May 2023 Book Reviews

Sometimes I just get in moods where all I want to do is read, and this month one of those moods hit me. I think it was the combination of warmer weather, school ending, and just the general energy and time-to-relax vibe that the beginning of summer brings that made me want to make time for as much reading as possible.

I managed to squeeze in six books this month and I’m excited to talk about them all so let’s get right to it!

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

You know how in made-for-TV holiday movies, the plot is always some version of a Serious Big City PersonTM traveling to a quaint small town and falling in love with both the charming area and the Wholesome Small Town PersonTM? This book is what happens to the Career-Oriented Significant Other in the CityTM they leave behind.

Nora is a NYC-based literary agent who keeps getting dumped when her boyfriends travel to small towns and fall in love with the quiet, slower-paced life (and the baker/florist/owner of a Christmas tree farm they meet there). But Nora doesn’t want the small town life. She wants lively and bustling, not country and quaint. When her younger sister Libby begs for a girls-only getaway to the small town that inspired Nora’s client’s bestseller, Nora reluctantly agrees. Libby creates a small town bucket list for a transformative experience like the heroine in the book, but with each item checked off the list, Nora pines more and more for life back in the city. The only person she runs into that seems to feel the same way is Charlie Lastra, an editor that Nora has encountered before in NYC. It turns out Charlie is originally from this tiny town and while they might not have had the greatest first (or second) impressions, Charlie and Nora can’t seem to help running into one another again and again. Is it possible for them both to actually find happiness? And if so…where?

This book is both filled with tropes and written as a parody of tropes, which I found to be a clever and delightful mix. I loved that Nora didn’t apologize for who she was and stayed true to her actual self throughout the story. I relished Nora and Charlie’s chemistry and felt like both characters were written in such a realistic, layered way. Their banter is amazing, their romantic development is believable, and they just seem to fully get one another and accept the whole person. I mean really, isn’t that the best formula for a fun rom-com? The only part that felt a little forced was the “enemies” part; it’s such a strong word and didn’t feel quite right. It was more like…unpleasant initial encounters? Regardless, this was a winner for me and I smiled so many times while reading. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s warm and fuzzy, it’s satisfying, it’s just right. It pokes a little fun at tropey romance while also embracing tropey romance and that in a nutshell is how I also feel about tropey romance, so I found it very refreshing and entertaining. If tropes aren’t your thing, stay away, but if you can hang with them, I highly recommend this one!

Rated R for steam and language.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Bee Königswasser is a brilliant, purple-haired neuroscientist who just landed a career-making lead position in a joint NIH/NASA backed project. It is a dream project in every sense except one: the co-leader of the project is none other than NASA engineer Levi Ward. Sure, he’s fairly dreamy himself, but their paths have already crossed back in grad school and Levi made it clear at the time that he had no interest whatsoever in working with Bee. Nevertheless, she isn’t going to let her nemesis ruin this chance of a lifetime . . . unless, of course, it’s already being ruined since her equipment hasn’t shown up and her emails are going unanswered and she’s dangerously close to getting kicked off this project. She needs Levi, her sworn scientific enemy, to get in her corner – but as she gets to know him more and more she realizes he may have already been there all along.

I happened to find this book at a Little Free Library while we were strolling the streets of New Orleans and just had to grab it. I started reading it practically right away, as we found a bar with an outdoor patio a few blocks away where Justin could watch playoff basketball and I could start reading. #fate

This ended up being a great choice for a light vacation read – perfect for reading at the bar, at the pool, lounging in the hotel, etc. If you’re going to do a rom com with only one character’s point of view, you have to make their inner thoughts entertaining and Bee’s are humorous and quirky and full of personality. I really like that Ali Hazelwood writes about women in STEM and not just in a fluffy, it’s a blip on the radar of the plot line kind of way – Bee’s love of science and career in academia is central to the entire plot. She’s an approachable, fun main character to root for! I also liked Levi as a solid male lead with a softer side. I do have a few critiques that keep this from being a runaway hit for me. First of all, I read The Love Hypothesis by this same author and honestly, the books are very similar in plot, characters, conflicts, etc. so it felt a little like deja vu. There is also absolutely nothing surprising – not to say there aren’t “twists” but there is not a single one I didn’t guess immediately. I don’t think that’s just because it was similar to The Love Hypothesis, I think it’s just because they’re all very obvious. The misunderstanding trope is not my favorite one (it always feels so juvenile!) but once that finally got out of the way, I appreciated Bee and Levi’s dynamic. All that being said, I still enjoyed this read because I didn’t expect too much from it. I didn’t need a twisty book full of surprises; I was in vacation mode and wanted fun, light, and easy to fly through so this one was very satisfying for me!

Rated R for steam and language.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

“It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here. In her New York Times bestselling memoirs, Corrigan distilled our core relationships to their essences, showcasing a warm, easy storytelling style. Now, in Tell Me More, she’s back with a deeply personal, unfailingly honest, and often hilarious examination of the essential phrases that turn the wheel of life.” – Description taken from Goodreads

This book is small but mighty. Over the course of twelve short story-style chapters, the author shares personal recollections of various experiences relating to phrases like “I Don’t Know,” “Good Enough,” “I Was Wrong,” and “It’s Like This.” It’s incredibly compelling, yet easy to digest. Some chapters are long and some are short, but they’re all standalone in a way that makes it easy to set the book down in between chapters so you have time to process and think if you want (which I did!) I want to re-read the “I love you” chapter again and again and again. I cried reading the “Onward” chapter. Each chapter feels a little bit like you’re sitting down to lunch with the author or lingering on the porch with a glass of wine just talking about family and failure and triumph and life. It’s deep and thought-provoking and relatable and funny. I texted my friend afterwards to tell her to put it on her TBR list and said: “It’s a good one for when you want to read something but just can’t decide what, or if you don’t want to settle in to a big book, or if you need a quick win after either a dud or a book that was long and took a lot of energy.” I highly recommend it.

Rated PG-13 for strong language

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun by Elle Cosimano

The Finlay Donovan series follows a divorced mom of two who is struggling as a writer . . . until she’s overheard describing the plot of her next book and inadvertently gets hired as a contract killer. In this book of the series, Finlay and her nanny Vero sign up to attend a citizen’s police academy – it’s the perfect place to get inspiration for her latest book deadline, try to learn the identity of a real contract killer, and provide a safety net from the mob boss who landed in jail thanks to them.

