What I Read February 2019

February was a really off reading month for me. I was either super busy or super distracted. While I did have two fabulous re-reads, the rest of the fiction I read was pretty meh. I’ve had almost no interest in nonfiction, which is a bit disappointing after how excited I was about nonfiction in January. I know not every month can be amazing, but I was still a bit bummed out and uninterested the entire month.

The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook by Olivia Hops
Rating: 5 stars

I bought this cookbook on a craving fueled whim after Christmas and it didn’t disappoint! There isn’t a lot to read in it besides a quick intro to each recipe, so it does feel a bit more like cheating to add this to my book list for the month. But, I loved it! If you like to eat raw cookie dough, this book will amaze you. There is a short introductory chapter on heat treating your flour and ways you can use the cookie dough and how to store it, etc. And it’s followed by so many amazing looking doughs! Almost every recipe has a photo of a beautiful scoop of cookie dough that even if the flavor doesn’t sound great, you’re still going to want to eat it after looking at the picture. I tried out the basic chocolate chip recipe right away and it was great! This is going to be a dangerous cookbook to have around because I want to try almost every single recipe. So if you’re into quick and fun deserts and don’t mind keeping such a specialized topic cookbook around, I highly recommend this one!


What if it’s Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Rating: 2.5 stars

This is a book I probably should have abandoned. I kept holding out hope that it was going to get better and it never really did. The story is about two teenage boys who feel like the universe brought them together and they should be guaranteed some sort of epic love story. Ben is fresh out of a relationship and is jaded to the possibility of a new love right away. Arthur is only in NYC for a summer internship, but is hopeful and goofy and wears his heart on his sleeve. The only reason I stuck with this to the end is that I found Arthur to be such an endearing character. Ben, though? I didn’t like him at all. There was so much back story and friendship and ex-boyfriend related angst that it took away from what could have been a really sweet romance. I mean, not all romance books need to be sweet. But I felt like this really should have been. It was just okay.

Tell Me Three Things (re-read!) by Julie Buxbaum
Rating: 5* stars

I have a shelf of books reserved for my absolute favorites that I know I’d read again. The problem – I never re-read them because there are always so many new books I want to read and never enough time. This month I was really craving the familiarity of a story that would bring me all the happy feelings – guaranteed. I loved this book on its re-read even more than the first time around. Knowing the ending actually added so much sweetness to the story. It’s about two people who anonymously form a friendship that carries them both through some emotionally tough times. I really love this book!

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss by Kasie West
Rating: 5 stars

I always get excited about a new book by Kasie West. She’s one of my favorite YA authors because I feel like every book she writes has a solid, sweet, dependable romance. This book was about an aspiring young actress on the set of her first movie with a Hollywood heart throb. Lacey is confident and outspoken and friendly. The only thing she hates – doing her independent study homework. Her dad hires her a tutor who of course proves to be a wonderful love interest – the first real crush Lacey has ever had. I really enjoyed this story as the characters banded together to solve a small mystery, while Lacey and Donovan got to know each other. If you love YA books and are satisfied with a well earned kiss, this is a great one.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (audio)
Rating: 4 stars

I listened to this on audio while we were driving home from Nebraska on terrible road conditions after a snowstorm. Because I had very little to distract me, this is an audiobook I finally feel like I fully paid attention to. It was also a very easy and entertaining book to listen to. I’ve always liked Anna Kendrick and it was fascinating to learn so much more about her, especially all the theater acting she did in New York as a child. She really came across as a regular, every day person. She continued to point out how normal her life really is. I felt like it was a fairly vulnerable and honest celebrity memoir that she wasn’t writing just for the sake of making some extra money. Overall, a nice listen!

The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 3 stars

This book had so little effect on me that I almost forgot to add it to my reading log, less than a day after I finished it. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed. I read Fischer’s Mud Vein in December and it was one of my favorite books of the year. I think The Opportunist was her first book, though, and it shows. There were a lot of errors, the formatting was bizarre (probably not her fault!), and the plot was sometimes hard to follow. The characters were not very likeable and the timeline was confusing. I didn’t hate the book – I still finished it. But I will surely forget about it entirely within a few weeks. (a few weeks later writing this – I have forgotten completely)

Match Me if You Can by Tiana Smith
Rating: 2 stars

This book is the epitome of angsty teenage love triangle and the perfect example of why a lot of people really hate to read YA. Me? I LOVE YA. But it was a serious challenge forcing myself to finish this. The only reason I did was because for some unknown reason, I preordered it last year and now own a hard copy that arrived in the mail. I’ve never read the author before, so it must have either been an accident, or I bought it because the cover was beautiful. Which it is! But the story? Ugh. So, this is about Mia, the boy Vince who she’s been crushing on, and the boy Logan who is constantly flirting with her, but she doesn’t perceive as being serious. What bothered me so much from the get go is that you get almost no back story about the characters, they just immediately dive into their relationships. The characters get into fights about not showing enough love when they’ve been together for literally half a date. The entire book only takes place in about two weeks’ time. It’s so ridiculous. And ALLLLLLLLL Mia talks about is the pros and cons of Vince and Logan. It’s so obvious who is the better choice in every single situation. I usually don’t mind predictability in a romance novel – especially in the YA genre because I purposely look to it for sweet and simple love. But this was tough. Anyway, I really hate to write such harsh reviews and it probably would have been better to just put it aside. But – there you go.

Girl Boner by August McLaughlin
Rating: 4.5 stars

I saw this book being promoted on an instagram account I follow and was curious enough to immediately order it. Maybe not necessarily the type of nonfiction I’m used to reading, but I was highly intrigued! The author has written an extremely comprehensive guide to sexual empowerment in women, or people who identify as female. I read the entire book in four days, which is basically unheard of for me and nonfiction! While I can’t say I agree with every single “empowering” topic she covered, it was truly interesting and worth the investment of the book. I wish it’s a book I had read fifteen years ago instead of now. The book covers so much about self love and how to find a positive body image, mental health stumbling blocks, explanations of all gender related things, chapters on abuse and spirituality, and so much more. I would highly recommend this book for all women to read, but I think it would be incredibly useful for late teens and early 20’s.

Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid
Rating: 3 stars

The only Penny Reid I’ve read in the past is her Winston Brothers series, which I love. I’ve heard so many things about this Knitting in the City series and finally picked up this one, her very first novel. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed by it. I’m not sure if it was self published, but I feel like the book could have used some serious editing. It was SO wordy. One of my pet peeves is dialog that could and should be snappy, but is ruined by huge paragraphs of descriptions in between every line. This book was full of it. I think it had the potential to be really great, but I just could not connect with the characters. I’m not really interested in picking up the rest of the series.

Freefall by Jessica Barry
Rating: 2.5 stars

I picked up this book somewhat blindly, hoping for a thriller to pull me out of the fictional reading rut I’ve been in this month. It starts off with a plane crash, so I was expecting some sort of intense survival story. That didn’t happen. Alternating chapters between Allison and her estranged mother Maggie, the mystery very, very slowly unfolds. And I was SO bored. Basically, absolutely nothing happens for 60% of the book. And then it finally got interesting. But really not enough to redeem it. I kept wanting to put it down, but I pushed through. I’m not sure it was worth it.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Rating: 5 stars

When it comes to romance discussions in some of my online book groups, this is a title that has come up multiple times as being a great one. I finally picked it up and it didn’t disappoint. Nicolas and Livvy were teenage best friends and lovers ripped apart by a family tragedy. Every year, on Livvy’s birthday, they get together for a single night of passion and part ways for another year without contact. After ten years they find themselves living in the same city again and can’t seem to stay away from each other. I really liked this book because it had a great emotional context with a lot of back story and complicated relationships. The sex scenes were pretty steamy and didn’t feel like graphic fluff. Overall, I really liked this and definitely plan on reading the next two books in the series.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Rating: 4 stars

Alicia is a famous painter who killed her husband and then spent seven years in total silence. Theo is a therapist determined to get to the bottom of her silence and discover what truly happened on the night of the murder. This book is a mix of journal entries from Alicia’s past and and what life is like on the psych ward where Alicia presides, from Theo’s perspective. I was definitely intrigued by the storyline enough to read most of this book in a single day. It was more a curiosity than a true thrill ride, but I enjoyed it.

Slammed (re-read!) by Collen Hoover
Rating: 5* stars

It has officially been solidified in my mind that re-reading a favorite book is about the best thing in the world. I was having a pretty tough week and wanted to finish the month up with a guaranteed reading win (plus one of my goals for February was to re-read two books, so I was down to the wire on getting in my second one!). This is actually the third time I’ve read Slammed and I still adored every single page. It’s Colleen Hoover’s first book, but still packs such an incredible emotional punch. The characters are real and flawed and feel so much! I love it. I completely love this book.

What I Read January 2019

Book time! It was another huge reading month for me. Eighteen books! And two that I read a big chunk of, but decided not to finish. It’s been a good escape from life and my selections are all over the board, genre-wise. There were some great ones, though!

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this book about a group of 30ish year old friends who decide to join a dating app to try and find dates for a big event at the college where they work. There are four men and one woman and they’ve been the best of platonic friends for years. But slightly drunk night on a whim, Millie decides to seduce the one she’s closest to, Reid. They have a “half-night stand” and then go back to being friends. Of course, they end up matching on the dating app, though Millie has her profile set to her middle name with an abstract photo and Reid doesn’t know it’s her. This book then follows their friendship with occasional benefits as they learn to become more emotionally available to each other. I thought that Reid was a fantastic character and I understood his frustration at how closed off Millie is emotionally, despite being a great person. Their group of friends made the story funny and enjoyable. It was a fun book to get my reading year off to a great start!

Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner
Rating: 4 stars

This was a great book about being stretched too thin as a working mom. While I’m not the traditional working mom that needs to leave the house every day, I still got a lot of great insight out of it as I struggle just as much to find balance in every area of my life. I like that Turner is straightforward, approachable, and relatable in her chapters. The book is easy to read and provides many helpful tips. While I didn’t find anything to be mind blowingly unique, it was really nice to have so many ideas collected in one space. I’m glad I read it.

