Seven Single-Use Things I No Longer Buy

Some time ago, I blogged about things I’d decluttered from my home and my life. It’s been some time since that original post, so I thought I’d discuss seven single-use things I no longer buy. No, my blog isn’t turning into a low-waste one, but things are changing in my habits and lifestyle that I know will directly impact my writing schedule (or lack thereof) because they’re all things that were once distractions. And cost unnecessary money. I’m not certain yet how much I was spending on these items, as I always tried to get the cheapest versions of the following items to begin with, but in my current world every penny counts.

Let me preface the following with this: I hope this post inspires you, in some small way, to change up your daily routine. I’m not going to “preach” to you or say, “You MUST do this too because xyz.” I’m not that type. But maybe one of these will be something you’ve never thought of and decide to try for yourself.

Now. Onward to Seven Single-Use Things I No Longer Buy.

Dryer Sheets
Two Christmases ago, Mom gave my sister and I wool balls to use in the dryer. They’re good for at least fifty washes a piece and, with it just being me in my house, I’ve only used three of the six pack. I don’t know the brand name, as so much time has passed, but getting those dryer balls was one of the first changes I made to work towards a low-waste life.

Swiffers
There are other ways of cleaning your floors without using these sheets. Sure, they’re fantastic. Sure, they do the job. But I used to cringe every time one filled up and I couldn’t use it anymore. That’s when I started using Endust and a microfiber cloth to do my dusting. “But Leigh,” you say, “Endust is still a chemical.” As it’s just me, and I’ve heard of/gotten no medical repercussions as a result of using Endust, it works well enough for the task. I may have to bend over or reach up a bit further to do it, but it gets clean. And all I need to do after is throw my cloth in the wash and reuse it.

Paper Towels
What do I use in stay of paper towels? You guessed it – microfiber clothes. I will admit that, for certain spills or cleaning up grease, I do wish that I still had a small roll of paper towels on hand. But then I know I’ll get back into the habit of buying a whole package, ruining what hard work I’ve already done to eliminate my use of them.

I bought my microfiber clothes from the dollar store. I know there are better ones out there – everyone seems to have a link these days. But at the time I had zero extra dollars and didn’t want to spend $15-$20 on a single or two pack of clothes. The ones from the dollar store have served me well the past few years, and I’ll continue to use them until they’re completely worn out.

Also, microfiber clothes work gorgeously on stove tops and kitchen cabinets. You may need to use a bit more elbow grease than, say, the level of convenience that the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers give, but you still need very little solution or water to do the same thing.

Individually Wrapped Packets of Dish Detergent
This one, along with the following, made me cringe for years. I know there are all these recipes out there to make your own soaps, but I haven’t reached that level of craftiness yet.

So I decided, what I can do is look for detergent that comes in a recyclable cardboard box, and which brand’s pods are wrapper free. The ones I like come from the brand Finish. It’s harder to find these, but at least it’s one small change I know I can feasibly make.

Individually Wrapped Lens Wipes
I work in retail, in a place where dust and junk are ALWAYS getting on my glasses. Sometimes I’ll get home, take them off, and say, “Woah…how was I seeing through these?” I used to love using those pre-moistened lens wipes (the best ones come from Sam’s Club), and I always had a handful of them in my purse at work.

Now I carry a small spray bottle of solution and a washable cleaning cloth. And, honestly? It’s less streaky and wasteful than always tearing open a packet where you throw both the packet and the wipe away. With the spray bottle, the mister is specifically designed for the cleaner and recyclable. So, in my mind, the switch out is a win-win in my book.

Sugar Scrubs
This change was the hardest of them all to make. I adore a good sugar scrub in the shower. Especially since I’m around so much dirt at work. However, and I know you can recycle the containers they come in, I began falling out of love with the packaging on many of them. Why does one need to come with a separate little spoon? Or why does there need to be an extra plastic layer under the lid? If anyone knows of a simply packaged sugar scrub they love, please let me know in the comments below!

“Extras” or “Backups” Of Things
Oooh, it’s a sale! I used to think that way not five years ago when I worked a different kind of retail. Then I realized that, not only do I not have the storage space for said extra things, I really didn’t have the money for them either. I remember one time, freaking out because I’d improperly budgeted and had $22 left in my bank account. I ate ramen the rest of the week.