To be honest, this story felt dragged out and really didn’t move the overall plotline along much. So much happened, and yet nothing much happened in terms of providing any answers from the previous books. Like the second book, this one very much felt like a middle book to me. I do love Vero and I loved the entertaining little side plot with her friend Javi (and wanted way more of it!) That fun dynamic aside, I think I’m over this series. The books are comical but in an I Love Lucy kind of way where it’s slap-sticky and over the top. I found it charming and fun in book one and was willing to suspend some reality, but book two and three don’t have the same magic. Nonstop zany shenanigans that somehow perfectly work out every time have grown stale for me. This one picks up right where book two left off, but since I read that over a year ago it was hard to remember the plotlines and all. the. characters. (there are so many!) It’s possible I would have enjoyed it more if I jumped right in from book two. I read it quickly, skimmed a bit when I grew tired of the plot, and just kind of felt meh at the end. Fans of the first two books will likely enjoy this one, as it’s very similar, but for me the magic has faded and I’ll only be reading the 4th book if I’m sure it is the final one and everything will wrap up. If you do try this series, just know that the books are not standalones at all and you’ll need to read them all in order to have any sort of idea of what’s going on.

Rated PG-13 for mild language and a mostly closed door scene.

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

The Stockton family is living off a tremendous amount of generational wealth in the fruit streets neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. Darley is the oldest; she married for love but may have bargained away too much and lost some of herself in the process. Sasha married into the family and is struggling to feel like she belongs -not only within the family itself but within the museum they call a home that she now lives in. Georgiana is the youngest and at 26, she still has a lot of growing up to do, both romantically and with the direction she wants her life to take. Told in alternating POV chapters, we take a deep dive into the inner workings of this family and see how wealth, love, and class weave together throughout all their lives.

This book is a slow burn, character-driven novel so if you’re looking for a fast-paced plot or a lot of things going on, this is probably not going to be a satisfying read for you. I found it fascinating though! Because chapters alternate between the three Stockton women it’s a fairly easy one to set down and pick up when you want, although I kept wanting to read one more chapter, one more chapter. The characters have just enough growth and development to keep them from being truly unlikeable, but they’re absolutely portrayed in a way that feels deeply human and personal. In a family, you see the best and worst parts of each other and that’s what this book gives us a glimpse into. This family is relatable in ways, out-of-touch in others. They can be selfish, but they’re also loyal. The dynamics within the family feel both familiar and strange. As I read, I would be frustrated one minute, then laughing the next minute. I found some characters to be more redeemable than others, but ultimately thought the book felt satisfying. It just feels like real life in the 1% and I enjoyed this intimate, escapist look into a wealthy, WASPy family.

The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Alex is a social media influencer who wakes up from a drunken night celebrating one million followers only to realize she’s going viral for the worst reason: a vicious rant was posted to her account last night and toxic, threatening comments start pouring in. Alarmed and confused (can she actually remember writing that post??) she reaches out to her assistant AC to help with damage control but AC has vanished without a trace. Now police are showing up asking questions, online comments from trolls are never-ending with threats that are becoming too real, and worst of all, a dead body is discovered on Alex’s property. Through it all, AC is still missing and it begs the question: who exactly did Alex trust with the most personal details of her life?

The premise of this book was enticing to me because honestly, this is the best and worst of social media. Alex has shared inspiration and found success, but in just one post, it all crashes down and hatred and vitriol spread like wildfire. On top of all that, her assistant is gone and her husband may be keeping secrets from her – it has all the components of a great domestic thriller. I will say, the characters aren’t particularly likeable so it’s hard to know exactly who to root for through the alternately narrated chapters, but it’s still a compulsive read. I devoured it up until the last maybe 20% but things kind of unraveled from there and not in a good way. I guessed a few of the twists and the ones I didn’t felt off to me for reasons I can’t elaborate on because I don’t want to spoil anything. Unfortunately, I ultimately was pretty unsatisfied with the ending. Ugh – I hate when that happens! It took this from a “definitely recommend” to a “pretty decent” thriller. Meh.

April 2023 Book Reviews

Today we have a rare Tuesday blog post! Due to our trip to New Orleans, I didn’t blog at all last week and so the month started without my usual book review post. I’m remedying that right now! Let’s dive in to the three books I read last month:

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

With a thriving hand-lettering business and an exciting opportunity to advance her career even farther, Meg should be at the top of her game. Unfortunately, she’s suffering from a bad case of creative block and needs new inspiration fast. Enter Reid, a brilliant, pattern-noticing former client of Meg’s who shows up a year after his failed wedding with a question for Meg: how did she know the marriage was doomed and why did she hide a word of warning in their wedding program? Meg is shocked that he discovered her secret talent but now that he knows . . . he might be the right person to help her with her creative block. She asks him to tour NYC looking for inspiration in hand lettered signs and he agrees. Soon they are exploring the city together and getting to know one another in ways they didn’t anticipate, and the signs they find just might be pointing them towards one another.

I chose this book because a few months ago I read Love at First by this author and really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for another win but this one didn’t quite live up to same standard I had from the other book. On the plus side, I really liked Meg and Reid’s relationship. Their dynamic felt pretty genuine and there are some sweet, romantic moments that make their slow burn relationship easy to root for. That being said, the whole concept of Meg seeing in letters and Reid seeing in numbers is a central part of the book but it felt a little forced. Would a brilliant numbers guy really agree to play a letter scavenger hunt game with someone who is essentially a stranger? I got tired of all the lettering details as Meg works and thinks. We are in Meg’s head so much and there are a lot of bits where she “sees” in lettering (example: “You don’t like New York?” “I hate New York.” It almost makes me recoil, the way he’s said this. Bold, sans serif. No caps, but italics for the hate.) Asides like that happen frequently throughout the book and they just didn’t quite work for me. It was just too much time in her head and too much lettering content for me. It wasn’t a complete miss, I did enjoy the relationship and I could let go of some of the less believable parts, so overall I would give it a B rating (and also an R rating for a couple steamy open door scenes).

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Imagine Chip and Joanna Gaines, who gained tremendous popularity as a married couple doing home renovations on HGTV, actually can’t stand each other. All the lovey-dovey married life moments you see, all the books you read, all the interviews they do – it’s all for show. Literally. All for a show. And now imagine that Joanna isn’t actually designing most of what you see, but her underappreciated assistant is. That is pretty much the premise of this book. Melissa and Rusty Tripp are renovation + design gurus who actually have a lot of problems in their married life, despite working to promote their new book on marriage. Carey has been Melissa’s assistant for years and desperately needs the health insurance that comes with the job; James was told his new position as Rusty’s assistant would put his engineering degree to use but so far, it hasn’t panned out that way. Carey and James are tasked with traveling with Melissa and Rusty on their new book tour to make sure they appear to be the happily married couple they’re portraying to the public. While they don’t appear to have anything in common initially, Carey and James find that working together towards the shared goal of a successful book tour reveals they actually are pretty compatible after all.

