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?

July 2020 Book Reviews

Somehow, someway, this crazy year that is 2020 just keeps moving along and we’re onto another month and another book review!

I’ve been wanting to challenge myself with some harder, deeper books lately and this month I read some very compelling, meaningful books that I know will stick with me for a long, long time. Let’s dive in!

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How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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

The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.

I would have always said that I was “not racist.” I would have considered myself to be colorblind (“I don’t see color”). Reading this book gave me so much insight into that language though and I now realize that when I was “colorblind,” I really was just oblivious. I was ignorant. And while I may have been “not racist,” I was not actively antiracist. I read this book as part of a virtual book club and it is POWERFUL. It’s really hard for me to summarize because there is so much in this book worth mentioning. I am thankful that I bought my own copy because I was constantly underlining, starring, making notes. Kendi addresses racism in many different areas of society and how it affects everything from policy making to poverty to standardized testing to individual relationships and so much more. It touches on the history of race and racism both globally and in the United States and shines a light on how both systems and individuals play a part. There may be those that disagree with me, but I would say that this book mostly manages to stay apolitical. In addition to a tremendous amount of research noted in the back, Kendi uses examples, both good and bad, on both sides of the political spectrum and even takes a critical look at himself. He writes so vulnerably about the ways in which he has fallen short or needed to grow in his own journey to be antiracist and I feel like that makes it easier for the reader to look critically at him/herself. I had to take a lot of hard looks in the mirror as I read and I feel like this book stretched me and changed me in many ways. It gave me a new lens with which to view the world around me and identify areas for growth. Now for all my gushing, I will say that Kendi is one man. This is by no means the exclusive answer to all the problems within our society and there are many perspectives and platforms to consider. Even so, this is such a valuable resource and I absolutely recommend it to everyone as an incredibly important opportunity to read, reflect, and grow. It is challenging but ultimately I found it to be inspiring and hopeful. I think it is an excellent candidate for book club discussions, or even just reading with a friend to process together. Highly, highly recommend.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Emira, a young black woman, is accused of kidnapping the girl she babysits while the two of them are in a grocery store. The entire confrontation, made by a white grocery shopper and the white security guard, is filmed and the story eventually gets back to Emira’s employer, Alix. Mortified by the situation, Alix tries to rectify the situation by befriending Emira – but is that really her place? And is she handling things as well as she thinks she is?

At first the style of writing felt disjointed to me, and it took me a while to establish a feel for it and get into the story, but once I did, I was hooked. I read this entire book in less than 24 hours! It was especially interesting to read this on the heels of How to Be An Antiracist – that book really did open my eyes to the ways in which so many well-intended “not-racist” behaviors are actually racist. Such a Fun Age was like a case study for exploring the dynamics of race, class, and privilege within relationships, both romantic and professional. The characters’ intentions didn’t always match the outcomes of their actions and it demonstrated the nuances in interactions and how things are rarely just black and white (no pun intended). When I tried coming up with a few adjectives for this book, intriguing, provocative, and engrossing immediately came to mind. I’m not sure if I would have felt this way had I not just read How to Be An Antiracist, (in fact, I know I would’ve viewed some of the interactions and characters differently beforehand!) so I would actually recommend reading both books if you can. But even if you can’t, this book is well worth a read. I think it would be an excellent candidate for a book club discussion on racial inequality and the white savior complex.

One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk

One in a Million: Heartwarming and uplifting, the perfect feelgood, funny romantic read by [Lindsey Kelk]

After several books on the heavier side, I was in the mood for something light and easy and this book seemed like just the thing. In an effort to save her small social media marketing business, Annie accepts a bet: a free month’s rent if she can make a total stranger Instagram famous in 30 days. The only problem is, the chosen target is Dr. Samuel Page, a dry historian with an overgrown beard, a flip phone, and absolutely no interest in social media. Annie is determined to win the bet, so she makes a deal with Sam. Allow her to open the Instagram account, and she will help him win his girlfriend back. Except it isn’t long before Annie realizes she doesn’t want Sam to win back his girlfriend…

