LIFE UPDATE, “Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk” book response, and April selection!

I honestly can’t believe we are a quarter of the way through the year. 2018 is flying by and I am personally OK with that. Check in with me this summer and we’ll see if I’m ready for time to slow down or not. I guess I’ll jump into the life update first since it has bearing on the book I chose.

It’s really quite big news. I got my California real estate license and quit my job at PLNU. I am ready for new challenges and to help find people their first (or next) home. This has been a career that’s tucked its way back into the corner of my mind for over five years, so I am ready to just go for it.

Unfortunately this means I will be tightening the belt in the meantime until I can close my first transaction—and even then I’ll be waiting a while until my commission comes through. I can already feel the relief and joy of closing my first deal. Of course I have been planning this for months and have “get by” money socked aside. If you know me at all, you know I don’t make decisions like this without hours of deliberation and preparation. But, honestly, this is probably the biggest leap of faith I’ve taken… ever.

Here’s how you can support me until I make my first sale:

  1. This is the big one: Let me know if you live in Southern California and are in the market to sell/buy a home.
  2. If you are an author or routinely write long reports for school or work, use me as your proofreader and editor (click here). I can also format things for you so they look nice, organized, and professional (click here). Email me to get around the fiverr system if you’d prefer to just use paypal or venmo.
  3. By booking hotels through The Voyageer (even ones I haven’t featured on my site. Just use that widget tool). This will not cost you any extra and I will get a referral commission.
  4. Schedule $30 social media (LinkedIn, etc) headshots with me. (My slogan is “cheap headshots, pretty good”). Email me for more information.
  5. Or just paypaling me a small tip if you like my writing on The Voyageer or have used any of my travel tips. I’d say, “if you like my writing here,” but I have not even averaged a post a month on My Friend Staci since deciding to focus on travel content. Whoops.

Thanks for sticking with me through that. And for sticking with me through two years (!!) of Virtual Book Club and almost nine years of blogging. Can you believe the book club has been going for two years? Even more impressive is that I’ve only missed a couple of monthly posts in that time period. Good job, me!


Virtual Book Club
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If you need a refresher, Libby, my sister Stephanie, and I started the Virtual Book Club in March 2016 with Her Fearful Symmetry. Since then we’ve covered a wide range of topics and genres.

This month was one of our “choose your own adventure” themes. The guideline was that each of us chose a self-help book. I read the short, encouraging (tough-love) book, Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa.

Honestly I bought this book a while ago (September??) but was too nervous to start it. I was worried that it would hit too close to home so I kept it on my bedside. Honestly just looking at the title comforted me, and that was enough. Until self-help month came around!

I was right that the book included a lot of hard truths. Many of them centered around the ideas of “stop planning and start doing” or “many small steps lead to big progress.” Both of those ideas addressed my perfection paralysis head-on.

There were jerk-silencing techniques like saying your inner criticisms aloud to realize how cruel they truly sound. My inner critic constantly says things that I would never dream of saying to another human being.

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You can see how this book challenged me to not only be nicer to myself, but to really put myself out there in regards to chasing my own success. You should buy this book (read it) and keep it on your desk to encourage you.

Since I’ve been working from home for almost a week now, I noticed that days of the week have lost a bit of their meaning. Whoops! I’d just finished a satisfying polenta dinner and was scrolling through Instagram when I noticed I had missed 30 minutes of our Virtual Book Club’s monthly facebook chat! Luckily, everyone was gracious and I jumped right in and learned about what everyone else read, including a money book, a cooking (and writing) book and a look into the always-fascinating Enneagram.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review of this book if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


In April we are changing it up yet again and doing a cookbook! We will be reading Dinner: A Love Story. Okay, Amazon has it filed with memoirs, but it definitely has some recipes in it that I will be making.

Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

Speaking of Libby, I was interviewed on her blog this week. Check it out!

“Little Fires Everywhere” book response and February selection!

January’s book club read was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, a book that was included on so many “best of 21017” lists at the end of the year, and after reading, I totally get it.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 


I have a lot of feeeeeelings about this book as almost everyone who’s read it does. It has so much buzz right now. Luckily, I got most of my “!!!!” feelings out on Tuesday during book club so I can write a spoiler-free review.

