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?

October 2022 Book Reviews

Happy Halloween! No tricks, just treats around here and for me, my monthly book review is always a treat!

While this isn’t my absolute favorite holiday, I have always loved dressing up and choosing costumes, particularly group costumes for my family, and I enjoy going all out. This year, my inspiration was from Vi and her obsession with Frozen.

I am so looking forward to trick-or-treating with this crew tonight, but first things first, let’s take a look back at the books I read this month.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Fueled by too much vodka and a broken heart, young witch Vivienne Jones uses her magic to place a seemingly harmless curse on her now ex-boyfriend, Rhys Penhallow. Now nine years later, Rhys has returned to town and it isn’t long before Vivi realizes that innocent curse she placed years ago actually has very real consequences. Vivi and Rhys now have to work together to reverse the curse and save the town . . . and maybe discover that their summer love from all those years ago hasn’t faded like they thought.

I specifically chose this book to read over Halloween weekend and that absolutely upped the enjoyment level for me. The small town setting feels like a Hallmark movie but for witches at Halloween and that was just the vibe I was going for. It’s obviously fantasy so you have to ignore the unrealistic bits, but I loved Vivi and Rhys and their dynamic and found the story to be a fun little world to get swept up in. I did wish there was some more backstory and side plot development, specifically relating to their families, and felt like there were a few unresolved or hastily-resolved plot points. There were some random things thrown in there that could have been skipped in order to give more time to relevant side plots, and the ending felt a big rushed. Fair warning: it’s not incredibly graphic, but there are quite a few steamy moments and references (felt a bit overkill at times) so I’d give it an R-rating for content. Overall, I liked it and it was a satisfying choice for Halloween weekend, but I think if I wasn’t in the mood for that specific vibe I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I’d give it a solid B rating, upping it to a B+ if you’re reading over Halloween!

The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea

Once a successful blogger, Willa has been struggling to figure out a plan for her life ever she found her fiancé and her best friend in bed together. After a chance encounter in a coffee shop introduces her to Maisie, they realize they might be the answer to one another’s problems. Willa needs money to start fresh in a new city and Maisie needs one more bridesmaid for her upcoming wedding and is willing to pay Willa to fill the role. Willa is determined not to be burned by love or best-friendship again, so through bridal showers and dress fittings she works to not actually grow close to Maisie – or to the charming best man, Liam. As the wedding approaches, the relationships she’s forming seem less and less like a job and more and more like the real thing and Willa has to decide if it’s worth truly putting herself out there again.

I think this would probably be classified as a romance, but the theme definitely centers more on the importance of female friendship. Willa is clearly way more devastated about losing her best friend from childhood than she was about losing her fiancé, and the central plot focuses much more on her relationship with Maisie than it does on her relationship with Liam. On the one hand, I found that to be very refreshing, but on the other hand, it got really repetitive. Willa is devastated over Sarah. Willa can’t figure out why Maisie doesn’t have real friends. Willa resists getting close to anyone. Rinse and repeat. I guess I got a bit tired of it being continuously about that cycle and I felt like that left some other things underdeveloped. I would have liked to see more of the relationship with Liam and more development within the supporting characters. I liked Willa, Maisie, and Liam and wanted to root for all three, but I also cringe reading plots based on a lie that you know all along is going to be a disaster when it’s revealed, so that did affect my enjoyment a little. I can’t share other feelings without it getting into spoiler territory so I’ll just say: this was a fine read with likeable main characters that uplifts female friendship, but ultimately left a few things to be desired and I ended up feeling like it was B- level.

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

If you’ve ever seen the American version of the TV show The Office, you know Jenna and Angela as two of the main characters, Pam and Angela. What you might not know is that this show brought them together not only as coworkers, but real life best friends. This book recaps their experience on the show and how their friendship grew alongside it through the years, giving lots of fun behind-the-scenes tidbits and photos along the way.