Delish by Joanna Saltz & The Editors of Delish
Rating: 3 stars

I’ve decided to start adding cookbooks to my book lists because I do usually read them cover to cover before deciding what to make from them. It IS a book, so it should count, right? This was an impulsive add to my Christmas wish list that I received as a gift. The general feeling throughout the cookbook is that cooking should be fun and food should be delicious. The pages are silly and fun with a lot of input from the editors of Delish, as well as tidbits about unique restaurant foods. I did mark quite a few recipes to try out in the future, but there were so many that I knew I’d never even consider. So many casserole type dishes – and a ton of pasta – which I don’t like at all, in any form. I’ll definitely give it a few months, but I’m not sure this is a cookbook that’ll stay on my shelf for long. It just didn’t feel that memorable to me and there was nothing that I saw that I’m dying to make.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
Rating: 5 stars

I loved this step by step approach to redesigning your home to rooms filled with cozy minimalism. Even though I don’t exactly love all of Myquillyn’s personal style, I can surely appreciate how she goes about decorating and found a lot of inspiration for my own home. I’m not yet ready to fully commit to so many changes, but the book has given me so much to think about and convinced me I should seriously stop buying any more decor – EVER. I’m very tempted to want to start over, but it does feel overwhelming. But overall – a great and approachable book I plan to keep around for future decorating needs.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Rating: 4.5 stars

This book was such a change of pace from the style of books I tend to prefer (fast paced, contemporary, character and dialog driven). I admit that it took me a solid 25% to really get into the story and what felt like way too many days wasted that I could have spent reading something else. BUT, it was such a beautiful book. It takes the approach of a slowly told folk tale of a drowned girl found in the Thames who later comes back to life. Three families come to claim her and after a very, very lengthy introduction to all of the characters, the story finally unravels. The writing was slow, but so colorful and descriptive. By the end I was enraptured and so glad I spent my time on it. A lovely book that I truly recommend.

Fail Until You Don’t by Bobby Bones
Rating: 5* stars

I once saw this on a list of great audiobooks to listen to and added it to my library list. It took until the second extremely long wait for it to come up before I finally listened. And I’m so glad I did! This is the best and most straight forward self help book I’ve ever come across. Granted I haven’t read a ton of them, but this one really made an impact. I loved it as an audio version because Bobby Bones is a radio show host and talks for a living, so he makes it fun and entertaining. But I loved this book so much that I am absolutely going to buy the book so I can read it again, armed with a handful of highlighters. Most of what he has to say is geared toward furthering your career, but all of the advice can be taken for any area of your life you’d like to succeed in. Knowing more about the enneagram these days, I can tell you that Bobby is most definitely a 3 and basically a male Rachel Hollis. He did have a chapter about how hard he continues to work even if he’s violently ill – which is kind of the point where I can no longer agree with him. But for the most part, so much of what he had to say was so worthwhile and easy to understand and easy to put into practice. I highly, highly recommend.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was an interesting psychological thriller about a girl with very few ties in NYC who sneaks into a psychology study in order to earn a little extra money. The psychologist in charge of the study takes a keen interest in her and abandons the study in order to follow up with Jessica, giving her plenty of moral dilemmas and situations while observing how she reacts to them. I was definitely intrigued by the book, but found it a bit disappointing by the end. I kept expecting some major twists and they never happened. Though I also saw a review beforehand that talked about the final twist you’ll never see coming. If there was a final twist I was too dumb to see what it was!! I still enjoyed the book, but I liked their previous book a lot more.

Romeo & What’s Her Name by Shani Petroff
Rating: 4 stars

This was a lighthearted and sweet little YA romance about a girl who tries to win the heart of her long time crush by performing a scene from Romeo and Juliet with him – and flubs it horribly. After the first few chapters I wasn’t sure this was really for me – it felt a bit too juvenile with sqealing girls and clandestine spying on the boys they liked. Though in reality that’s probably closer to how teenagers actually act compared to how most YA books portray them. But I stuck with it because I desperately needed a lighter read and it got SO FUNNY. I was laughing hysterically from some of the scenes. I adored Emily, the main character, and her ability to always laugh at herself and her craziness instead of letting it get her too down. Overall, a fast and really fun read.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Rating: 4 stars

I had really, really, probably unobtainably high expectations for this book after LOVING Thorne’s first book, The Hating Game, and declaring it my favorite book of last year. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite live up to my hopes and dreams. I DID like it. Quite a bit, actually. The main character, Darcy, was so much fun. She seemed to have zero filter and masked all of her deepest feelings for her best and oldest friend Tom by just saying them the second they’d flit through her mind. What bothered me most is that both main characters couldn’t seem to make up their minds on what they wanted. The same with Darcy’s twin, Jamie. Everyone had such conflicting thoughts and words and actions. I get that life is messy and not everything is always straightforward. But it felt so all over the place at times that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Obviously these are different characters and if they had the exact same character traits that made me love The Hating Game so much, it wouldn’t be a new book. But I was expecting that amazingly snappy dialog and chemistry and it fell a little bit flat. I still enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite a favorite.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin
Rating: 5* stars

This is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the only nonfiction books I’ve actually finished AND read in a timely manner! I love the entire message of this book so much. It’s about stepping outside your comfort and security and loving the people around you. She makes it so clear that it’s not about trying to convert people to your faith or trying to get them to come to your church. It’s about BEING THERE for them. Showing up time and time again. Loving them. Getting dirty and helping them. Being a friend. Being a confidant. Helping to mother their children. It’s about truly stepping out of your house and loving your neighbors. Your actual neighbors. It was quite the inspirational message. I had a hard time hearing some of it as a pretty intense introvert. But I’m trying to be open to being more like Shannan in my own life. Imagine how rich the world would be if we all could love like her? This is a fantastic book that I highly, highly recommend.

The One by John Marrs
Rating: DID NOT FINISH (DNF)

Okay, I know this is going to mess with my statistics a bit, but in my more comprehensive reading log I’m trying out this year, we are supposed to include our DNF’s (did not finish). I keep hearing how if you want to have the best reading life, you really need to be okay with putting down books that aren’t right for you. Or aren’t right for you at this moment. I got 130 pages into this book and I was just so bored by it. It alternates between five main characters with 2-3 pages per chapter. Every chapter ends with a mini cliffhanger, but you don’t see what happens next until you cycle through all the other characters. This kind of thing really annoys me because I can’t concentrate on the next mini cliffhanger when I’m still wondering about the last. The only thing that interested me were the chapters about the serial killer, but he also got way too descriptive about his method of killing and how long he waited before revealing the bodies – it just wasn’t something I needed to know about in the midst of everything going on in my personal life this month. Anyway, I might enjoy reading this at another time, but I doubt I’ll pick it back up. It just felt too one dimensional with characters I didn’t care about and couldn’t see finding a happy ending.

Bibliophile by Jane Mount
Rating: 5 stars

I feel a bit weird giving this one a rating because I didn’t really read it word for word. Mostly because I looked through this book in one sitting and it was A LOT of information. This is basically an enormous collection of books organized by genre, info about bookstores, and a crazy fount of information about all bookish related things. All of it made so much more fun and interesting with illustrations galore. My favorite part of the book was seeing all the ideal bookshelf drawings for each genre. I also really loved the couple of books she showed with all their versions and covers. With my graphic design background (and intense interest), I really loved those aspects of the book best. I did skim through the things that didn’t interest me and marked the pages I plan on going back to read more deeply. This book is sure to increase your TBR piles tenfold! It’s an amazing collection that must have taken so much time and research to put together. I’m going to love having this on my shelf to go reach for again and again!

Bright Side by Kim Holden
Rating: 4.5 stars

I went into this book mistakenly thinking it was going to be a delightful romance. Something to lift some of the gloom that January brought. Small spoiler alert – this book is about dying. And living the time you have left to the absolute fullest with no regrets. I was not prepared for this book to basically ruin me by the end. It really wasn’t what I needed this month. But I don’t regret reading it either. Kate was such an amazing person. Her ability to focus on other people, always find the bright side of them, and LOVE so deeply was incredible. Especially after her rough childhood and dealing with so much of her own loss. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was how long it took to reveal certain things, which is why I’m kind of spoiling it a little bit. Just so you know what you’re getting into, if you don’t want to be blindsided by a book about death when you’re dealing with your own family death at the same time. But ultimately, it was a very uplifting book.

The Happy Cookbook by Steve and Kathy Doocy
Rating: 3.5 stars

I picked up this cookbook because it looked cute and HAPPY (good branding lol). I’m not sure who Steve Doocy is, though I think I probably should? I’m not sure, I haven’t had real tv in over ten years, so I’ve never watched a single Fox tv type of show. At any rate, I still really enjoyed reading the cookbook. Every chapter has a large introduction filled with stories related to that section of food. Then every single recipe has a full story of where the recipe came from and what it means to their family. I love this approach to cookbook – explaining how tried and true each of the recipes are. They’re not recipes they created simply for the sake of filling a cookbook. Reading their stories made me think about my own tried and true recipes that have been passed down to me and ones that I’ve loved so much I feel like I’ve made a thousand times. There aren’t that many that have stood the test of time, so it impresses me how many the Doocy’s have in their repertoire! So far I’ve only made the pimento cheese recipe and it was incredible. I never told the rest of my family I made it – just ate it myself every day for breakfast and lunch until it was gone. I really liked all the family photos that were also included throughout the book, especially when they were of the family eating the exact recipe. I’d say overall maybe 30% of the recipes were ones I’d be interested in making myself, which makes it iffy on whether I’ll keep it forever on my limited space cookbook shelf. But so far I’ve been very intrigued and would definitely recommend checking it out.

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Rating: 3 stars

Okay, so if you don’t know – Christina Lauren is actually a team of two writers. I’ve read many of their books and really liked most of them. I’m not sure exactly how they split up the writing, but this is the first book I read where it really felt like the characters were being given mixed traits depending on if the chapters were taking place in the past or the present. It bothered me. So much of this book is about the main character who shuts down emotionally and runs from any sort of deep emotional connections. It’s probably more a personal pet peeve than anything wrong with the book, but I just can’t stand people who are always shutting down and refusing to talk. It ticks me off. Which made me not like this book very much. Elliot seemed like such a great character at times, but his flaws – especially in the past – seemed kind of irredeemable to me. Anyway, the book was fine, I just didn’t like it nearly as much as their other books.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Rating: 4 stars

This book has been at the top of my TBR pile for awhile. I really wanted to read it in December before I gave it as a gift, but I ran out of time. I finally got around to it and it did not disappoint. It’s the story of a poor girl in the marshlands of North Carolina whose family walks out of her life, one by one. By age 10 she is completely on her own and somehow manages to survive. The story follows along with her life and alternates with a murder that takes places in the present (1969). To be fair, I thought about the first quarter of the book was really slow and not that interesting. The writing is beautiful and the marshlands of North Carolina were given such a fantastic sense of place and wonder. I just thought the book became a lot more interesting once Kya was a teenager and started forming relationships with a select few boys her age. The book felt a lot longer than it actually was with all the sweeping descriptions and slow moving plot. But the writing was gorgeous and I’m glad I finally made the time to read it.

