5 Tips on Budgeting and Debt From Someone Who Really Just Likes To Research

As someone with a lot of anxiety issues, I have a tendency to stress out a little bit more about paying bills on time and things like that. Over time, I’ve managed to build up a lot of debt through schooling, job problems, etc. etc. But there is one thing I have going for me, and one thing that my family has always been pretty good at – we know how to manage debt. I may be overwhelmed now, but I have a plan, and I’m on my way to getting out of it. But anyway, my anxiety paired with my being a librarian-research nut has caused me to look up and read a lot of different ways to make life easier by budgeting and paying down your debt in different ways. Again – I am by no means a financial expert, but I do have a few tips (and resources/guides from others) that might help you in managing your debt.. and help keep you a little less stressed!

1. Get a free credit report. This can help you figure out if there are any cards, inquiries, or late payments, and ultimately give you your credit score. Sometimes your bank or credit card company will have your FICO credit score updated every month, and it should be visible on your account page.Two other places that offer free credit reports are:

  • FreeCreditReport.Com 
  • Credit Karma (also available as an app)
    • For me, this one has my score lower than pretty much every other score system out there, so it may be a good benchmark for your “worst case scenario.”
  • Your banks and credit card websites! Most banks and credit card companies have the option to view your credit score for free each month online. Just browse through your account page, and you should find something for it. I know for a fact that Wells Fargo, Discover, Chase, Barclay, American Express, and CapitalOne have the option.

2. Keep track of your spending. There are a lot of ways to do this, but it is one of the most important ways to help keep track of your finances. Have you ever taken a step back and looked to see how much you’re spending on food? I know that the first time my husband and I both had full time jobs, we went a little nuts and ate out constantly. Before I realized it, we were spending well over a thousand dollars a month on food alone! It’s important to take note of your needs first so that you can have money to focus on your needs when you can’t anymore (which is how we learned the hard way and racked up a bunch of debt).

  • Daily Worth has a great guide on several different budgeting apps and spending trackers out there. I managed to find a great one for me early on, so I haven’t experienced too many others.
  • Mint
    • I personally am a huge fan of Mint and have been using them for years. Mint allows you to sync all of your accounts (even 401(k)s, student loans, car payments, and if you list your car info it will even calculate it’s worth!)
    • It will have a list of all of the transactions from every single account. It categorizes them already, but you have the option to change or add the category for each item.
    • It has a bill pay section where you can pay your bills directly from the app (or desktop site).
    • It has a budgeting option, where you can physically make your budget. You insert in about how much income you get each month (if it’s not fixed, aim for a lower amount). Then you can put amounts for each of the different categories of spending – rent, credit cards, food, auto insurance, etc. The bars will fill up as you spend in those categories, and you can even have it alert you if you have spent too much in a category.
      • You can set a savings goal, and add this goal as part of your budget.
      • You can also set other goals like “vacation” or “pay down your debt.”
    • There is a spend analyzer which shows you how much you have a tendency to spend in each category, which can help you figure out where you’re spending too much.
    • It also gives you a credit score that keeps updating.
    • Because it keeps track of your transactions from all of your different counts, you can also search through your transactions for all of the ones from a specific place: for example, I try to keep track of how much I spend at doctor’s offices via this method.
    • The only problem that I’ve had with Mint so far is that it has problems linking certain accounts sometimes. It can’t link my 401(k) or USAA accounts for security reasons, even though it did at one time. But that’s a minor flaw.
  • Bullet Journaling. I mentioned how I recently got really into this in a previous post, but bullet journaling is a great way for you to be mindful of your life and can also be a creative way to keep track of your spending. There are many ways to include budgeting in your bullet journal, whether it be writing down what you purchase each day or making different budgeting charts.
    • Apartment Therapy has a great guide with some awesome Instagram images of budget layouts for bullet journals.

3. Debt Consolidation. Consolidating your debt into one area can be one good way to reduce your monthly payment, save on interest, and pay down debt faster. There are many ways for you to do this.

