January 2023 Book Reviews

There’s something about January that makes it feel like the longest month ever. It’s the exact same length as December yet somehow feels like it has 78 more days. Whew! We finally made it through though and that means it’s time for my first monthly book review of 2023!

This month I read three books and they were all over the place genre-wise (I love those kind of months!) and I’m excited to discuss – let’s get into it!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

As the subtitle suggests: Pamela is an American mother living in Paris. She looks around at all the other mothers and children and realizes there are some major differences. French children are sleeping through the night at just a few months old. They are eating balanced meals with adventurous flavors (and very little snacking in between!) They are playing contentedly while their parents chat with one another, not needing constant parental interference. This book sets out to answer the author and reader’s most burning question: how is this possible? What do the French do differently?

I found this book to be really fascinating and discovered that Justin and my parenting philosophies actually align well with many of the French ideas. For example, all of our children have been good sleepers who sleep through the night by 8-12 weeks old (I know, I know). We would never have said we did anything special and thought we just got lucky, but in reading what the French parents do, we realized we actually did that same thing! Whether about food, schedules, or general lifestyle, I found myself frequently reading passages aloud to Justin and discussing them together. At one point he was like “what is this book called again? I want to start recommending it to people.” Ha! Now did we align with every single thing? Not really. But it was insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking (not to mention, really made me want to pack up and visit France!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s kind of like a mini memoir + travel escape + parenting guide all wrapped in one and if you’re in or approaching the stage of parenting little ones, I would definitely recommend this book.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Hannah just wants to work. She was dumped by her boyfriend (and co-worker) right after her mother’s funeral and she wants to cope by leaving the country asap. There’s a tantalizing job offer in London and all she has to do to earn her place there is knock her next assignment out of the park. Her job as a bodyguard has put her in charge of a myriad of characters, some decent, others not-so-savory, but she’s confident that she has what it takes to handle one last job in Texas . . . that is, until she realizes her next assignment is guarding Jack Stapleton. Gorgeous and charismatic movie star Jack Stapleton. And what’s worse: instead of discreetly shadowing as his bodyguard, she has to pretend to be his girlfriend. Hannah does her best to act the part but it isn’t long before it doesn’t feel very much like acting.

This book was a delightful pick for a snowy day. I cozied up with a blanket and dove in and didn’t want to put it down! It’s pretty much just as predictable as you would imagine based on the synopsis, but that’s just what I was in the mood for. Hannah is neurotic but smart, capable, and down-to-earth and Jack is just as swoony and sweet as you would want him to be. I loved their dynamic and found them easy to root for! My one critique would be that it’s not the strongest writing I’ve encountered; some of the side stories (I can’t even really call them side plots) that dealt with Hannah and Jack’s individual histories felt a little underdeveloped and were quickly in and out of the main plot. You also have to just go with some of the more ridiculous aspects of stalking situation that I think are meant to be more comedic but I found to be silly. That aside, I really enjoyed it and found it to be a fun romantic escape. It’s a particularly great choice if you’re looking for something romantic but not steamy (it’s suggestive at most, and there’s maybe 4-5 swear words total but otherwise pretty clean). It’s a sweet and satisfying read that will leave you smiling!

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

All Adunni wants is her education. She wants a future that escapes the life of poverty she was born into, and she wants a change to see the world outside of her small, rural Nigerian village. Above all, what she wants is a louding voice – a voice that allows her to speak up for herself and all other women. But her father does not see the value in education; what he sees is the value in selling her as a young bride. Adunni is forced into marriage at 14 years old and that marks the beginning of a journey towards the city of Lagos that is beyond anything she could have imagined.

It was somewhat hard for me to get into this story because the prose was that of a 14-year-old Nigerian girl with broken English; while it was a fantastic way for the author to truly putting the reader inside the mind of Adunni, it was kind of jarring to read and took me a while to adjust to. As a character, Adunni’s naivete was frustrating at times, but her strength, bravery, and unrelenting hope for her future was incredibly inspiring. That being said, this book deserves content warnings for various kinds of abuse and was pretty heartbreaking. There were many times that I found it difficult to read. I don’t know much about Nigerian culture, but through some character reactions and the addition of Nigerian facts before the later chapters I was able to discern more of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and what is supposed to be unacceptable but is allowed to slide. Ultimately I’m glad I read it – it’s inspiring and hopeful, giving voice to woman and providing a testament that women and girls have value – but it’s difficult to say I enjoyed or to wholeheartedly recommend because of the difficult layers of content. It’s well-written, compelling, tragic, hopeful, and will definitely make you think, and it’s a good idea to read with someone else and discuss afterwards.

That’s it for January! Now onto February, where I can already tell I’ll be in the mood for more easy-breezy romance reads. What is on your reading list?

December 2022 Book Reviews {+ Top Books of 2022!}

There are still nine days left in 2022, but I’m taking next week totally off from the blog to just enjoy time with family so my book review post is coming early this month. Today I’m sharing both my December reads and my TOP TEN books of the year (spoiler alert: one of my December reads made that list too!) I had a lot going on this year so I only read 37 books, but enjoyed so many of them that it was still hard to narrow down a top ten. Let’s dive in!

Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh

Eight years ago, Marin’s heart was broken right before Christmas and she hasn’t been home for the holiday since. When a “Christmas traditions”-style segment has the potential to launch her from field reporter to her very own show, she travels back home to surprise (and film) her parents and their holiday traditions. Turns out, the surprise is on her because it’s not her mom answering the door – on live stream! – but her ex-boyfriend Max. He’s staying with her parents for Christmas and the viewers instantly love him, forcing Marin to include him in more and more segments. They start fake-flirting to the camera, but pretty soon it becomes all too real.