Maybe Now by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 4.5 stars

Somehow yet another Colleen Hoover novel escaped my attention! I only started obsessively keeping up with new releases and my favorite authors in the last two years, so I missed out on this one! It’s the second (but technically the third?) book in the Maybe Someday series. (I also just realized I missed another book too that I’m going to have to read STAT.) Colleen has always been pretty unconventional about her publishing methods, so you never know when a book might pop up. Though I just noticed this was only released TWO MONTHS AGO. So I don’t know how in the world I missed it. Anyway, I think after such a long gap between the first book (four years), I probably should have re-read it, though a lot of the story easily came back to me because her books are so memorable. It was great revisiting all the wonderful characters and seeing how their relationships continued to grow. While it’s definitely missing that intense excitement of a central new romance, it was equally as fun watching a young romance grow deeper. At the book signing I went to last year, Colleen said that Sydney was her favorite character to date. After reading this book I have to say that she really is amazing. There’s nothing not to like about her. Anyway, definitely read Maybe Someday before you read this one. You’ll love them both!

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff
Rating: 4 stars

I cannot tell you how much these three companion books by Helene Hanff have meant to me (84, Charing Cross Road, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, and Q’s Legacy). They’re the ugliest covered old books with terrible titles, but they have my whole heart as being some of the most endearing and funny books I have ever read. Helene Hanff is an absolute treasure. She writes with such subtle yet incredible humor that had me laughing out loud throughout the entire book(s). This third installment was kind of a mixed memoir of Helene’s life with a heavy middle section of journal entries during her second trip to London. I found that section to be less intriguing, but I adored the chapters before and after. These books brought me such joy and if you love books about the love of books, I HIGHLY recommend reading these. But definitely start 84, as it’s the best!

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Rating: DNF

I listened to about half of this book on audio. For awhile I thought it was fun and light and I enjoyed it because I like Amy Poehler. But the further I got into the book the more it seemed like she was writing just to fill space, not to actually SAY anything. I feel like if you’re going to write a memoir, you really need to be vulnerable, otherwise what’s the point? This felt so surface level that at about the five or six hour mark I just didn’t care anymore.

Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 5 stars

Be forewarned that I’m going to be reading a lot of romance in the coming months as I start to work through Book Bonanza authors, who are almost all romance writers. I have mixed feelings about the romance genre. I don’t want to be the kind of person that dismisses a genre as being beneath me. I’m totally fine with romance if it feels genuine and authentic and not just smut for the sake of smut. That being said, this was a really great example of a true love story between two flawed and hurting characters. Archer is a man who lost his family and his voice as a child and has lived a completely secluded life with no other human connection. Bree is a woman who decided to flee her life after her father was brutally murdered in front of her. They find each other and slowly grow closer through simple measures of trust. With the exception of a few cliff hangers that felt very out of place (including one that almost made me throw my kindle across the room and abandon the book), this was a beautiful journey of a love between two people.

My Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time to share my favorite books of the year! While I do write about the books I read at the end of every month, I find it a lot of fun to create a final list of the best of the best to share at the end of the year. Last year I think I only shared my absolute favorite 5* books, but this year I’d like to share my 5’s as well.

This is how I usually rate the books I read:

1 – I’m not sure I’ve ever actually rated a book a 1 because if I like it enough to finish it I feel like it at least deserves a 2. So if I rated my pile of “Did Not Finish” books, they would have 1’s. But I don’t want to rate them because that would skew the data on books I actually read!
2 – I managed to finish it, but I did not like it. I’d say it’s pretty rare for me to give a 2 as well, but I will often give a rating of 2.5 if I really didn’t like it.
3 – It was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but I will have probably already forgotten what the book was about by the time I write about it at the end of the month.
4 – I really liked the book. There might have been one or two issues that bothered me enough to give it a higher rating, but overall I found very few things to dislike.
5 – I loved the book! It made me feel things intensely. It was unputdownable. It made me laugh out loud and/or it made me cry. It felt like something very important and vital to my being. It brought me tremendous joy.
5* – This extra special rating is reserved for books that I love so much I want to share them with everybody. They’re the books I’ll actually talk about to people, even if they don’t seem to share the same interest in reading as me. They’re also usually the books that I love so much I would probably re-read them at some point and want to own a great copy for my own shelves. They also might have a swoon-worthy character in them that I ADORE. 🙂

Looking back on my list for 2018, I think I’ve either been reading a lot better books or I’ve become much more liberal with my ratings! 19% of the books I read were given a 5 or 5* rating. That’s quite an upgrade from the 10 I deemed best and wanted to share in 2017! Considering five of my eleven 5* books were in December, I think I might have been feeling a bit generous. Some of them don’t exactly follow my criteria – I wouldn’t read them again (the thrillers). But I loved every page and know I’ll never forget their stories!

The Best of the Best 5* Books (maybe, a little bit, in order)

1 – The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

I loved this delightful workplace romantic comedy SO MUCH. I laughed through the entire book and adored the characters and seriously, it just made me swoon. It is one of my favorite books of all time because it’s just so FUN. It made me so happy.

2 – Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I loved reading through this book one short essay a day. With a few months off here and there, it took me over a year to read through it, but I was never tempted to totally set it aside like most (or all) devotional books I start. I thought this book was so beneficial for guiding my soul to focus on love and only love, especially where my children are concerned. Her words really made me consider the choices I make and the things I prioritize. I loved it and fully intend on reading through it again.

3 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows

I have a serious weakness for books that center around letters/emails/notes being exchanged. Though this book is entirely written in letters, it still has such an amazing sense of plot and characters because there are so many different voices. I found the entire book to be an absolute delight. I also thoroughly enjoyed it on audio and in its Netflix adaptation!

4 – Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Okay, when I first read this book I was blown away. It’s one of the only nonfiction books that I tore through because it felt so vitally important to my outlook on life. In the six months since then, as Rachel Hollis has become mega popular and there have been a lot of negative things written about her and her book/message, I’ve been wavering a bit on how much I maybe actually should have enjoyed this book. Greg pointed out to me that this is on some list for top five top worst books of the year because she writes so much about her white privilege. And yeah, that’s a valid point. She also has a message about loving your body and yourself, while at the same time basically fat shaming you if you’re not at your ideal weight. But still, after taking some of those things into consideration, I do believe that Rachel Hollis genuinely has a great message out there to empower women to take charge of their own lives and DO SOMETHING. This is an idea that I also feel very strongly about and it helped to read a book that pushes that idea so strongly. So! If you need some encouragement to make changes in your own life, this will be a great read.

5 – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I see that I gave this first book in the series a 5* and the second book a 5, though in hindsight I feel like I maybe liked the second book a tad bit more. Either way – this series is fantastic. I try to steer clear of reading a lot of fantasy series because there are always so many random things to keep track of about their world and I seriously just don’t care. I’m all about the characters. And this series has some AMAZING drool-worthy characters. 🙂

6 – 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Another book written entirely in letters, though this one is the real deal telling the actual friendship between an American book lover and an English book seller. I really just adored this book because it celebrates books and the passion for reading. Helene’s letters were incredibly delightful and I found the whole book to be an absolute joy.

7 – Verity by Colleen Hoover

I can’t have a top list without Colleen Hoover! She continues to amaze me. Verity is even completely out of her typical genre. It’s a psychological thriller that will mess you up. For real. It was really, really great, though. I can’t talk too much about the plot because it might give things away. I loved this book, though.

8 – Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Surprisingly, this is the only YA-ish book to make my top list this year. It’s about a college girl with boyish features who decides to dress up as a boy in order to join a male a capella group. While you think this story will be pretty straightforward, it takes a lot of interesting turns and spends a lot of time examining gender roles in today’s society. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

9 – Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher

This is the last book I read and I couldn’t put it down. The two main characters who have an awkward and unusual past, are kidnapped and trapped together in a small cabin in Alaska with nowhere to go. The expectation is that they’ll fall into some sort of desperate romance as they work together to survive, but the story is so much more complex than that. Their dynamic is complicated and sobering, but ultimately ends in hope.

10 – Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I think I rated this book so highly because it was so far outside the box (ha!) in the type of books I usually read. The creepy factor was through the room and I think it’s such a crazy story that I’ll never forget it. It was scary, but not in a way that makes me scared to walk around my house in the dark (the reason I don’t usually read horror). The resilience of the characters really amazed me as well.

11 – Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I read this book while I was recovering from my broken ankle and it provided me with so many unique and interesting things to think about as I read letters that people write into Cheryl as “Dear Sugar” and her insightful responses to them. It’s the only thing I’ve ever read by her, and I found it so full of wisdom and wit. The depth of both the letters and her responses were just the distractions I needed from my own pain while I read.

The Other 5 Star Books from 2018

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Beard Science by Penny Reid

Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

Roomies by Christina Lauren

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

A Sloth’s Guide to Mindfulness by Ton Mak

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

And that’s it for 2018! I’m going to be using a much more elaborate bookkeeping system next year so I can give all the stats on how much fiction vs nonfiction I read, memoir vs graphic novel, books by women vs books by men, average page number, etc. I’m really excited about this! I think I might try and go back to being a very harsh critic when it comes to rating my books as well. We’ll see on that. 🙂

I’d love to hear YOUR favorite books of the year!

What I Read December 2018

Well, the month (and year!) are not over yet and I hate writing these end of month posts until the actual end of the month, even though it causes a backlog of how many posts I want to write. But I just finished my 125th book of the year, so I think I’m going to call it! If I happen to finish any more books in the next two days, they’ll have to roll over into January.

That being said, December was a fantastic reading month! I read NINETEEN books this month!! I’m sure that must be a personal record. Granted, some of them were really short, one was a graphic novel, and two were on audio. But I wanted to make reading a top priority this month and I really followed through. The books I read this month were even so good that I had quite a few 4.5, 5, and 5* (my extra special rating for best of the best) star books! Here they are!

The Christmas Star by Donna VanLiere
Rating: 4 stars

It’s been quite awhile, but I enjoyed going back into this sweet and touching Christmas series. I didn’t have a ton of recollection of the previous books – it’s not necessary, but still nice to have a working knowledge of some of the side characters. But I enjoyed this story of Gabe the custodian, Amy the insurance worker, and the little foster girl Maddie who brought them together. It’s definitely a short and oversimplified story, but a nice fast paced and uplifting read during the Christmas season.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Rating: 5* stars

I never, ever would have found this book on my own – or picked it up if I had seen it. But in my facebook book club group so many people started recommending it and I was intrigued. It’s a collection of real life letters between Helene, an American script writer in the 1950’s and Frank, an English bookseller. The letters span about 20 years and were shockingly delightful in their celebration of the written word. I read the entire book in about an hour and I LOVED it. I laughed out loud and I cried at the end. It was awesome and the perfect book for anyone who just plain loves books!

A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this sweet story about a single mom and her 12 year old son who inherit a beach cottage in Maine and visit it around Christmastime to fix it up to get ready to sell. The cottage sounded so lovely, it really made me want to start repainting and changing things up in my own house (if only those things were as easy as the book made it sound!). I did find it a bit unbelievable how eager and helpful Jackson, a 12 year old boy, could be. But it was sweet to see the story of dreams coming true and building a new life that is better for everyone. I just wish the ending hadn’t been so abrupt and unbelievably perfect.

