It was a pretty good reading month! One delicious cookbook, one amazing nonfiction book that I think all women should be required to read, one beautiful book of poetry, three five star fiction picks, and a few good to okay reads. It was a nice variety! I’m excited to share them with you tonight.
Before I jump in, though, I just wanted to clarify my rating system again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few months and have decided to become a lot more forgiving in what I’ll rate a book. It’s really become clear to me how much ratings and positive reviews affect the success of a book and I don’t want to be part of a negative group of people that brings a book down unless I genuinely hated it. As a small business owner who depends on high ratings to draw in more customers, I would be devastated if the people who bought my dolls left me anything less than a 5 star review when I put so much of my time, heart, and soul into my creations. The same is true for authors – or at least the majority of them. So I want to be a little more willing to look past parts of a storyline that maybe just didn’t agree with me and give a book a rating I think it probably deserves. As always, I reserve the special 5* rating for the books I absolutely adore because they touched my heart, made me laugh, made me cry, and I’d definitely read them again. If I really loved a book I’ll give it a 5. If I liked a book and didn’t find anything significantly wrong with it I’ll give it a 4. If I thought a book was just okay, but I didn’t have a problem finishing it, I’ll give it a 3. If I hated a book, but still finished it, I’ll give it a 2. And that’s really as low as I’ll go. I feel like some people (I pay a lot of attention to reviews, particularly those of people I follow on goodreads and on podcasts and facebook) take pride in how harshly they judge the books they read. And I don’t want to be that kind of person. Authors are real people and they deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the very hard work that goes into not only writing, but publishing their written words.
Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook by Perre Coleman Magness
Rating: 5* stars
This may very well be my favorite specialty cookbook of all time. I was absolutely tickled to randomly come across it at Half Priced Books. A whole cookbook about pimento cheese?! Incredible! I LOVE pimento cheese. Growing up in Wisconsin, it’s definitely not a thing around here. I’d never even heard of it until I tried The Pioneer Woman’s recipe on peppers (it’s delish) just a couple of years ago. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I also recently tried the recipe from The Happy Cookbook and loved it with all the spicy extras. But this cookbook! I marked down almost every single recipe as being something I wanted to try. Just the number of variations alone is exciting. But all the additional ways you can use the cheese really sounded great. I immediately gathered a bunch of smoked cheeses I had open in the fridge to create the Smoky Bacon Pimento Cheese – and proceeded to scarf down a ton of it on fresh farmers market bread. Another huge draw is that I believe every single recipe had a beautiful accompanying photo – the best part of any cookbook. Honestly, I am so very excited to use this cookbook again and again. Highly recommend if you love pimento (or any) cheese as much as me!
What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
Rating: 4 stars
Amy Harmon is another Book Bonanza author, so her books have been on my radar a lot in the last year. Even though her book Making Faces is one of the best books I’ve ever read, I kept dismissing this newest release because it’s historical fiction – a genre I tend to avoid unless a book is getting a massive amount of buzz. I finally got around to reading the description and realized it was set in Ireland, my favorite place in the world, and decided to give it a shot. Overall – a beautiful and well written story with a tiny bit of fantasy around unexplained time travel. Where the book lost me, however, was how in depth it got about the political climate in Ireland around 1921. I can’t stand reading about politics. Apparently even in my beloved Ireland. It’s definitely essential to the story, but just wasn’t for me. It took me a pretty long time to finish this, but I loved the sweeping saga of love and family and staying connected throughout time.
Loving Mr. Daniels by Brittainy C. Cherry
Rating: 3 stars
I was on a roll with teacher/student romances last month – and this is another Book Bonanza author – so I picked it up. The difference with this book compared to the ones I read last month is that this was a romance between a high school teacher and high school student. Most definitely off limits – not just frowned upon. I had very mixed feelings on it. Ashlyn is a 19 year old senior whose twin sister just died and she’s sent to live with her estranged father and his new family. On the train to her new life she meets Daniel and they have an instant connection. Until they realize he’s her teacher. I really struggled with finding things to like about Ashlyn. Yes, she was grieving and grief makes you act in unpredictable and perhaps childish ways. But she was so snotty! And Daniel. Yes, he seemed like an adorable hero with plenty of his own grief – way more than anybody should have to live with at that young of an age. But I couldn’t get past how little he tried to protect both Ashlyn and himself with their forbidden romance. Basically the only thing I liked about this book was the new family. I loved them. So overall – not that great of a book.
Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
Rating: 3.5 stars
More mixed emotions on this one. I read it very quickly, but I had some serious issues trying see Elouise as anything more than a crazy annoying child that is obsessed with making the world bend to her wishes. But the story was packed with summer nostalgia of working a high school job in a small town. I did find it a bit unbelievable that so many of the high schoolers in such a tiny town were so fluid in their gender identification. MAYBE that’s how things are now – but I kind of doubt it. It just made everything a bit too convenient. At any rate, as annoying as Lou was, I really adored how everything came together in the end.