I’ve read a decent amount of Christina Lauren (an author duo) over the years; usually I enjoy their books but unfortunately, this one ranks near the bottom for me. Melissa and Rusty are pretty unlikeable and their behavior throughout the book is incredibly frustrating to read. I felt like so much time was spent on the main conflict of making the book tour successful and we focused too much on the Melissa/Rusty drama – bottom line is, not enough space was given to Carey and James. While I liked them as characters, I didn’t have a ton of investment in them as a couple; their relationship was rushed and underdeveloped. Maybe I also had a bad taste in my mouth because I actually am a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines and so I didn’t like reading about a similar famous couple who was so fraudulent. Overall, this book didn’t meet the expectations I had for a Christina Lauren novel and I just didn’t love the characters much so this one was a miss for me. And for those who are interested, I’d give it a PG-13, leaning R rating for some language and steam, although it’s less than some of their other books.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Martha Friel just turned forty, and by the end of the first chapter, her husband has left her. Because, as the front jacket explains: “There’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, and every kind of drug later, she still doesn’t know what’s wrong, why she spends her days unable to get out of bed and alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks.” The rest of the book follows this summary from Goodreads: “By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want.”

Martha knows she is self-sabotaging. She knows she is hurting other people. And yet, she finds it impossible to stop herself. She has regrets, but cannot control her emotions and outbursts. Sometimes she feels good and happy and enjoys life. Other times, she cannot even bring herself to get out of bed. As a character, she’s both likeable and unlikeable. You empathize with her and also get very frustrated by her. You’re proud of her and disappointed in her. And isn’t that just like real life? We are all complex, we all have highs and lows, and we all have redeeming qualities and things we wish we could take back. With Martha, this is taken to the next level because of her battle with an undiagnosed mental illness. This book seemed to realistically portray what it might be like to not only live with a mental illness, but to love someone who struggles with one. The effects of mental illness reach many many people. It’s difficult to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter was so heavy and it’s both sad and difficult to read at times, but I do think it’s incredibly well written and absolutely worth reading. I read it for my book club and we had an excellent discussion afterwards; it’s definitely one you’ll want to process with someone if you can. If this has the potential to be a hard topic for you, you may want to read the trigger warnings for the book first, but overall, I do recommend this one!

As the weather warms up, my book reading mood is feeling sunnier too. I think May is going to be full of lighter reads and I’m excited for that – if you have any great recs please send them my way. And as always, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately!

March 2023 Book Reviews

Hello and Happy Last Day of March! You know what that means – time for another monthly book review!

I read four books this month and they were about as varied as it gets: fantasy/romance, domestic thriller, biography of a Founding Father, and a sourcebook for eco-conscious living. It was an unusual mix for sure! Let’s dive in.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

As an orphan and a witch, Mika is very used to being on her own. Apart from a rare gathering with other witches here and there, she mostly keeps to herself and moves around a lot. Then one day, a mysterious invitation is sent to her: there are three young witches in need of training in a house in the English countryside. Would Mika consider coming to be their teacher? Intrigued, she arrives at Nowhere House where she finds an eclectic bunch of unrelated people who have formed their own little family within the safe haven of the estate. It’s possibly reckless and dangerous to have so many witches living in one spot, but Mika can’t help but feel like she’s finally found a place to belong…even if there are a few people who don’t seem entirely welcoming (like the handsome but cranky librarian, Jamie).

My library always has a little display of books based on a theme and during February there were a variety of love stories. I saw this one on display, thought the cover was cute, and decided to check it out. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the book kind of dwindled from there. I found this one hard to get into, and I couldn’t get invested in the characters or the conflict. To be completely honest, the writing felt simplistic and tried too hard; it was fairly tame and sweet and then would have a random swear word or sexual reference that felt really jarring. The lone steamy scene felt weird and out of place, particularly because Mika and Jamie did not have very believable chemistry. Their sunshine-meets-grumpy dynamic felt forced to me and I cringed through a lot of their interactions. I liked the idea of the diverse, quirky cast of characters, but none of them had much depth and I found myself wishing for a lot more character development. I don’t mean to bash this book – it was a Goodreads Choice Awards for Fantasy in 2022 so apparently a lot of people like it! I think if you’re in the mood for a cutesy, if predictable, story that has a magical cottagecore vibe and doesn’t require a lot of effort, you might like this one. It was just a big miss for me. [Here’s an example of how reading is so subjective: This book, which I did not at all enjoy, has a higher Goodreads rating than Love at First, which I read last month and adored so much that it made my top recommendations list. Not every book is going to resonate with every reader so take all reviews, mine included, with a grain of salt].

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

From Goodreads: Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

Ooopph – a description like that sucked me right in! This book is a rotating-narrator look at the people in a neighborhood: Tom, the handsome headmaster of the local school who everyone seems infatuated by, Jenna, the teenaged girl who doesn’t trust him or the ramblings of her paranoid mother, Joey, the lonely woman who recently got married but is unsatisfied with her life, and Freddie, Tom’s son who keeps track of it all through secret photos and spying. I loved this one! It was twisty, turny, compulsive, and binge-worthy. I could not put it down! The pace was perfect: just when I felt like we had been going off of unanswered questions too long and felt the need for dots to start connecting, revelations started happening. My brain was swirling around various possibilities and while I did guess some of the twists (and the killer!) in advance, there were plenty of twists that I did not see coming. There is a strong believability factor in this book, which makes it a great domestic thriller – you can just imagine a neighborhood like this where people are watching each other’s comings and goings. It wasn’t jumpy or gory so it’s an excellent choice in thriller if you don’t like actually being scared while reading. I highly recommend!

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff

This biography was chosen by an online book club I’m a part of and while I do really enjoy history and learning about important people and events, this is probably not a book I would have chosen on my own. That being said, I am glad I read it! It’s FULL of information about Samuel Adams and before this I knew nothing. Now that I know just how much he contributed to the Revolutionary War, I’m actually shocked that the only thing I knew before reading was his name (and honestly, I really only knew that because of the beer company). I found it fascinating to see how Adams contributed to the ideas that led to mindset shifts and ultimately led to revolution – without his efforts I truly think things would have looked totally different. He was an absolutely critical Founding Father! As much as I did gain from reading, I also have to say this book was a hard read. The vocabulary is high-level, the sentences are long and intricate, and I found myself having to reread paragraphs to be able to understand. It’s definitely a more challenging read than other biographies I’ve read so just be aware of that if you’re interested in reading it.

