What I Read August 2020

I’m so excited to write this post today because August was FINALLY a really great reading month for me! I read 14 books, and 12 of them I rated 4 stars or higher. I love that kind of data! I don’t think I even DNF’d more than one or two books this month either. I just finally picked out some good ones. Anyway, check them out!

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Rating: 4 stars

Avery was an elite gymnast when an injury ended her career just before the Olympics. Over the next seven years she struggles to make a new life for herself after years of being emotionally abused by her coach. After breaking up with her boyfriend she decides to move back home and take a coaching job with another former gymnast, Ryan, who she of course had a big crush on as a teen. Ryan and Avery work together coaching Hallie, trying to get her to the Olympics as well. I wish going into this book I knew literally anything about gymnastics. I don’t, and I don’t particularly care, so the long descriptions of moves and routines were lost on me. I enjoyed how Avery took a much different approach to coaching than what she grew up with and how well the three of them worked together to coordinate her new routines. But I found Ryan to honestly be pretty boring. He was nice, but he didn’t stand out as being a very good leading man. Overall, it was an enjoyable book, it just could have been better.

My (Mostly) Secret Baby by Penelope Bloom
Rating: 3 stars

Damon and Chelsea meet on the street and have a fiery chemistry that leads them to sleeping together just minutes later in the first empty room they find. They walk away and don’t see each other for another five years when Chelsea goes to Damon’s company for a job as her last resort. The secret? She had his baby and never told him. This book was interesting enough to keep me reading, but still a pretty stereotypical boss/subordinate romance, which feels pretty boring to me at this point. The five years of denying Damon his rights as a parent for really no good reason was a bit unbelievable and brushed past rather quickly, but sometimes it’s nicer to just have a light hearted book without any of the heavy stuff weighing it down.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (counting this book twice because I both read it and listened to the audio this month!)
Rating: 5* stars

This is the most life changing book I’ve ever read. I don’t know why I put it off for so long! I’ve been deeply interested in the enneagram from the very first time I heard about it on a couple of podcasts many years ago. I took a bunch of assessments and followed a bunch of instagram accounts, but mostly focused on my own number. I finally decided it would be worth my while to learn more about all the numbers and see how they might connect to the people in my life. And honestly, this book just blew my mind. Not every person is a picture perfect example of their number. But SOME people are. And some of those people are part of my life and it was quite a revelation finally being able to understand how they tick. I simultaneously read a physical copy of this book while also listening to it on audio so I could get through all the chapters more quickly. The audio was great, but a physical copy is a must so you can highlight and refer back to each number and their traits. It starts to get a bit confusing if you’re going through them as quickly as I was. I wish I had read this book sooner, it might have helped me understand and relate to the people in my life a little better. But the obsession is truly peaked now and I’m anxious to find out even more. But pick this up first for a great introduction to the enneagram and how each type is determined. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Always Only You by Chloe Liese
Rating: 4.5 stars

I really enjoyed this second book in the Bergman Brothers series. It’s a story about Frankie, an autistic woman who also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She’s the social media manager for a hockey team in which Ren Bergman is a player. Ren is a happy, playful, and modest guy who has always caught Frankie’s attention, but she’s sworn off relationships after disasters in the past when her partners got sick of dealing with her challenges. I’m fairly certain I’ve read books about autistic characters before, but this one especially intrigued because it definitely clued me in to how they are truly just regular people. The author herself mentions at the end how she is also autistic, which is how she felt qualified to write this story. I’m always up for reading a romance book, but it makes me SO much happier when they have a lot of depth and growth as part of the main plot. This book covered all the bases and I really enjoyed it, particularly later on in the book when it started to pick up pace.

All Things Reconsidered by Knox McCoy
Rating: 4 stars

As an enormous fan of all things related to The Popcast podcast, I will always be a supporter of Knox’s writing. He has such a wonderfully self deprecating and conversational writing style that is extremely personal, funny, and easy to connect with. He writes the way that he speaks which makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable to me. I also enjoy that Knox had a very similar upbringing to me, so it’s always interesting to hear stories of growing up in the church and youth group and an evangelical family because I can relate so well to them. A lot of this book is about those topics and how he’s grown to reconsider a lot of the black and white ideas he was presented with as a child. But there are other chapters thrown in that have nothing to do with his faith, but are absolutely hilarious. It’s definitely worth a read. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it did take me two months to read because many of the topics while presented in a light and easy to understand way were still indeed heavy topics. It wasn’t the subject matter I was always that excited to pick up when I had a few spare minutes to read. But I’m glad I continued on because it was a really great book!

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Rating: 4 stars

Rachel is a true crime podcaster visiting a city for a couple of weeks to cover the current trial of a rape victim. On her way there she receives a mysterious letter about another crime that happened 25 years earlier – a drowning under mysterious circumstances.While Rachel is researching and interviewing about the rape case she can’t stop thinking about the drowning that she keeps getting letters about. She simultaneously starts looking into both cases and the connections are intriguing. This is definitely not a light read. The subject matter is heavy with rape, sexual assault, and violence. I did have a hard time keeping the two cases separate in my mind for the first half of the book. But it held my attention through the end. I kept expecting some sort of crazy twist, but this is just a thriller, not a psychological thriller which is apparently the only type of thriller I’m used to reading! I also thought this book was unique because it didn’t have ANY romantic components. I can’t remember the last time I read a fiction book without that being at least a small part of the story. And surprisingly, I didn’t miss it. I thought Rachel was a fantastic journalist and really loved the way she treated everyone as she researched the cases.

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Rating: 5* stars

Rowan and Neil are neck and neck in the race for valedictorian after four years of academically besting each other again and again. Their rivalry is notorious and is known for going to extreme lengths to prove they are the best. It’s the last day of school and the two of them end up spending the majority of the day together during the traditional senior scavenger hunt around Seattle. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of enemies to lovers romance and I’m obsessed with YA love stories. This book was PERFECTION. It had absolutely everything I wanted in a book. It’s the first book in ages that I was willing to give up sleep for because I couldn’t put it down. Then four hours later I woke up to read some more. (I gave up my bike ride too.) It had depth, it had wonderful character development and interactions, and it had such a delicious slow burn tension. I adored this book and definitely plan on reading it again!

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Rating: 5 stars

I read most of this book sitting in my car at a cemetery because I desperately needed to get away from my house and couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a great place emotionally when I read this and I had some big reactions to the story. In the beginning there were parts that I hated it. By the end I was completely in love. This book started out light and finished being everything I needed it to be. A perfect reminder that there are always going to be good days and bad days, joyful moments and devastating ones. It’s up to you to choose to see the good and revel in the joy because that is what makes life worth living. This was a message I desperately needed and I’m so glad I picked this book up. I suppose I should actually tell you a little bit about the storyline… Sam is a epileptic school librarian who works at one of the most creative and unique elementary schools in Galveston, Texas. Duncan is a teacher that she had an extreme crush on at her last school, but was too reserved to act on it. She finds out Duncan is coming to be principal at her current school and is so thrilled yet terrified to have him in her life again because she knows the crush will come back. But then he arrives and it’s like his entire personality has been replaced. He is no longer the fun, adorable, exuberant person she once fell in love with. Duncan, when he arrives, is what I reacted most strongly to because it felt like one more blow to my day that I couldn’t handle. But it was worth it to charge on. Such a good book.

Heart Bones by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 4.5 stars

Colleen Hoover is (obviously) my favorite author, so I was of course really looking forward to this book even though she didn’t give us any kind of description on what to expect. Turns out it was a YA novel about two “damaged” people who were well versed in keeping their secrets close and never getting emotionally tied down to anyone. Until they of course get close to each other. I liked this book a lot, but I have pretty high standards for Colleen Hoover and this one fell a little bit flat to me. The romance seemed a little too immediate and the fact that the whole relationship is based on NOT telling each other things…that annoys me. I want characters to open up and connect in ways people rarely seem to in real life. But still, I really liked it!

Runaway Road by Devney Perry
Rating: 3 stars

Londyn is running away from her life for the third time after a nasty divorce. She’s taking her refinished Cadillac back to California to give it to the boy she lived in it with as a runaway teen. But her car breaks down along the way and she finds herself in an idyllic town with an irresistible mechanic. I enjoyed this book for what it was – a sweet escape into a guaranteed love story. It was definitely predictable without much tension in the plot, but I needed that this week. Overall a perfectly fine read.

Wild Highway by Devney Perry
Rating: 4 stars

This second book in the series picks up with Londyn’s childhood runaway friend Gemma selling her cosmetic company for twelve million dollars and taking the Cadillac on the second leg of the journey, stopping in Montana to make amends with her friend Katherine. But going back to Montana, where she briefly lived after leaving California, brings back a lot of old memories and she decides to stay awhile, much to her teenage crush Easton’s dismay. I really enjoyed this installment of the series and spending time on a Montana ranch and lodge. Gemma and Easton both felt much more complex and I enjoyed getting into their heads. So far my only beef with this series is the extreme abundance of wealth (as adults) that can clearly make their lives a lot easier. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see where the Cadillac heads next.

