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!

October 2021 Book Review

Happy November 1!

I’m kicking off the month with a look back on all my October reads. Last month was an unusual one where I read some books I liked but also read more than one where I finished without knowing exactly how I felt. I liked them . . . but I also didn’t . . . but I didn’t actually hate them. Does that even make sense? They had things I enjoyed and things I didn’t and it felt kind of strange to read books so close together that I couldn’t really discern my feelings for. Maybe I was just feeling off personally or maybe it was the book choices, but either way, despite not knowing if I liked them all, I have lots of thoughts on each one. Let’s get into it!

Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne

Summer at Lake Haven: A Novel (Haven Point Book 11) by [RaeAnne Thayne]

Samantha is an aspiring fashion designer living in the heavy shadow of her mother’s expectations. Ian is a single father of two who is also struggling with the weight of family expectations and duty. When Ian rents the summer house next-door to Samantha to work on his research and attend his sister’s wedding, the two find their lives intertwining quickly. The question is, can they keep their hearts from intertwining as well?

This was a win for me because this book exactly met my expectations: I liked the cast of characters, I liked the dynamics, I liked the charming setting, I liked the fact that there were a lot of cameos from characters I’ve met before. It was predictable but with enough substance to still be fun to read. This was another installment of the Haven Point series, and I reviewed a bunch of the other books in this post. This book fell right in line with the others – a light, sweet, slightly cheesy, feel-good, Hallmarky read that you can read pretty quickly. Reading this book felt like returning to a nostalgic vacation spot and I really enjoyed popping back in to Haven Point again. When you’re in the mood for a nice, easy, rated-PG romance read, this series is a great choice!

The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon

No matter what she tries, Taylor is struggling to make ends meet and get her personal training business off the ground. Then Jamar comes to one of her pop-up boot camp classes and offers her a mind-boggling deal: he’s willing to pay an obscene amount of money for Taylor to help him train to get back into the NFL. The catch is, no one can know she’s training him. When they’re accidentally spotted together and rumors start, Taylor tries to cover as his girlfriend. They find themselves having to fake a pretend relationship for the public, but pretty soon it doesn’t feel like there’s anything pretend about it.

A couple months ago, I read The Boyfriend Project and enjoyed it. When I happened to see this book on the shelves by the same author, I decided to check it out. It turns out it’s kind of a series – in The Boyfriend Project the story was about Samiah and heavily focused on her friendship with two other women, Taylor and London. The Dating Playbook was now Taylor’s story (with both other women making multiple appearances) and at the end of the book there was a note that London’s story is coming soon. If I’m being completely honest, I did not enjoy this book as much as the first one. I wasn’t quite as invested in Taylor’s character and found the repetition of her struggles to be tiring. At 350+ pages, the book felt much longer than it needed to be. I did like Jamar, I did like their dynamic, I did like a certain plot line that I won’t give away here but that spoke to my heart, and I did like that female friendship was portrayed as strongly as the romantic relationship. It wasn’t a home run for me, but I did enjoy it enough that I’ll probably give London’s story a try when it comes out.

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

The Wicked City: A Novel (The Wicked City series Book 1) by [Beatriz Williams]

1924 – Gin Kelly is a flapper who frequents Christopher’s, a speakeasy thriving in the midst of Prohibition. After a raid, she’s brought in by Prohibition agent Oliver Anson who wants her to help take down the operation of a powerful bootlegger: her stepfather. 1998 – Ella Gilbert needs a safe place to land after her marriage falls apart and moves in to the apartments at Eleven Christopher. She’s told there is a speakeasy in basement and she hears the music playing…but then learns the place has been empty for decades. What exactly happened in that speakeasy sixty years ago? And why is there a scream heard in the middle of the music?

When it comes to favorite authors, Beatriz Williams ranks highly for me. She’s delivered book upon book that I’ve devoured and loved so I went into this one with some pretty high expectations. It made the shock even greater when those expectations were not at all met and I was left feeling confused and disappointed.

There is a writing principle called Chekhov’s gun and the simplest way to explain it is: if a gun is introduced to the plot in the first part of the story, it needs to go off before the story ends. In other words, when an object/person/event of significance is introduced, it needs to contribute to the plot or the significance needs to be explained at some point. This book violates that principle multiple times and leaves so many loose ends and questions! I ended it feeling really frustrated and unsettled and went online to find out what other readers thought. At that point, I discovered it is actually the first book of a series! I read the synopses for the future books in the series and let me tell you, I’m confident I already have several of the connections/future twists figured out. I can’t say this for sure, but judging by this book and the things I’ve already guessed, I bet that this series could’ve been condensed down into fewer books with faster paces.