Remodelista: The Low Impact Home: A Sourcebook for Stylish, Eco-Conscious Living by Margot Guralnick & Fan Winston

From Goodreads: Low-impact living is about making thoughtful, eco-friendly choices in your home. But being sustainable doesn’t have to mean sacrificing style. That’s where Remodelista comes in. In this comprehensive guide, they decode the secrets to creating a home that’s good for the planet—and totally livable.

This was another book I saw on display at my local library and I was immediately intrigued. I spent the next couple weeks casually reading section by section when I had some leisure time here and there. I really enjoyed flipping through and got lots of inspiration! I will say, the actual interiors weren’t as inspiring to me as the tips and suggestions for more eco-conscious living, but I took lots of notes on things that interested me as I was reading and I have many things I want to implement within my own home over time. If you’ve been here awhile, you likely know that sustainability is very important to me and I found this book to have TONS of good information. I actually want to have my own copy as something to refer back to and use as a sourcebook in the future so I’ll be on the lookout for a secondhand copy 😉 If you’re interested in sustainable living, this is a great resource!

What have you been reading lately?

February 2023 Book Reviews

It’s always surprising to me how fast February feels (especially since January is 87 days long) but here we are somehow in March already. I’m ready for longer days, more sunshine, and the beginning of Spring so I’m here for it!

In February I read two books and while one fell pretty flat for me, one is going to be added to my Top Recommendations List because I loved it so much. Let’s get into it!

All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell

Last month I read Bringing Up Bebe and really enjoyed it. I joked with Justin that I was “entering my French era” and decided to try another book along the same lines. This particular one was written by a British woman living in France and follows kind of a similar thought process as Bringing up Bebe – she’s noticing the differences between herself (and other non-French women) and French women and wants to “uncover the secrets of [their] chic living.”

Here’s the thing. I did not have the same warm, affirming feelings as I did reading Bringing up Bebe. In fact, I found some aspects of this book to be more of a turnoff – like a strange recurring interaction with a Frenchman that borders emotional (and potentially physical) cheating and gave me the ick. While some chapters were interesting and entertaining, overall I wasn’t as charmed by this author’s deep dive into the world of French women. I tried to put more of a finger on why that was and checked the publication date: 2006. Oddly enough, this seemed to make things click. The book feels like the early-00’s obsession with thinness – the “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” era, you know what I mean? And reading it in 2023, yes we want to look good, channel fierce energy, worry less, take care of ourselves more, etc. . . . but in a healthy, well-rounded, accepting our flaws kind of way. And this book doesn’t seem to leave the same kind of room for that. Looking through that lens, I actually don’t think it’s a bad book, I just don’t think it aged particularly well and so it fell flat for me.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn

Nora adores her close-knit, quirky building and never wants anything about it to change. Unfortunately, the newest tenant, Will, is determined to bring change. After inheriting one of the six apartments in the building from his late uncle, he is clear about his intentions: renovate the apartment and rent it out. Horrified by the thought of a revolving door of renters ruining the familial feel of the building, Nora decides to make things difficult for Will in hopes that he changes his mind. Despite the ensuing sabotage and complications, Will and Nora get to know one another better and neither can deny that underneath the animosity they each feel a strong connection to one another.

I ADORED this book! I thought it was so fun and charming and sweet. Nora and Will are both really likeable characters and I enjoyed their back-and-forth dynamic. Their characters are relatable and down-to-earth and I particularly enjoyed Nora’s inner dialogue. I love a good alternating narration, enemies to lovers trope and this book did it so well. The vast majority of the story takes place in their shared apartment building and the rest of the cast of characters is eclectic and delightful. I just wanted to hang out in this building! I’d rank it as PG-13; there’s a bit of language and one steamy chapter (could easily be skipped over if you prefer). It’s predictable but not overly cheesy and is a great choice when you just want a realistic, feel-good romance. I highly recommend!

What have you been reading lately?

January 2023 Book Reviews

There’s something about January that makes it feel like the longest month ever. It’s the exact same length as December yet somehow feels like it has 78 more days. Whew! We finally made it through though and that means it’s time for my first monthly book review of 2023!

This month I read three books and they were all over the place genre-wise (I love those kind of months!) and I’m excited to discuss – let’s get into it!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

As the subtitle suggests: Pamela is an American mother living in Paris. She looks around at all the other mothers and children and realizes there are some major differences. French children are sleeping through the night at just a few months old. They are eating balanced meals with adventurous flavors (and very little snacking in between!) They are playing contentedly while their parents chat with one another, not needing constant parental interference. This book sets out to answer the author and reader’s most burning question: how is this possible? What do the French do differently?

I found this book to be really fascinating and discovered that Justin and my parenting philosophies actually align well with many of the French ideas. For example, all of our children have been good sleepers who sleep through the night by 8-12 weeks old (I know, I know). We would never have said we did anything special and thought we just got lucky, but in reading what the French parents do, we realized we actually did that same thing! Whether about food, schedules, or general lifestyle, I found myself frequently reading passages aloud to Justin and discussing them together. At one point he was like “what is this book called again? I want to start recommending it to people.” Ha! Now did we align with every single thing? Not really. But it was insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking (not to mention, really made me want to pack up and visit France!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s kind of like a mini memoir + travel escape + parenting guide all wrapped in one and if you’re in or approaching the stage of parenting little ones, I would definitely recommend this book.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Hannah just wants to work. She was dumped by her boyfriend (and co-worker) right after her mother’s funeral and she wants to cope by leaving the country asap. There’s a tantalizing job offer in London and all she has to do to earn her place there is knock her next assignment out of the park. Her job as a bodyguard has put her in charge of a myriad of characters, some decent, others not-so-savory, but she’s confident that she has what it takes to handle one last job in Texas . . . that is, until she realizes her next assignment is guarding Jack Stapleton. Gorgeous and charismatic movie star Jack Stapleton. And what’s worse: instead of discreetly shadowing as his bodyguard, she has to pretend to be his girlfriend. Hannah does her best to act the part but it isn’t long before it doesn’t feel very much like acting.

This book was a delightful pick for a snowy day. I cozied up with a blanket and dove in and didn’t want to put it down! It’s pretty much just as predictable as you would imagine based on the synopsis, but that’s just what I was in the mood for. Hannah is neurotic but smart, capable, and down-to-earth and Jack is just as swoony and sweet as you would want him to be. I loved their dynamic and found them easy to root for! My one critique would be that it’s not the strongest writing I’ve encountered; some of the side stories (I can’t even really call them side plots) that dealt with Hannah and Jack’s individual histories felt a little underdeveloped and were quickly in and out of the main plot. You also have to just go with some of the more ridiculous aspects of stalking situation that I think are meant to be more comedic but I found to be silly. That aside, I really enjoyed it and found it to be a fun romantic escape. It’s a particularly great choice if you’re looking for something romantic but not steamy (it’s suggestive at most, and there’s maybe 4-5 swear words total but otherwise pretty clean). It’s a sweet and satisfying read that will leave you smiling!