Last year I read A Cross-Country Christmas from this author and loved it so I was quick to put this on my Christmas reading list. Courtney Walsh does clean, sweet, Hallmark-y books well and this was no exception. It’s a bit cheesy and predictable but not too eye-rolling – just what I was in the mood for! I liked the characters individually and got invested in their dynamic and fake-flirting relationship. The small-town-at-Christmastime setting is festive and charming. You know when you’re in the mood for just a feel-good holiday movie? This feels like that. I recommend if you’re wanting something easy and festive for the holiday!

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

After a devastating incident, Sewanee Chester abandoned her dreams of being an actress and is now an audiobook narrator reading everything except romance, which she has long since given up on. That all changes with a late author’s last request and a lucrative offer – now Sewanee finds herself reading a romance novel alongside the hottest audiobook author of the moment, Brock McNight. Though they’re both using pseudonyms, she and Brock form a connection over emails and texts that builds up to one moment: when they have to reveal their true selves to one another.

This was such a unique, fun read! I adored the characters and their dynamic and I found Sewanee to be such a refreshing main character. Her feelings and struggles and triumphs are so realistic and relatable; the author doesn’t try to overly-simplify complex issues. I got very invested in this storyline and loved watching Sewanee and Brock’s relationship unfold. I will say, it is a romance book about audiobook readers reading a romance . . . so it is heavy on steam at times. To be completely honest, I thought the actual audiobook text they were reading was pretty cringe-worthy but I think that was maybe the point? It’s not a central part of the plot and can be skimmed over just fine and the rest of the plot makes up for it!

I liked this book so much that it is actually one of my top ten books of the year! As for the other nine? Let’s recap them:


The Measure by Nikki Erlick

HANDS DOWN my favorite book from this year. Incredibly thought-provoking with a unique plot and interesting parallels to draw in our current society. This is perfect for a book club discussion! See my full review here.

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman

Masterful, clever writing in this slow burn, character-driven work. This book is sweet, funny, deep, and entertaining. I didn’t want it to end! Full review here.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Go in blind. You will hate it . . . until you love it. Full review here.

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

Honestly, anything by Sally Hepworth is worth reading. This domestic mystery has twists and turns that I didn’t see coming – had my jaw drop at one point! Full review here.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

This book inspired me to work to create a simpler, more restful life for our family to enjoy and savor. I know it will have far-reaching impact in my family’s life and I’ll be referring to it for a long, long time. Full review here.

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

A very unique perspective for a WWII novel, taking place mostly in a forest. Compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this book is worth checking out. Full review here.

Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

The most realistic and likeable romance I’ve read in a long time – a very refreshing read! Full review here.

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

This book was so entertaining I honestly don’t think you have to be a fan of the show to enjoy it. A relatable dynamic and a delightful read. Full review here.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

An ensemble-cast read that is interesting, uplifting, sweet, and satisfying. I want to ride on this commuter train! Full review here.

Cheers to more great reading in 2023!

November 2022 Book Reviews

We’re officially in my favorite book-reading season, folks! It’s cold outside and my Christmas tree is up – what better place to curl up with a cozy blanket and read a good book by the twinkly lights? This past month, I read two books. One felt like a warm hug from a friend and one filled me with the waters of rage. So…bit of a mixed bag. Ha! Let’s discuss.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

“Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu.  Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do. Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you–and even more about yourself.”

I read Pooley’s The Authenticity Project back in April 2020 and loved it. This book followed the same “diverse cast of characters with seemingly little in common unite around a common person/event and are forever changed” playbook, but I’m not complaining! I thought this book was delightful. The cast of characters are realistic, flawed yet likeable, and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the way each of their stories wove together as the plot unfolded through their varied perspectives. Iona is just the right person for this bunch to gather around and I found myself vividly picturing their interactions on this commuter train. I kept smiling and even chuckling to myself as the story developed, which is always a sign that the characters have taken a life of their own and seem like real people with real personalities. There were just the right amount of individual and combined plots (and the right amount of side characters that made occasional – and generally humorous – appearances) to make an interesting, uplifting read. It’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s satisfying – highly recommend this one!

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

For decades, the Sackler name has been known in elite circles – the family’s extraordinary wealth and philanthropy have meant their names were on everything from college buildings to art museums. It was no secret that they had given away millions, but where exactly the millions came from was less clear . . . until the high-profile lawsuits began. The truth is, for generations the family was heavily involved in the pharmaceutical business, producing everything from laxatives to Valium, but their biggest “contribution” to society was the making (and aggressive marketing) of OxyContin – a powerful opioid that helped launch the United States into a devastating opioid epidemic.

This book was eye-opening to say the least. Prior to reading, I had vague recollections of hearing about Purdue Pharma a while ago but didn’t really remember any specific details. The author spent years researching for this deep-dive book and it is an incredibly thorough look at four generations of Sacklers: from their humble immigrant beginnings to the building of a multibillion dollar empire. Though it’s nonfiction, it reads like a story and was so compelling that even as a longer read (440 pages of the actual narrative, then roughly 100 pages of notes!), I found it hard to put down. It’s well written, thoroughly researched, fact-checked, fascinating, and honestly? FRUSRATING. This family has profited for decades off of shady-at-best, illegal-at-worst practices in their pharmaceutical company (and multiple other businesses that created conflicts of interest yet somehow they got away with it). They have made BILLIONS of dollars pushing the sale of more prescriptions and higher doses of a highly addictive opioid, all the while claiming that it’s not at all addictive when followed as prescribed. I do believe the author tried to be factual and fair in his reporting, but the truth is this family is tremendously dislikable and the book was hard to read at times due to my outrage. It’s difficult to recommend, because I promise that it will make you angry too, but it’s also an absorbing read that leaves an impression you won’t forget.

