First Project of 2022: Leveling Up the Guest Room!

Almost exactly two years ago, we finished up the first renovation in our home: the guest room. Hosting friends and family is very important to us so we wanted to prioritize having a nice space for them to stay. We certainly did not anticipate that we were about to enter a global pandemic, but even though the room hasn’t gotten quite as much use over the past two years as we expected, we are still glad we decided to focus time and energy on renovating the space.

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I don’t really subscribe to the thought that a room is ever truly “finished” – our home is ever evolving and I even when a renovation is complete, I still enjoy making tweaks and leveling up a space over the years. I shared in the fall that I was wanting to do a little update to the plain white walls in the guest room by creating the look of wallpaper with a stencil; you can read all about the inspiration here and the progress here. In this post I debated between keeping it an accent wall or continuing around the whole room and for my first project of 2022 I’ve officially decided to continue it around the whole room.

I won’t lie, because I’m using so many different colors in the pattern, this is going to be a time consuming process. It’ll certainly take much longer than the laundry room stencil, which was one color and could be rolled on with a foam roller. With my work-from-home job plus my two small children keeping me pretty busy right now, I’m going to just be carving out time here and there to work on this when I can. I’m not going to put a timeline on it either – we don’t have any scheduled guests coming yet in 2022 so there’s no pressure at this point. I’m excited to see the space slowly transform!

There are a few other things I want to tweak and update in this space. For one, the boob light has got to go! This is something I didn’t change out in our original renovation and it’s definitely time for something new (one of my 2021 goals was to replace all the boob lights in the house and this is the last one remaining!) I’m also going to update the bedding (I regret choosing a comforter set with lots of decorative pillows – too impractical for guests!) and possibly add a bench at the foot of the bed. One of my 2022 goals is to update the flooring in this house, which includes the carpet here, although that likely won’t happen until later in the year.

I’ll be sharing some of the real-time progress on this project on Instagram, so be sure to follow along there if you want updates in the moment!

December 2021 Book Reviews: Part Two

The first book reviews of 2022 are here! Earlier in December, I shared reviews for the first half of the month since many of them were holiday themed. You can read all about the books I read and their reviews here. Today I’m covering the three books I read in the second half of the month: two holiday reads and one memoir. Let’s dive in!

Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes

Christmas in Paris: A Novel by [Anita Hughes]

After calling off her wedding a week earlier, Isabel decides to go on her Parisian honeymoon by herself. While enjoying the view from her hotel balcony, she accidentally locks herself out of her room and luckily is rescued by Alec, the Frenchman staying in the room next door. Alec is also nursing a broken heart after a failed engagement and the two start to spend time together. When they run into a fortune teller in a street market in Paris, her prediction makes Isabel causes Isabel to become singularly focused on finding a way to make that prediction, and her happily ever after, come true.

I do not like to be super negative with reviews, but wow oh wow I did not enjoy this book. This was very nearly a Did Not Finish for me. There was way too much time spent on Alec and Isabel’s flashbacks to their previous relationships and not nearly enough time spent on present-day relationship development to make it feel believable. The plot was unrealistic and jumped all over the place and the characters seemed superficial and shallow. I found myself getting especially annoyed with Isabel – she seemed fickle and immature both in her previous relationships and in her present day self. There’s a lot of luxury and Parisian references, but it didn’t feel particularly Christmas-y and there were too many aspects of the plot that just felt trivial and bizarre to me. I unfortunately cannot recommend this one at all.

Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday

Duke, Actually: A Novel by [Jenny Holiday]

Dani Martinez is post-men. After her soon-to-be-ex-husband left her for a woman twenty years his junior, she has decided to shift her focus away from men and dating and onto getting tenure at her job as a professor while preparing to be the best woman in her best friend Leo’s wedding. Max, or rather, Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the Duke of Aquilla, is also going to be in the wedding, which some may consider surprising since he was formerly engaged to the bride-to-be. While there was no love lost in that failed engagement, Max has no interest in fulfilling his family’s wishes and marrying their next choice in bride. Still, he goes to New York to pretend to care about his parent’s wishes and there he meets up with Dani. The two strike up a platonic friendship that continues to grow over time. As the wedding approaches and they become more and more important to one another, it seems like the friendship may in fact have grown into something more.

Once I started reading, I realized that the author had previously written a book about the love story of Leo and Marie, the couple getting married in this one. Dani and Max were both in that book, and it seems like they even met briefly there, so at first it did feel like I missed a step. It wasn’t really a big deal, and once the story got going it didn’t matter, but there were a few references to the past book and how they initially met that threw me off a tiny bit. Despite that, I enjoyed this book. It is set around Christmas time and does have Christmas-y references, but Christmas is not a central part of the book. Instead, it’s all about Max and Dani and how they develop a close friendship that turns into something more. I am a sucker for a best-friends-to-lovers storyline – Justin and I were really close friends before we ever started dating, so these storylines have a special place in my heart. I loved Dani, I loved Max, I loved how they supported one another, I loved the character development, I loved the side characters, I loved picturing the setting in Aquilla. I found it to be an enjoyable holiday(ish) rom com! It does fall in the rated-R category for some steamy scenes. I thought Max and Dani were convincing and charismatic and I was rooting for them the whole time. I enjoyed it!

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In this memoir, Michelle explores her childhood memories of growing up in Oregon as one of the few Korean children in the community, traveling to Seoul in the summers to visit her mothers family, and her relationship with her now-deceased mother over the years. Through vast descriptions of Korean food and culture, she weaves stories of her life, family, grief, hope, personal dreams, and identity.

This book was chosen by my book club and I had high hopes for it. It’s on tons of bestseller lists, I’ve seen rave reviews online, I’ve heard podcast interviews with the author – it was all set up in my mind to be an astonishing memoir to read. And in reality, it was . . . fine. Many members of my book club agreed: there’s nothing wrong with it, but we couldn’t quite understand why it was so hyped up? While the author has found success in an Indie rock band, none of us had ever heard of her before so we were starting from ground zero. There are a lot of Korean food references, and as someone who is not a big fan of Korean food, I wasn’t interested in that much of it. It feels kind of strange critiquing a memoir like this because it was clearly very personal for the author, who vulnerably writes about so much of her life and family. I did enjoy reading about the mother-daughter dynamic and their family in general, and the way the author writes about her grief is both touching and relatable. I didn’t not like this book, but I think it was too overhyped in my mind and definitely didn’t live up to the high standards. It’s a solid mid-range memoir for sure, and if you are a fan of the author’s music or particularly interested in Korean food and culture, it’s worth checking out. But if those things don’t interest you, the book may be overhyped for you as well.

What have you been reading lately?

A look at my 2022 Goals

I’m not a big resolutions girl but for the past several years, I’ve come up with a specific number of goals based on the year (19 for 2019, 20 for 2020, etc). This year, I’ve decided to forgo the number and instead break up my goals into three categories: home, personal, and family. I didn’t worry about a specific number but instead just thought about what I would like to accomplish or focus on this year in each area. This year I didn’t do very many little goals; most of the things on this list are either big projects or ongoing goals. We’ll see what 2022 has in store but I’m feeling optimistic about these goals!