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin
Rating: 3 stars

So my rating does not reflect this, but I made the mistake of assuming this was going to be a Christmasy read because of the snow on the cover and because so many other of Martin’s books take place at Christmastime. But in reality most of this book happens around Halloween and only the epilogue is at Christmas. Just so you know!! I saved it to read in December and was a little disappointed. Anyway, it was a sweet little romance between two very likeable characters and an adorable five year old boy who brings them together. But you have to deal with a lot of frustrating hardship trying to pull them apart just too many times. I read it relatively quickly and enjoyed it, just nothing super special about it.

Verity by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5* stars

Colleen Hoover never lets me down! Despite straying from her usual genre, this psychological thriller was amazing and unputdownable. I’m so glad I started it on a weekend so I could read it all in a day. So good! But also very twisted and dark. If you have trigger warnings with things happening to children, this might be a book to avoid. But the storyline as a whole was so great. And not without her usual amazingly written romance woven throughout the pages! I loved both Jeremy and Lowen so very much. I don’t want to say too much about the plot so I don’t give anything away – but read this book if you like fast paced thrillers. It was SO GOOD.

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
Rating: 2.5 stars

I was pretty disappointed in this Christmas book. Terri Blackstock has proven to be a pretty great author to me over the many years I’ve been reading her, but this particular story felt like it had such an agenda toward all kinds of random little things and it drove me nuts. The first half of the book was so repetitive and boring. There’s a tiny bit of way too fast to be believable romance. I think the second half was slightly redeeming in its message about putting family and personal connection first. Overall, a pretty fast read, but just not that enjoyable.

Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve been slowly working my way through this book for over a year now. Not because it necessarily takes a long time to read, but because I wanted to savor each nugget of wisdom and inspiration. This book is kind of set up like a devotional with 1-2 pages devoted to each topic for the day. I really loved every page and got so much out of it. This would be an amazing book or gift for any mother, especially mothers of littles. I highly, highly recommend it.

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Rating: 4 stars

I made the mistake of assuming this would be a very light and fluffy Christmas read. I was definitely unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster I’d go through with the main characters over a span of nine years. To be fair, I really wasn’t that interested in it the first one hundred pages. But I read through the rest of it over the course of a day as it got a lot more interesting. The premise of the book was pretty frustrating. You can take a good guess on what will happen, but it didn’t make it any easier to watch happen. But overall, I really rather liked it! The characters and their friendships and love for each other even in the worst of times was so strong and endearing. A great Christmastime read.

No Exit by Taylor Adams
Rating: 4.5 stars

Wow, what a crazy book. You will get about a quarter into it and start wondering what in the world could possibly happen for the rest of this book with five strangers trapped in a rest stop overnight during a blizzard? Well, A LOT. Granted it happened on a day I didn’t have anything else going on, but I read this book practically nonstop for an entire day to its end. It was fast paced and stressful and quite a ride. I definitely recommend if you’re into this genre.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
Rating: 4.5 stars

It took me a bit longer than 84, Charing Cross Road to get into it (I missed the letters!), but this little book was every bit as endearing and sweet as the first. Helene’s writing brings so much nostalgia for a time and place that feels magical. A world where people just want to know each other and love books and simply want to experience every bit of life together. This book is basically journal entries of Helene’s trip she finally takes to England. Still so much fun and emotion packed into every entry. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew all of the landmarks she visited and there were definitely an overabundance of characters that were hard to keep track of. But it did remind me of my own two trips to Europe and while I wasn’t in England I could easily imagine all the old world charm. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to getting my hands on the third!

The Noel Stranger by Richard Paul Evans
Rating: 2.5 stars

Richard Paul Evans rarely disappoints me and I always look forward to reading his annual newly released Christmas story. But this one just did not cut it for me. While there was nothing wrong with it, per se, I was just bored by it. I get so annoyed by characters (and people!) who are purposely vague when being open and honest would eliminate so much confusion and strife. I get that without that element there wouldn’t be anything to this story. But it annoyed me. And I just couldn’t find much interest in either character.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung
Rating: 5 stars

I happened to see this book listed on a graphic novel recommendation list and promptly requested it from the library because it looked so fitting. And it was! It’s the PERFECT creative rendering of what it’s like to be an introvert. I’m not entirely sure that all introverts could relate to everything Tung drew and wrote about because it obviously has a lot to do with the rest of her personality type as well. But honestly, basically every page just totally hit it on the head for ME. It’s always nice to see a book like this that validates my own feelings and personality traits, especially with how I could relate to feeling down on myself for being the way that I am. It’s better to learn more about yourself so you can accept the way you are and see the benefits to being a person like that out in the world. I’m never quite sure how to give star ratings to graphic novels, but I’m going with a solid 5 for this one because it was perfect for me. And on the plus side – it only took about half an hour to read and counts as another full book for my end of the year attempts to pile on as many books as possible! 🙂

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman
Rating: 3 stars

This is a short and sweet little story about a dying man who was an absent father that provided his son with all the material goods and comfort he’d need, but none of his time or presence. As he’s facing death he has the opportunity to do something that will save the life of a little girl and has a huge decision to make. I did feel that this was perhaps a bit more abstract that I was looking for – or I was just really, really tired when I read it at the end of a long and stressful day. But it’s valuable in its lesson about what really matters in life and nice for a short read if you have it lying around.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (audiobook)
Rating: 3 stars

If you’re in the market for a unique and short (about 3.5 hours) audiobook, this one fits the bill. I was looking for something to listen to besides podcasts for a few days and this was a new release on my Libby app. I had the book earmarked to read at some point, but knew it was unlikely I’d ever have time for it. Anyway, the book is a memoir about the harsh life of a Native American woman (though she only refers to herself as “Indian.”). I have to admit that audiobooks are really hard for me to concentrate on and I never feel like I got as much out of it as if I would have just read it. This memoir is heavy. And it was very disjointed. Disjointed in a way that somehow works, but it was also hard to really feel quite everything she had to say. I also did not find Mailhot to be a very likeable person at all and I had a hard time finding much sympathy for her. Anyway, I don’t regret listening, but still wish I had gone ahead and read it with my eyeballs instead.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really fun little romp of an audiobook (less than an hour!). This book has been on my radar for awhile as something to possibly get for Caden. I saw someone recommend the audiobook online, so I went ahead and checked it out. It’s read by Gaiman with a really great production value. While I can’t say it was terribly exciting for an adult, I think a middle grade reader or child would really enjoy it. Perhaps as a family listen on a long car ride. I did end up buying the book for Caden and it has a lot of great illustrations, so either method would work well with the right age group.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Rating: 5* stars

This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read! I probably never would have even considered it since horror is a genre I adamantly avoid, but I saw the trailer for the Netflix adaptation and it looked so good I wanted to read the book first. A small group of survivors band together in a house against unknown creatures that upon sight cause people to go mad, murdering anyone within reach and then killing themselves. While I do wish there was a little more information given about the creatures and they weren’t such a vague unknown throughout the entire book, I was still held in rapt attention through every page. I loved how it went back and forth between the present journey and the events leading up to that desperate day. This was quite the page turner and did not disappoint!

Blind Kiss by Renee Carlino
Rating: 3 stars

This book annoyed me so much. I don’t like stories about missed opportunities and longing for a different life when you could take control of your circumstances and make the changes that would bring you your happiness. Stop being a dormat and letting other people make choices for you. That’s really all this book is. One long lament to the wrong choices that were made and a life filled with the resulting unhappiness. Too much angst and strife to get to that happy ending so much further down the line.

My Life with the Walter Boys by Ali Novak
Rating: 3 stars

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Jackie is a 16 year old who just lost her entire family in a car accident. She is sent to live with her mom’s friend and their 12 kids – 11 of which are boys – 6 of which are in the high school with her. The family itself is just a bit ridiculous and unbelievable. But I found most of the characters to be endearing and I did like her actual “life with the Walter boys.” I just had problems with the total lack of parental involvement that surely would happen if the situation were real. Jackie also finds herself constantly trying to figure out which of two of the boys she truly had feelings for. The one we’re supposed to be rooting for is such an egotistical jerk and I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for him. But then the second one starts coming across as so immature and pathetic that you don’t want her to pick him either. I think I would have liked the book more if it had nothing to do with falling in love with one of the boys and was truly just her new life in that family.

Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 5* stars

I bought this book on a whim because Colleen Hoover (my favorite) is constantly talking about her author best friend Tarryn Fisher and other than their combined series, I haven’t read anything by her. And I’m so glad I did because this book was good. I read it in a day because I was so drawn into the story. Senna, an emotionally complicated and distanced writer is raped in the woods and found by Isaac, an oncologic surgeon. Drawn to help her, he shows up at her door every single night to help her feel safe, despite how she gives him nothing of herself in return. Years later they are both drugged and kidnapped and wake up in a deserted locked cabin in the wilds of Alaska. I was pretty apprehensive about reading this book because the original cover (not the one above) made it seem like the book would be some kind of weird and kinky romance about a woman and her kidnapper. It’s not. At all. It’s about learning to trust and learning to love and opening yourself up to the unexpected. Overall, I found this book incredibly sobering, but I also could not put it down. I highly recommend it.

My Favorite Things

Last night I hosted my fourth annual Favorite Things Party. It’s one of my favorite holiday traditions! It’s a great way to see friends and celebrate the season together in a unique and fun way. It’s also an awesome way to give and get some really cool presents! (I am ALL about presents!) All you do is invite a group of great people over and ask everyone to bring three of their favorite things in a certain price range (I did $8-10 this year) wrapped and ready to give. Provide a bit of food (I always do a mega cheese tray and wine), let everyone else know they’re welcome to bring their own treats if they choose, and then gather and enjoy! After a proper amount of time to linger and eat you have everyone put their name three times on paper in a bowl and go around the circle drawing recipients for each of your gifts and explaining a little about why that item is your favorite thing. It’s really fun, you’re pretty much guaranteed to go home with three really great little gifts, and you have plenty of ideas for other special things you might want to check out later. It always turns out to be a great night!

As I was thinking about my favorite things for this party, I decided I really ought to do a blog post of my favorite things of the year. I kind of have a tendency to get totally obsessed with certain items and I just want to share them with the world! I’ve been considering doing a more regular post on my favorite new thing of the week or month, so keep a lookout for that! 🙂 In the meantime, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of everything I’ve been obsessed with in the last year.