  • Open up a new credit card with a free balance transfer option and zero interest for the first year. Transfer over your highest interest cards to this account, and pay it off as fast as you can.
    • Chase Freedom is one of the many options that you can use. I just got one with a free balance transfer offer. If you click on my link, you will get a $150 bonus after spending your first $500 in 3 months.
  • Take out a personal loan, and transfer your debt to this loan. You can do this through many places, including banks.
    • I suggest first writing down all of your current interest rates and averaging them out (add all the percentages of each card together and then divide by the number of cards). When you apply for a loan, you will want to make sure that it is less than this number, or else you will not be saving on interest.
      • Ex. Chase – 22.49%, American Express – 18.49%, Discover- 17.99%, Barclay 24.49%, Citi – 24.49% (22.49+18.49+17.99+24.49+24.49 divided by 5 = 21.59%)
    • If you are approved for the loan at a decent interest rate (so for the above example, if you got any offer under 21.59% you would be saving money), this will allow you transfer your chosen amount of debt and make only ONE payment, instead of payments on several different cards. This can help you pay debt down faster and accrue less interest.

4. Debt Reduction Calculators / Snowball & Avalanche Methods. Do you have a lot of credit cards, loans, etc. and you don’t know which to pay off first? There are many different methods of making payments that can help reduce how much you pay in the long run. Making minimum payments just won’t cut it sometimes, and if you can even add in an extra $100 a month, you can make a huge difference on how much interest you pay over time. But where should you put that $100? Maybe I’m just a nerd, but I find debt reduction calculators to be a lot of fun and really fascinating.

  • The best tool I have found (and use myself) is an excel sheet debt-calculator available here.
    • It may look complicated, but it’s fairly easy to use and can ultimately give you a list of how much to pay on each card each month, and then how long it will take you to pay off each item.
    • It only allows you up to 9 (it says 10, but only 9 seem to work for me) different items, but you can pay $9.95 to increase it to 20 items. I suggest just using the free one and just entering in your 9 highest interest items.
    • How to Use:
      1. Find and write down all of your cards, loans, etc. with their interest rates, minimum payments, and current balances. If you can’t find the interest rate and minimum payment amount, they are normally located on your account statements.
      2. Fill in the top section of the excel sheet with the information you just collected about each item and today’s date.
      3. In the “Monthly Payment” area, put how much you are willing to spend each month on these cards/loans.
      4. Select which strategy you would like to use. If you want to save the most money over time, choose the Avalanche method. If you want to see results faster, select the Snowball method. You can also do custom methods if there’s a specific order that you would like to pay the accounts off.
      5. The chart will then calculate the bottom box and table for you with payoff dates, interest paid, etc!
      6. If you click the next sheet tab (at the bottom of excel) that says “Payment Schedule”, you will see a sheet with exactly how much you will need to pay for each card each month (so cool!) The chart will show you exactly when you will pay off all your debt.
  • You don’t have to use an actual tool to pay down your debt if you don’t want to, but it is generally best to put more money on one payment rather than spreading it out among payments. The interest rates play a big part in your card’s balance. If you pay off the highest interest card first with only the minimum payments for the other cards (Avalanche method), you will be paying much less over time.
  • The Avalanche method mathematically is the most effective way to pay down your debt, but some say that it is not the best way. Another way is the Snowball method (which Dave Ramsay, a pretty well known Financial Advisor, suggests using), which involves paying off the lowest amount first. Some say that this works better because you’re more motivated when you see that a card is paid off and are more likely to continue the process.

5. The Envelope Method. One simple way to aid in budgeting and to make sure you’re not spending too much on specific things (like food) is by using the “envelope method.”

  • To use this method, figure out how much you can spend each month, and then divide your expenses into categories. Get some envelopes and write the category names on them.Then allot an amount for each category, withdraw cash, and put the amount of cash for each category in its respective envelope.
  • Now when you go to pay for things, you can take the cash out of it’s specific envelope. This way, if you notice you only have $50 left in your food envelope and you still have 10 days left in the month, you will know that you can’t eat out and need to plan your meals.
  • You can make an envelope for all sorts of things, and you can either choose to place the leftover money in next month’s envelope to “roll it over” or you can potentially even place it in a new envelope as savings for something!
  • Just a note – my husband and I have found a lot of success with this method especially when used for food spending; though we aren’t very good at following it perfectly, it definitely does the job of helping us decrease our monthly spending on food.

