June 2021 Book Reviews: Part One

June was absolutely packed full of books! Thanks to a vacation and lots of time for relaxing and reading, I got through WAY too many books for just one post this month. I decided to split them up into two categories: the ones I read a physical copy of and the ones I read via Kindle. Today we’ll chat about the seven physical books I read over the past month. There’s a lot of books and I have a lot of thoughts so let’s jump right in!

Enjoy the View by Sarah Morgenthaler

Enjoy the View: An Alaskan Grumpy/Sunshine Romcom (Moose Springs, Alaska Book 3) by [Sarah Morgenthaler]

River Lane is a Hollywood starlet with one last chance to prove herself by directing a documentary in the Alaskan small town of Moose Springs. Easton Lockett is a local who would like nothing more than his hometown to stay off the tourist map. As a seasoned guide, Easton is tasked with helping River and her crew make it up Mount Veil, a huge mountain in the Alaskan wilderness. As they work together to survive the harsh hiking conditions, the famous actress and the mountain man actually have quite a bit in common.

I’ve read the first two books in this series and they both felt like just-okay romances, but I liked them enough to give the third one a try. I will say, I think this was my favorite one of all three, but I would still put it just above the 50th percentile in terms of rom coms. First of all, these books don’t need to top 300 pages. It’s just not necessary. At least this one was under 400 pages, which is more than I can say for the first two. Easton and River are likeable enough, and the premise of hiking a huge mountain in the breathtaking Alaskan wild creates a heck of a backdrop. I actually found the hiking part really fascinating and enjoyed reading about the conditions, the equipment, and the harshness of Alaska. I felt like Easton and River’s relationship was the most believable out of the three books, and I enjoyed the quirky little side characters. Overall, it was a decent, if not stellar, rom com but the overall series is probably C+ level. You could easily read this book as a stand-alone book without reading the first two!

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

The Soulmate Equation by [Christina Lauren]

Single mom Jessica impulsively submits a DNA sample to a new dating site that promises it can use DNA-sequencing to determine compatibility and find your soulmate and is shocked to receive the highest compatibility match ever recorded. Unfortunately, it’s with the company co-founder, a man she already knows and dislikes: River Pena. She’s quick to dismiss the results until the company offers her a huge incentive to just give it a try and get to know River a little first. It’s truly an offer too good to pass up, and Jess decides it wouldn’t hurt to just hang out with River a little, especially once she realizes he might not be as bad as she first thought.

The first Christina Lauren book I’ve read was The Unhoneymooners, which I really loved, but since then my relationship with them (it’s two authors!) has been downhill and I haven’t enjoyed their books nearly as much. I’m thrilled to report that this book was such a refreshing delight! I found the characters, from Jess and River to all the supporting characters to be lovable and endearing. I was so invested in the relationship between Jess and River – I loved their nerdiness, I loved their banter, I loved their chemistry. It was believable, it was sizzling, it was sweet, it was fun. It just worked, you know? The concept of a DNA-matching site to find your soulmate felt fresh and the dialogue was snappy and hilarious. I could easily see this as being a book I actually buy to read again sometime (high, high praise for my library-loving self). This was an absolute winner of a rom com and I loved it from start to finish!!

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger

Girls Like Us by [Cristina Alger]

FBI Nell Flynn heads back to the hometown that she hasn’t visited in over ten years to attend her father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Shortly afterwards, a brutal murder is discovered and it looks a lot like another murder that her father, a homicide detective, had been investigating prior to his death. Nell is brought in on the case by his former partner and before long, the investigation has Nell wondering just how well she really knew her father.

I’m not sure I would personally call this one a thriller. It certainly feels like a mystery and I was intrigued by the premise and finding out who the killer was and how everything connected, but it didn’t start to feel edge-of-my-seat suspenseful until about 2/3 of the way through. My heart was pumping for the last few chapters, but it wasn’t that way the whole book (and I wish it had been!) I was also a little disappointed that everything wrapped up a little too easily. I wanted a little more to the end of each suspenseful buildup. This is not a book that I couldn’t put down; in fact, I could read a chapter or two as I had time and easily set it down. Again, once the suspenseful part actually picked up towards the end, then it became unputdownable. I found the plot to be interesting and I was invested in discovering all the answers, so overall I enjoyed this one and would recommend it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Marco and Anne are attending a little party at their neighbor’s home, only to return to their own home to find that a shocking crime has been committed. They quickly become the number one suspects and must rely on one another even as they try to keep their own secrets hidden.