Goals for our Home

Update the flooring! This has been a top goal of mine ever since we moved in almost three years ago. We will likely approach this in stages, but the entire house needs updated flooring. I believe all the carpet is original (over 20 years old) and after the previous family raised four boys here and then our very active toddlers and dogs moved in, you can imagine what kind of shape it is in. It’s worn down, stained in many places, and fraying around some of the edges. It is past time to replace it!

The main floor currently has a mix of carpet in the playroom and living room, faux wood laminate in the office, and a peel and stick vinyl everywhere else. I’m excited to improve the feel by installing one cohesive flooring throughout. I’m going to keep the basement and our kids’ bedrooms carpeted (and just update the carpet) but everything else will get a new look. This is obviously going to be a huge project that will require lots of planning so it’ll probably happen in the second half of the year but I’m excited to start pouring over samples and hone in on a vision.

Main Floor Powder Room. This is one of only two remaining rooms that I haven’t touched since we moved in. I’m ready to put some effort in to updating it!

Finish the Guest Room Stencil. Last year I started stenciling the guest room to give the walls the look of wallpaper. I started out with one accent wall but I have decided I’d like to continue it all the way around the room. This will probably be the first project I tackle this year – even though it’s going to be pretty time consuming I think the end result will be worth it. The guest room also has the final boob light in our house and a top goal of 2022 is for that thing to go!

Update the Kids’ Bedrooms. As my kids continue to grow, we’ll be making little updates to their rooms. This year we’ll be upgrading to big kid beds and updated bedding. Also, now that they’re old enough to play in their rooms by themselves more, I’ll probably update their storage to keep a few toys upstairs (right now there are just books in their rooms).

Have the foyer painted. I started painting the main floor last year, but our foyer is two stories and because of the way our staircase is, there is just not an easy and safe way for me to paint the second level by myself. It’s a job I need to hire out and this is the year to get it done! Right now the foyer looks pretty ridiculous with just a paint line ending halfway up the wall – haha!

Living Room. The living room is the other room in the house that we haven’t really touched since moving in and I have big dreams for this space. It’s a unique room and has so much potential! We’ve kind of just left it as is the past two years because it worked fine for life with small children, but I’m more than ready to give it some much needed TLC.

Patio Updates. We have a great outdoor space and love entertaining on our patio in the summer. We’re not going to do a complete patio overhaul at this point, but for now Justin and I want to make simple updates like hanging string lights and building planter boxes to update the space.

Personal Goals

Exercise at least 3 times per week. I have not been consistent with exercise lately and I’m very ready to get back in to a regimen and make this a habit!

Buy thoughtfully and intentionally. I love to shop small, but I am also really interested in looking at the things I buy as investments in the world I want to live in. I’m less interested in just buying things to finish a room and more interested in finding items that are purposeful – sustainable or from a small business or ethically made or thrifted or high quality and made to last, etc. I think this is going to translate to less things, slower progress, saving up for a purchase, or searching longer for just the right item and I’m 100% okay with that.

Prioritize Sleep! My sleep habits are seriously lacking lately and I want to set myself up for more success with better sleep by going to bed earlier, keeping my cell phone out of the bedroom, and having no screen time within 30 minutes of bedtime.

Update the Blog Menu. I want to spend time updating the way my book recommendations page is set up as well as the drop down menu for our home and past project. Just some tweaking to make things easier to find and reference here!

Family Goals

Take our first family vacation! We have done vacations with our extended family before but we’ve never done a trip with just the four of us. We are really excited to make that happen this year.

Dates with Our Kids. Last year Justin and I each took a kid and had a special day date with them – he took LJ golfing and I took Vi to the zoo. It was such a fun day and we thought we would do it more often but then we didn’t. I would love to see us do this more frequently (ideally once a month but for now, at least more than once a year!) It’s such a great way to bond with our kids and make them feel special.

Be intentional with making life feel special. This is a hard goal to quantify, but I just want to try to think of simple ways to make days feel special with my kids. Maybe it’s just a pizza picnic on the floor instead of sitting at the table or celebrating minor holidays like Popcorn Day. Maybe it’s a special hot chocolate drink after a day of playing in the snow or making our own ice cream after a day of swimming. Maybe it’s colored bubbles in the bath or washable paint on the sidewalk. It’s so easy to just get into a routine of getting through the days with little ones but these are such sweet, magical years with the kids and I want to be better at making this a year of FUN too.

Here’s to making 2022 a great year!

A Round-Up of all our 2021 Projects

As another year draws to a close, I wanted to stop and take a look back on all the projects, both big and small, that we took on this year. Sometimes I look around my house and it seems like there are still so many things I’d like to address – it’s so nice to stop and reflect on how far we have already come! 2022 was an especially big year for changing the look of our main floor and it’s wild to remember how it looked at this time last year. I’m really proud of the transformations! There were also a few projects that we took on for other people, and it was satisfying to see them fall more in love with their own homes after some simple updates.

Here’s what we tackled in chronological order:

Dining Room

The first project of the year was giving a facelift to our dining room. New furniture wasn’t in the budget (nor did it make sense in this life stage when we are just as likely to have play doh, markers, and glue sticks all over the table as we are to have plates and food) but some paint, new curtains, updated trim, and a new light fixture made a huge difference!

DIY Date Night: Play Kitchen Shelf

Justin and I used some scrap wood to create a little shelf to hang above our DIY play kitchen – it made for such a fun date night at home!

Gallery Walls

I created three different gallery walls throughout the house this year. Each one is unique and each makes me so happy when I walk by!

Cookie Decorating Space

Creating a functional and cute space for my friend who has a cookie business was such a fun challenge! Justin and I worked hard to make sure this space checked all her boxes and we all love how it turned out.

DIY Dog Bowl

This was a small project Justin built, but I love it so so much. I was just telling him the other day how great it’s holding up and how glad I am that it’s an attractive solution to having our dog bowls in the main area of our house.

Geometric Accent Wall

Justin and I tackled this geometric accent wall for someone else and it was a pretty straightforward and simple weekend DIY!

Justin’s Office Makeover

A fun Ikea hack to combine three tall Vittsjo shelves into one large storage unit was just what Justin’s ahh . . . lackluster . . . office needed to make it feel organized and professional.

Phase One Kitchen Renovation

I have so many dreams for this kitchen to improve the function for our family, but a full gut renovation is years and years away for us. In the meantime, it was WELL worth investing some time, effort, and about $1000 total to update this space to make it feel more like us.

Primary Bedroom

I tackled this renovation for the Spring One Room Challenge and even though it took longer than the eight week challenge to complete, it was worth taking my time to make intentional choices in creating this little haven for Justin and me.

Ikea Hemnes Hack

And speaking of my bedroom renovation, one of my favorite projects was transforming this plain Hemnes dresser from Ikea into a dupe of an $1800 dresser I fell in love with.

DIY Dress Up Clothes Rack

I created this simple clothing rack to store Vi’s dress up collection and it made for not only a fun project but a great 2nd birthday gift!

Jenni’s House: Built-ins + Kitchen Update!

One weekend and several gallons of paint and we transformed my sister’s kitchen cabinets and living room built-ins!

Guest Room Stencil (ish)

I started creating the look of wallpaper in our guest room with a stencil and took a pause from this project to decide if I wanted to leave it as an accent wall or continue all around the room. I’ve decided I want to continue around the room so stay tuned for that project in 2022!

