Mary Catherine Starr and I laugh about being moms all the time. Sometimes it’s something our kids have done. Or taking stock of how our bodies have changed. Or just how crazy motherhood is—how it’s possible to feel every feeling there is, whiplash style, and how absolutely impossible it is to prepare for, no matter how much you have prepared for it.
It felt like today was a good time to take stock of my mom life. Samuel is turning four on Saturday. Raymond is 18 months old.* And though it feels like I’ve largely settled into the life of a mom of two—in the same way that one can settle into the life of the wrangler of a lovable but also destructive celebrity or a not-so-highly-trained demolitions expert—each day also brings surprises.
Here are some things that I’ve learned/am learning as the result of being a mom:
Strategize, strategize. Which kid to get in the car-seat first. Which kid you hold and which holds your hand when you walk through a parking lot alone. Which one goes to sleep first / which one will wake up first. How much each kid will eat for dinner. Which parent will prepare each child’s plate. How many snacks to pack for the road. How to give your 1.5-year-old a juice box safely because he will throw a fit if his brother has one and he doesn’t. Do not try to put his juice in a sippy cup. This is offensive.
And going along with this, do not ever assume that your 1.5-year-old is not fully capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. This angers him. But maybe also don’t think that they’re actually capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. It’s a fine line, I get it.
Sometimes it’s worth it to have a little mess if it buys you a few minutes of peace first. Have to pick up some raisins off the floor because it was more important to sit on the couch than to insist that your child sit at the table? So what. Enjoy that couch time.
Having a sibling will put a totally different spin on young toddlerhood. Sam had temper tantrums as a 1.5-year-old, but they weren’t about an older sibling taking his favorite toy of the moment or his snack or turning the cold water off in the bathtub or turning the cold water on. This sibling dynamic has been really interesting to watch. Sometimes Sam and Ray kiss and hug each other. Most of the time they wrestle. Sometimes Ray watches Sam like he’s a benevolent God. Sometimes like he’s a vengeful and unpredictable one.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the youngest child is always the victim. *shakes head no.*
If you have both kids at home by yourself, bathroom time is a bit dangerous. Here’s my advice: put the tv on, select a bathroom closest to the living room, and leave the door open when you have to use the bathroom. Or maybe put the youngest in the crib for a minute. Or maybe just don’t use the bathroom at all.
You will never, ever get the amount of sleep you think you will. Sometimes you’ll get more than you thought. Most of the time you’ll get less. But try to cuddle with your partner as much as you can. It really makes a difference.
And speaking of sleep, wow, but training your child to go to sleep in his bed and stay in his bed is a _____. There were times when it was easier to let Sam sleep in our bed than to fight him into sleeping in his own bed throughout the night. But I say this to stay at home moms in particular: it's so important to set boundaries, and for me, my bed is one of them. We put so much time and work into getting Sam to sleep in his own bed; he is remarkably stubborn. But it totally changed my life when we broke-through.
Do not buy one of anything when you have more than one kid. See one of my latest blog posts about the Thermos FunTainer. Lesson learned.
You will not be 100% happy about being a mom at all times. First of all: for over a year after having Sam, I experienced postpartum anxiety and depression. I had never felt like that before in my life, and it was all that I could think about. I had the worst thoughts about myself and my life and my future. There was no way that I could have imagined that I’d feel like this—happy and hopeful—today, and that’s because of therapy and medication and also the support of my family and friends. You might not have experienced postpartum anxiety and depression or something similar, but the bottom line is that being a mom is hard. It can feel isolating and confusing and frustrating in moments, and that can produce a lot of guilt that’s hard to let go of. But talk to people and give yourself a break. Those perfect moms don’t exist—and if they do, there are only two or three of them and they only exist on Facebook.
Take your kids' questions seriously. Sam has been asking all kinds of interesting questions lately—about the human body, the Loch Ness monster, animal stories from when Daniel and I were growing up—and I love how curious he is and how he holds onto everything we say. This is also a good place to remind you that you shouldn’t say the word camel-toe in front of your children.