Formula 10.0.6 Peeling Face Masks

This was the first item I picked out to give at my party. I first tried the orange Get Your Glow On Peeling Mask earlier this year when I saw them at Target and picked a few up as little Valentine gifts for some friends. (They don’t sell them at the local target anymore, but you can find them at Ulta and target.com.) I think the peeling masks are so much more fun and feel so much more useful than sheet masks (which I’m not against, I just like the peeling!). This one smells great. I was really excited to see Ulta put out a sample set of all six of their masks this Christmas. I immediately bought one for myself and my party gift. Funnily, my friend Laura is the one who ended up with it – one of the friends I gave the original mask to at Valentine’s Day, who I also gave a set of masks to for her birthday last month because she told me how much she loves them, and she brought these masks as one of her own favorite things to give! They’re great. 🙂

Bones Coffee

So I only started drinking coffee on my 33rd birthday when my mom gave me a Keurig that I wanted pretty much just because the cool robin’s egg blue color matched my kitchen. In the last 14 months I’ve become a bit of an addict. While I definitely love my Keurig for its speed and ease (the boys especially love it for making their own hot cocoa whenever the mood strikes), I’ve really been venturing out into “real” coffee the last four or five months. I don’t really like the way any of it tastes in the Keurig’s reusable cup, so I’ve since acquired a french press, an aeropress, and from a Cyber Monday sale – a little pourover. I think I like the taste from the french press best, especially with this brand of coffee, but the pourover is really winning me over because it’s so much easier to clean (with our plumbing issues I have to try crazy hard to not get ANY grounds going down the drain). Anyway, I think I just came across Bones from a random facebook ad and took a chance on it buying multiple sample packs over the last few months. And I love it! It’s incredible to me how each of the flavors comes through so strongly (I only liked flavored coffees). My favorite flavor is one that they had this summer as a limited edition – chocolate covered strawberry cheesecake. The chocolate, the strawberry, the cheesecake – every flavor was so distinct in every sip. I’ve liked every flavor I’ve tried except perhaps the chocolate orange. But I’m not a huge orange fan to begin with and the flavor was super strong on that one.

Candles from TJMaxx and Marshall’s

The third gift I gave at the party were three little candles from Marshall’s in holiday themed scents. I’ve always loved candles, especially in wintertime, but in the last couple of months I have been seriously obsessed. I have to look at them in every store I go to, but my favorite place to buy them are discount stores like TJMaxx and Marshall’s because you can get the most bang for your buck and most of their candles really smell amazing. My favorite company, and the one they seem to sell the most of, is DW Home. The cinnamon scents are always a sure bet, but I like a lot of their pines and vanillas too. Though Greg is apparently super sensitive to pine scents now, so I’m not allowed to burn them when he’s home. 🙁 If you enjoy candles and don’t want to spend a ton of money on them, I highly recommend checking out these stores. The variety is huge and it changes with every season.

Third Love’s 24/7 Perfect Coverage Bra

I was on the hunt for a new bra for over a year. I tried so many online companies and went to pretty much every store I could think of that sells bras for more (ahem) well endowed women. It was so discouraging. I had heard about Third Love a million times because they’ve sponsored so many of the podcasts I listen to. But I was pretty turned off by the price. Eventually, armed with a good coupon code, I decided to give them a shot. And I will never go back! They are seriously the most comfortable and well fitting bras I have ever tried. I did their fit finder quiz and they recommended a size different from what I’d been wearing and it worked so perfectly. The only downside to Third Love is that they seem to sell out very quickly whenever they have a size in stock. Also, if you need the bigger sizes, this is the only style they sell them in so it’s the only one I can vouch for. It’s taken me about eight months, but I’ve now acquired six of them and threw away all my old ones. These are the best and SO worth the price to have something that fits properly and will last a long time.

Mantraband Bracelets

I discovered Mantrabands when I was laid up after my ankle surgery. Something about the simple cuff with words of encouragement so plainly stated really resonated with me and what I needed during those months. I have four of them now and wear them when I’m feeling a little down on myself or my life. I really like that they come in multiple colors and have so many different mantras to choose from. There have been a couple times in the last few months they’ve even offered the chance to write your own mantra on a band. I think these would make perfect gifts for anyone going through a time of struggle and needs a little uplifting.

Mezzetta Habanero Hot Sauce

This has been my favorite hot sauce for probably the last eleven years. I have very vivid memories of stopping at the only store in Minnesota that I knew sold it on my way home from work before I had Caden. Because it’s been such long standing favorite and I eat it multiple times a week right now, it definitely deserves a spot on my favorites list. I love spicy food, tacos are my true love, and I need a good hot sauce to spice everything up. I’m not a fan of cayenne based sauces, jalapeno sauces are rare and kind of weird, but habanero – the best. Over the years I had a hard time getting ahold of this because it was only available on their website with massive shipping costs. But now it’s on amazon and makes me so happy! It can never, ever go away.

Only Love Today Book

I’ve been reading this book for over a year. Not because it’s crazy long or hard to get through, but because I want to savor each little nugget it has to offer. It’s hard to describe exactly what kind of book this is, but I’d probably call it a bit of a devotional, with less (but not no) emphasis on religion/God. I think it’s an amazing book for anybody who has children living at home with them. Rachel Macy Stafford offers so much wisdom on putting those little lives and your relationship with them above everything else because love is what truly matters in life. Each “chapter” is only a page or two long and I usually read one a day during my morning quiet time. I can’t recommend this book enough!

Cool and Unique Mugs

My coffee obsession has come with a mug obsession. And I’m pretty picky about what I like. For awhile I was mostly using handmade pottery mugs that I picked up at craft fairs. But more recently I’ve gotten addicted to checking out Marshall’s or TJMaxx for mugs. Every once in awhile I find an amazing one – and it’s usually the only one there (like this pumpkin spice llama mug above). I’ve started collecting so many that I only have space to store 10ish at a time, so I’m now fully committing to have an arsenal of mugs to rotate by season! This was definitely my favorite fall find. A few weeks ago I found an amazing Santa one I use almost every day.

TJMaxx/Marshall’s/Home Goods

Okay, yes, I have a problem. Like seriously, an absolute addiction to these stores. I can no longer pass one up, EVER. I think this began when we lived in Minnesota and every month or two I’d drive to the next town over to visit their TJMaxx Home Goods. I’ve always liked stopping by them when I’m shopping in an area with one, but lately – I NEED to go in. Always. When I took my Minnesota vacation in August by myself I went to every discount store in every town. That’s seriously all I did for an entire day. I think I like them so much because every visit is like a treasure hunt. The stock changes so rapidly. Lately, with all the fun seasonal things out, I’ve been going to the closest Marshall’s almost every single week. I can’t stop. I’ve already mentioned candles and mugs are my favorite things to look for, but I also really love checking out the bath and beauty section, the food area, the blankets (they have THE BEST blankets) and pillows, and the small stationary/notebook section. The only areas I rarely look at are clothes, which I guess is the bulk of the store. But there are so many treasures to be found around the edges! I’ve also realized that one day every week or so, tjmaxx.com offers free shipping. Dangerous! I’ve gotten a few great blankets and pillows online that I haven’t seen in store. I’m super excited that they’re currently building a TJMaxx and a Home Goods store right between the Target and Costco I shop at every week in Sun Prairie! I can’t wait!

Bombas Socks

This is a new obsession, but already a favorite. I’ve never been that excited or interested in socks, but with the shifting winter weather I had been getting frustrated with all the lighter weight socks I wore all summer (needed tennis shoes every day for my ankle – lame!). Bombas had so many great coupon codes around Black Friday that I decided to check them out. And I LOVE THEM. Definitely pricey, but they seem to be very high quality, very thick and comfortable, and they offer coupon codes pretty often. I love these so much that (spoiler alert) a lot of people might be getting a pair for Christmas this year!

Frostbeard Studio Candles

My brother gave me this candle for my birthday and I loved it so much! I’ve heard of Frostbeard Studio before, but had never ordered a candle before. I loved that it’s a candle for book lovers (great marketing for book lovers! :)) and it actually smelled amazing. I’ve since ordered a few more in Christmasy scents. The Bookstore one is still my favorite and I really like Christmas in the Burrows. I currently have Bah Humbug lit right next to me. These candles are definitely more expensive, but I use it as a little treat to myself when I’m sitting down at my computer or in my chair to read for a long period of time. It doesn’t appear to be available at the moment, but I’m really hoping to get their Bookworm and Old Books scents sometime in the future.

Coffee Gator Pour Over Kettle

If you’re making coffee in any of the methods I talked about above, this is almost an essential accompanying item. Also – all of those coffee things are really only best if you’re making one cup/coffee for only one person. Which works great for me, but maybe not the best if you drink more than a cup at a time or are making for multiple people. Anyway, this little kettle is so much cooler than microwaving water and trying (and often failing) to get the perfect temperature. This one will tell you when it hits the ideal temperature. I love it! It really works great with the same company’s little pourover in teal that I bought last week.

Scribbles that Matter Bullet Journal

I started a new bullet journal at the beginning of this school year and this is the brand I went with. It’s really so great! The pages are really thick and it lays flat when opened. I’ve tried many other journals that regular bujo’s recommend, but this has definitely been my favorite. I love all their fun color combinations too!

Pentel EnerGel Pens

Last year I was all about Papermate Flair pens. Which I still LOVE and use every day in my bullet journal. But this year I’ve discovered these and use them everywhere else. They write so smoothly and the colors are great. I of course have a rainbow set at my desk and blues in the area of the house where I actually have to sign important things. 🙂

TACOS

Tacos have been my favorite food for as long as I can remember. But it’s only been in recent years that I realized tacos can be soooo much more than seasoned ground beef, hot sauce, and cheese in a hard taco shell. I’ve become seriously obsessed with tacos in all their flavors and forms. Whenever I go on a trip I’m immediately looking for cool taco joints. I went to a few amazing ones in DC this fall. There’s one in Madison called Bel Air Cantina that we all love. I usually eat at Chipotle or Qdoba every single week on my big errand days. I recently bought a tortilla press and figured out how easy homemade corn tortillas are to make. I often whip up chicken tacos for my lunches multiple times a week. I even occasionally eat egg breakfast tacos – and I don’t normally like eggs! I try to make Taco Tuesday an actual thing and try different recipes every week. I have at least six different taco cookbooks. This is my most recent one and I love all the simple yet delicious ideas it has. Tacos are the one food I could never, ever live without. SO GOOD.

A Space of Your Own

I fell in love with our house because of this living room. And because the tv and video games and everything are in the family room at the back of the house, I’m the one who spends the most time in this pretty area (where my computer also is). I realize not everyone can basically claim a room mostly for themselves (and their dog!). But I think it’s so vitally important to try and carve out a little nook for doing whatever makes you happiest. When we lived at our apartment, that was my sewing area. And while I also have a great full sewing room at our house, my favorite area is my little book corner with the amazing gigantic chair Greg got me for my birthday. I try to spend at least a little time reading there every day. Sometimes I just sit and savor the comforting solitude. It’s awesome in December when I also get to take in all the Christmas decorations and candles. This is pretty much my favorite place in the world and I’m so lucky I get to spend my time in it every single day!