That also means the review will be pretty short.

Brief synopsis:

I feel OK starting this section out the way the book started: at the end. We open on a family house burning down and get to glimpse the reactions of each family member as it happens. This is our first peek into the lives of the Richardsons (2 parents, 4 kids), the Warrens (mother and daughter), and their relationships to each other.

From there, the novel backtracks to the beginning of the Richardson-Warren relationship, when the Warrens move into a rental duplex owned by the former, in Shaker Heights, Ohio. If you like complex and dynamic interpersonal relationships that change over time, you’ll like this book. If you like stories that aren’t a mystery but are a bit mysterious with bits and pieces being revealed slowly, you’ll really like this book.

Response:

I liked the way that we glimpsed more and more from each character as the story progressed. I also liked the omniscient point of view – being able to access the thoughts, feelings, and background of each character added a lot of depth instead of just moving through the plot from the POV of one or two characters.

A couple of the main plot points don’t have right or wrong answers, which is why I think everyone is buzzing about this and why we had so many new participants in our book club this month. YES!

From the author herself: An interview with salon.com

This is one of those books that sticks with the reader long after finishing. Things on the news or in the lives of your friends and family will make you recall moments in the book that were complex and nuanced just like things are in real life.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


Our Virtual Book Club normally meets the last Tuesday of the month over on Facebook. This week, since Libby was visiting, we did a facebook live for the first time! It was tons of fun but I personally prefer our normal online chat group. We are always looking to grow our group. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.

For February (Black History Month), the group voted to read Hidden Figures. The movie really moved me (I cried multiple times and I am not a crier) and I am looking forward to getting more details by reading the book.

Please join along as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

“A Fierce & Subtle Poison” book response and December selection!

The last Wednesday of the month means… monthly book review! November’s selection was A Fierce & Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry, which is a mystery with a splash of sci-fi that takes place in Puerto Rico.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 


Last month I wrote that it was an unusual experience for me to read a book with a male protagonist, since ever since the Virtual Book Club started most of our selections have been female-led. Lo and behold, the main character in our November book was a 17 year old male! It took me several pages to realize this since A Firece & Subtle Poison is written by a woman, and has female hands on the cover.

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Brief synopsis:

Lucas is a 17-year-old Texan who goes to Puerto Rico every summer since his father is a hotel developer there. Although he is a mainland American, he has spent a significant amount of time on the island since his childhood. He has a core group of local friends that he returns to each year. He and the friends heard scary stories about the boarded-up home down the street when they were children. Later, as tweens, they’d fold up paper wishes and throw them into the garden of the boarded-up house. Finally, when the book gets underway, he is a teenager sneaking down the alleyway of the mysterious house to make out with girls. The book unfolds in three parts.

The exposition is where we learn about the various old señoras’ rumors pertaining to the mysterious house. Lucas meets a girl who he falls for, Marisol. Then, Marisol disappears. In the middle act, Lucas meets a strange, sick girl who lives in the mysterious house. At the end, there is a dramatic and exciting chase through the jungle. Overall it was a really easy read that I finished in one day.

Response:

I recommend this for teens that like Stephanie Meyer (although I’ve never read Twilight or any other books by her) since this is a mystery & pseudo-romance with creepy paranormal/sci-fi elements. It was pretty surface-level for what it was, which is OK for a YA book.

The thing that really got my brain going, and possibly the deepest thread in the book, was about Lucas’s real-estate-developer father’s impact on Puerto Rico and the impression that the locals had about the outsiders. I really got deep into what it means to be an insider and an outsider. I think of the recent development and rejuvenation of Tijuana, which I certainly benefit from and I think benefits the city as a whole (jobs, quality of life), but I realize that development like this widens the wealth disparity and pushes the poor farther out from the city center. The standard pros and cons of gentrification.

Then I got thinking about Puerto Rico and how there is another layer to the dynamic. In the novel they see the rich Texans as outsiders, which I think is valid. There is a natural reaction of suspicion to “otherness.” But if PR is an American territory, and we are all Americans — which was the rallying cry after our government refused, and still struggles to aid Puerto Rico after the recent devastating hurricane season — then it’s definitely a double edged sword. Do we belong to each other, or don’t we? Very &/Both, if you will. The us/them dichotomy clashes with a “we are Puerto Ricans but also Americans” sentiment and the fact that many mainland Americans didn’t even know that PR was part of us until recently.