Overall I’m not really sure what I think. The pace was slower than I normally like and we got breadcrumbs along the way but no connections or real answers. There are some disturbing moments and the whole book left me feeling disoriented. But…if I had known all along it was a series and not a standalone story (it’s absolutely not able to stand on its own), I would have had a different set of expectations and might have enjoyed it more. I just don’t know! I’m still debating if I want to continue with the series but if I do, at least I’ll know more of what to expect.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by [Silvia Moreno-Garcia]

After receiving an unnerving letter and plea for help from her newlywed cousin, Noemi heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, to figure out how to help. Upon arrival she finds the house is falling into disrepair and neglect, her cousin is acting very strangely, and the family is unwelcoming and secretive. Before long, Noemi starts to feel her mind being invaded by nightmares and strange visions and it seems everything, including the house itself, is hiding a sinister darkness.

The horror genre is far outside my typical choice but this book was recommended to me several months ago and I’ve had it on my TBR list ever since. I decided Halloween week was the perfect time for a gothic novel and finally dove in. I’m not sure I liked it, but I also didn’t hate it? I do think the book might be over-hyped, or maybe it’s just not a genre I’m ever going to really connect with. There are some really creepy and disturbing descriptions and the isolated setting is eerie, but the pace was not great for me. The first 2/3 were slow and that lead to me skimming quite a bit. It’s hard to truly be immersed in a horror if you’re skimming, but I just wasn’t interested enough to absorb every word. There are also a lot of situations where it’s difficult to discern reality and follow what is happening to Noemi’s mind (it’s confusing, but also leads to a nightmarish vibe which I’m sure was the goal). So much was crammed in the last 1/3 of the book and for me, that’s when things started to get really interesting (and really horrifying), but it was a little too late to save the whole book. All that being said – it may not be my favorite, but I’ll probably be thinking about this one for a while. It’s just so bizarre and sinister and macabre. I’m not surprised to see it’s being developed for a Hulu limited series – I think it will translate really well to an on-screen horror. I’m still not sure I actually liked it, but I can’t deny it leaves an impression. If horror is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this one!

Whew! There you have it. Four books in October. One I really enjoyed, one that I thought was pretty good, and two that I’m just not sure if I really liked or not. What a month! I’m really hoping that November has some knock-my-socks-off reads so if you have any recommendations of books you loved, please share them in the comments below!

September 2021 Book Reviews

Happy October 1! I’m officially ready to break out fall decor, put on some flannel, and head to a pumpkin patch. The leaves are changing, the air is cooling, and I’m ready for allllll the coziness that fall brings – especially the whole light-a-candle-and-snuggle-with-a-blanket-and-book vibe that I feel this time of year. But before any of that happens, I’ve got to recap September’s reads!

Last month I read four books and there was a kind of unusual theme of vanishing – three of the books dealt with disappearances. Needless to say, it was an intriguing month of reading and I’m excited to discuss these books so let’s get to it!

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Mila accepts an unusual invitation to reconnect with four friends whom she hasn’t seen since they were all present at a snowboarding competition ten years before. They’re back at the same ski resort from the competition and it’s clear once they arrive that something isn’t right. There’s no staff, tons of locked doors, and suddenly, they have no cell phones or way to get down the mountain. They’re trapped at the resort and someone is clearly playing sinister mind games with them, forcing them to address the mysterious vanishing of Saskia, the sixth member of their group during that long ago competition. Mila realizes there is no one she can trust but she knows one thing for sure – she has got to find a way off this mountain alive.

The interesting thing about this book was that even though it was only told through Mila’s perspective, you still got to see a lot of the different character’s motivations and development through her interactions with them then and now. The chapters alternated with present day and flashbacks to the season of the snowboarding competition and it was very obvious that this book was written by a snowboarder. The level of detail given to the snowboarding aspect was top notch and reading about professional snowboarding and the culture of living at a resort for the season while practicing alongside your fiercest competition every day was fascinating to me. I will say, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable, but I was totally engrossed in figuring out what happened to Saskia and what was happening to the group at the resort. It was chilling, it was thrilling, it was unputdownable. I really enjoyed it!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half: A Novel by [Brit Bennett]

Desiree and Stella are twins growing up in a small black community in 1950’s Louisiana where lightness of skin is prized above darkness. At age sixteen, the twins decide to run away from town and aren’t seen for years – until one day, Desiree returns to the town with the blackest daughter anyone has ever seen. Stella, meanwhile, has vanished into the world of whiteness.

My book club chose this book as our latest read and it was such an excellent choice that lead to some really interesting discussions. The story spans several decades and multiple viewpoints from the 1950’s to the 1990’s as we follow Desiree and Stella and see how their individual choices lead to very different outcomes. We see how the decisions of the mothers deeply affect the lives of their daughters, whose paths will intersect in unexpected ways. It was such a riveting look at how the past can shape a person’s choices and how the same events and experiences can lead two people to be influenced in completely different ways. The review on Amazon called it “an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise” and I honestly cannot think of a better way to describe it. I was very invested in this intricately woven tale of family, race, and community and highly recommend it!

Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Under the Southern Sky by [Kristy Woodson Harvey]

Amelia and Parker grew up as next door neighbors in small town North Carolina. Their lives have taken them in two different directions, but they’re reconnected after Amelia makes a chance discovery that she knows she should tell Parker about. They’re no longer teenagers and have each dealt with their own love and loss, but now they’re reconnected in an unforseen way that just might lead them each back to happiness.

The first two books I read this month were pretty intense and deep and I was ready for a more lighthearted book, so I downloaded this on my kindle and settled in. I’ll admit, I almost quit about 15 times in the first few chapters. When something is on my To Be Read list, it’s either because I was intrigued by someone else’s recommendation or because I’ve read the synopsis and am interested. As I began reading, it was super obvious that I put it on my list from someone’s recommendation because I had no idea what I was getting into – as the plot revealed itself I thought “oh heck no, I am not in the mood to read this book.” This is not a light, fluffy romance like I expected and it covers some really heavy topics like cancer, death, divorce, infertility, and grief. I had to seriously adjust my expectations for the book, but I’m glad I stuck with it as I did become invested in the characters and their lives. It’s not a top recommendation for me, but I think it’s because I was expecting a romantic beach read and this just wasn’t it. It was actually a moving look at exploring second chances in life and love and while there are parts that hurt your heart to read, it ultimately was an uplifting story. I’d say give it a try if you’re in the mood for a deeper, more complex story of loss and love.

The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick

The Other Lady Vanishes by [Amanda Quick]

After escaping from a sanitarium, Adelaide decides to try and restart her life over in the exclusive celebrity resort town of Burning Cove, California. It’s there that she meets the handsome and somewhat mysterious Jake, who is in town to rest his nerves after the tragic death of his wife. After attending a performance by a famous fortune-teller who ends up predicting her own terrible demise, Adelaide and Jake realize that Burning Cove might not be the safe little town they thought it was. They’re each carrying secrets about their previous lives, but they realize they need to trust one another as their pasts intertwine and they get drawn into a nefarious underground world of blackmail and betrayal hidden behind Hollywood’s glitz and glamour where a very real killer lurks.

This was a random choice I snagged from a library shelf and I ended up really enjoying it! I found the world of 1930’s gangsters and glamour to be a fun backdrop and I liked the characters involved. I will say, there were aspects of this plot that felt a little far-fetched but I was fine just going with it. It’s fast-paced whodunit with a few good twists and I enjoyed the thrill of discovery along with Jake and Adelaide. I found out afterwards that this book is actually book two of a Burning Cove series, but it definitely works as a standalone. I will probably check out at least one other book from the series since I enjoyed this one. Overall it was a solid read that I read pretty quickly – it’s a good choice if you’re in the mood for a thriller that’s not creepy, gory, or disturbing.

Now bring on the burning candles, chunky knit blankets, and cozy fall reads! As always, if you have a great recommendation, send it my way!

August 2021 Book Reviews

September is here and it’s one of my very favorite months of the year (birthday month whoop whoop!) While I’m not someone who considers September 1 to be a “break out the pumpkins and fall everything” milestone, I do like that it has always signified change, fresh starts, and the start to a very cozy season. Because for me, cozy season definitely means curled up with a book!

And speaking of books (see what I did there? πŸ˜‰ ) I read four books in August and they were all enjoyable and very different from one another. Let’s chat about them!

Float Plan by Trish Doller

Trigger warning: suicide

Ten months after the tragic death of her fiancΓ© Ben, Anna impulsively decides to take the sailboat he lovingly refurbished and set sail on the trip through the Caribbean that they had planned to take together. While she has some basic sailing skills already, she quickly learns she can’t make the entire trip alone and hires Keane, an experienced sailor, to help her make it the rest of the way. Keane is no stranger to tragedy and as he and Anna start to open up to one another on the open sea, they each start to heal and make room for new futures.

I read this on my kindle and while the premise of this book was interesting, I think something about the execution fell a little flat. I’m not even quite sure why? The cover makes it seem like a fun little travel romance but it’s definitely not a light, fluffy read. It covers heavy topics like suicide, grief, and moving forward after tragedy. We watch Anna work through so many stages of grief and work to get to a future that she can be happy in. I thought the author did a good job of not rushing Anna’s process, but that also meant this book seemed kind of slow. I did love the dynamic between Anna and Keane and I was totally swept away by the descriptions of their destinations. It absolutely fueled my desire to travel and it was a great little way to escape to the tropics without leaving your home. I would say this falls pretty solidly on average side of reading -not a dud, not spectacular, just a nice solid fiction read.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassis is a standout firefighter working with a great crew in a supportive environment in Texas when a series of events, including an impulsive reaction and an estranged and ailing mother, lead to her uprooting her life and moving to a small town outside of Boston. She quickly finds that things are very different in her new work place: lack of proper equipment, subpar facilities, and a crew that is not too sure about having a female firefighter join their ranks. The only one who truly seems supportive of Cassie is the one person she definitely should not be spending too much time with: the charming, gorgeous rookie.

