April 2022 Book Reviews

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

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

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

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

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

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2022 Book Reviews

Happy Wednesday and happy book review day!

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

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

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

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

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

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

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

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

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

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

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

February 2022 Book Reviews

Another month, another round of fun reads!

Even though February is a short month, I was able to fit in three books: a rom com, a domestic thriller, and an ensemble-cast novel that gave me Love Actually vibes. I have a lot of thoughts about each one so let’s just go ahead and jump right in.

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

Party-girl LA socialite Piper Bellinger goes a little too far with hosting an illegal rooftop party as a way to save face after a breakup, which results in her wealthy stepfather finally putting his foot down. Her punishment? Learning the value of hard work and money by taking over her late father’s run down dive bar in a small coastal town in Washington. There, she meets Brendan, a rugged sea captain who is immediately unimpressed and wants nothing to do with the snooty girl in the impractical shoes. But the town is small and Piper and Brendan can’t seem to stop running into one another, leading them to realize that maybe their first impressions weren’t quite right after all.

I went in with high hopes for this one but ultimately wasn’t as impressed with it as I’d hoped to be. For an enemies-to-lovers trope, I thought the relationship twisted pretty quickly from hate to love, and I felt like the character growth was pretty shallow despite the fact that the book is 380+ pages (waaaaay too long for a rom com like this in my opinion). I found myself only moderately interested in the characters and their dynamic and this book falls pretty mid-range for me. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. It’s worth nothing that this book is definitely rated-R for some very very steamy scenes so if that’s not your thing, I would avoid this one. All that being said, I am very interested in reading the next book that comes out in March! It will feature two of the side characters from this book and based on what I know already I think the character development and depth of relationship is going to be much stronger and I’m already invested!

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Nestled on the main street of a small town just outside of London, Nightingale Books has been a beloved haven for residents for decades. The owner, Julius, always had a knack for making people feel welcome and knowing just what books to recommend. It’s not until after his death, when his daughter Emilia inherits the bookshop, that it becomes evident just how much financial trouble the shop is in. Faced with some tough decisions about the future of the shop, Emilia can’t help but also see how big an impact her father and his shop had on so many people. As stories emerge of ways he impacted their lives, and customers both new and old come into the shop with their hopes, dreams, joys, and sorrows, the little world of Nightingale Books comes alive. Can Emilia really bear to part with it?

This book reminded me of Love Actually – it’s like the literary version of an ensemble-cast movie. There are a lot of characters and little subplots that all intertwine and connect to the bookshop in one way or another. Some storylines are given a lot of space to grow and develop, while we just see small snippets of others. It took me a bit of time to get used to the story jumping between subplots, and also to sort out the characters in my mind, but once I did I really enjoyed this book. The setting is completely charming: a quaint and cozy bookshop nestled in a small English village? When can I visit!? It is definitely a slower, character-driven plot so if you’re looking for a fast-paced or mindless read, this probably isn’t it, but I enjoyed all the unique storylines and how they wove together. I found the book to be both heartwarming and satisfying and my little book-loving heart savored it.

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

In a quiet suburban neighborhood in Melbourne, neighbors smile, wave, and politely exchange small talk. But how well do they really know what is going on in one another’s lives and homes? There’s Essie, who in a desperate act of postpartum depression, once left her first baby unattended in a park and is now a sleep-deprived mother of two. There’s Fran, who has been living for months with a pit of dread in her stomach that her world might unravel at any moment. There’s Ange, who hit the #jackpot with a hot husband who is a devoted father and does all the right things. And then there’s the new neighbor Isabelle: no kids, no partner, and an outlier for the type of person who chooses to live in this neighborhood. Is it just a coincidence that she is renting here? Or is her presence very, very deliberate?

I’ll tell you one thing: Sally Hepworth is climbing the ranks to becoming one of my favorite authors. I just never quite know what I’m getting into with her books and they all leave me spellbound! I flew through this book in half a day – I just couldn’t put it down. It’s not scary or gory or anything, just a true domestic mystery (I’d even call it a light thriller) with some surprising twists. I was invested in each storyline and uncovering the secrets inside each household – at one point my jaw even dropped! The characters are all flawed, but real, and it was really interesting to see how they all dealt with the complicated things happening in their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would definitely recommend, especially if you enjoyed other books by this author.

My March stack of books is already piling up and I’m really excited about a couple of the reads. I have a good feeling that it’s about to be another great month of reading!

January 2022 Book Reviews

I am slowly getting back into the swing of things around here! January had us taking it easy – I didn’t do many projects, read many books, or post much of anything on the blog. We had a lot going on in our family and it was important to take a step back and just focus on other things that needed my attention. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past weekend I started back up with projects: on Saturday I helped my sister lay flooring in her kitchen and on Sunday, I continued work on the guest room stencil. It has felt really good to get back into projects and I’m excited to get back into the blog as well, starting with one of my favorite things to post – the monthly book review!