What have you been reading lately?

October 2022 Book Reviews

Happy Halloween! No tricks, just treats around here and for me, my monthly book review is always a treat!

While this isn’t my absolute favorite holiday, I have always loved dressing up and choosing costumes, particularly group costumes for my family, and I enjoy going all out. This year, my inspiration was from Vi and her obsession with Frozen.

I am so looking forward to trick-or-treating with this crew tonight, but first things first, let’s take a look back at the books I read this month.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Fueled by too much vodka and a broken heart, young witch Vivienne Jones uses her magic to place a seemingly harmless curse on her now ex-boyfriend, Rhys Penhallow. Now nine years later, Rhys has returned to town and it isn’t long before Vivi realizes that innocent curse she placed years ago actually has very real consequences. Vivi and Rhys now have to work together to reverse the curse and save the town . . . and maybe discover that their summer love from all those years ago hasn’t faded like they thought.

I specifically chose this book to read over Halloween weekend and that absolutely upped the enjoyment level for me. The small town setting feels like a Hallmark movie but for witches at Halloween and that was just the vibe I was going for. It’s obviously fantasy so you have to ignore the unrealistic bits, but I loved Vivi and Rhys and their dynamic and found the story to be a fun little world to get swept up in. I did wish there was some more backstory and side plot development, specifically relating to their families, and felt like there were a few unresolved or hastily-resolved plot points. There were some random things thrown in there that could have been skipped in order to give more time to relevant side plots, and the ending felt a big rushed. Fair warning: it’s not incredibly graphic, but there are quite a few steamy moments and references (felt a bit overkill at times) so I’d give it an R-rating for content. Overall, I liked it and it was a satisfying choice for Halloween weekend, but I think if I wasn’t in the mood for that specific vibe I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I’d give it a solid B rating, upping it to a B+ if you’re reading over Halloween!

The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea

Once a successful blogger, Willa has been struggling to figure out a plan for her life ever she found her fiancé and her best friend in bed together. After a chance encounter in a coffee shop introduces her to Maisie, they realize they might be the answer to one another’s problems. Willa needs money to start fresh in a new city and Maisie needs one more bridesmaid for her upcoming wedding and is willing to pay Willa to fill the role. Willa is determined not to be burned by love or best-friendship again, so through bridal showers and dress fittings she works to not actually grow close to Maisie – or to the charming best man, Liam. As the wedding approaches, the relationships she’s forming seem less and less like a job and more and more like the real thing and Willa has to decide if it’s worth truly putting herself out there again.

I think this would probably be classified as a romance, but the theme definitely centers more on the importance of female friendship. Willa is clearly way more devastated about losing her best friend from childhood than she was about losing her fiancé, and the central plot focuses much more on her relationship with Maisie than it does on her relationship with Liam. On the one hand, I found that to be very refreshing, but on the other hand, it got really repetitive. Willa is devastated over Sarah. Willa can’t figure out why Maisie doesn’t have real friends. Willa resists getting close to anyone. Rinse and repeat. I guess I got a bit tired of it being continuously about that cycle and I felt like that left some other things underdeveloped. I would have liked to see more of the relationship with Liam and more development within the supporting characters. I liked Willa, Maisie, and Liam and wanted to root for all three, but I also cringe reading plots based on a lie that you know all along is going to be a disaster when it’s revealed, so that did affect my enjoyment a little. I can’t share other feelings without it getting into spoiler territory so I’ll just say: this was a fine read with likeable main characters that uplifts female friendship, but ultimately left a few things to be desired and I ended up feeling like it was B- level.

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

If you’ve ever seen the American version of the TV show The Office, you know Jenna and Angela as two of the main characters, Pam and Angela. What you might not know is that this show brought them together not only as coworkers, but real life best friends. This book recaps their experience on the show and how their friendship grew alongside it through the years, giving lots of fun behind-the-scenes tidbits and photos along the way.

I would consider myself to be a moderate Office fan – I’m not going to win any obscure Office trivia contests and I didn’t watch while it was on TV but I’ve seen all the episodes since and definitely think it’s funny. This book was such an entertaining deep dive into the show and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I actually think this book would still be enjoyable even if you haven’t seen the show; it gives so much insight into how TV shows are made, which I found to be fascinating, and Jenna and Angela’s dynamic is so relatable. You know when you see a magazine feature along the lines of “celebrities: they’re just like us!” and then you see a picture of them pumping gas for their car or watching their kids play soccer? This book felt like that only so much better. I loved reading how Jenna and Angela love crafting and Target and hosting Yankee Swap (aka White Elephant) gift exchanges. Their red carpet experiences were both hilarious and charming and hearing how their friendship grew through successes and challenges, both at work and in their personal lives, was heartwarming. Overall, I just found this book to be a delightful read and especially recommend it to any fan of the show!

Have a happy Halloween!

September 2022 Book Reviews

I always enjoy Book Review day, but this month I’m particularly excited about it. Not only did I enjoy all four books I read, but two of them have potential to top my list for favorite reads of 2022. Needless to say, it was a great month of reading and I’m very excited to discuss, so let’s get to it!

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

Yona has only the faintest memories of life outside the forest: memories of her parents and a warm nursery. Memories of a family, before she was stolen from her home by a woman named Jerusza. Jerusza whisked her away to the deepest parts of the forest where, year after year, she taught Yona everything she knew about surviving alone in the forest. Neither Jerusza nor Yona could ever imagine how these survival skills would be used one day, long after Jerusza has died, when Yona encounters Jews fleeing into the forest away from the Nazis. Yona is faced with a choice: continue to live alone or take the risk of helping those seeking refuge in the forest.