Laundry Room

My final project of the year was our laundry room update, complete with stenciled wallpaper, DIY shelving, painted trim, and some functional storage updates.

I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the rest of 2022 to enjoy the holidays with my family but I’ll be back in the new year ready to take on new projects!

A final look at my 21 for 2021 Goals

I’m not a big resolutions girl, but I do like setting goals for each year. This year, I set “21 for 2021” goals and even though there are still 11 days left in the year, the rest of 2021 is going to be spent enjoying time with my family and not focused on achieving any final goals. So that being said, today I’m going to review all the goals I set back at the beginning of the year and see how I did!

1– Get involved with our church’s foster care ministry. This has been one of the most rewarding items to check off my list this year. I joined this ministry team a few months ago and have really enjoyed getting involved. My work goes towards helping at-risk and foster families and I’m so glad I can be of service to them, even in a small way.

2- Sort through 2013 pictures and create 2013 family album. After sitting on my list for a couple years, it might just be time to admit that this is a goal I have but just do not have time for. I honestly need at least one full day to just sit down, get out our external hard drive, go through all the pictures, and then go online to create an album. I do want albums, but the time commitment to creating them is an obstacle that for this stage in my life, I just don’t have the capacity for.

3- Register for Be The Match registry. Done! This process was super simple. Be The Match sends you everything you need and it’s a very straightforward process to swab and send your samples back in. This is something I have wanted to do for a while now and I’m so glad to officially be in the registry now.

4- Take LJ to swimming lessons. Done! Both LJ and Vi have been enrolled in swimming lessons for several months and they have both gained swimming skills. Vi especially has become quite the little fish and gets so excited to go every week (LJ isn’t quite that enthusiastic…) It’s been fun to see them each learn new skills and develop confidence in the water!

5- Invest in footwear with a purpose. I did research different brands and found some footwear that I’m really interested in, but I still haven’t actually purchased anything. These pieces are definitely investments (read: not cheap), so I just want to be extra sure before actually buying.

6- Continue to “level up” small areas of our houseThis is an ongoing goal and so far we’ve upgraded the playroom light fixture, the mattress in our guest room, the curtains in LJ’s bedroom, and a few of the pillow covers in our living room. I recently added some original artwork to our bedroom.

We’ve also replaced the window trim in the playroom with a chunkier trim (we’re slowly doing this throughout every room in the house). Just some small changes here and there that have made a big difference in the way our house feels!

7- Exercise at least 3 times a week. Sadly, I did not reach this goal. There were times this year where I was better at prioritizing exercise than others, but I have not been consistent at all. This is definitely a top goal of 2022!

8- Give our bedroom some TLC. DONE!!! I am in love with how our bedroom renovation turned out. The room truly feels like a relaxing little haven for Justin and I now.

9- Commit to less screen time. I now have a timer for Instagram and this has made a big difference for my daily screen time. Not only does the timer limit the total amount I spend on Instagram, but knowing I only have a limited amount of time makes me more conscious of how I actually spend that time – I now have less mindless scrolling and more intentional use!

10- Learn how to use at least two new tools. I did not learn any new-to-me tools but I became a lot more confident with power tools, particularly the miter saw and nail gun, after replacing all the primary bedroom window trim and creating Vi’s dress up clothes rack by myself. The whole point of learning new tools was to become a little more independent with my projects and I think I did achieve this!

11- Paint the main floor of our house. This goal is about 75% done. I painted the laundry room, kitchen, dining room, and bottom half of our two-story foyer, but still need to address the living room and the top half of the foyer and staircase. It’s not going to happen in 2021, but I think it definitely will be finished in 2022.

12-Invest in a good night cream and eye cream. I’ve been using this moisturizer at night and this eye cream and so far I’m happy with both.

13- Explore three new-to-us places in our surrounding area. We did two different places, so this goal got 67% complete. In the spring, Justin and I had a day date exploring a small town about 20 minutes outside our city and it was so fun to spend the entire day doing whatever we wanted: shopping, enjoying a bourbon and wine bar, dinner out, and splurging at a candy store haha.

After dropping off the kids with my parents one weekend, we decided to stop in a nearby downtown area before heading home. It’s a town we’ve driven by but never spent time in together – it was in December and we strolled the downtown square where there were pretty light displays, live music, and a little Christmas market. We also popped in to a local brew house + wine bar. It was a fun way to connect and explore a different area!

I had hoped to explore a new-to-us local area with our kids, and while we didn’t get to any “new” area, we enjoyed lots of fun family adventures like local festivals, trips to the zoo, tons of swimming in our pond, and trips to visit our families.

14- Build planter boxes for our patio. We didn’t get to this project this year. Better luck in 2022?

15- Create/enjoy a new family tradition. Last year we poured some hot chocolate and drove around to look at Christmas lights and we did that again this year. Such a fun little tradition! This year, LJ was in soccer and we started having a weekly ice cream treat afterwards. Justin and I also started having little day dates with our kids where we spend one-on-one time with them and that’s a tradition I definitely want to continue!

16- Organize our utility room. This area of our house is kind of a weird landing zone for project supplies and things coming into/going out of our house. So it would get a little cleaner, then stuff would pile up, then I would organize a bit, then it would go back to cluttered. It’s definitely an area that needs more focused time to organize and improve its overall function!

17- Replace the boob lights in our house. Playroom, check! Dining room, check! Laundry room, check check! Four down, only one left to go. The guest room boob light is the last one remaining and while it may not get replaced by the end of 2021, its days are definitely numbered in this house.

18- Wake up before kids to have quiet time to start the day. I did get better at doing this, and also my kids got better at sleeping in! There was a point there where LJ was waking up between 6:00-6:30 and coming into our room to ask for breakfast . . . those days were rough! Now he’s waking up between 7:00-7:30 and he’s able to entertain himself for a while (and Vi sleeps in until 8 or so!) so I’m feeling like our mornings in general have been much more enjoyable lately.

19-Swap out our living room throw pillow cases. 50% done-ish. I did buy a couple inexpensive Ikea pillow cases to swap out about half of the old ones. I didn’t end up prioritizing this goal very much because the living room is likely going to be a 2022 project. I’ll decide on fabrics and patterns as I make other decisions about the room!

20- Support small businesses as much as possible. On our day date to a local small town I purchased a maple cutting board, linen napkins, soaps, and books for the kids from different small businesses. For our bedroom upgrade, I bought two gorgeous sconces from a small business in Texas called Illuminate Vintage. Other things I’ve bought are greeting cards from a vendor at our farmer’s market, home decor from a fair-trade business in my parent’s hometown, and birthday and Christmas gifts from local small businesses. Sometimes shopping small means paying a little more and buying a little less, but the quality of items is often higher and I appreciate knowing I’m putting money back into my local community. This is an ongoing goal that I’m going to keep doing as much as possible in the future!

21-Set aside one date night each week. We have been pretty good with this, although sometimes “date” is very loosely defined haha. While we do occasionally get a babysitter so we can go out to dinner, out date nights are mostly spent at home after the kids go to sleep: we might play a board game or do a puzzle together or just sit and talk on the couch, or snuggle up and watch a show together (we love This is Us and we’ve also really gotten into an older show called The Killing). Wednesday nights have become our night to set aside for time together and we’ve tried to stick with it every week.

Overall, I’m really happy with the progress I made this year on the goals I set. Bring on 2022!