You will love the people who love your kids; you will harbor secret/not-so-secret resentment toward anyone who you feel has slighted them. Thank you to everyone who has taken such good care of my boys.
I think that's good on the unsolicited but well-meaning parental advice front, don't you? *Look for a follow-up post in the future: Life with Three Kids, because Daniel and I are adding to our family again in December 2019. We are excited and happy and scared and excited again.
There are some books that feel perfect, that shine with the force and beauty of Cary Grant’s smile, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is one of them. Reduced to its basics, it’s a m/m romance between the FSOTUS (First Son of the United States) and a British prince, but it’s much more than that. It’s one of the most romantic love stories that I’ve ever read, and it’s got a place in my heart and top 100 Books list forever.
Alex Claremont-Diaz has always hated Prince Henry. Henry is stuffy and stilted, fake and boring, at least in Alex’s eyes. He’s a “fairy-tale prince,” and that’s something Alex doesn’t relate to, even though Alex himself “is the golden boy of the United States.”
The antagonism between them erupts at a royal wedding and before they know it, a wedding cake is ruined and they’re forced to pretend that they’re actually friends instead of bitter enemies. Proximity reveals that there are other emotions at play between them, and what follows is fantastically sexy, so sensual, sweet, and exhilarating that I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter.
But, of course, we’re still talking about a m/m romance between a First Son and a British royal in line to the throne, so we know that the HEA will not be easily granted—even if it is absolutely glorious when it arrives.
Part of the difficulty is that Alex has never identified as anything as other than straight; he’s also half-Mexican and First Son of the United States, factors which produce their own pressures, and his mother is running for her second term. And Henry’s always had to hide who he is. He’s gotten little family support, and he can’t conceive of a way for him to be both British prince in line for the throne and a gay man in a publicly committed relationship.
At no point did I forget the many obstacles in the way. But this book is ultimately about hope, optimism, and living an “honest” existence. It’s about choosing something better, whether that’s a presidential candidate or a life where you can be with the person you love, and those things kept shining through, even when the future between Alex and Henry seemed most uncertain.
The things that Alex and Henry notice about each other; the words they write; their first fumbling revelations to the other. It’s all so beautiful, and every word felt real to me, every step they made toward each other felt like a readerly wish I had made had been granted.
Red, White & Royal Blue is so, so special.
Q: What's your favorite royal romance? This one is mine, hands down, forever and ever, kthanksbye. In real life, it's Harry and Meghan.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
You know that line in Friends when Monica says on Richard’s answering machine, “I’m breezy!” Well Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting for Tom Hanks is breezy. It’s adorable and quirky and pretty much effervescent, and I read it in one delightful afternoon.
This book has a really cute love story, but what really hit me with the feels is how everything about their story—and so much of the heroine’s life philosophy—is a tribute to the rom-com. You all, I love a rom-com, and the better it is, the happier I am…but my secret is: it doesn’t even have to be very good for me to really like it.
Waiting for Tom Hanks is a romance. It’s also chock-full of insightful and funny commentary on the rom-com, and most of it, though not all, is provided by our heroine, Annie Cassidy. Rom-coms remind Annie of her best memories with her mother, and the greatest representation of the future love that her mom believed Annie had coming to her is Tom Hanks. The. Tom. Hanks. *sigh.
No one quite understands her thing for Tom Hanks, especially film star Drew Danforth, a Chris Pratt-like hero who has transformed from approachable cute to ripped action star, and who is notorious for the pranks he pulls on red carpets.
This is not a book without substance, but the problems are overcome fairly easily and it reads smoothly. I smiled quite a lot, I think; I also got secondhand embarrassment for Annie, who is smart and ambitious with an admirable sense of humor, and who also gets herself into some awkward situations.
Though I tend to prefer a bit more drama in my reads, Waiting for Tom Hanks made a lovely, funny afternoon for me, offering a heroine and a love story that feels fresh and new, and reminding me of the parts of my rom-com memory that are still powerful enough to give me heart eyes.