I would consider myself to be a moderate Office fan – I’m not going to win any obscure Office trivia contests and I didn’t watch while it was on TV but I’ve seen all the episodes since and definitely think it’s funny. This book was such an entertaining deep dive into the show and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I actually think this book would still be enjoyable even if you haven’t seen the show; it gives so much insight into how TV shows are made, which I found to be fascinating, and Jenna and Angela’s dynamic is so relatable. You know when you see a magazine feature along the lines of “celebrities: they’re just like us!” and then you see a picture of them pumping gas for their car or watching their kids play soccer? This book felt like that only so much better. I loved reading how Jenna and Angela love crafting and Target and hosting Yankee Swap (aka White Elephant) gift exchanges. Their red carpet experiences were both hilarious and charming and hearing how their friendship grew through successes and challenges, both at work and in their personal lives, was heartwarming. Overall, I just found this book to be a delightful read and especially recommend it to any fan of the show!

Have a happy Halloween!

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

NEW BOOK ALERT!

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!

June 2022 Book Review

Good morning and Happy July!

Our June was absolutely nuts around here. For one thing, we went on two different vacations: eight days in Virginia Beach with Justin’s family and then six days in Maryland with some friends. That’s 14 days of being on vacation (with kids!) AND roughly thirty-eight hours in the car total on the road trips. That’s right. THIRTY. EIGHT. HOURS. In a car. With two small children and a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy. I honestly don’t know what we were thinking haha, but suffice to say we made lots of memories!

We’re thankful that we had the ability to get some traveling in, but traveling with kids is basically just parenting in a different location. While each trip was fun, neither was what I would call particularly relaxing and I had virtually no time for reading. When we were home, I was either packing, unpacking, repacking, or going about our normal days of cleaning/laundry/playground days/home projects/etc. It was such a full month that I was only able to get through one book, but it was one I have a lot of thoughts about!

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali

Teenaged Roya is growing up in Tehran, Iran in the 1950s amidst quite a bit of political turmoil – there are people passionately loyal to the Shah, those who think Russia and the communists have the right idea, and those who are striving for democracy and have hopes pinned on their prime minister. An encounter in her beloved stationary shop introduces Roya to Bahman, a young man with a yearning for justice and democracy, and it isn’t long before they fall deeply in love. But certain forces are at work to keep them apart, and on the date they are supposed to get married, violence erupts – a violence that will change their country, and their lives, forever.

This was historical fiction like I’ve never read before. Prior to this book, I knew next to nothing about the Iranian Coup. While these characters were fictional, many of the events talked about really did happen and it was eye-opening for sure. I will say, Roya and Bahman are characters you want to root for, and it’s such a mixture of feelings to see how their lives play out. The book started out a little slow but picked up as I went along. While there are some lighthearted, enjoyable parts, overall this book is a sweeping read through the decades and covers some heavier moments – while it’s hard to use words like “enjoyed” when I think about my feelings, it is powerfully written and poignant and I can almost promise you’ll have thoughts afterwards. We read this for my book club and there was no shortage of discussion! It’s got romance, it’s got some mystery, it’s got some tragedy, it’s got some hope, and it’s got a lot of references to Iranian people, places, foods, and events. If you enjoy historical fiction about lesser-known events in world history (I don’t think anyone in my book club knew much, if anything, about this history in Iran and how the United States was involved as well), I think this is a great choice!

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Now I’m curious – do you find you read more or less during the summer months? I would normally say more, but this year is definitely much less. Our July is hopefully going to be much calmer – we’re staying home and hosting quite a bit, but I think there will be much more room for reading in my life in the coming weeks. I’m excited to get back into my reading stack!

April 2022 Book Reviews

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

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

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

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

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

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2022 Book Reviews

Happy Wednesday and happy book review day!

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

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

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

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

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

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

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

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

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

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

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

February 2022 Book Reviews

Another month, another round of fun reads!

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

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

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

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

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

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

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

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

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

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

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

January 2022 Book Reviews

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

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

Shipped by Angie Hockman

Shipped by [Angie Hockman]

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

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

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Rock Paper Scissors: A Novel by [Alice Feeney]

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

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

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