December 2021 Book Reviews: Part One

What’s this? A book review round up happening in the middle of a month? Yep – I’m mixing things up in December!

Christmas Eve is only one week away and I’ve been deep in the holiday reads over here. Last month I split up my book reviews into holiday reads vs. non-holiday reads and I was inspired to do something somewhat similar this month. I thought I’d split the month in half again but this time, split the first half and second half up. There are a few books so far this month that I really enjoyed and I thought it made the most sense to share them now instead of the end of the month to give you time to read one if you want before the holidays.

I’ve read six holiday books so far this month and since they’re all basically in the same genre, I kept with my “grade” ratings to distinguish where they fell for me overall. Let’s jump in!

Let it Snow by Nancy Thayer

Nantucket native Christina owns a little toy shop in a small shed on the wharf and is dismayed to find that her shed, along with the sheds where three of her friends house their businesses, have been bought by a wealthy old man who plans to increase the rent in the new year, effectively driving them out of business. Christina is determined to save her shop and appeal to the wealthy owner, who just so happens to have a darling grandchild and very handsome bachelor son that she quickly forms special bonds with. Can she save her shop, and possibly find the love she’s always dreamed of, in time for Christmas?

If I’m being honest, I almost quit at several points and barely made it through this book. I found the pace to be super slow and the writing to be overly descriptive about unimportant things – I feel like I know every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner that Christina ate. I didn’t think the characters, main or side, were developed enough, and the romance felt rushed and hard to believe. I just couldn’t get invested in it! I’m truly not trying to rip this book apart – I could see how a different person could find it to be a cute holiday slow burn in the realm of a sweet but cheesy Hallmark movie. It’s a pretty clean romance and Nantucket always makes for a charming setting. It might be a win for others, but I found myself to be pretty bored the whole time and give it a C- rating.

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

The Holiday Swap by [Maggie Knox]

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell—both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over. With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track? (synopsis taken from Amazon)

I had to make a few conscious concessions when reading this book, the number one thing being: overlook the fact that these women are apparently so identical that no one in their lives noticed they switched places. Not only does no one notice, but every bizarre thing they do as one another gets written off without much question. It’s a bit implausible, and seems a little silly and immature to switch places as adults, but if you can get past that, this is an entertaining read! Charlie and Cass are spirited sisters, Jake and Miguel are both really likeable, the quaint little hometown makes for an appealing backdrop, and all the baking references add to a festive and cozy atmosphere. It’s a little cheesy and predictable in that Hallmark-y way, but I found it to be a whimsical, sweet, gratifying, feel-good clean romance. I’m giving this one an A- rating!

Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

Ever since moving back to her hometown of Blexford, England, Kate has found fulfillment in living near her dad, engaging with her friends and community, and working as a fabric designer for her dream company. The only downfall is, her dating life in the small village hasn’t exactly been thrilling. When a dating agency’s Twelve Dates of Christmas event comes around, it seems like it might be the answer: three weeks until Christmas and twelve romantic and fun dates with handsome single men. Full of hope, Kate pays the fee and signs up for twelve dates, but as each one becomes more disastrous and disappointing than the last, the whole town becomes invested in Kate’s journey to discover love in time for Christmas.

The premise of this book got me so excited. A woman goes on multiple dates to find love while living in a charming British village at Christmas? Sign me up! I did love Kate and her dating mishaps, the quaint and festive setting, the cheeky British humor, and the overall concept. Unfortunately, it fell short of my hopeful expectations for one big reason: I found her best friend Matt to be supremely unlikeable. I get that they were supposed to have like a banter-y relationship where the arguing is a actually a chemistry thing, but it wasn’t endearing to me and I found myself turned off to his character on multiple occasions. It was also a bit too long for me (again, I get it, twelve dates is a lot to write about!) I feel like there were ways to trim it down, but then again there are probably readers who enjoyed all the descriptions and extra characters. In fact, if I had liked Matt at all, I probably wouldn’t have minded the length! As it is, I can’t give this book more than a B rating, which is sad because it had so much potential.

Christmas at Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Christmas in Peachtree Bluff (The Peachtree Bluff Series Book 4) by [Kristy Woodson Harvey]

The Murphy women – matriarch Ansley and daughters Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson – are a close knit bunch. So when Caroline is struggling with a difficult divorce and the rebellious response of her teenaged daughter Vivi, she turns to her mother for help. As the “storm of the century” approaches the coastal town of Peachtree Bluff, Georgia a few weeks before Christmas, it’s decided that Ansley and her husband Jack will keep Vivi and take her on their planned vacation to Australia while the rest of the family evacuates to New York until the storm passes. But when Vivi’s reckless behavior causes her, Ansley, and Jack to miss their chance to get out of the storm’s path, they have to shelter in place in a dangerous hurricane. With no other way to access Peachtree Bluff by land or air, the Murphy sisters take Caroline’s boat and embark on a rescue mission to get back to their family and help rebuild their town in time for Christmas.

This is actually the fourth book in the Peachtree Bluff series, but I had never read the first three books and think this book can stand on its own. That being said, I think it did kind of work against me because I didn’t have prior feelings about the Murphy women to endear me to them. The women are layered and real, which is great, but it was hard for me to get past a few of their character flaws sometimes. It might have helped if I had previous experience with the characters! I did love the coastal small town setting, I liked the alternating narrative perspectives, and I liked that there was such a focus on family dynamics. I appreciated that it felt like a fresh Christmas story as the hurricane brought in a unique plot line leading up to the holidays. This book definitely feels very Southern – it’s sweet, a little cheesy at times, and ultimately satisfying. I give it a B+ rating.

A Cross-Country Christmas by Courtney Walsh

Lauren Richmond hasn’t gone home for Christmas in years. Part of it has to do with her parents’ tumultuous relationship and part of it has to do with an extreme fear of flying. But when her brother begs her to come home for the birth of his first baby, Lauren can’t say no. Unfortunately for her, the only last minute option available is catching a ride home with her brother’s best friend, and her long-time childhood crush, Will Sinclair. Still harboring hurt from an incident with Will ten years before, Lauren is determined to keep her heart closed off during the long trip from California to Illinois. But Will has changed a lot in the past decade and Lauren starts to find it harder and harder to convince herself not to open herself up to him again.

Out of all the books I read this month, I think this one might edge out the others as my favorite. I love a good enemies-to-lovers story (although this one is more like unrequited childhood crush with a one-sided grudge to lovers) and found this one to be entertaining from start to finish. I loved the dynamic between Lauren and Will and I loved that we got to have narration from both of them. The banter was lively, the relationship was believable, the pace was perfect, and I thought the character development was great. It’s charming, it’s heartwarming, it’s emotional, it’s fun. It’s also a clean romance. This is a great choice if you want to get into the Christmas spirit but don’t want a book that is overloaded with it – the holidays and festivities were definitely there but they’re secondary to Lauren and Will’s relationship. It was just a delightful little read to curl up next to the tree with. I don’t often finish a book thinking “I hope this gets made into a movie” but well . . . I hope this gets made into a movie. It’s definitely A, maybe even A+ range in my book. (Note: it’s a self-published title, so many libraries do not carry it. I had to actually order it on Amazon, and I’m not sure there is another way to access it at this point).