Quarter Miles by Devney Perry
Rating: 4 stars

Of the three books completed so far in this series, this has definitely been my favorite because it was the most swoon-worthy. Katherine is on her way to drop the Cadillac off with Aria in Oregon to try and clear her head and get over her secret crush on her best friend and roommate Cash. But Cash finagles his way onto the trip and they both realize just how deeply they feel about each other. I really liked this one – at first – because Cash was so much more easy going and lighthearted than his brother Easton in the previous book. But about halfway through it felt like he had a total personality change and turned just as broody and angry as Easton, maybe even more so. That’s what turned this from a 5 star into a 4 star rating to me. But other than that, I really enjoyed this one! Now to wait for the final two books in the series!

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Rating: 5* stars

Quiet and sullen teenagers that have rich inner lives as famous anonymous identities on the internet who happen to find each other both online and in real life? Sign me up! I adored this book. Eliza has created an amazing webcomic over the last several years and has millions of followers. But in real life she is very private, quiet, and friendless. Until she meets the new kid Wallace who is also very quiet, but is a fan of her comic and one of the major contributors to her fan forum. Paralyzed with fear of losing her anonymity, she chooses not to tell him who she is in return. The two of them slowly figure out how to be friends and maybe a little bit more over time. This book turned out to be a lot more serious than I was expecting with a lot of deeper issues popping up near the end. I was also a little perturbed at how much more I identified with Eliza’s parents and their frustration with how obsessed she was with her internet life and angry or quiet around them (too many parallels to my own life right now!). But I thought it ultimately had a really great message about finding your worth in the right ways and not getting too caught up in what people think you owe them. I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the comic itself and all the fan fiction related ties to this book, but it didn’t stop me from loving the story.

Friday Favorites #13

Welcome to Friday Favorites! I’m starting this post at 4:30 in the morning in hopes that I’ll actually get it written this week! And because I don’t know how to sleep. For awhile there these early mornings were really working for me because I’d get in an hour of biking before anybody else woke up and feel really great about my myself. But now it’s just too dark for comfort, so I keep having these very awkward super early mornings where I can’t fall back to sleep but I also can’t convince myself to do anything productive because I don’t WANT to keep getting up this early. I used to work in the early mornings, but that’s a great recipe for major burnout when I am also typically still working until the boys go to bed at night. I think my life would be a whole lot better if I actually got a solid night of sleep. But I don’t know how to DO that, despite years and years of trying. So frustrating!

Anyway! I’ve been working on this list since my last Friday Favorites, but still don’t have a ton of new things to add. It’s hard to find new and exciting products when you only leave your house once a week. (You also have SO MUCH MORE TIME when you stay home!) But I want to share a couple of my tried and true favorite recipes, a few new recipes, my favorite summer pajamas, one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read, and a few other fun things. Read on!

Food Stuff

Fool Proof and FAST Pizza Dough – We’ve been making homemade pizzas once a week for at least the last six or seven years. I’ve tried so many crust recipes it’s ridiculous. But I finally landed on this one about a year ago and I keep going back to it because it just works so much better than any other I’ve tried. It comes together in a stand mixer very quickly and unlike most doughs that need closer to two hours to rise, this one is about ready to use in 30 minutes, in a pinch. I try to wait an hour as directed, but sometimes I’m just in a rush (or more likely – SHEPARD is). I love that, though, because it’s so easy to mix up at the last minute. My favorite part, however, is how easily it rolls out. Most doughs I’ve tried continue to pull back into itself no matter how many times you try to roll it bigger. It drives me crazy! This one will roll out easy peasy. The recipe suggests that this is only enough for a single pizza, but I always split it in half and freeze the second half for later. I wanted to give the single pizza size a shot this week, though, and made an ENORMOUS pepperoni grilled pizza. It worked, but the crust was also so thick that it detracted from the flavor of all the toppings. If you have a huge pizza stone then have at it. But I think you’ll like this a lot more if you split it up and make a much thinner crust.

Dry Rub Air Fryer Wings – I’ve tried making chicken wings at home a handful of times over the years and it was never a success. I’m pretty turned off by certain aspects of food and my own chicken wings always struck me as being too gross to actually eat. But then one day Butcher Box offered some sort of deal where you pay $35 once and then you get three pounds of chicken wings in every box forever. So I needed to learn how to make chicken wings! I had just gotten the air fryer at Christmas and decided to try this recipe out. They were PERFECT. Honestly just spicy, crispy, delicious perfection. I’m never even going to try another wing recipe because this one works out so great. The only frustrating thing is that you definitely need to make it in two batches (if you’re making 3 lbs), so you have to deal with either half your wings being cooled off or sitting around at the table waiting for the second half to finish cooking. But they’re SO worth it. I’ve even used this dry rub recipe a few times on grilled chicken breasts. So delicious!

Doner KebabsI made this recipe a few weeks ago and it was so tasty! Caden said it was the best meal I’ve ever made. It did require a bit of work to marinade ahead of time, plus make the garlic yogurt sauce, but it was worth it. I would have loved to have eaten it on a pita or flatbread, but we had it with rice and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Yum!

Vegan Maple Almond Butter Granola – I’m always on a mission to find more breakfast recipes that aren’t too sweet. Major bonus points if it actually has a lot of nutritional value. This one was perfect! I used the lesser amount of maple syrup and stuck with the slivered almonds, culling the temptation to add more nuts (though that would have been delicious!). I also added my favorite secret granola ingredient – puffed quinoa! It adds an extra fun texture and crunch with a bit more protein and fiber as well!

Tony’s Chocolonely’s Milk Caramel Sea Salt Bar – This is the new weekly grocery store treat I pick up for myself. It costs about $5, but it’s really substantial and I’m usually very satisfied only breaking off a small chunk here and there. I’m not exactly thrilled with the name of the bar because I expected salty gooey caramel, but it’s really bits of toffee. Then every once in awhile you get a good bite of extra salt and it’s just perfection!

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries – Okay, this one is most definitely a splurge. I first heard about them from Erin Moon on a Popcast live AUA show a few months ago. They’re meant to be used very sparingly in cocktails, only one or two needed to get a great maraschino flavor. I tried to make a cocktail, but…I still don’t like alcohol. So I ended up eating these on chocolate ice cream. And OH MY GOODNESS. You’ll fall over when you try this combo. It’s magical. Definitely something to hide away from the rest of the family and treat yourself with when you need a special snack!

Drink Stuff

Tiesta Nutty Almond Cream Tea – I’ve been simmering down on my coffee drinking lately, trying to add a lot more tea back into my days. I picked this one up at the grocery store and was surprised by how much I liked it! Though be warned, it doesn’t really taste nutty, almondy, or creamy. It’s more of a really delightful apple flavor. I expect to be drinking a lot of this in fall!

Apparel Stuff

Ekouaer Women’s Nightgown – The pandemic life is all about being comfortable, right? I’ve made a couple of different pajama purchases in the last few months since I tend to put them on earlier and earlier in the evenings, desperate for extra comfort. I’ve never been a nightgown person, but I decided to give this a try since it has so many great reviews. And I love it! The fabric is so soft and feels wonderful against the skin. It’s flattering, it’s long enough that it usually stays down even when you’re moving around in sleep. I just love it. I own it in wine red and purple (so far!).

Health Stuff

Fiber Choice – I take a lot of different vitamins and supplements to help with all my various ailments. I’m never really looking to add to my pile because it already takes me a whole day to swallow them all. But one day I was looking for something to add to my cart to hit the free shipping mark from Target and decided to try out some fiber gummies. Everyone needs more fiber, right? And they were fine. I went through the whole bottle and figured it was a worthy experiment and nothing much changed, so I could live without them. But then I went a week without taking extra fiber and realized how much hungrier I suddenly was. NOT GOOD. I wasn’t really thrilled with how the other gummies tasted, so I sought out a different brand and these are SO much better. They have more of a fruit snack chew to them than a gummy bear, if that makes sense. I’m disappointed every single day when I realize I already took them earlier in the morning and can’t take them again. I’m not sure if they’re really giving me any extra energy or helping my metabolism, but they are definitely helping curb my appetite and that alone is worth continuing to take them! (Also, I just looked at my bottle and you can actually take up to 6 gummies a day. So…that might start happening!)

