February 2021 Book Reviews

February may be the shortest month of the year, but you wouldn’t know it from this month’s book stack. Since we weren’t working on any major home projects, I had extra time to read and I made it through six books – almost all of which I enjoyed!

Only one of the six books was by a new-to-me author. Four of these books were from authors I’ve read and enjoyed before and one was a book of poems from a woman I’ve fan-girled over on Instagram for years. That made for an interesting month of reading because I more I or less knew (except in one unfortunate case) what to expect from each book. Let’s dive in!

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

All the Ways We Said Goodbye: A Novel of the Ritz Paris by [Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White]

The Ritz hotel in Paris has hosted many people over the years, including three different women in the pivotal years of 1914, 1942, and 1964. This novel alternates perspectives from Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs as they navigate very different circumstances in the world and in their own lives. I love historical fiction so much and I’ve read and enjoyed works by this author trio before so my hopes were high going into this book – and I was not disappointed! I absolutely devoured this one. It is a bit of a sequel to The Glass Ocean in that there is some character/family overlap. While you don’t need to read that book first to understand this one, but there are a few minor spoilers (finding out which people ultimately ended up together, who survived the ship, etc.) so I would personally recommend reading The Glass Ocean first.

With this book, there weren’t any shocking revelations – I predicted all the secrets and “twists” pretty early on but that honestly didn’t ruin the experience. I still enjoyed the journey of figuring out how the characters got from points A to B to C. I loved each of the three women, and admired how each one felt inadequate in her own way, but ultimately each one came into her own and discovered strength she didn’t know existed. I also loved the setting! I have read a lot of WWII historical fiction but nothing with a setting like the Ritz in Paris and I enjoyed seeing how that hotel connected all three stories. One thing about books by this trio – they always leave me a little bit heartbroken. Because you’re reading from three different time periods, the later stories reveal what happened to the previous characters and sometimes it’s lovely, while other times it’s very sad. Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend!

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party: A Novel by [Lucy Foley]

A group of longtime friends decides to spend New Years together at a remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. At first it seems like the perfect getaway, but it isn’t long before tensions rise and old hostilities emerge. Before the end of the stay, one of the friends will be dead. And another one will be a murderer.

Awhile back I read The Guest List and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to read another book by the same author. The problem is, I believe I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t actually read The Guest List and this felt like a new story. Instead, it felt like a deja-vu read. Obviously there were differences in characters and parts of the plot but the overall formula was the same: mystery/lite-thriller, small gathering of people, one of them is dead, one of the remaining ones is a murderer, remote location with weather events causing isolation, chapters with alternating perspectives of some of the guests and employees. Everyone has motives, everyone has secrets, and no one is particularly likeable. It takes a long time for anything to be revealed – you know that something is going to happen but it’s like each chapter leaves you hanging for a long time. In both books you get a sense of all the tension simmering but you don’t even know who is murdered for a long time. And as little hints are dropped throughout the story, you can’t decide what is just a red herring and what is an actual relevant clue. All of those are fun aspects of a read, but I just couldn’t be as enthusiastic about it as I wanted to be because it felt like a story I had already read. I was still invested and got through the book quickly because I wanted to find out who the murderer was (and there were things revealed that I definitely did not predict!) Overall, I give it 3/5 stars, but likely would have given 4/5 if I hadn’t read The Guest List first.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In a desperate situation that she can’t see a way out of, Addie LaRue runs into the woods and makes a deal with Luc, a god of darkness – in exchange for her soul, he will help her out of her situation and she will live forever. What Addie doesn’t bargain for though, is that in this never-ending life, no one will ever remember her. Three hundred years later, Addie is still roaming the world, forgotten by everyone she meets . . . until one day she enters a bookstore and someone remembers her.

I couldn’t put this down and read in under 24 hours. It has a really intriguing and unique premise and the short chapters kept me going – I kept telling myself “just one more, just one more!” Chapters alternate back and forth between Addie’s life now and her life at various points in the past centuries. I will say the ‘history’ parts got repetitive and a bit slow for a while, particularly in the first few years of Addie’s bargain (although that is kind of the point, to show how monotonous and never-ending life now feels for Addie) so I skimmed a few of those chapters. Once Addie finds someone who actually remembers her, the book really picks up! I was very invested in figuring out why Addie could now be remembered by someone and loved the ways in which she made her mark on history, despite being forgotten. I found this to be a really compelling read overall, and it falls just short of my top tier of recommendations only because some parts feel repetitive and slow and the book feels overly long (450 pages!!) I also don’t want to spoil anything about the ending so I’ll say this – I can appreciate how it was satisfying, but it also felt kind of underwhelming and made me want a bit more. It’s definitely a unique novel that is unlike anything else I’ve read before and I do recommend it!

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel by [Rebecca Serle]

Dannie has her life planned out to a T. She just nailed the interview for her dream job and said yes to her boyfriend’s proposal and knows exactly where her life is headed. Until she falls asleep and somehow flashes forward five years into the future, where she has a different ring on her finger, a different apartment, and a different guy in it. She spends one hour in the future and then wakes back up in her regular life, where she now grapples with knowing that a different life, with one very clear hour, is quickly approaching.

This book is very hard for me to review because I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling anything. Let’s just say it was very unexpected. I went in expecting a fun, somewhat mindless romance, and instead it was surprisingly poignant and deep, covering friendship, grief, loss, letting go of best-laid plans, etc. I read The Dinner List by this same author a couple years ago and it was also a novel with a fun concept but more depth than expected so maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised that this one was the same way. It definitely had twists and turns I did not see coming and was actually a pretty great book, but definitely was not the right book for the mood I was in and so I didn’t really enjoy it. I kept waiting for it to change into the book I expected it to be, so when it didn’t (obviously), I judged it more harshly. I know if I would have gone in with less expectations, I would’ve liked it a lot more. I didn’t love the main character, I didn’t love certain aspects of the plot line, and I wasn’t totally satisfied by the ending. That being said, I read this in like, half a day. It’s a nice short read (250ish pages) that is easy to get through quickly. And I have a friend who read it without having expectations and she loved it, so I think it helps to not expect light, fluffy romance beforehand!

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Survivors: A Novel by [Jane Harper]

On a visit home to Tasmania to help his parents pack up his childhood home, Kieran is haunted by memories of a long-ago storm that changed his life and his hometown forever. When a young woman’s body is found dead on the beach one morning, old memories and long-held secrets threaten to resurface and once again, change the town forever.

I love Jane Harper! If “environmental suspense” was a genre, she would have it locked down. The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man – her books always include an atmospheric element that makes the weather feels like a character. This book was no different, as the ocean played a big part in the story. I was super invested in this book and the dual-mystery aspect of the current murder and the questions surrounding the long-ago storm. This book kept me guessing and was full of little clues and red herrings, and after finishing up, I had to go back and reread several parts of the book to see all the things I missed the first time around. I liked reading from Kieran’s perspective and thought the setting was great. I could picture this little seaside town so vividly and the characters were complex and interesting. I will say, wish there had been one more chapter! It felt like after a lot of buildup, it ended somewhat abruptly and I wanted a little bit more. I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Harper’s other works.