So here’s the thing: every single Katherine Center book I’ve read gets to a point where I just skim. It’s usually around the 4/5 mark of the book – I just want to get to the end. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy her books! There are just always a lot of storylines and typically by that point I’ve sort of decided which ones I’m invested in and which ones I’m not so much. This book was no different. I was invested in Cassie and the rookie (I mean, how can you not love the rookie!?) and another specific storyline (I won’t spoil it though!) but I was not as invested in the storyline with Cassie and her mother. I think this is generally the case with Center’s books – I’m just not invested in the extra family plot lines. Overall though, I still enjoyed this book! It’s got some humor, some romance, some drama, and some redemption. I liked it!

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister: A Novel by [Sally Hepworth]

Fern struggles with recognizing social cues, managing her sensory overstimulation, and getting out of her routine, but there is one place she simply loves to be: the library where she works. Outside of the library, she relies pretty heavily on her twin sister Rose to help her navigate life. When Fern discovers that Rose can’t get pregnant, she decides the best way to pay Rose back for all she’s done is to have a baby for her. Now she just needs to find a man to have a baby with . . .

WOW. This book kind of started out a bit slow and to be honest I did not expect it to be a thriller but hot dang, that’s exactly what it was. There were a few points where my stomach dropped or my heart started beating fast. It’s twisty and unexpected and I loved it! I also thought the author did a great job of creating really interesting, complex characters. The childhood backstory that gets revealed through Rose’s journals adds so much and the combination of Rose and Fern as narrators was just so engrossing! It does cover some difficult subject matter, including childhood abuse domestic violence, that makes it a little hard to read at times. I highly recommend this one!

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and The Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by [Gemma Hartley]

“I tried to explain the mental load and why delegating was such a big deal. I tried to explain how the mental and physical work of running our home and our lives compounded in such an exhausting manner. I wanted a partner with equal initiative. I couldn’t continue to delegate and pretend that we were maintaining an egalitarian, progressive relationship. Divvying up the household chores when I still had to remind him to do his share was not enough. That still left all of the emotional labor as my responsibility, and that, I told him, was what needed to change.”

This nonfiction book was written by Gemma Hartley after her viral article for Harper’s Bazaar: “Women Aren’t Nags – We’re Just Fed Up.” I think any woman who would read this would find herself nodding along as Gemma relays story after story of the emotional labor – the invisible work, the mental work, the anticipating-everyone-else’s-reactions-and-needs work – and how it almost always falls on women’s shoulders. She touches on the inequality of emotional labor in the workplace, at home, in a marriage, in parenthood. There are stories of working moms and stay-at-home moms and women who aren’t moms at all but still find the bulk of household management falls on their shoulders, regardless of job title. I will say, I think there’s something there for all women, but she does focus a lot on the roles of work/marriage/motherhood. I found it to be first very validating and then very inspiring as she talked about ways that she and her husband eventually found more equal footing (hint: there are some tough pills to swallow for women, myself definitely included, if we really want a partner and not just “help”). I thought she maybe focused a bit too much on hammering home the emotional labor and toll it takes on women (because let’s be honest, most people reading this will be women and we get it!) so it does get a little lengthy but I appreciated her insight in the last few chapters with how to work for a better system. I wanted to underline so many parts! Overall I thought this was an affirming and empowering read and I took away some points to implement in my own life.

Bring on the September reads!

July 2021 Book Reviews

Hellooooooo August! I can’t believe how fast summer is flying by, but I have to admit that I’m pretty excited for August. We have a few fun trips planned, one very special girl’s second birthday, and I have a big old stack of fun books to read. But before I do any of that, let’s recap my July reading!

In July I read seven books, including a rom com, a memoir, a trilogy, and some unique fiction. It was a great month of reading and I enjoyed every single book which feels like a huge win! Let’s dive in!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

In between life and death, there is a library. One that is filled with an endless number of books, each one a life that you could have lived if you made a different choice along the way. Nora Seed has lived a life full of regrets so when she finds herself in the midnight library, she is convinced that she can find the perfect life that she should be living by changing the decisions she made: undoing a breakup, taking a different job, becoming elite in her field, saying yes instead of no, etc. As she tries out different lives in her search to find the one where she’ll be happy, she is faced with the challenge of determining what truly makes a life fulfilling. [trigger warning: this book does touch on suicide]

I absolutely loved this book. I thought the premise was so unique and relatable – who hasn’t wished for the change to undo a mistake or fix a regret? I often catch myself thinking back over my life and wishing I had made a different choice along the way. But the truth is, we never know where that one choice would have actually taken us. We may end up with an even bigger regret had we followed another path! I loved all the directions Nora’s various books took her and kept wanting to read more and more. The whole concept of the midnight library was just fascinating and I felt like the author did a fantastic job of surprising us with the outcomes of her lives. My book club is going to be discussing this book at our next meeting and I’m so excited to hear everyone’s thoughts. Highly highly recommend this one!