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt comes from a prominent Jewish family and has always strived to maintain her image of a Nice Jewish Girl, but deep down she’s hiding a big secret: she deeply loves Christmas. She loves it so much that she’s actually become a bestselling Christmas author writing under a pen name! But when her publisher demands a book about Hanukkah, she’s uninspired. Hanukkah isn’t merry and magical like Christmas, but she’s determined to come up with something. When her first love (and heartbreak) Jacob Greenberg returns to New York to coordinate the first-ever Matzah Ball, which promises to be glamourous and like nothing else ever seen in the Jewish community, she knows she has to attend. Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since their brief summer camp romance years ago, but in working together on the Matzah Ball, they realize that the spark they had years ago is still very much alive, if only they trust can one another to not repeat the heartbreak from years ago.

Wow – I loved this one! I felt very out of my depth with all the Jewish references, but the author does a good job of subtly explaining most of the Hebrew phrases, names, and traditions so you’re not completely lost. I enjoyed learning more about Jewish culture. I loved Rachel and Jacob individually and together and I loved the families and friends and rich sense of community and tradition woven into their lives. I really appreciated that this was a rom com with quite a bit of depth- child abandonment, chronic illness, trusting the love and acceptance your family provides, identity, etc. It was funny and entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It satisfied my need for a festive read -fun, touching, and memorable. I really recommend this one – solid A rating for this holiday read!

Believe it or not, I still have a few more festive reads on my list to check off before the holidays get here. I’m still enjoying immersing myself in holiday spirit, but I’m also getting ready to branch out into other genres again so the second half of the month will be more of a mix. Stay tuned for more reviews coming in two weeks!

Project Pause: How I spend my time in between home projects

Since finishing up the laundry room renovation about a month ago, I’ve been in a home project lull . . . and I’m kind of loving it. There have been stretches this past year where I basically just jumped from one project right into the next, and while that often felt energizing and exciting, it also got to be exhausting and overwhelming at times.

I really and truly making our home feel special. It’s something I’ve been doing for years and years in the various places I have lived- loooong before I ever dreamed of sharing about it online. But I have noticed something since I started really sharing my projects on this blog and social media a couple years ago- the pressure to constantly create and produce content is real. I see other accounts constantly pumping out renovations and projects and it can start to feel like I need to be doing that too. The truth is though, for me that is not at all realistic or sustainable. I have time constraints and budget constraints, not to mention – I have a life to live! I want to be a present mom and prioritize my marriage and spend time with friends and family and travel and spend time on other activities outside of home projects.

All the algorithms may want consistent posting and more more more, but I feel happier, healthier, and more satisfied with my overall life when I have a balance of projects and time in between. I really value taking some space in between projects. I regularly pause from sharing things on social media. I need that bit of margin to keep from burning myself out! Since I’m currently in the middle of one, today I thought I’d share some of what I do and how I spend my time when I’m in the lull between home projects.

Read a book (or three or four)

It’s no secret around here that I love to read, and while I am sometimes able to read while in the midst of a project, I often just don’t have the time to juggle both. My “free” time comes in three major chunks: when the kids are in preschool two mornings a week, after they’ve gone to bed, and on the weekends when Justin is home or we have grandparent help. When I’m in the middle of a project, I might be able to squeeze in a chapter or two here and there, but there just isn’t much time leftover for reading. When there’s no project going on, it feels like such a treat to just cozy up with a book and get swept up in the story.

Dream up possibilities

When a project is going on, I try my best to keep my mind focused on the tasks at hand. There are decisions to make and work to be done and it keeps my brain fully occupied. When I’m in between projects, my mind has some room to just breathe and dream. For me, the dreaming stage is just as important as the focused “doing” stage! With the exception of the $0 bathroom update I did last year with virtually no prior thought or planning, I need to live in a space and devote time to really thinking about it before jumping in to a renovation. Without a project taking my focus, I can allow my mind to meander and just have time to dream about possibilities. I walk through spaces and sit in rooms and let myself dream big, even if I know it’s likely not feasible to actually implement a certain idea. I try not to rush decisions or force my brain to think about a certain space; some of my favorite ideas have come unexpectedly with a room or project that wasn’t even on my radar until my brain wandered there one day. I know I’m getting ready to work on a space when my thoughts about it are consistently the same – it’s like my dreams have been honed in on a specific vision and I’m ready to proceed!

Plan a future project

From the Pinterest board for one of my future projects…

Planning is different than dreaming. With dreaming, no ideas are off limits and I just allow my mind to think of possibilities and ideas. Once my dreams have gathered into a clearer vision, I start using some brain power for planning. This doesn’t even mean I’m ready to jump into a project, but I might be ready to start gathering actual inspiration to hone my vision even further. I’ll start a Pinterest board or a saved folder on Instagram. It often starts with just one element that I love; for example, with our bedroom renovation, I knew I wanted a navy upholstered bed so my planning began around that. I’ll save anything that inspires me! If it’s an item way out of my price range I still save it because if I really love the look, I can usually find (or even make!) a dupe for less. I enjoy starting the planning stage way before I’m actually ready to start a renovation because having no time constraint takes the pressure off and allows me to cultivate ideas and items. I enjoy when a space feels carefully curated with unique items that feel like me and my family rather than just buying everything at once.

Budget

This is kind of like the Part Two of the planning stage. It takes time to save up for projects, but both Justin and I really value paying for them as we go and not accumulating debt just because we want to update something. While I’m planning for a future project, I’m also saving money, thinking about an appropriate budget, and coming up with ways to maximize whatever amount we have.

Clean/Purge/Maintain

It might not be glamorous, but time off from projects gives me the space to really maintain the home. I spend time deep cleaning rooms, purging closets, and tidying drawers and cabinets. I take things we no longer want or use to my local thrift store, textile recycler, or ReStore. I do things like swap out seasonal clothes for my kids or sort and store the items that no longer fit them. I go around with a magic eraser and clean marker spots and dog hair off the walls (gross, I know, but that’s the reality of our house!) I re-caulk around the bathroom sinks. I give my plants some TLC, which can be anything from transplanting into bigger planters, dividing them into two, propagating new ones, trimming off dead leaves, etc. I touch up paint and freshen up bedding. Basically, when I don’t have a project going on, I have the bandwidth to deal with a lot of the little things that go into keeping our home feeling cozy, comfortable, and (mostly) clean.

REST

Admittedly, I have a hard time slowing down and truly resting. Whenever I have a break, like if Justin takes the kids to swimming lessons or my parents take the kids for the weekend, I feel like I need to maximize the time and take advantage by being productive. But I’m coming to really appreciate how rest IS productive. Taking time to shut my brain off and just exist is a treat. I enjoy taking an evening to just do a puzzle with Justin or spend a lazy Saturday morning lounging in bed with a good book. I like snuggling on the couch with my kids and watching a movie or just talking about whatever they want. I revel in strolling the aisles of a thrift store looking for nothing in particular, ready to snatch up an unexpected gem. There is something so refreshing and rejuvenating about just slowing down and spending my days more intentionally – it’s something I’m continuing to make an effort to prioritize!