I wanted so badly to like this little rom-com, but gosh I just did not. Honestly, I was bored! The pace is so slow and it is really long – I read it on my Kindle and remember looking for my percentage thinking “surely things are going to pick up soon” and I was shocked to see I wasn’t even 25% of the way through the book and it felt like nothing had happened. I also could not really get into the characters or understand Annie and Sam’s dynamic or growing relationship (and I wouldn’t even say that’s a spoiler, because this book is super obviously predictable). I think it was supposed to be endearing and sweet but I can’t really say there was ever a point where I felt super invested or interested in them. There were way too many underdeveloped side characters and stories (one side story seemed like it was going to be more of a thing which would have been interesting but then it just…wasn’t). As a whole, this book was fine if you want a feel-good, somewhat mindless beach read, but I found it to be pretty underwhelming and forgettable.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

Charles and James, two men from very different backgrounds, feel the same call to preaching and end up as co-pastors at a Presbyterian church in New York City in the 1960’s. Their wives come with them, although it soon becomes apparent that they could not be more different. Still, the foursome have a unique bond and navigate the ups and downs of their relationships and faith journeys over the years.

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I dove in without really knowing what to expect. While the book does technically cover multiple decades, it really focuses on their lives in college as Charles and James meet Lily and Nan and are led to divinity school and then the early years of their ministry. This is definitely a slow burn, character-driven story so don’t expect a fast paced plot, but it is really well written and ends up being very thought-provoking. I am a Christian and found it fascinating to think about what faith looks like to different people – how they think about God, how they feel in their callings, how they cope with suffering. I do not think you have to be religious to appreciate this book. There also ended up being a pretty large part of the plot that I didn’t see coming but was super interested in given a specific part of my background (I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling things). I felt like I could relate to each character in a unique way and felt drawn to them all for different reasons. This novel is compelling and moving and rich – definitely recommend.

 

Whew! What a month, huh? I know I’m going to continue processing many of these books for a while. At the same time, I currently have NINE books stacked up on my nightstand waiting to be read so I’m going to be processing these and taking in some more in August. 🙂 What have you been reading lately?

June 2020 Book Reviews

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

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

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

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

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

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

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

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

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

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

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

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

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

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

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

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

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

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

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

The Wives: A Novel by [Tarryn Fisher]

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

Meh.

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

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

May 2020 Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan

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

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

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

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Meet Cute by [Helena Hunting]

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

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

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

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

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

 

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

April 2020 Book Reviews

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

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

The Murmer of Bees by Sofia Segovia

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

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

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

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by [Clare Pooley]

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

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

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

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

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

 

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

March 2020 Book Reviews

In the interest of total transparency, I’m trying something new this month. I’ve always provided a link to the books I’ve reviewed for your convenience (should you want to read that book too), but in this post, I started using affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through the link I provided, I may earn a small commission. I link these books because they are what I read, and none of my reading decisions were based on any commission I might receive from your purchases. The decision to buy a book is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy one through the link I provide is completely up to you. Thank you!

Starting off the month of April with my favorite type of post: book reviews!

I initially thought I would read like, 17 books, since the second half of March was spent almost exclusively at home; however, I got busy with a few home projects (making over a $15 dresser, giving our basement a quick refresh, and spending time with Justin on our DIY Date Night) so I wasn’t non-stop reading like I thought, although I did still finish several books. I’m very glad that I had checked out plenty of books from our library before it closed down (and that digital copies are still available to check out!) so I can continue to read while staying at home.