In January I was able to read two books: a fun rom com and a twisty-turny thriller. I really enjoyed them both, so let’s dive in!

Shipped by Angie Hockman

Shipped by [Angie Hockman]

Henley’s professional dreams are on the brink of coming true: a director of marketing position is up for grabs at the cruise line she works for and she is on the short list. The only problem is the other contender is Graeme, the co-worker who has been making her life difficult since the moment he started working remotely with the company. To decide who gets the promotion, their boss sends them on a cruise to the Galapagos with a mission: draft a proposal on how to boost more bookings to this location. They’re assigned to the same cruise, which means that after bickering via email for years, they will finally meet each other face to face.

I saw a description that said this book is “The Hating Game meets The Unhoneymooners” and since I enjoyed both of those books I was immediately intrigued. Now having read the book, I would agree that it’s very much in line with those other books! It’s full of thoroughly enjoyable elements: fun and witty banter between the likeable main characters, a setting that gives you the travel bug, and some side characters adding interest and entertainment to the plot. I enjoy an enemies-to-lovers trope and came to love Henley and Graeme and their dynamic. I also appreciated some of the deeper themes of the book, specifically related to the workplace culture and female friendships. I kind of wished that I had saved it for summer because honestly, it would make for an excellent vacation/summer read but it was still fun to read even in January. There is a very small amount of language and I would say a moderate level of steam (more than a kiss, less than the open door scenes in The Hating Game or The Unhoneymooners). Overall, this one was a win for me and definitely ranks up there in rom coms!

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Rock Paper Scissors: A Novel by [Alice Feeney]

Adam and Amelia have hit an extended rough patch in their marriage and after Amelia wins a weekend away at a restored church in Scotland, it seems like the getaway might be the last chance to save their marriage. But as soon as they arrive, things seem off. There is no host to be seen, the church is incredibly remote, and it starts to become evident that winning this trip was no coincidence. Will their marriage survive this weekend? Will they both survive this weekend?

I’ve never read a book by this author before but I’m already a fan after this thriller! The twists and turns felt like an absolute roller coaster: I went back and forth so many times trying to figure out what was going on and what the Adam and Amelia’s motivations were. I loved that the flashbacks to earlier times were shared in the form of anniversary letters written each year – it added a unique component to the writing and to figuring out the dynamic of the marriage. The characters are very flawed, and as a reader I sympathized with them in some aspects but also found them to be incredibly unlikeable in others. It made it hard to know who to “root for” or who to suspect if that makes sense, which just added to the twisty nature of the plot. I thought I had this book figured out multiple times, but I was still shocked (and at one point, even a little disturbed) by the revelations. It’s not gory or even really psychological, just truly a thriller from start to finish. I flew through it and definitely recommend!

After a lighter reading month in January, I’m excited to tackle my TBR list in earnest in February. As always, if you have any great recs, please send them my way!

December 2021 Book Reviews: Part Two

The first book reviews of 2022 are here! Earlier in December, I shared reviews for the first half of the month since many of them were holiday themed. You can read all about the books I read and their reviews here. Today I’m covering the three books I read in the second half of the month: two holiday reads and one memoir. Let’s dive in!

Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes

Christmas in Paris: A Novel by [Anita Hughes]

After calling off her wedding a week earlier, Isabel decides to go on her Parisian honeymoon by herself. While enjoying the view from her hotel balcony, she accidentally locks herself out of her room and luckily is rescued by Alec, the Frenchman staying in the room next door. Alec is also nursing a broken heart after a failed engagement and the two start to spend time together. When they run into a fortune teller in a street market in Paris, her prediction makes Isabel causes Isabel to become singularly focused on finding a way to make that prediction, and her happily ever after, come true.

I do not like to be super negative with reviews, but wow oh wow I did not enjoy this book. This was very nearly a Did Not Finish for me. There was way too much time spent on Alec and Isabel’s flashbacks to their previous relationships and not nearly enough time spent on present-day relationship development to make it feel believable. The plot was unrealistic and jumped all over the place and the characters seemed superficial and shallow. I found myself getting especially annoyed with Isabel – she seemed fickle and immature both in her previous relationships and in her present day self. There’s a lot of luxury and Parisian references, but it didn’t feel particularly Christmas-y and there were too many aspects of the plot that just felt trivial and bizarre to me. I unfortunately cannot recommend this one at all.

Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday

Duke, Actually: A Novel by [Jenny Holiday]

Dani Martinez is post-men. After her soon-to-be-ex-husband left her for a woman twenty years his junior, she has decided to shift her focus away from men and dating and onto getting tenure at her job as a professor while preparing to be the best woman in her best friend Leo’s wedding. Max, or rather, Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the Duke of Aquilla, is also going to be in the wedding, which some may consider surprising since he was formerly engaged to the bride-to-be. While there was no love lost in that failed engagement, Max has no interest in fulfilling his family’s wishes and marrying their next choice in bride. Still, he goes to New York to pretend to care about his parent’s wishes and there he meets up with Dani. The two strike up a platonic friendship that continues to grow over time. As the wedding approaches and they become more and more important to one another, it seems like the friendship may in fact have grown into something more.

Once I started reading, I realized that the author had previously written a book about the love story of Leo and Marie, the couple getting married in this one. Dani and Max were both in that book, and it seems like they even met briefly there, so at first it did feel like I missed a step. It wasn’t really a big deal, and once the story got going it didn’t matter, but there were a few references to the past book and how they initially met that threw me off a tiny bit. Despite that, I enjoyed this book. It is set around Christmas time and does have Christmas-y references, but Christmas is not a central part of the book. Instead, it’s all about Max and Dani and how they develop a close friendship that turns into something more. I am a sucker for a best-friends-to-lovers storyline – Justin and I were really close friends before we ever started dating, so these storylines have a special place in my heart. I loved Dani, I loved Max, I loved how they supported one another, I loved the character development, I loved the side characters, I loved picturing the setting in Aquilla. I found it to be an enjoyable holiday(ish) rom com! It does fall in the rated-R category for some steamy scenes. I thought Max and Dani were convincing and charismatic and I was rooting for them the whole time. I enjoyed it!

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In this memoir, Michelle explores her childhood memories of growing up in Oregon as one of the few Korean children in the community, traveling to Seoul in the summers to visit her mothers family, and her relationship with her now-deceased mother over the years. Through vast descriptions of Korean food and culture, she weaves stories of her life, family, grief, hope, personal dreams, and identity.

This book was chosen by my book club and I had high hopes for it. It’s on tons of bestseller lists, I’ve seen rave reviews online, I’ve heard podcast interviews with the author – it was all set up in my mind to be an astonishing memoir to read. And in reality, it was . . . fine. Many members of my book club agreed: there’s nothing wrong with it, but we couldn’t quite understand why it was so hyped up? While the author has found success in an Indie rock band, none of us had ever heard of her before so we were starting from ground zero. There are a lot of Korean food references, and as someone who is not a big fan of Korean food, I wasn’t interested in that much of it. It feels kind of strange critiquing a memoir like this because it was clearly very personal for the author, who vulnerably writes about so much of her life and family. I did enjoy reading about the mother-daughter dynamic and their family in general, and the way the author writes about her grief is both touching and relatable. I didn’t not like this book, but I think it was too overhyped in my mind and definitely didn’t live up to the high standards. It’s a solid mid-range memoir for sure, and if you are a fan of the author’s music or particularly interested in Korean food and culture, it’s worth checking out. But if those things don’t interest you, the book may be overhyped for you as well.

What have you been reading lately?

December 2021 Book Reviews: Part One

What’s this? A book review round up happening in the middle of a month? Yep – I’m mixing things up in December!

Christmas Eve is only one week away and I’ve been deep in the holiday reads over here. Last month I split up my book reviews into holiday reads vs. non-holiday reads and I was inspired to do something somewhat similar this month. I thought I’d split the month in half again but this time, split the first half and second half up. There are a few books so far this month that I really enjoyed and I thought it made the most sense to share them now instead of the end of the month to give you time to read one if you want before the holidays.

I’ve read six holiday books so far this month and since they’re all basically in the same genre, I kept with my “grade” ratings to distinguish where they fell for me overall. Let’s jump in!

Let it Snow by Nancy Thayer

Nantucket native Christina owns a little toy shop in a small shed on the wharf and is dismayed to find that her shed, along with the sheds where three of her friends house their businesses, have been bought by a wealthy old man who plans to increase the rent in the new year, effectively driving them out of business. Christina is determined to save her shop and appeal to the wealthy owner, who just so happens to have a darling grandchild and very handsome bachelor son that she quickly forms special bonds with. Can she save her shop, and possibly find the love she’s always dreamed of, in time for Christmas?

If I’m being honest, I almost quit at several points and barely made it through this book. I found the pace to be super slow and the writing to be overly descriptive about unimportant things – I feel like I know every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner that Christina ate. I didn’t think the characters, main or side, were developed enough, and the romance felt rushed and hard to believe. I just couldn’t get invested in it! I’m truly not trying to rip this book apart – I could see how a different person could find it to be a cute holiday slow burn in the realm of a sweet but cheesy Hallmark movie. It’s a pretty clean romance and Nantucket always makes for a charming setting. It might be a win for others, but I found myself to be pretty bored the whole time and give it a C- rating.