FabCBD Oil – I’m pretty sure this was one of my Friday Favorites a couple of months ago. But I’m adding it again because I’m genuinely finding a lot of value in taking this every day. My original reason for taking the oil was to help with my foot pain. But it’s had the added benefit of also helping ease my anxiety and depression. I was hoping it would also help with my sleep, but so far my nights are still just as short, but I think the actual quality of my sleep has improved (at least according to my fitbit!). It definitely takes some trial and error to figure out your correct dosage. I’ve finally landed on the 1200mg bottle, taking .5mL in the mornings and .25mL at night. I tried to cut the morning dosage in half (to make the bottle last longer), but I really did notice a difference in my pain levels that week, so I bumped it back up. CBD oil is definitely expensive, but this particular company comes very highly rated and they almost always have some sort of discount code available. I think it’s completely worthwhile for what I need it for – natural pain management and a calmer disposition. I’ve tried the mint, vanilla, and berry flavors and mint is definitely my favorite. I’m just starting the berry bottle now and I kind of hate the taste, but I’ll suffer through until I can get the mint one again!

Book Stuff

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron – I both read and listened to this book last week. And it is LIFE CHANGING. If you’re not familiar with the enneagram, this is a wonderful place to start. If you have a vague knowledge of it and mostly pay attention to your own number like I did, this is also wonderful because it will provide a lot of enlightenment. I found this book to be most mind blowing because it helped me FINALLY understand why my kids act the way that they do, once I made a pretty good guess on which numbers they were. (Disclaimer that you’re not supposed to typecast your kids, but Caden is WITHOUT A DOUBT an 8 and I’d guess 90% that Shepard is a 7. I’m a 4. I’m undecided on Greg, waiting for him to finish reading and tell me what he believes he is.) Anyway, I’ve found enneagram discussions very interesting the last few years (on podcasts, nobody in real life is ever into the same things as me!), but it REALLY helped to read this book and gain a deeper knowledge into how each personality type ticks. It was absolutely fascinating. I highly, highly recommend it.

Well, here we are almost twelve hours later, finally finishing this up. In my defense, I was gone half the day and then took a much needed nap! But here you go, some new favorites to try out and hopefully love as well!

What I Read July 2020

Whew, I’m behind! July was a terrible reading month for me, which is why I’ve been dragging my feet about writing this review post. I was so distracted by everyday life and just could not seem to get into any of the books I tried. It was a struggle. I only read nine books and the first half of them were not that great! But I did find a couple of fantastic ones, so check them out!

The Twin by Natasha Preston
Rating: 2.5 stars

Ivy and Iris are 16 year old twins who went to live with separate parents after their divorce six years prior. When their mom dies in a running accident Iris comes to live with Ivy and their dad and is acting shady and mysterious, refusing to discuss their mom or her old life, determined to jump right in with all of Ivy’s friends. Ivy is determined to figure out what’s going on with her. I’m going to start out by saying – do not read this book. It’s not worth it and the bizarre cliffhanger ending (with no sequel) will infuriate you. The entire story seemed to just be a lot of talking in circles about Iris’ “off” behavior and not a whole lot actually happening. I stuck with it because I assumed Ivy would have redemption by the end of the book and (spoiler) she does not. It pissed me off, to be honest! I do NOT recommend.

Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon
Rating: 2 stars

Technically this book was a DNF for me, but I didn’t give it up until 75% in so I’m counting it in my totals. So it’s a book about an anxious and uptight guy, Jordan, who is trying to hold together a romance book club that is quickly losing its members. He meets Rex in the bookstore and is immediately turned off by some of his comments and challenges him to read the books for himself before he makes judgements. Rex joins the book club and the two men are instantly attracted to each other. This book…ugh. It has so many plot holes. What I really couldn’t stand was how it kept jumping back and forth between points of view from paragraph to paragraph with no rhyme or reason. It was SO poorly edited, if edited by a professional at all. I couldn’t take it anymore. The plot sounded so promising, but the lack of polishing was just too much for me.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Rating: 3 stars

I’ve been in such a reading rut that I decided the best thing to do would be to pick something in a different genre than what I’m typically drawn to. Historical fiction has never been my sweet spot, but I’ve really liked all the Jojo Moyes books I’ve read and this one came so highly rated (though also with a lot of controversy), so I dove in. And honestly, I was pretty disappointed in the whole thing. Alice meets Bennett and his father and moves from England to Kentucky to marry him, but soon discovers she doesn’t really fit in and doesn’t love the life of leisure that is expected of her. An opportunity arises to join a group of packhorse librarians, riding books out to all the rural houses in the area. The book is about Alice and the other librarians and how much resistance they meet with what they do. All in all, I thought it was just so boring. I didn’t get enough depth in Alice and was frustrated by how prudish and closed off she seemed for the majority of the book. I wanted her to actually feel things instead of just shutting down. I kept expecting the book to take a turn and really grip me, but it never did. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time powering through it.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Rating: 4 stars

Luc is the son of a washed up celebrity who abandoned him when he was a toddler. They haven’t seen each other since, but it doesn’t stop the press from following Luc around and continuing to destroy his reputation. About to lose the only job he was able to secure he begs a well respected acquaintance, Oliver, to be his fake boyfriend for a couple of months to help gain back the respect of his lost donors. Oliver is also in need of a companion for a large family event so he agrees to the arrangement and they begin to spend time together so secure their cover, even though almost all of their friends know the truth. I enjoyed this book. Luc grew a lot during his fake relationship with Oliver and Oliver was such a stand up worthy guy it was hard not to love him. It still took me forever to read – I just cannot concentrate on books anymore. But I liked this one a lot.

Engagement and Espionage by Penny Reid
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is the first book in a spinoff of the Winston Brothers series. It really needs to be read after Beard Science, the third book in that series, to get all of the great character development and back story. I think the main reason I enjoyed this book so much was the nostalgia factor of going back to the Winston brothers’ world and spending more time with Cletus, my favorite brother. The premise of the book was trying to solve a mystery surrounding all of the unique local suppliers to the Donnor Bakery. Cletus of course gets involved and he and Jenn concoct a plan to get to the bottom of what’s going on around town. It was fun and cute and just made me happy to revisit everybody. I still haven’t even finished the all Winston Brothers books, so I’ll have to move back on to them soon!

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the reimagined retelling of what happens to the real Jo March in the year between writing the first and second half of her beloved book, Little Women. I mostly chose this book because the cover is so beautiful. And I was curious to see what the authors would do with this story. I’m not a hardcore Little Women fan, but I imagine those that are might not be thrilled by this book. It pokes fun at a few things in the original story and of course takes some creative liberty in what happens with the characters in their “real” lives. To be honest, most of this book was maddening. Jo is so stubborn and frustrating and refuses to just let herself love and be loved. SO much of the story is just Jo bemoaning how difficult it is to write a proper sequel. It was quite stressful to feel that nonstop writer’s block with her! I enjoyed how it ended, but wish a little more romance had been interspersed throughout the rest of the book because I was rather fed up with it all.

The Player Next Door by K. A. Tucker
Rating: 3.5 stars

Scarlett moves back to town she grew up in twelve years after she left, and finds herself living next door to the boy she was once in love with, but hurt her deeply. He’s hoping to reconnect in friendship, but her heart is guarded against letting him in again, even though she can’t stop thinking about him. This is clearly a very predictable story, but it was still sweet and I enjoyed it.

Hate Thy Neighbor by S.M. Soto
Rating: 5 stars

This is the first book I read all month that I didn’t want to put down. Enemies to lovers romance novels are usually a win for me, it’s one of my favorite tropes. This was just released and sounded intriguing, so I snapped it up. It didn’t disappoint! Olivia moves to a new city and immediately makes an enemy with her surly yet gorgeous neighbor Roman. With no explanation behind it, Roman immediately hates Olivia and does everything possible to thwart her attempts at friendship. This is my one and only complaint about the book. Roman said a lot of pretty cruel things to Olivia in the first half of the book and it’s hard for me to forgive a leading man for being such a genuine jerk. Rude? Fine. But downright cruel? It’s not a turn on. Anyway, both characters seemed to have a lot of depth and I thoroughly enjoyed how the story progressed!

Heartstopper Vol. 2 by Alice Oseman
Rating: 5* stars

It’s been a nine months since I read the first Heartstopper and was so upset to realize it wasn’t a single volume! It took quite awhile for my library to get the second one for me, but it was worth the wait. Coming back to this sweet budding romance between gay Charlie and sexually confused Nick was such a treat. It’s a very fast read with few words, but incredibly emotional comic drawings! It continues to amaze me how much feeling can be shown in the graphics. I adored this graphic novel and can’t wait to read the third!

Weekend Reflections 08.01.2020

This has been a really emotionally taxing week. I’ve been working through a lot and it’s left me a bit of a mess. I won’t get into all the details, but I’m trying to climb my way out of the pits. It would just be a lot easier if each day wasn’t bringing on new battles!