This all may seem a little overwhelming, but it’s really not as much as it seems. You can look into stuff little by little and maybe you’ll get just as excited by it as I was when I first discovered half of it! I hope some of this is somewhat helpful. If you’ve got any questions or comments… or even suggestions and complaints, please comment! I’ll eventually be posting another finance-related post on couponing and stuff once I get the chance, so keep your eyes open 🙂

Zenn Diagram

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, I really love stand-alones because you’re less likely to get a cliffhanger of an ending, but I’m quite sad that this one is over! Eva is a math genius with a quirk – if she touches people (or certain things) she can “see” them. She gets “fractals” and can essentially learn lots about someone which has essentially caused her to stop touching people and objects unless she has to. When you can’t touch people or things, you’re going to come off to be somewhat odd – and Eva’s oddness has had her avoid guys pretty much her entire life. And then Zenn comes along.

There were a lot of interesting story arcs of this book that I wasn’t really expecting. I liked the tension and dramatic parts, but I also loved the fact that unlike many other romance books, there’s always something that causes an intense break up halfway through the novel, so you just spend hundreds of pages wanting that to happen. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen exactly like this in Zenn Diagram.

I’m surprised to look around and see lower reviews, because I sped through this and liked every minute. There is a hell of a lot of cheese, but I mean, who doesn’t like some swoony lit? I felt that it wasn’t overly predictable – some of the things that I thought were going to happen did not. I honestly thought there was going to be more drama with the best friend and her boytoy but no. It was simple and sweet with the drama in the background that’s really out of everyone’s control. I’m trying to come up with things I didn’t like, but I can truly get past them all to give this a 5 star rating. It made me squee just a little (and quite possibly yell that the ending was semi-abrupt).

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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Artemis – Just As “Sciency” As The Martian!

Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Available in November 2017

Andy Weir does a great job at making SO MUCH SCIENCE so very, very entertaining. And believable! I read that much of what was in The Martian is actual feasible, so I wouldn’t think twice about it being the same for Artemis.

I was very glad that I was able to get an ARC of this from Netgalley. I absolutely loved The Martian, and even though it was on a slightly different subject, the way that Andy Weir writes is right up my alley. Artemis is about a “petty thief” living on Artemis, the only city on the moon. She gets an offer she can’t refuse and it ends up being a little bit more than she expected. If you like books about space, science, snark, and a little thievery, this may be for you.

The main character in Artemis is a 26 year old Saudi Arabian girl named Jazz. And, just like Mark Watney, she’s got a lot of extra commentary that can be pretty entertaining at times. I won’t say she’s quite as likable as Mark Watney (she’s a little too sure of herself), but she does the job. You’ve got a lot of other likable characters who are from all around the world, because that’s the thing – Artemis was “created” by Kenya, and it’s definitely a city with all types of people (and seemingly no discrimination by race). I wouldn’t say there’s too much visual description on characters – I really have no idea what anyone looks like in this book, but that’s fine with me, I guess.

You get a lot of world building – there’s a map of the city included in the book, and Jazz goes throughout the different city bubbles, so you get to learn what kind of futuristic moon-city there may be one day. Of course she’s not wealthy or anything, but you get to see some of that too. It all definitely makes me want to live on the moon.

Overall, I’m taking off the 1 star for some of the “funny comments”/snark by Jazz and others being a little overdone at times. With Mark Watney in the Martian, you could kind of expect it because he’s by himself and essentially trying to talk his way out of dying alone. But Jazz is surrounded by a lot of people who know that she’s “this way” and it still just seems a little overdone at times. Either way, it’s fast paced and definitely worth a read!

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You can pre-order the book through amazon by clicking on the link below 🙂
 

The Beautiful Ones

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The one thing I can say about this book is that I definitely rushed through it pretty quickly – I finished it the second night I was reading it, in a epic binge-reading session. So I definitely at least “liked” it.

Some things that didn’t quite make sense to me or I didn’t quite like:

  • The Title: Though “the beautiful ones” are mentioned occasionally, they really aren’t a huge part of this book. They aren’t described, and you would think that maybe they’d have a purpose or the plot would be related to them but I just didn’t get that.
  • Nina being fond of insects: Is it just me or is this becoming a common theme in books that are set in this victorian-esque time period? I feel like I keep reading about female characters who are into bugs or butterflies or beetles.
  • This is supposed to be Sci/Fi?: The only thing included in this book that is science fiction is that two of the characters are telekinetics in a world where people know it exists, but that is literally it. They don’t really do anything with it (I mean there are bits, but it’s not a focal point by any means.) The publisher claims this to be Romance and Science Fiction, but they really should just take the Science Fiction out.
  • Slow Pace: I felt like I read 500 pages of Nina pining over Hector when the book wasn’t even 500 pages.
  • Nina’s age: They say Nina is 19 and turns 20, but she is truly treated as a child throughout the book. What’s this about? We’ve got all these other kids running about saving the world and this kid can’t even tell when her cousin’s messing around with her?