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

The Holiday Swap by [Maggie Knox]

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell—both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over. With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track? (synopsis taken from Amazon)

I had to make a few conscious concessions when reading this book, the number one thing being: overlook the fact that these women are apparently so identical that no one in their lives noticed they switched places. Not only does no one notice, but every bizarre thing they do as one another gets written off without much question. It’s a bit implausible, and seems a little silly and immature to switch places as adults, but if you can get past that, this is an entertaining read! Charlie and Cass are spirited sisters, Jake and Miguel are both really likeable, the quaint little hometown makes for an appealing backdrop, and all the baking references add to a festive and cozy atmosphere. It’s a little cheesy and predictable in that Hallmark-y way, but I found it to be a whimsical, sweet, gratifying, feel-good clean romance. I’m giving this one an A- rating!

Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

Ever since moving back to her hometown of Blexford, England, Kate has found fulfillment in living near her dad, engaging with her friends and community, and working as a fabric designer for her dream company. The only downfall is, her dating life in the small village hasn’t exactly been thrilling. When a dating agency’s Twelve Dates of Christmas event comes around, it seems like it might be the answer: three weeks until Christmas and twelve romantic and fun dates with handsome single men. Full of hope, Kate pays the fee and signs up for twelve dates, but as each one becomes more disastrous and disappointing than the last, the whole town becomes invested in Kate’s journey to discover love in time for Christmas.

The premise of this book got me so excited. A woman goes on multiple dates to find love while living in a charming British village at Christmas? Sign me up! I did love Kate and her dating mishaps, the quaint and festive setting, the cheeky British humor, and the overall concept. Unfortunately, it fell short of my hopeful expectations for one big reason: I found her best friend Matt to be supremely unlikeable. I get that they were supposed to have like a banter-y relationship where the arguing is a actually a chemistry thing, but it wasn’t endearing to me and I found myself turned off to his character on multiple occasions. It was also a bit too long for me (again, I get it, twelve dates is a lot to write about!) I feel like there were ways to trim it down, but then again there are probably readers who enjoyed all the descriptions and extra characters. In fact, if I had liked Matt at all, I probably wouldn’t have minded the length! As it is, I can’t give this book more than a B rating, which is sad because it had so much potential.

Christmas at Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Christmas in Peachtree Bluff (The Peachtree Bluff Series Book 4) by [Kristy Woodson Harvey]

The Murphy women – matriarch Ansley and daughters Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson – are a close knit bunch. So when Caroline is struggling with a difficult divorce and the rebellious response of her teenaged daughter Vivi, she turns to her mother for help. As the “storm of the century” approaches the coastal town of Peachtree Bluff, Georgia a few weeks before Christmas, it’s decided that Ansley and her husband Jack will keep Vivi and take her on their planned vacation to Australia while the rest of the family evacuates to New York until the storm passes. But when Vivi’s reckless behavior causes her, Ansley, and Jack to miss their chance to get out of the storm’s path, they have to shelter in place in a dangerous hurricane. With no other way to access Peachtree Bluff by land or air, the Murphy sisters take Caroline’s boat and embark on a rescue mission to get back to their family and help rebuild their town in time for Christmas.

This is actually the fourth book in the Peachtree Bluff series, but I had never read the first three books and think this book can stand on its own. That being said, I think it did kind of work against me because I didn’t have prior feelings about the Murphy women to endear me to them. The women are layered and real, which is great, but it was hard for me to get past a few of their character flaws sometimes. It might have helped if I had previous experience with the characters! I did love the coastal small town setting, I liked the alternating narrative perspectives, and I liked that there was such a focus on family dynamics. I appreciated that it felt like a fresh Christmas story as the hurricane brought in a unique plot line leading up to the holidays. This book definitely feels very Southern – it’s sweet, a little cheesy at times, and ultimately satisfying. I give it a B+ rating.

A Cross-Country Christmas by Courtney Walsh

Lauren Richmond hasn’t gone home for Christmas in years. Part of it has to do with her parents’ tumultuous relationship and part of it has to do with an extreme fear of flying. But when her brother begs her to come home for the birth of his first baby, Lauren can’t say no. Unfortunately for her, the only last minute option available is catching a ride home with her brother’s best friend, and her long-time childhood crush, Will Sinclair. Still harboring hurt from an incident with Will ten years before, Lauren is determined to keep her heart closed off during the long trip from California to Illinois. But Will has changed a lot in the past decade and Lauren starts to find it harder and harder to convince herself not to open herself up to him again.

