Cabin in the Woods, But Without All the Murder & Stuff

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Like most people, I have a tough time unplugging. It doesn't help that social media is my full-time, all-the-time job, that I am essentially always on call to approve blog comments & monitor tweets & respond to Facebook comments. I am the consummate multitasker, but that makes it really, really hard for me to slow down & single-task.

Last weekend, I got a taste of the zen life I didn't even know I was craving when Mike & I drove down to Logan, OH, & rented a cabin in the beautiful Hocking Hills region. We booked a two-person log cabin from Cassady's Hilltop Cabins, situated in the middle of nowhere, & we took off work last Friday to make the three-hour drive south. It's an easy drive, the weather was nice, & as soon as we got to our cabin, it was like every ounce of stress just blew away with the wind.

The cabin, while small, was spacious & open, with a living room/kitchen combo area & a small bedroom with lofted beds (queen on the floor, twin above, presumably for folks with kids, a.k.a. not us). It had a wood-burning stove inside & a grill & fire pit outside, plus a big deck overlooking the woods - oh, yeah, & that deck had a huge, luxurious hot tub. We relaxed in it both nights before bed & both mornings as soon as we got up.

Forget Folgers. The best part of waking up is sitting in a goddamn hot tub in the middle of nowhere.

We... didn't do much. And that was the whole point, really, to do as little as possible. I read an entire book while we were there (sure, it was a Mary Higgins Clark mystery, but...), & Mike did a lot of writing. We brought board games but spent so much time reading, writing, & hot-tubbing that we never even got to them. We did grill hot dogs, if that counts as "doing something," & Mike whipped up a pretty impressive fire.

Hocking Hills is home to some beautiful parks & trails, & we were fortunate to be there during unseasonably warm temperatures, so we tried to go hiking at Old Man's Cave on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, we made some serious footwear mistakes - Mike in Chucks & me in aerated sneakers that filled with water & mud as soon as I stepped in a puddle - which put a real dent in our plans. We'd intended to hike six miles, but the trail was so muddy that we only made through one of them. Apparently "right after a foot of snow melts" is not the best time to try to hike. Who knew?!

Still, the views were beautiful, & I'd love to go back & try again in drier weather. And when there are leaves, 'cause Ohio still looks pretty dead right about now.

I can't remember the last time I felt as chill as I did last weekend. Truly, have I ever been that calm & unencumbered? I don't think so. Being someplace where we had no responsibilities, no expectations, no plans... it was incredible. It was freeing. It was so, so rare. And isn't that a shame, when you think about it? 

All I could think was, "This must be what life used to be like" - you know, before the Internet. When you weren't at work, you weren't working. When you were tired of reading your book, it was time for bed - no TV or Facebook to distract you or waste your precious time. It was just.... quiet, all the time, right? Well, that's how it was last weekend anyway, both in the physical space we were in & within my mind. It was so calming, & it was clear that I need more of that in my life.

Am I nature person now? Is this what it feels like to be outdoorsy?

Except then I think of the way I screamed when I saw a big, fat spider scurrying across the bedroom floor of the cabin (thanks for squashing that, babe), & I know that "outdoorsy" is a probably a biiiiiit of a stretch.

But, hey. I could at least stand to be away from my phone more often.

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What the Internet Doesn't Get to See

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

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They say comparison is the thief of joy, & never is that more apparent than when browsing the Internet. Last week's episode of my new favorite podcast, The Shepod, started with a conversation about people who portray perfect lives on social media. It's a topic that's been talked to death but continues to be relevant because it continues to make, like, 99% of us feel bad about our lives.

You know what I'm talking about: So-and-So with the seemingly perfect life, That Girl with the impossibly beautiful photos, Some Rando From College who seems to have all their shit together. The advent of social media has allowed savvy individual users to turn themselves into one-woman (yep, it's usually women) brands, portraying themselves online as the real-life equivalent of the kind of lives we used to only see in magazines & on TV. We knew those things were fake, altered, whitewashed - but OMG, look at these real people who have it all together. We used to believe such people were unicorns made up by the movies, but now they're on Instagram, showing us their real - & really perfect - lives. And making the rest of us feel bad about ourselves.