BOOKS

I’ve saved my ultimate favorite thing of all time for last – BOOKS. I absolutely adore, love, and lust after books almost every minute of every day. I’ve loved reading for always, but this year actual books in their physical form have become so beloved to me. Granted, I still really like reading on my kindle because it’s easier and more portable and can be done in the dark. But I love BOOKS so much. I want them all. I want to research them, look at them, hold them, shop for them, think about them, read them, share them, gift them. If all anybody ever gave me for the rest of my life was books I would be so very happy. My favorite of the year has been The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I read it back in February, but I still think about it often. It was so fun and delightful and a delicious romance. I know it might not be for everyone, but I loved it soooo very much. I’m so excited for Thorne’s next book coming out in January!

I think that’s about it! I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but this is a pretty comprehensive list of everything I’ve been obsessed with this year! I would LOVE to hear about your favorite things!

What I Read November 2018

November was a pretty off reading month. I only read eight books. And technically I finished the last one today (December 1st), but I’m going to count it for November anyway. It was another month of starting and stopping so many books. I almost never do that, but it’s been happening so often this fall. I’ve been in such a slump and I hate it. Of the books I did finish, though, there were some very clear winners and a couple of total letdowns.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Rating: 4 stars

I had a Barnes and Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket the week that this book came out. I love Nick Offerman and figured I’d give it a shot. I think celebrity couples – particularly the ones that seem to have great relationships – are so fascinating, which I’m sure many, many people would agree with! Having the opportunity to get a deeper dive into their marriage was a pretty good reason to read this book. And overall – I liked it. My main issue is that the majority of the book was just a back and forth dialog that was clearly just written directly from a real conversation they had. I think listening to this on audio would have been a more enriching experience, but the hard copy book includes so many silly photographs that you don’t want to miss out on that either. The ideal solution would be to read and listen at the same time. I liked that in certain chapters they were brutally honest and really come across as an authentic couple with ups and downs that just wants to make it work together forever. But there are also chapters where Megan especially seems to just gloss over so many things, that it then feels inauthentic and annoying to me. But overall a fun and fast read.

Something New by Lucy Knisley
Rating: 4.5 stars

I just happened to read about this graphic novel somewhere the same week I found out my sister-in-law was about to get engaged. I immediately ordered it as an engagement gift, but wanted to read it first to make sure it was really as good as promised. And I really enjoyed it! I’m new to the graphic novel world, but I’d say this is a pretty great one. It’s autobiographical to Lucy’s own marriage and relationship history with her husband. She retells their entire history and then gets into everything that happened in the year of their wedding planning. I really liked how she showed how important the wedding was just to THEM and making it their own and in a smaller budget was super important and doable. I definitely agree that this will make a great gift to any newly engaged couple!

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Rating: 2.5 stars

This was an interesting “novel.” I’m always on the lookout for books with unique formats and I love photography, so I was really curious about this book when I read about it somewhere online. I got it from the library and read it in about half an hour. There are almost no words to this story, just a variety of photographs and photos of memorabilia and a few newspaper articles. While I was intrigued by the visual telling of a story, I was also a bit confused about what actually happened. I need a bit more clarity in my reading. The concept was unique, but not enough depth for me.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
Rating: 2 stars

This was my 100th book of the year and quite a disappointment. It’s another example of a very popular book that I really did not enjoy at all. It’s supposed to be a psychological thriller, but I didn’t find anything about it captivating or keeping me turning the page. The characters seemed ridiculous and unbelievable and I couldn’t stand it any time they had dialog. Overall, this book was just not for me.

Pines by Blake Crouch
Rating: 3 stars

I have heard so many great things about the Wayward Pines series that my expectations were set too high. Granted this was just the first of the trilogy, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it. The main character was just constantly being thrown into life threatening situations and had to keep running for his life, while also being super confused. I thought the book felt a little disjointed and I still can’t understand the whole suspending life thing. I’m sure I’ll eventually pick up the second book, but I’m not in any hurry.

Never Never: The Complete Series by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 4 stars

It took me a really long time to figure out that I hadn’t read this series. I’ve read everything by Colleen Hoover, but couldn’t understand why I hadn’t read this when it came out years ago. I was searching my book database and couldn’t find it, so I finally picked it up. And, I’ve read it. But I realized by book two that I had only read book one – now it’s sold as a completely trilogy in a single book. Anyway! While this collaboration wasn’t quite as good to me as Hoover’s other books, I enjoyed it, for the most part. I didn’t like Charlie’s character much and I found it stressful how the characters just kept losing their memory every 48 hours and AGAIN and AGAIN we had to go over them re-learning everything. I liked Silas, though, and enjoyed the ending.

This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel
Rating: 5 stars

I really loved this book. But it took me an extremely long time to finish. It’s about a family with five boys and the youngest is transgender. The book jumps around a lot, but mostly focuses on when Claude/Poppy first decides he wants to become a girl at age 5 and when things start getting a lot more complicated when she is 10 and the secret is out. All the characters in this book were so endearing and wonderful. I loved reading about their family life and the focus of the book gave me a lot to think about. Which is probably why it took me so long to get through. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this, though, after all the buzz about it last year. I think it’s one of those books that everybody should read to enhance your perspective on issues like these that are happening everywhere, but so rarely talked about. Also, I really love this new paperback cover above. I think there was something about the peeled orange on the original cover that really turned me off from ever wanting to pick it up. Covers sometimes DO matter!

The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise
Rating: 4 stars

In recent years I’ve become really obsessed with book research. I LOVE going to actual bookstores and looking through books, but find it nearly impossible to actually purchase a book without doing some research and reading reviews. Sometime in the last few years I decided to stop trusting the blurb on the back and my initial reaction to it. And I think it’s kind of been my downfall. I’ve been looking back on the books I’ve read this year, searching for gift ideas and thinking about my end of the year best book post I’ll be writing later this month. And honestly, it just hasn’t been that good of a reading year. Fiction especially has disappointed me time and time again. And I think it’s because I’m putting way too much stock in what other people have to say about a book instead of simply trusting if I’ll like it or not. Anyway, all that to say, I found myself at the library this week picking up a few reserved Christmas books I wasn’t able to get on my kindle. I rarely look for books at our library because it’s teeny tiny and I feel like people are always watching me, or I’m in the way because my favorite YA section is crammed up against all the tables where everyone sits. I don’t feel comfortable browsing there, so I just don’t. But since I was there – we were all there, actually – I took a stroll through the YA section and this one jumped out at me. And I really liked it! Sure it’s not going to be for everyone, but I love YA, I love sweet romances and first loves that end in a very well timed perfect kiss. The premise of this one got a bit crazy for awhile, but I thoroughly enjoyed the main group of characters and the friendships that stuck through thick and thin. I definitely recommend it.

And that’s it for November. I’m really looking forward to a lot of sweet, light, romantic holiday reads in December. Though I’m also planning to stick in a few more serious reads I picked up as gifts for people, but feel weird about giving unless I can personally vouch for them! AND big news – Colleen Hoover has a new book coming out on December 18th!!! This was a surprise after seeing her in August when she said she hadn’t had time to write all year because of the first Book Bonanza. Anyway, I’m hoping to make reading in general a much bigger priority this month!

What I Read October 2018

Time for book talk! So this month I fully intended on only reading thrillers, mysteries, and anything else that sounded a little bit spooky and in theme with being close to Halloween. I usually only read Christmasy books in December and often try to read romances in February around Valentine’s Day, so I figured I might as well start picking scary reads in October. However, the way my personal life has shaped up this month, I just couldn’t get into many of those seasonal choices. I started many books. I’m in the middle of many books. Books I was desperately hoping I could finish by today so I could add them to my October list and not have to wait another whole month to write about them because they’re just so fantastic! But, you’ll just have to get what I have. 🙂 It actually ended up being a month of very eclectic book choices, going back and forth between something heavier followed by a couple of much lighter topics. And with the exception of one book that I just wasn’t thrilled by, everything else was rated 4, 4.5, or 5 stars! Check them out!

Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll
Rating: 4 stars

Doris is a somewhat quirky and independent teenage girl that doesn’t quite fit in with her smalltown Alabama family. Nell is uprooted from her home in Chicago and is forced to leave her boyfriend when her mom takes a new job in Alabama. Grant is the high school football star who is also an alcoholic that is riddled with pain over his mistakes. Together the three of them find their way to Unclaimed Baggage, a store that is responsible for going through lost luggage and reselling anything worthwhile. As they work together they build a beautiful and endearing friendship that helps hold the trio together through everything they must endure that summer. I really enjoyed the friendship aspect of this book. It touched on racism, religion, feminism, and more, but the heart of the story was in the friendship. It made me greatly jealous for the ease and simplicity yet total loyalty that comes with a teenage friendship. I also enjoyed hearing about the things that were found – I wish there was a bit more on that! Overall, a solid YA novel.

A Sloth’s Guide to Mindfulness by Ton Mak
Rating: 5 stars

I got this book as a birthday gift from my friend who understands how crazy I (and most people probably!) feel sometimes. It was so cute! I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down for the 10-15 minutes it took to read the entire thing. Each page was just a little note on how to be more mindful accompanied by adorable black and white illustrations of a chubby sloth. I don’t usually pay much attention to gift books like this, but I’m so glad it came to me and I read it right away because it was exactly what I needed. I know I’ll need to read it again many times in the future too!

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
Rating: 4.5 stars

I’ve been in the mood to read some darker books this Halloween season and this was what I picked to start me off. Emma was a 13 year old camper at an affluent summer camp when her three older roommates disappeared and were never found. She was haunted by this experience for 15 years until the camp owners decided to reopen and asked her sign on as the art instructor. Reluctantly, she agrees to go to try and find some closure. Secretly, she is on a mission to figure out what really happened that summer so she can get on with her life. Overall, the pace of this book was pretty slow. There isn’t really a whole lot that happens. But it was interesting and I was always eager to jump back into the story. I loved the ending.

Best Served Cold by Emma Hart
Rating: 4 stars

Raelynn and her ex-boyfriend Chase have competing ice cream stores right next to each other in Key West. Raelynn is furious with Chase for stealing all of her ideas and has retaliated by giving him the silent treatment for 2 straight years. At risk of losing her own shop, she decides to shut down for two weeks and do some renovations and come up with fresh ideas. Chase becomes intrigued and enters back into her life, as much as she despises it. I really enjoyed this fast and fun story. I admit that Raelynn was more than a little obnoxious at the beginning, but all of their conversations and fights felt pretty true to what would happen in real life. I loved Chase and how he was such a genuinely good guy, despite making a really stupid mistake. I always enjoy books where the main character has her own bakery/restaurant/shop and this was a really cute take on owning an ice cream parlor. My only complaint is that once again SO MUCH swearing. It’s not necessary! It drives me nuts. It’s a pretty big turn off. But overall, this was a nice book to read after my last one.