The first couple chapters did not grab me. I started it on vacation but a couple chapters in I realized I was not in the right mindset for it (Justin read it on vacation though, so it’s definitely a personal preference!) and I set it down and started back up a week later. It felt a little like I read two different books: the first half was slow and a little boring and I felt restless and un-invested, but around the halfway point, the plot shifted and I became so much more interested in the story! It’s suspenseful with plenty of twists and turns, some things I predicted but others I was totally surprised by. I liked that the narration included multiple characters’ thoughts (in a book filled with deception, it helped you know what was genuine). None of the characters are particularly likeable and there were points I thought there was no way I would be satisfied with the outcome, but ultimately I (mostly) was. I was really glad that Justin had already read it because once I finished I really wanted to talk about it with someone! There are surprises up until the very end and it is definitely a unique thriller, but the fact that there really weren’t any likeable characters to root made this fall more of a solid mid-range thriller for me.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Margaret Jacobsen is on the brink of getting everything she ever wanted: dream job, gorgeous fiancΓ©, happy ever after. Until one day, a tragic accident alters her entire life – and nothing will ever be the same.

This novel was a poignant look at one woman’s journey of healing after a life-altering accident. It was a tender story that if you read the inside flap, seems like it will be a romance but in truth the love story felt secondary to Margaret’s personal rehabilitation and family dynamics. It’s not all light and fluffy; this book covers some really tough ground. Margaret’s journey is portrayed in a vulnerable, raw way – her struggles, her doubts, her finding inner strength and also experiencing times of weakness and anger. There are several side plots with her family members (most of whom are loveable) that created an intimate look at a complicated family rallying together to support Margaret. I actually wish the romantic side of things had been focused on a bit more; it’s not that I found it unbelievable, I just wasn’t very invested because it wasn’t quite developed enough. I found myself skimming quite a bit, particularly towards the end, and wish there had been a little more closure, but overall I thought this was a pretty good read and would recommend it.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Recently-widowed Evvie Drake has spent most of the last year of her life at home, but not for the reason everyone pities her for. Even her best friend Andy is unaware of the full truth when he suggests she rent out the little apartment connected to her house. He even has a tenant in mind: his childhood best friend and recently retired MLB-pitcher Dean Tenney. Dean has experienced every athlete’s worst nightmare and needs a place to escape for a bit and figure out his future, and Evvie’s little apartment in her quiet town in Maine is the perfect place to do it.

This was a truly refreshing, slow-burn romance for adults. And I don’t mean “adult” like rated-R, I mean adult like the characters are actually mature adults with life experience. Evvie has already been married, Dean’s career has peaked, they’re real adults with bills, decisions on jobs, trying to figure out their lives, etc. So it feels…regular? It feels like real life? It feels like a story that could actually happen to you rather than some fantasy romance. I found that to be so charming! It’s got endearing characters who are easy to root for and I love that they’re like, having creaky bones and watching TV together (romance in your 30’s, ha!) Plus, the banter is very fun and I actually laughed out loud a few times. Evvie was one of the most likable, authentic characters – witty and clever and down-to-earth but also has relatable insecurities about her own normalcy. This was by no means a fast-paced read but I found it to be very sweet and satisfying and I definitely recommend!

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep: A Novel by [Sally Hepworth]

Due to her rapidly-deteriorating mind, Anna is moving into an assisted-living facility, which wouldn’t seem that unusual except she is only thirty-eight years old. Plagued by early-onset Alzheimer’s, her brother has chosen this facility specifically because there is another young person, Luke, with a similar diagnosis living there. While the hope was for Anna to have a bit of companionship with Luke, no one anticipates that it could lead to more. And no one is more moved than Eve, the recently hired new cook for the facility who will go to great lengths to help Anna and Luke.

This book has been on my TBR list for several years. I finally checked it out from the library and WOW. Tragic, hopeful, inspiring, heartbreaking – this book wrecked me! It is a tremendously poignant look at Alzheimer’s/dementia and I cried several times. Anna and Eve’s stories are told through slightly different timelines and everything is woven together in a deeply moving way. I actually really loved that there were some other plot lines with Eve’s life as well to give her character and story a lot of depth too. It’s beautifully written even as it breaks your heart. I highly recommend this one.