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

All Adunni wants is her education. She wants a future that escapes the life of poverty she was born into, and she wants a change to see the world outside of her small, rural Nigerian village. Above all, what she wants is a louding voice – a voice that allows her to speak up for herself and all other women. But her father does not see the value in education; what he sees is the value in selling her as a young bride. Adunni is forced into marriage at 14 years old and that marks the beginning of a journey towards the city of Lagos that is beyond anything she could have imagined.

It was somewhat hard for me to get into this story because the prose was that of a 14-year-old Nigerian girl with broken English; while it was a fantastic way for the author to truly putting the reader inside the mind of Adunni, it was kind of jarring to read and took me a while to adjust to. As a character, Adunni’s naivete was frustrating at times, but her strength, bravery, and unrelenting hope for her future was incredibly inspiring. That being said, this book deserves content warnings for various kinds of abuse and was pretty heartbreaking. There were many times that I found it difficult to read. I don’t know much about Nigerian culture, but through some character reactions and the addition of Nigerian facts before the later chapters I was able to discern more of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and what is supposed to be unacceptable but is allowed to slide. Ultimately I’m glad I read it – it’s inspiring and hopeful, giving voice to woman and providing a testament that women and girls have value – but it’s difficult to say I enjoyed or to wholeheartedly recommend because of the difficult layers of content. It’s well-written, compelling, tragic, hopeful, and will definitely make you think, and it’s a good idea to read with someone else and discuss afterwards.

That’s it for January! Now onto February, where I can already tell I’ll be in the mood for more easy-breezy romance reads. What is on your reading list?

December 2022 Book Reviews {+ Top Books of 2022!}

There are still nine days left in 2022, but I’m taking next week totally off from the blog to just enjoy time with family so my book review post is coming early this month. Today I’m sharing both my December reads and my TOP TEN books of the year (spoiler alert: one of my December reads made that list too!) I had a lot going on this year so I only read 37 books, but enjoyed so many of them that it was still hard to narrow down a top ten. Let’s dive in!

Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh

Eight years ago, Marin’s heart was broken right before Christmas and she hasn’t been home for the holiday since. When a “Christmas traditions”-style segment has the potential to launch her from field reporter to her very own show, she travels back home to surprise (and film) her parents and their holiday traditions. Turns out, the surprise is on her because it’s not her mom answering the door – on live stream! – but her ex-boyfriend Max. He’s staying with her parents for Christmas and the viewers instantly love him, forcing Marin to include him in more and more segments. They start fake-flirting to the camera, but pretty soon it becomes all too real.

Last year I read A Cross-Country Christmas from this author and loved it so I was quick to put this on my Christmas reading list. Courtney Walsh does clean, sweet, Hallmark-y books well and this was no exception. It’s a bit cheesy and predictable but not too eye-rolling – just what I was in the mood for! I liked the characters individually and got invested in their dynamic and fake-flirting relationship. The small-town-at-Christmastime setting is festive and charming. You know when you’re in the mood for just a feel-good holiday movie? This feels like that. I recommend if you’re wanting something easy and festive for the holiday!

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

After a devastating incident, Sewanee Chester abandoned her dreams of being an actress and is now an audiobook narrator reading everything except romance, which she has long since given up on. That all changes with a late author’s last request and a lucrative offer – now Sewanee finds herself reading a romance novel alongside the hottest audiobook author of the moment, Brock McNight. Though they’re both using pseudonyms, she and Brock form a connection over emails and texts that builds up to one moment: when they have to reveal their true selves to one another.

This was such a unique, fun read! I adored the characters and their dynamic and I found Sewanee to be such a refreshing main character. Her feelings and struggles and triumphs are so realistic and relatable; the author doesn’t try to overly-simplify complex issues. I got very invested in this storyline and loved watching Sewanee and Brock’s relationship unfold. I will say, it is a romance book about audiobook readers reading a romance . . . so it is heavy on steam at times. To be completely honest, I thought the actual audiobook text they were reading was pretty cringe-worthy but I think that was maybe the point? It’s not a central part of the plot and can be skimmed over just fine and the rest of the plot makes up for it!

I liked this book so much that it is actually one of my top ten books of the year! As for the other nine? Let’s recap them:


The Measure by Nikki Erlick

HANDS DOWN my favorite book from this year. Incredibly thought-provoking with a unique plot and interesting parallels to draw in our current society. This is perfect for a book club discussion! See my full review here.

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman

Masterful, clever writing in this slow burn, character-driven work. This book is sweet, funny, deep, and entertaining. I didn’t want it to end! Full review here.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Go in blind. You will hate it . . . until you love it. Full review here.

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

Honestly, anything by Sally Hepworth is worth reading. This domestic mystery has twists and turns that I didn’t see coming – had my jaw drop at one point! Full review here.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

This book inspired me to work to create a simpler, more restful life for our family to enjoy and savor. I know it will have far-reaching impact in my family’s life and I’ll be referring to it for a long, long time. Full review here.

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

A very unique perspective for a WWII novel, taking place mostly in a forest. Compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this book is worth checking out. Full review here.

Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

The most realistic and likeable romance I’ve read in a long time – a very refreshing read! Full review here.

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

This book was so entertaining I honestly don’t think you have to be a fan of the show to enjoy it. A relatable dynamic and a delightful read. Full review here.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

An ensemble-cast read that is interesting, uplifting, sweet, and satisfying. I want to ride on this commuter train! Full review here.

Cheers to more great reading in 2023!

November 2022 Book Reviews

We’re officially in my favorite book-reading season, folks! It’s cold outside and my Christmas tree is up – what better place to curl up with a cozy blanket and read a good book by the twinkly lights? This past month, I read two books. One felt like a warm hug from a friend and one filled me with the waters of rage. So…bit of a mixed bag. Ha! Let’s discuss.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

“Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu.  Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do. Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you–and even more about yourself.”

I read Pooley’s The Authenticity Project back in April 2020 and loved it. This book followed the same “diverse cast of characters with seemingly little in common unite around a common person/event and are forever changed” playbook, but I’m not complaining! I thought this book was delightful. The cast of characters are realistic, flawed yet likeable, and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the way each of their stories wove together as the plot unfolded through their varied perspectives. Iona is just the right person for this bunch to gather around and I found myself vividly picturing their interactions on this commuter train. I kept smiling and even chuckling to myself as the story developed, which is always a sign that the characters have taken a life of their own and seem like real people with real personalities. There were just the right amount of individual and combined plots (and the right amount of side characters that made occasional – and generally humorous – appearances) to make an interesting, uplifting read. It’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s satisfying – highly recommend this one!