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

I’m not sure a book of poetry has ever made my list before, but this one was fantastic! I don’t know Kate personally, but we have multiple real-life mutual connections and so I’ve been following her on Instagram for several years now. I was so excited to see her first book of poems was finally published! One of my best friends from college surprised me with a copy and I loved cozying up in a comfortable chair and reading these poems. Kate has a way with words that is just beautiful. The book separates the poems into three parts based loosely on three categories: life as a woman, life in a relationship/marriage, life as a mother. These poems are relatable, accessible, modern, and even nostalgic. Some are heartfelt, some are downright snarky (in a good way). It’s a short book and could easily be read in an hour or two, but I recommend indulging in a slower pace to really absorb and enjoy each poem. I know this is a book that I will pick up again and again and return to my favorites. Even if you’re not a poetry fan, I encourage you to check out this book!

Whew! What a month! I’ve already started my first book for March and I’m loving it so far, so I’m hopeful next month is just as full of great reads as this one was! As always, if you have great suggestions for books to read, please send them my way!

January 2021 Book Reviews

I have to start this month off with a confession: I did not read all the books pictured here.

Each month I like to have a picture of all the books I read, but occasionally, books aren’t able to be renewed and I have to send them back to the library before the month is over. When that happens, I have to guess at which books I’ll be able to finish by the end of the month. Usually it’s not too hard because I know what I can finish in x number of days, but this month was extra hard because one book was due January 4. Only four days into the month and I had to guess what I’d be able to finish over the next 27 days. I took a guess that I’d be able to make it through five books, but I was wrong. I only made it through four of these – read on to see what I was able to read and what is now first on my list for February!

American Royals by Katharine McGee

When the Founding Fathers created America’s government post-Revolutionary War, they purposely chose not to establish another monarchy. But…what if they would have? This young adult novel imagines a present-day America ruled by a monarchy and follows the lives of four young women deeply entrenched in it: Beatrice, in line to be the first female monarch, her younger sister Samantha, Samantha’s best friend Nina, and socialite Daphne.

I started this book several months ago but once I realized it was a series I decided to stop and pick it back up once the second book was out. I had the feeling it was going to be a binge-worthy read and I’d want to dive right in to the next book. And boy, was I right! This book sucked me right in and I loved it. It’s got an interesting premise with fun story lines and lots of juicy drama. Chapters alternative points of view between the four main characters; each girl has her own struggles and growing pains with her romantic relationship(s) and role within the monarchy. As each girls works to come into her own, I found myself rooting for (almost) everyone. It definitely falls in the young adult category but I still found it to be a really addictive read and absolutely flew through it! It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger so I was excited to dive right on in to the next book . . .

Majesty by Katharine McGee

. . .which I unfortunately did not enjoy. Ugh!

This book picks up right where things left off and follows the same four women, but any preconceived notions I had of where each story was going to go were quickly shattered. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say it felt almost jarring to have every storyline go in a completely different direction than I imagined. I was invested in the first book’s stories and did not enjoy the abrupt changes of plot. That being said, of the four girls and their stories, I ended up loving the direction that one of them took and eventually came to terms with another one. So, I enjoyed two out of four ha!

I will say, these books are both very long (400+ pages!) and reading them back to back was a long stretch of reading. 800 pages of drama is a lot and I found myself much less interested in the second book than the first. Maybe I shouldn’t have read them back to back? Maybe I should have just ended things after I loved the first book? I definitely recommend the first one, but I’m really on the fence with the second one. It brought back feelings of reading The Royal We – I love love loved the first book and then hated the direction the second book (The Heir Affair) took. Maybe this is just a sign that I shouldn’t read the second books in drama-filled young royal fiction? I don’t know. If you’ve read both books, I’d love to know your thoughts!

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

If You Want to Make God Laugh by [Bianca Marais]

It’s 1994 in newly post-apartheid South Africa. Teenage Zodwa is about to give birth to a baby while living in a squatter camp with her dying mother. Meanwhile, middle-aged Ruth, a famous former stripper, and Delilah, an excommunicated nun working in an orphanage, both face personal crises that draw them back to their rural hometown. Soon, the three women’s lives become connected in ways that none of them could predict.

I recently joined a book club and this was the first book the group chose. It was an excellent choice and led to some great discussion! I need to include the disclaimer that this book is not for the faint of heart and contains some pretty heavy issues including rape, attempted suicide, domestic abuse, and racially-motivated violence. That being said, it’s an incredibly well written book and I couldn’t put it down. The short chapters and alternating points of view kept the book moving quickly, despite some of the heavy content. The characters are so complex; they are grappling with their own flaws and past mistakes but they all also have redemptive qualities that make the reader want to root for them. With each revelation a character made about her past, it just layered more richness to the story. This was a very thought-provoking novel that will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend (with the caveat of possible triggers in the darker content previously mentioned).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

“At some point, being a fulfilled adult means taking responsibility for the course of your own life and accepting the fact that now you’re in charge of your choices.”

Despite her training as a therapist, Lori struggles to come to terms with a shocking breakup and decides to seek out therapy for herself. This nonfiction book chronicles both her experiences with a variety of her personal patients as well as her sessions with her own therapist and feels part-memoir, part look into the lives of others (or at least as close as you can get while still honoring patient privacy). I found it to be a really interesting look at the variety of reasons that people seek therapy and the transformations that can happen when we work to better understand ourselves: our histories, our motivations, our goals/hopes/dreams for the present and future. I had to place a sticky note in several different places so I could go back later and reflect more on a profound revelation or a simple truth that resonated with me. I was actually less interested in Lori’s personal therapy journey and more interested in the stories of her clients – it was fascinating to see how each person changed and how my perceptions and assumptions about them also changed as they became more vulnerable and revealed more about their histories. Overall this was a really interesting read and I’d recommend it!

If you’ve been keeping track, you know that means I did not get to All the Ways We Said Goodbye so that is first up for my February reads! Beatriz Williams is one of my absolute favorite authors so I have high hopes for it!

Top 10 Books of 2020

As this year draws to a close (tomorrow!) I thought it would be fun to do something new and write a roundup of my favorite reads/best books I read in 2020. I read a ton of great books this year, and it was surprisingly difficult to cut it down to a top ten. There’s a wide variety of genres represented (rom com, thriller, historical fiction, courtroom drama, memoirs, and more) and looking at my list, these are the books that shaped me, challenged me, and entertained me the most this year.

Initially I thought I’d combine this with my monthly book review, but then I ended up reading a LOT of books in December and the post would have just been way too long. So stay tuned for the monthly book review recap coming soon!