I believe I mentioned in my last post how I’d been suffering from one of the worst headaches of my life. I think stress is a big part of it, but being too tense on my morning bike rides is probably the main culprit. It’s SO discouraging to me how every time I get excited about some new physical activity that I think will finally change my life around, it causes a new negative issue with a different part of my body, kind of rendering all the benefits null. I’ve been loving my early morning rides so much that I never take a day off from them. But it’s wreaking havoc on my neck and shoulders so I finally forced myself to stay home on Tuesday, for the first morning in the month since I started. I was so angry at myself because I don’t want to start giving in to lame excuses and taking more and more mornings off without a really valid reason. But a whole lot of people told me that breaks are necessary and not to be so hard on myself and on Wednesday morning I actually started feeling a lot better. Now I’m trying to alternate long bike rides with shorter ones every other day. I’m still pretty tense and have a constant lingering headache, but it’s not as bad as it was last weekend.

I listed some dolls last Sunday as well and had more people than usual upset with me that they missed out on a doll they wanted. I had one customer in particular quite angry with me for having a restock a day earlier than I had mentioned “probably” having one to her the week before. (Which I genuinely forgot about, otherwise I would have given her a head’s up.) This is a frustrating aspect of owning your own handmade business that continues to wear me out. I avoid conflict like the plague. I hate having people angry with me. But I also really, really thrive on having my own creative freedom to make whatever I want, whenever I want, with zero outside pressure on me to perform to somebody else’s standards. Which is the main reason I almost never take custom orders and I refuse to make duplicate dolls. But I get tired of trying to explain that to upset customers, especially when so many other handmade businesses depend on making duplicate items as their main source of income. I just don’t want to do it that way. And I wish I didn’t always have to justify that to other people. The whole ordeal really messed with my motivation to start new dolls this week. I did end up making six, but it’s been hard to get myself to sit down and actually work.

We had therapy on Tuesday. It went shockingly well a few weeks ago, so we stupidly assumed it would go well again. It didn’t. At all. I won’t get into it, but it was a pretty sucky day. Fortunately our next session will be in person for the first time with this particular therapist. I think it will go better that way. Virtual therapy with a kid who can just walk out of the room whenever he pleases is just a recipe for disaster.

In positive news, however, I started reading the book The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. It’s about the enneagram – something I hear about all the time in my online circles. I’ve owned the book for quite awhile, but only finally picked it up because a small group of online friends invited me into a buddy read discussion with them about it. And I honestly think this is going to be the book that will make a bigger impact on my life than any other. One of the first chapters talks about one of the personality types that fits Caden to an absolute tee. You are not supposed to typecast your kids – or try to tell them what they are until they’re old enough to understand all of it, like late teens. But seriously, this was Caden. And it opened my eyes to an understanding of who he is that I have never, ever been able to grasp before. I was uncontrollably crying while I listened (I’m doing audio and physical book) to that chapter. I’m working on getting Greg to listen to it asap so we can maybe finally understand what’s going through Caden’s mind all the time and why he acts the way he acts. And maybe really come up with an effective plan to help him – FINALLY.

I started my week making a batch of donut muffins, with my newfound plan of always having breakfast foods on hand. Of course everyone ate them all in the first day, so it didn’t last! I did go to Costco, however, on Wednesday and picked up quite a few easy options. Not exactly healthy, but some weeks you just need to roll with it. This was our last week of getting free school meals, so my efforts will need to go up a notch next week.

On Monday I made carne asada on the grill. It was my first time grilling such a large cut of meat and it worked pretty well! I’m still not really a fan of steak, but I will eat a bit of it if it’s on a taco. Everyone else loved it.

Chicken wings on Tuesday. This dry rub is amazing. It will most likely show up in my next Friday Favorites!

The rest of the week I kind of gave up cooking all together. We had a Costco rotisserie chicken on Wednesday and on Thursday we ordered Mexican and ate it with Greg’s parents on their deck. I did make this beautiful chocolate ganache tart for dessert, though! It was fun making a fancy dessert – that used to be the only kind I made! Now I just make cookies or brownies, whatever is fast and easy. Yesterday Greg was finally able to pick up some of his things from work, so he also grabbed a Qdoba family meal for lunch. And tonight he’s getting Chinese because that’s Caden’s favorite and he always gets so disappointed when we pick up food from other places.

I continue to pick through my garden every morning to get the next few ripe tomatoes and peppers. I was really excited about that purple bell pepper! I thought none of my pepper plants were the same, but I keep getting so many weirdly shaped long light green ones on multiple plants. I’m not even sure what they are, I just cut them up and throw them into whatever I’m making that day.

I also had my own therapy session on Friday. Some weeks our talks are pretty surface level and some weeks they get a lot deeper. This week we talked a lot about body image and just trying to focus on being healthy rather than what you look like. It was a pretty triggering conversation. It’s frustrating to me how I’m exercising an hour, sometimes more, every single morning and it doesn’t seem to be making a difference yet. I have never consistently exercised and definitely never more than 15-20 minutes tops! It seems like I should be feeling and seeing progress! There are days I feel stronger – on the bike – but every day activities like walking around? It’s can still be so hard, which is pretty infuriating! My body continues to deceive me and I can’t seem to get out of this downward health spiral no matter how hard I try.

Anyway! It’s been a rough week. But maybe the kind of week I needed. It’s really helped to remind me I need to take better care of myself, every aspect of it. This weird pandemic season of life has been so, so hard. But it’s not all bad. I think I’m growing. I have a LONG way to go, but I’m giving it my best effort and I feel good about that.

What I Read June 2020

June was a pretty terrible reading month for me. I didn’t DNF many books, but I probably should have! Everything was just okay. I did finish one really great nonfiction I had been reading for awhile and I had one highly rated thriller, but just three weeks after reading the book I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it before going back to read my review! I realize telling you none of these books were very good certainly doesn’t encourage you to finish reading the post (lol). But…most of these books probably just weren’t for me, or not for me at this time. So keep an open mind! And definitely pick up your own copy of Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire!!!

Flow by Kennedy Ryan
Rating: 2.5 stars

I read this short prequel because I wanted to read the original book, Grip, after it was highly recommended by an author I trust. And honestly, it just did not appeal to me. There was nothing really wrong with it, but I was bored. I read a decent amount of Grip afterward and felt the same way, finally DNFing it. It just wasn’t for me.

Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Rating: 3 stars

In this book super surgeon Sloan needs a nanny asap for her six year old twins. Rafe comes to her at just the right time and they immediately feel a connection. And things progress, naturally. I liked this book because Rafe was such a perfect guy for the role he was needed in. He had literally no flaws. So he was also a bit boring. I thought overall this was a cute story that kept my interest, but there was nothing spectacular about it.

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker
Rating: 5* stars

Jen Hatmaker is an absolute delight. Her books are poignet yet so hilarious. She tells tons of personal stories to show how human she is and loves to laugh at things that definitely weren’t so funny at the time. I’ve enjoyed all the books of hers that I’ve read before, but this is by far my favorite. It really is a glorious guide on how to fully embrace being who you were meant to be. She talks about the different personalities people have and how it is totally okay to just live quietly in your own lane taking care of the people closest to you. It’s also okay to have huge dreams and want to change the world. We were all created differently but we were all created RIGHT. Each chapter delves into a different part of yourself and how you can learn to freely accept who you are, unapologetically. The whole book was uplifting and inspirational. I loved it!

Where the Blame Lies by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 4.5 stars

Josie is a college student who is abducted in the night and held captive in a warehouse for ten months where she becomes pregnant with and births her captor’s son before she manages to escape. Eight years later she is consulted by the police for information on a copycat case. I really enjoyed this book. It went back and forth between the current timeline and the ten months she was held captive, changing point of view between Josie and the detective on her case, Zach. Josie and Zach of course have a strong connection to each other, but unlike some other books that felt very unbelievable at how quickly you could go from being raped and tortured and then jumping into a sexual relationship, these characters went eight years between events so it felt a lot more believable. I was definitely kept guessing for most of the book and enjoyed the fast pace.

The Girl in the Love Song by Emma Scott
Rating: 4 stars

Thirteen year old Miller shows up one night in Violet’s backyard looking exhausted and in need of a good meal. The two instantly become best friends while fighting back a secret love for each other. Most of this book takes place when they’re seniors in high school and eventually jumps forward a bit at the end. Overall, I liked this novel, but I also felt it got a big bogged down with unnecessary plot points. I also had a hard time believing two teens were so desperately in love with each other when they didn’t spend any time together. I liked watching how their relationship changed over the years, but wish there was just more of the two of them. Emma Scott has a great knack for writing deeply emotional love stories so it’s worth a read.

