Catching Katy

Reads, Eats, & Everything Else


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Nine Perfect Strangers

Most of you probably know Liane Moriarty, either because you’ve read her books or because you’ve watched or heard HBO’s series Big Little Lies. I’m pretty sure I was the only person I knew that didn’t like the show….even among friends who had also read the book. Similar to author Jodi Picoult, I read a number of Moriarty’s books at one time then took a break. But I recently picked up her newest.

Nine Perfect Strangers is, once again, set in Australia, where a group of nine people gather at a health resort for a ten day retreat. You are introduced to some of the characters before they all converge on Tranquillum House but the title is a little misleading. Not all nine of the characters are strangers to each other – there is a married couple as well as a family (the parents and daughter). But I guess that is just semantics.

These strangers come together and begin the retreat in silence, but as the days go on, everyone realizes the director has some very strange methods. Everything comes to a head when the guests discover [spoiler alert] that they have been drugged slowly throughout their stay but when they discover this they are all locked in the yoga/meditation room. Obviously this was completely unethical and illegal. The end of the story goes through their attempts to get out, the director’s whole plan and reasoning for her methods, and then how they get out. It is all wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end and you even get updates on the characters years later. So really every little thread is taken care of, which I can appreciate.

This was a quick and interesting read – definitely good for summer. There were a wide array of characters and personalities, which kept me engaged. Hope you enjoy it!


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No Exit

If you get scared easily or may lose sleep over something you read, No Exit by Taylor Adams is maybe not the best read for you. The gist is that Darby, a college girl driving home because her mother is sick, gets stranded at a rest stop in the mountains during a massive snow storm. She quickly discovers that someone she is stranded with has a child locked in their van and she sets out to be a hero. I sometimes give away some spoiler details in my reviews but I feel like this one is worth not sharing.

I will say the whole thing is very unrealistic and implausible but I still could not put it down. Darby has to first figure out whose van the child is in and from there decide what she’s going to do and who she’s going to trust. She makes a LOT of wrong decisions along the way and you may scream at her from time to time.

I liked this book because it was a quick read that didn’t drag on and it really kept my attention. I think I even liked the fact that it was so completely unbelievable. I may never look at rest areas the same – not that they were ever at the top of my list of favorite places…or even places I enjoy. It’s a newer book – released in January this year – but it is worth the hold list waiting period (if you do the library thing). Enjoy!


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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!