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

A highly addictive courtroom drama with so many layers to the characters and their stories: the struggles of an immigrant family, the toll of infertility on a marriage, the complex emotions involved with parenting a child with special needs. This would be an excellent choice for a book club! Read my full review here.

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, & the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

Written by a psychologist, this is an intimate look at the challenges many mothers face. It is validating, vulnerable, and incredibly relatable. Find my review here and a full blog post I wrote further expounding on it here.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Incredibly powerful memoir that first started to challenge my worldview and recognize my white privilege before I even really understood what that meant. A very important read! Find my full review here.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

A fresh and fun rom com about two flatmates who agree to share an apartment on opposite schedules so they never (intend to) meet each other. Full review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

A deeply moving and vulnerable memoir written by Chanel Miller, the victim in an infamous campus rape case. She gives a voice to so many other women in this heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful read. Full review here.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

One of my favorite rom coms ever, this delightful mixture of sweet + sexy rom com also showed very likeable characters dealing with real-world problems and struggles. Full review here.

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by [Ibram X. Kendi]

Challenging, convicting, inspiring, hopeful, powerful. This book felt part memoir part motivational speaker and is easily one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Read my full review here.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful. Read my full review here.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

This heart-pumping, fast-paced thriller had me hooked from the beginning. I love a good thriller that isn’t gory or creepy and this one nailed it! Read my full review here.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

An elderly Polish grandmother with a big secret and one dying wish, a granddaughter who travels halfway around the world to fulfill it. Alternating timelines of Nazi-occupied Poland and present-day. This is historical fiction at its best! Read my full review here.

Honorable Mentions

I couldn’t end this post without including a few books that just barely missed the cut of my top 10 (and honestly, there were several books that just barely missed this honorable mention list, but I had to stop somewhere!)

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Full review here.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Regretting You by [Hoover, Colleen]

Full review here.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

Full review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Full review here.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by [Clare Pooley]

Full review here.

I keep a running list of all my previous reads over on my ‘Bookworm‘ tab, so you can always use that as a resource to access all my previous reviews.

Here’s to more great reading in 2021!

October 2020 Book Reviews

Good morning!

It’s been a while since I’ve had a non-One Room Challenge blog post and that’s because both on the blog and in real life, the month of October was dominated by work on our home office. It’s been such a fun room to design and work on (see our most recent progress here), but it has meant that I don’t have much free time to do things like reading. I only finished two books in the month of October, but I’m hoping that once the office is wrapped up, I’ll have lots of time to read in it!

Don’t the books look SO GOOD on our new home office bookshelves? 😉

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by [Christina Lauren]

Millie and her four best guy friends all need dates for an upcoming work event, so they decide to all create profiles for an online dating site. After a very unsuccessful first round of suitors, Millie tries her luck again with an alter ego, “Catherine.” This time, she gets matched up with her best friend Reid, and what started out as a joke to see if Reid would figure out who she was turns into a way for Millie to open up to Reid in a way that she never has been able to before. Add in the fact that Millie and Reid do have a bit of a friends-with-benefits thing going on in real life and . . . things get complicated.

I always go into Christina Lauren books with high hopes because the first book I ever read by these authors (it’s a writing duo – Christina and Lauren!) was The Unhoneymooners and I loved it. Unfortunately, so far that’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most and each book afterwards seems mediocre. I really liked all the characters individually (the friend group was so funny!) and loved that the authors did things like including their group chats – it was a fun way to see everyone’s unique personalities and make the reader feel like one of the group. I also liked the idea of Millie and Reid, but I got a little annoyed by parts of the plot and ended up skimming several sections. Overall, this one falls pretty middle-of-the-road for me. If you’re in the mood for a decent, fluffy read that you can skim and finish in a day, this is a good option.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

This book was selected as a book club book for a podcast I listen too (HERself – highly recommend!) and while the title is definitely a little aggressive (I definitely do not hate Justin), this was a really interesting read. The author details the struggles of her marriage after becoming a parent – the feeling of carrying most of the weight of parenting and housework duties, the frustration of asking for help with chores only to be told an noncommittal “later,” the lack of romance and passion, and the intensity of arguments and fighting. She’s incredibly vulnerable and transparent about the struggles she and her husband faced and then details the information she learned from seeking the opinions of others: everyone from marriage therapists to credentialed researchers to FBI negotiation experts to her friends and family. She slowly starts to implement various strategies and notices how her marriage, her personal happiness, and her family life all improve afterward.

I really enjoyed this book. I was fascinated by her sessions with therapists and appreciated that she addressed the more obvious aspects of relationships (sex, money) and also some of the sneakier aspects as well (clutter, kid chores). There were a lot of little nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned from reading and I think this is a book I’ll come back to again someday. There’s just a lot of great takeaways that can benefit whether you’re a parent to one newborn baby or five teenagers or anything in between. I highly recommend it as a read for parents! And as a side note: I also really enjoyed the HERself podcast episode with this author and definitely recommend that as well!

The One Room Challenge finishes up in two weeks, and just in time because a bunch of my holds from the library recently came in. I’m excited to break in my cozy reading chair in the brand new office soon!

September 2020 Book Reviews

While I can hardly believe tomorrow is going to be October, I am also excited because that means it’s book review day!

This month I read five books (one of which was actually a re-read from a few years ago) and as usual, genres were all over the place. Let’s dive in!

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

Claire has been searching for a way to escape her abusive marriage, so when she meets Eva, who also seems desperate to escape her life, in the airport, switching tickets seems like the perfect solution. That is, until Eva’s plane crashes. With no money, no identity, and no one to ask for help, Claire decides to assume Eva’s identity until she can figure out her next steps, not realizing that Eva was keeping some dark and dangerous secrets of her own.

This book was fast-paced and heart-pumping! I was immediately hooked from the start and raced through this book. I loved the alternating perspectives and the fact that Claire’s story mostly happened in the present while Eva’s focused on the past. Knowing Eva’s secrets and history before Claire did made me that much more eager to keep reading and see how things would unravel for her. I wasn’t necessarily expecting twists, but there were definitely a few towards the end of the book that I did not see coming and that made things even more interesting. While this book definitely got my adrenaline going, it wasn’t downright scary and I was able to read it alone at night while Justin was away without needing to sleep with the lights on. It was thrilling without being creepy and I really enjoyed it – highly recommend!

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

When I searched my library for The Last Flight, this book also came up in my search. As soon as I saw it was a Beatriz Williams book, I requested a hold. I’ve raved about past books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) and books she’s co-authored (The Glass Ocean, The Forgotten Room) so I was excited for this one and it did not disappoint!