One thing the book definitely has going for it is character development, at least with one character in particular. I rarely dislike characters so quickly, but man did I want to rip Valerie’s face off. Also, the book does a great job at making you move with the ebb and flow of the the plot. And I definitely still wanted to see some matchmaking made toward the end.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Mask of Shadows

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

There is a lot of negativity going around about this book, but I genuinely liked it.

A lot of different reviewers are going on and on about how this is The Hunger Games or it’s got the same plot as 5 million other books, but I didn’t necessarily see that. Sure, there are numbers involved (but they are numbers according to entrance to become an assassin – similar to Throne of Glass) but that doesn’t mean that it is just like the number districts in The Hunger Games. There are people competing to become an assassin, but it is not at all like it was in Throne of Glass. I’ll admit that I found it pretty boring towards the beginning, but similar to Divergent, I felt that the second half of the book was much quicker and better than the first. If you eliminate a large chunk of the descriptive nature you may get a much more entertaining book.

One of the great things going for this book is that there is gender fluidity! It actually took me forever to figure out whether or not Sal was a boy or girl until I realized that they wanted to be identified by what they were wearing – you don’t really see this very often in YA books, so it is really nice to see that. Do I think they could have done more than this? Absolutely yes.

There were a few problems with the book. With as much as you see the Left Hand, I still couldn’t remember who was who. There were some over-dramatized moments, especially with Elise, that bothered the crap out of me. And Sal is the most teary eyed character I’ve ever read about in my life. It also seems like you’re going to get a lot more magic or more of these “shadows” but you just don’t — though this definitely may occur in later books! Despite the flaws though, I still liked it – and even though it may have some common characteristics of half the other fantasy YA novels, you know what, I’d still continue to read the series.

I received this ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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New Reviewer and a New Obsession

Hallllloo everyone! So I know I’ve pretty much overloaded the blog with recipes and reviews, but hey, that’s what it’s supposed to mostly be about. And with that being said, I had an idea. After talking with a friend after her and her husband came to visit us in Oregon last weekend, I figured it would probably be a good idea to have somebody else write book reviews (and other stuff if she wants) as well! That way we can have more than one opinion, and even more book options! So my friend Heather will be joining the Shelf-Righteous team 🙂 We have very similar taste, but she has read a lot more than me lately, especially in the sci-fi world. I asked her if she would be interested, and she said she’d always wanted to but just didn’t want to do it by herself and her other friends had no interest. So this is perfect! I’m not sure when she will start posting, but I think I’ve got her all set up! It’d be helpful if you know.. my web-developer husband actually helped me more with this like he told me he would, but whatever, I’ve been wanting to re-learn some things anyway.

So on a completely different note, I wanted to talk a bit about my new obsession: bullet journaling. I literally just started my journal yesterday, so I’m no expert, but I’ve spent hours upon hours on pinterest and google, looking at other peoples’ ideas on page layouts. So what is a bullet journal? 

The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.

So why am I all of a sudden so into these? Well, I mentioned in the intro that I have a slew of mental illnesses. One of these is ADHD, and another is Borderline Personality Disorder. I have a really hard time focusing on things, and I have a really easy time getting obsessed with things (ha). I make a bunch of lists, notes, and have a lot of random thoughts that I constantly forget all the time. So I figured after happening upon these one day, why not try to organize some of my thoughts and life and do it in a creative way? Not only will it help me track things like taking my medication and other daily tasks that are totally necessary but sometimes very hard for me to do, but I can also make goals for myself, track my moods, and write down what’s going on in my brain. Sometimes my therapist asks me what was going on right when my mood flipped, and most of the time I can’t really figure it out. Maybe my bullet journal will encourage me to write it down. I also read this one article about having a “fuck box” in the journal, where you just rant about the things that piss you off – the things that make your mood jump horribly. I’m not really sure if it will help with anything, but I might as well try, right? It can also do a lot for me in terms of tracking my weight loss and food goals and even financial stuff. If you know me well, you know that I can get pretty obsessive when it comes to paying bills and using debt reduction trackers and stuff online. Honestly, writing it down and having it easily accessible at all times would probably make me feel a lot better and hopefully encourage me to do a lot better financially. There are so many things you can do with bullet journals, and I’m really excited to start this journey. So maybe you’ll get some blips of my journal throughout the blog, or maybe not. We shall see.

