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!

June 2021 Book Reviews: Part Two

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

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

The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel

The Trouble with Hating You by [Sajni Patel]

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

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

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

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

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

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

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

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

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

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

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

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

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

June 2021 Book Reviews: Part One

June was absolutely packed full of books! Thanks to a vacation and lots of time for relaxing and reading, I got through WAY too many books for just one post this month. I decided to split them up into two categories: the ones I read a physical copy of and the ones I read via Kindle. Today we’ll chat about the seven physical books I read over the past month. There’s a lot of books and I have a lot of thoughts so let’s jump right in!

Enjoy the View by Sarah Morgenthaler

Enjoy the View: An Alaskan Grumpy/Sunshine Romcom (Moose Springs, Alaska Book 3) by [Sarah Morgenthaler]

River Lane is a Hollywood starlet with one last chance to prove herself by directing a documentary in the Alaskan small town of Moose Springs. Easton Lockett is a local who would like nothing more than his hometown to stay off the tourist map. As a seasoned guide, Easton is tasked with helping River and her crew make it up Mount Veil, a huge mountain in the Alaskan wilderness. As they work together to survive the harsh hiking conditions, the famous actress and the mountain man actually have quite a bit in common.

I’ve read the first two books in this series and they both felt like just-okay romances, but I liked them enough to give the third one a try. I will say, I think this was my favorite one of all three, but I would still put it just above the 50th percentile in terms of rom coms. First of all, these books don’t need to top 300 pages. It’s just not necessary. At least this one was under 400 pages, which is more than I can say for the first two. Easton and River are likeable enough, and the premise of hiking a huge mountain in the breathtaking Alaskan wild creates a heck of a backdrop. I actually found the hiking part really fascinating and enjoyed reading about the conditions, the equipment, and the harshness of Alaska. I felt like Easton and River’s relationship was the most believable out of the three books, and I enjoyed the quirky little side characters. Overall, it was a decent, if not stellar, rom com but the overall series is probably C+ level. You could easily read this book as a stand-alone book without reading the first two!

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

The Soulmate Equation by [Christina Lauren]

Single mom Jessica impulsively submits a DNA sample to a new dating site that promises it can use DNA-sequencing to determine compatibility and find your soulmate and is shocked to receive the highest compatibility match ever recorded. Unfortunately, it’s with the company co-founder, a man she already knows and dislikes: River Pena. She’s quick to dismiss the results until the company offers her a huge incentive to just give it a try and get to know River a little first. It’s truly an offer too good to pass up, and Jess decides it wouldn’t hurt to just hang out with River a little, especially once she realizes he might not be as bad as she first thought.

The first Christina Lauren book I’ve read was The Unhoneymooners, which I really loved, but since then my relationship with them (it’s two authors!) has been downhill and I haven’t enjoyed their books nearly as much. I’m thrilled to report that this book was such a refreshing delight! I found the characters, from Jess and River to all the supporting characters to be lovable and endearing. I was so invested in the relationship between Jess and River – I loved their nerdiness, I loved their banter, I loved their chemistry. It was believable, it was sizzling, it was sweet, it was fun. It just worked, you know? The concept of a DNA-matching site to find your soulmate felt fresh and the dialogue was snappy and hilarious. I could easily see this as being a book I actually buy to read again sometime (high, high praise for my library-loving self). This was an absolute winner of a rom com and I loved it from start to finish!!

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger

Girls Like Us by [Cristina Alger]

FBI Nell Flynn heads back to the hometown that she hasn’t visited in over ten years to attend her father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Shortly afterwards, a brutal murder is discovered and it looks a lot like another murder that her father, a homicide detective, had been investigating prior to his death. Nell is brought in on the case by his former partner and before long, the investigation has Nell wondering just how well she really knew her father.

I’m not sure I would personally call this one a thriller. It certainly feels like a mystery and I was intrigued by the premise and finding out who the killer was and how everything connected, but it didn’t start to feel edge-of-my-seat suspenseful until about 2/3 of the way through. My heart was pumping for the last few chapters, but it wasn’t that way the whole book (and I wish it had been!) I was also a little disappointed that everything wrapped up a little too easily. I wanted a little more to the end of each suspenseful buildup. This is not a book that I couldn’t put down; in fact, I could read a chapter or two as I had time and easily set it down. Again, once the suspenseful part actually picked up towards the end, then it became unputdownable. I found the plot to be interesting and I was invested in discovering all the answers, so overall I enjoyed this one and would recommend it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Marco and Anne are attending a little party at their neighbor’s home, only to return to their own home to find that a shocking crime has been committed. They quickly become the number one suspects and must rely on one another even as they try to keep their own secrets hidden.