When we first moved in, Justin and I both knew that this house would become a labor of love. We saw so much potential in making it our dream home, but we also knew that it was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s been important (and fun!) for me to enjoy the full process, both the projects themselves and the time in between. Taking time to pause is essential for me to have space to dream, plan, budget, enjoy other hobbies, maintain our home, and just rest. I’m enjoying this little break and it will likely last through December. That being said, I’m definitely also dreaming and planning for 2022 and I’m getting very excited for the projects I want to tackle next. Next year is going to be a great one, but first I’m going to finish this one strong with relaxation and quality family time.

One Year Later: Still in love with our home office!

Every now and then, I like to take a look back on past home renovations and projects – kind of like the DIY version of a childhood celebrity “where are they now?” article. I usually love a project right when it’s finished, but the true test is how I feel with the benefit of more hindsight. Are things holding up well? Do I wish I had done something different in the project? Are there ways we could’ve improved on it? It’s fun to check back in and see how things have gone since the project wrapped up. Way back in February, I shared what I love, what I regret, and what I still hope to do in our guest suite (read that post here). Then in July, I shared how our basement kitchen renovation has held up so far (read that post here). Today, I wanted to look back on a project I finished in November 2020: our home office!

Justin and I renovated our home office for the Fall 2020 One Room Challenge and “challenge” was definitely the right word for it. This was the most complicated and extensive renovation we’ve ever attempted to do on our own. It really stretched both of our abilities and was difficult and exciting at the same time. You can read all about it in my ORC posts (Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, Week Five, Week Six: The Final Reveal).

The super cliff notes version of the renovation is, we went from this:

to this! And we did it ALL ourselves!

Don’t tell the other rooms in my house, but this one is without a doubt my favorite one. To say I’m proud of Justin and I for tackling this renovation is an understatement. There were so many complex things we needed to talk through and figure out, especially because the room had a bay window and lots of angles to work around. We did it though and it feels so rewarding even to this day.

A quick note before jumping in to my thoughts on the room today – I recently decorated for Christmas and decided to just keep those decorations up rather than take them down for the follow-up pictures. So there’s a little festive touch to this update!

What I Still LOVE!

Honestly, I still love and am so so happy with the majority of this room. I’m so glad we decided to go with Ikea Sektion cabinets for the base of the built-ins. They provide so much storage space and were relatively easy to install. I love that they came with soft close hinges too; it’s such a nice feature to not have slamming doors. I’m also SO glad with our decision to use Semihandmade door and drawer fronts on the cabinets. They are high quality and elevate the look of the cabinets so much!

I’m also glad I splurged on aged brass knobs and drawer pulls from Rejuvenation. It feels like the finishing touch, the jewelry of the built-in, and it also gives a higher-end feel to the overall unit. Between the Semihandmade fronts and Rejuvenation hardware, the cabinets definitely feel like they were custom and not ready-to-assemble.

I love that I decided to do planking on all the walls and ceiling. It gives the space so much character, like it’s been around for 100 years instead of just 20. I have zero regrets on deciding to go with a monochromatic look and paint the entire room, ceiling and built-in included, Treron by Farrow and Ball (and I’m still so obsessed with that color).

I also still love my vintage yellow chair, bought secondhand from a thrift store, tucked in the bay window area, just waiting for me to curl up with a good book! I love the modern desk mixed in, the double layer of rugs, the bookshelves full of books and mementos, the crown molding and wide baseboards, and the black painted windows framed by tall linen curtains. Honestly, every time I walk into this room, my heart still does a little swoon.

What I Would Change (if I had a time machine)

As much as I adore this room, there are a few things I wish we had done differently. We struggled to find a board that was the right size for the top of the cabinets, and we ended up piecing together some edge-glued pine boards from Lowe’s. It was thinner than I wanted, but much cheaper than butcherblock so we decided to go for it. After we finished, we realized Menard’s had edge-glued boards that were wider and thicker – these would’ve given a more substantial look to the top of the cabinets/base of the bookshelves. I wish we had known it sooner; I definitely would’ve preferred to use the Menard’s boards! I also made a mistake and wiped down the boards we used with a damp cloth before painting, which gives the wood a rough feel now. I should’ve sanded it down (or used a dry tack cloth instead!) so it stayed nice and smooth.

We also should have included more small pieces of scrap wood to the underside of each shelf prior to attaching the thin plywood base underneath. In a few spots, the plywood has bowed a bit and is visible now; I wish we had placed more spots to attach the plywood with the nail gun to prevent future dipping!

I also wish we had included a small piece of trim on the very ends of the cabinets. There is a small gap between the wall and the cabinet and we should’ve closed it. It would’ve been easiest to do before we added the top and bookshelves, but I still think we can do it if we take off the door front. That might be a quick 2022 project!

Lastly, I wish I had taken more time with filling nail holes. There were hundreds and hundreds of nail holes in all the planking and it became tedious; I just wanted to get through it and start painting! The price to going too quickly or lowering the level of diligence is many of the nail holes have a little dip you can still see. Even though it was so so tedious, I wish I had taken a little more time to make sure the nail holes became truly invisible.

Even though there are a few things I wish we did differently, overall I am still so THRILLED with this room! When we update the main level flooring we will be updating this flooring as well, but other than that, this room still feels so good and I truly believe I will love it for years and years to come.

November 2021 Books: Part Two

If you caught my blog post yesterday, you know that I read twelve books in November, which was just too much for one review post! Yesterday I reviewed the seven non-holiday books I read (check out that post here) and today, I’m reviewing the five holiday books I read last month.

Let me preface this post by saying that I know the majority of holiday books are cheesy and Hallmark-y. That’s not everyone’s thing and I get it! I don’t mind little cheese, especially when it comes to a holiday read, and I just accept that it comes with the territory. I make a lot of allowances for the sake of festivity so consider yourself warned haha. Okay, let’s jump in!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Susan Meier

Eloise Vaughn is without family, flat broke, and in desperate need of a job. Ricky Langley is grieving and in desperate need of being left alone – no more questions about how he’s doing from concerned friends, no more attempts to set him up with every available woman. When Eloise and Ricky happen to meet at a party, an idea starts to form: Eloise will pretend to be Ricky’s date for the twelve social events he has coming up so people think he’s moving on and stop pitying him. In exchange, he will send out Eloise’s information to various business contacts and help her get a job. No need to get feelings involved, because this is a mutually beneficial business transaction. Simple, right?

Truthfully, this book was an accidental pickup (I meant to check out a different book with the exact same title) but I decided to give it a try anyways. It’s a pretty standard handsome-billionaire-meets-gorgeous-but-broke-woman story that stays in the PG-ish range the whole time. It felt like a Lifetime Christmas movie (not Hallmark haha, the vibes are a little different I think!) I personally needed a bit more substance to make the story and relationship work but it was ok for a holiday read. It reminded me of something you pick up in a random place like a grocery store or out of the stack of books left behind at a vacation rental home – it’s fine, but nothing remarkable and kind of like other books you’ve probably heard of or read when you just wanted to read something. I put it in the C+/maybe B- range: an easy to skim, fairly festive romance with a predictable premise.

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery

Christmas on 4th Street: An Anthology (Fool's Gold Book 13) by [Susan Mallery]

Noelle loves her town, her friends, and her little store, The Christmas Attic. There’s just one thing missing in her life: love. Gabriel Boylan is nursing an injury and taking a break from his job as an army doctor to visit his family in Fool’s Gold. He doesn’t feel much like celebrating Christmas, but when he meets Noelle and starts working in her store, things start to change for him.