One to Watch by Katy Stayman-London
Rating: 3 stars

This was a tough read for me. Bea is a plus size woman with a popular fashion writing career. After tweeting about the lack of body diversity on the tv show Main Squeeze (a Bachelor copycat) she is cast as the lead in the next season. The rest of the book is watching Bea compete on national tv for the love and happily ever after with one perfect man. Unfortunately, she is quite possibly even more obsessed with her size and shape than the men she is with. As a plus sized woman, I can totally relate to everything Bea was feeling. But does that make for a good book? Does it help that much of the book is composed of tweets, chats, podcasts, and articles either bashing her as a plus size woman or at least constantly talking about it? Can’t she just be A WOMAN? I understand the whole point of the book was to encourage body positivity, but for me it had the opposite effect. This book did not make me feel better about myself at all. But besides all that, it was interesting to “watch” a whole season play out, very much like it probably does in real life reality shows. I had just as hard a time picking out the right guy for her as I do when I’m watching it on tv!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Rating: 3.5 stars

I usually steer very clear of ghost and supernatural stories, but I’ve read all of Riley Sager’s other books and decided to give this one a shot. And…it was okay. For something marketed as a thriller, this was incredibly slow. Maggie is a 30 year old woman whose entire life has been overshadowed by a book her father wrote about their twenty days of living in a haunted house when she was five. After her father’s death she finds out that he still owned the house and it now belongs to her. She goes back to the house determined to figure out why they really left after such a short period of time. The book alternates between chapters of her father’s book and her current situation. There were definitely some creepy moments. I didn’t read much of this at night because I’m easily spooked. I was intrigued enough to power through, but this was definitely the book I liked least by this author.

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills
Rating: 2.5 stars

The characters in this book really annoyed me. Honestly, what is the point of writing a book if you’re never going to let the main character have a voice? Nina has feelings for a boy, and it’s obvious there is some sort of past between them that went a bit beyond friendship. But she won’t talk to him. She won’t ever give him any of the thoughts she so desperately wants to say. It happened over and over and over again and it really ticked me off. There was ONE beautiful short little scene and the rest of this book was boring or frustrating. It could have been so much more. Not recommending this one!!

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams
Rating: 2 stars

One day Daniel overhears Nadia (a stranger to him) talking to a coworker in a park and is intrigued by her. Soon after, he realizes she’s on the same train as him – at least on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays. Not wanting to look like a creep he decides to leave her an ad in the Missed Connections portion of their newspaper and believing that she is that girl she writes him back. Spoilers ahead – this book infuriated me. It was missed opportunity after missed opportunity. They kept just missing each other by a minute or two for almost the entirety of the book. The book itself wasn’t bad, but the romance books I love are the ones where the main characters constantly interact. This does not happen in this book. I was so excited about the premise, but didn’t realize how ridiculously long the wait would be to even have them MEET. Not worth the read, in my opinion.

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins
Rating: 3 stars

After her mom dies and three years of foster care (all of which is extremely glazed over as being unimportant), Edie finds herself living with her wealthy aunt, uncle, and cousins for the last six months before she starts college. Despite her full intention of only focusing on her education, she finds herself equally drawn to her childhood best friend Sebastian – who happens to have a girlfriend, and the charismatic player Henry who she’s convinced is only pursuing her as a personal challenge, not because he actually likes her. Edie’s feelings about each boy are all over the place. And honestly, it was pretty hard to root for either of them. I hate books where one of the characters needs to cheat because their chemistry with the new person is “that much truer.” I also hate books where the main guy is also a womanizer. I didn’t really want Edie with either of them. It took me awhile to get into this book at all because of those hangups, but about halfway through I started enjoying it. I still have a lot of mixed feelings all around, but it was an okay read.

Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Rating: 3.5 stars

Megan is an aspiring stage director who finds herself needing an acting credit to be admitted to her prospective college. She ends up being cast as Juliet in a class Romeo and Juliet play starring opposite her ex-boyfriend/best friend’s boyfriend/boy she lost her virginity to. Megan’s a huge flirt and goes through boyfriends left and right with the self made assumption she’s just a stopping ground before they find their better half. Then she meets Owen, someone who challenges that belief and makes her realize she deserves to be more than she’s given herself credit for. To be honest, I really didn’t like the first half of this book. It’s hard to imagine being as confident and flirty and ready to just dive right in physically with any hot boy as Megan is. I liked Owen, but I wanted more of him. Much like the book before this one, I took serious issue with the fact he also had a girlfriend (albeit one he never saw who lived in Italy) for most of the book. The second half got a little deeper into why Megan felt the way she did about herself and I was really invested by the end.

What I Read May 2020

My reading life in May was very much like it was in March. It was so hard to find anything that truly caught my attention. Though unlike in March when I was DNFing left and right after only a couple of pages, I kept trying to stick with the books this time not giving up until I was over half done and just couldn’t take it anymore. It did not make for a great month of reading – so much wasted time! But I definitely found a few winners that I did stick with to the end and am excited to share with you what I chose!

My Favorite Souvenir by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland
Rating: 4 stars

This was a sweet story with a slow burn romance. After being dumped by her fiance, Hazel decides to go on her honeymoon by herself and finds herself stranded in Colorado in a snowstorm with no way back home. She happens across another stranded traveler and they hit it off and decide to travel by car around the country, picking up souvenirs at each stop. It was sweet and fun until the inevitable obstacle was thrown in her path when she arrived back home and had to face her ex-fiance and the truth about her traveling companion. I enjoyed this book, though got a bit irritated with Hazel and how confused she was about which guy to choose when the choice was so obvious. It seemed to drag on quite a bit near the end. But overall, it kept my attention and I liked it a lot.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez
Rating: 4.5 stars

This could be read as a standalone book, but I think you’d get a little bit more out of it if you read Abby’s other book, The Friend Zone, first. I really loved The Friend Zone and was excited to get this one in my hands. And believe it or not, I actually liked this one more. Maybe because the dog Tucker is a big character in the book! In this book, Sloan is still grieving the death of her fiance, two years after his motorcycle accident. She comes across a dog who doesn’t appear to have an owner and ends up loving his companionship only to have his owner, Jason, eventually call her back. Jason’s out of the country and they form a great friendship over the phone and when he comes back they figure out a way to share custody of Tucker and things progress from there. The thing about this book (and the other) is that Abby Jimenez isn’t afraid to touch hard topics and really get deep into them. This isn’t a quick fall in love and happily ever after story (despite the title!). You’re going to really get into why the couple will or won’t work. It’s not exactly light, but I still loved it.

The Best Mistake by Cookie O’Gorman
Rating: 3.5 stars

I made the mistake of waiting awhile after reading this to write my review. And…it wasn’t particularly memorable. Mistaken identity leads to a college senior propositioning the wrong brother into helping her have one wild night of fun before her college career is over. This book was fun because it was about a lot of brothers. The first in a series, I believe. I liked the characters, but this didn’t have the same swoon factor that other Cookie O’Gorman books seemed to have, maybe because the premise itself didn’t exactly appeal to me. I liked it enough, but definitely not a favorite.

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy
Rating: 4.5 stars

Halfway through May this is only the fourth book I managed to finish. I decided to drop yet another book I was halfway through to try out this middle grade I saw highly recommended from a trusted source. And – I really liked it. I guess I have a thing for lonely tween girls who go on quirky journeys across the country! In this one Maybelle is a precocious eleven year old who convinces his neighbor and temporary caretaker to drive her to Nashville for a singing competition where she’ll finally be able to meet her dad. As always, hijinks definitely ensue. I took this down half a star simply because it had a pretty slow beginning. Enjoyable, but nothing really intense to catch your interest. I plan on passing it along to Caden again, but I’m not sure there’s anything that’ll catch his interest in the first third of the story. Anyway, I really liked this book and the ending was fantastic.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Rating: 4 stars

This is one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. A group of housewives decide one day to form a book club to discuss their favorite crime novels right around the time a stranger moves into the neighborhood. Over the years a couple of unexplained and mysterious things begin happening, but nobody will believe that Patricia, the main character, is telling the truth about something very disturbing she witnessed the neighbor doing. The group eventually comes up with a plan to involve their husbands but all of their husbands turn against them, and eventually they turn against Patricia. The original book club dissolves as more people come back together with their husbands as participants and everyone pretends life is fine. There are so many parts of this book where almost nothing is happening. You never get that close to the characters, which really bothers me. It occurred to me that this book is written by a man and I read very few novels by men, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t quite getting the depth of character I kept waiting for. But every once in awhile something absolutely insane would happen and then I’d be spurred back into action and didn’t want to put the book down. It was definitely a journey. Overall I really enjoyed the book, I just wish it felt a bit more personal.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was a sweet and highly predictable book about a woman who is obsessed with classic rom coms and has been waiting her whole life for her own Tom Hanks to show up. But when he does, she refuses to believe that he’s the one. I enjoyed the book, especially all the nostalgia for those movies I loved growing up as well. But the CONSTANT talking about them and her insistence of having her own Tom Hanks moments got to be a bit much. I wish she could have let some of it go and just lived her own story instead of obsessively trying to decide if he could be the one for her. Overall, it was a quick and cute read, I just didn’t love it.