Layers, on layers, with lots of opinions, lots of gray area, and no real answers. Except, you know, that FEMA needs to get it together and send some more help down there. That we can all agree on.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


Our Virtual Book Club normally meets the last Tuesday of the month over on Facebook. Did anyone else have whiplash from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Biz Sat, etc? I think that impacted the number of attendees we had online last night but nevertheless it was great checking in with my fellow readers. We are always looking to grow our group. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.

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For December, I challenged the group to either re-read a childhood favorite or pick a youth/children’s book that they never got around to. I am currently deciding between Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time (because, Mindy Kaling). I may just read both.

Please join along as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

“Dark Matter” book response and November selection!

Virtual Book Club
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I’m one day off but it’s time for my monthly book review! Last year we picked The Graveyard Book (review, buy) for our spooky October read, and this year we read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which explores how our past shapes our future—through a science fiction lens.

Interestingly, the majority of the books our club has read feature strong women as the protagonist. Only 5 books out of, what, 16(?) have been man-centered, and 3 of those were chosen when we stretched out of our normal zone to pick something “exciting” or “scary.” I’m sure there is much more to say on this topic regarding gender and books, but I’ll just stop here. If you can recommend a paranormal, adventure, sci-fi book starring a woman, please leave it in the comments!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 

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The premise I can reveal to you since it’s featured in the promotional matter: Our main character, Jason, is a family man and teaches introductory physics at an average college. He loves his wife and son: even if he occasionally thinks his life could have turned out differently, he is satisfied with the way things are.

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One night, after celebrating with his colleague who won a very prestigious research award, Jason is abducted and knocked out. He wakes up in a world that is similar to his, but different. His wife and son are gone and he is the one who had been awarded the prestigious research honor.

If this premise is interesting to you, go ahead and buy the book or check it out from the library. It reads like watching a thriller movie and you’ll probably be able to get through it in a week if not a weekend.

The rest of my response features spoilers after this point. Scroll down past the next photo to resume. 

So, the book hinges on the concept of the multiverse, of which I had never given any thought until I was forced to, while reading. In the multiverse, every action you take spins off another version of you who did the opposite thing. And there are an infinite number of alternative universes. This basic concept is where ya lose me. Every action? What about typing this post right now? What about if I had Swiss cheese on my sandwich instead of American? I understand backtracking to major decisions like what college I went to or who I dated, and imagining different lives springing from there. But I don’t believe the idea that a world in which those decisions were made differently can exist.

Sidebar: There are big-time scientists who actually theorize that the multiverse is real. I don’t buy it. I kind of feel like I might end up on the same side of history as those who couldn’t believe that we revolve around the sun or couldn’t fathom that the earth is round, but here we are. I just can’t wrap my head around it and I’m depositing it in the sector of my brain that holds sci-fi concepts. 

Anyway, I had a lot of fun trying and failing to stay ahead of the twists in Dark Matter. I  jotted down virtual notes and color coded them (love that feature on the Kindle Fire). Then at the end of the book, I reviewed them all to see how wrong I was. “Ryan is the kidnapper.” Nope! “Amanda is his lover in the other universe.” Nope! I kind of love how clever I thought I was, and how wrong in reality.

Our hero Jason figures out that “other Jason” or Jason 2 is responsible for kidnapping him and stealing his life. The biggest twist comes in the final third of the book. When Jason 1 finds his way back home, the book isn’t even on the home stretch yet. I found what happened next the most mind-blowing of all, but I don’t feel like I should share that here, even with that spoiler alert above.

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Reading this reminded me how much I like thrillers like the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series (although that isn’t really sci-fi). Anyway I will definitely need to keep my eye out for new, exciting books to buy or to check out from the library. Especially as we “fall back” this weekend, my evenings are going to be dark pretty much from the time I get out of work. If I’m not careful I will spend so much time watching TV this winter. Definitely going to try to dedicate some time to reading instead.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


We moved our discussion group (on Facebook) from Tuesday to Monday night this month to account for Halloween. Libby knocked it out of the park with thought provoking questions and cool multiverse-themed photos, one of which I borrowed for this post. We are always looking to grow our virtual book club. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.