I still work retail, I still have to eat ramen noodles from time to time. But I’ve been able to more easily pay my bills and limit all those backups of things I didn’t really need backups for in the first place.

I used to always have five extra Bath & Body Works lotions on hand. Or six extra candles. Or two reams of paper ready to go. Or…I think you get the picture. So once I use something up, and I know that I don’t have a backup for it, I have to think, “Do I really need to repurchase this?” And, most of the time, I do not. I only use what I need.

Changes I’m Attempting to Make

Low Waste Grocery Shopping
There aren’t very many places where I live that offer bulk groceries or plastic free groceries. As a result, this change is proving to be a bit harder to make. I’ve used the same three reusable bags for years – it’s just remembering to take them with me. Trader Joe’s now offers composting produce bags, but a lot of their produce is still packaged. There’s farmer’s markets all throughout the spring/fall/summer, but what about the winter?

As you can see, it isn’t easy. I can’t watch those “My Zero Waste Shopping Trip” videos on YouTube because I get jealous at their easy access to such places. They’re still great encourage-rs to continue looking into the habit.

Switching Out My Candles
I love burning candles. They’re relaxing and always, always get me in the mood to read or write. Over the years I’ve found that, as much as I love a heavenly scented candle (be it Yankee, Woodwick, Bath & Body Works, or a homemade indie brand), I can’t handle as much scent as I used to. Everything is too artificial. I also used to always have several tea lights going – the best were once from IKEA, but I think they’ve changed their wax formula and now burn all weird – but I’ve since stopped buying them as a whole because of the outer metal covering. So I’m still looking for the perfect candles that I love to use up and don’t leave behind a lot a loose wax.

That’s it! There’s my seven single-use items that I no longer buy. I’ve found that these changes gave me a peace of mind about my purchasing habits in today’s world, and save me at least a little money each month! Let me know in the comments below what changes you’ve made in your life to better yourself!

Book Review | Christmas by the Lighthouse

In this new realm of reviewing books, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not going to love every book I read, be it from the library, a second hand book store, ARCs for review from NetGalley, or directly from the authors themselves.

I received CHRISTMAS BY THE LIGHTHOUSE as an ARC from NetGalley. This did not affect my review.

*Future Leigh here: this review was particularly difficult to write.

With CHRISTMAS BY THE LIGHTHOUSE by Rebecca Boxall, I didn’t fully dislike it, as it does highlight classic struggles of human nature. There are just a few things I’d like to touch upon before I go about deciding if I should recommend this book or not.

Settings
Setting description is one of Ms. Boxall’s strengths. The main settings described in CHRISTMAS BY THE LIGHTHOUSE are gorgeous – the lighthouse, the cottages and locations around Jersey. Being from England herself, I wonder if it’s a place she knows. As much as I want to visit places like this I hate being close to open water. So I live vicariously through books.

Characters
Although the story centered around Summer and Jude, they felt just as two-dimensional as the rather large supporting cast. They say that every person you meet influences your life in some way or another. Jude certainly went on a journey (all I can say without giving away any spoilers), and there is a twist at the end.

Overall Flow
Things pick up in the second half of the tale. While there’s some fabulous scenes centered around connections characters have with World War Two, the slow pace of the first part nearly made me put down the book.

I couldn’t get behind with how nonchalant many of the supporting characters were of Summer’s marital status and her growing interest in Jude. I get that this is a work of fiction, but it bothered me that Summer’s husband kept “apologizing” as well. For these reasons, and the slow pace, I’ve given CHRISTMAS BY THE LIGHTHOUSE three out of five stars.

STRENGTHS: Conversation and Description,.

RATING: THREE out of FIVE stars

Christmas by the Lighthouse releases in Sept. 2019

Here’s just a bit of the journal page I made so I could easily take down my thoughts for this review. It’s a hobby I’ve always enjoyed doing and I wanted to start sharing images of what I create with the posts. I hope you enjoy!

18 Links Any Writer Can Use

To be borderline cliche with this post’s opening statement, the Internet can be a vast, confusing place. With so many voices giving advice both good and bad, how do you even begin to choose what’s right for you? So, then, how can you trust anything I have to say?