Out of all the books I read this month, I think this one might edge out the others as my favorite. I love a good enemies-to-lovers story (although this one is more like unrequited childhood crush with a one-sided grudge to lovers) and found this one to be entertaining from start to finish. I loved the dynamic between Lauren and Will and I loved that we got to have narration from both of them. The banter was lively, the relationship was believable, the pace was perfect, and I thought the character development was great. It’s charming, it’s heartwarming, it’s emotional, it’s fun. It’s also a clean romance. This is a great choice if you want to get into the Christmas spirit but don’t want a book that is overloaded with it – the holidays and festivities were definitely there but they’re secondary to Lauren and Will’s relationship. It was just a delightful little read to curl up next to the tree with. I don’t often finish a book thinking “I hope this gets made into a movie” but well . . . I hope this gets made into a movie. It’s definitely A, maybe even A+ range in my book. (Note: it’s a self-published title, so many libraries do not carry it. I had to actually order it on Amazon, and I’m not sure there is another way to access it at this point).

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt comes from a prominent Jewish family and has always strived to maintain her image of a Nice Jewish Girl, but deep down she’s hiding a big secret: she deeply loves Christmas. She loves it so much that she’s actually become a bestselling Christmas author writing under a pen name! But when her publisher demands a book about Hanukkah, she’s uninspired. Hanukkah isn’t merry and magical like Christmas, but she’s determined to come up with something. When her first love (and heartbreak) Jacob Greenberg returns to New York to coordinate the first-ever Matzah Ball, which promises to be glamourous and like nothing else ever seen in the Jewish community, she knows she has to attend. Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since their brief summer camp romance years ago, but in working together on the Matzah Ball, they realize that the spark they had years ago is still very much alive, if only they trust can one another to not repeat the heartbreak from years ago.

Wow – I loved this one! I felt very out of my depth with all the Jewish references, but the author does a good job of subtly explaining most of the Hebrew phrases, names, and traditions so you’re not completely lost. I enjoyed learning more about Jewish culture. I loved Rachel and Jacob individually and together and I loved the families and friends and rich sense of community and tradition woven into their lives. I really appreciated that this was a rom com with quite a bit of depth- child abandonment, chronic illness, trusting the love and acceptance your family provides, identity, etc. It was funny and entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It satisfied my need for a festive read -fun, touching, and memorable. I really recommend this one – solid A rating for this holiday read!

Believe it or not, I still have a few more festive reads on my list to check off before the holidays get here. I’m still enjoying immersing myself in holiday spirit, but I’m also getting ready to branch out into other genres again so the second half of the month will be more of a mix. Stay tuned for more reviews coming in two weeks!

November 2021 Books: Part Two

If you caught my blog post yesterday, you know that I read twelve books in November, which was just too much for one review post! Yesterday I reviewed the seven non-holiday books I read (check out that post here) and today, I’m reviewing the five holiday books I read last month.

Let me preface this post by saying that I know the majority of holiday books are cheesy and Hallmark-y. That’s not everyone’s thing and I get it! I don’t mind little cheese, especially when it comes to a holiday read, and I just accept that it comes with the territory. I make a lot of allowances for the sake of festivity so consider yourself warned haha. Okay, let’s jump in!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Susan Meier

Eloise Vaughn is without family, flat broke, and in desperate need of a job. Ricky Langley is grieving and in desperate need of being left alone – no more questions about how he’s doing from concerned friends, no more attempts to set him up with every available woman. When Eloise and Ricky happen to meet at a party, an idea starts to form: Eloise will pretend to be Ricky’s date for the twelve social events he has coming up so people think he’s moving on and stop pitying him. In exchange, he will send out Eloise’s information to various business contacts and help her get a job. No need to get feelings involved, because this is a mutually beneficial business transaction. Simple, right?

Truthfully, this book was an accidental pickup (I meant to check out a different book with the exact same title) but I decided to give it a try anyways. It’s a pretty standard handsome-billionaire-meets-gorgeous-but-broke-woman story that stays in the PG-ish range the whole time. It felt like a Lifetime Christmas movie (not Hallmark haha, the vibes are a little different I think!) I personally needed a bit more substance to make the story and relationship work but it was ok for a holiday read. It reminded me of something you pick up in a random place like a grocery store or out of the stack of books left behind at a vacation rental home – it’s fine, but nothing remarkable and kind of like other books you’ve probably heard of or read when you just wanted to read something. I put it in the C+/maybe B- range: an easy to skim, fairly festive romance with a predictable premise.

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery

Christmas on 4th Street: An Anthology (Fool's Gold Book 13) by [Susan Mallery]

Noelle loves her town, her friends, and her little store, The Christmas Attic. There’s just one thing missing in her life: love. Gabriel Boylan is nursing an injury and taking a break from his job as an army doctor to visit his family in Fool’s Gold. He doesn’t feel much like celebrating Christmas, but when he meets Noelle and starts working in her store, things start to change for him.