I have read a lot of WWII historical fiction over the years, but this story felt very unique to me. The vast majority of the plot took place in the forest, which is not the typical setting I’m used to. While there are references to the ghettos and concentration camps, the reader doesn’t spend any time in them and instead, we as readers are kind of hidden away in the forest with Yona, receiving scraps of information from those she encounters. Yona is such a strong character and I really enjoyed seeing her come into her own. It could have easily become monotonous with years of surviving in the forest, but there was enough variety to keep my interest the whole time. It’s hard for me to describe books based on WWII or the Holocaust as being enjoyable because the subject matter is so hard and heavy, but I will say I found this book to be incredibly compelling. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful – I do recommend this for the historical fiction fan!

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

Just look at that subtitle! Sign me up please. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a couple years now and I finally made time to read it – I’m SO glad I did. I have always felt a pull towards simplicity (hence, this blog which I named nine years ago!) and this book aligns so well with my personal philosophy, but with the years of research to back it up. The author covers four aspects of life where he encourages simplicity: environment (stuff), rhythms, schedules, and filtering out the adult world. He talks about the benefits of simplifying in these areas and gives a lot of suggestions to achieve this. He covers things I’ve always been passionate about and brings up things I’ve never thought of before. I’ll admit, I’m not going to go to the extreme of fulfilling every suggestion, but I did gain a lot of insight into things I can do that feel good for our family.  

The book gives so many reasons why simplifying is great for children (which spills over into being great for adults!) and I think it is an incredibly beneficial read for parents at any stage. It’s inspiring me to work to create a simpler, more restful life for our family to enjoy and savor. The end of each chapter gives a little “imagine life” look that encourages the reader to imagine their life without the chaos, clutter, distractions, etc. that bog us down and each one made me more and more excited about actually living this life I’m imagining. I know this book will have far-reaching impact in my family’s life and I’ll be referring to it for a long, long time. Highly recommend!

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin

Alice is a middle-aged widow struggling to cope with her intense grief over the loss of her husband. Jake is a teenaged boy learning to navigate life in the wake of an accident that left him as a paraplegic. Harry is a twenty-something man living with crippling social anxiety and unsure of how to find work to support himself. These three strangers with seemingly nothing in common are all drawn together around one unlikely source: Alice’s honeybee farm. When a new pesticide company threatens the health of their local ecosystem and honeybee population, the three new friends unite to work together to save the bees – and in the process, find hope for their individual futures as well.

This book was my book club’s pick this month and we found it to be a nice, uplifting read. I thought the character development was fantastic; to see each character wrestle with their individual trials and learn to forge new paths for themselves was really satisfying. Each character was someone you want to root for, though I particularly enjoyed Jake’s storyline and cheering for him. The chapters switch perspectives from the three characters and sometimes will overlap timelines but I didn’t find that too difficult to follow. Overall, I found this story to be heartwarming and satisfying and would recommend it.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

On an unsuspecting morning in March, the entire world wakes up with one thing in common: regardless of where they live, every adult 22 years and older has a small wooden box waiting for them. Those who open the box all find a string inside, though the length of the string differs. It isn’t long before the realization is made that the length of the strings correlates to exactly how long the owner’s life is going to be. Everyone on earth is now faced with the decision on whether or not to open the box and find out their fate. As people wrestle with the choice of knowing or not, one politician makes a decision regarding his string that has immediate, and far-reaching, impact.

WOW. I absolutely devoured this book in under 24 hours. I just could not put it down! Chapters alternate from the perspectives of eight different characters – some with short strings, some with long strings, and some who have chosen not to open their box. I loved how intricately woven the storylines were; it was so easy for me to become deeply invested in each one. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, I felt all the feels. The premise was fascinating and I kept thinking about what I would do in this situation. Would I look at my string or would I choose to keep my box closed? I honestly still don’t know. I think this is an excellent choice for a book club – I had so many thoughts I wanted to talk through with someone both as I read and after I finished. I know it will stay with me for a long, long time. It’s intriguing, it’s poignant, it’s surprising, it’s hopeful. I highly recommend this one!

What have you been reading lately?

July 2022 Book Reviews

It’s finally August, which means one thing around here: IT’S BABY MONTH! I’m so excited to meet our newest little love! The nursery is 98% ready, the hospital bags are packed, and we are all just counting down the days to meeting this sweet little boy.

We crammed so much into June and July because we knew August would be a slowdown month full of rest and baby snuggles, but I was able to carve out some time for reading. In July I read four books, and while only one of them is a certified winner in my book, it felt good to get back into reading! Let’s discuss, shall we?

Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Alexis is a sexual abuse survivor and café owner who has received shocking news that turns her world upside down. She turns to her best friend, genius computer geek Noah, for comfort and help. He’s the only man she truly trusts, and he’ll do anything to keep that trust, including keep his own feelings of being in love with Alexis to himself to prevent ruining their friendship. With some help from their friends (and Noah’s reluctant participation in a book club), can they each start to find the courage to be truly honest about their feelings for one another and have a chance at happiness beyond just friendship?

This was a random library find that I saw and decided to try. It’s part of a larger series of Bromance Book Club books and while I like the concept, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of these books. The idea behind the Bromance Book Club is a group of male friends reading romance books to better understand love and women, and also to try and dismantle some of the toxic masculinity they’ve been surrounded with their entire lives. A good premise, but honestly the book club was a pretty small section of the story. I enjoyed Noah and Alexis’s dynamic and watching them finally get to the point of being honest about their feelings beyond friendship. Unfortunately, the book had too much going on with side plots (there was major stuff going on with both their families and histories, within the friend group, Alexis’ history as an abuse survivor and café owner, and the author was obviously spending time setting up another character for a future book). The group of friends is entertaining, but pretty large and it’s hard to keep track of everyone. It maybe it wouldn’t have been so overwhelming if I had read the series in order? It’s definitely rated-R for language and steamy scenes, so if that’s not your thing, you likely want to avoid this one. While I probably won’t read more of the series, I found it to be a decent, but very skimmable, friends-to-lovers romance.