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The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man: A Novel by [Sosa, Mia]

Lately I have been into romcoms in the haters-turned-lovers category (i.e. The Unhoneymooners and The Hating Game) so when this book happened to catch my eye at the library, I decided to check it out. Andrew and Lina are getting married, until Andrew decides to bail and asks his brother and best man Max to tell Lina he’s not going through with it. On their wedding day. Yikes. Flash forward three years, and Lina is vying for her dream job. The catch is, she needs to work with Max to land it. I’ll be honest, this book was just kind of “meh” for me. I thought the characters were pretty underdeveloped – I wanted to see more of what made each of them tick. I did not understand the different levels of animosity Lina showed Andrew vs. Max. The author was clearly trying to make their different cultures play into the story and incorporated a lot of Lina’s Brazilian heritage and family, but it kind of felt forced. I wanted to feel more of the spark between Lina and Max but I couldn’t get into their relationship and actually felt like their dynamic was awkward at times, even when they were supposedly falling for one another. Also, all the sudden, it got super steamy but with cringe-y dialogue and I just felt weird reading it, especially because I wasn’t even really feeling the characters’ connections. Overall, this one fell flat for me and I would say if you’re in the mood for a romcom, I have many suggestions to read before this one.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel by [Reid, Taylor Jenkins]

Every time I start a book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I have to mentally brace myself, as she tends to write doozies with complex characters and thought-provoking “how would I handle this in my own life?” situations. This book is no different. Hannah Martin moves back to her hometown of LA and celebrates her first night back by meeting up with some old friends at a bar. At the end of the night, she is presented with a choice: does she stay out and reconnect with her high school boyfriend Ethan? Or does she decide to pass on staying out and instead go home with her best friend Gabby? The rest of the book is split into two story lines and follows the effects of each decision. As with all the other work I’ve read from this author, I found this book to be incredibly compelling. I thought it would be hard to follow the alternating stories, but it really wasn’t hard to keep up with at all. Each story line was drastically different, and yet it was really intriguing to see the elements of each world that remained the same. I liked the characters, I liked the premise, and I was super invested in figuring out how it was all going to end (honestly, I had huge doubts that it would get wrapped up in a satisfying way, but I did feel like there was closure). I flew through this book and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of how every decision we makes has long-lasting consequences, whether good or bad. It’s a good middle ground fiction – not too fluffy, but not dark and heavy. I definitely recommend!

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

This book is technically a young adult/middle school level read but I honestly think it’s a great choice for everyone. It’s written in short story format, and each chapter shows a look at what happens to various middle schoolers after a school day is over. The stories all take place on the same day at the same school, but each story stands on its own. It’s really interesting to see the different perspectives and even see some of the overlap between stories. I’m always impressed when an author can develop a whole story line and make you care about a character in just a few pages, but that’s just what this book did. I wouldn’t necessarily call this “light” reading; it’s quick and easy to read, but packs a punch. I even teared up at one of the stories! I thought this was a very unique, poignant look at how different kids deal with situations in their lives. It also made me think about how we can be so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t really notice what is going on in with others around us. I recommend it!

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Regretting You by [Hoover, Colleen]

A couple years ago, I read Colleen Hoover’s book It Ends with Us and that book haunted me for a long time. I was excited to read another book by her and Regretting You did not disappoint! The book is told in alternating points of view between Morgan and her seventeen-year-old daughter Clara. Their mother-daughter dynamic is full of conflict and frustration, and when their husband/father Chris is involved in a tragic accident (that leaves a lot of unanswered questions), they start to drift apart even further. I could not put this book down! The writing is strong, the plot is multifaceted yet not overly complicated, the characters were complex but likable, and I adored the supporting characters.  It did get frustrating at times because Clara and Morgan keep secrets from each other that cause a lot of heartache and misunderstanding, but that just spurred me on to keep reading and see if/how things got resolved. This was a book that once I finished, I wanted to re-read my favorite parts over and over again.  I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend!

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by [Harms, Kelly]

I get this now. I get now that you can love what you have, love your kids and your life and your friends, and still want more. I get that it’s ok to go out and get more – more love, more friendship, more fulfillment – and still be a wonderful mom.”