I didn’t mean to go all philosophical with this post, but it went there. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, my most recent being 62 Things I’ve Decluttered or Stopped Buying. And it’s not even about writing! I do a lot of tweaking on my website. Probably more than I should.

Earlier this evening I revisited the Quick Links page I put up many moons ago. Granted about half of them are regional in respect to where I live, but I still think they’re useful to anyone digging into history or research of any kind. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a historical, informational hub, and I hope to one day add my stories to it. For now, here are 19 Links Any Writer Can Use.

1. 85 Hashtags Writers Need to Know | Amanda Patterson

Social Media. Niches. Hashtags. I’d like to think I’m a savvy enough individual to keep up with these things, but when you consider every type of platform out there, you realize that it’s physically impossible to keep up with all that plus your writing. I didn’t even know the #histfic tag that I now use from time to time. Here’s the thing. There are so many tags, communities and connections out there that it can get confusing very quickly. This post helped me narrow down my options and I still use those tags to this day.

2. 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2018

Okay, yes. I’m aware that it’s 2019. We’re 3/4 of the way through the year and soon it will be 2020. Regardless, Dana Sitar via The Writer Life covers a variety of topics in the list, giving everyone a chance to shine. From Nicole Bianchi and Re:Fiction to Comps & Calls and Enchanting Marketing, this is a great resource no matter the year. Take a look and maybe you’ll find some gems that’ll help your journey.

3. Allegheny County Library Association Card Catalog

While I can be quite nostalgic in that I miss the era of paper card catalogs – pulling tiny wooden drawers open, cards made up with typewriters, and “return by” inked on by a stamp – I do have to take a moment to show my appreciation for the ACLA Card Catalog system. During the initial research phase of Project Chronicles I used them a lot. And I mean a LOT. I reserved books, was able to request books from other counties, or from libraries within Allegheny I wouldn’t have had time to visit. I’d definitely suggest joining your local library system. They’re incredibly helpful and know how to dig up things you may not.

4. AskHerePa

This link banks off the ACLA one in that it’s another librarian based resource. I don’t know if this is a federally funded or state funded thing, or if it’s available in every state, but Pennsylvania has a fantastic resource that anyone can use. With options to chat online, access to e-resources and more, I used this several times when trying to find info on a Pittsburgh landmark which no longer exists. So it may be worth it seeing if there’s a system similar to AskHerePa in your area.

5. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Oliver Room

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds many rare and unique collections of historical importance, especially those that illuminate the rich cultural heritage of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. These historical collections are held at the Main Library in Oakland, as well as in neighborhood libraries throughout the City of Pittsburgh.

One of Andrew Carnegie’s goals was, through philanthropy, make resources available to the American public. The same American public who worked in his mills and places he had connections to. As a result Pittsburgh has its Oliver Room. They preserve historical documents and gives patrons an opportunity use them in a safe environment. The other thing I find really cool about them is that they have genealogy records, rare books and Pennsylvania topographical maps. One of these days I need to take a day and explore this great resource.

6. The Editor’s Blog: How to Format Your Manuscript

I confess. This one might be a titch out of date, as it was posted in 2011. Dear Lord, that’s eight years ago! I’m sure much more than a “titch” has changed. This is still a useful guide, but if you’re in the submission phase to agents or publishers, keep in mind that each one may have their own requirements for manuscript formatting.

7. Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl was also mentioned on the 100 Websites for Writers List 2018 (linked above). There’s a reason for this. She covers a variety of writing topics regarding words and punctuation. She covers things I wouldn’t even think of and I learn something each time I visit. Definitely check out Grammar Girl!

8. Heinz History Center

The Heinz History Center is more than just one building. Part of The Smithsonian network, its main focus is Southwestern Pennsylvania. There’s the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Fort Pitt Museum the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village…I think I’ll stop there. They are experts on knowledge of my region in the United States, and I’m grateful for the work they do. They also post a weekly blog centered around historical events most may not know happened.