Anytime the characters have holiday themed names (like Mary, Holly, Joy, etc) I know I’m in for a seriously festive, and likely somewhat cheesy, read. When I saw the main characters here were Noelle and Gabriel…let’s just say my expectations were set. Ha! It also had a lot of ultra-festive elements: Noelle owns a Christmas store, their little town has festivals every week, and there is a surprise triple wedding being planned for right after the Christmas Eve. I often love elements like that but this book fell really flat for me. The characters were alright, but not especially developed, and even though you kind of expect the romance to happen fast, this felt a bit over the top. It was also definitely at least PG-13 (no open door scenes per say but a lot was alluded to). This book is a bestseller on Amazon so a lot of people liked it, but for me, it was another C+ choice. It’s one of those books in a romance series about all the townspeople (I’m pretty sure the triple wedding were all relationships from previous books) and you can definitely tell there are hints of future stories being set up in this one. I won’t be reading any more from this author but there are a lot more options from her if you liked this one!

Christmas at Silver Falls by Jenny Hale

Christmas at Silver Falls: A heartwarming, feel good Christmas romance by [Jenny Hale]

Scarlett Bailey loves celebrating Christmas at White Oaks, the historic inn that her grandmother runs and lives in. Unfortunately, due to plummeting profits and the high cost of upkeep, it’s looking like this might be the last Christmas there and the family will have to sell. That is, unless she can convince Charlie Bryant, a successful property developer who is back in town after years away, to invest in the inn.

With a family Christmas in a cozy and festive inn and a charming little town with interesting side characters and plots, this book feels like a good one for reading next to the Christmas tree with a comfortable blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. Of course, as with nearly every holiday read, there is a certain amount of cheesiness, but the characters felt developed enough and the romance didn’t feel overly rushed and stayed in the PG range. I was rooting for Scarlett and Charlie and also invested in saving the inn! I enjoyed picturing the setting: the town, the inn, the snowy scene around Charlie’s cabin. I could see how some readers might think there were too many side characters but I loved the dynamics within Scarlett’s family and her friends in town and thought it enhanced the story. There are a few things in the plot that didn’t feel entirely realistic, but overall it was a sweet and festive holiday escape that I’d put it in the B+ range.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Every year, Maelyn’s family spends the Christmas holiday with friends that feel like family at a cabin in Utah. It’s normally her favorite week of the year but this year, she not only received the devastating news that the cabin is being sold, but she also made a huge mistake that has potentially ruined her biggest romantic hopes and dreams. Mae is in a state of distress and regret as she leaves with her family, and while in the car she throws out a plea to the universe: “Show me what will make me happy!” In an instant, tires squeal and metal crunches, but instead of waking up in a hospital, she wakes up on the plane…on the way TO the cabin and a holiday week that now hasn’t happened yet. Given the miraculous chance of a do-over, Mae is determined to save the cabin and pursue the romance she really wants.

I’ll just go ahead and say that time loops are not really my thing. I don’t like how unrealistic they make a story and the Groundhog Day repetitive nature is not my favorite. I wish this story could’ve been written in a different way without the time loop. But setting those feelings aside, I did ultimately enjoy this book. Again, I love a good story with family coming together at the holidays, and even though these were family friends, not relatives, I really enjoyed the group dynamics. These people have known each other for years and years and I felt like I knew them all too. I loved the comfort, familiarity, and humor! I liked that the activities were festive but a little different – there’s no small town festival or big holiday event, instead it’s things like sledding and building snow creatures. The romance felt realistic, relatable, and fun and I was definitely rooting for it to succeed (I’d say it’s rated R for open door scenes and language). I have a little beef with a few aspects of the storyline but not enough to take away from my overall enjoyment; I just accepted that there were some cheesy or unrealistic aspects and went with it. I would give this an A- holiday read rating!

An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Due to dwindling financial resources and a mother who is threatening to cut him off, carefree bachelor Richard Brockwell returns to his home of Ivy Hill for Christmas. While Richard does not exactly have Christmas spirit in his heart, he does find that a few unexpected people are finding a way to that very heart, most notably an orphan boy and a childhood friend, Arabella Awdry. Though Arabella does not have interest in being pursued by someone with the notoriety that Richard has, neither one can deny that there is something there.

I picked this up from the display of Christmas books at our library based on the cover alone. A festive historical romance? Sign me up. This story felt like the PG, Christian romance version of A Christmas Carol – Richard is super selfish and stingy but slowly starts to have a heart change to becoming more warm, generous, and kind. There is definitely a religious aspect to this book, although I wouldn’t say it’s done super strongly. It was fun to see the festive activities through a historic lens – the way they took an actual horse and sleigh ride or decorated the house with real greenery throughout and went around caroling. There were a few side plots that kept the story from feeling too one-dimensional and I especially liked the historic setting. It was a nice change of pace from the more contemporary holiday reads I chose this month and I’d give it a solid B rating.

I have specifically been saving a few more holiday reads for December, so I’m excited to continue the festive reads a little longer! What are you reading this month?

