Catching Katy

Reads, Eats, & Everything Else


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The Spy with the Red Balloon

This is the second book in the Balloonmakers series by Katherine Locke. I don’t think I mentioned this in my Girl with the Red Balloon post but it ended with no resolution. But I didn’t mention it because I knew there was a second book. Well, just so you are prepared – The Spy with the Red Balloon is a completely different storyline. Ok, it’s not completely different. It obviously relates in the timeline of balloonmakers and magic. But it does not have the main characters from the first book.

It was good though. It takes place during WWII, both in Europe and America. A brother and sister are, on their own, trying to make sense of their magical abilities when the Army recruits them to help with a mission related to bombs. The girl, Isle, stays in America, while her brother, Wolf, is sent to Europe. In Oak Ridge, TN, Isle meets other girls like her and they are given the task of figuring out how to move a heavy and deadly object across the world. Wolf is trained on a secret team and sent to infiltrate and destroy weapons factories in Germany.

They both develop their magic and things are going well until they discover someone else with magic at the Oak Ridge facility who is using it for evil. The book moves along and the character development is good. It also has nice closure at the end with an epilogue 2 years after the story ends.

I don’t mean to say that every book has to have a happy ending, necessarily, but at the end of the first book the reader has no idea what happens to any of the characters. It was just a little disappointing. I’m not sure if Locke is planning on writing more in this series but I would continue to read them if she does!


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The Weekenders

A friend recommended books by author Mary Kay Andrews as good, easy reads (what I call “beach reads”) all set in the south. As I searched through the library database I found that Andrews has MANY books. I picked The Weekenders first because it sounded good and it was available.

The story was good. Riley is kicking off the summer at the family’s vacation home on an island off the coast of South Carolina but not in a very happy way. She has been estranged from her husband and they had planned on telling their daughter of their plan to divorce. He doesn’t show up for the ferry but later is found dead at the island marina. As the investigation deepens, it becomes increasingly clear that Riley’s husband has created some shady business dealings with Riley’s family’s business, including forging Riley’s name on fake businesses and money dealings. She is homeless and money-less and in the dark as far as how her husband was killed or who did it. At the same time, Riley connects with a fling from college who she had not spoken to in years and she is dealing with a moody teenager who just lost her dad.

There is a lot going on in this book but it keeps it entertaining for sure. It was a little unbelievable how little the police seemed to be doing with all this information and really not believable that most of the important information was dug up by Riley herself then shared with the police. But I’m not sure the goal was complete reality for every little story line.

It was definitely a good “beach read” and I will be looking for some more of Andrews’ books for this summer!


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Sonoma

For our one year anniversary last month (sorry for the delay – the past month is a blur) we jumped coasts to check out Sonoma. I LOVE wine and my husband will enjoy wine with me. He has been to Napa before but I had heard amazing things about Sonoma. We spent 3 full days and had 2 travel days, but the day we flew out was essentially a full day with an early flight and gaining time. I loved our itinerary so I thought I’d share. We had a wonderful and relaxing trip, even days before closing on selling a house and buying a house.

Travel Day/Day 1

We took an early flight so we would have most of another day. We landed in San Francisco around 10am. After getting our luggage and car, it was lunchtime and the obvious first stop on the west coast is In-n-Out Burger. Every time eat there it is just as delicious as I remember. Sonoma is about 1.5 hours from the airport and we had no set plans for that day, so we made a pit stop on the way at Muir Woods.

Redwoods are amazing trees. They are old and massive and just really cool. Nowadays, you have a reserve a parking time – a 30 minute window – before arriving. We actually waited to do it until we arrived in San Francisco just in case something happened with our flight, which was easy to do since it was a Thursday. On a weekend, though, I am pretty sure parking slots sell out. Once you’re there, you can spend as much time as you want. There were a good number of people there, but once we got into the woods a little there weren’t many people around. You can take the paths, hiking trails, take lots of photos. We spent 1-1.5 hours walking around and it was a beautiful stop to make.