9. Historic Pittsburgh

Tired of seeing Pittsburgh themed links? I promise, I’m nearly done highlighting my city! But Pittsburgh is one of the most historical cities on the Eastern seaboard. The fact that there’s so many organizations dedicated to preserving its history, and so many people interested in its history, should come of no surprise as to why my first novel series will include it. Historic Pittsburgh is supported by The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Chatham University Archives and many others to pool resources for research and preservation. Everyone sees history through different eyes, so it’s a good thing that there’s more than one organization preserving our past. Check with your local city to see if they have sources you may not have thought of.

10. Janice Hardy | Fiction University | Critique Groups

Now this is something I’ve yet to participate in because the introvert in me is still afraid to do so. It’s been several years since I first bookmarked her site and I forget who introduced it to me, but she has a series of novel writing books on structure, revising and understanding how things work together.

The point of this particular inclusion is to highlight the Critique Groups section. If you don’t want to share your MS with completely random strangers you’ve never interacted with through social media, this may be the place for you. Directly from Ms. Hardy herself, “This is for writers who are looking for critique partners or critique groups for more than just “I need some eyes on this before I submit it to an agent” type critiques.”

I’m far from any sort of critique stage (as I’m working on a rewrite of my novella), but I have this on standby for when the time is right!

11. Library of Congress Ask A Librarian

This one operates in a similar fashion to AskHerePa but on a larger scale. These librarians are highly trained professionals who can help you research any topic you approach them with. They are a bit slower to respond as they take their time, or if you message them on the weekend, but they are thorough in the types of resources they provide you with. One time I received not only web links but book titles my local library may be able to get for me. I highly recommend giving this free service a try!

12. LitRejections

This may seem like an odd one to include, but aren’t rejections a part of every writer’s query journey? Let’s face it – we offer ourselves up as tribute (lame Hunger Game reference there, I know) each time we send our work off to someone. Then the rejection comes in – hours, days, weeks or months later – and we find ourselves disappointed yet again.

LitRejections was founded with the sole purpose of encouraging writers as they go through the rigorous process of becoming a published author. They offer several types of critiques, links to agencies in particular countries, interviews with folks deep within the writing industry and encouragement through their social media.

13. The No. 1 Rule for Flashbacks in a Story Opening

Flashbacks. When done well they can provide important insight into a character’s motives or actions. They also run the risk of providing far more backstory than what the reader truly needs to know. It’s a tricky business, deciding to add a flashback, dream sequence or something equally vague at the beginning of a story. Contributor Peter Selgin takes us through several scenarios on what to include and what not to include. And when. A very useful post indeed.

14. Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals

Miss KM Weiland appears a lot on this site. No, I don’t know her personally. She is, however, one of the OG (original) folks I connected with when I first got involved in the online writing community. I don’t remember if I bought her books on writing first, or communicated through DMs first. However it happened, I’m glad to have found her site. Her posts, like the one above, are some of the most insightful I’ve found.

15. The Past Tense in English

Grammar. I love to hate it and hate to love it. The cold hard truth: I know I’m not the only one who struggles with my grammar. I’m constantly second guessing myself whenever I write something down, be it on this website, in email correspondence, in a notebook or a Tweet.

My trouble became quite evident to my early beta readers as I switch from tense to tense. At least I’ve yet to mix up which form of POV I’m using in a manuscript (knock on wood). I still have to refer to sites like No. 15 for a quick refresher course every now and then.

Remember: It’s okay to not know everything about writing. It’s a whole beast of a learning process on its own!

16. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Archives

Back in 2016 I was granted an amazing opportunity to tour one of my city’s most historic music halls. Home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Hall offers visitors a variety of shows and events throughout the year. A couple years ago I attended a Harry Potter night and everyone had a grand time.

Heinz Hall provides an opulent, rich setting any writer would love to include in a story. They have their own unique history as well as a curator who cares for it. Of course this is specific to the orchestra, but if you have a theatre scene in your story, consider checking out actual locals. They may have a curated, dedicated history center you can utilize.

17. QueryTracker

Why is QueryTracker frequently mentioned in online resource lists? Because of the type of resource that it is. Many established agents and agencies use it to connect with writers, and some use it exclusively for manuscript queries. Gone are the days of mailing giant stacks of paper in manila envelopes (though some still do). There’s still the Writer’s Market [insert year here], a printed guide book you can use. But QueryTracker is a faster method of searching for agents and what their MSWL (manuscript wish lists) are. And guess what? It’s free!