For the most part, none of us is sharing the bad moments on social media. You don't want to see a picture of my perpetually unmade bed, & I don't want to show it to you. I want to show you that delicious brunch I ate, that beautiful gift my boyfriend gave me for Valentine's Day, that cute face my adorable cat made, that day my hair looked really awesome. We're all entitled to share only the pieces of our lives that we deem fit for public display.

And all of that is OK. But.

Even if we're not sharing the less-than-perfect moments online, I think it's important to acknowledge that they exist. By acknowledging that we're imperfect people leading imperfect lives, we remind one another that we are all just human, no matter how pretty the pictures.

And so, in the spirit of imperfection, here are a few of the things you haven't seen from me on social media:
  1. I keep both Kraft mac & cheese & packets of Ramen noodles in my kitchen. I eat them... uhhh, not infrequently. Also, there are Totino's pizza rolls in my freezer & not nearly enough vegetables in my crisper.
  2. Probably related to the above, I recently freaked out so hard about my body/weight that I almost canceled Valentine's Day plans because I felt huge & horrible & ugly. Then I took an Ativan to calm down, which meant I couldn't even celebrate the holiday with a cocktail.
  3. I typed in my bank account information incorrectly while making my car payment - which was already late. The combo resulted in a $35 late fee and a $25 bounced check fee, which led to my crying on the phone to my bank, who still wouldn't waive either of them.
  4. This morning, I woke up so sore from the most basic yoga video that I almost literally couldn't move. I took two Aleve & went back to bed & started work an hour late & didn't even tell anyone. (The Aleve didn't help, by the way. Ow.)
  5. My bank shut off my credit card without warning (because a $6 purchase at a store on my own block seemed "suspicious"), which resulted in my being declined at a coffee shop. Embarrassing. When I called the bank to sort it out, I got so mad that I started shouting. In public. And realized that people were watching with visible discomfort.
  6. My living room rug is almost always full of cat fur because I haaaaate vacuuming, & it also boats a very large, very ugly red wine stain. And every time I do yoga, I can see underneath the couch, revealing a colony of crumbs & dust that I apparently don't get to when I clean.
  7. I wear a plastic mouthguard & ridiculously patterned leggings to sleep, usually topped with a hole-riddled T-shirt that's borderline destroyed. Super sexy, I know. Apologies to my boyfriend.
  8. Last week, I went four days without washing my hair. Unrelated but still gross, I gagged today when I finger-combed through my hair & pulled out a hairball so big that my friend referred to it as "a starter nest." Apologies to my boyfriend again.
  9. A coworker recently sent me an email reaming me out for what he perceived as my lack of effort on a major project we're working on together. He CCed not only his boss, but my boss, my boss's boss, & our director of development. How's that for a bad day?
  10. My car needs an oil change & has been sans windshield wiper fluid for more than two months, & I haven't been to a car wash in... awhile. (To be fair, I paid for one the other day but left when I saw that the line was nine cars deep.)
  11. I left a seemingly innocuous comment on an Instagram post that somehow escalated into some Internet people telling me to "Go die" & yet got me blocked from the account. When Mike came into the kitchen as I was reading through the cruel comments, he asked what was wrong & I screamed, "Nothing is wrong, OK?!?!" like a totally rational person.
  12. I can't figure out how to get my cat so stop spraying tiny kitty litter pebbles all over the guest room every time he jumps out of the box, so I have to sweep in there, like, every damn day.
  13. My aunt left a jacket at my apartment in August, & I still haven't sent it back to her. Similarly, I just, finally, put my coworker's birthday card in the mail this week - despite the fact that her birthday was in January. 
  14. Before last week's really awesome success with getting an essay placed in Woman's Day magazine, I submitted that very essay to six different outlets, all of which rejected it.
  15. I have not yet done my taxes or even opened the envelopes that contain my tax documents.
There you have it: 15 things the Internet would otherwise never know, but that I'm sharing here because we are all just real people, damn it. And I know this probably doesn't mean a lot coming from me because I don't think my life even looks that great online - really, I'd like to see a fashion blogger do this, or something - but still. Internet honesty is important, & this blog is nothing if not honest.