Here are some pictures of my bullet journal pages so far. I’ve messed up A LOT. So you definitely have to play around before things turn out the way you want them to.

9 Month Calendar (Here’s a pretty Mess-Up! It was supposed to be a 12 month… and I accidentally did a lot of wrong numbers and had to glue another sheet over the top!)

October Front Page and Monthly Tracker

Here’s a partial-weekly segment. It’s a wholeeee lot of messed up.

As for other updates, I’m in the middle of reading Linsey Miller’s The Mask of Shadows, so be prepared for a review of that at some point. I got my next book from Blogging for Books as well, so that will probably be coming soon too. I’ll try to post where I get all my books at some point as well.

The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Mary Rothschild
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I have a lot of feelings about this book, but a lot of them aren’t good.

The goals of this book were to be a character-centered romantic tale of art. Take that “romantic” word however you’d like, it appears in different ways. Annie buys a painting from a junk shop that just so happens to end up being one of Watteau’s lost pieces of art. Ends up, everyone wants it – and by everyone, I mean everyone from art dealers to rappers to shah’s to prime ministers. But the painting might quite possibly have some shady history as well. The book isn’t all about art – it’s also about Annie recovering after having her life essentially ruined by an ex boyfriend and finding a way to live again.

There are so many weird pieces to this book, and I was intrigued by its description. I really wanted it to be good. But then the painting talked. No, I’m not kidding. The painting has it’s own voice in this book – it even calls itself “moi” all the time (and says other single French words) which was just painful to read. And honestly, that wasn’t even the worst part of the book because at least the painting had a few interesting things to say about it’s history. No, the worst parts of the book centered around the characters who were introduced at the very beginning as would-be bidders on the painting at auction. But honestly, they’re just boring. To be truthful, I may possibly have skipped over most of the sections speaking about half of these characters (most of which I don’t even remember their names, and I just finished the book…) There are a couple of characters who actually contribute to the plot, but a large majority of them don’t do anything except to make this already overworded book even wordier. You could probably remove about 200 pages of content from this book and then it may be decent. Because really – the basic plot IS interesting! But there’s just so much else unneedingly going on that it really just ruins it.

I really think that the author (who has a background in art and philanthropy) had a good idea, but it was almost like she all of a sudden became pretentious and threw in a whole bunch of unnecessary information to seem smart or something. If she had just stuck to the basics, this book would have gained a lot more of a following. Maybe create an abridged edition and remove various dukes and Russians and give information about the painting without making it talk? Yeah, I think I’d like that book.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Super Freaking Good Low-Carb Beef Stroganoff

Now that I’ve made this recipe twice and have further perfected it, I figured it’s “decent” enough to share with the world. I’ve made quite a few different stroganoffs, and have kinda mixed a bunch of different recipes together into something more “my own.”

So the back story behind this is that I really freaking love beef stroganoff. The creamy, beefy goodness just calls to me. And though typically served with egg noodles, I’m honestly just as satisfied having this with zoodles. Most of the low carb versions of this seem a little boring as they don’t typically include cream cheese, which I think really gets rid of a lot of the flavor. Yes, it makes it higher in fat… but with low carb foods, the goal is for low carb content and high fat and protein generally. With only about 5 net carbs and 20g of protein per serving, it’s serving it’s purpose. My stroganoff is not super thick, so if you serve it with zoodles, they soak up some of the extra moisture. I’ve also got this labeled as “6 servings” but honestly, that’s just a guesstimate. You can just times the nutritional info (which is approximate based on MyFitnessPal’s recipe creator) by 6 to get the facts of the entire dish and go from there. I’m also going to be honest and say that the seasoning measurements are also kinda a guesstimate. I’m not a huge fan of wasting the tiny measuring utensils, so I just kinda throw things in. You can add more or less depending on your tastes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 spoonfuls minced garlic
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 8 oz fresh baby bella mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup white cooking wine (you can use water or more broth if you don’t have any)
  • 1/4c beef broth
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp minced onion
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp beef bouillon powder
  • 1 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Melt half the butter in a pan over medium heat with the minced garlic.
  2. Add ground beef and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until brown.
  3. In another pan, melt the other half of the butter. Add the mushrooms, wine, and broth, and cook until the mushrooms are soft. Add in parsley, minced onion, onion powder, and bouillon.
  4. Remove pan from heat and add in sour cream and cream cheese. Stir until the mixture is smooth and there are no more lumps of cream cheese.
  5. Return the pan to low heat and mix in the ground beef mixture.
  6. Serve over zoodles or another low carb noodle!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, Fredrik Backman truly knows how to get your emotions all jumbled. I was a huge fan of A Man Called Ove, so I’ve been eager to read anything and everything else by Backman. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer is just as enchanting.

