch – an adorable gift bag

featuring a hippopotamus on it containing an ornament, Santa had and signed booklet.  We were told to wear our VIP laminate from that point forward and then were able to line up for merch or just hang out.  The merch line was quite long so I opted to wait and try and buy things after – I found out that the booth was having issues with WiFi and card readers and that’s why the line was so long.  Then they had us line up and sent us into the M&G room 5 at a time.  Darren was very sweet and taking his time chatting with everyone, which I absolutely loved.  He saw my *NSYNC shirt as soon as I walked in and we started chatting about their Christmas album and Hanson’s and harmonies and song arrangements – and his handler was taking photos the entire time.  I was absolutely shocked when I left the room and was ready to post our photo together on instagram only to see that there were 30+ photos on my phone from our interaction.  Honestly, one of the best M&Gs I have done – and it really wasn’t that expensive! My concert ticket cost more than the VIP did ($120 and $144!)

We then were allowed to stay inside if we wanted, but if we went out to our car we couldn’t come back in until doors at 6:30, I didn’t want to sit in my cold car so I opted to stay inside in the lobby before theater doors opened.  I took my seat in the 2nd row and immediately noticed the “No photos or video” signs that were up.  The woman next to me was saying how she was going to break the rules and I told her I might just have to join her, but would probably wait until the end so if they were going to try and kick me out I wouldn’t miss much.  She opted to take photos  throughout from her lap but I was a bit too anxious to try that and didn’t want to bring more attention if both of us were doing it.

I had previously seen this show last year, but he did mix things up a bit.  A few of his stories about the songs were the same, but I didn’t really remember most of them anyway so it was fine!  He started by coming through the aisles singing Happy Holidays and The Holiday Season and trying to get us to do a bit of a call and response.  I remember last year the crowd being WAY more into sing a longs and it seemed like for this show the crowd was a bit more timid.  He talked a bit about how Christmas music is special and there’s nothing else where we have a specific time frame to listen to it.  March isn’t Sargent Pepper’s month, we can listen to it year round, but Christmas music we typically only listen to in December and Burl Ives kicks Taylor Swift’s ass on the charts every December.  I also still absolutely love his rendition of John Mayer’s St. Patrick’s Day. (He also mentioned that John is from about 11 miles from where we were. He knows his stuff. Why are we not best friends?)   After I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas he had his drummer help show us how he came up with the arrangement and put a hip hop spin on it – hip hoppotamus… which is another arrangement of his I love.  He also said that there are some areas that people don’t know that song and he gets asked often if he wrote it – and he wishes he did because he’d be living in a castle in the sky off that royalties money.

After Drunk on Christmas he mentioned how a father and daughter had left and gave him a wave and he hoped that it wasn’t too much for her to handle (as he swears and had just gone on about drinking – which he did say getting drunk didn’t have to be alcohol and it could just be having more chocolate or pie or watching TV or whatever else you might want to indulge in.)  And then was the time when I thought he was going to do a song he had just taught himself like he did last year – but he ended up doing Granger Danger from A Verry Potter Musical and spoke about how he doesn’t credit Glee with getting him where he’s at now, it was absolutely this musical.

He then sat on the bench on stage and asked a few people in the audience about Christmas songs they’d like to hear.  When voices started yelling out he teased about how the voices in his head must be back and then got the band to start up the song to not spend too much time letting everyone yell out.   He did a few more songs before heading out before the encore.

When he came back out, he sat at the piano and asked for a few artists from people in the audience which ended up getting us a medley of Fly Me To The Moon, Against All Odds (which the lyrics he didn’t quite know, but he tried!) and Cough Syrup.  Then he did Christmas Dance and asked us to stand and dance but told us we could sit and do it, too (Thank you.  I sat, but I twisted, shook and iced with the best of them) and ended up putting into the medley the songs that he had asked for earlier that he told us he absolutely wasn’t going to sing – and it was a Christmas miracle!