November 2021 Books: Part One

November was a big month for reading. And when I say big, I mean BIG! So big that I decided I just cannot pack everything into one single blog post and I’ve decided to divide this month up into two parts.

I’m in between home projects, plus we had some sickness in our family that kept us home for a while and I also read over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend so all in all, I finished twelve books this month. Five of them were Christmas-themed books, so I decided to split up my review posts into non-holiday reads and holiday reads. Today I’m reviewing all seven of the non-holiday books I read this month – there were no dud reads for me and there’s a lot to discuss so let’s get to it!

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

The time has come for the Adler family, including twelve-year-old Edward, to complete their move from New York to LA. They board a plane in Newark along with 180 other passengers who all have their own unique reasons to fly to California. Unfortunately, halfway across the country, the plane crashes, leaving Edward the only survivor. This poignant novel alternates between the perspectives of various passengers during the flight and Edward in present time as he struggles to navigate his new life after the crash.

As a nervous flier myself, I was hesitant to pick up a book about a plane crash, but I found this to be an incredibly thought-provoking and touching story of life and loss (and did not make me more afraid to fly after reading). It was hard to put down and made me feel all the feels – sadness, despair, hope, it’s even a bit uplifting believe it or not. The characters are all so vivid and realistic! Seeing how others around Edward deal with the aftermath of the crash, watching Edward grow and cope, meeting the passengers and getting glimpses of their lives in the hours prior to the crash, it’s all just very raw and real and is told in a way that does not feel like fiction. This was a truly unforgettable read about loss, hope, and healing` that will stay with me for a long long time. Highly recommend!

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary: A Novel by [Sarah Penner]

Concealed behind a false wall in a little shop on an inconspicuous back alley in 18th century London, Nella works as an apothecary. She dispenses medicines to heal . . . and also, occasionally, kill. She has vowed to never use her poisons to harm another woman, but while a young girl, Eliza, is spending time in her shop, a string of events unfolds that will change things for Nella and Eliza forever. In present day London, Caroline stumbles across a tiny vial along the River Thames that leads her on a quest to find answers – and the mysterious apothecary.

I absolutely devoured this book! It’s told in alternating perspectives from Nella, Eliza, and Caroline and while I didn’t find Caroline or much of her storyline to be especially likeable, I could not get enough of Nella and Eliza. I feel like I constantly have the travel bug in this seemingly-endless pandemic, but this book especially made me wish I could travel to Europe. Imagining 18th century London and the world where Nella and Eliza lived was so interesting to me! I did love the hunt that Caroline embarked on to find answers – it made me want to just pore over old maps and other archived documents in an old library somewhere. I was impressed that this was a debut novel, but at the same time, it was not without flaws for that same reason. I don’t want to specify my critiques too specifically to avoid giving anything away, but I’ll just say I think there were a few things that needed to be added, and a few that could’ve been left out, in order to make this a complete home run. All in all, it was still a really enjoyable read and I do recommend it!

Tightrope by Amanda Quick

Tightrope by [Amanda Quick]

After a haunting near-death experience, former trapeze artist Amalie moved to the exclusive celebrity town of Burning Cove and poured all her money into buying a mansion to turn into a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately for her, the mansion is the site of a previous death and when her first guest is murdered by his own robot invention, the mansion gets a reputation for being cursed. One person who doesn’t buy into the curse is Matthias – he knows that there was more to that now-missing robot than meets the eye and he’s determined to retrieve it. Though she suspects he has ties to the criminal underworld, Amalie has to decide if she can trust Matthias enough to work together (and explore their mutual attraction?) and find the missing machine before someone much more dangerous does.

Back in September I read another book from the Burning Cove series and enjoyed it well enough to try another book. In a lot of ways, this book felt very similar. There are overlapping side characters, the death in the first book I read was at the mansion featured in this book, and there was the same vibe of 1930’s Hollywood glitz and glamour combined with gangsters and danger. There are again a few plot details that feel a little far-fetched or side plots that felt unnecessary, but I mostly enjoyed the twists and turns. Even though I did guess some parts, it was still a decent read. I liked the dynamic between Matthias and Amalie (there are two or three fairly brief but steamy scenes that you can see coming and could skip if you prefer) and enjoyed seeing some of the same characters from the previous book I read. I think overall, this series falls in like a B+ range for me. I’m not hooked enough to continue to seek out more in the series at this point, but if I come across another Burning Cove book in the library, I wouldn’t mind reading it.