18. What Kind of Author Are You?

And here’s yet another article by KM Weiland. She’s just that good, okay? While this post doesn’t specifically use the word voice, as in a writer’s voice in their story, it did help me understand the concept a bit more. When I first worked with beta readers I was often complimented on my voice. But…what did that even mean?

Eventually, you’ll find what works for you. Do you need a certain technological tool to help you write? Or do you enjoy looking up obscure words and weaving them into your tales? Do you prefer writing in the mornings, afternoon or evenings? This post encourages you to find just that.

Whew! What a list! At one time I considered removing the section from my website and keeping them to myself, but why not share? I may have a resource you never even knew existed.

I suppose there aren’t as many Pittsburgh-themed links as I anticipated, but they’re still just as useful as the others. Expand your knowledge. Look in places you may never have thought to go, and you may be handsomely rewarded with knowledge you never had before.

I think today’s a good day for an adventure.

Book Review | Spelled

In this new realm of reviewing books, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not going to love every book I read, be it from the library, a second hand book store, ARCs for review from NetGalley, or directly from the authors themselves.

I purchased SPELLED as an ebook from Amazon. This did not affect my review.

While I cannot bear the thought of giving any book a bad sort review, I find myself conflicted with what to say about SPELLED by Camille Peters. Reimaginings of well-known fairy tales is my favorite genre. Despite my love for princesses and battles, this story is a more appropriate read for a younger audience.

SPELLED takes on the “story analogies within a story” trope with gusto, so much so that it’s a central topic of conversation for the main characters, Rosie and Alastar. However, it did make the book a chore to finish, since the concept is so intertwined. There were many perfect opportunities for a sword fight or two, but my craving for such a scene was never quite met. In a battle’s stay there’s her well-trained art of conversation and character growth. Once you accept that the story’s not about action, you’ll see how Rosalina’s not just Eileen’s best friend. She’s come up on her own and learns several important life lessons (with some help!). 

Even with Rosie’s growth, I don’t believe I’ll continue on with The Kingdom Chronicles series. Every author, decidedly, has their own quirks and preferred phrases. SPELLED had a few too many for my taste, but fantastic character growth.

RATING: THREE out of FIVE stars

Book Review | A Deadly Deception

In this new realm of reviewing books, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not going to love every book I read, be it from the library, a second hand book store, ARCs for review from NetGalley, or directly from the authors themselves.

I received A DEADLY DECEPTION as an arc for review from NetGalley. This did not affect my review.

A DEADLY DECEPTION by Tessa Harris begins its action straight away, pulling the reader directly into Constance’s world. Ms. Harris’ novel, historical and mystery and thriller combined, follows Constance Piper as she navigates her reality in a time when Jack the Ripper terrorized England in the 1880s. This is the third installment of The Constance Piper Mystery Series, beginning with THE ANGEL MAKERS.

Through two perspectives the story is told. First, through Constance, flower seller by day, paranormal investigator by night. Secondly, through Miss Emily, whose identity I shall keep hidden (unless, of course, you’ve already read THE SIXTH VICTIM). As I was unaware of the connection, it came as a pleasant surprise, and she plays quite an important role. Constance can’t keep away from the new investigation; her intuition is too strong and her connection to the victim fuels her motivation. All in all, as I attempt to write a spoiler-free review, the clues and details drew me in from the very beginning.

With vivid description and well researched specifics, A DEADLY DECEPTION proves itself to be a unique dive into a tumultuous time in British history. Tessa Harris is well practiced with her words and, while not everyone will appreciate this version of a familiar and heavily studied subject, I found it refreshing and invigorating. If you enjoy a story that crosses several genres, then I’d recommend this latest from Tessa Harris.

RATING: FOUR out of FIVE stars
I give it this rating due to the fact that I have yet to read the first two books in the series. Constance is already an established character, so I missed out on the early stages of her growth by jumping into the series with Book Three.

A DEADLY DECEPTION releases on August 27th.

Book Review | The Heart of a Pirate

In this new realm of reviewing on my site, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not going to love every book I get my hands on – from the library, a second hand book store, ARCs for review from NetGalley, or directly from the authors themselves. In this case, I received THE HEART OF A PIRATE as an arc for review from NetGalley. This did not affect my review.