The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton

After her grandmother, Mags, dies and gives her possession of her home, The Hideaway, Sara is tasked with restoring the home to its former glory but it’s not such a simple request. First of all, the house is full of things and in desperate need of repair and upgrades. Second of all, it is being inhabited by a crew of her grandmother’s friends, some of whom have lived in the home for decades. Third of all, it’s located hours away from Sara’s home and business in New Orleans. Should she cut her losses and sell the property to the overeager developer targeting the land for his next big project? Or can it be restored and given new life? And what answers might this house still hold about the mysterious life of Mags?

I happened to see this book in a thrift store a while ago and it had been sitting on my shelves since then – I finally noticed it again this month and decided to give it a try. I loved envisioning The Hideaway and its restoration – it seems like such a charming home and following along with the renovations was a treat for me and probably my favorite part of the whole book. Other than that, this was the kind of middle-of-the-road book that leaves me without a whole lot to say. The story is told from both Sara’s present-day perspective and Mag’s past perspective but I have to say, I didn’t love most of Mag’s storyline. I don’t want to give a lot away, but it made me frustrated and sad and even a little skeptical. I did enjoy the cast of characters, and the very Southern setting is part of the book’s charm. It’s a little cheesy at times, but I think overall it hits a sweet, mostly-PG note and touches on legacy, loyalty, family, and love. Not my favorite, but still a pretty enjoyable, B or B- level read.

In A New York Minute by Kate Spencer

After being unexpectedly laid off from her job, Franny boards a crowded subway train and gets her favorite dress caught in the doors, causing it to rip all the way open in the back. To make matters worse, a subway lurch causes her to literally fall into the handsome man in a suit next to her. He offers her his jacket to cover herself up and after an awkward conversation, gets off the train. Franny just wants to get home and forget this awful day, but that’s going to be hard since another subway passenger not only documented the whole encounter on her phone and posted on social media, but the story is going viral and she and this mystery man, Hayes, are now being shipped as a couple.

This book was about what I expected – a little rom com about two opposites who are seemingly mismatched and don’t even like each other initially. I liked Franny and Hayes well enough, I liked the supporting friend characters, and I liked that Hayes in particular was not your average leading man but was actually kind of socially awkward. That being said, I feel like this story could’ve had more depth. There were underdeveloped side plots, particularly with each of their families, that I wish would’ve been given more time. The conflicts were a little forced and clunky, and honestly, I think I enjoyed the banter between the friends more than between Franny and Hayes. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly about the execution didn’t work for me, but I think the story as a whole was a bit underwhelming and I got a little bored – while I think there are those who would really enjoy this as an easy breezy read, it ends up falling in the C+ range for me.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In early 1900’s Korea, Sunja is a young and naive teenager, the only child of a widowed boardinghouse manager. When she discovers that she is pregnant, and worse, that the father of her child is married, she rejects her lover’s offer to become a mistress and instead accepts the offer of a sickly minister who had been nursed back to health by Sunja and her mother: he will marry her and give the child his name to save her from disgrace. Sunja accepts and travels with her new husband to Japan, setting off a chain of events that will change the course of their family’s history forever.

Wow, I surprised by how much I enjoyed this one! Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about the Japanese occupation of Korea and how that affected Koreans for generations. This book was eye-opening to say the least! From the very first chapter, the writing style hooked me right in, although I will say things got a big slow for me for a while before picking back up. The plotline is character-driven and by no means fast-paced, plus it clocks in at 480+ pages, so it’s definitely not a quick read, nor is it for the faint of heart. While I typically enjoy reading in long stretches or spending all my spare time reading (once I’ve started a book), I found this novel to be a good one to read a bit, then set it down to pick back up later. Being able to walk away and then digest it in smaller increments helped me make my way through the book – it’s a really good read to savor! I really enjoyed taking my time with it; I got invested in all the members of the family and their storylines and while this book does cover a lot of really difficult, and often sad, topics, there is so much to keep your interest. I read one review that compared it to a hike where the journey along the way is more important than the view at the end and I’d wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. It’s not one to choose if you’re in the mood for a light, quick read, but if you’re interested in a well-written story with history and depth, I do recommend giving this one a chance!

Here’s to lots more reading while snuggling a sweet baby in August!

June 2022 Book Review

Good morning and Happy July!

Our June was absolutely nuts around here. For one thing, we went on two different vacations: eight days in Virginia Beach with Justin’s family and then six days in Maryland with some friends. That’s 14 days of being on vacation (with kids!) AND roughly thirty-eight hours in the car total on the road trips. That’s right. THIRTY. EIGHT. HOURS. In a car. With two small children and a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy. I honestly don’t know what we were thinking haha, but suffice to say we made lots of memories!

We’re thankful that we had the ability to get some traveling in, but traveling with kids is basically just parenting in a different location. While each trip was fun, neither was what I would call particularly relaxing and I had virtually no time for reading. When we were home, I was either packing, unpacking, repacking, or going about our normal days of cleaning/laundry/playground days/home projects/etc. It was such a full month that I was only able to get through one book, but it was one I have a lot of thoughts about!