This show was so much fun – and I almost forgot – at one point he called out a woman who was on her phone saying that it was fine that she was and we could do whatever we wanted during the show – but that everything was dark except her beautiful glowing face.  Then he felt bad that he called her out and kept mentioning how guilty he felt throughout the whole show.

If this show is coming near you – definitely check it out – and if not – take a listen to the CD!

Book Review: You Surround Me

Trigger warning: This book contains explicit content and difficult topics.

You Surround Me tells the story of a school year from the perspective of 2 of the kids in a pretty tight knit group of friends, Kenna, who is a junior and Logan who is a senior.  Kenna’s best friend is Logan’s sister and Logan’s best friend is Kenna’s brother.  Their Mom’s also are best friends from back in their college days. Kenna has had a crush on Logan since she was three years old and Logan has been oblivious, although at the beginning of the school year he started seeing her as more than just his best friend’s little sister. Most of the book is spent with Kenna trying to figure out if Logan likes her back, and then once they decide there might be something there, they try to keep it from Kenna’s brother Matt.  Also with such a large friend group as well as their families, there are a lot of different sub plots throughout, not all of them revolving around Kenna and Logan.  I don’t want to give too much away though, as there are many twists and turns and this book was nothing short of a roller coaster.

This book was long – it was almost 700 pages and it took me quite some time to get through, even though I enjoyed almost all of reading it. (Some of the topics are a bit deep and harsh, so while overall I did enjoy the book, there were some spots that were tough for me to read.)  Like I said, it was an absolute roller coaster and I was so happy that Kenna and Logan had such a wonderful friend group.  It seemed that everyone in the group had some sort of challenge in their life that they had to overcome – parents who had passed away, parents who were abusive or addicted to drugs and may or may not be in their lives, some were getting bullied at school, etc – but their friends didn’t care and were there for them and supported them no matter what.  I was a bit jealous of how close they all seemed to be, even if they were fictional.

I would give this book 4.5 stars! This is the first book in a series, and I am looking forward to reading the rest, as I imagine that they will follow the rest of the friend group – but even if it continues to follow Kenna and Logan and their families – the ending did leave some things open. (Though there was enough closure for me, for those of you who might be worried that you’ll be left hanging!)  Now I’m not sure how to bring myself back into the real world after spending so much time with this group.

I received a free ARC from Reedsy.

About the Book

My best friend’s brother? My brother’s best friend?

It doesn’t get any more cliché, yet…I can’t help but want him.

Kenna Ayken is a junior in high school, and she’s been crushing on a boy forever. Too bad he’s never shown a similar interest in her. But when his home life goes from bad to worse, they find themselves growing closer. Suddenly their friendship is becoming more tangible and true, something separate from her brother, a new bond that is just for them.
All these years he has never once glanced at her in a meaningful way…
Until he does.

I’ve known Kenna my whole life and she’s always felt like another little sister to me.

Until now.

Logan West is a senior in high school, and for the first time since he’s known her, he can’t keep his eyes off of his best friend’s little sister. Matt has never liked seeing any guy with her, and he sure as hell would have an issue with Logan pursuing her, and now things at home are getting…harder. When Kenna walks in one day, she sees just how bad it’s become, and reacts in a way Logan never would have expected.

Book Review: Save the Last Piece

Save the Last Piece is about Natalie – currently a nanny to a teen who is approaching the age of no longer needing her and an aspiring actress, she interviews to be a wedding planner’s assistant and gets the job.  Her boss, however, is quite the villainess. “Bridezillas are at times dangerous and rightly feared. But Zella on the on a bad day was a horror show.”  When we first meet Natalie, she is considering quitting her glamourous job of helping all the NYC brides have the wedding of their dreams.  She then backtracks to when she first gets the job and takes us through all the ups and downs and downs that Zella has put her through over the past couple of years.  What has she learned from reminiscing on all the bad (and some good?) times.