Janey Everett is a journalist in pursuit of a story: after finding the wreckage of legendary pilot Sam Mallory’s plane, she discovers that he may not have been alone in his final crash and sets off to find the groundbreaking female pilot Irene Foster, who famously disappeared a decade earlier. This reads like biographical fiction even though it isn’t – it feels like a loose adaptation of Amelia Earhart’s life. I loved this book! The alternating timelines were a fascinating way to watch Sam and Irene’s lives unfold and I liked that it wasn’t directly Irene’s first person perspective but read like a novel. The characters, the historical details, the mystery – Williams just nailed it. My one complaint is that one of the “twists” was too easy to guess (and was guessable waaaay too early) but since this isn’t a suspense novel, I’ll let it slide. Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read and I’m adding it to my list of highly recommended Beatriz Williams novels!

The Royal We by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

American college student Bex Porter sets off for a study abroad adventure at Oxford only to find herself dorm-mates with Nick, aka Prince Nicholas, third in line for the throne of England. While romance is the last thing on her mind, she can’t ignore the close bond she feels towards Nick or the way their friendship soon feels like something else.

I actually read this book several years ago and loved it, so much so that it landed on my Ultimate Book Recommendations list. It’s like a fan fiction re-imagining of Prince William and Kate (if Kate was an American) and there are a lot of obvious parallels to the real life royal family (like Nick’s younger, rebellious, redheaded brother). It’s binge-y, it’s fun, it’s got characters you fall in love with and want to be friends with. I had forgotten how long it is though – I’m not sure 450+ pages was necessary and there definitely could have been things edited out. The length keeps it from being a true easy, breezy, light beach read simply because it does take effort to get through the whole thing. But even so, I really enjoyed it the first time and it was fun to re-live it again the second time. I would wholeheartedly recommend it with one caveat . . .

The Heir Affair by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Heir Affair (The Royal We Book 2) by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

. . . I hated the sequel. So much so that I think it makes me like The Royal We a little less.

When I first read The Royal We, it read like a standalone book. Even though there were still a few loose strings at the end, it very much ended in a way that allowed you to draw your own conclusions and feel happy and hopeful about the way things played out. Only to turn to The Heir Affair and realize you got it all wrong. I wanted this book to be about so many things – I feel like the authors could have taken a sequel in a lot of directions – and honestly, I just hated the direction it took. It took away my happy hopeful feelings, it made me frustrated, and it made me angry at characters I had once loved.

There were still some fun, cute moments that felt reminiscent of The Royal We, but not nearly enough. I kept holding out for an ending that made things make sense, that made me feel that same sort of happy, hopeful, “complete” sense I felt after reading The Royal We and I not only didn’t get it, but was so unsatisfied by the ending. Again, this book was long (450+ pages) and that’s a lot of exasperated reading. I find myself torn with whether or not I want another installment of this series. Maybe a third book could redeem all the things that I felt went wrong here . . . but also maybe not. My suggestion is to read The Royal We, draw your own conclusions, and then just move on without this sequel. 😉

The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

After the death of Truviv’s CEO, all eyes are on the short list for his replacement. Ames Garrett is at the top of that list and while he appears to be a stellar candidate, there are a few women in the office who feel very differently. There are many secrets that have been buried, but with the impending nomination, it’s starting to feel like they need to come to light . . .

This book read like a murder (maybe?) mystery meets thriller meets expose of workplace sexual harrassment. To be honest, I’m not sure if I technically enjoyed it. It was really frustrating and hard to read, and I’ll never understand why women aren’t believed first, but at the same time, that was kind of the point. It shows just how hard it is to come forward with sexual harrassment or assault claims and how swift and severe the pushback can be. I think this would be an interesting book to discuss in a book club. It feels like a page straight out of the #metoo movement and I think it can be an important piece of the conversation. It’s certainly not a light, fun book but I flew through it even when it was frustrating.

As we’re entering fall, I’m really looking forward to lighting a candle and curling up under a blanket with a good book! Send all the cozy recommendations my way!

August 2020 Book Reviews

It’s the last day of the month and that can only mean one thing: it’s book review day!

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This month I read six books and while there were a few I didn’t totally love, I enjoyed all six for different reasons. I’ve got some nonfiction memoirs, a long historical fiction saga, two rom coms (coincidentally both with protagonists working in the same industries), and a murder mystery whodunit. It was a fun mix of genres and topics and I’m excited to dive in!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A glamorous wedding on an obscure island off the coast of Ireland brings together a unique mix of people, including the bride, the plus-one, the bridesmaid, the wedding planner, and the best man. As the wedding festivities unfold, tensions rise and hidden secrets come to light. This alternating perspective whodunit was suspenseful and eerie without being creepy and I could not put it down! The thing about a book like this is that you know from the very beginning (even before you crack open the book, as the back cover mentions it) that a murder happens. But obviously, the author doesn’t want to give too much away too soon. So for the first third of the book, very little is revealed and each chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger/allusion to something but you don’t quite know what. It can be a little maddening, but it does make for a binge-worthy read. I just wanted to keep going to finally get a little breadcrumb of a clue. I did guess a few of the twists, some even pretty early on, but there were still some OH DANG moments for me as everything started to come to light. I felt very invested and I had to know who did the murderer was! The thing holding me back from this going on my all-star list is that I wasn’t altogether satisfied by the ending. I appreciated how most of it wrapped up, but there were a few things I wish had been a bit different. There needed to be one more chapter and a touch more resolution, but there are likely many readers who think the ending is perfect. Either way, I’d recommend this as a good binge-y whodunit!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity. (p. 290)

Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. . . there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us. (p. 290)

Oh my. I have a hard time even putting this book into words. I had known that our criminal justice system has its issues, but this book really opened my eyes to a lot of the realities of its flaws and the many ways in which “justice” has ultimately failed so many people, particularly people of color and/or the poor. This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. A lot of the story focuses on one man in particular: Walter McMillan, who is on death row for a murder he is adamant that he did not commit. While Stevenson works to build a case for Walter, we also read many other stories of people who were sentenced for life for crimes committed as juveniles, people who are imprisoned after having virtually no good representation in their trial, or black people who were purposefully given all-white juries for their trials. It was truly heartbreaking to read the many times you think justice will prevail . . . and it doesn’t. Not every story has a happy ending. Not every wrong is made right. There is so much hurt, so much suffering, and so much that just doesn’t make sense. There were times it was really difficult to read. But there were also stories that gave me hope. There were triumphs and there were moments that restore your faith in humanity. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful.  While this is by no means an easy read, I think it is such an important read and absolutely recommend it!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I think it’s okay every now and again to reflect on that time. Get down the box from the top shelf of the emotional closet and marvel at the things that used to mean so much. The keepsakes of our mistakes, the souvenirs of lost years. But know when to start making new memories with people who deserve the you that you are now. (p. 326)