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

For decades, the Sackler name has been known in elite circles – the family’s extraordinary wealth and philanthropy have meant their names were on everything from college buildings to art museums. It was no secret that they had given away millions, but where exactly the millions came from was less clear . . . until the high-profile lawsuits began. The truth is, for generations the family was heavily involved in the pharmaceutical business, producing everything from laxatives to Valium, but their biggest “contribution” to society was the making (and aggressive marketing) of OxyContin – a powerful opioid that helped launch the United States into a devastating opioid epidemic.

This book was eye-opening to say the least. Prior to reading, I had vague recollections of hearing about Purdue Pharma a while ago but didn’t really remember any specific details. The author spent years researching for this deep-dive book and it is an incredibly thorough look at four generations of Sacklers: from their humble immigrant beginnings to the building of a multibillion dollar empire. Though it’s nonfiction, it reads like a story and was so compelling that even as a longer read (440 pages of the actual narrative, then roughly 100 pages of notes!), I found it hard to put down. It’s well written, thoroughly researched, fact-checked, fascinating, and honestly? FRUSRATING. This family has profited for decades off of shady-at-best, illegal-at-worst practices in their pharmaceutical company (and multiple other businesses that created conflicts of interest yet somehow they got away with it). They have made BILLIONS of dollars pushing the sale of more prescriptions and higher doses of a highly addictive opioid, all the while claiming that it’s not at all addictive when followed as prescribed. I do believe the author tried to be factual and fair in his reporting, but the truth is this family is tremendously dislikable and the book was hard to read at times due to my outrage. It’s difficult to recommend, because I promise that it will make you angry too, but it’s also an absorbing read that leaves an impression you won’t forget.

What have you been reading lately?

September 2022 Book Reviews

I always enjoy Book Review day, but this month I’m particularly excited about it. Not only did I enjoy all four books I read, but two of them have potential to top my list for favorite reads of 2022. Needless to say, it was a great month of reading and I’m very excited to discuss, so let’s get to it!

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

Yona has only the faintest memories of life outside the forest: memories of her parents and a warm nursery. Memories of a family, before she was stolen from her home by a woman named Jerusza. Jerusza whisked her away to the deepest parts of the forest where, year after year, she taught Yona everything she knew about surviving alone in the forest. Neither Jerusza nor Yona could ever imagine how these survival skills would be used one day, long after Jerusza has died, when Yona encounters Jews fleeing into the forest away from the Nazis. Yona is faced with a choice: continue to live alone or take the risk of helping those seeking refuge in the forest.

I have read a lot of WWII historical fiction over the years, but this story felt very unique to me. The vast majority of the plot took place in the forest, which is not the typical setting I’m used to. While there are references to the ghettos and concentration camps, the reader doesn’t spend any time in them and instead, we as readers are kind of hidden away in the forest with Yona, receiving scraps of information from those she encounters. Yona is such a strong character and I really enjoyed seeing her come into her own. It could have easily become monotonous with years of surviving in the forest, but there was enough variety to keep my interest the whole time. It’s hard for me to describe books based on WWII or the Holocaust as being enjoyable because the subject matter is so hard and heavy, but I will say I found this book to be incredibly compelling. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful – I do recommend this for the historical fiction fan!

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

Just look at that subtitle! Sign me up please. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a couple years now and I finally made time to read it – I’m SO glad I did. I have always felt a pull towards simplicity (hence, this blog which I named nine years ago!) and this book aligns so well with my personal philosophy, but with the years of research to back it up. The author covers four aspects of life where he encourages simplicity: environment (stuff), rhythms, schedules, and filtering out the adult world. He talks about the benefits of simplifying in these areas and gives a lot of suggestions to achieve this. He covers things I’ve always been passionate about and brings up things I’ve never thought of before. I’ll admit, I’m not going to go to the extreme of fulfilling every suggestion, but I did gain a lot of insight into things I can do that feel good for our family.  

The book gives so many reasons why simplifying is great for children (which spills over into being great for adults!) and I think it is an incredibly beneficial read for parents at any stage. It’s inspiring me to work to create a simpler, more restful life for our family to enjoy and savor. The end of each chapter gives a little “imagine life” look that encourages the reader to imagine their life without the chaos, clutter, distractions, etc. that bog us down and each one made me more and more excited about actually living this life I’m imagining. I know this book will have far-reaching impact in my family’s life and I’ll be referring to it for a long, long time. Highly recommend!

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin

Alice is a middle-aged widow struggling to cope with her intense grief over the loss of her husband. Jake is a teenaged boy learning to navigate life in the wake of an accident that left him as a paraplegic. Harry is a twenty-something man living with crippling social anxiety and unsure of how to find work to support himself. These three strangers with seemingly nothing in common are all drawn together around one unlikely source: Alice’s honeybee farm. When a new pesticide company threatens the health of their local ecosystem and honeybee population, the three new friends unite to work together to save the bees – and in the process, find hope for their individual futures as well.

This book was my book club’s pick this month and we found it to be a nice, uplifting read. I thought the character development was fantastic; to see each character wrestle with their individual trials and learn to forge new paths for themselves was really satisfying. Each character was someone you want to root for, though I particularly enjoyed Jake’s storyline and cheering for him. The chapters switch perspectives from the three characters and sometimes will overlap timelines but I didn’t find that too difficult to follow. Overall, I found this story to be heartwarming and satisfying and would recommend it.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

On an unsuspecting morning in March, the entire world wakes up with one thing in common: regardless of where they live, every adult 22 years and older has a small wooden box waiting for them. Those who open the box all find a string inside, though the length of the string differs. It isn’t long before the realization is made that the length of the strings correlates to exactly how long the owner’s life is going to be. Everyone on earth is now faced with the decision on whether or not to open the box and find out their fate. As people wrestle with the choice of knowing or not, one politician makes a decision regarding his string that has immediate, and far-reaching, impact.

WOW. I absolutely devoured this book in under 24 hours. I just could not put it down! Chapters alternate from the perspectives of eight different characters – some with short strings, some with long strings, and some who have chosen not to open their box. I loved how intricately woven the storylines were; it was so easy for me to become deeply invested in each one. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, I felt all the feels. The premise was fascinating and I kept thinking about what I would do in this situation. Would I look at my string or would I choose to keep my box closed? I honestly still don’t know. I think this is an excellent choice for a book club – I had so many thoughts I wanted to talk through with someone both as I read and after I finished. I know it will stay with me for a long, long time. It’s intriguing, it’s poignant, it’s surprising, it’s hopeful. I highly recommend this one!

What have you been reading lately?