Amy’s husband left her (and their two children) without warning three years ago, leaving her to scramble to make ends meet and support her family working as a school librarian. One day, her husband reappears out of the blue, apologizes profusely, and begs for a chance to be back in their kids’ lives. Against her better judgement, Amy agrees to give him one week with their children. She heads to a library conference in New York City and soon begins a journey towards rediscovery and redefining her identity and life.

I read this book on my kindle, so it sounds a little weird to say, but it needed like 20-30 fewer pages. In my opinion, there was too much time spent on Amy’s backstory/life as a librarian and mom; the beginning felt slow and a little too woe-is-me (which I get was the point, but it was overkill at times).  That being said, once Amy actually got to New York, the story picked up and I was hooked! Personally, I felt like I could relate to a lot of what she experienced – she sacrificed so much for her family and kids that she lost her own sense of self, then felt guilty for taking time away from them to have some fun on her own. I loved all the characters and enjoyed rooting for Amy as she began to let loose and realize that she is a mom, but she is also a woman and that woman is important too. This was a fun, cute, even empowering read!

 

Since the social distancing recommendations have now been extended through April, I have a feeling there will be a lot of books read next month. If you have any great suggestions, send them my way!

 

 

My Updated List of Book Recommendations

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

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

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

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

MY VERY FAVORITES

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

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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

General Fiction

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (read first)

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

Defending Jacob by William Landry

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (read first)

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio (read second)

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

“Beach” Reads + RomComs

– The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

If You Only Knew by Kristin Higgins

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

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

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

Psychological Thriller/Mysteries

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

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

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

-The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

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

World War Two Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Young Adult

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

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

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

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

Nonfiction: Self-Help

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

-Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

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

Nonfiction: Memoirs and Biographies

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Educated by Tara Westover

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

 

Happy reading!

 

 

February 2020 Book Reviews

This month’s book review feels a little different than normal because while I normally try to vary the types of books I read, this month I read a lot of heavier novels. Novels that made me think. Novels that made me have to take time to process. Novels that stayed with me after I turned the last page and I won’t soon forget about. I feel like I limped across the finish line for February. My brain is exhausted!

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These reviews are just my thoughts written out, and I had a lot of them. Some thoughts I’m not sure I did a great job of putting into words. It feels a little scattered and word vomit-y, but that’s a pretty accurate depiction of how I feel after this marathon of reading so here we go!

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

“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.”

More than any other book I read this month (and possibly ever), this memoir deeply challenged me. It is a fast, but powerful read. Austin Channing Brown writes poignantly about her experiences as a black woman in the largely white communities and organizations she’s been involved in throughout her life. She writes in a way that made me pause to think so many times.  It made me put a mirror up to myself and really look. It often made me uncomfortable. It made me realize I need to be uncomfortable because I am all too guilty of, as Brown puts it, trying to “live comfortably in ignorance of America’s racial history” and that extends to present day. Our country’s history of slavery and racism hurts my heart to think about. I can’t grasp it, I can’t understand it. So I often choose to not think about it, because it’s easier. But the fact is, it really happened. And racism, though it looks different than it did 200 years ago, still exists. It even exists in “nice” white people. This book helped to open my eyes to the lenses I use to view society.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never really realized how much white culture is embedded into American society – our workplaces, our school curriculum, etc and how this affects my way of thinking.  I have a lot to think about and process as I move forward to figure out where I go from here and how I live differently. I think this quote from the book speaks directly to my feelings: “I don’t know what to do with that I’ve learned . . . I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism . . . Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” I highly, highly recommend this book.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Full disclosure: I was on the waiting list for this book for months. And anytime I’m on the waiting list for that long, my expectations for the book significantly rise. If this many people want to read it, it has to be amazing right? So I think I kind of unfairly expected a lot from this one and after the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to the hype.  I kept going though and eventually this book really grew on me and I enjoyed reading it. This book revolves around the Dutch House, a very unique, grand estate in Pennsylvania (I wish it was real so I could visit it!), and is told through the perspective of Danny, a boy who spent his childhood there with his sister and father. What’s interesting about this book is that even though the narration throughout the decades is always Danny’s, the timelines shift back and forth, and there are a lot of spoilers/foreshadowing throughout. At times, that made me sad because I already knew what was going to happen even though I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but overall this narration really worked. It is more character-driven than plot-driven and it focuses on things like what motivates people to act the way they do and the close (maybe too close?) relationship between Danny and his sister Maeve. I had a lot to think about after finishing it – forgiveness, family bonds, regret, how our past experiences shape us. It’s described as a dark fairy tale and I completely agree with that label. I would say overall, I enjoyed it, but I wish I hadn’t had such high expectations going into it. (And as a complete side note: normally I prefer reading the physical book, but I found out that Tom Hanks narrated the audiobook and I wish I had gone that route instead. I think I would have loved it so much more!) 