We continued to Sonoma – where the weather was significantly warmer – and checked into our AirBnb. The cozy guest cottage was perfect. It wasn’t a huge space but we weren’t planning on spending a ton of time there anyway. It had a little kitchenette, a comfy queen bed, a tv, it was private, and the host had a wonderful welcome basket with snacks. We had dinner at El Molino Central, which had delicious authentic Mexican cuisine.

Day 2

We wanted to have one day that we didn’t have to worry about driving and too many tastings. So for months I checked out different tour companies and driver services and kept an eye out for different deals. I don’t remember how I stumbled across Valley Wine Tours, but they seemed to be the best deal so I booked a semi-private tour (not knowing how many people would actually be on the tour with us). I will say they are a very simple operation, so if you want a lot of details about your day, you have to ask questions. But we were happy to be surprised with the exact details.

David picked us up around 10am in a mini van and then we picked up a mother-daughter pair and that’s who we spent the day with! David asked what kinds of wines we liked and what we were expecting out of the day. He had a tentative plan but wanted us to have input if we had any, which was nice. We went to 4 wineries: Larson Family Winery, Loxton Winery, Little Winery, and Muscardini Winery. We had more than enough time at each one and had a delicious picnic lunch (included in the tour, with actual china!). Wine tasting fees were not including in the tour price, but many wineries will waive the fee if you buy wine and we obviously bought wine. I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of bottles at most wineries! We were back at our AirBnb around 4pm. It was really a great day! We took a rest then went to Mary’s Pizza Shack for dinner (which was delicious).

Day 3

Our last full day in Sonoma we wanted to hit up a couple more wineries but take more time and maybe do an actual tour since we only did tastings the day before. We started the day with a yummy breakfast at Picazo Cafe. So we did a leisurely morning tasting at B.R. Cohn Winery, grabbed lunch in the little town of Glen Ellen, then headed to Benziger Winery. Benziger was definitely the largest winery we went to and we wanted to do an interesting tour, so we went with the Tribute Estate Tour & Exclusive Wine Tasting. The winery is biodynamic, which is one step higher than organic (which I didn’t even know existed), and it was really interesting to hear about how the winery works. Then we did a tasting in the wine cave. Very cool. It was a perfectly chill winery day.

We wanted one nice dinner, so we had made a reservation months before to The Girl & The Fig in downtown Sonoma, which was recommended to me by a friend who lives in San Fran. And it lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was great and the food was delicious. We also walked about downtown Sonoma before dinner which is a really cute little square with a park in the middle.

We absolutely loved our trip to Sonoma. There are SO many wineries so you could visit numerous times and have a different experience every time. All the wine was delicious (although I can’t say I am picky). All the food was delicious. All the service was great. I highly recommend it.

Day 4

We spent our last full day in San Francisco seeing a friend for brunch and going to a Giants baseball game (we try to hit up different baseball stadiums when we can). Since the post is getting long – the baseball game was fun and food before and after the game was great (highly recommend the nachos at Public House next to the stadium).

All in all, it was the perfect one year anniversary trip. I have done a quick itinerary below in case that is helpful to any planning a trip to the west coast and looking for pointers. Enjoy!

DayActivity/WineriesRestaurant(s)
Thursdayo early flight ATL > SFO
o drive to Sonoma
o Muir Woods
o In-n-Out Burger
o El Molino Central
FridayValley Wine Tours:
o Larson Family Winery
o Loxton Winery
o Little Winery
o Muscardini Winery
o Mary’s Pizza Shack
Saturdayo B.R. Cohn Winery
o Benziger Winery
o Picazo Cafe
o Garden Court Cafe
o The Girl & The Fig
Sundayo drive to San Francisco
o Giants game
o MarketBar
o Public House
Mondayo early flight SFO > ATL


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The Girl with the Red Balloon

Katherine Locke wrote an excellent fantasy book with some history sprinkled in. I wouldn’t exactly call it historical fiction – and that may be because I am not super familiar with East Germany in the late ’80s – but I feel like it’s more fiction that history. The Girl with the Red Balloon was a quick and engaging read, mainly since it was written for young adults/high schoolers, but I really enjoyed it.