Want other romances set in the film industry? Try Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy (reviewed on my blog) and Julie James’s Just the Sexiest Man Alive.
Everything about Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners makes me happy.
The cover. Hubba hubba.
The premise. It’s a fake romance between two adversaries who just want to cash in on the honeymoon that their respective food-poisoned siblings—married to each other—can no longer go on.
The heroine. Defensive, funny, and passionate, who makes sometimes makes snap judgments but is working on it, dammit.
The hero. Stuffy, but only around her, who is not unreasonable but who does believe buffets are death wishes for everyone and that's just a fact.
Other things to mention: the humor, which is out of this world, and the fantastic way the authors have drawn the family dynamics here. It feels authentic with their fights and their squabbling and their digs at other’s expense, but it’s also lovely.
What a wonderful escape.
Q: Would you pretend to be someone else--like your twin sibling--to go on a free vacation? I think I would, but I would be terrified. *still a goody-goody.
Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Forever Pub for this beautiful print copy, which I read for my review, and Netgalley for a complimentary e-copy. All opinions provided are my own.
It’s a dramatic beginning: lightning flashes. The heroine’s brother is bleeding out on a table. Soldiers are coming, ready to make an arrest. And our heroine Katherine holds a gun on our hero, believing him to be a threat to her family.
It only gets better from there. A Rogue by Night is full of intrigue, plots, and drama. It’s also terribly sweet, with a swoonworthy love story and two main characters who deserve every bit of happiness that’s coming their way—provided they can be wily enough, daring enough, to grab it.
Bowen does a stellar job portraying Katherine and our hero Harland—making them aspirational characters that also feel human. Characters I admired and also grew to love.
Katherine’s an intrepid heroine, willing to do pretty much anything to save the people she loves, and even take care of random strangers she knows need medical care. She’s resourceful and talented, able to stitch someone up and dive to bring up a smuggler’s haul and put on an Oscar-winning performance like a pro. She’s beautiful and in case it wasn’t clear—really smart—but I wasn’t annoyed by her because *ticks fingers*: she’s also highly defensive, she jumps to conclusions, particularly about our hero, and she’s not always tactful.
All of this made me love her more. Yay for imperfect heroines.
And Harland? He is a dream. He's also selfish a couple of times, willing to do things that would keep him closer to Katherine even as he kept his secrets. And again, his mistakes, his fears, his humanity made me love him more.
A Rogue by Night is a big slice of sweetness, with some tartness thrown in. It’s another wonderful romantic offering from an author I think needs to be read more. Thanks to Kelly Bowen for writing a duo that I’ll be smiling about for a good while to come.
Q: What’s one of your favorite books featuring a physician as a main character?
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Sometimes you have a satisfying relationship with a man who seems like exactly what you want; other times he dies and you discover that he’s already married with another (inadvertent) mistress on the side.
But in this story about female empowerment, the three women form a pact to help each other weed through other possible liars/cheaters/unsuitables, and a true female friendship is born.
Passion on Park Avenue sparkles, but it’s also substantive, with characters who have suffered their share of heartbreaks even if they are all rich and pretty. Layne is a beautiful writer; every sentence falls smoothly, every character is fleshed-out, and as a reader, I had all the faith that she was taking me to a stellar HEA in the specific lovely way that Layne does it.
Each wronged woman’s voice in Passion on Park Avenue packs a punch, and Naomi’s is my favorite. She’s a one-liner champ, usually aimed toward the man who wronged them all. She’s sophisticated and determined, wry and intimidating, and also, far underneath, scared. She’s been carrying a lot of baggage, and part of it involves our hero, Oliver, who used to torment her as a child, and part of it involves Oliver's dad, who was awful.
But you can’t keep a boss heroine down, especially this one, who is unapologetically ambitious and determined (even if she can’t manage to make herself reveal her real identity to Oliver). This becomes even more of a pickle after she deliberately pursues an apartment in their building under Oliver's misapprehension...