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali

Teenaged Roya is growing up in Tehran, Iran in the 1950s amidst quite a bit of political turmoil – there are people passionately loyal to the Shah, those who think Russia and the communists have the right idea, and those who are striving for democracy and have hopes pinned on their prime minister. An encounter in her beloved stationary shop introduces Roya to Bahman, a young man with a yearning for justice and democracy, and it isn’t long before they fall deeply in love. But certain forces are at work to keep them apart, and on the date they are supposed to get married, violence erupts – a violence that will change their country, and their lives, forever.

This was historical fiction like I’ve never read before. Prior to this book, I knew next to nothing about the Iranian Coup. While these characters were fictional, many of the events talked about really did happen and it was eye-opening for sure. I will say, Roya and Bahman are characters you want to root for, and it’s such a mixture of feelings to see how their lives play out. The book started out a little slow but picked up as I went along. While there are some lighthearted, enjoyable parts, overall this book is a sweeping read through the decades and covers some heavier moments – while it’s hard to use words like “enjoyed” when I think about my feelings, it is powerfully written and poignant and I can almost promise you’ll have thoughts afterwards. We read this for my book club and there was no shortage of discussion! It’s got romance, it’s got some mystery, it’s got some tragedy, it’s got some hope, and it’s got a lot of references to Iranian people, places, foods, and events. If you enjoy historical fiction about lesser-known events in world history (I don’t think anyone in my book club knew much, if anything, about this history in Iran and how the United States was involved as well), I think this is a great choice!


Now I’m curious – do you find you read more or less during the summer months? I would normally say more, but this year is definitely much less. Our July is hopefully going to be much calmer – we’re staying home and hosting quite a bit, but I think there will be much more room for reading in my life in the coming weeks. I’m excited to get back into my reading stack!

May 2022 Book Reviews

This week, I’m enjoying a fun week with our family at the beach – but as all parents of small kids know, it’s not so much a vacation as it is a trip. Ha! In other words, I’m not kicking back with a beach read in the sand, but I’m splashing in the pool and digging for sand crabs and enjoying making memories with kids. There might not be a lot of reading happening for me right now, but thankfully I was able to do quite a bit of reading last month!

May ended up being a unique month in that all the books I’ve read were from authors whom I’ve read before. It was fun to compare these books to their previous works and I’m excited to chat about them all today!

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

Alexis is a 37-year-old doctor from a wealthy, high-profile family of physicians at a prestigious hospital system. Daniel is a humble 28-year-old carpenter and B&B manager from a small, tight-knit rural town two hours away. The two seemingly have nothing in common, but when car trouble lands Alexis in Daniel’s tiny town, the two meet and just click. And while they seem to work really well together, both have family legacies in their respective communities and both feel deeply duty-bound to continue the legacies on. Could there actually be potential for a real, lasting, relationship here?

I’m a big Abby Jimenez fan so I went in to this book with pretty high expectations and it did not disappoint – it was just what I expected in another installment of the little world she’s created. There was referenced character overlap and other callbacks to previous books (she also wrote The Friend Zone, The Happy Ever After Playlist, and Life’s Too Short, all of which have some character crossover) which was really fun to pick up on. Daniel and Alexis are both likeable and I thought the character development, specifically on Alexis’ end, was believable and real. As it is with all of Jimenez’s books, there is fun, flirty romance woven into harder, deeper topics – this book specifically dealt with verbal, emotional, and even some physical abuse and toxic relationships (both familial and romantic). I would rate it as PG-13 for steaminess – again, it’s very similar style to the author’s other books. I loved the characters, I loved the cute little community, I loved Alexis’ best friend (and it sounds like her book is coming next year!) – this was a fun read and I really enjoyed it!

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

After a failed bank robbery, the would-be thief flees from the bank to a neighboring building and inadvertently interrupts an apartment open house. All the sudden, the bank robbery becomes a hostage situation that includes a young married couple about to welcome their first child, an elderly woman waiting for her husband to come join the viewing, a retired couple looking to turn a profit on the fixer-upper, and a bank director who has her own reasons for choosing this specific apartment to view. As the police try to navigate how to deal with diffusing the hostage situation, the people in the apartment start to learn more about one another and prove to be the worst group of hostages, being held up by the worst bank robber, and none of them could have predicted how entering this particular apartment on this particular day would alter their lives forever.

While I did enjoy My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry and Beartown, this might be my favorite Backman book yet! The character development is incredible, the writing is masterful and clever, and I found the whole story to just be an enjoyable treat from start to finish. It was sweet, it was funny, it was deep, and it was entertaining. I think Backman managed to attain a great balance of humor and wit with more complex themes of the things that go into being human: doubt, loneliness, regret, anxiety, and love. I didn’t want it to end! It’s definitely a slower burn read, but I think it just really works as one to savor.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

A young man is found brutally murdered on a houseboat, and suspicions and questions arise about three women who knew him. There’s the young and troubled laundromat employee who recently went on a date with him that didn’t end well, the nosy neighbor who knows more than she’s saying and has reasons for keeping secrets, and the aunt who has already has had more than her fair share of grief over loss in their family. As the police try to determine who murdered him, they find each woman had means and opportunity for murder – but which of them was pushed to the point of also having motive?

Years ago, I read Girl on the Train and loved it, and I expected another fast-paced thriller from Hawkins. I found this book to be appropriately named though, as it was a slower burn of a thriller. It’s one of those where you can’t really decide who you think the killer is – no one is particularly likeable, but all have their good and bad qualities and it’s hard to nail down what you think actually happened to the dead man in the hours before he was killed. In my mind, it’s no match for Girl on the Train, but it was intriguing and kept my interest and I read it pretty quickly trying to figure out who did it. As motivations were unearthed, I found myself more and more interested in how the plot would turn out. Overall, while it was not a heart-pumping thriller, it was a solid murder mystery and I enjoyed it.