August 2022 Book Reviews

Happy September 1! Many people celebrate this day as the start of fall but I personally celebrate it as the start of birthday month. 🙂 And it’s also a great day for my monthly book review! After not being able to read very many books in June and July, I’ve been taking advantage of all the time sitting, snuggling, and breastfeeding my newborn to get more books in lately. In August, I read five books, including one brand new children’s book, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you. Let’s get started!

Mama, Sing My Song by Amanda Siebert


I consider myself lucky to be part of the launch team for this book and to have received a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Mama Sing My Song is a company that writes personalized songs for children – I bought a personalized song for LJ two years ago and it blew me away! We still sing it to him regularly and I’m planning to order a song for Vi soon (and one day, Ollie will have one too!) This book is like a song written for all children and it is very sweet. It’s a Christian children’s book that reinforces how unique and special the child is and how they have purpose and are so very loved. It’s encouraging and uplifting and the illustrations are beautiful and whimsical. I can see this book being one I reach for again and again for bedtime stories! You can pre-order the book now and it’s set to be released on September 27th.

This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens

Minnie has had a lifetime of bad luck on her New Year’s Day birthday. From losing out by minutes on being the First Baby of 1990 (and the big cash prize that came with it) to getting locked in a bathroom all night during a NYE party, something disastrous always seems to happen and she blames one person for her misery: Quinn Hamilton, the man who beat her out for First Baby of 1990 and took her name along with it. When the two finally meet on their 30th birthday, Minnie is determined to hate him and the charmed life he has seemed to lead. But as they bump into one another more often and their lives start to overlap, she realizes maybe they’re not so totally different after all.

It took me a few chapters to warm up to Minnie – she was a little too woe is me, too obsessed with her luck, and too jaded against money/anyone rich at first. Once I warmed up to her, I enjoyed the rest of the book! I thought the setting was going to keep jumping forward New Years, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the timeline actually shifted between moving along in present day, and flashing back to previous New Years. It’s a little far-fetched at times but if you can allow for a bit of unreality, it’s sweet. I loved seeing the progression of Quinn and Minnie’s friendship and I appreciated the growth that each of them went through. I also felt like there were the perfect amount of side plots and secondary characters – just enough to keep things interesting and add to the plot but not too much that it got confusing or took away from the main storylines. I’d rank it as PG-13 for a bit of language (mostly from one side character) and one pretty brief make-out scene. While it’s centered around New Years and would make for a good read to cozy up with a blanket, it’s not so festive that it can’t be enjoyed year round. It’s a cute little read and I liked it!

If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

Jenny Tate decides a change is necessary after her divorce, which was so weirdly amicable that she has stayed friends with both her ex-husband and his new wife, so she moves out of New York City to set up her wedding dress design shop in her hometown. This puts her closer to her mom and sister, Rachel, who leads an idyllic life with her handsome lawyer husband and their triplet (!) daughters. But things aren’t quite what they appear to be in each of the sister’s lives: Rachel’s perfect marriage is starting to fall apart and Jenny can’t seem to shake herself free from the hold her ex-husband has on her or figure out what the deal is with her charming and elusive downstairs neighbor. More than ever, these sisters are going to have to rely on one another and find their own inner strength to reach for the happiness they both crave in their lives.

This book has been on my list of top recommendations but I read it several years ago – long ago enough that I don’t have a book review on the blog and couldn’t actually remember much of the plot. After re-reading it this month, I’m not entirely sure why this made it onto my list of tip-top recommendations. There are redeeming qualities for sure and I certainly didn’t hate it, but I spent most of the book incredibly frustrated. I wanted to root for Jenny and Rachel, who are both likeable, relatable characters, but their inability to stand up for themselves in their respective situations for so long just made me angry. I think maybe I personally have changed since first reading – as a wife and now mother, there were certain aspects of the plot that I was just so bothered by. While the ending is mostly gratifying, it takes a really long time to get there and I’m not totally sure it’s entirely worth it. On the other hand, the author does a good job of depicting flawed, real humans and the complicated realities of life and relationships. The dynamic between the sisters felt really authentic to me; there is support and love and also they have to work through hurts and mistakes. There are pieces of the plot that break your heart and others that make you want to cheer. Overall, it’s a decent read, but I’ll be removing it from my top recommendations list, as it now feels more like a B+ level read.

With Love from London by Sarah Jio

Valentina Baker was only eleven years old when her mother, Eloise, abandoned Val and her father in Southern California and moved back to her native England, never to be seen or heard from again. Twenty-three years later, Val receives the news that Eloise has died and left her beloved bookstore to Val. Fresh out of her divorce and needing a new beginning, Val decides to travel to London and take over the bookstore, only to discover upon arrival that Eloise left her a scavenger hunt as well. Is it too late for Val to connect with and understand her mother and the choices she made in her life? As Val works through the scavenger hunt, she starts to fall in love with the neighborhood, the cozy flat, and the people who lived with and loved her mother and comes to realize that her mother’s life was much more complicated than she ever realized.

This book has a charming setting, a likeable cast of characters, and a little bit of mystery – all elements that I love in a book. Told in alternating past and present perspectives from Val and Eloise, it weaves together a story of love, loss, heartbreak, forgiveness, and family. I should have loved it, but I found myself only moderately interested because I kept having the feeling that I’d read it before – it felt like the combined pieces of several other books I have read. It seemed predictable to me but I think if I hadn’t read other similar stories (specifically, it felt a lot like How to Find Love in a Bookshop meets The Forgotten Room) I would have enjoyed it much more. I did also struggle with some of the more tragic elements of the plot; although it portrayed the missed chances that are often the case in real life, I think I was hoping for a little more feel-good escapism? Overall, I this this was a just-okay read for me but I don’t actually think it’s a bad book and would suggest giving it a try if small-town English bookstore vibes are what you’re craving.

Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Single mom Nora Hamilton wrote a screenplay based on her divorce and now her home and beloved tea house out back have been taken over by lights, camera, and action as it’s now the set for the movie adaptation. After filming is finished and the crew leaves, she discovers one person has remained: the star of the movie and highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Leo Vance. Leo is in need of some time away and makes Nora a deal: he’ll pay $7000 to stay in her tea house for a week. To steal this from the book cover: “Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity, depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.”