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
Rating: 5 stars
If you’re looking for a truly realistic love story between two amazingly written characters, this is it. I loved Josh and Kristen so much. They meet through their best friends, Kristen hires Josh to help her out with some carpentry for her business, and they become the greatest of friends. They both long for something deeper, but know it can never happen – Josh wants kids and Kristen’s about to get a hysterectomy. I admit I was a little bit surprised at just how much Kristen’s periods and bleeding issues featured in the book, but I appreciated how true to life that actually was. Not some steamy romance where everyday things like that just somehow don’t exist. I was definitely frustrated that the entire thing keeping them apart could have been figured out if Kristen had just STOPPED KEEPING HER SECRET. It’s infuriating sometimes when a single sentence could clear up everything. But then you probably wouldn’t have a book. Anyway, this story is shockingly emotional, but I loved it so much.
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Rating: 4 stars
I really enjoyed this nuanced look into the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This is the first book I’ve read by Sally Hepworth and it was so well done. The subtleties of the family dynamic and relationships felt so realistic. The book itself goes back and forth in time from the perspective of both Diana and Lucy. I believe this book is marketed as a psychological thriller, but you won’t be getting any insane twists and turns. It’s just interesting enough to keep you reading. I really enjoyed it.
Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
Rating: 4.5 stars
As you might know, I really struggle with nonfiction books. I WANT to read them. I can’t stop finding and buying more that sound life changingly incredible. But if they’re not abundantly interesting, relatable, and easy to read – I barely ever get past the first chapter or two. This started as one of those books, but I kept hearing so much buzz that I didn’t want to give up on it. And I’m so glad I didn’t! This felt like the kind of reading every woman alive should be given. It discussed stress and adequate rest, and well, burnout, better than anything I have ever read before. There were so many visualizations in the book that helped me understand things that have only ever been vague concepts before. BUT, there is also a lot of science in this book. That’s the point – using science to prove these concepts. And I don’t like reading about sciency things. Fortunately, there was enough other stuff to keep me intrigued. And while it did take me two months to finish, I’m so very glad I did.
The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin
Rating: 5* stars
This was the perfect happily ever after book to read on a stormy summer day with nothing else to do. I loved it so much! Cover designer Eva is bequeathed a large sum of money after her mother’s death and she decides to use it to take a round the world trip, checking things off a list of her mom’s dreams. She books everything through a company that will provide an escort to keep her safe and on task during her travels. By a twist of fate she ends up traveling with Danish hunk, Thor, who she feels an immediate spark with. And together they travel the world. I wasn’t expecting so much exciting adventure in the pages of this book. It was such a joy to read. I’ve loved all of Holly Martin’s books and this one was especially sweet with such wonderfully endearing characters! It was a perfect summer romance.
A Love Letter from the Girls Who Feel Everything by Brittainy C. Cherry and Kandi Steiner
Rating: 4 stars
Brittainy Cherry has been on my radar as another Book Bonanza author (they’ve really taken over my reading life the last few months!) and author of Loving Mr. Daniels which I read earlier this month. I was intrigued by this slim book of poetry – different from both author’s romance novels. I read it in a single very short sitting and probably would have benefited from picking it up time to time for a more impactful reading experience. But I’m antsy to up my book totals for this month and was happy to read it all at once! Anyway, I still struggle with much like Rupi Kaur’s poetry, a single sentence can be given a few line breaks and then it becomes a worthwhile publishable poem. I read poetry VERY rarely, and if it makes an impact that’s all that should count, right? But sometimes it just feels a little too easy. At any rate, I really enjoyed these poems. I couldn’t relate to many of them because they were very obviously about past relationships and men who have hurt them. But the universal feeling of betrayal and rejection is widespread and I could definitely appreciate the emotion behind them. If you do like Rupi Kaur’s poetry, I think these would be a great book to pick up with a similar writing style!
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
Rating: 2 stars
I did not like this book. Let me save you the trouble of picking it up and tell you that the entire book is about fighting the logistics of dating a super famous British boy bander. With a lot of struggle thrown in because the heroine is twice his age and mom of a tween girl who idolizes the band members. I kept reading because I somehow expected something to change and the book wouldn’t literally be a same reiteration of the same idea paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter. I was actually about to DNF around 40% when something intriguing happened, but it was barely ever brought up again. I did not like Solene. She felt entitled and lived a life of luxury to begin with that was so far from most people’s reality. I liked Hayes, but I didn’t feel like he was genuinely given that much personality. I wish I hadn’t wasted five days of my reading time finishing this book.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: 5 stars
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I would like this book. I don’t particularly like reading about teenage moms because the assumption is that they really don’t have their lives together and the whole book will revolve around that particular struggle. I picked it up anyway because it’s about food and a love of cooking and that line of story will always pull me in. And honestly, I loved this book. It was genuinely inspirational how together and positive the character Emoni was. I fell in love with her unconventional little family and her supportive friends. Her take on motherhood and being there for her daughter while still finishing high school, working, and participating in a rigorous culinary arts course kind of put me to shame! It was a beautiful book and I’m so glad I picked it up.