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? 😉 ) 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 fiancé 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. 😉 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. 😉 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 fiancé, 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.

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!

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!

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?