The Simple Wild, Wild at Heart, and Forever Wild by K.A. Tucker

When Calla Fletcher gets a call that her estranged father has advanced health problems and might not have long to live, she decides to venture to her birthplace of Alaska for the first time since she was two years old to reconnect with him in whatever way she can. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Toronto for the quiet, isolated life of rural Alaska brings about several challenges for Calla, but nothing is more challenging than her dad’s bristly, frustrating, and annoyingly attractive yeti of a bush pilot, Jonah. But underneath all the gruff and scruff, Jonah proves to be a surprise to Calla, as does her father and the people who have become like family to him over the years. As Calla gets to know more and more about her dad and the people in his life, she falls more and more in love with Alaska and all it has to offer.

I read through this trilogy in about a week and it was a nice choice for a vacation binge. I don’t want to spoil too much but the books follow Calla and her journey to find herself and fall in love (in more ways than one). The best way I can describe it is it’s like a sexy Hallmark movie set in Alaska. Small town vibes in a captivating setting, charming and quirky side characters, a little predictable but easy-to-root-for romance, a bit of conflict, you get the idea. I will say book two was my least favorite, as it just felt incredibly repetitive, slow-moving, and long. I felt like certain things were really overdone and I kept waiting for the plot to move on. Then book three was probably my favorite and it was only a novella – it felt like an absolute whirlwind in comparison to book two and was way too short! There were a lot of underdeveloped storylines and I wish the author would’ve focused more on those and less on Calla’s life and relationship. I just think there were some really interesting directions that could have been taken with various side characters to add to the story and it left me wanting more. I did see that the author is writing another book that will focus predominantly on one of the other characters so I’m hopeful that maybe some of the other plots will be developed there. Overall, this was a fun series to binge and I do recommend it!

Live in Love by Lauren Akins

I grew up listening to country music and remember when Thomas Rhett first came onto the scene. I also remember when Die A Happy Man came out and we all found out his wife Lauren was the woman featured in the video, which turned her into a bit of a celebrity on her own. I’ve followed them both on social media for a while and really admire and respect the way they have navigated fame with their family, all while sharing their adoption story, their parenthood journey, their faith, and their philanthropic efforts so I was excited to read this memoir by Lauren.

The book was very long, but I found myself interested the whole time. Lauren just seems so inherently likeable. She’s down-to-earth, honest, vulnerable, and comes across with a level of humility that is admirable considering the levels of fame both she and her husband have reached. It was really interesting to read about her childhood and the closeness of the families she grew up with, including Thomas Rhett’s. The book has some snippets from his perspective of moments throughout their lives and that was a sweet addition. I also found myself relating to Lauren’s feelings when Thomas Rhett started to succeed in country music and saw there were many parallels to my own marriage. Justin’s career is very demanding and has needed to take our focus at many points throughout our marriage which often led me to thoughts of “I’m so happy for you and I support you 100%, but what about my dreams?” I found Lauren’s honestly about the harder parts of navigating marriage to be so refreshing and relatable. I do think I enjoyed this book more because I like country music and already had background information and some interest in Lauren’s life, but I think anyone looking for a wholesome celebrity memoir about family, faith, adoption, and finding your purpose would enjoy this one.

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

Hardcover The Secrets of Midwives Book

Neva Bradley is a midwife, like her mother Grace and her grandmother Floss were before her. She is also pregnant, and is adamant that the baby has no father. This revelation is shocking and frustrating to Grace, who pushes to find out the truth about his identity and is triggering for Floss, whose long-kept secrets now threaten to come to the surface. In alternating perspectives from all three women, a tale is woven about life, love, loss, and what it really means to be a family.

This book came out several years ago and has been on my TBR list for a long time. I finally checked it out and I have to say, while I did enjoy it, I can see that Sally Hepworth has come into her own as an author in more recent years. I did enjoy this one though! I love an alternating perspective novel, especially with intertwined stories. The mysteries and secrets kept me intrigued and I felt invested in finding answers. I have to say that there were some aspects of each woman’s storylines that I didn’t love, but also aspects that I very much loved. I enjoyed reading about the dynamics between the women and seeing the love that they had for one another despite their own flaws and frustrations. Overall it was a solid read and I would recommend it.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon

The Boyfriend Project by [Farrah Rochon]

Samiah is horrified to learn that the guy she has been casually dating has actually catfished not just her, but also two other women, and to make matters worse, the explosive revelation has gone viral online. It leads to one blessing though: she becomes good friends with both the other women. They decide to swear off boyfriends and focus on themselves and their own happiness for a while, which sounds great . . . until Samiah meets her newest co-worker Daniel. Smart, charismatic, and incredibly good-looking, Daniel is the one guy who might tempt her away from this dating hiatus. That is, if he really is who he says he is.