Thanks for liking me anyway.

Got a real-life confession to share? I look forward to reading them in the comments! 
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Eleven Years and What-Could-Have-Beens

Sunday, February 14, 2016

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I saw the musical If/Then on Tuesday night at Cleveland's Playhouse Square, & though it wasn't necessarily my kind of show, the second half had me crying during, like, every scene - in a good way, mostly. So much of it resonated with me, with my anxiety, with the way my mind works, with my feelings about my ex-boyfriend's death.

He died 11 years ago last Wednesday; we buried him 11 years ago today. Happy Valentine's Day, right? Bear with me on how this relates to the musical.
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CLE Adventure #4: Playhouse Square

Saturday, February 13, 2016

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I found myself with a few extra bucks in December - that never happens, right?! - so I decided to treat myself to tickets to a couple of upcoming musicals at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Did you know that CLE has the second largest theater district in the country, second only to Broadway? Yeah, that's pretty cool.

I took advantage of Playhouse Square's Smart Seats program, which offers $10 tickets in the nosebleeds to many of the shows that come through, musicals & otherwise. For just $10 apiece, I scored two tickets to If/Then & two more to Matilda. I invited Lindsey, one of my best friends, to join me at the former last Tuesday night.

The weather was brutal that night, which didn't bode well for Lindsey's 45-minute drive to Cleveland for the show. Still, she ventured up despite the weather, & we headed to Barrio for a very fancy dinner of tacos & margaritas before we caught a Lyft (which I now prefer to Uber) downtown. The GE Chandelier - the largest outdoor chandelier in the world, LOLOLOL, though it's definitely beautiful - was glowing brightly through the snow, which always gives me a little bit of a Cleveland rush.

I didn't know anything about this show going into it, just that it was one of the hot new musicals & that I should be glad to have snagged a ticket at all, much less for ten bucks. As we sat in a Starbucks before the show, I Googled the premise: "It tells the story of a 40-year-old woman named Elizabeth who moves back to New York City for a fresh start." After I read it aloud from Wikipedia, Lindsey & I looked at one another... & groaned. That's basically some version of the plot line to, like, everything, ever, right?

I was also concerned that our seats would be, well, what we paid for them, some version of an obstructed view & other less-than-ideal elements. As it turned out, though, our seats were just about perfect. Sure, they were high up - we were in the third row from the top - but the view was, for the most part, totally clear & perfectly lovely. We had a great view of the beautiful Connor Palace, & because we were sitting at the end of a row without anyone behind us, I didn't even have to remove my large & ostentatious hat!

I was also completely wowed by the architecture of the Connor Palace, one of the most beautiful theaters in which I've ever set foot. Built in 1921, it's a former vaudeville theater that also hosted the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, & The Three Stooge. When it opened, it was home to the world’s largest electrical sign & the world's largest woven-in-one-piece carpet! These days, I don't think it boasts any such honors, but it sure is pretty (despite my total failure to photograph it well).

As for the show itself...

If I'm being honest, If/Then wasn't exactly my style, though I can't figure out what, exactly, rubbed me the wrong way. It just didn't draw me in the way I wanted to. Most of the musical numbers, at least in the first half, felt a bit uninspired & unmemorable, & the story itself seemed cliche, a combination of Rent meets Sliding Doors.

All of that was compounded by the fact that the weather outside was awful, & Lindsey had such a long drive back in it that I actually suggested we leave at intermission. We decided to stay, & fortunately, the second half of the show was a lot more engaging. It finally drew me in such a way that I ended up having the sort of emotional experience I seek out of live theater.