As someone who has had not one, but two grandparents suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, this story really meant a lot to me. It tells the heart-wrenching (yet uplifting) story of a man who is slowly losing his memory, and how he is learning to say goodbye to those in his life. It’s an interesting portrayal of a man fighting for his brain, and is remarkable at portraying what it’s like to lose what you’ve known your whole life. Not only do you get the inner-workings of Grandpa’s brain, but you also get to see the sweet relationship that he has with his Noahnoah (he calls him that because he likes him twice as much as everyone else). It truly explains the special relationship that many have with their grandparents – a relationship that the grandparents may never have had with their own children -their second chance.

“That’s why we get the chance to spoil our grandchildren, because by doing that we’re apologizing to our children.”

I never got to really have the discussions with my grandparents that Noah and his grandfather have – I was very close to them, but we never really discussed what it was going to be like when they weren’t “there” anymore or what was really happening. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the disease described as losing your way home, but the title really truly makes sense. Reading this, I really wish that I had been able to experience the loss like Noah. I know that I had a great experience with my grandparents as they were losing themselves, but I wish that I could have known what was going on in their minds as they lost everything they knew. I am glad that, unlike many in my family, I was able to walk down the road with them as they faded.

“What can we do to help Grandpa?”
The dad’s tears dry on the boy’s sweatshirt.
“We can walk down the road with him. We can keep him company.”

If you’re experiencing or have already experienced the loss of someone who has “left before they even die” – read this. Though we may never know what is going on in the minds of those who lose their memories, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer helps us understand just a little of what goes on and what those around are feeling as well.

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The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To be published in January 2018
I was really excited to read this book, which is being advertised as a sort-of creepy fairy tale novel. At the beginning of the book, you’re getting the story of Alice, a teenage girl who has spent her life moving around from place to place with her mother – always seemingly running away from something that is only really described as a “curse.” The only thing she really knows is that her grandmother wrote a creepy fairy-tale storybook which seems to have all but disappeared from the earth and amassed a sort of cult following. When her mother gets kidnapped, Alice’s background comes to the forefront, and everything is not at all what it seems. Sounds really cool, right?

Well the first half of the book is surely amazing. 5 stars all around – I was enchanted and itching for more. I couldn’t wait to see what happened, and I was eager to learn more about this “Hinterland” – the location of all of the fairy-tales. Alice continues her life-adventure with Finch, a rich-boy who is one of the cult-followers of Alice’s grandmother. He’s got much more to him than meets the eye, and Alice definitely senses something about that. This isn’t a romance, so don’t get your hopes up for that. It is as it seems – a fairy tale.

The second half of the book dives more into the Hazel Wood and those of the Hinterland. I was so excited for this portion of the story, but was disappointed. Here, my rating drops more to a 3 star (hence the overall 4). I found myself getting more distracted while reading this, even though it was what I craved so much. I liked it, but I just wasn’t anxiously flipping pages like I was in the first half of the book. I could not picture what was happening quite like the first half, as everything seemed to be moving so much faster. I think that Melissa Albert could have slowed all of this down a bit and stretched it into a two part series – with only two parts, not more. This way, we could have gotten more details, more stories… and the ending wouldn’t have seemed so rushed.

The Hazel Wood is great, and it’s unlike anything that I’ve read for a while. I just wish that it was a bit more! I even would have been fine if maybe a hundred or so more pages of the Hazel Wood and the grandmother were included. Things are build up so much in the first book, but then half of the truly interesting characters.. the danger.. just go away.

I would definitely love to re-read this book to see if I pick up on anything else, and I definitely would read more of Melissa Albert’s works. I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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