This book is a rom com, but it actually felt like the romance came secondary to the broader theme of Samiah as a person. Samiah is a strong, smart, independent black woman in the tech industry, and a lot of the plot focuses on how she handles herself and her life: how she approaches work, how she wants to give back to the community, how she wants to mentor and help other young black girls know they too can have a future in tech. I did love Daniel and I was rooting for their relationship, but it felt like the focus was more on Samiah’s character. It was an enjoyable read though and gave a good insight into some of the struggles a woman, and specifically a woman of color, has working and thriving in the tech industry. Overall, I enjoyed it!

Whew! Seven out of seven wins for the month – I don’t know if August can top that, but I’ll sure try. πŸ˜‰ As always, if you have any great recommendations, please send them my way!

June 2021 Book Reviews: Part Two

On Wednesday of this week, I reviewed the seven physical books I read in June and today, I’m reviewing the ones I read on my Kindle!

I don’t use my Kindle all that often in everyday life, but it is so nice to take on vacation so I don’t have 8 books packed in my luggage. I loved having it handy at the pool and on our plane rides!

The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel

The Trouble with Hating You by [Sajni Patel]

Liya’s reputation has made it hard for her parents to find a man willing to marry her. When she realizes that the most recent “dinner” her parents invite her to is actually a set up with a new potential suitor and his mother, she quickly bolts. Unfortunately for her, the man in question, Jay, also shows up at her workplace as the new lawyer trying to save her failing company. Now Liya is forced to see Jay often and after a while, she realizes that maybe he’s different from all the others in her past.

The premise of this novel sounded like a great beach read but the overall story kind of had me feeling . . . meh. The writing isn’t that great and the story felt a bit forced. I don’t know how to exactly describe it other than to say it didn’t make me feel very invested in Liya or Jay or their relationship. I did enjoy reading a romance within Hindu culture and seeing the dynamics at play in Liya and Jay’s community, mandir (temple), and families, but the actual story was just an okay read. I buzzed through this quickly on the plane ride and it was a nice distraction but nothing groundbreaking for sure. I’d consider this a mid-range rom com at best.

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

It’s 1935 in the Florida Keys and three women’s lives are about to change. First there’s Helen, nine months pregnant, struggling to make ends meet, and dreaming of escaping her abusive marriage. Then there’s Mirta, newly married to a man she barely knows (but suspects has nefarious business dealings) and on her way to New York from her home in Cuba. Lastly there’s Elizabeth, on a desperate search of the veteran work camps to find her last remining hope for a different future than the one she bargained for. As a powerful hurricane barrels towards the unsuspecting Keys, all three women’s stories start to intertwine and nothing will be the same after a fateful Labor Day weekend.

We vacationed with another couple in June and my friend suggested we read the same book, this one, while we were there. I loved the idea and it was so fun to get to discuss what was going on and where we thought things were headed in real time with one another. I really enjoyed all the vivacious female characters, and the book had a great supporting cast. I also love reading historical fiction novels about places/people/events I hadn’t previously heard of and this was no exception. There really was a 1935 Labor Day hurricane that devastated the Keys and there really were veteran work camps there at the time. I would say this was more of a character-driven novel but there’s some drama, some mystery, and some surprises along the way. I was interested in all three women’s different storylines and enjoyed seeing their lives intertwine. There were some connections that I predicted, but others I was totally surprised by. This was an enjoyable read that I definitely recommend!

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind: A Novel by [Rumaan Alam]

I suggested this book for book club after seeing Kate Baer give a review on Instagram where she said this was the perfect book to read and them emergency text your friend to read it too so you could discuss. She also suggested going in blind so that’s what I did . . . and it was 100% the right call! So I’m doing the same now. Ha! I’m not going to talk about this other than to say, I’ve never said “whaaaaat” more often while reading a book. This book makes an excellent choice to buddy read or choose for a book club. My friend and I were texting back and forth while reading at the same time – it’s one you’ll definitely want to discuss with someone!

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You: A Novel by [Mhairi McFarlane]

After 18 years together, a shared home, and future dreams of having children soon, Laurie feels confident in her relationship with Dan. That is, until he dumps her and moves on in the blink of an eye. To make matters worse, Laurie and Dan work at the same law firm so there’s no escaping him, or all the gossip about his new life. Enter Jamie, a fellow lawyer whose ladies’ man reputation is holding him back from his dreams of making partner. In a fateful elevator ride, Laurie and Jamie share their woes and realize a perfect solution for their dilemmas is to form a fake relationship. Except, you guessed it, pretty soon fake dating starts to feel pretty real.