For November, the group is going to read A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. As usual, I just stared a long, addicting Outlander novel (how does this always happen?) so I need to hurry up and finish that before jumping in on my book club read. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

“Amanda Wakes Up” book response and September selection!

Virtual Book Club
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It’s the last Wednesday Thursday of the month and you know what that means… my monthly book review! We read a new release called Amanda Wakes Up, Alysin Camerota’s newly released debut novel.

Plenty of people hate on e-readers like the Amazon kindle, but personally I like the convenience of tossing the durable device in my purse each day and not worrying about the page corners getting all messed up (I take book condition very seriously). Anyway, I do miss seeing and feeling the cover of a book, reading the blurbs on the back and reading the “about the author” on the flap of the dust jacket. For this book in particular I was feeling very resentful toward the protagonist and the subject matter. I was venting to Libby and she sent back a photo of the “about the author.”

Everything clicked into place.

This book has drawn lots of comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada. On the surface, I can see it: a semi-autobiographical account of working on the “inside” of big media. The books are pretty different, though. In Devil Wears Prada the author clearly has an ax to grind and writes with the intention of exposing her cold, cruel boss (Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue). The protagonist is extremely unlikable and does nothing but complain and victimize herself throughout (I am excluding the movie version which I love). Here in Amanda Wakes Up, we see actual character development as Amanda’s dream job puts her on a collision course from naive green journalist to the harsh reality of big dollar broadcast. She learns several lessons ranging from putting oneself in another’s shoes to standing up for what is right even if the risk is losing something important.

So, in the novel, Amanda gets her dream gig of morning anchor for a fictional cable news company called FAIR News. The company starts out as a noble attempt to be a station which covers each side of topics, but the producers quickly discover that repeatedly inviting a certain blowhard businessman-turned-politician onto their morning show brings outstanding viewership. Camerota is clearly indicting cable news, with FOX at the forefront, in giving a megaphone to certain people who really ought not to be running for office in the first place. That much is clear.

The lesson I learned was more about trying to get inside the minds of those who have different opinions than I do, even (especially?) if I believe those opinions to be wrong. Let me restate that: there are such things as wrong opinions, but telling someone they are wrong is not helpful unless we dig deeper. With the internet as our main news source followed by sensationalized 24-hour coverage on cable news, it’s kind of like a non-stop fire-hose of opinions curated to line up with our own. Sometimes opposing opinions are instilled and shaped by off-base nutjobs, but more often that not it stems from a real, heart-of-hearts concern or conviction. It’s important to find out why people believe what they do, especially if you want to change their mind.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


Last night we held our monthly discussion group on Facebook. We actually got a lot more in depth but I’m having a difficult time organizing my thoughts into a post today. If you’d like to join us over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), message me on Facebook to be added.

For September, nobody in our group floated any particularly grabbing titles, so we are each reading or own thing and we’ll still get together at the end of the month to check in. I will be reading The Girl Who Came Home so I can return it to my coworker who lent it to me in the Spring. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we continue turning off the TV (or internet) to spend more time reading.

“Three Wishes” book response and July selection!

Virtual Book Club
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It’s the last Wednesday of the month and you know what that means… my monthly book review! After heavy and lengthy books, the Virtual Book Club wanted something light and summery to read for June. I was grateful because although reading hard, important books, magazines, and the news is something we should all do for our own self-enrichment, sometimes an escape is necessary as well, and isn’t that what summer reads are for?

Not that Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty is all sunshine and roses. It’s actually kind of dark tempered with lots of light moments. There is a ton of slapstick humor running through the book; it lightens up the continually awful events happening to one or more characters at a time. The book contains overarching themes about sisterhood, secrets, hardships (relationships and childbearing), and what success really looks like.

The premise of the book centers around three triplet sisters in Sydney who are at different stages in their lives, despite being the same age. It takes place at Christmas, which can be a very stressful time of the year for those with complicated families. Twist: Christmas in Australia is in the middle of summer; this still qualified as our summer beach read!