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

“But what had her grandparents expected when they came to this country? That their children and grandchildren would be fully Arab, too? That their culture would remain untouched? It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Arab enough. She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures. She was neither Arab nor American. She belonged nowhere. She didn’t know who she was.” (p.28)

This novel is told through the stories of three women related women: Isra, a Palestinian woman who moved to New York after her arranged marriage, her daughter Deya, and her mother-in-law Fareeda. The perspectives and timelines change depending on the chapter’s narrator, but I found the book surprisingly easy to follow along with.  The stories of Muslim immigrants living in Brooklyn and trying to keep their culture alive in a completely different country was about the farthest thing from my personal experience and I was really fascinated by how each woman chose to navigate her strict, oppressive, and conservative culture and family life. I know these stories do not portray what life is like for every Palestinian immigrant family, but it definitely broadened my worldview (even though it is a work of fiction). And the fact that it was told through three related women with different, yet similar experiences was interesting. I will say – Isra’s story was pretty repetitive and got hard for me to focus on. At the same time, I think the monotony was kind of the point of her story line and drove home her feelings and perspective to the reader. Deya’s story was the easiest to fly through and I always looked forward to her chapters. And when Fareeda’s story got brought in, much needed perspective was gained. Overall, this was a deep, complex novel and gave me so much to think about and process! This one will stay with me a long time.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I read this around Valentine’s Day and it was the perfect choice for a fun, engaging read not only for the holiday, but also to lighten up my reading load this month. Tiffy and Leon are flatmates . . . but due to opposite work schedules, they never need to be in the flat at the same time and or even meet each other. They start to leave each other notes around the apartment about house-related things and gradually develop a friendship of sorts as they start to share more and more of their lives with one another through these notes. Then one day, they unexpectedly meet, and their views towards one another dramatically shift. I seriously loved this book. It was cute, it was sweet, it had depth, it had likable characters, and it had a unique premise. I love a book where I can really root for the characters and this makes you just want the best for everyone. It was romantic but not cheesy or overly steamy. It just struck the perfect balance for me and I didn’t want it to end. I highly recommend it if you’re craving a fun read!

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

” …many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

Where to even begin with this one. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this and I’m going to try to do it justice. In simplest terms, this book is about life in a hockey town. Backman’s style is so unique and his writing is incredible, but what makes it a fascinating book also makes it a difficult one to get through. From the very first sentence, you know something horrible is going to happen. So there is always this sense of pervasive sadness and foreboding as you read. The narration keeps switching, sometimes from one sentence to another, and there are a ton of perspectives (I stopped counting when I got to 20 different people). It is extremely character-driven and as such, is very slow. Like, it took 112 pages to get through one. single. day. in the lives of these characters. And it’s a long book at 400+ pages! I even took to my Instagram stories and talked about how I wanted to stop reading even though I wasn’t even quite halfway through.