You by Caroline Kepnes
Rating: 4 stars

Joe is a stalker, psychopath, murderer. He has his sights set on Beck, a self-centered hypersexual grad student/writer. That’s basically all you need to know! I’m kind of disturbed by how much I liked this book. It’s entirely from Joe’s first person narrative, going over all of his thoughts about Beck and everyone else he interacts with. His control and ability to be both wonderful and terrible, while justifying the most horrific actions, is fascinating. Beck, though. I hated her. I couldn’t believe how much Joe loved her when I could not stand her! Overall, this made for a pretty good October/creepy read.

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
Rating: 5 stars

I wanted to read this book from the first time I heard about it (green lit on The Popcast). I was, however, under the impression it was all about marriage – the heating and cooling cycle of a lifelong relationship. (Perhaps Jamie didn’t actually read it and SHE is the one who put that idea into my head!) I’m not sure if I was misinformed or I drew that conclusion on my own. So I was surprised to dive into the book and realize very little of it was about marriage – just so you know that going in! But overall, a really fast and unique book. I’ve never heard of a micro-memoir before and really enjoyed the 52 entries that ranged from one sentence to four pages each. Some of the essays were laugh out loud hilarious. Some of them were shocking. Some were sad, some were more informational. I loved the range and thoroughly enjoyed the two evenings I spent reading this book.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter
Rating: 4 stars

This book alternates between 31 year old Andrea who is trying to uncover some crazy mysteries about her mother’s past, and her mother 32 years earlier and what her life was like and ultimately landed her in witness protection. I was a little put off by the first chunk of the book and didn’t like any of the flashback chapters. But it definitely grew on me by the end and I really liked it how it all came together. It was a bit heavy, but a good October read.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson
Rating: 3 stars

Charlie is the youngest of five siblings and has always been enamored by her family. In one of the last weeks of living in their huge house, the Grant family is holding older sister Linnie’s wedding. This entire book takes place on the day before, day of, and day after that wedding. Basically, it’s just an insanely improbable story that felt a lot like slapstick comedy. Every single tiny thing that could go wrong for a wedding will and does. It’s slightly humorous. But it also started to really bug me after awhile. It was just pretty ridiculous. And maybe this is a weird thing to judge a book on, but it seemed like it would just be too easy to write. Give everyone crazy personalities and quirks and just have them interact under high pressure stakes with every possible thing that could go wrong. While I definitely liked the characters and did enjoy how it ended, the whole book just felt kind of meh to me. I needed something light after the last book and this fit the bill. It just wasn’t that amazing.

Perfect Harmony by Emily Albright
Rating: 4.5 stars

Pippa is an amazing 17 year old cellist with very high hopes for her future. All of that is instantly threatened when a competing cellist, Declan, joins her school in the middle of their senior year. She is immediately threatened by him, but determined to remain kind and civilized toward Declan while she starts to get cozy with her long time crush and twin brother’s best friend, Noah. As I’m sure you can imagine, things get sticky between this little love triangle. I definitely could have done without a lot of the stressful teenage angst between everyone and their friends. But overall, I really loved Pippa and Declan was a fantastic swoony character. I also just enjoy reading anything that centers around orchestra! If this book didn’t have all the annoying friendship drama, it would have definitely been a 5 star book for its sweet and touching YA romance.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Rating: 4 stars

I have a love hate relationship with poetry. I really, really want to love it. I adored poetry in high school and then it started feeling too obnoxious. More recently, I started following Rupi Kaur on instagram and have been really drawn to the short poems she posts pretty regularly. I received this book last Christmas and finally made myself pull it off the shelf and start it! I was able to read the entire book in two short sittings because almost all of the poems are less than a page long – most of them a single sentence. Part of me wonders how that really constitutes an entire collection of poetry. And yet – they really pack a punch! I’m really looking forward to reading Kaur’s second book and will definitely be on the lookout for future publications.

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
Rating: 4 stars

Maya is a 23 year old speech therapist who works in the same psychiatric care facility where she was a patient at age 16. Lucas is a 19 year old whose father took him to live off the grid ten years earlier after being tangled up in a questionable murder case. Presumed dead, Lucas causes quite the media stir when he’s found raiding a sports supply store which results in the death of one of the owners. Uncooperative, violent, and unresponsive with anyone else, Maya ends up being the one who takes his case, despite not actually being a psychologist. The two of them turn out to be quite the team despite the twists and professional objections that continue to separate them. Overall, I actually really enjoyed this book. The reviews were mixed, which I should never really take into account, but I hate wasting my time on something that doesn’t have a lot of solid recommendation behind it. It was the perfect slightly dark book to finish off my month of attempted spooky reads!

What I Read September 2018

September turned out to be kind of a mediocre month for reading. Only one five star hit and the rest were middle of the road. Here are the reviews!

The Wondering Years by Knox McCoy
Rating: 4.5 stars

I was greatly privileged to have been given the opportunity to be part of this book’s launch team and had a chance to read it two months before it’s release date. I was interested in reading it from the day it was announced because I’m OBSESSED with Knox’s podcast, The Popcast. I jumped at the chance to pre-order the book and was thrilled to be accepted on the launch team. Anyway – the book was fantastic! I think I might have laughed out loud at this book more than any other I have ever read. Knox has an innate talent at relating pop culture references to everyday faith and life. Each chapter has a unique look at different pop culture ideals and how they connected to his own life and helped shape his faith. What struck me most about this book was simply how much I could relate to it! I’m knocking it down half a star rating because I think if you are not in your 30’s, or you didn’t pay any attention to pop culture in the last 30 years, you probably won’t get as much out of this book. There were quite a few sports references that went over my head because I care nothing about sports, though the names of many were at least recognizable to me. But the tv and movie references? SO on point. And absolutely hilarious. Knox’s church experience was also so similar to my own growing up that it made for a supremely entertaining book and I would recommend it to anyone!

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 5 stars

(Contains spoilers if you haven’t read the first book!) Feyre has defeated Amarantha and been given new life by all seven High Lords, remaking her body into that of a High Fae. She is taken back to the Spring Court with Tamlin, whose freedom she fought valiantly for. She struggles deeply with what she had to do to gain his freedom and becomes increasingly depressed and distraught with this new immortal life. Desperate to keep her safe at all cost, Tamlin basically keeps her locked in the house and refuses to help her learn her new gifts, insisting all she needs is his protection. Feyre begins to waste away and Tamlin is so obsessed with keeping her protected that he doesn’t SEE her anymore. On the day of their wedding, Feyre desperately cries out internally for someone to do something and stop this from happening. And surprise, surprise, SOMEONE just happens to show up. I had a hard time reconciling with this new turn of events, even though it was fairly obvious by the end of the first book that Rhysand was going to play a much more important role in Feyre’s life. I wanted to remember all the good in Tamlin and all the bad in Rhys. But as the story goes on and Feyre realizes how much more she can be, how much bigger of a role she can play in saving their people, it gets SO GOOD. And the epic romance that verrrry slowly burns through the book? Wow, just wow! I honestly don’t care much about all the battles and political stuff, which is why I rarely read fantasy like this. But the characterization is so fabulous I was melting by the end. I loved this book just about as much as the first.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 4 stars

(Spoilers) It took me a really, really long time to get through this book. As much as I ADORED the first two books in the series, I felt like there was something left to be desired now that Rhysand and Feyre are together and most of the new love sexual tension has been dissolved. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a pretty sexy book – in between all the war talk and war planning and war fighting. This book is really mostly just about the war and getting all the high lords and their courts to gather and cooperate to try and defeat the horrible Hybern. I continued to love this entire cast of characters and was particularly happy to see how Tamlin played into the final chapters. I never would have given up on this book, but I think I did hit my fill of this series overall for awhile. Maas is such an incredible author to have woven this extensive and unique series together, though. One of my favorites!

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Rating: 3.5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I started this long and incredibly detailed graphic memoir. I was under the impression that it was a great love story, but was surprised to realize how much of it was really about the author questioning and ultimately denying his faith after growing up in an extreme Christian household. I appreciate how well done it was, but found the entire book to just be very sad with little redemptive qualities. It was memoir, so I know it couldn’t exactly be changed. But I wish there had been more of a conclusion between Craig and his brother and Craig and Raina and her family. It is a remarkable book, but maybe not exactly for me.

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
Rating: 4 stars

This is a fun little book that shines a light on all the joys of being a reader. It’s filled with essays on book love, reading problems, and funny book related stories. I enjoyed the book because I could relate to so many of Anne’s feelings on the reading life. There’s nothing particularly deep about the book, and there were a couple of chapters that were so specific to particular books she had read that I just wasn’t interested in, that led me to skim through. But most of the chapters were sweet, happy, and made me nostalgic for all of my own reading and book related memories.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really sweet and simple palette cleanser type of a book. Likeable characters that treat each other with kindness and respect. A pretty straight forward love story without a ton of obstacles to weigh it down. Fast paced with lots of laughter. I liked it a lot. (And I obviously don’t have a ton to say about it!)

Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Rating: 3.5 stars

This very short story popped up as being free for Prime members one day. Between books I decided to read it that night. It was an interesting little story that takes place entirely between the spouses of a man and woman who had an affair with each other. The woman finds the letters her husband was writing to the woman he was having an affair with and she decides to write letters to the woman’s husband so he knows what is going on. They have a unique six months or so of writing to each other while they work out their feelings and decide what to do with the affair taking place, without their spouses knowing they know about it. It sounds very convoluted to describe it! Anyway, as a short story, which I tend to never read because they don’t give me a enough satisfaction, I really liked it. But I also wonder what the point of publishing this was, other than as a quick money maker for the author. That’s what leaves me a bit confused and knocking off a star and a half. I would have loved to have read this as a full novel.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech
Rating: 3 stars

I was looking for books for Caden’s birthday and happened upon this one by Sharon Creech, author of my favorite childhood book, Walk Two Moons. I basically had to buy it because it’s about a donkey. Actually, a MINI donkey. (My favorite animal!) It’s a very sweet and fast paced story about a boy who offers to take care of a very sickly newborn donkey whose mother couldn’t take care of it. It was pretty simplistic for an adult reader, but it was sweet. I liked it.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
Rating: 3 stars

I have to start by saying that I really dislike books that bring up some sort of secret the narrator has and constantly makes references to, but takes forever to let the reader in on. That was this book. You don’t find out the big bad secret until 80% into the book. 80%! I thought the book was okay besides that. I enjoyed the fact that they were traveling through Ireland because I’m all about Ireland. I liked the character of Rowan. But the annoying fighting between Addie and Ian that never let up over the secret were not so enjoyable to read about. The whole thing was just okay.

Purple Orchids by Samantha Christy
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the story of Gavin and Baylor and their intense yet brief college romance that was torn apart by a pretty spectacularly stupid misunderstanding, to be reunited eight years later and have to deal with the repercussions of that distance. For the most part, I liked the book. I felt like the author added a few too many crazy elements near the end that were attempting to make the story bigger than it should have been. I also really didn’t like how many times the words “my dick” were referenced. Probably hundreds of times. Men can feel with their minds too, maybe?? Anyway, I did enjoy the characters and the story, but this also wasn’t one of my favorites. I’m not sure I’ll get around to reading the other books in the series.