This book was a lot of fun to read, albeit it at Natalie’s expense.  The book starts with Zella, Natalie’s boss, pushing her out of an elevator and to her knees at a wedding they are working.  This seems to be the last straw for Natalie, who spends the rest of the book explaining to us where her life was at when she took the job and how things begin to unravel.  She spends all her time at Zella’s beck and call, and her relationship with her boyfriend is starting to suffer.  She never spends any time with him anymore as she is often out late at events and he gets up early for his job.  She was already barely having time to see any of her friends and now her time is spent tracking down umbrellas and socks.  Natalie is afraid to stand up to Zella initially, but often realizes that once she shows she has a backbone Zella backs down, but continues to be timid around her for fear she will get fired.  Others in the industry tell her there’s no way that she will fire her so close to wedding season with no replacement and I think that this gives Natalie more confidence to stand up for herself, though it sure does take a long time for her to do it!

I really enjoyed this book and getting a fictitious look inside the glamourous world of NYC (and surrounding area) weddings and even bat mitzvahs. If you’re into The Devil Wears Prada or similar, you’ll probably enjoy the book too.  It was a bit longer than I expected, so not an easy read in one evening, but perfect for a cozy weekend in!  I would give this book 4.5 stars!

I received a free ARC from Discovery.

About the Book

When Natalie takes a job as a wedding planner’s assistant in NYC, she is excited for the glamour of it all. But when her employer Zella, an in-demand New York City wedding planner, lives up to her reputation of being part Cruella Deville, and part Miranda Priestly, makes Natalie’s life miserable and she experiences crazy brides that demand everything from perfect pyramids of precious perishable wedding favors, she isn’t sure if she can take it anymore. Years of trying to prove herself to Zella, Natalie also fights off a poaching planner who wants to date her. After an incident at a wedding, Natalie questions her career choice. Will Natalie stay in a career that mentally defeats her, or will she go back to live her dream?
For fans of The Devil Wears Prada and Say Yes To The Dress.

Book Review: A Guy’s Guide to Relationships

A Guy’s Guide to Relationships: Growing Your Relationship through Language and Action is written by a guy for guys, but it is also for anyone who might be looking for help in making sure their relationships succeed.  While this book mainly focuses on romantic relationships and focuses a lot of the author and his wife, I think that the tips and ideas presented throughout this book can work for any sort of relationship – friendship, professional, romantic, etc.  The book is split into 2 parts – Language and Action.  In Part I the author goes over the “Five As”: Affirmation, Admiration, Appreciation, Affection & Attraction.  The second part focuses a lot on Expectations, Actions, Toxic Traits.   It ends with ways to find Growth in your relationship.

This book was interesting to me because it kind of helped me get a guys perspective on things.  Their brains can work a little different than women’s.  For instance, the author spoke a bit about how some men will not always tell their significant other that they like or love them.  They said it initially, so that remains to be true until they tell you otherwise.  But as an anxious woman, this is something that I fear to no longer be true often in relationships and to bring in a point that is made throughout the book – communication is key.  As is learning how your partner communicates and what some of their “tells” are.  The author noted that his wife always knows when he lies because of how he acts when he does it – so he’s simply stopped lying to her because she figures out the truth immediately anyway – so why bother?  But if he needed to lie to someone else who didn’t know him as well, he could probably get away with it.  He also noted that he could tell when his wife seemed to be down and over time was able to figure out what sort of things she might like for him to do or say to her to make her feel better.  He’s always attracted to her and has been since they met, but doesn’t always express that to her and some days she just might like to hear it from him.  I also think that the book focusing on expectations is really important too.  I’m not in a relationship but have spent a lot of time on dating apps and I often will ask the guys I match with what they are looking for as a way to manage my expectations.  If they’re not looking for a serious relationship I should expect them to act differently than someone who is – and then I don’t end up disappointed when further on down the line after I’ve become more attached this comes out.  I also really liked the author touching on various toxic traits –  of course drugs and alcohol came up as well as cheating, which you would expect in a book about relationships but he also focused on a few other traits that made me stop and think – projection, uncontrolled emotions and selfishness and time.

I give this book 4.5 stars.  While this book is, in theory, geared at men – I think it’s really helpful for everyone to take the time and stop and think about themselves, especially if they are in a relationship or are trying to be the best they can be to enter a relationship.