Instead of quitting, I took a little break and started reading another book for a while. I came back to Beartown to give it one more effort. After reading about 40 more pages, things started to shift for me. Suddenly, I had a grasp on all the characters. I was invested in their lives. I had my favorites, I had my least favorites. I was intrigued. I was frustrated. I had to see how it all played out. It made me feel a lot of emotions and I wanted to personally talk to so many of these characters – some I wanted to hug and others I wanted to smack in the face. I can honestly say the last 1/3 of the book flew by. And I absolutely cannot believe I am saying this, but it’s possible that I might want to read the sequel. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just running on the adrenaline of finishing, but I enjoyed the last part enough for it to at least make up for not liking the first part. That being said, would I recommend it? I’m honestly not sure. It’s a unique style of writing that is not for everyone, but for the right reader, it’s fantastic.

Whew – we made it! I think I’m going to need some lighter reads for March, so if you have any good suggestions, send them my way!

Book Hangovers

This weekend was cold with a wintry mix of snow, rain, sleet, which means it was the perfect weather for staying inside curled up with a blanket and book. So that’s just what I did!

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I read A Woman is No Man over the course of the weekend. Last night, I finished the book while drinking a glass of wine and this morning, I have a hangover.

A book hangover.

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Does this ever happen to you? I feel like it happens to me a lot. Sometimes, I have a book hangover because I was so invested in the world the author created that I felt like I was living in it and I have a hard time accepting that it isn’t real (I’m talking to you, Harry Potter). Sometimes, I have a book hangover because I love the characters so much and I’m deeply affected by how their story turned out, whether because I’m so happy for them or so deeply heartbroken that their story could’ve been different. I often have book hangovers when there is one thing that could’ve been changed in a story that would have made the ending totally different (if only she had known the truth! If only he had delivered the package! If only the stranger would have shown up one day later! etc, etc, etc). Other times, the story was so thought-provoking that I’m analyzing/processing/digesting for days afterwards. Books like It Ends with Us, One True Loves, Before We Were Yours, and basically anything by Kate Morton – these books have given me some of the longest book hangovers. Some of them still haunt me.

I’m not sure this book is in that same league, but it is one that I’m going to have to process for a while. I’m not even sure where to begin. It made me grateful.  It made me frustrated. It made me both hopeful and deeply sad. It made me think about many things. I’m going to wait until my February book review blog post to give my full thoughts on it, but I had to share these initial impressions in today’s blog post. For one thing, the fact that I spent my time reading this weekend meant I didn’t have time to write my planned blog post for today (ha!). For another, this book is on my mind and I’m not sure I could’ve focused on writing anything else right now. I went to bed thinking about it, I woke up thinking about it. I looked at my large TBR stack of books on my nightstand and thought “nope, not ready to look at any of you right now!”

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to pick up another book, but for today, I’m going to stay hungover.

Have you read any books that made you feel this way? What were they?

January 2020 Book Reviews

My 2020 reading list is off to a great start!

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This month I read five books (four physical and one on my Kindle). Genres are all across the board – from romcom to courtroom drama to self-help – but I enjoyed them all!

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Olive’s sister and her new husband both get too sick to go on their non-refundable honeymoon so they offer the trip to Olive instead. There’s only one problem: the best man and Olive’s enemy, Ethan, is also going.

This fun romantic comedy reads a lot like The Hating Game so it felt a little cliche at first with the will-the-enemies-turn-to-lovers story line but this one had some extra swerves in the plot that made it less predictable. The themes of trust and honesty came up at several points throughout the story and I feel like it had a good amount of depth for a romcom. I  really enjoyed it and feel like it’s a perfect vacation beach read (although I read it in the Midwest in January so…I guess it’s enjoyable anytime ha!)

Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

I wasn’t entirely sure what this book was going to be about, but I knew it was going to address the unequal labor division between men and women regarding all the tasks that go into home and family life and I was very intrigued. The author goes into details of how she came to realize that she (and many other women that she talked to) were becoming the default parent in charge of almost all of the household tasks. She came up with a card system to divy up household responsibilities more fairly.