WHEW! What a month for reading! And I’m not done yet; later this week I’ll cover all this month’s Kindle reads!

ORC Week Six: The Sconces are In!

We’re in the home stretch of the One Room Challenge!

Justin and I are on vacation this week and it has been amazing to take some time away together. Right before we left, I finished painting the walls and we tackled one more small project in our bedroom: putting up our sconces!

I love the look of sconces but didn’t want to hardwire them because a) it’s expensive to do and b) we will likely move where our bed sits when we remodel the en suite bathroom/move a wall in 3-5 years. At that time, we’ll hardwire them because it’ll be a more permanent spot for our bed. Until then, Justin just attached the sconces directly to the wall and I used these battery-powered, remote-controlled puck lights in place of lightbulbs. This solution works for now, but the puck lights aren’t super bright with the white globes so I’m on the lookout for a similar light with more lumens.

Side note…can we talk about how my library check out pile has officially gotten out of control!?

Also, if you’re wondering if the smoke alarm placement bothers me, the answer is YES but the previous owners hardwired it there and we’re not going to move it right now so I’m learning to deal with it. Win some, lose some!

Okay back to the sconces. They are from Illuminate Vintage, a small business out of Houston that I discovered and fell in love with. Made in the USA, conscious of sustainability, gorgeous styles and high quality – sign me up! I was immediately drawn to these Erie sconces which feel modern and fun and I chose a raw brass finish that will patina over time.

When we come back from vacation, I need to paint the ceiling, hang curtains, replace the baseboards, install window trim, and the big one: complete my Ikea dresser hack! It’s a tight timeline but I think we can pull it off!

Sources

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Foggy Day

Upholstered Bed

Nightstands

Cream Pillows

Green Pillows

Lumbar Pillow

Quilt

Floral Sheets + Throw, both from Target (no link available)

Rug

Eucalyptus Stems

Wall Sconce

ORC Week Five: A Gorgeous Rug + Moody Paint Color

Another week of the One Room Challenge is complete and I’m very excited about the progress we’ve made!

ORC-Guest-400x218.png

Since last week, we’ve had a few elements added to the room that have made a big impact. First, our rug got delivered over the weekend and I am in LOVE.

This rug is from the new Chris Loves Julia x Loloi collection and I’m a big fan. The colors are amazing, the pattern is gorgeous, and the price cannot be beat (it’s pretty reasonable at full price but I managed to snag a 9 x 12 on sale for under $300 which was even better!)

Once I put the rug down, everything tied together instantly. The bedding and rug and bedframe just coordinate so well without feeling matchy-matchy. I love it so much!

The next big change was obviously the paint. I originally wanted to try out a limewash paint. Our bedroom is a very large room and I didn’t want to fill it with furniture and things on every wall, so the subtle interest that limewash brings to a space felt like the perfect way to create some movement throughout the room. I love this inspiration image!

Source: Bauwerk

I ordered some specialty paint chips and was narrowing down my color options when I realized that limewash is probably not going to be the right choice for right now. Justin and I plan to remodel the en suite bathroom in three years or so, and at that time we’ll be either expanding the bathroom or adding another closet which will cut into the bedroom. We’ll be adding a wall, which will change the shape of the room and likely lead to some shifting around of furniture. The problem with this is limewash doesn’t patch well. If we’re patching holes (likely moving sconces, etc) and adding walls, we’ll probably have to recoat the walls entirely. The paint is expensive and a little more labor-intensive so I’m going to wait until the room is reconfigured with the bathroom remodel and only limewash one time.

After debating and sampling nine different paint colors, I landed on Sherwin Williams Foggy Day in an eggshell finish. I love how it’s moody without making the room feel too dark and it gives a nice cozy let’s-stay-in-bed-all-day vibe. Perfect for a bedroom!

I also like that it plays off the colors in the bed frame, bedding, and rug. It feels like a monochromatic look with just enough contrast to stay interesting.