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The Kettle family is complicated, but not in that way that families in books and movies always hate each other. The family was unique in that all three sisters, plus mother and father (divorced decades ago) and grandma all lived in the same city and generally all like one another. Unheard of in movies these days! The sisters are very close—a recurring theme in the book is that some characters think they are too close. When you’re a triplet, where do you draw the line between yourself and your family? Who comes first: sister or spouse/significant other?

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One of my favorite things in Three Wishes was that Moriarty included these little asides narrated by bystanders observing the Kettle family and then relaying the vignette to someone else. It reminded me of the asides interspersed throughout When Harry Met Sally. Although to us our families may seem screwed up, to others they seem sweet and normal. To me they served a dual purpose: One, don’t underestimate the struggles someone is going through just because they seem okay; and two, something that seems huge and all encompassing at the moment could blow over and isn’t really worth getting so worked up about. Perspective!

[Possible spoilers here but I’m being pretty vague] I feel that the book never really answered the “who is more important, sisters or husbands” question, but it did push each triplet sister to grow in their own way. The one with an apparently perfect life learned to ask others for help. The freespirit matured in a visible way (although, maybe she was secretly mature the whole time?) and the codependent one learned independence and self-discovery.

I wonder what I’ll learn next year? I am (gulp) creeping up on 30 this September, after all.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


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Last night we held our monthly discussion group on Facebook. I ran it (!) and we had the BEST time posting celebrities who we’d like to cast in the movie version of this book. It’s great to hear other perspectives on themes and events in a book while it’s fresh in our minds. If you’d like to join us over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), message me on Facebook to be added.

For July, our group voted on runner-up books from the past few months. We will be reading One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul, who is a feature writer for Buzzfeed. Some reviews draw positive comparisons to Mindy Kaling (which we did as a group last September) so I am really looking forward to this collection of short stories. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we read together.

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” book response and June selection!

Coming off of grim dystopian novel A Handmaid’s Tale, we all decided to read something sweeter for April and May. Confession: I nominated this book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and didn’t realize how long it was (500+ pages) so we extended the book club by a month (hence no post at the end of April).

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I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several years ago and remember being quietly moved by it. I was eager to revisit it and find out if the feeling was still true. It was.

This is Betty Smith’s first and most famous novel, largely based on her own experience growing up in a poor immigrant family, after the turn of the 20th century but before World War I. The book is written in third person but focuses mainly on the main character, Francie, and secondly on her family, the Nolans: mother Katie, father Johnny, and brother Neely. The premise of following along as an 11-to-17 year old girl grows up in desperate poverty sounds quite grim, but Francie’s rich inner world and constant childlike-but-wise observations on the world around her are constantly charming and heartwarming. In this way, we can all take a lesson from this and reflect on the beautiful in the everyday.

“Then I’ve been drunk, too,” admitted Francie.
“On beer?”
“No. Last spring, in McCarren’s Park, I saw a tulip for the first time in my life.”

The thing I liked most about the writing in this book is how often Smith would lay out the story or moment, and then at the end let us enter into the character’s reflection at the end. She would summarize dinner and the evening routine in the Nolan household, maybe one without enough food to go around, and then slip in something poignant like Katie thinking to herself, “It’s a hard and bitter world. They’ve got to live in it. Let them get hardened young to take care of themselves.” Peeking into the inner lives of the characters, even side characters from time to time, connected me more to each of them and reminds me that we all aspire to be more and we have inner lives that only some of us bring to daylight.

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As the book progresses, it does so slowly at times, and rapidly at times, just how I felt as I grew up. And, although the world in the book was 100 years ago, there are so many relatable everyday moments. There are still those universally relatable moments—sibling jealousy, the struggle of a horrible teacher, the worries about not fitting in at a new job. I’m sure I will read this again every few years to remind me that every life is a journey, even if it doesn’t seem to have a straight direction, and that I should pause and reflect on the small things in my life from time to time.

“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful. But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is.”

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take!


Virtual Book ClubLast night we held our monthly discussion group on facebook. I love setting aside time to hear other perspectives on themes and events in a book that was fresh in our minds. If you’d like to join us over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), message me on facebook to be added.

For June, our group selected by vote Three Wishes by the ubiquitous Liane Moriarty. I’ve never read anything by this author but she is wildly popular, so I’m sure it will be good. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we read together.