The No Show by Beth O-Leary

Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane are three women with very little in common except one thing: they were all stood up on Valentine’s Day. Even more, they were all stood up by the exact same man. But Joseph Carter is apologetic and charming and none of them can hold on to their anger for too long – as they all work to forgive him and move forward in their relationship, each woman is in danger of falling in love with him. But of course, they do not know that the other two women exist, nor do they know where he actually was on Valentine’s Day. With so many secrets, is it possible that any of these women can find happiness or are they all destined for a broken heart?

I loved The Flatshare by this author so I was excited to see she wrote another book. I went in pretty blind and now after reading it, going in blind is the way to go so I’m not going to detail much more here. I will say, there were a few different times I got frustrated and wanted to quit – I had no idea how this could possibly have a satisfying ending – but I kept going and ultimately was so glad I finished it. After it’s all said and done, I would say The Flatshare still tops my list but I did actually enjoy this book and do recommend it. It was definitely worth the frustration I felt at times!

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Anna is a talented violinist with a few big problems. For one, she’s finding herself burnt out and unable to get through a single piece of music without having the compulsive need to stop and start over. For another, her long-term boyfriend says he believes he wants to marry her . . . but just to be sure, wants to have an open relationship first to make sure there’s no one else out there. Anna is blindsided – and angry. She decides that she’ll do the same as her jerk of a boyfriend and have a string of meaningless one-night stands, and the first guy she tries seems perfect: Quan is a motorcycle-riding, tattoo-covered man with his own reasons for wanting a meaningless connection. But when their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, and then their second and third as well, their connection becomes anything but meaningless. In fact, it might have more meaning than either one of them ever bargained for.

This book felt similar to the other book of Hoang’s that I’ve read, The Kiss Quotient, in that the main female character is on the autism spectrum. The author’s note at the end says Hoang herself is, and it’s evident that she writes a lot of herself into her characters. There is also some character overlap, as the people from The Kiss Quotient make appearances in this story as well. All that being said, the struggles that Anna and Quan face are unique and in many ways, relatable. I enjoyed seeing their dynamic develop and follow Anna’s journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance. The book is also similarly very steamy and definitely gets a rated-R warning from me. In addition to the theme of acceptance of an autism diagnosis, there were deeper plot points of heavy family expectations, end of life care and the toll it takes on a family, and dealing with the after-effects of a cancer battle. I wanted to root for Anna and Quan as they each had personal struggles to overcome, and overall enjoyed this read.

What have you been reading and loving lately?

April 2022 Book Reviews

The time of year has come where temperatures are rising, green leaves are starting to appear, and we’re all inundated with this meme:

Ha! May is here and I’m so excited for spring. We are planning to spend as much time as possible outside and soak up the warm weather and sunshine – and of course, I’ll be reading lots of books on my porch swing or out on my deck. I can’t wait! But before I get to any of that, let’s re-cap the three books I read in April.

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

Back in March, I read Finlay Donovan is Killing It and enjoyed it once I accepted that it was going to be a bit over the top and I needed to just go with it. This book picks up shortly after the first one leaves off. Finlay is trying to write her next novel and disentangle herself from her inadvertent involvement with the Russian mob, which is proving harder than not when she realizes there is a hit out there for her ex-husband. In her efforts to protect her ex-husband and children and figure out who is trying to kill him, she gets tangled up deeper and deeper in a web of deception and secrets, all while trying to balance motherhood and the two men who keep trying to fit into her love life.

Thanks to the first book being fresh in my mind, I knew going into this that I would have to be ready for some unrealistic and even downright zany antics and plotlines. That beings said, I wasn’t as into it this time around. It did continue to be far-fetched, but one extra frustration I had was that it felt like it kind of went nowhere and left me with more questions than answers. Once I finished the book, I realized there is absolutely going to be a third installment (and looking online, it looks like there may even be a fourth planned!?) which makes sense with the plot of this second book now but was kind of frustrating while reading. I still wanted to root for Finlay and I still loved her dynamic with Vero, but overall this book didn’t hit quite as high for me. The first book read independently while this one very much felt like a middle book in a set. I’m not sure if I’ll read the third book or not – looks like it is scheduled to come out in 2023 so stay tuned.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

With a globe-trotting mother and a never-revealed father, Nina Hill has led a quiet life. She enjoys her job at a bookstore and being part of a top-notch trivia quiz team, but other than that she is perfectly content to spend her days at home curled up with a book and her cat. She doesn’t feel the need for more people in her life and certainly not an entire family, but that’s just what she gets when a lawyer shows up one day and tells her her father died and left her something in his will . . . and also more siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews than she knows what to do with. On top of that, her trivia rival seems to want to get to know her (maybe even date her?) and how on earth can she manage all these people in her life now?

This book reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and if you really liked that book, I would definitely recommend this one. Nina Hill is reserved and a bit quirky, but mostly endearing and you want to root for her. I loved the dynamics with the new family and enjoyed all the sections that had any of her new family members present. I also enjoyed watching her and Tom slowly get to know one another and liked that there was a bit of Tom’s perspective and thoughts thrown in. The narration is a little unique where it is mostly giving Nina’s perspective, but every now and then another character’s thoughts get included briefly. My main stumbling point with the book is how slowly it moves and how many mundane, everyday details are given. If you like a slow, character-driven, lots of extra details included style of writing, you will probably enjoy this book. For me, I just wanted it to move a little quicker and I wanted more details of relationship development and less of Nina’s everyday life that didn’t really relate to the plot. Overall, I would say that while it didn’t knock my socks off, I did enjoy it and think it’s a nice little read, particularly for Eleanor Oliphant fans.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

I have talked many many times about my love for Gretchen Rubin and her personality framework The Four Tendencies, which is all about habit formation and responding to inner and outer expectations. This framework has really impacted my life and how I understand myself and others, but I’ve never really gotten into other frameworks such as Myers-Briggs or the “Big Five” or anything. But after several people have talked to me over the years about the Enneagram and how they think I would enjoy learning about it, I decided to finally check it out.