The first couple chapters did not grab me. I started it on vacation but a couple chapters in I realized I was not in the right mindset for it (Justin read it on vacation though, so it’s definitely a personal preference!) and I set it down and started back up a week later. It felt a little like I read two different books: the first half was slow and a little boring and I felt restless and un-invested, but around the halfway point, the plot shifted and I became so much more interested in the story! It’s suspenseful with plenty of twists and turns, some things I predicted but others I was totally surprised by. I liked that the narration included multiple characters’ thoughts (in a book filled with deception, it helped you know what was genuine). None of the characters are particularly likeable and there were points I thought there was no way I would be satisfied with the outcome, but ultimately I (mostly) was. I was really glad that Justin had already read it because once I finished I really wanted to talk about it with someone! There are surprises up until the very end and it is definitely a unique thriller, but the fact that there really weren’t any likeable characters to root made this fall more of a solid mid-range thriller for me.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Margaret Jacobsen is on the brink of getting everything she ever wanted: dream job, gorgeous fiancé, happy ever after. Until one day, a tragic accident alters her entire life – and nothing will ever be the same.

This novel was a poignant look at one woman’s journey of healing after a life-altering accident. It was a tender story that if you read the inside flap, seems like it will be a romance but in truth the love story felt secondary to Margaret’s personal rehabilitation and family dynamics. It’s not all light and fluffy; this book covers some really tough ground. Margaret’s journey is portrayed in a vulnerable, raw way – her struggles, her doubts, her finding inner strength and also experiencing times of weakness and anger. There are several side plots with her family members (most of whom are loveable) that created an intimate look at a complicated family rallying together to support Margaret. I actually wish the romantic side of things had been focused on a bit more; it’s not that I found it unbelievable, I just wasn’t very invested because it wasn’t quite developed enough. I found myself skimming quite a bit, particularly towards the end, and wish there had been a little more closure, but overall I thought this was a pretty good read and would recommend it.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Recently-widowed Evvie Drake has spent most of the last year of her life at home, but not for the reason everyone pities her for. Even her best friend Andy is unaware of the full truth when he suggests she rent out the little apartment connected to her house. He even has a tenant in mind: his childhood best friend and recently retired MLB-pitcher Dean Tenney. Dean has experienced every athlete’s worst nightmare and needs a place to escape for a bit and figure out his future, and Evvie’s little apartment in her quiet town in Maine is the perfect place to do it.

This was a truly refreshing, slow-burn romance for adults. And I don’t mean “adult” like rated-R, I mean adult like the characters are actually mature adults with life experience. Evvie has already been married, Dean’s career has peaked, they’re real adults with bills, decisions on jobs, trying to figure out their lives, etc. So it feels…regular? It feels like real life? It feels like a story that could actually happen to you rather than some fantasy romance. I found that to be so charming! It’s got endearing characters who are easy to root for and I love that they’re like, having creaky bones and watching TV together (romance in your 30’s, ha!) Plus, the banter is very fun and I actually laughed out loud a few times. Evvie was one of the most likable, authentic characters – witty and clever and down-to-earth but also has relatable insecurities about her own normalcy. This was by no means a fast-paced read but I found it to be very sweet and satisfying and I definitely recommend!

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep: A Novel by [Sally Hepworth]

Due to her rapidly-deteriorating mind, Anna is moving into an assisted-living facility, which wouldn’t seem that unusual except she is only thirty-eight years old. Plagued by early-onset Alzheimer’s, her brother has chosen this facility specifically because there is another young person, Luke, with a similar diagnosis living there. While the hope was for Anna to have a bit of companionship with Luke, no one anticipates that it could lead to more. And no one is more moved than Eve, the recently hired new cook for the facility who will go to great lengths to help Anna and Luke.