I would never have claimed to be a big Jessica Simpson fan (although I love love love her show collection haha), but she was obviously a big part of pop culture in the 90’s and early 2000’s and I feel like I’ve grown up with her somewhat. I actually really enjoyed this memoir! It brought back a lot of nostalgia, and it was fun to read about things like the people she met trying out for the Mickey Mouse Club and her rise to fame with her music and Newlyweds . I was also fascinated to read all the things that were really going on beyond the things shown in magazines or on MTV; as always, there is more to the story than what meets the eye. While reading, I kept taking breaks to look up things on the internet – everything from her music videos to Newlywed clips or pictures she’s referencing. Jessica doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in her past and she opens up about abuse she’s suffered and unhealthy relationships she’s been in. While she does call out people (I wouldn’t want to be John Mayer’s publicist after this book came out), she also talks about the things she herself has done that she regrets and the mistakes she’s made. This book was fun, intriguing, vulnerable, and engrossing. I really enjoyed it and would recommend, even if you’re not really a Jessica Simpson fan.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January and Gus are former college classmates turned bestselling authors who find themselves as neighbors in a small town in Michigan where they both are suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Though they aren’t exactly what you would call friends, they make a bet – write a book in the other person’s genre and see who can sell their book first. Through mini boot-camp trainings to educate one another on their genres, they get to know one another better and start to realize maybe they have more in common than a shared passion for writing.

I think my beef with this book is that the cover and the title feel misleading. Technically there is a beach, and there is a lot of reading involved, but the cover gives off a vibe that is not really at all what the book actually reads like. That aside, I thought the actual premise was cute and enjoyed this read. It took me a while to warm up to January but I loved broody and vulnerable Gus. I liked that the book dug into some meatier topics like marital affairs, abuse, rejection, life in a cult (see what I mean by the cover is misleading!?) and wasn’t just a feel-good, surface-level rom com. There were some parts of the story line that didn’t really interest me, but overall it was a nice enough light read to break up the heavier topics in the other books I read this month. I’d recommend it with the caveat that it falls pretty middle of the road for me – enjoyable, but not a standout.

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

I previously read Lilac Girls from this author and loved it, so I was excited to see this prequel to the book following the perspectives of three women, American socialite Eliza, Russian heiress Sofya, and Russian peasant Varinka as their lives intertwine around the time of WWI and the Russian Revolution. However, I’m finding this book review a little hard to write. I recognize that this is a a good book, but I’m not actually sure if I enjoyed it. Does that even make sense?

First of all, it’s over 400 pages and I just don’t think it needed to be that long. So many words, but really…did that much stuff happen? No. Secondly, I like having someone to root for but there were no clear heros. I had empathy for Sofya and the plight of the White Russians, but it was also frustrating to see their tremendous sense of entitlement and how little regard they had for the peasants’ suffering. I also had empathy for Varinka and all her suffering as a peasant, but she also did some pretty crappy things once she gained even a slight amount of power. And then Eliza’s story provided some American perspective, but her “America” seemed a little entitled and out of touch and her story felt superfluous to me. I think the book just needed less of her. All that being said, I also didn’t hate it. Ha!  Though it takes place during WWI it focuses more on what was specifically happening in Russia which I thought was interesting and I was invested in finding out the outcome for each woman (mostly Sofya and Varinka). I recognize that the author has written complex characters with vulnerabilities, redeeming qualities, and deep flaws. Overall, this falls in the mid-range for me. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, unsure if I’d recommend. If character-driven historical fiction is your thing, maybe give it a shot?

Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren

Dating You / Hating You by [Christina Lauren]

Evie and Carter meet up at a mutual friend’s party and the chemistry is instant. They’re both Hollywood agents and don’t typical date those in the industry, but in this case, it seems worth a try. That is until they show up to work one day and realize their companies have merged and they’re now vying for the same position. What was once a potential budding relationship is now filled with competition, zany attempts at sabotage, and maybe a little bit of that initial chemistry too? I read this book on my Kindle in about a day. It’s an easy read: it’s got some silliness, it’s got some steaminess, it’s got a fun cast of main and supporting characters. It’s got an interesting setting of the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood. It kind of reminded me of movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; even though the plot lines are really different, the general chemistry + sabotage + chemistry dynamic was similar. Overall, I enjoyed this as a nice light read to round out the month.

I’m really excited about a few of the books I have lined up for September so hopefully I’ll have some more great reviews to report next month! What books are you excited to read?

June 2020 Book Reviews

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it is July already. March seemed to last 239 days, April was another long month of quarantine and monotonous days . . . and now suddenly it’s July. What in the world?

This month I finished five books (and there’s a bonus book that I forgot to review previously) and genres were all over the place – just the way I like it!

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I feel like this month was split pretty evenly with books I really loved and books that were kind of a bummer. Let’s get into it!

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

Darcy has inherited her grandmother’s house in a 50-50 split with her twin brother Jamie and she is determined to restore the home and make it shine. Heading up the renovation is Tom, Darcy and Jamie’s best friend from childhood who Darcy just so happens to be in love with. She’s always only had 1 percent of his heart, but now she’s going to do everything she can to claim the other 99%.

I read The Hating Game from this author back in December and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to check out another rom-com from her. I wanted to love this, but unfortunately it fell flat for me. The dynamics between the characters seemed really off and it was hard for me to connect with Darcy and Tom’s relationship. It felt forced, I did not understand the appeal, and I was confused at times by the Jamie-Darcy-Tom dynamics. And honestly, Darcy was just not a main character I enjoyed. She alternated between whiny and super aggressive and needy and it was just a lot to handle. I did like certain aspects of the book – the renovation plot line and pretty much anything with Darcy’s best friend Truly, and I think it was kind of hard not to love Tom – but it was not enough to love the book. This ended up being just an okay read for me.

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

I actually read this book a few months ago, but when I went to write the review for its sequel this month, I realized that I somehow never reviewed this book! This is the problem with reading so many books on Kindle; I don’t have the physical book as a reminder to include it in my review and somehow this one slipped through the cracks. Whoops! Before I start this review, I do want to include a trigger warning for infertility. If this is a subject that is difficult for you, you may want to skip this one. Also, both books are pretty heavy on the language and there are a few steamy scenes (which you know are coming and can easily skip if you prefer) so keep that in mind if that’s not your cup of tea.