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons
Rating: 5 stars

This was a really beautiful book about a girl who loses her sight (temporarily) and a boy who has lost his legs. Tessa is a poetry blogger and having a really hard time dealing with the loss of her sight. Her grandparents decide to hire Weston to help her with her typing and he begs them not to tell her about his prosthetic legs so she can learn to accept him as a person, rather than immediately with sympathy the way most people do. The story flips between both characters’ points of view and between the present time and three years earlier when Weston lost his legs. I loved this book because it is so full of hope and optimism and learning to see past your imperfections or limitations and realizing that you still have the world at your fingertips. You still have your LIFE. And most importantly, you are still worth love. I loved this book and its message, though I did find it to be slightly unbelievable that a 13 year old boy could be so insightful. I have an 11 year old boy and he would most definitely not lose his legs and then fight with everything in him to still have a normal life. It felt like all the boy characters in the flashback chapters were crazy wise beyond their years. It made for great insight, but not necessarily believability. But besides all that, it was really wonderful.

What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter
Rating: 4.5 stars

As usual, I’ve searched out another great YA novel about a hidden/mistaken identity that takes place online while the characters also interact in person. Though in this circumstance the girl, Halle, is completely aware that Nash is HER online Nash from the very beginning. Which makes for a really lengthy book filled with teenage angst. While the constant deliberating on whether or not she should come clean got a bit old, I really enjoyed the rest of the book and the subject matter. Halle and Nash are both YA book bloggers and there is so much celebration for the YA world in this story – my favorite! (Though there is also a lot of criticism for adults that read YA, which was definitely off putting as an adult reader who ADORES YA.) Halle spends so much of the book trying to draw the lines between who she is in real life and the persona she puts on for her massive following. It was interesting to read about since I’ve SLIGHTLY dabbled in those feelings myself when I try to keep this blog’s instagram going (and am failing miserably). Anyway, it was exactly the kind of book I always love and I definitely really enjoyed it!

The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan
Rating: 5* stars

I picked this book up because I follow Hilarie Burton Morgan on instagram and really liked her in One Tree Hill and White Collar. (And I REALLY loved Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Good Wife and was fascinated to learn only recently that they were married with kids!) The book sounded intriguing so I thought I’d give it a shot. And guys, I ADORED it. This is the first time I’ve ever read a memoir and couldn’t put it down. It was such a beautiful look at an imperfect relationship and the love that held them together while they fought for their dreams. It was also a really interesting look at famous actors that have no desire to live the Hollywood lifestyle. I was continually impressed by Hilarie and how hands on she was about creating the life she wanted. It was inspirational and beautiful and made me cry multiple times. My only grievance is that it ended fairly abruptly, before their wedding actually happened – although wedding pictures were shown in the photo section. It was just an odd missing component to their lengthy love story. But overall…I’m highly recommending this one, especially if you like one or both of the actors!

Fight or Flight by Samantha Young
Rating: 3.5 stars

In this book we meet Ava who is flying home from her friend’s funeral and comes across a very rude Scottish man at every turn. Her and Caleb immediately start bickering about everything and she is constantly lamenting how rude he is. I really wanted to love this book because the hate to love trope is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, this also followed the path of people who hate each other immediately jumping into bed together because their undeniable physical only attraction for each other. That annoys me. I like a love – both physical and emotional – that is hard won and deeply earned. I guess I won’t get too into the details, but these characters kept saying what they didn’t want in their significant other and then accepting those things anyway. It frustrated me. I definitely still enjoyed the book enough to keep reading it, but I wish it had fit a bit better with what I was hoping for.

What I Read April 2020

Well, it’s taken me almost another whole month to sit down and write this, but I wanted to share what I read in April! March was a terrible month for reading with everything going on in the world, but I was really able to settle in and pick some great books in April. (Everything got real tough again in May, unfortunately!) I was able to finish fourteen books and most of them were pretty fantastic! Light and good escapes from reality.

Ruthless by Deborah Bladon
Rating: 3 stars

First of all, I’m pretty over the boss and assistant trope in romance. I’m not sure how I keep ending up reading them, other than that I’m mostly picking random Kindle Unlimited choices with high ratings when I want a quick escape and SO MANY of them follow this trope. And while this started in a similar vein, I was actually impressed by how original the story felt comparatively. It’s not something that will stick with me, or even something I remember that well days later when I’m writing this review. But..I liked it.

Moment of Truth by Kasie West
Rating: 5* stars

I fell in love with Kasie West’s sweet YA storytelling in P.S. I Like You. I’ve read all of her books since then, but none of them have made the same impact on me – until this one. I’ll admit I was a bit baffled by the original premise – there is a movie star who has a recurring roll as a teenage spy named Heath Hall. And now there is a “fake Heath Hall” who shows up in random places at random times facing all of his fears. This starts as more of a background storyline to the main character Hadley, who is a focused and independent swimmer obsessed with trying to outshine the shadow of her dead brother. This leads to her desperately trying to sleuth out who Fake Heath Hall is after he messed up one of her last swim competitions. There is quite a bit of conjecture as she waffles between a couple of different suspects. And of course she has some wonderful anonymous messages with Fake Heath while also developing some interesting connections in her real life. It was really very reminiscent of P.S. I Like You, but with a different perspective that felt a lot more emotional. It did take me about halfway through the book before I was really into it and didn’t want to put it down. But the second half? It was fantastic. If you love a great YA love story, this one is a kicker. I loved it.

Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese
Rating: 5 stars

This was a unique romance between a hot-headed college athlete and the silent “lumberjack” she’s paired up with for a school assignment. I picked it up blind on the recommendation of a friend and was blown away by how much I loved it. It started out as light and fun and developed into something much deeper. My only complaint is that it felt a bit too long. There was a lot of conflict to overcome later in the book and it felt a bit bogged down. But overall, this was a truly enjoyable read.

Beach Read by Emily Henry
Rating: 5 stars

A romance writer finds herself doubting the possibility of happily ever after when she finds out a disturbing secret at her father’s funeral. She picks up and moves to his secret house in Michigan and realizes she’s now living next door to her college nemesis, a grumpy writer as well. The two of them make a deal to try and break their writers’ block by writing in the opposite person’s genre while spending two days a week with each other doing research. I really enjoyed this book. It had such a quiet beauty about it. The love story was fantastic, but the characters were so REAL. Which isn’t always great in a novel – you want the leading man (or woman) to be everything you’d want a real person to ideally be. But – they have flaws too and you have to learn to accept them just as you would in real life. I do kind of wish this book had a different title because it felt decidedly NOT like a beach read to me. It was a bit more sullen than I anticipated, but I really adored it.

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Rating: 5 stars

This book was hilarious, sort of unbelievably over the top, a little bit sad, and all kinds of wonderful. I totally loved it. An engaged couple realizes that they’ve lost all desire to marry each other, but instead of mutually breaking apart, they both contrive all types of insane plans to try and drive the other person away. It’s crazy to think anybody would go to the lengths that they did to “win,” but it was wildly entertaining to read about. I had my doubts in the beginning because it all seemed so unbelievable, but I absolutely love how it all came together in the end!

One Moment Please by Amy Daws
Rating: 4 stars

So I came across Amy Daws at Book Bonanza last summer and thought she was hilarious. I’ve since been regularly following her on instagram stories and even though I don’t know her as a person, I think I have a pretty good grasp on her personality and humor. This is the first book of hers that I read and it was REALLY hard for me to not constantly be thinking of Amy saying all the lines that the characters were. I’m realizing this is the downside of getting to know authors – they’re no longer an anonymous presence behind the words and it’s pretty hard for me to disconnect the two and follow the story. But anyway, besides all of that, I really enjoyed this book! I was doubtful at the beginning, but it really grew on me. Two people, a one night stand, an unexpected pregnancy, and trying to make it work on their own terms.