First of all – wow! I took a test to determine my number and give me a starting point before I read the book (not sure if that’s recommended or not, but I’m personally glad I did it that way) and I will say reading the book has given me 100% affirmation for my number (I am a 1w2). I think this book is incredibly insightful and gives a ton of food for thought about knowing and understanding yourself better – your strengths and weaknesses and how to work with your type instead of against your type. It talks about fears, desires, motivations, what you are most inclined to do in times of security and in times of stress and I just found it to be fascinating and eerily accurate for my life. Justin and I have had multiple conversations about it and how our individual numbers come into play in our marriage in different ways (he is a 9). Overall, I am fascinated and I would highly recommend this book as a great starting point to anyone wanting to find out more about the Enneagram or who is interested in personality frameworks and knowing yourself better.

Here’s to another great month of reading – and lots of warm days to take my books outside!

March 2022 Book Reviews

Happy Wednesday and happy book review day!

March was a longer month but I spent a lot of my free time working on projects like my kids’ shared bedroom and my sister’s nursery dresser. I did manage to get in three books and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed them all! Let’s dive right in.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

In a barely-thought-out move to try and convince her best friend that she is dating someone, PhD graduate student Olive grabs the first man she sees in a hallway and kisses him while her best friend walks by. Unfortunately for her, she realizes after the kiss that the random man she grabbed is notorious faculty member Adam Carlsen, who is known for being a brilliant scientist . . . and a jerk. It turns out that rather than turn her in for disciplinary action, Adam has his own reasons for wanting to appear to be in a relationship, so he and Olive agree to mutually beneficial fake dating terms. With an entire department looking on, Olive and Adam may both be experienced scientists, but neither of them can predict just how this particular experiment will turn out.

I think this book is a great choice if you love a romance and also love science, although I know next to nothing about the PhD graduate science world and still enjoyed this read. I loved Olive and Adam individually and together, and I thought the side characters were all interesting and contributed well to the plot. I want to be friends with this crew! I enjoy a story where a theme is there is more to a person than meets the eye, and also where you learn to love a character for entirely who they are – good qualities and flaws alike. Also, despite many aspects of this book being pretty predictable (you can probably guess most of the plot just based on my synopsis), there were still a couple plot points that were very surprising to me and kept things interesting. There are some steamy parts that make it a rated-R read, so be aware if that’s not your thing. Overall, it’s funny, it’s entertaining, it’s cute, and I enjoyed it.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is divorced, broke, and struggling to keep things together. On top of a nearly- inevitable custody battle with her ex over their two young children, she’s way behind on writing a novel that she’s already been paid for. After a harried morning at home that involved a pair of scissors and an unfortunate toddler haircut, Finlay meets with her agent in a Panera to discuss the details of her new suspense novel. As she describes the gory details of a book she has yet to write, she is overheard by a woman at the next table who mistakes her for a contract killer – suddenly, Finlay has an unexpected job offer and a way out of her financial crisis. That is, if she’s willing to kill for it. And she totally isn’t . . . right?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy this book at first. I despise the “hot mess mom” trope and Finlay is really, really leaning into it in the beginning. The plot is also pretty far-fetched and at first feels more than a little ridiculous. Thankfully, around 15-20% of the way in, another character is introduced that I think brought a lot of balance to the story. I also decided to just accept that this book was not going to feel entirely realistic and I would just go with it. From that point on, I really enjoyed it! It started to feel like an mystery, as the reader is trying to figure out what is going on right along with Finlay. It didn’t really feel suspenseful so much as amusing, but I still read it quickly because I wanted to know what happened. So my advice if you read this one is to not take it too seriously and just let yourself indulge a bit in a wild ride. Once I did those things, I found this book to be entertaining and fun!

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

Fox Thornton is a known playboy who doesn’t allow anyone, including himself, to take him too seriously. He’s perfectly happy with just being known for good looks and a good time, but Hannah Bellinger is different. She’s the first woman in his life who is interested in being his friend and nothing more. He can be completely himself around her and it turns out, she actually likes him for his personality. It was one thing when she lived in LA and they just texted everyday, but now Hannah is back in town working on a movie set and staying in his guest room while pining over her unrequited crush on the movie’s director. As he tries to convince Hannah that she can be the leading lady in her own life and go for what she really wants, Fox starts to find himself in the uncomfortable position of thinking that maybe he too can be more than what he’s always tried to convince people he is. Maybe he too can have more. And maybe the more that he wants is with Hannah.

Last month I read the first book of this series, It Happened One Summer, and wasn’t a huge fan. Normally, I wouldn’t have been interested in the sequel, but that book had already introduced Fox and Hannah and the beginning of their friendship and I knew that I would feel differently about this book. I was right! This book is a slower burn and no pun intended, had me hooked from the beginning. Hannah and Fox are adorable! It is very steamy and for sure rated-R, but it goes beyond many other romances by diving into deeper topics like imposter syndrome, toxic masculinity, and oversexualizing young men while also being very fun and flirty. I loved the characters, I loved seeing Hannah and Fox’s relationship develop, I loved seeing both of them grow in their confidence to fight for what they wanted. They’re both just likeable and easy to cheer for. I would say it does help to read the first one and see the beginnings of their friendship, but it’s definitely not necessary to enjoy this book. If you don’t mind some language and steamy scenes, I would recommend this one!

I love when a month has all winners! What have you been reading and loving lately?