Kristen is a no-nonsense, highly sarcastic, witty and fun woman who has a lot going for her and one big thing working against her: she has health issues that have been causing some major problems and are likely leading to a life of infertility. As the festivities begin for her best friend Sloan’s upcoming wedding, she meets the best man Josh, who just so happens to check all the boxes of her dream guy. Their chemistry is undeniable, but Kristen refuses to allow a relationship to develop because Josh has made it no secret that he wants to have a huge family someday and she can’t bring herself to tell him that it isn’t in the cards for her. Okay. First of all, freaking Josh. He was a rockstar for me. Sweet, patient, earnest – he endeared himself to me and I loved the alternating perspectives so we could get his point of view too. I loved their dynamic and was rooting for them the whole time, but the book did get a little frustrating. I just wanted to shake Kristen so many times and say “JUST TELL HIM.” Like, so many things could have been solved with just a conversation. It had some heavy elements but this book was a fun, flirty rom com and I overall enjoyed it. I will say – I’m not sure how I feel about how the infertility was handled and I can see how this could be a really problematic plot line and conclusion for someone who struggles with this in real life, so please keep that in mind.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Okay! Back to The Happy Ever After Playlist. I didn’t realize until I went to write this review and saw an author note that this book was actually written first, and then The Friend Zone was written as a prequel to it. While both could be standalone books, I definitely recommend reading The Friend Zone first. In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review immediately, because there is about to be a major spoiler.

Seriously, don’t read more if you haven’t read The Friend Zone.

Two years after the tragic death of her fiance, Sloan is still entrenched in her grief and struggling to move on with her life, until one day a lost dog comes into her life and gives her purpose again. When she can’t get in touch with the owner, she adopts the dog as her own and starts to regain control on her life. That is, until the owner reaches out to her two weeks later. Jason is an up-and-coming musician who was touring in Australia; he’s coming home soon and wants his dog back. Texts turn into long phone calls and undeniable chemistry develops as the days count down to Sloan and Jason meeting in person. While I  liked The Friend Zone, I absolutely adored The Happy Ever Playlist. I loved that it had depth and Sloan and Jason dealt with real, actual struggles and problems as their relationship evolved. It’s fun, but far from fluffy. Their long-distance get to know you was just the cutest. Delightful, sweet, adorable, heartwarming, satisfying. You just want to cheer for each of them and honestly, I was swooning a little bit by the end. It’s just a super fun read and was perfect for vacation. I loved it!

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

Back in November, I read the young adult novel One of Us is Lying and I loved it, so I was really excited for the sequel to come out. A year and a half after Bayview High was entrenched in scandal over the death of Simon Kelleher and his “About That” gossip app, a new copycat emerges. Only this time, it’s not an app, it’s a text-based game of Truth or Dare. Take the dare, or else a dark secret will be revealed about you to the whole school. Secrets are revealed, dares are taken, and soon, the game takes a deadly turn.

This book focuses on alternating points of view from main characters Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox and I loved getting to know them and their relationships with one another as they were each dragged into the game. There is also some crossover with characters from the first book which added a really fun element. I honestly felt like I knew everyone and I don’t know how the author can manage to make you love like 15 different people and want to just hang out with them all, but she does and it’s amazing. This book was an easy, quick read with an intriguing mystery. It’s bingey, interesting, and while I did guess some of the twists, there were still some surprises. I want to say that while this is a young adult novel, it’s definitely PG-13 with some sexual references and swearing, so be aware of that before recommending it to a young teen. You don’t have to read One of Us is Lying first, but there would be some small plot holes if you don’t, so I would encourage reading them in order. And I highly recommend you do –  I thoroughly enjoyed each book!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I knew very little about it before diving into reading, which is definitely the way to go here. I would recommend reading this book with as little information about it as possible. The story follows Rosemary as she recounts her life story and the unraveling of her once close-knit family. And that’s all I’m going to say. 😉 There is a pretty big twist to the plot that I do not want to spoil, but I also am struggling a bit to explain my thoughts without addressing it or giving anything away. I will say that this was unlike any other book I’ve read and had a unique, thought-provoking plot that I wasn’t expecting. Poignant, heartfelt, complex, easy to read but really compelling. I think it would be an excellent candidate for an interesting book club discussion. Definitely recommend!

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

The Wives: A Novel by [Tarryn Fisher]

The narrator of this book presents herself as Thursday, because that is the day she gets to be with her husband. The rest of the week he splits time with his two other wives whom she has never met. This polygamous marriage isn’t what she hoped for, but she loves her husband so much that it’s worth it. Until one day, she discovers some information that leads her to one of the other wives, and it changes things irrevocably.

Meh.

I think this is supposed to be in the psychological thriller category of books but truthfully it’s not very thrilling. There was never a point where my heart was pounding or I was jumpy or anything, and the few twists that were there felt disappointing and even ridiculous. It’s hard to even decide if I liked it. This book had elements of mystery and it was a good enough beach read thriller – not really too dark or twisty and easy to binge while lounging in the sun. I read it pretty compulsively, so I enjoyed it enough to want to find out what was going on. But I was also very aware of the fact that I felt underwhelmed by it for pretty much the whole second half of the book and I was definitely thrown by the ending – not in a good way. I would not recommend it if you’re wanting an edge-of-your-seat nail biting thriller (there are SO many other good thrillers with unreliable female narrators like Girl on a Train and A Woman in the Window), but if you’re in the mood for what I would call “psychological thriller lite,” than this is a decent option.

Now it’s nap time for my kids and I think the outdoors is calling me to go read a book on my porch swing. 😉 Do you like to read outside when the weather is nice?

May 2020 Book Reviews

Before I share today’s post, I want to share a little bit of my heart. There are many things going on in the world right now, specifically with the Black Lives Matter movement. I took last week off from posting on my blog and social media except to share resources that I found to be insightful and helpful to me personally. It was not the time for my own experiences or voice, it was the time to listen to the voices of others (I have saved it all to a highlight on my Instagram profile). I have done so much listening and reflecting and it was an eye-opening week for me to realize the many ways in which I have fallen short in incorporating Black voices into my life. Justin and I have had many conversations about how we are going to do better as individuals and as parents to be actively anti-racist. I wanted to share this because even though I’m going to resume posting about my own life, I am committed to continuing this much needed work because Black Lives absolutely Matter. ❤

When it comes to volume of reading material, May was one for the books (see what I did there? 😉 ) Thanks to the pandemic keeping me at home, unexpected delays in our basement kitchen renovation giving me more free time, a few long weekends at home, and our library keeping me supplied with ebooks for my Kindle, I read a lot of books. TWELVE to be exact! What! This is obviously much more than my typical number and this review will be a long one so let’s not waste anymore time and get right to it, shall we?