The Goonies meets Pirates of the Caribbean in Chloe Flowers’ THE HEART OF A PIRATE. In this historical adventure we’re taken back to a time of pirates, adventure and multiple high stakes. novel the point of views aren’t centered on just the two main characters of Conal and Stevie (Stephanie). Flowers gives everyone a chance to shine, quickly drawing the reader into the characters’ lives, motivations and personalities. Through multiple points of views Flowers takes the reader along for the adventure.

Flowers’ knowledge of the era is evident throughout the book, and she uses this knowledge to add riddles and intrigue. The Sauvage family wants is safety, security, and a little (or a lot of money) wouldn’t be a bad thing either. When Stephanie’s, or Stevie’s (as she prefers to be called) siblings are kidnapped she, along with the rest of their close knit family, commandeers what they need to negotiate for their survival. Together they take on multiple captains, battles, sword fights and the ocean itself. Stevie and Conal’s affection for one another is just a small part of this rich tale, but it’s a relationship formed naturally rather than instantly. 

Character growth and twists are just a few of the golden nuggets woven into THE HEART OF A PIRATE. All the treachery and traps, carefully crafted insults between characters and story progression makes me long for more adventures with the Sauvage family as a whole. I’m certainly glad that I read this book, especially since it’s outside my normal repertoire. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I’ll most certainly be reading more from Chloe Flowers. 

RATING: five out of five stars

Book (Un)Review | Beyond the Known

In this new realm of reviewing on my site, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not going to love every book I get my hands on – from the library, a second hand book store, ARCs for review from NetGalley, or directly from the authors themselves.

That is why I’m calling these types of reviews a Book (Un)Review.

I’m well aware that’s not really a thing. However, it’s half past midnight and I don’t know how else to name it. As a writer working on my own stories, I crave an honest audience. I’d like these (Un)Reviews to have completely honest reasons as to why I couldn’t finish a book.

I had a hard time reading BEYOND THE KNOWN, as it is a fair bit more technical than what I’m used to diving into when I have free time. I’ll always have an interest in science and history. But, for me, I prefer physical science. If you know me, you know this will sound strange coming from a life long Trekkie. As a child I always thought I’d just be one of those shopkeepers on Deep Space Nine rather than behind a science station, but I divulge.

It is evident that BEYOND THE KNOWN was carefully and thoughtfully written. While I do not feel qualified enough to recommend or not recommend this book, do not dismiss its intent. It gives the reader an overall view of humanity from what was once our reality to our possible reality.

For this (un)review, I’ll not be giving a star rating.
I received BEYOND THE KNOWN as an ARC via NetGalley.
This did not affect any of my opinions in this (un)review.

Book Review | Pathways

This is only my second book review on this site and I think you can accurately guess at my preferred reading genre: fairy tale reimaginings. There are so many out there that it can be a little overwhelming to choose where to start. And, lets face it, some of them can be on the more, ahem, raunchy side. PATHWAYS by Camille Peters, while not a (ahem) raunchy romance, still has a love story woven within.

Let us begin with its synopsis, straight from the Amazon Kindle store: “Eileen has never been interested in love. Ever since her father’s abandonment, she’s vowed to never experience such pain again. But the enchanted forest has different ideas. When the continuously shifting pathways lead her to a mysterious stranger, Eileen finds her promise to fiercely guard her heart increasingly difficult to keep.

One night when she becomes lost in a storm, the enchanted forest’s pathways lead her to the castle, home to the kingdom’s Dark Prince, where Eileen finds herself entangled in what many consider an opportunity but which Eileen believes to be a curse: competing for the Dark Prince’s hand through a series of tests that judge one’s royal worth. Eileen is neither royal nor interested in becoming a princess. But the mysterious stranger she met in the woods has his own reasons for helping her succeed, although the cost of his assistance may be too high: that of Eileen’s heart, the one thing she’s vowed never to give.