Magnolia Table: Volume 2 by Joanna Gaines
Rating: 3 stars

I absolutely love Joanna Gaines’ first cookbook. While I haven’t made a ton of recipes out of it, the handful that I have made I’ve made again and again because they were so delicious. I adored that cookbook because she shared all of her favorite recipes and the stories behind them, something that I always think makes a cookbook rise above the ones that are basically just churned out for a profit. I expected this cookbook to be just like the first. And while they look the same, she basically says in the introduction that she used all her recipes in the first book and this was just a culmination of some new ideas she and her staff had. Most of the recipes don’t even have any description. Much like the first book I was really interested in some of the breakfast, snack, and dessert recipes, and had almost no interest in the meals and sides. They seem simple or boring or just not something my family would eat. I did make her french toast recipe and it was incredible, so I have high hopes for the rest, I just found the lack of heart in this one a glaring disappointment.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Rating: 5* stars

I was unprepared for how incredible this book was going to be. I haven’t read anything else by Glennon Doyle (and after reading this one it feels kind of pointless to read the earlier memoirs because her life has changed so much). But it was getting such great reviews that I picked it up for my morning reading time. And honestly, it’s just amazing. So empowering for women everywhere. I didn’t always necessarily agree with Glennon, but I also saw SO much of myself in her. Which isn’t always a good thing (lol). I LOVED the super short essay format, each chapter packing a pretty great punch. It gave me so much to think about and consider, especially in terms of family and what that word can mean. This book was amazing. I highly, highly recommend it to all women everywhere.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica
Rating: 3 stars

Is it just me or do so many psychological thrillers seem to be almost carbon copies of each other? I picked this on a whim – the first intriguing thriller on my kindle when I wanted something in that genre. And it was…okay. None of the characters were likeable. There were plotlines that didn’t get enough attention. The twists were predictable. It just wasn’t that great. It took me forever to read and I didn’t get much satisfaction from it.

Trejo’s Tacos by Danny Trejo
Rating: 5 stars

Now THIS is my favorite kind of cookbook! Colorful and fun with a lot of gorgeous food photos, personalized reasons why the author/chef chose to put these items in his book, versatility and creative freedom with the recipes, and a lot of just really great sounding food. I loved this one! The bulk of this cookbook are master recipes for each kind of meat and then all the different ways he uses them. I definitely look forward to trying these out once I can get into a grocery store after this pandemic and pick out exactly what I need. There were plenty of other recipes that I’m anxious to try as well. The only part I wasn’t that interested in was the cocktail section at the end, just because I don’t drink or make them. Danny doesn’t drink either, so it seemed an odd chapter to add, but I understand the need for something a little different. Overall, I’m very excited about this one and expect to get a lot of use out of it.

The Wrong Bachelor by Alexandra Moody
Rating: 5 stars

I was so surprised to come across a YA book on kindle unlimited that sounded so promising! I needed an escape so I dropped everything to read this book and then proceeded to spend most of the night reading it. That hasn’t happened in forever! This book definitely hit my reading sweet spot. An adorable and swoony PG young adult romance with great dialog and genuinely likeable characters. I thought the storyline itself was really fun too – a high school Bachelor competition to raise money for charity. I was swept up in the story and didn’t want to put it down.

The Wrong Costar by Alexandra Moody
Rating: 4 stars

While I didn’t find this quite as swoonworthy as the first book in the series, I still really enjoyed it. A famous actor is required to join a real high school and their play to get authentic teenage experience. He’s made out to be a Hollywood bad boy, but is really just like everyone else. It was another great YA read!

The Wrong Prim Date by Alexandra Moody
Rating: 4.5 stars

Okay, of the three books in this series, Ethan in this one is by far my favorite love interest. The quiet nerdy singer? Totally who I would go for in high school (and did lol). I absolutely adored him. But this book also made me want to scream at the characters for being so ridiculously stupid for so long. It was really to the point where it was unbelievable. I know this is a common reason why so many people don’t like YA, but I’m normally okay with it. This one was just starting to annoy me. But Ethan.. He was great. 🙂

I Hate You More by Alexandra Moody
Rating: 3 stars

I may have just hit my limit of reading YA romances in a row, especially all by the same author, but I was not particularly fond of this one. Two sworn enemies end up living in the same house and have to come to some sort of truce to survive the year. Compared to the other three books by the author I read this month, this one felt very chaotic and unorganized. I didn’t like the characters very much and it was all very surface driven. Physical attributes always above anything else. But it was still a nice little escape and I was intrigued enough to keep reading.

What I Read March 2020

Well, we’re more than halfway through April so I thought maybe I should write about my March books! With all the crazy things happening it was a pretty terrible month for reading. I DNF-d more books last month than I have in my entire life. No apologies. I just needed to find books that could hold my attention and it was pretty hard to do. (Spoiler – I have NOT had this problem in April – my April reads are amazing!) Despite how many books I weeded through, I did read a couple of great ones, though. Check them out below!

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Rating: 3.5 stars

Alisha Rai is usually a pretty reliable author for a good romance novel. After a couple more DNF’s (there were so many in February), I thought this would be the perfect choice to get me interested in a story again. And – it was okay. It was a lot less steamy than most of her books that I’ve read – which is fine. But all the character backstory was almost a bit boring to me. I didn’t like the main character, Rhiannon, that much, which made it hard to cheer for her. I’ve come across this in other contemporary books too – I have zero experience with dating apps, assume I’ll never need to use them, and therefore really don’t care about reading whole books centered around them. It’s a personal preference, no shade at the book itself. Overall, I enjoyed it and it kept my attention to read in two days over a weekend readathon when I was focused on reading and not much else. But it wasn’t one of my favorites.

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a really sweet, albeit very predictable, romantic comedy that plays on all the iconic rom com meet cute scenarios. I thought that it was a bit slow at the start, but I really got into it as the book went along. I did have a bit of a gripe about one of the characters, but I don’t want to give any big spoilers, so I’ll keep it to myself. But it’s the reason for knocking it down half a star. Overall, a really cute and laugh out loud funny book.

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West (re-read)
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve definitely been in the mood this year to reread some of my favorite books as a method of self care. I used to think it was crazy to re-read a book when there are always so many new and potentially great books out there. But I’ve really discovered how great it is to pick up something I know is going to be wonderful and bring me all the comforting feelings. This is one of those books. It’s been quite awhile since I read it the first time, but the story really stuck with me. It was fun to pick it up again. I still love the epistolary aspect of anonymous letters being exchanged while the characters are also building a relationship in person. It really brings me so much joy. If you love a sweet YA romance, this is a perfect one to pick up.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Rating: 3 stars

Lina is a wedding planner who was left at the altar and three years later finds herself working a pitch to land a huge gig as the wedding planner for a large hotel chain. Surprise, surprise, she’s paired up with none other than her ex-fiance and his brother, the ex-best man. Lina chooses Max to be her partner and they are forced to work together to come up with the best pitch so they can both prove their worth and get better jobs. Overall, this book was just okay for me. I thought there was too much filler about the jobs and making a plan that was never even really talked about later on. I liked that Max was just a genuinely nice guy, rather than the stereotypical bad guy. But I was very distracted during this book and it took me a full week to read when it should have only taken a few days.

Play with Me by Alisha Rai
Rating: 3 stars

A short and steamy novella about a couple who reconnects after a very long span apart realizes their chemistry is just as intense as it was when they were teenagers. I chose this book right after all the coronavirus school closures when things started feeling very intense and I desperately needed a distraction in the form of a book that would actually hold my attention. This worked. The book itself wasn’t incredible, but it also has two more books after it that I may or may not ever get around to reading.

Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman
Rating: 3 stars

I was hoping a thriller would be the thing to catch my attention this month after so many dnf’s. And this was…okay. I’m writing this review a few weeks after finishing it (I usually write them immediately) and I can barely remember my thoughts.

Someday Someday by Emma Scott
Rating: 4 stars

This was an unexpectedly complex m/m romance that was a lot more heavy than I wanted this month. Not the book’s fault, just bad timing. The characters in this book are both dealing with issues of rejection by their families for being gay. Their stories are extreme with one of them being sent to a very intense and horrific conversion therapy camp and one being totally kicked out of his family. So much of the book is about the pain they both went through. It was an eye opener to me. But it also made the book just…heavy. Not a lot of fun.

Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster
Rating: 5* stars

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It really helped that it found me at the perfect time in my life. SO much of what Tara writes about in this book are things I’ve also talked about in therapy – sometimes the chapters even coinciding with the topic I’d discuss each session. It was such a beautiful companion to really drive home the messages that I truly needed to hear. I savored this book slowly, only reading a chapter every morning so her words could really sink in. I loved every word of it so very much. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

The Cake King by Rosie Chase
Rating: 2 stars

This book really irritated me. It had all the makings of being a great story, but the author rushed through all the potential areas of development. It felt like a book that was written very quickly to hit all the high and low points of a story without doing any of the hard work of filling in all the stuff that would make a reader actually care. I certainly didn’t. I try not to be too harsh in my reviews since writing a book in the first place is a pretty awesome accomplishment. But this one just made me mad because of all the missed potential.