For me, the most exciting thing about the show - aside from the experience itself - was seeing Anthony Rapp live & in person. You may know Rapp as Mark Cohen, one of the main characters in the original Broadway production of Rent. Though he's now 44 & still playing characters who squat in NYC apartments, his voice is so recognizable, so familiar, so comforting that I left If/Then wanting to re-listen to the entire Rent soundtrack! As great as he was as Lucas in If/Then, he'll also be Mark Cohen to me. "We're not gonna pay-ayyyy..."

Overall, it was a really fun experience, & I'm looking forward to seeing Matilda at the State Theatre (once home to the the world’s longest theater lobby) in May. Cleveland has a real gem in Playhouse Square, & I intend to start taking better advantage of it!

Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include attending an extravagant brunch, drinking with dinosaurs & exploring an historic cemetery - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!
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After My Grandparents Died, I Learned a Family Secret

Friday, February 12, 2016

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My full name is Sara Kathryn, but it's never meant much to me. I'm named after great-grandmothers, black-and-white faces I've seen in photos but whose stories I'd never heard. Beyond their names, I knew almost nothing about great-grandma Sarah and great-grandma Katie, not even where they came from.

When, as a child, I was assigned class projects that required me to trace my family tree, I always hit stumbling blocks. "Where are we from?" I'd asked my maternal grandparents.

My grandfather, a jovial dentist with a penchant for corny jokes and bolo ties, was characteristically upbeat. At this this question, though, he hardened: "We're Jewish," he responded. Every time.

"But Grandpa," I insisted, "That's not a place. Where are we from?"

Despite my protests, he never gave me any other answer. That's all there was to it.

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CLE Adventure #3: United We Brunched

Sunday, February 7, 2016

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I hate to go all brunch-hipster on you, but I've been loving brunch since long before brunch was cool. This is due, in part, to the fact that breakfast is my favorite category of foods but that I'm not usually awake in time for breakfast - which makes brunch the perfect time to indulge without having to get up early. I been eatin' cinnamon pancakes at Bob Evans since before the bougie brunch trend hit it big in every city across the U.S. - but my love for this meal has only increased with the proliferation of its availability.

Enter United We Brunch, a Cleveland Scene-sponsored event (as so many of this city's best events are) at the Galleria downtown. For $35 a ticket, attendees got six drink tickets & three hours of unlimited brunch tastings from more than 45 of Cleveland's best restaurants & other vendors. I bought tickets as a Christmas gift to Mike, though I confess that it was just as much a gift to myself as to him (because unlimited brunch). Our friends Lindsey & Doug joined us, & off we went last Saturday to the most anticipated brunch event of the year.

I don't know what capacity was for this event, but I do know that it sold out pretty quickly & that the Galleria was absolutely full of people. We scored a table in the first-floor rotunda area & called it home base for at least an hour, taking turns grabbing tiny plates of food from & bringing them back for the group to feast upon.

At an event this large, there was, of course, some most excellent people-watching, which is one of my favorite pastimes. I admit that I was fully judgmental of the many attendees who opted to wear brunch-themed T-shirts - some of them matching! - to a brunch-themed event. Isn't that the equivalent of wearing the band's shirt to the concert?! But, hey, do you, Cleveland. As long as there's enough French toast to go around, I'm pretty happy.

In general, I was too busy eating/boozing/enjoying the company to take many photos of the food before I stuffed my face with it, but I did catch a few snaps of a few particularly photogenic favorites.

My favorite dish of the day, smoked brisket with mac & cheese (via Flip Side)

Thick-cut bacon topped with crisp apple - simple but tasty! (via Spice)

Chicken & waffles with gravy (via The South Side) & a tiny bacon-topped Bloody Mary (via Market)

This is bacon cheesecake, you guys. (via The Chocolate Bar)

In other words: delicious. I thought they might run out of food, but most places had enough samples to last right down until the final minutes. As you can see from the examples above, the vendors weren't just phoning it in with basics, either - they really went all-out making creative, decadent miniature meals that showcased the best of their brunch menus. One restaurant even individually wrapped a gabillion tiny breakfast burritos! Needless to say, I've added 20 new places to our ongoing list of places to brunch.