Anytime the characters have holiday themed names (like Mary, Holly, Joy, etc) I know I’m in for a seriously festive, and likely somewhat cheesy, read. When I saw the main characters here were Noelle and Gabriel…let’s just say my expectations were set. Ha! It also had a lot of ultra-festive elements: Noelle owns a Christmas store, their little town has festivals every week, and there is a surprise triple wedding being planned for right after the Christmas Eve. I often love elements like that but this book fell really flat for me. The characters were alright, but not especially developed, and even though you kind of expect the romance to happen fast, this felt a bit over the top. It was also definitely at least PG-13 (no open door scenes per say but a lot was alluded to). This book is a bestseller on Amazon so a lot of people liked it, but for me, it was another C+ choice. It’s one of those books in a romance series about all the townspeople (I’m pretty sure the triple wedding were all relationships from previous books) and you can definitely tell there are hints of future stories being set up in this one. I won’t be reading any more from this author but there are a lot more options from her if you liked this one!

Christmas at Silver Falls by Jenny Hale

Christmas at Silver Falls: A heartwarming, feel good Christmas romance by [Jenny Hale]

Scarlett Bailey loves celebrating Christmas at White Oaks, the historic inn that her grandmother runs and lives in. Unfortunately, due to plummeting profits and the high cost of upkeep, it’s looking like this might be the last Christmas there and the family will have to sell. That is, unless she can convince Charlie Bryant, a successful property developer who is back in town after years away, to invest in the inn.

With a family Christmas in a cozy and festive inn and a charming little town with interesting side characters and plots, this book feels like a good one for reading next to the Christmas tree with a comfortable blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. Of course, as with nearly every holiday read, there is a certain amount of cheesiness, but the characters felt developed enough and the romance didn’t feel overly rushed and stayed in the PG range. I was rooting for Scarlett and Charlie and also invested in saving the inn! I enjoyed picturing the setting: the town, the inn, the snowy scene around Charlie’s cabin. I could see how some readers might think there were too many side characters but I loved the dynamics within Scarlett’s family and her friends in town and thought it enhanced the story. There are a few things in the plot that didn’t feel entirely realistic, but overall it was a sweet and festive holiday escape that I’d put it in the B+ range.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Every year, Maelyn’s family spends the Christmas holiday with friends that feel like family at a cabin in Utah. It’s normally her favorite week of the year but this year, she not only received the devastating news that the cabin is being sold, but she also made a huge mistake that has potentially ruined her biggest romantic hopes and dreams. Mae is in a state of distress and regret as she leaves with her family, and while in the car she throws out a plea to the universe: “Show me what will make me happy!” In an instant, tires squeal and metal crunches, but instead of waking up in a hospital, she wakes up on the plane…on the way TO the cabin and a holiday week that now hasn’t happened yet. Given the miraculous chance of a do-over, Mae is determined to save the cabin and pursue the romance she really wants.

I’ll just go ahead and say that time loops are not really my thing. I don’t like how unrealistic they make a story and the Groundhog Day repetitive nature is not my favorite. I wish this story could’ve been written in a different way without the time loop. But setting those feelings aside, I did ultimately enjoy this book. Again, I love a good story with family coming together at the holidays, and even though these were family friends, not relatives, I really enjoyed the group dynamics. These people have known each other for years and years and I felt like I knew them all too. I loved the comfort, familiarity, and humor! I liked that the activities were festive but a little different – there’s no small town festival or big holiday event, instead it’s things like sledding and building snow creatures. The romance felt realistic, relatable, and fun and I was definitely rooting for it to succeed (I’d say it’s rated R for open door scenes and language). I have a little beef with a few aspects of the storyline but not enough to take away from my overall enjoyment; I just accepted that there were some cheesy or unrealistic aspects and went with it. I would give this an A- holiday read rating!

An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Due to dwindling financial resources and a mother who is threatening to cut him off, carefree bachelor Richard Brockwell returns to his home of Ivy Hill for Christmas. While Richard does not exactly have Christmas spirit in his heart, he does find that a few unexpected people are finding a way to that very heart, most notably an orphan boy and a childhood friend, Arabella Awdry. Though Arabella does not have interest in being pursued by someone with the notoriety that Richard has, neither one can deny that there is something there.

I picked this up from the display of Christmas books at our library based on the cover alone. A festive historical romance? Sign me up. This story felt like the PG, Christian romance version of A Christmas Carol – Richard is super selfish and stingy but slowly starts to have a heart change to becoming more warm, generous, and kind. There is definitely a religious aspect to this book, although I wouldn’t say it’s done super strongly. It was fun to see the festive activities through a historic lens – the way they took an actual horse and sleigh ride or decorated the house with real greenery throughout and went around caroling. There were a few side plots that kept the story from feeling too one-dimensional and I especially liked the historic setting. It was a nice change of pace from the more contemporary holiday reads I chose this month and I’d give it a solid B rating.

I have specifically been saving a few more holiday reads for December, so I’m excited to continue the festive reads a little longer! What are you reading this month?

November 2021 Books: Part One

November was a big month for reading. And when I say big, I mean BIG! So big that I decided I just cannot pack everything into one single blog post and I’ve decided to divide this month up into two parts.

I’m in between home projects, plus we had some sickness in our family that kept us home for a while and I also read over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend so all in all, I finished twelve books this month. Five of them were Christmas-themed books, so I decided to split up my review posts into non-holiday reads and holiday reads. Today I’m reviewing all seven of the non-holiday books I read this month – there were no dud reads for me and there’s a lot to discuss so let’s get to it!

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

The time has come for the Adler family, including twelve-year-old Edward, to complete their move from New York to LA. They board a plane in Newark along with 180 other passengers who all have their own unique reasons to fly to California. Unfortunately, halfway across the country, the plane crashes, leaving Edward the only survivor. This poignant novel alternates between the perspectives of various passengers during the flight and Edward in present time as he struggles to navigate his new life after the crash.

As a nervous flier myself, I was hesitant to pick up a book about a plane crash, but I found this to be an incredibly thought-provoking and touching story of life and loss (and did not make me more afraid to fly after reading). It was hard to put down and made me feel all the feels – sadness, despair, hope, it’s even a bit uplifting believe it or not. The characters are all so vivid and realistic! Seeing how others around Edward deal with the aftermath of the crash, watching Edward grow and cope, meeting the passengers and getting glimpses of their lives in the hours prior to the crash, it’s all just very raw and real and is told in a way that does not feel like fiction. This was a truly unforgettable read about loss, hope, and healing` that will stay with me for a long long time. Highly recommend!

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary: A Novel by [Sarah Penner]

Concealed behind a false wall in a little shop on an inconspicuous back alley in 18th century London, Nella works as an apothecary. She dispenses medicines to heal . . . and also, occasionally, kill. She has vowed to never use her poisons to harm another woman, but while a young girl, Eliza, is spending time in her shop, a string of events unfolds that will change things for Nella and Eliza forever. In present day London, Caroline stumbles across a tiny vial along the River Thames that leads her on a quest to find answers – and the mysterious apothecary.