That’s it for September! I’m hoping to read some more creepy/mystery/thriller type seasonal books in October, so hit me up if you have any great recommendations!

What I Read August 2018

I had a goal this month to read 12 books and I did it! Of course I maybe sort of cheated the system a bit by adding two graphic novels, a full length comic book, and an audiobook to make sure I could fit all 12 in. I felt like I was giving my books a huge amount of time this month, but some of them were really hard to get into and some were really long. But I did it! The majority of the books I read this month were pretty middle of the road, but I do have a couple of great recommendations.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
Rating: 2 stars

This one really fell flat for me. It’s about Jane, a woman who has the gift of being able to see true love in all its forms. On her 29th birthday she receives a letter from another woman who has the gift and is told that before her 30th birthday she needs to identify and record the six types of true love in the lives of people around her. At first I appreciated the slow buildup and just assumed the book would get a lot more exciting. It didn’t. In fact I found myself incredibly frustrated by Jane. I was not a fan of how many “true love” stories meant tearing apart happy marriages. As if it’s perfectly acceptable and logical to leave the lives you have for a chance at love with someone new. Honestly, the only minor storyline that I actually had huge interest in were from her brother Flynn and the woman he fell in love with only through watching her from his window. Now that’s a story I would have loved to have read! I also felt zero chemistry between Jane and her love interest Cam. Overall, it was a pretty fast read and it wasn’t terrible. I just did not like it.

If I Live by Terri Blackstock
Rating: 4 stars

This was a solid third installment and conclusion to the fast paced If I Run series. Just like in the first two books, Casey is still running for her life, trying to stay alive while also gathering evidence to put away a huge grouping of corrupt cops that killed her father and best friend. Dylan is still slyly trying to help her, while appearing to be working with the force to capture her. Their relationship continues to grow, especially after they find themselves in even more life threatening situations. I really enjoyed this series. It was fast and thrilling with a worthwhile conclusion. Also, I just want to point out how much I appreciate the cover of the book stating which number in the series it is! Why don’t more books do that?? I avoid reading so many series because it’s frustrating and annoying to try and figure out which order to read them in.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Rating: 5* stars

A delightful, charming, and introspective book about a high school acapella group and a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join it. I expected this to be a very light and fast stereotypical YA book. Girl pretends to be boy, falls for boy in the group, misunderstandings and embarrassment follow. And while it did eventually follow that path, there was a whole lot more going on. Jordan is a tall, broad, first generation Asian-American poor girl, with a deep singing voice. She goes to a private arts boarding school on full scholarship with a theater concentration, but she’s never cast in any parts because of her voice. On a whim she decides to dress as a boy and try out for the prestigious male acapella group on campus and gets in. Being forced to dress and act like a boy makes her realize how much more confident she is in that role. But the more she acts like a boy, the more she realizes she really wants to be a girl. She questions her sexuality and is filled with a lot of confusion. I loved Jordan’s story and I especially love the wonderful cast of supporting characters – her fellow Sharpshooters. While this book does eventually end in a romance, it takes a good long while to figure out which of the boys she’s interested in. This is the first book in a very long time that I stayed up way too late to finish. I highly recommend it!

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Rating: 5 stars

I never read graphic novels. Ever. But I happened to see this at a Barnes and Noble and was curious so I bought it. I took it on vacation with me, hoping for a different reading experience. And I loved it! It’s the story of a hard working dressmaker named Frances whose work is seen at a ball and is secretly commissioned by Prince Sebastian to design him dresses and keep his secret that he loves to wear them. Sebastian and Frances go out in the evenings with Sebastian disguised as Lady Crystallia. Of course, his secret is eventually discovered and he’s filled with shame and embarrassment. Overall, this was a really interesting look at a twist in gender identity with a boy who just loves to wear dresses. Obviously as a graphic novel it wasn’t incredibly deep, but the illustrations were fantastic at displaying all of the emotion required. I ADORED the ending. If you’re at all interested in graphic novels, or just a new and fun (and fast!) reading experience, this would be a terrific book to pick up. But read it in hard copy, not digitally!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Rating: 3 stars

I wanted to like this book so badly. It’s been raved about everywhere! And honestly, I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t a BAD book. It was just very subtle and melancholy with the occasional funny quip, but possibly not so funny when it wasn’t meant to be that way when Eleanor said it. I loved the character of Raymond. And I enjoyed watching how Eleanor sunk further into her unknown depression, yet she perseveres and survives. And it’s worth celebrating. I just read an article that this is part of a new genre called “up lit” where the story is meant to be uplifting and make you feel good. And it did – but not until the last 10% of the book. I understand why it took so long to reach that point, but I just really, really wish it had happened a lot earlier on.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (audiobook)
Rating: 5 stars

I read the book last month and loved it so much. It popped up on my Libby app as finally being available on audio from the library, so I decided to go ahead and listen to it since I was saving up my favorite podcasts for a vacation. The audio was so well done! Each character was voiced by a different person and I loved how well the personalities shined through. I’m still pretty new to the audiobook world and after listening to the same thing I had previously read, I can definitely guarantee I get a much richer experience through real reading. But if audiobooks are your thing, this is a great one! (The netflix adaptation was also really great!)

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
Rating: 4 stars

It took me awhile to decide how I felt about this book. There are seven main characters and each chapter alternates between their points of view. You vaguely know from the start that there is an illicit affair going on between a teacher and student. But with so many characters, there are also SO many other things going on. It was interesting how each storyline wove together and formed a pretty strong novel, even though it seemed like each character could have had their own full book. I did struggle a bit with the teacher-student love thing, but it was pretty much EXACTLY how the plot of Slammed (Colleen Hoover) was, and that’s one of my all time favorite books. The only thing I didn’t like were how Juniper’s chapters were so choppy and stilted. Overall, it was a nice book.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Rating: 2 stars

I decided to give graphic novels another shot, this one with illustrations by the same person as The Prince and the Dressmaker, but a different author. I was pretty disappointed. It’s the story of a teenage girl who is recruited into playing an online game for the sake of empowering women in a largely male population. I’m not a gamer, but thought since I’m surrounded by gamers in real life, maybe reading this would give me some sort of connection point with them. But no, it was a weird story. So much going on, I couldn’t really figure out what the point or theme of it was. Just…not for me.

Most of All You by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 4 stars

I started this book thinking it was going to be pretty cliche. Gabriel had a horrendous thing happen to him as a child and as a result he can’t physically get close to people. He goes to a strip club and finds a woman who he hopes will teach him how to get past that barrier. Crystal/Ellie had her own rough childhood and feels worthless yet hardened to all men. But the story got interesting. And I was into it. I had a lot of other stuff going on in my mind while reading this book and it was hard to give it my full attention, but I liked it. I especially liked how Ellie knew she could never be whole if she depended solely on Gabriel. She needed to find worth in herself on her own before she would be free to love and be loved. This is a lovely story of growth born in grief.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Rating: 3 stars

I had a love hate relationship with this book. First of all, it took me an entire week to read which is pretty ridiculous. Partly because I was just really busy and unable to concentrate all week, and partly because I just could not get into the book. It had a slew of quirky characters which usually makes for a great story. But I just didn’t feel that close to anyone. Their internal struggles felt too far away to grasp. And it bothered me. There were some chapters that I adored and some chapters that I couldn’t stand to read. I didn’t want to abandon it, but I was never really into it. The end, however, was epic.

Runaways by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka
Rating: 3 stars

I’m pretty sure this is the first comic book I’ve ever read. I only picked it up because I love Rainbow Rowell’s books and in the last year she’s only been promoting this Runaways series. I’ve never heard about it before, but assumed since this was a Volume 1 issue, it would be okay to jump into it. Unfortunately, I feel like I was lacking context of past adventures on every single page. Which isn’t the book’s fault, exactly. I just wish it had said somewhere you really should read the older versions in order to fully grasp what’s going on! Overall, though, despite the constant references to things I didn’t understand, it was interesting. And fast. A good way to get a book out of the way. 🙂

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 5* stars

Wow, what a book. So much happens in this book it felt like reading three, even though this is only the first in the trilogy. I love how as a fantasy type book – which I often tend to avoid – it started out very straightforward and easy to connect with. I’m often turned off by books that immediately jump into all the random and specific things that you need to know in order to understand the story. Which honestly, I find very overwhelming and off putting. This was about a human girl, Feyre, as she fights against the odds to keep her and her useless family from starving to death. She ends up breaking a treaty between the humans the the faeries that she did not even know existed and is forced to be the captive of the High Fae Lord, Tamlin. This book is filled with exquisite yet flawed characters, which I really adored. Oftentimes in this type of book the heroine or hero makes all the right choices and is revered for it. This felt more true to life with a lot of anguish, sorrow, and regret in so many of the choices they each made. Maas really toys with your loyalties in which characters you should be rooting for as well. Overall, I absolutely adored it and couldn’t wait to jump into the next book! (Which I’m reading right now and can barely force myself to put down.)

Happy reading!

Book Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Rating: 5* stars

Jordan Sun is a first generation Asian-American girl on full scholarship at a performing arts centered boarding school. She is tall, broad bodied, and has a deep singing voice. Her concentration is in theater, but she never gets any parts because she doesn’t fit in the stereotypical female roles and her voice is too deep for even the ensemble parts. When the most prestigious of the campus male acapella groups sends out an email with word that they need to fill an open spot that just happens to fit her range, she comes up with the crazy idea to dress up as a boy and audition. And of course, she gets in. Which leads to an entire semester of desperately trying to hide her femininity, while also realizing how much more herself she feels when acting like a boy.

I expected this to be a very light-hearted and pretty straight forward YA novel. Girl dresses as boy, falls for another boy in the group, has some sort of embarrassing moment that leads to boy discovering girl is actually girl, and they eventually end up together. And in a way, that is what happens. But Jordan really has a lot of introspective moments as she starts becoming Julian, her male counterpart. She feels more comfortable in her skin, confident in who she truly is. She begins to question her own sexuality through a lot of confusing encounters. It’s interesting and heartfelt and a journey I loved being taken on.

Overall, I really loved this book. Jordan was a great character, but I really fell for all of the supporting roles – the seven other boys in the a capella group. They had such distinct and delightful personalities. And while you can assume that Jordan will eventually fall for one of them, I was really kept guessing on which one it would be because they were all so wonderful. The only thing that really bothered me is that Jordan is a female, in high school, in a boarding school. She is dressed as a boy more than half of her day. And yet nobody ever sees her going in and out of her female dorm room. We’re given an explanation why she never mixes with the guys during the day – she’s in the theater area and they’re in the music or visual arts areas. It was a minor thing, but it did seem a bit unbelievable. But besides that – I loved it! It might not be for everyone, especially if you’re not super into YA. But I highly recommend Noteworthy. It was one of my favorites of the year!