The event was sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka, Korbel sparkling wine, & Pope's Kitchen Bloody Mary mix, which meant the drinks were top-notch... if you could get 'em. Unfortunately, my least favorite aspect of the event was how damn difficult it was to snag drinks, given how long the lines were - & they did not move quickly. I started with six drink tickets & ended with three of them, much to my disappointment. (I know, I look super disappointed in this photo.)

The booze we did acquire, though, was enough to make for some fun, low-key day-drinking, & when the event ended, we walked to East 4th Street to keep the party going (sans food, because we were stuffed) at Flannery's Irish Pub.

Later, there was pizza from Crust & our first trip to the weird but wonderful local townie bar Hotz Cafe. Though I'm now well into my thirties, it was a day that, overall, felt reminiscent of college (in a good way, not in a falling-down-drunk way). It was joyful, busy, high-energy, indulgent... the kind of day adults don't get too often, you know? Mike & I kept our energy up, our spirits high, & our drinks down from 11am to 9pm... & then finally dragged ourselves home, where we proceeded to sleep for a full 12 hours.

Needless to say, we truly brought justice to the phrase "brunch so hard" - & now any weekend that doesn't include smoked brisket mac & cheese is probably going to feel like a disappointment.

Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include drinking with dinosaurs & exploring an historic cemetery - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!
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Things I Love Right Now (Part Two)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

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I did an "obsessed with" post back in November (still loving nearly all that stuff, BTW!) & think I'd like to do them more often. Of course, as soon as I sit down to write one out, I immediately forget all the cool things I'd planned to include... I'm going to start making notes in my phone when I think of good stuff I want to share, but in the meantime, here's a short list of what I'm loving lately.
  1. Too Faced Brow Envy Eyebrow Kit
    I used to have great eyebrows. People always complimented me on them, even though I was doing, like, nothing to maintain them. And then... something changed. It started when I got stitches through my left brow in 2011, & it's been downhill since then. Thanks a lot, aging. Luckily, this little kit keeps my eyebrows on... point. You thought I was gonna say something else, didn't you?
  2. EveryBody Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
    Jessamyn found yoga while caught in the undertow of depression, after her weight had spiked to its peak. Who better to teach scared newbies like me the practice in which she now excels? I bought this video series in October, but she's since been featured in Cosmopolitan & all over the damn place. This series inspires me, teaches me, & pushes me. You can get 50% off any CodyApp series by starting with my referral link.
  3. Snapchat
    Late to the party much? No, no, I'm had Snapchat for awhile, but I'm only recently, like, into it. I'm not sure I'm any good at it - it's possible that I'm the world's most boring Snapchatter - but I'm having fun trying. My name over there is heyescapist, if you want to follow along (& give me feedback on whether I'm doing this right, if you're so inclined!)
  4. It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product
    I don't know why, but I always got this feeling that this was some chintzy, dumb brand - & whoa, it is not. I can't remember where my first sample came from, but I recently used an Ulta gift card to buy a the full-sized product. I've yet to find anything else that keeps my hair looking properly wavy instead of sadly ratty. When you find a rarity like that, you've got to hang onto it!
  5. The Shepod
    I'm not much of a podcast fan, but this one my newest favorite thing. LA-based hosts Sara & Rachael (a former blogger) talk about everything, basically, over Sunday morning booze - what they're eating, wearing, watching, what's making them happy & what's pissing them off. There is a lot of talk of dogs & '90s pop culture. In other words, it's like brunching with your BFFs every damn week.
  6. "You Had Me at Cleveland" Shirt
    I like to joke that people in Cleveland are obsessed with wearing Cleveland shirts, & I have become no exception. I pick up this superbly soft T-shirt which shopping one say at the Clevelandiest place in Cleveland, West Side Market, where Fresh Brewed Tees has a small kiosk of products. I would seriously just wear it every day if that weren't too weird/dirty.  
  7. Bliss Micromagic Microdermabrasion TreatmentI first got this face scrub in a PopSugar Must Have Box (back when they were good), & I immediately fell in love with it. Alas, it run $48 a tube, which is certainly not within my regular budget - so imagine my enthusiasm when I found it at Marshall's for just $14! It feel so luxurious & deep-cleansing, like an actual spa treatment, & the minty smell keeps me feeling fresh. 
Tell me: What's currently atop your "OMG, best thing ever" list? I am, as always, looking for recommendations for the next great whatever!
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What I Read in January