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book lately so I was very eager to check it out and it didn’t disappoint. I LOVED Nora and wish she was real because I want to be friends! I also loved Leo and how refreshing their dynamic and desire for simplicity in life was. It actually felt like a realistic romance between a 39-year-old mom of two and a 40-year-old Hollywood movie star. My biggest complaint with this book (and maybe this is a bit of a spoiler) is that the conflict takes up a lot of time. I felt similarly reading this as I did reading The No-Show – there was a point where I was like oh my goodness what do I even want to happen here? How is this going to be redeemable? And yet, when I finished, I realized I actually loved the book. I went back and re-read so many parts and I have to say, that part of the reading process was extra enjoyable. The overall vibe of the book reminded me of Evvie Drake Starts Over, so if you loved that book, I highly recommend this one (and conversely, if you hated it, you might not like this one either). I personally really enjoyed it and think it will make it to my top recommendations!

What have you been reading and enjoying lately?

July 2022 Book Reviews

It’s finally August, which means one thing around here: IT’S BABY MONTH! I’m so excited to meet our newest little love! The nursery is 98% ready, the hospital bags are packed, and we are all just counting down the days to meeting this sweet little boy.

We crammed so much into June and July because we knew August would be a slowdown month full of rest and baby snuggles, but I was able to carve out some time for reading. In July I read four books, and while only one of them is a certified winner in my book, it felt good to get back into reading! Let’s discuss, shall we?

Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Alexis is a sexual abuse survivor and café owner who has received shocking news that turns her world upside down. She turns to her best friend, genius computer geek Noah, for comfort and help. He’s the only man she truly trusts, and he’ll do anything to keep that trust, including keep his own feelings of being in love with Alexis to himself to prevent ruining their friendship. With some help from their friends (and Noah’s reluctant participation in a book club), can they each start to find the courage to be truly honest about their feelings for one another and have a chance at happiness beyond just friendship?

This was a random library find that I saw and decided to try. It’s part of a larger series of Bromance Book Club books and while I like the concept, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of these books. The idea behind the Bromance Book Club is a group of male friends reading romance books to better understand love and women, and also to try and dismantle some of the toxic masculinity they’ve been surrounded with their entire lives. A good premise, but honestly the book club was a pretty small section of the story. I enjoyed Noah and Alexis’s dynamic and watching them finally get to the point of being honest about their feelings beyond friendship. Unfortunately, the book had too much going on with side plots (there was major stuff going on with both their families and histories, within the friend group, Alexis’ history as an abuse survivor and café owner, and the author was obviously spending time setting up another character for a future book). The group of friends is entertaining, but pretty large and it’s hard to keep track of everyone. It maybe it wouldn’t have been so overwhelming if I had read the series in order? It’s definitely rated-R for language and steamy scenes, so if that’s not your thing, you likely want to avoid this one. While I probably won’t read more of the series, I found it to be a decent, but very skimmable, friends-to-lovers romance.

The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton

After her grandmother, Mags, dies and gives her possession of her home, The Hideaway, Sara is tasked with restoring the home to its former glory but it’s not such a simple request. First of all, the house is full of things and in desperate need of repair and upgrades. Second of all, it is being inhabited by a crew of her grandmother’s friends, some of whom have lived in the home for decades. Third of all, it’s located hours away from Sara’s home and business in New Orleans. Should she cut her losses and sell the property to the overeager developer targeting the land for his next big project? Or can it be restored and given new life? And what answers might this house still hold about the mysterious life of Mags?

I happened to see this book in a thrift store a while ago and it had been sitting on my shelves since then – I finally noticed it again this month and decided to give it a try. I loved envisioning The Hideaway and its restoration – it seems like such a charming home and following along with the renovations was a treat for me and probably my favorite part of the whole book. Other than that, this was the kind of middle-of-the-road book that leaves me without a whole lot to say. The story is told from both Sara’s present-day perspective and Mag’s past perspective but I have to say, I didn’t love most of Mag’s storyline. I don’t want to give a lot away, but it made me frustrated and sad and even a little skeptical. I did enjoy the cast of characters, and the very Southern setting is part of the book’s charm. It’s a little cheesy at times, but I think overall it hits a sweet, mostly-PG note and touches on legacy, loyalty, family, and love. Not my favorite, but still a pretty enjoyable, B or B- level read.

In A New York Minute by Kate Spencer

After being unexpectedly laid off from her job, Franny boards a crowded subway train and gets her favorite dress caught in the doors, causing it to rip all the way open in the back. To make matters worse, a subway lurch causes her to literally fall into the handsome man in a suit next to her. He offers her his jacket to cover herself up and after an awkward conversation, gets off the train. Franny just wants to get home and forget this awful day, but that’s going to be hard since another subway passenger not only documented the whole encounter on her phone and posted on social media, but the story is going viral and she and this mystery man, Hayes, are now being shipped as a couple.

This book was about what I expected – a little rom com about two opposites who are seemingly mismatched and don’t even like each other initially. I liked Franny and Hayes well enough, I liked the supporting friend characters, and I liked that Hayes in particular was not your average leading man but was actually kind of socially awkward. That being said, I feel like this story could’ve had more depth. There were underdeveloped side plots, particularly with each of their families, that I wish would’ve been given more time. The conflicts were a little forced and clunky, and honestly, I think I enjoyed the banter between the friends more than between Franny and Hayes. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly about the execution didn’t work for me, but I think the story as a whole was a bit underwhelming and I got a little bored – while I think there are those who would really enjoy this as an easy breezy read, it ends up falling in the C+ range for me.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In early 1900’s Korea, Sunja is a young and naive teenager, the only child of a widowed boardinghouse manager. When she discovers that she is pregnant, and worse, that the father of her child is married, she rejects her lover’s offer to become a mistress and instead accepts the offer of a sickly minister who had been nursed back to health by Sunja and her mother: he will marry her and give the child his name to save her from disgrace. Sunja accepts and travels with her new husband to Japan, setting off a chain of events that will change the course of their family’s history forever.

Wow, I surprised by how much I enjoyed this one! Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about the Japanese occupation of Korea and how that affected Koreans for generations. This book was eye-opening to say the least! From the very first chapter, the writing style hooked me right in, although I will say things got a big slow for me for a while before picking back up. The plotline is character-driven and by no means fast-paced, plus it clocks in at 480+ pages, so it’s definitely not a quick read, nor is it for the faint of heart. While I typically enjoy reading in long stretches or spending all my spare time reading (once I’ve started a book), I found this novel to be a good one to read a bit, then set it down to pick back up later. Being able to walk away and then digest it in smaller increments helped me make my way through the book – it’s a really good read to savor! I really enjoyed taking my time with it; I got invested in all the members of the family and their storylines and while this book does cover a lot of really difficult, and often sad, topics, there is so much to keep your interest. I read one review that compared it to a hike where the journey along the way is more important than the view at the end and I’d wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. It’s not one to choose if you’re in the mood for a light, quick read, but if you’re interested in a well-written story with history and depth, I do recommend giving this one a chance!

Here’s to lots more reading while snuggling a sweet baby in August!