This book is very British, which means there’s quite a bit of sarcasm and cheekier humor, but I found it to be enjoyable and decently cute. I liked Jamie and Laurie and their dynamic, I liked watching their relationship unfold, I liked the British setting, I liked how funny and charming the supporting characters were. I do feel like too much time was spent on Laurie and her reaction to the breakup; it took so long to even get to the part where Jamie really came into play. I guess that makes it more of a slow burn? And as far as steaminess goes, I’d say it’s around PG-13 and there isn’t anything graphic, which can be hard to find in a modern rom com so if that’s your preference you may enjoy this one. It was a solid vacation read – not a slam dunk rom com but cute and fun and I enjoyed it!

Whew – that concludes the eleven books I read this month! I do have another trip planned in July, but my kids will be along for that one so I’m not sure I’ll have quite sure I’ll have as much time to relax and read. πŸ˜‰ I’m still looking forward to diving into a few good ones!

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!

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!

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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!

April 2021 Book Reviews

Another month, another book review! I’m really excited to share today’s reviews because I read three books in the month of April and they were all winners – I love when that happens!

Any of these books would make for great summer reads, perfect for sitting back and relaxing in the sunshine. Let’s dive in!

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

The second-born daughters in the Fontana family have been living under a curse for generations: not one of them has found love. Second-born Emilia thinks the curse is nonsense, while her second-born cousin Lucy has tried everything in her power to break it. One day they receive an invitation from their eccentric great-aunt Poppy (also a second-born daughter) to join her on an all-expenses paid trip to Italy where, on her 80th birthday, she will meet the love of her life and break the curse.

While this book started off a little slow and I was initially very annoyed by the family dynamics, I really enjoyed the story once the women actually got to Italy. Justin and I traveled to Italy five years ago and visited many of the places the book mentions so it was fun to connect with the setting. Even if you haven’t been to Italy, this book was a great escapist book that sweeps the reader away to another place with Vespa rides through Tuscany, museums in Florence, and indulgent meals in Venice. I liked that the narration went back and forth from present-day Emilia to Poppy’s life in the past. It was a sweet, indulgent read with several twists to the plot, some I predicted and some I didn’t, that kept things interesting. I finished the book feeling satisfied and ready to travel again (aren’t we all ready for that?) and recommend this book for fans of adventure, sisterhood, and falling in love.

Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Life's Too Short (The Friend Zone Book 3) by [Abby Jimenez]

Popular YouTuber Vanessa has traveled the globe and had many adventures, but none have prepared her for the instant motherhood of gaining custody of her half-sister’s baby girl. She’s certainly not prepared for the appearance of her gorgeous next-door neighbor Adrian one night as he comes to try to help soothe the infant’s wails that have kept him up all night. Before long, Adrian and Vanessa strike up a friendship that could lead to something more . . . if Vanessa is willing to hope for a future that a looming health fear has never allowed her to dream of.

Alright y’all. Here’s the deal. I have read Jimenez’s previous two rom coms and while I really enjoyed The Friend Zone, I straight-up adored The Happy Ever After Playlist which has kind of become my rom com benchmark. So I had very high expectations going into this book – and they were exceeded. I loved this one! I loved Vanessa and Adrian as individuals and could not get enough of their fun banter and blossoming relationship. All of the supporting characters are interesting and ultimately likeable. I loved that it wasn’t all fluffy love and “easy” problems; this book covers guardianship of an infant, a drug-addicted sister, a hoarder father, reconciling broken family relationships, and a potentially devastating health diagnosis. Yet the book never feels heavy. It remains relatable, charming, and entertaining. I feel like Vanessa and Adrian reminded me of Justin and I at the start of our relationship – we were acquaintances, then friends, then best friends, then interested in dating but both afraid to cross that line and mess up our friendship, and then we finally dated knowing it was going to be “it” for us. This book took me back! It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s inspiring – I just loved it so much and highly recommend it!

*A note: the chronological order of books is The Friend Zone, The Happy Ever After Playlist, Life’s Too Short. You don’t have to read them in order, as each book is a standalone, BUT there are some minor spoilers and character overlap so I do recommend reading in order if you can! It’s fun to see where the characters are in different stages of life throughout the book. I would say they also get more tame as they progress, going from Hot to Medium to Mild (for contemporary romance standards) in terms of language and sexy scenes, so if you feel strongly about that you could start where you feel comfortable on that scale.

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

New Year’s Eve, 1982. Eighteen-year-old Oona is at a party that will ring in the New Year and, on the stroke of midnight, her nineteenth birthday. She’s in love with her boyfriend, their band feels like it’s on the verge of their big break, and life stretches out infinitely in front of her. Only when the clock strikes midnight, she opens her eyes to find that while she is now nineteen years old on the inside, she is physically in her 51-year-old body in the year 2015. Her disbelief turns to horror as she realizes that she will live the rest of her life out of order, never knowing what year it will be next until she jumps to it on midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Time travel books always have the potential to be confusing, and I’ve learned you just have to give them a little leeway. I spent some time trying to figure out logistics of her past/future actions and just kept turning my mind in knots. Time travel is impossible, so the book itself needs to be granted a little creative license and once I just accepted that and didn’t try to “figure it out” I enjoyed it a lot more. I found the plot surprisingly easy to follow along with considering all the jumps. I liked the recurring characters and how they wove in and out of her life. I liked that there was some mystery to it – the people in Oona’s future life knew some things that they refused to tell her about her “past” because she hadn’t yet lived it and they wanted her to have some surprises, both good and not-so-great. Ultimately, can she do anything to change her fate? It’s an interesting concept to ponder as we read along with her adventures. There are some twists I didn’t anticipate and ultimately, I found myself wishing for even more. I loved seeing how her life played out and how the things connected and made sense throughout her life and could have kept reading through even more years! This book was recommended to me by friend and I was glad to have someone to talk with about it after I finished, so I think it would make for a great book club discussion.