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

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After rediscovering my love of reading toward the end of 2015 (here were my favorites last year), I committed to reading 25 books in 2016... but then I read eight books in January alone, & so I upped my yearly goal to 30. I'm keeping track of them over on Goodreads, if you want to be friends over there!

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

This book came as a recommendation from fellow blogger Stephany, who thought I'd like it based on my enjoying Luckiest Girl Alive in December. She was right! This book, which tells the story of a woman who runs away from her life - including her family - to start fresh & bury a secret, was thoughtful, thrilling, emotional, well-written. ★★★★☆

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I'd long been wanting to read this cult- favorite book about tidying up, & it was just about as expected. I found the author's tone deeply annoying, some of which I chalked up to culture difference & stilted Japanese-to-English translations, but overall, I found a lot of her guidance & insight very helpful. I've been able to get rid of a lot of stuff using this method - even when I didn't think I had much left to toss! ★★★☆☆

Harmony Black by Craig Schaefer

I got the Kindle version of this book for free as part of the Kindle First program, free to Amazon Prime members. Harmony Black agent is both a witch & an FBI agent, which makes this book a combination of two of my favorite genres (supernatural & crime). It was an entertaining read, but I didn't feel there was quite enough character development to warrant a return to the series that follows. ★★☆☆☆

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Um, not like this book needs any introduction or explanation. Mike bought me the boxed set for my birthday back in August, & I've decided to reread the series this year. It was so wonderful to get back into this world - like reconnecting with old friends. ★★★★★

Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchinson 

This was a fascinating collection of essays written by multiple authors, many of them well-known YA writers, to weave together multiple perspectives on one horrible event - a school shooting. Because each perspective is written by a different author, the it really feels like you're getting a peek into different people's minds, & yet their stories weave together seamlessly for a multi-faceted look at tragedy. ★★★★★

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The author, a Yale student and writing prodigy, died in a car accident just days after her college graduation, leaving behind a massive collection of writing, both fiction & nonfiction. This book is a collection of a little bit of each, compiled by her grief-stricken friends & family. It's clear that Marina had an uncommon & powerful gift, but... well, I wanted to like this book more than I did. I found much of her fiction writing to be too flowery & pretentious, just too much. I can't help but feel that Marina would've benefited from time - a lifetime - to hone her craft, to embrace simplicity, & it devastated me all over again each time I remembered that her life was cut short far too soon. ★★☆☆☆

Young Widows Club by Alexandra Coutts

This was my least favorite book of the month, though it wasn't necessarily a bad read - just not really up my alley. It tells the story of 17-year-old Tamsen, who becomes a widow when her husband of just one month dies in his sleep. It was just... a little far-fetched for me. I found it difficult to relate to a teenage bride in the first place, & I wasn't down with the main character's developing relationship with a twentysomething widower. Basically, this book felt like a weird first draft. ★★☆☆☆

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I really like the Divergent series, but I didn't initially finish this final book. I decided I wanted to complete the trip before the next movie (ugh, another two-part finale) comes out, so I gave this one another shot. It turned out to be my favorite of the three, surprisingly, because it's such a bizarre, Truman Show-like story. I found the whole thing fascinating & horrifying & just really interesting, & even though the movie series sucks, I'm now looking forward to seeing how they handle the next installment. ★★★★☆

What are you reading? Anything I should add to my list? 

Please note that my "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but please also don't judge me too harshly for including them. 

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