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

After all commercial flights from Salt Lake City to Denver are cancelled due to a winter storm, Dr. Ben Payne is able to charter a small private plane to fly around the storm and keep him on track to get back home in time for work the next day. There’s an extra seat on the plane so he invites Ashley Knox, whom he met in the airport and knows is trying to get home in time for her wedding, to join. Unfortunately, the pilot has a deadly heart attack mid-flight and crash lands in the middle of a vast wilderness. Ashley and Ben survive the crash, but Ashley has a fractured leg, Ben has broken ribs, they have no food, the winter weather is harsh, and they didn’t tell anyone about the charter flight . . . meaning no one else on earth even knows where to look for them. Ben slowly nurses Ashley back to better health and starts a long and harrowing journey to try and get them out of the wilderness, all while leaving messages in a recorder for his wife. As Ashley overhears his tender messages, she realizes that her own impending marriage feels like settling and there might be more out there for her – if they survive the wilderness.

I can’t believe I read not one but two books about a plane crash this month but again, this one didn’t make me feel more afraid to fly because of how specific the crash situation was. I also don’t generally like man-vs-wild survival stories, but I found myself slowly becoming more and more invested in this one. It was a little strange to have interruptions to the present time when Ben was reminiscing to his wife in the recorder on their shared past, but I got used to it. It also helped that the entire book wasn’t just trying to survive in the harsh wilderness – it was just long and suspenseful enough to be a convincing story without being too long that it started to drag. I hesitate to say more because while this was recommended to me by a friend, I also saw an influencer on IG recommend it and that person unintentionally said something that was actually a big spoiler for me. I don’t want to do that to you so I’ll just say: a book about a plane crash and wilderness survival is not usually in my wheelhouse but I did enjoy this one! I believe it’s also been made into a movie and I bet that would be an interesting watch.

Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

Love, Comment, Subscribe (Ponto Beach Reunion Book 1) by [Cathy Yardley]

Though she tried to get in with the popular crowd in high school, Lily Wang was firmly planted in a tight-knit group of friends called the Nerd Herd. Now ten years later, she’s a successful beauty YouTuber trying to make it to the five million subscriber mark and get noticed by big beauty brands. Also finding success as a YouTube gamer and prankster is fellow Nerd Herd member Tobin Bui. Though they drove each other crazy in high school, Lily realizes it could be beneficial for the growth of both their careers to team up for a series of crossover videos. When the first one goes viral, they realize they’re on to something and start to work closely together, causing them to realize they not only get along better as friends than they thought, but there also might be something more there too.

Usually I have a rule that a rom com should not be longer than 200-250 pages, but I am willing to make exceptions for the right stories and this book is one of them. It’s pretty long for a rom com but I loved it! I am not a YouTube watcher but it was really fascinating to get a look behind the curtain on how content creators work and all they have to do to achieve success in that world. It felt fresh and relevant and interesting. I also loved both Lily and Tobin and thought they had a really great dynamic (it does get rated R steamy at times). It’s a frenemies-to-lovers plot that also touches on important topics like mental health and figuring out what really matters in life. I was invested in from start to finish! I did get a little tired of Lily’s strange obsession with being popular but I loved their Nerd Herd friend group and was excited to find out that this was actually book one of a series (I think the next book will be published in early 2022) following that group of friends. I will definitely be reading more of this series!

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

I Hope This Finds You Well: Poems by [Kate Baer]

This past February I read and loved Kate Baer’s first book of poetry, What Kind of Woman, so I was very excited to read this book of her “erasure poems.” I believe this all started when she received a negative message from someone and specific words jumped out at her from the message. By whiting out other words, she kept specific words from the negative message and turned it into a poem. Over the years, she did this more and more and eventually, it became this entire book of poems. She has taken negative messages, positive messages, unsolicited MLM messages, and even some speeches from public figures, and turned them into really meaningful poetry. I meant to read this slowly and indulge in her words, but I found I couldn’t put it down and read it in a single sitting! I know I will return to it again though – it’s the kind of poetry that you can come back to again and again and get something different from it each time. I think even those who don’t like or naturally gravitate towards poetry will enjoy this short collection of work and I highly recommend it!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by [Stephen Chbosky]

Written as a diary-style letter to an unknown friend, this book follows observant, socially awkward teenager Charlie as he navigates the confusing world of adolescence, including first dates, new friend groups, parties, substances, family dynamics, and much more. Charlie shares his life in a raw, vulnerable way that is poignant, relatable, and even nostalgic for the reader.

This book was written over twenty years ago and has been a movie for almost a decade, so I am definitely late to the game here. When another reader friend said she read it and loved it, I decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did! It is deep and moving, thought-provoking and memorable. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to hug Charlie and my own teenage self. The style of writing really makes you feel like Charlie is talking to you, and it pulled me right in from the beginning. Though Charlie is young, there are a lot of difficult subjects brought up, including abusive relationships, sex, drugs, suicide, and depression. I feel like the author does a great job of addressing each of these things through Charlie’s eyes in a way that feels true to how a teenaged boy would feel. It’s a quick read but it packs a big punch and I would recommend it!

WHEW!! What a month of reading . . . and I’m not done yet! Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of my November reads and all the festive Christmas cheer that came with them. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying now – I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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!