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. šŸ˜‰ I’m still looking forward to diving into a few good ones!

May 2021 Book Reviews

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

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

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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

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

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

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

Followers by Megan Angelo

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

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

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

March 2021 Book Reviews

No tricks, just treats today as I’m kicking off April with my favorite kind of post: book reviews!

In March I read three books and mostly (you’ll see) enjoyed them all. Let’s dive right in!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch: A Novel by [Kate Stayman-London]

Bea is a successful and popular plus-sized fashion blogger, and after writing a scathing about the lack of diversity on the reality show Main Squeeze, she is approached by the producer to come on the show and give a new look to the franchise as the lead for their next season. I’ve watched the Bachelor/Bachelorette for years (although less frequently in the past 5 years) so this was a really fun read for me. I liked the characters, I liked the parallels to the franchise we all know and love (or love to hate), I liked how it gave a peel-back-the-curtain feel to “reality” TV . I found Bea to be a charming and relatable heroine and I was rooting for her to find love. Most of the other characters are also really likeable and I loved that in between chapters we would see what was happening around the country – what were people saying in podcasts or writing in articles or talking about in group chats. That’s really what Bachelor Nation is like and it broadened the plot beyond Bea’s personal experience. The real Bachelor franchise is currently experiencing a major reckoning with lack of racial diversity over the years, and they also never have contestants with body diversity either. It was really interesting to imagine a scenario where they would move in this direction! I loved the message that everyone deserves love and size isn’t (or shouldn’t be) what people judge you on. I’ll give a little warning that while the Bachelor has producers to edit out language and sexual content before viewing, this book doesn’t, so be aware of that if that’s not your cup of tea. If you’re a fan of the Bachelor franchise, I really think you’d enjoy this book but I also think those who aren’t fans would enjoy it.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River: A Novel by [Liz Moore]

Mickey is a cop whose beat includes a tough Philadelphia neighborhood overwhelmed by the opioid crisis. Her sister Kacey is an addict who lives on those same streets. After Kacey disappears around the same time as a string of murders begins, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding both the killer and Kacey.

This was a book chosen by my book club. I’m not sure I would have chosen to read it otherwise, but I can say with a good amount of confidence that if I had chosen to read it on my own, I doubt I would have finished it because the plot absolutely dragged. It’s not really a mystery and not really a thriller, though it had elements of both. It was a character-driven novel, but I struggled because I didn’t actually like Mickey, the sole point of view and main character, very much. It is very slow-moving and covers a lot of hard subject matter like drug addiction, exploitation, murder, single parenthood, homelessness, etc. There are a lot of little side plots and a lot of time spent on Mickey and Kacey’s history and childhood. By page 200 I was really having to force myself to keep reading and I think had it not been a book club pick, I would have quit. But then, all the sudden, something happened in the plot that changed everything for me and I couldn’t put the rest of the book down! I absolutely flew through the last third of the book and loved it. Everyone in my book club agreed that the last portion of the book was so different than the rest; it felt like “this is the book I wanted to read!” To be honest, I don’t know if I recommend it or not. I think it definitely depends on the reader. It needed to be 100 pages shorter, but I did ultimately really enjoy where it ended up. I’m glad I finished it!

What you Wish For by Katherine Center

Samantha and the rest of her colleagues at school are reeling from the loss of their beloved principal. Just when it seems like things will never be good again, Duncan Carpenter is announced as the next principal. Sam’s history with Duncan at a previous school gives her hope that he will bring much-needed fun, joy, and life back into the school. But when Duncan arrives, the rule-following, safety-obsessed authoritarian is nothing like the guy she remembers. Is the old Duncan still in there? And can Sam help coax him back?

I wanted to read something fun and interesting, with a bit of depth but not too much and this was the perfect choice. I found the characters, both main and side, to be interesting and likeable, I loved the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I enjoyed that there were only a couple side plots included and they were all meaningful to the story. The setting in a unique school in the beachside community of Galveston was fun to picture and I easily felt like part of the school community there. I will say, this book does cover the heavy topic of reasons why safety in schools is important in this day and age, which might be triggering for some people. That being said, it didn’t really feel overly light or overly dramatic – it just hit a nice middle ground, like a Hallmark movie with some depth. I enjoyed it!

My April stack is growing so hopefully I’ll be able to devote quite a bit of time to reading because I have several books I’m excited about reading soon! What books have you been loving lately?

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!