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Hope’s Crossing (Books 1-7) by RaeAnne Thayne

Hope's Crossing Collection Volume 1: An Anthology by [RaeAnne Thayne]

Back in December, I flew through this author’s Haven Point books and I would describe this as the sister series. These are very Hallmark-style romance books: quick and easy to read (I binged the series in a long weekend over Mother’s Day), no language or steamy scenes, predictable and maybe a smidge cheesy yet still romantic and sweet. These books all take place in a small Colorado town called Hope’s Crossing. I enjoy story arcs where each character has his/her own story but the stories overlap and all the characters throughout the books are connected. It just makes me feel connected to the people in this charming little town. I wanted to join the activities, eat at the Center of Hope cafe, check out the quaint bookstore, etc. I will say, I wish I had read this series first, because it was written first and some of these characters are referenced in the Haven Point series (there is crossover in several books which is fun!) but you definitely don’t have to. I think I liked the Haven Point series a little better and the writing is a little more developed but this was perfect for when I was craving some sweet, fun, lighthearted reads.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan

I'm Fine and Neither Are You by [Camille Pagán]

Penelope is a do-it-all mom: she is constantly juggling her job, her kids, her husband, and about a million other things. Her life seems like barely controlled chaos, especially in comparison to her best friend Jenny’s idyllic marriage, motherhood, and life. That is, until Jenny is shockingly found dead in her home and Penelope realizes her life wasn’t so perfect after all. In an effort to turn around her life and marriage, Penelope and her husband decide to make a change: they are going to make wish lists for ways they need their relationship to improve. Total honesty is the best policy…right?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the first part of the book. The overwhelmed, overworked martyr mom is not a story line I love and I was kind of annoyed by Penny and her woe-is-me. As I continued to read though, I started to really appreciate her character development and the whole story became more enjoyable. I genuinely wanted her and Sanjay to figure things out and succeed (side note: Sanjay eventually endeared himself to me with his requests/wishes and his own personal development). I expected a more nefarious subplot, but the book is mostly focused on Penelope’s personal growth and the way that her marriage has evolved over time. I thought it was an interesting look at the highs and lows of marriage and it gave me quite a bit to think about regarding finding balance, communicating honestly (within your marriage and also with your friends, online, etc) and prioritizing yourself as well as those you love. Overall, I enjoyed this read!

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Meet Cute by [Helena Hunting]

Kailyn is a trust lawyer assigned to help serve as conservator for an orphaned thirteen year old girl in the middle of a custody battle. The only problem is the current guardian in question is the girl’s older brother Daxton Hughes, a former child actor Kailyn went to law school with and fangirled over like crazy . . . until he betrayed her. Now she has to put aside her past hurts to make sure his sister Emme is taken care of. As Kailyn and Dax work together and get to know one another again, they realize there is a lot more to each other than they knew. This book was just the right sort of flirty, fun read that I was in the mood for. The characters are likable and easy to root for. There is just a little bit of mystery with the custody battle, but it’s not super shocking or suspenseful and the majority of the book focuses more on the dynamics between Kailyn and Dax. I did think the fact that Kailyn seemed obsessed with Dax’s show was a little extreme and a weird part of their dynamic but other than that, I liked their chemistry as they worked together to help take care of Emme (whom I also loved!) Fair warning, the book does have a decent amount of language and steam, but I thought it was an enjoyable rom-com!

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law: A Novel by [Sally Hepworth]

After losing her own mother, Lucy had high hopes for her future mother-in-law and craves closeness with a warm, inviting motherly figure. Unfortunately for her, Diana is not what she hoped for. Their relationship is strained at best until one day, Diana is found dead in what looks to be a potential suicide. Except, some things just aren’t adding up and everyone in the family, including Lucy, has secrets. I loved this book! I expected it to be a thriller, but it was actually more of a character-driven, slow burn family drama + whodunit. The narrators and timelines switch multiple times and we see Lucy and Diana’s perspectives over the years. It is such a fascinating look at relationships and how actions and events can be interpreted two totally different ways if you don’t know the other person’s motives, thoughts, and feelings. There were multiple times that I just wanted to shake the characters and insist they talk to one another – there were so many missteps and miscommunications that could have been avoided over the years with a few honest conversations. It made me sad for the relationships that could have been, and it also made me think about the relationships I have in my own life and how important communication is. I found this to be an intriguing read and I flew through it!

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by [Christina Lauren]

A few months ago I read The Unhoneymooners from this author duo (it’s two women, Christina and Lauren) and loved it so I was excited to try another one from them. After they reconnect 10 years after initially meeting in college, Hazel finally has her chance to make Josh her best friend. Despite their differences in personality (Josh is easygoing, calm, neat, and steady while Hazel is quirky, messy, constantly in motion, and a bit of a hot mess with no filter), they do become close friends as they get to know one another. They start to set one another up on double blind dates that never seem to work out – could that be because they actually would rather be with one another?

The premise was fun, the pacing worked well, and the characters were unique and interesting, but I just felt so overwhelmed by Hazel. I feel guilty even just saying that because she is still a likable character and I know the whole point was supposed to be that she is super quirky and different and Josh accepts her just as she is, but it just felt over the top sometimes. Honestly, maybe that was the point the authors were trying to make – she’s tough to love wholeheartedly, but the right person will. 😉 I also didn’t love the ending; it felt rushed and weirdly crammed a lot of things in. Overall, it’s not going to make my rom-com Hall of Fame and I definitely prefer The Unhoneymooners, but this was still an enjoyable read.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

“In rape cases it’s strange to me when people say, Well why didn’t you fight him? If you woke up to a robber in your home, saw him taking your stuff, people wouldn’t ask, Well, why didn’t you fight him? Why didn’t you tell him no? He’s already violating an unspoken rule, why would he suddenly choose to adhere to reason? What would give you reason to think he’d stop if you told him to?”

Oh my. This was a powerful read. I remember hearing about the Brock Turner case several years ago, but I admittedly did not follow the court case closely in the news over the months and years before the verdict was reached and sentencing given. This vulnerable memoir written by Chanel, previously known in the media as assault survivor Emily Doe, was incredibly eye-opening. Not only does she give insight into so much of her own life, but she gives the reader an intimate look at the way rape victims are treated and how their court cases unfold. This is not a light read. It is heartbreaking, frustrating, and heavy. It was hard to not only see how this particular case was handled, but also to see how victims are treated in other situations in our society (she references our current administration and the Kavanaugh hearing). Even so, the book is poignant and ultimately uplifting – despite Turner’s lenient sentencing and our sense of lost justice, there was a lot of change and hope that came from this situation and specifically her victim statement (I cried!) and I commend her for sharing her story this way. Though the subject matter is difficult, her storytelling is compelling and I could not put this book down. It is an important read and I highly recommend.

You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do.

 

Whew! I’m definitely not going to keep up that pace of reading, but I do plan to get quite a bit of reading done over the summer. I would love to incorporate more great books written specifically by Black authors, so if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them!

April 2020 Book Reviews

For as never-ending as March felt, April seemed to fly by! I stayed busy with lots of home projects, but I was also able to read a few books this month and I’m excited to share them with you today because I ENJOYED THEM ALL!