Many aspects of this book resonated with me, and made me realize how much of the “invisible” work falls to me. I like that her emphasis was not on divying up things equally into a true 50/50 split, because I feel like that is rarely realistic, but instead on finding a good balance where both partners contribute in ways that maintain their shared home. I also really loved the focus on finding “unicorn space” – things that give each partner passion and purpose beyond their career and role as a spouse and parent. Justin and I did talk through her “cards” and realized a few tasks are split between us and it does lead to things slipping through the cracks. For example, we both do things with our pets (he’ll pick up food, I’ll schedule vet appointments) but then vacation comes and neither of us remember to schedule a dog sitter. This game helped us to realize we need to have one point person to be in charge with this task. I think even if you don’t play the “game” (we aren’t really), it is a helpful way to look at the division of labor and find a balance that feels good to both partners.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

“Good things and bad – every friendship and romance formed, every accident, every illness – resulted from the conspiracy of hundreds of little things, in and of themselves inconsequential.”

A hyperbaric oxygen chamber explodes while administering treatment, leaving multiple people injured and two people dead. A murder trial ensues. Secrets and lies are exposed. (Can you hear the “Law and Order” gavel bang?)

I cannot believe this is a debut novel. The author did an absolutely incredible job writing this highly addictive courtroom drama. Throughout the trial the story unfolds through the varying perspectives of each person involved with the explosion of the “miracle submarine.” There are so many layers to the characters and their stories: the struggles of an immigrant family, the toll of infertility on a marriage, the complex emotions involved with parenting a child with special needs. It took me a little while to get into the story and figure out the characters, but once I did, I was hooked. It made me think so much about perspective – how two people can view the exact same scenario in completely different lights – and how our perceptions of people influence how we react to them. It also made me think about how many little decisions we make throughout our life and how we may never know the full ripple effect that our actions cause. I think this would be a great choice for a book club! I found myself wanting to immediately discuss it once I finished. Highly recommend!

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

This book is an intimate look at many of the challenges women face as they become mothers. This book is often recommended by one of my favorite bloggers and I’ve had it checked out since AUGUST 2. I finally reached my maximum amount of renewals so this month I  made time to sit down and read it. I think I put it off because I thought it would be dense, but honestly, it’s not at all. It could read quickly, but personally I had to stop frequently to process or reread something that struck me as profound. I have so many thoughts on this book that I’m likely going to devote an entire blog post to it (I also plan on buying the book so I have my own copy to highlight and underline) so I’ll just say this: I think this book applies to women in all stages of motherhood. I felt like it was written specifically for me, but I have a feeling many women would feel the exact same way. One line that especially struck me: “Other mothers, despite the smiles on their faces, are not free of the occasional thought that a life without children sounds much more appealing.” (p. 57) I can relate so much to that and I’m not sure I’ve ever said it out loud before. This book felt like a giant permission slip to talk about many topics that often seem taboo – that motherhood is beautiful and amazing but can also include some really complicated feelings like boredom, loss of identity, struggling with how this time is so short but also so dang long. It’s such an important read and I highly recommend it!

Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne

I checked this book out from the library using my Kindle – it’s book 9 of the Haven Point Series (that I started in December and loved) and I have to say, it was probably my least favorite of the books so far. The characters were fine, the plot line was fine, it was all just fine. I think one issue for me was that the main characters had only each gotten one quick mention in previous stories so going into the book I wasn’t very invested in them. Then there were hardly any cameos from other Haven Point residents I’ve grown to love through the series. It just felt a little disconnected from the rest of the series and wasn’t my favorite. It was fine, and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to be one I go back and reread.

And lastly, it’s worth a mention that I started reading American Royals this month too. I got about 40 pages in and was really enjoying it, but then I discovered that this book is going to be part of a series. Book two is currently in the works and will be released in the fall, and just by reading 40 pages I could tell that the book was going to be binge-worthy and would likely leave me hanging at the end. I took a poll on Instagram and got some feedback from others who have read it, and ultimately decided to put off reading the rest until closer to book two’s release so I can read them back to back.

When it comes to books in a series, do you prefer to read them back-to-back or do you read other books in between?