I received a free ARC from Discovery

About the Book

Intimate relationships are one of the most powerful forms of companionship that a person can have. Unfortunately, they are often hard to navigate and can become stale and dull. A Guy’s Guide to Relationships is one guy’s perspective on how to improve your relationship through language and action. This book teaches you the “Five As” of positive language where you will discover how to speak to your partner in a way that not only uplifts them, but improves the relationship as a whole. It also teaches the reader specific actions to support positive language that offers critical insight into not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Finally, this book will challenge people to address toxic traits that may be corrupting them and their relationship before closing with steps to personal growth. A Guy’s Guide to Relationships is an exciting book for anyone looking to improve their relationship!

Book Review: Freeing Teresa

This book did come with a trigger warning: extensive description and discussion of discriminatory attitudes and actions towards people based on disabilities or age.

Freeing Teresa is about a woman with Down Syndrome, written by her sister, Franke.  When Teresa was born in 1964, doctors suggested to her parents that she be put in an institution.  Her mother refused, and she lived at home with her parents.  Her mother has since passed away, her father is approaching his 91st birthday and Teresa is 49 years old.  Franke and 3 of her siblings are trying to figure out where Teresa should go to live, as her father’s health is failing and they would prefer her to be settled before their Dad passes.  Her brother had initially told his father he would take Teresa in, but now none of the siblings want to take on the role of her sole caretaker and they are looking at other options.  Franke, though busy with her books and traveling to promote them, feels that Teresa is capable of making a decision for where she should live and is trying to advocate for her, but her other siblings keep excluding Teresa and her father from any conversation and have the CCAC deem Teresa incapable of making such decisions.  Franke doesn’t believe Teresa should go to a nursing home and instead thinks it is possible that Teresa can live with others who have Down Syndrome, or with her and her husband.  Her siblings continue to try and block every solution she tries to offer.  Franke’s family did not want this story to be told so many of the personal details have been redacted and their images/likeness have been photoshopped out of all the photos. She writes, “In photos throughout the book, the images of many family members have been blanked-out echoing their absence in my life”

I have to say, this book was not at all what I was expecting.  When I saw it was a true story about fighting ableism, I thought it was going to be some sort of facility or company that was causing all the issues for Teresa, not her own family!  As the story went on, I became more and more frustrated with her family.  Of course, I am reading this from a disabled person’s point of view, and if my brothers wouldn’t help me out when I needed it, I’d be terribly upset! Of course my situation is a bit different as I only have a physical disability – but from what was presented about Teresa she seemed pretty capable of making her own decisions about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to live, but it seemed like no one other than Franke wanted to take that into consideration.  I am not sure if the sister who had the husband who owned nursing homes was making some sort of deal off of her going there or what, but the way the other siblings teamed up against Franke and Teresa and their own father’s wishes was, well, disgusting.  It does seem like there is a sequel coming as the ending did not really resolve much of anything, but I can only hope that there was a happy ending.

I gave this book 4 stars and I would definitely recommend it to others – but be sure to keep an open mind. After the first half of the book I was flabbergasted and thought the whole book was awful, but I stuck it through and rode the rest of the roller coaster with Teresa and was happy I stuck it out.  If you consider yourself an activist or ally for the disabled then I think you would find this book to be rather eye opening.

I received a free ARC from Discovery.

About the Book

Freeing Teresa is a true story about an activist who tries to stop her powerful siblings from putting their disabled sister into a nursing home. She fails. And then must rescue her.
Franke James objected when she heard of the plan to put her disabled sister into a nursing home. Teresa Heartchild was just 49 years old and healthy. But the other siblings, who were acting as Teresa’s “guardians,” said that Teresa, who has Down syndrome, was “incapable.” Despite the objections, the siblings put Teresa into a nursing home, insisting it was necessary. But Franke refused to accept this, and she helped Teresa get discharged. That’s when all hell broke loose. The two sisters had to stand together—against their siblings, the medical system and the police—to defend Teresa’s right to be free.


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