The secret identity trope is kind of a hard one for an over-sharer like myself. When I read books like this and the character thinks how they should tell the truth but…, I think: TELL IT ALREADY. It’s well done here—Layne makes it really clear why Naomi has such a hard time with it and why the past still has a stranglehold on her, the break-up will rip your heart out, and the reconciliation, which involves a literary allusion that always makes me beam, will piece it back together.
And speaking of piecing things together *wink* there are no explicit sex scenes in this book. This is not really a spoiler because Layne has shared this on her Instagram account. Is the book still really good? Yes. Is it still sexy? Yes. Did I miss the scenes? Yes.
What’s even better than finishing a book that grabs you by the heart? Knowing that there are at least two more coming. *Raises a mug of champagne in toast.
Q: what's your celebratory drink of choice? Mine is champagne.
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I love a female action hero. Those characters resonate with me now more than ever, thanks to the largest biceps I’ve ever had—courtesy of carting around my giant babies.
So maybe it’s no surprise that I found the premise of Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy to be delightful: Sadie Gold has just received the role of a lifetime, starring as an action hero in what’s sure to be a blockbuster film. To her shock, she realizes that the stunt coordinator on set is none other than Bo Ibarra, the man she grew up with and who broke her heart over a decade ago.
They both have secrets that they’re holding onto; will they break them apart for good?
This was my first Melonie Johnson book, and *cue dramatic voice*: it won’t be my last. It was hot and passionate. It was a celebration of female friendship, with friends who support one another and also tease, which rang authentic to me. And Johnson is a skilled writer, thoughtfully rendering the evolution of Sadie and Bo’s relationship (and beautifully showing how their feelings were/are possible of existing over a period of time, despite their years apart) and writing thrilling stunt scenes that are exciting and cinematic. They felt behinds-the-scenes-ish.
One last impressive aspect of the book is how Johnson handles Sadie’s revelation to Bo. Content warning ahead:
Johnson handled the topic of a past abortion adeptly and admirably, portraying how painful Sadie still found the subject, but also how she was certain that she made the right decision for herself. I appreciated how Johnson made it clear that it was possible for both of those things to be true.
Once Upon a Bad Boy is really good romance. Sign me up for more! (Also, I’d like to watch Sadie’s movie IRL).
Q: Who is your favorite female action hero? I'm a hugeeee fan of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. Does that count if she's a superhero?
I received a complimentary copy of this beauty from Grand Central Pub and Forever Pub but all opinions provided are my own.
April Hunt’s Deadly Obsession is best-friend’s-little-sister, romantic suspense magic. It’s got the drama, the romance, and the mystery that you’re looking for, and a HEA that will leave you momentarily satisfied—but only because you’re so excited to read the next books in the series.
One of my romantic novel weaknesses is a confident, ballsy heroine who’s ready to fly and a brave hero who is suffering from a temporary lapse in courage.
Knox Steele, former soldier, is back in town after years away, and it’s not to join the Steele Ops company his brothers formed. Civilian crime scene investigator Zoey Wright can’t help but notice—she’s been in love with him since she was a teen, even when it was apparent that he never saw her in any way other than his best friend’s little sister.
But there are insane sparks between them, even as the Cupid Killer continues killing women around DC and Zoey finds herself threatened…
Zoey is an approachable heroine despite how admirable she also is. Suffering from a longtime heart condition, she decided after her last major surgery that she’s going to really live, no matter how much her brother and others try to wrap her in cotton. In occasional moments, she has a lack of confidence, but for the majority of the book, she’s kicking butt and taking names, putting herself out there in ways that show how courageous she really is.
And Knox is alpha male perfection, strong and willing to take on anything—except maybe staying with Zoey and living in DC.
Deadly Obsession is so, so good, and my favorite of the April Hunt’s books I’ve read. I can’t wait to see where she goes next! Roman, please!
Q: Zoey takes on a new job as a crime scene investigator. If you could have another job--realistic or not--what would it be? I'd like to work at a bookstore (and wear cardigans and call myself Kathleen Kelly. Thank you.)
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.