This book has been on my TBR list for several years. I finally checked it out from the library and WOW. Tragic, hopeful, inspiring, heartbreaking – this book wrecked me! It is a tremendously poignant look at Alzheimer’s/dementia and I cried several times. Anna and Eve’s stories are told through slightly different timelines and everything is woven together in a deeply moving way. I actually really loved that there were some other plot lines with Eve’s life as well to give her character and story a lot of depth too. It’s beautifully written even as it breaks your heart. I highly recommend this one.

WHEW! What a month for reading! And I’m not done yet; later this week I’ll cover all this month’s Kindle reads!

May 2021 Book Reviews

June is here and I am so excited! Between the start of summer, a long-awaited vacation for Justin and I, our One Room Challenge projects, and trying to get outside with the kids every chance we can, this is going to be one busy month.

Before I jump into this months activities, I’m reflecting back on May and the six books I read. Let’s get started!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul is finishing up his final year of his neurosurgery when he receives a devastating diagnosis: stage IV lung cancer. All the plans that he’s worked toward for years seem to crumble in an instant and he starts to wrestle with questions of identity and life’s meaning.

Death is something we all realize is inevitable, but I would venture to say the majority of us don’t think about it on a daily basis. We know it will happen someday, but we assume (and take for granted) that the “someday” is many years in the future. Paul is a young, successful, brilliant man who had many things to look forward to. Death was a someday far in his future, until suddenly, it wasn’t. This powerful memoir is an incredible look at Paul’s life before and after his diagnosis. It is poignant, thought-provoking, and ultimately inspiring. It made me cry, it made me evaluate my own life, and it made me appreciate every single day with my family. I highly recommend this book – it’s a relatively short read but it’s so impactful!

Just A Kiss, Married ’til Monday, The Goodbye Bride, and The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter

When I found out through a local news source that there is an author in my area who writes romance books, some of which have been turned into Hallmark movies, I knew I had to check out her work. I checked our four books and I’m looping them together here because while their specific plot lines are different, my general feelings and reviews apply to all four books. They are all very PG, Hallmark-y (obviously!), slightly cheesy but still sweet and easy romance books. It reminded me of RaeAnne Thayne’s novels, but with the addition of a distinct Christian theme. I am a Christian and have to admit, sometimes religious fiction books feel cringe-y to me but these weren’t over the top. There are mentions of church and the characters do pray/ask God for direction but it’s not an overwhelming part of the plot and it still feels like a pretty modern romance. Of the four I read, I think Just A Kiss was my favorite, followed by Married ’til Monday. The other two I could have skipped to be honest, which is funny because those are the two that were made into movies. None of the books were earth-shattering but they’re nice feel-good stories.

Followers by Megan Angelo

Orla is a struggling celebrity journalist/wannabe author and her roommate Floss wants to be famous more than anything. They come up with a plan to help them both achieve their dreams, but it comes with devastating consequences. Thirty-five years later, in a post-catastrophic America, Marlow is living every moment of her life on camera in a government-controlled reality until an exposed secret causes her to run away in search of the truth. As the three women’s lives start to intertwine, long-buried truths are brought to life and realities are questioned.

I think one of the most fascinating parts of this book is how real it feels. Social media over-sharing, influencer fame, and the enormous amount of control the internet has over our lives is not a stretch of the imagination. Add in a catastrophic event that really doesn’t feel impossible in today’s world, and you get a gripping novel that feels both surreal and horrifyingly plausible. Even though several of the main characters aren’t very likeable, I found this book to be addictive and binge-worthy. It makes you think about our world of influencers and reality TV and what fame really means. It also involves some twists and turns that kept me guessing how everything was going to come together. I couldn’t put it down!

******

Normally when I have a big house project going on, I don’t get to read quite as much but this month, I have a vacation planned where I plan to do a lot of reading and relaxing. If you have any great book suggestions for lounging in the sun by a pool, please send them my way!

January 2021 Book Reviews

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

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

American Royals by Katharine McGee

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

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

Majesty by Katharine McGee

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

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

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

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

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

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

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

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

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

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

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

October 2020 Book Reviews

Good morning!

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

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

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by [Christina Lauren]

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

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

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

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

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

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

August 2020 Book Reviews

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

20200830_075605

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!

20200803_090009

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!

20200701_140216

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?