Magic lives in Eileen’s land, along with a poisonous Prince who rules it. The pain of her father’s absence is evident in both Eileen and her mother, a pain which affects them each in different ways. Eileen meets danger fairly quickly, opening up intrigue and fear and mystery early on. Hints of inspiration other fairy tales peek through – Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty – through the descriptions of the Forest and Eileen’s conversations with her best friend, Rosie,

The pacing slows and we meet Aiden, the perfect stranger. His role – be it antagonist or protagonist – is quite unclear. He asks Eileen to spend three days with him in the Forest. With mystery finally afoot and a best friend urging her on, Eileen gives in to a near perfect stranger’s tantalizing request.

Throughout the story you swing back and forth between wanting to know what happened to Eileen’s father and naught wanting to. It’s almost as if that’s where the true mystery lies, rather than the actual story that’s told. Without knowing the author on a personal level, I also wonder if there’s a real life connection somewhere in her prose. 

The plot picks up a bit in the second half of the book, where the “princess competition” trope is reintroduced from its slight mention at the beginning of the story. By the time you have girls seeking attention of a prince, the reader’s quite forgotten about it.

The competition trope, while being a catalyst for story advancement, also seemed to take a back seat. I did long for a bit more adventure and a bit more cattiness among the other princesses. What’s missing from the plot line is a true villain, as the story never quite picks up speed after chapter six. As much as I wanted to be drawn into the romance, I couldn’t get on board with Aiden.

PATHWAYS’ true strength lies in description. I could easily picture Eileen’s house, the scenes with her mother and the Forest. What lacked was further plot development and an uncertainty with Aiden’s character. Several supporting characters head more development than he. And it seemed as though more knew Eileen and Aiden’s secrets than they could keep under control. Still, one couldn’t help but root for Eileen, root for her heart to change, and root for a happy ending. Supported by a cast of loyal characters, Eileen finds that her strength doesn’t have to lie with constant snark but through learning how to trust once again.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Book Review | The Warrior Maiden

My love affair with Melanie Dickerson began several years ago while I was on the hunt for something new to read. The genre: fairy tale reimaginings. The time: late at night, possibly around 2:00 AM. That’s when I, generally, get the urge to read. She’s the only author I’ve ever pre-ordered a novel from, and I’m quite picky with who I read. My first book of hers was The Healer’s Apprentice. It’s from the Thornbeck Medieval Fairy Tale series that I’ve fallen for long character arcs, with each story centered around a different pairing from the ruling family. But, as a reader, you have to take each individual book into consideration while writing reviews, and The Warrior Maiden is no exception.

Let us begin with its synopsis, straight from the Amazon Kindle store: “When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life – and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death – or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people, even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times – or showing him up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?”

Here’s the fun part of any review: the pros! Even before I read the synopsis for THE WARRIOR MAIDEN, I knew I had to buy it. Why? Because I adore anything Mulan. However, as mentioned earlier, you have to take each tale as it comes, because they are reimaginings of versions more commonly known. In Dickerson’s version, Mushu the Dragon is replaced by Andrei, Mulan’s loyal friend, there are no singing temple spirits, and you can forget about any “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” numbers. All that’s portrayed in Disney’s 1998 version of Mulan is replaced with multiple battle scenes, lush settings, and a once tentative relationship between Mulan and Wolfgang.

I say “once tentative” because they don’t really like each other to begin with. And, if you really want to get into the whole comparing with Disney’s version thing, it’s comparable to Mulan and Captain Shang. In the beginning, Mulan tries everything she can think of to be invisible. But she’s immediately thrust into the limelight. Into direct competition, and later collaboration, with Wolfgang as the battle moves forward. 

Now, for a few of those dreadful cons. While I didn’t agree with the way Steffan’s character behaved, his story is one reflective of  redemption. While there is some explanation within THE WARRIOR MAIDEN of Wolfgang and Steffan’s relationship growing up, there is the present assumption that the reader is already familiar with the brother princes of Hagenheim. So it may be beneficial to read the previous stories. Other reviewers also mention their distraction with prayers written in italics, or that, aside from a description of Mulan’s looks and heritage, there isn’t much…Asian…to her. For a story set far from the borders of China, it makes sense that Mulan would reflect the culture she grew up in (in this timeline). Not to mention it’s the 1400s. They would not have the resources then to incorporate more of Mulan’s heritage.