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That’s right, this was a month of winners! Let’s dive in. 🙂

The Murmer of Bees by Sofia Segovia

The Murmur of Bees by [Sofía Segovia, Simon Bruni]

An abandoned baby with a disfigured face covered in bees is discovered under a bridge and taken in by the Morales family. It isn’t long before they realize the baby, Simonoprio, is special and will alter the course of their family history. This revolving point of view story follows the family over generations in their small town in Mexico and explores how their lives are affected by the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Flu Pandemic. This book is a unique mix of  historical fiction and fantasy – it’s both realistic and magical. It was beautifully written and I came to love the cast of characters. I love reading books that talk about historical events I don’t know much about, and this was no exception. It was especially to read about the 1918 pandemic while I’m living through an actual pandemic myself. That being said, I read this on my kindle and was shocked one day when my home screen informed me that I was only 25% done with the book, even though I had already spent hours reading. Turns out, this book is 476 pages long. What! I did like that the chapters were very short (there are 100!) but it still felt really tedious to get through at times. The narrator also changes with every chapter and it was sometimes hard to determine who was talking and keep all the characters straight, especially in the beginning.

I enjoyed this book and still consider it an overall “win”, but the length (and pace at times) did take away some of my enthusiasm for it. If you’re in the mood for a slow build, character-driven, historical fiction family saga with some mystical elements, this is your book!

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Two neighboring families are familiar with one another but not overly friendly, with the exception of their children Peter and Kate, who develop a close friendship growing up. Right when their relationship looks like it could be more than friendship, a tragic event affecting both families alters the trajectory of their lives. Wow. This book doesn’t shy away from going deep, circling issues of mental health, trauma, addiction, betrayal, forgiveness, and how our past affects our future, even when we try our best not to repeat history. The author did an absolutely brilliant job of developing real, complex characters and I found myself so invested in everyone, particularly Peter and Kate. The book spans several decades but the author does an excellent job of keeping the story moving – there are times where it feels like you’re watching a 3 minute movie montage that sums up several years in a few important scenes, yet is surprisingly easy to follow and I didn’t feel like we skipped over chunks of time. I actually really enjoyed this way of storytelling!  It is a poignant, raw, super compelling story and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommend!

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by [Clare Pooley]

A green notebook is discovered in a small cafe, and when the cafe owner opens it in hopes of returning it to the owner, she discovers that it was actually intended as a sort of social experiment. The notebook’s owner had written his story without filter or alteration and he challenges the person who finds his book to do the same and pass it on. This call to be authentic inspires the cafe owner, Monica, to write her vulnerable truth and leave the book for someone else to find. Soon, the book has traveled around the world and back, bringing together an eclectic group of six individuals in ways none of them could have anticipated.

I saw this book on the shelf as I was heading to check out at the library and grabbed it on impulse without much expectation. It was such a delightful surprise! It’s quirky, fun, engaging, and lighthearted gem of a book that carries unexpected depth as well. I absolutely flew through it and didn’t want it to end. The characters are all interesting and lovable and I came to care about every single one of them. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like they are your friends; I was ready to fly to London and pop into Monica’s cafe to join in a meal with everyone. This is the perfect choice for when you want a beach read but with a little depth and I highly recommend it!

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Spanning the 1950’s Cold War era, this book takes the unique narrative of not only alternating points of view, but also alternating geographical regions. In the East, we hear from Olga, the mistress and muse of write Boris Pasternak who is sent to a labor camp for refusing to divulge information about his work.  In the West, we hear from Irina and Sally, two very different women both being used by the CIA to covertly obtain and distribute Pasternak’s masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, back into the Soviet UnionThere are also chapters narrated by other characters, sometimes even a collective group of typists with an ambiguous narrator, and it’s a fascinating, addicting read. It gave me vibes of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo meets The Golden Hour with a splash of The Alice Network and Winter Garden. It felt familiar, yet unique in its own way. As I said earlier, I love reading historical fiction based on people, places, and events I don’t know much about; I knew very little about life behind the Iron Curtain and I found myself constantly putting down the book to quickly Google one of the characters or events mentioned to learn a little more.

The first 2/3 of the book was fantastic, but I have to say that the last 1/3 tapered off for me. I was still enjoying the book, but I found myself skimming a little more and not being quite as interested. I’m not sure why? I think the plot slowed down, which was disappointing and even a bit boring at times? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me? If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know if you felt the same way! Overall, I thought this book was really good (can’t believe it’s a debut novel!) and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a compelling work of biographical fiction.

 

And that’s a wrap on a great month of reading. I’m hoping that our library opens back up in May, because I’m really anxious to get some of the books I’m on the wait list for. Fingers crossed!

My Updated List of Book Recommendations

I have always loved to read and over the years, I’ve read many, many books. Friends and family frequently reach out to me to get recommendations, and it’s always a little tricky because there are so many books I’ve loved throughout the years that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to everyone. We all have different tastes and preferences and it can even depend on what kind of mood you’re in with whether or not you like a book.

Last year, I wrote up a post with all my top recommendations and it was super helpful to reference whenever people asked for a rec. I’ve been meaning to update the list with books I’ve read since then that I also highly recommend – since so many of us are social distancing at home these days, it felt like a great time to update the list!

I do want to reiterate the disclaimer that I think it’s also helpful to read my previous book reviews and see if you agree with my take on books that you have also read. If you find yourself nodding along to my reviews because you felt similarly when reading, we likely have similar taste. If you find yourself frequently saying “what was so great about that book? I thought it was boring” or “she’s crazy – how did she not enjoy that book? I thought it was brilliant” then maybe we just have different styles and you might not like my recommendations. Different strokes, different folks and all that 😉

With all that being said, here are my TOP recommendations!

MY VERY FAVORITES

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman (easy to read yet captivating and meaningful. As my fellow book lover friend Kaitlin described – “a beach read with depth”)

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

-Basically anything written by Kate Morton. The Lake House, The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton, The Secret Keeper, The Distant Hours  – they are just phenomenal historical fiction! If I had to choose one to start, I’d say The Secret Keeper.

General Fiction

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (read first)

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams (read second; they aren’t technically sequels but I would still read them in that order)

Defending Jacob by William Landry

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

-My Grandmother Asked me to Tell you She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (read first)

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio (read second)

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

“Beach” Reads + RomComs

– The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

If You Only Knew by Kristin Higgins

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan (the last one is my favorite!)

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

-The Haven Point Series by RaeAnne Thayne (Hallmark movies in book form – a little cheesy and predictable but sweet and fun)

Psychological Thriller/Mysteries

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins (I feel like everyone has read it by now, but when it came out it blew my mind!)

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond (creepy and cult-like)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Final Girls by Riley Sager (part psychological thriller, part homage to campy-slasher movies)

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

-The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

The Glass Ocean by  Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

World War Two Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (this book does get very heavy and difficult to read at times)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Young Adult

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The War that Saved my Life (#1), The War I Finally Won (#2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (this is a series!)

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

-Harry Potter (because it should be on every list)

Nonfiction: Self-Help

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

-Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

-To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

Nonfiction: Memoirs and Biographies

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Becoming by Michelle Obama

-Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Educated by Tara Westover

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

 

Happy reading!