The main character, Ellie, unknowingly travels back in time to 1988 East Berlin when she grabs a red balloon while on a school trip. The Berlin wall is up and she finds herself with a crowd of magicians and runners helping people escape. But they now have a new mission – to figure out how the magic made the balloon, and Ellie, travel across time. And this is made even more complicated when others are found dead after being pulled from another time by balloons. Ellie’s relationships in 1988 grow and she is torn between a desire to maintain these relationships but also return home to her present time. Everything culminates when she and her friends figure out who is responsible for tampering with the balloons and then try to make things right.

The book is an interesting mix of fantasy with some historical base in East Berlin when people could not leave and could not really live freely. I like books like this, although I do think there can be a fine line of making light of historical events by twisting fiction into them. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy magic and fantasy. There’s a bit of a love story as well and who doesn’t love that?! Enjoy!


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A Spark of Light

Many years ago I went on a Jodi Picoult reading binge. I didn’t dislike any of them I just needed a change of pace eventually. Her books would still always come up as recommended so I decided to give one her new a shot. I honestly had no idea what A Spark of Light was about when I started reading it. I don’t always read synopses of books, especially if I know friends have read it or it’s been on certain lists. That’s not to say I would not have read it, but everyone should be prepared for a heavy story line.

A group of women sit one morning at a women’s clinic in Mississippi when a man comes in and starts shooting. You find this out early so I’m really not spoiling anything. What’s also unique about this book is that the timeline goes backwards by the hour and during each hour you learn about what’s happening from each character’s perspective. There’s the doctor, a nurse, a girl and her aunt, the shooter, the hostage negotiator, the shooter’s daughter, a pro-life protester, and a patient who just had an abortion. There it is. The heavy topic of the book is abortion. The clinic is the only one in the state that does abortions – along with general women’s health.

I’m not going to get into a political debate or talk about my views but the book was very interesting. Each character has a very different opinion about abortion. Many see it as a black or white issue while others have varying degrees of agreement or opposition. Picoult obviously did her research and I think it took a lot of guts to write a story like this, especially with social media and public access to writers, celebrities, etc.

It’s a good read but don’t start it looking for a lighthearted beach read. You have been warned!


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Give Me Your Hand

I love a good audio book when I’m on a road trip. It literally makes the drive fly by. I haven’t done a good audio book in a while because most of road trips now include my husband and then you have to try to find something that everyone will like and then what do you do if you don’t get to the end and you have to find time to finish it together and it’s just way to complicated.

But I recently took a solo trip to my brother’s for my nephew’s birthday, so I audio booked it up. If you are not familiar, your library probably does audio book loans and I play it through an app on my phone. Brilliant!

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott was a mysterious thriller. It is the story of two girls who become close friends in high school but abruptly end the friendship when one girl shares a very personal secret. They end up reuniting many years later, after college, and dredge up all kinds of pent up feelings and memories and then add to the trouble to make the relationship even more complicated.

I jumps back and forth in time, which can sometimes be hard to follow in audio form, but the chapters were clearly labels ‘then’ and ‘now’ so it was super easy to follow! I definitely recommend it and it’s not very long. My round trip in the car was about 10 hours and I maybe had an hour left to finish, which was perfect for the train ride to/from work the next day!


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1 Year

We have survived one year of marriage! Actually, survive is not at all the correct word to use because this past year has been the best year of my life. Getting to do life with someone you love is better than I could have imagined. No, it’s not all perfect and it takes work and getting used to, but I think I love my husband more than I did a year ago when we said “I do.”

And we got to kick it all off with the most incredible day with family and friends. I’ve linked to it before but I’m still in love with this video and memories. Thanks again to everyone who helped make the day special! Happy Anniversary, Love!

We’re enjoying some time on the west coast to celebrate so look forward to upcoming posts about that!