I absolutely devoured this book! It’s told in alternating perspectives from Nella, Eliza, and Caroline and while I didn’t find Caroline or much of her storyline to be especially likeable, I could not get enough of Nella and Eliza. I feel like I constantly have the travel bug in this seemingly-endless pandemic, but this book especially made me wish I could travel to Europe. Imagining 18th century London and the world where Nella and Eliza lived was so interesting to me! I did love the hunt that Caroline embarked on to find answers – it made me want to just pore over old maps and other archived documents in an old library somewhere. I was impressed that this was a debut novel, but at the same time, it was not without flaws for that same reason. I don’t want to specify my critiques too specifically to avoid giving anything away, but I’ll just say I think there were a few things that needed to be added, and a few that could’ve been left out, in order to make this a complete home run. All in all, it was still a really enjoyable read and I do recommend it!

Tightrope by Amanda Quick

Tightrope by [Amanda Quick]

After a haunting near-death experience, former trapeze artist Amalie moved to the exclusive celebrity town of Burning Cove and poured all her money into buying a mansion to turn into a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately for her, the mansion is the site of a previous death and when her first guest is murdered by his own robot invention, the mansion gets a reputation for being cursed. One person who doesn’t buy into the curse is Matthias – he knows that there was more to that now-missing robot than meets the eye and he’s determined to retrieve it. Though she suspects he has ties to the criminal underworld, Amalie has to decide if she can trust Matthias enough to work together (and explore their mutual attraction?) and find the missing machine before someone much more dangerous does.

Back in September I read another book from the Burning Cove series and enjoyed it well enough to try another book. In a lot of ways, this book felt very similar. There are overlapping side characters, the death in the first book I read was at the mansion featured in this book, and there was the same vibe of 1930’s Hollywood glitz and glamour combined with gangsters and danger. There are again a few plot details that feel a little far-fetched or side plots that felt unnecessary, but I mostly enjoyed the twists and turns. Even though I did guess some parts, it was still a decent read. I liked the dynamic between Matthias and Amalie (there are two or three fairly brief but steamy scenes that you can see coming and could skip if you prefer) and enjoyed seeing some of the same characters from the previous book I read. I think overall, this series falls in like a B+ range for me. I’m not hooked enough to continue to seek out more in the series at this point, but if I come across another Burning Cove book in the library, I wouldn’t mind reading it.

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

After all commercial flights from Salt Lake City to Denver are cancelled due to a winter storm, Dr. Ben Payne is able to charter a small private plane to fly around the storm and keep him on track to get back home in time for work the next day. There’s an extra seat on the plane so he invites Ashley Knox, whom he met in the airport and knows is trying to get home in time for her wedding, to join. Unfortunately, the pilot has a deadly heart attack mid-flight and crash lands in the middle of a vast wilderness. Ashley and Ben survive the crash, but Ashley has a fractured leg, Ben has broken ribs, they have no food, the winter weather is harsh, and they didn’t tell anyone about the charter flight . . . meaning no one else on earth even knows where to look for them. Ben slowly nurses Ashley back to better health and starts a long and harrowing journey to try and get them out of the wilderness, all while leaving messages in a recorder for his wife. As Ashley overhears his tender messages, she realizes that her own impending marriage feels like settling and there might be more out there for her – if they survive the wilderness.

I can’t believe I read not one but two books about a plane crash this month but again, this one didn’t make me feel more afraid to fly because of how specific the crash situation was. I also don’t generally like man-vs-wild survival stories, but I found myself slowly becoming more and more invested in this one. It was a little strange to have interruptions to the present time when Ben was reminiscing to his wife in the recorder on their shared past, but I got used to it. It also helped that the entire book wasn’t just trying to survive in the harsh wilderness – it was just long and suspenseful enough to be a convincing story without being too long that it started to drag. I hesitate to say more because while this was recommended to me by a friend, I also saw an influencer on IG recommend it and that person unintentionally said something that was actually a big spoiler for me. I don’t want to do that to you so I’ll just say: a book about a plane crash and wilderness survival is not usually in my wheelhouse but I did enjoy this one! I believe it’s also been made into a movie and I bet that would be an interesting watch.

Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

Love, Comment, Subscribe (Ponto Beach Reunion Book 1) by [Cathy Yardley]

Though she tried to get in with the popular crowd in high school, Lily Wang was firmly planted in a tight-knit group of friends called the Nerd Herd. Now ten years later, she’s a successful beauty YouTuber trying to make it to the five million subscriber mark and get noticed by big beauty brands. Also finding success as a YouTube gamer and prankster is fellow Nerd Herd member Tobin Bui. Though they drove each other crazy in high school, Lily realizes it could be beneficial for the growth of both their careers to team up for a series of crossover videos. When the first one goes viral, they realize they’re on to something and start to work closely together, causing them to realize they not only get along better as friends than they thought, but there also might be something more there too.

Usually I have a rule that a rom com should not be longer than 200-250 pages, but I am willing to make exceptions for the right stories and this book is one of them. It’s pretty long for a rom com but I loved it! I am not a YouTube watcher but it was really fascinating to get a look behind the curtain on how content creators work and all they have to do to achieve success in that world. It felt fresh and relevant and interesting. I also loved both Lily and Tobin and thought they had a really great dynamic (it does get rated R steamy at times). It’s a frenemies-to-lovers plot that also touches on important topics like mental health and figuring out what really matters in life. I was invested in from start to finish! I did get a little tired of Lily’s strange obsession with being popular but I loved their Nerd Herd friend group and was excited to find out that this was actually book one of a series (I think the next book will be published in early 2022) following that group of friends. I will definitely be reading more of this series!

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

I Hope This Finds You Well: Poems by [Kate Baer]

This past February I read and loved Kate Baer’s first book of poetry, What Kind of Woman, so I was very excited to read this book of her “erasure poems.” I believe this all started when she received a negative message from someone and specific words jumped out at her from the message. By whiting out other words, she kept specific words from the negative message and turned it into a poem. Over the years, she did this more and more and eventually, it became this entire book of poems. She has taken negative messages, positive messages, unsolicited MLM messages, and even some speeches from public figures, and turned them into really meaningful poetry. I meant to read this slowly and indulge in her words, but I found I couldn’t put it down and read it in a single sitting! I know I will return to it again though – it’s the kind of poetry that you can come back to again and again and get something different from it each time. I think even those who don’t like or naturally gravitate towards poetry will enjoy this short collection of work and I highly recommend it!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by [Stephen Chbosky]

Written as a diary-style letter to an unknown friend, this book follows observant, socially awkward teenager Charlie as he navigates the confusing world of adolescence, including first dates, new friend groups, parties, substances, family dynamics, and much more. Charlie shares his life in a raw, vulnerable way that is poignant, relatable, and even nostalgic for the reader.

This book was written over twenty years ago and has been a movie for almost a decade, so I am definitely late to the game here. When another reader friend said she read it and loved it, I decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did! It is deep and moving, thought-provoking and memorable. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to hug Charlie and my own teenage self. The style of writing really makes you feel like Charlie is talking to you, and it pulled me right in from the beginning. Though Charlie is young, there are a lot of difficult subjects brought up, including abusive relationships, sex, drugs, suicide, and depression. I feel like the author does a great job of addressing each of these things through Charlie’s eyes in a way that feels true to how a teenaged boy would feel. It’s a quick read but it packs a big punch and I would recommend it!

WHEW!! What a month of reading . . . and I’m not done yet! Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of my November reads and all the festive Christmas cheer that came with them. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying now – I’m always looking for good recommendations!