March 2021 Book Reviews

No tricks, just treats today as I’m kicking off April with my favorite kind of post: book reviews!

In March I read three books and mostly (you’ll see) enjoyed them all. Let’s dive right in!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch: A Novel by [Kate Stayman-London]

Bea is a successful and popular plus-sized fashion blogger, and after writing a scathing about the lack of diversity on the reality show Main Squeeze, she is approached by the producer to come on the show and give a new look to the franchise as the lead for their next season. I’ve watched the Bachelor/Bachelorette for years (although less frequently in the past 5 years) so this was a really fun read for me. I liked the characters, I liked the parallels to the franchise we all know and love (or love to hate), I liked how it gave a peel-back-the-curtain feel to “reality” TV . I found Bea to be a charming and relatable heroine and I was rooting for her to find love. Most of the other characters are also really likeable and I loved that in between chapters we would see what was happening around the country – what were people saying in podcasts or writing in articles or talking about in group chats. That’s really what Bachelor Nation is like and it broadened the plot beyond Bea’s personal experience. The real Bachelor franchise is currently experiencing a major reckoning with lack of racial diversity over the years, and they also never have contestants with body diversity either. It was really interesting to imagine a scenario where they would move in this direction! I loved the message that everyone deserves love and size isn’t (or shouldn’t be) what people judge you on. I’ll give a little warning that while the Bachelor has producers to edit out language and sexual content before viewing, this book doesn’t, so be aware of that if that’s not your cup of tea. If you’re a fan of the Bachelor franchise, I really think you’d enjoy this book but I also think those who aren’t fans would enjoy it.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River: A Novel by [Liz Moore]

Mickey is a cop whose beat includes a tough Philadelphia neighborhood overwhelmed by the opioid crisis. Her sister Kacey is an addict who lives on those same streets. After Kacey disappears around the same time as a string of murders begins, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding both the killer and Kacey.

This was a book chosen by my book club. I’m not sure I would have chosen to read it otherwise, but I can say with a good amount of confidence that if I had chosen to read it on my own, I doubt I would have finished it because the plot absolutely dragged. It’s not really a mystery and not really a thriller, though it had elements of both. It was a character-driven novel, but I struggled because I didn’t actually like Mickey, the sole point of view and main character, very much. It is very slow-moving and covers a lot of hard subject matter like drug addiction, exploitation, murder, single parenthood, homelessness, etc. There are a lot of little side plots and a lot of time spent on Mickey and Kacey’s history and childhood. By page 200 I was really having to force myself to keep reading and I think had it not been a book club pick, I would have quit. But then, all the sudden, something happened in the plot that changed everything for me and I couldn’t put the rest of the book down! I absolutely flew through the last third of the book and loved it. Everyone in my book club agreed that the last portion of the book was so different than the rest; it felt like “this is the book I wanted to read!” To be honest, I don’t know if I recommend it or not. I think it definitely depends on the reader. It needed to be 100 pages shorter, but I did ultimately really enjoy where it ended up. I’m glad I finished it!

What you Wish For by Katherine Center

Samantha and the rest of her colleagues at school are reeling from the loss of their beloved principal. Just when it seems like things will never be good again, Duncan Carpenter is announced as the next principal. Sam’s history with Duncan at a previous school gives her hope that he will bring much-needed fun, joy, and life back into the school. But when Duncan arrives, the rule-following, safety-obsessed authoritarian is nothing like the guy she remembers. Is the old Duncan still in there? And can Sam help coax him back?

I wanted to read something fun and interesting, with a bit of depth but not too much and this was the perfect choice. I found the characters, both main and side, to be interesting and likeable, I loved the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I enjoyed that there were only a couple side plots included and they were all meaningful to the story. The setting in a unique school in the beachside community of Galveston was fun to picture and I easily felt like part of the school community there. I will say, this book does cover the heavy topic of reasons why safety in schools is important in this day and age, which might be triggering for some people. That being said, it didn’t really feel overly light or overly dramatic – it just hit a nice middle ground, like a Hallmark movie with some depth. I enjoyed it!

My April stack is growing so hopefully I’ll be able to devote quite a bit of time to reading because I have several books I’m excited about reading soon! What books have you been loving lately?