Whew! I am not one to include spoilers of things in my reviews, and I hope I’ve done that justice. All in all, take each fairy tale retelling you read with a grain of salt. Try not to compare and contrast them too harshly with more familiar versions, and try not to be too disappointed if a particular story isn’t done the way you wish it was. While there were some key elements (as in the continuation of the Thornbeck storyline) I felt could’ve been expanded upon a little more, THE WARRIOR MAIDEN was truly Mulan’s story, and how she came to feel things for Wolfgang. I encourage you to give Melanie Dickerson’s series a read. It is Christian faith based, so if you’re uncomfortable with that there’s plenty of action and magic alongside it. 

[…] and for that miracle, he was thankful.” ~Melanie Dickerson

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

62 Things I’ve Decluttered or Stopped Buying

YouTube. That place where it’s so easy to go from one topic video to another. Until it’s 2:00 AM and you wonder how you landed on the last video you clicked. Several months ago, during a 2 AM stint on that social media site, I stumbled into the world of zero waste, low waste, decluttering and general life management videos.

I’ve never been an environmentalist, and I used to think that I was doing pretty well with what I chose not to buy and what I actually used in my house. Not too long ago one of my interviewees, Sarah Price, put up a post in the Journal section of her website called “131+ Items I Recently Decluttered This Year.”

It got me thinking: “How much do I REALLY have that I don’t use? What can I let go, if anything? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?” The thing is, I LOVE watching decluttering videos, where folks get rid of everything from expired or overflowing makeup, to cleaning out closets of kids toys, and even videos on how to properly clean out your car. But was I doing any of that?

Truthfully? No. I wasn’t. I was inspired by the videos, but I wasn’t applying any of the concepts I claimed to be interested in into practice.

Now I know this is a very different kind of post for my site, but I thought I’d share with you the results of the last few months of purging, cleaning, and decluttering my 625 sq ft home. My list isn’t as impressive as Sarah’s, but my home, and my soul, feels lighter and happier because of it. So here are 62 things I’ve decluttered or stopped buying (so far):

Expired medicine

Backup toiletries

Yearbooks

Excessive cleaning products

Mismatched socks

Toxic social media accounts

Junk emails

Plastic bags

A winter coat that no longer fits

Broken yard lights

A bucket or rocks from my porch

Muffin tins

Jello molds

A spring form pan

A bundt pan

Silicone spatulas

Extra linens/old towels (see video below)

Extra/scented lotions

Bath & Body Works candles

Body sprays

Two scarves

20+ items of unused clothing

Loofas

Liquid body wash

Single use lens wipes

Decorative pillows

A jewelry tree

Jewelry I never wore

A shoe shelf from Target

Two candle holders

Prime time television

Mugs

My sister’s treadmill (with permission)

Loose recipes from magazines

Oils and vinegars I never used

Individually wrapped dishwasher tablets

A bamboo cutting board I got free-with-purchase of a cookbook

Facebook

Ice cube trays

Salad dressings

Extra pens/desk supplies

Adult coloring books

Extra paper

Paper towels

Hair oils and sprays that didn’t work

Online shopping

Bottled water

Beauty products that come in foil packets

Gaming apps on my phone

Face scrubs

Subscriptions to multiple YouTube channels

Big purses

Two stacks of hangers

Old birthday cards

Long lists of TV shows to “watch later but never do”

Extra reusable straws

Unused magnets

Old Christmas cards (with their envelopes)

A stained Tupperware container with a cracked lid (10+ years old

All but two sets of chopsticks

All vitamins except iron (anemic)

There you have it. 62 Things I’ve Decluttered or Stopped Buying. I’m far from perfect in practicing certain things represented on this list, like forgetting my reusable grocery bags and having to revert back to plastic. Or forgetting to take my water bottle to work.

I still have moments where I feel I need “retail therapy,” but those usually come when I should be sleeping or just watched a YouTube video that recommends certain things. All in all, I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve been able to pass on, sell, donate or just toss since I started this journey. Some extra things I forgot to mention that I don’t buy anymore: Swiffer duster sheets, dryer sheets (swapped those out with wool dryer balls), and fast fashion.

These changes have helped me be more mindful when I do head out to shop. To use up what I own and think about more sustainable alternatives. I don’t think I can completely go into a full on minimalist or zero waste lifestyle, but changing habits slowly and keeping up with them feels good for the soul. What makes yours happy?