I will say it’s really hard to capture the color correctly on screen; the picture above makes it seem a little more vibrant blue with hints of teal where really it feels more like a blue gray in person. I’m going to play around with my camera settings to try to get a more accurate photo for next time.

I have a few more areas of the wall to paint and I also need to give the ceiling a fresh coat of white paint. Our sconces came in this past week so we need to hang them, and now that the paint is chosen I’m ready to pick curtains. Then it’ll be new baseboards and window trim and working on our dresser (if you’ve been following along in stories, you know I’m going to update an Ikea Hemnes dresser into my dream modern dresser). I’m not sure how much I’ll get done this next week because we’re actually leaving for vacation Sunday (looooooong-awaited!!!) but I still have three days left so hopefully we’ll make some more progress!

Be sure to check out all the other ORC participants here.

Sources

Wall Color:

Upholstered Bed

Nightstands

Cream Pillows

Green Pillows

Lumbar Pillow

Quilt

Floral Sheets + Throw, both from Target (no link available)

Rug

Eucalyptus Stems

May 2021 Book Reviews

June is here and I am so excited! Between the start of summer, a long-awaited vacation for Justin and I, our One Room Challenge projects, and trying to get outside with the kids every chance we can, this is going to be one busy month.

Before I jump into this months activities, I’m reflecting back on May and the six books I read. Let’s get started!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul is finishing up his final year of his neurosurgery when he receives a devastating diagnosis: stage IV lung cancer. All the plans that he’s worked toward for years seem to crumble in an instant and he starts to wrestle with questions of identity and life’s meaning.

Death is something we all realize is inevitable, but I would venture to say the majority of us don’t think about it on a daily basis. We know it will happen someday, but we assume (and take for granted) that the “someday” is many years in the future. Paul is a young, successful, brilliant man who had many things to look forward to. Death was a someday far in his future, until suddenly, it wasn’t. This powerful memoir is an incredible look at Paul’s life before and after his diagnosis. It is poignant, thought-provoking, and ultimately inspiring. It made me cry, it made me evaluate my own life, and it made me appreciate every single day with my family. I highly recommend this book – it’s a relatively short read but it’s so impactful!

Just A Kiss, Married ’til Monday, The Goodbye Bride, and The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter

When I found out through a local news source that there is an author in my area who writes romance books, some of which have been turned into Hallmark movies, I knew I had to check out her work. I checked our four books and I’m looping them together here because while their specific plot lines are different, my general feelings and reviews apply to all four books. They are all very PG, Hallmark-y (obviously!), slightly cheesy but still sweet and easy romance books. It reminded me of RaeAnne Thayne’s novels, but with the addition of a distinct Christian theme. I am a Christian and have to admit, sometimes religious fiction books feel cringe-y to me but these weren’t over the top. There are mentions of church and the characters do pray/ask God for direction but it’s not an overwhelming part of the plot and it still feels like a pretty modern romance. Of the four I read, I think Just A Kiss was my favorite, followed by Married ’til Monday. The other two I could have skipped to be honest, which is funny because those are the two that were made into movies. None of the books were earth-shattering but they’re nice feel-good stories.

Followers by Megan Angelo

Orla is a struggling celebrity journalist/wannabe author and her roommate Floss wants to be famous more than anything. They come up with a plan to help them both achieve their dreams, but it comes with devastating consequences. Thirty-five years later, in a post-catastrophic America, Marlow is living every moment of her life on camera in a government-controlled reality until an exposed secret causes her to run away in search of the truth. As the three women’s lives start to intertwine, long-buried truths are brought to life and realities are questioned.

I think one of the most fascinating parts of this book is how real it feels. Social media over-sharing, influencer fame, and the enormous amount of control the internet has over our lives is not a stretch of the imagination. Add in a catastrophic event that really doesn’t feel impossible in today’s world, and you get a gripping novel that feels both surreal and horrifyingly plausible. Even though several of the main characters aren’t very likeable, I found this book to be addictive and binge-worthy. It makes you think about our world of influencers and reality TV and what fame really means. It also involves some twists and turns that kept me guessing how everything was going to come together. I couldn’t put it down!

******

Normally when I have a big house project going on, I don’t get to read quite as much but this month, I have a vacation planned where I plan to do a lot of reading and relaxing. If you have any great book suggestions for lounging in the sun by a pool, please send them my way!