Marked by Jenika Snow
Rating: 2.5 stars

Okay, this popped up as a free novella in one of my facebook groups and I thought the cover was so hilarious that I read it. But then I was annoyed when they used that cover photo and tagline when it really wasn’t part of the story at all. Anyway, for a short erotic story with relatively nice characters, this will do.

The Honey Don’t List by Christina Lauren
Rating: 5 stars

Finally! A book that actually kept my attention and stopped me from checking my phone every few minutes! Christina Lauren really know how to tell good stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Though the underlying stress of secondary characters got a bit old, I loved the deepening connection between the main characters, two very competent assistants to a famous HGTV couple. I realized while reading this that I shouldn’t have been spending the last few weeks trying to distract myself with shallow erotic romances. What I really needed was REAL romance between two very likeable and kind characters. It was so much more hopeful and joyous than anything else I’ve read this month.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
Rating: 5 stars

I finally picked up another middle grade novel from my shelves! I buy these books because the covers are beautiful and the storylines are intriguing, but then I never get around to actually reading them because they feel too childish or boring to me. Not this one! I adored it. Coyote and her dad Rodeo are living in a converted school bus as they travel around the country with no rhyme or reason, trying to escape the pain of remembering the rest of their family that died five years ago. Coyote is a 12 year old who is precocious and smart beyond her years. They’ve both been happy to continue living the way that they have until Coyote’s grandma tells her that a park is about to be bulldozed where she and her mom and sisters once buried a memory box. Coyote’s mission is to get her dad to drive from where they currently are in Florida to where they need to be in Washington in the span of a week – without him realizing that’s the final destination because he’d never go for it. Of course this all turns into quite an adventure with a couple of unique characters joining them along the journey. I loved the book, but was unprepared for how emotionally triggering the end would be. I was literally sobbing through it. If a book can make me do that – it’s well worth reading. I passed it along to Caden and he loved it as well.

What I Read February 2020

February just might have been the worst reading month I’ve ever had. I couldn’t connect with anything I was picking up. I’m not normally one to DNF a book. I always have this niggling hope that SURELY it’s going to get better. This month? I just didn’t have the patience for it. I probably gave up on at least ten books, maybe more. When normally it’s maybe five a year?! And I gave up on them well into the story, wasting days and days of time I could have been reading something better. It was disappointing, to say the least! I only finished ten books and most of them were pretty middle of the road. I adored my reread of The Hating Game and was captivated by the last book I finished, In an Instant, and I had one great nonfiction read with Lost Connections. No cookbooks this month!

Bared to You by Sylvia Day
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was a random pick from my kindle when I decided I needed a romance to distract me from my life. And…it was pretty steamy. And somewhat problematic for a variety of reasons. But I was pretty interested in the characters, despite the red flags. And I was VERY annoyed to get to the end and realize there are not one or two, but FOUR more books in this series. I would not have read this at all if I had realized. I want some closure! But I’m not sure I want to read that many more books. So…I am left frustrated and annoyed!

Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 4 stars

First of all, I would let to object to whoever titled this book. The title led me to believe this would be more of an erotic novel, but it was actually a very well developed love story about two people who started writing to each other as seven year olds and reconnected 18 years later, after a 10 year silence. Which – believe me – I prefer to read about. I just wasn’t exactly expecting it, so it was a pleasant surprise. I really liked this book and the characters with their flaws and quirks. It was definitely a bit cheesy in parts, but overall it was just really sweet.

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin
Rating: 4 stars

I’m not sure where I first stumbled across Emily Winfield Martin, but her paintings fascinate me. The muted colors bring such a fantastic imaginary world to life and I can’t get enough of them. When I found out she was releasing a book just of images attached to random phrases that came to her over the years, I immediately preordered it. And it’s beautiful, just like all of her paintings. It’s just not very long. I’m confused when artists decide to make a book like this, before they’re prepared to stuff it full. Emily’s paintings of children are my favorite, but there aren’t many included in this collection – probably because they’re all in her children’s books! Which I’m seriously contemplating buying just so I can page through them whenever I need a few minutes of escape and imagination. Overall a lovely book, I just wish there was more to it.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a deeply fascinating look at all the reasons why depression is not “something wrong with your brain.” I read it during the last month when I’ve been having a lot of my own depressed feelings and found it to be immensely helpful in understanding my lost connections and what I could do to help myself. It’s written by a journalist who spent years researching the topic while trying to make sense of his own lifelong depression. It definitely comes across as a very long journalistic essay filled to the brim with different scientific studies and evidence to support their claims. I wish that the author had made it a bit more personal, rather than only very briefly commenting on his own struggles here and there. It would have made for a stronger and more relatable book, in my opinion, if he had expressed a bit more vulnerability in his writing. But overall, I thought this was a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone and everyone, depressed or not.

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
Rating: 3 stars

This book was so bizarre. It’s a psychological YA thriller and you definitely get the sense right from the very beginning of an unreliable narrator. You’re never quite positive who is narrating each chapter. There were just so many ridiculous twists and turns that the whole story was crazy. I was intrigued enough to read the whole thing, but I didn’t like it.

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey
Rating: 4 stars

Even though this was a different set of characters, I really wish I had realized it was the second book in a series before picking it up. There wasn’t a ton of overlap, but enough that I wish I had read the other couple’s story first. At any rate, I rather enjoyed this book. It was about a couple who has been together since middle school and whose marriage was feeling very empty – with the exception of their red hot once a week sex life. The couple temporarily separates while they each start working on their own issues to be able to come back together and give the other what they need to feel loved. This book comes in HARD on love language lectures. I’m a big believer in love languages, but also a little prickly about them for personal reasons. It’s a little hard to read a book where all of the couple’s problems can be solved if they just constantly remind themselves of the other’s love language. It felt pretty realistic to me, about two people who truly do love each other, but lost the communication and fun experiences that would keep their relationship alive. It was a good book.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (reread)
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve been saving this up for a reread for a really long time and decided Valentine’s Day would be the perfect day to pull it back out. I loved this book so much the first time and two years later I think I loved it even more. This whole office enemies to lovers romantic comedy is an absolute delight. It’s hilarious, sweet, and so full of heart. It’s so much more about building trust and understanding in the relationship than just jumping into bed together the way most romances go. I deeply adore this book. Josh and Lucy are just the best. I savored every word of this reread and look forward to reading it again and again in the future!

Cosy by Laura Weir
Rating: 2.5 stars

The first few chapters of this book gave me all the wonderful cozy feelings. It reinforced all the ideas I have about making my own spaces comfortable and colorful and exactly the way I want them to be. And then the book turned and became so British-centric that it no longer felt relevant. British brands of blankets to buy (I looked it up – they cost over $1000!), British places to visit, etc. Lots of name brands. Lots of things Americans really have no access too. Not that books need to always be geared toward us, but it felt so over the top that “cosy” can only be achieved if you live in Great Britain. There was also a lot of what I felt like was unnecessary Hygge shaming because it’s so commercialized now. I mean, who cares?! Get cozy and comfortable and happy in whatever way you want! Despite how happy the beginning made me feel, I was very disappointed with the rest and how utterly pretentious it came across.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Rating: 4 stars

The beginning of this book felt very much like another plane crash book I DNF’d last year. You know from the beginning that only one person – Edward – is going to survive this plane crash. So why is so much time devoted to the other passengers? Why should I care? I felt less irritated with the plane chapters as the book went on, but I was SO much more interested in Edward’s present situation. That being said, I enjoyed this book. Or as much as you can enjoy a book about a 12 year old boy who lost his whole family in a plane crash. It was heartbreaking, but he had such an amazing support system after the crash that you can’t help but love how it all turns out.

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn
Rating: 5 stars

You will feel the full range of human of emotions in this book. Whew. It’s a doozy. So a group of two families – four adults, five teenagers, a “slow minded” 13 year old, and a college student they pick up on the road, fall off the side of a cliff in their camper. One of the teens, Finn, dies instantly and the book is told from her perspective. She’s in kind of an in between world where she can still see everything that’s going on, but not interact. It’s not really important other than she provides an impartial narration to everything that happens between the rest of the characters as they try to survive and then move on with their lives. I’m going to tell you right off the bat that almost none of these characters are likeable or admirable. Their worst traits come out when it comes to trying to survive while injured in the midst of a blizzard fallen off the cliff in the middle of nowhere. You’ll be shocked by how some of them behave, heartbroken, and then strangely inspired. There are so many complicated twists of agony, yet the book is still so hopeful. It’s about love and moving on and cherishing your memories of those you have lost with joy, rather than pain. It really was a captivating read and I couldn’t put it down.

Here’s to a better reading month in March!

What I Read January 2020

My reading life is off to a great start this year! I read 18 books in January, with a huge mix of genres and ratings. January was my biggest reading month last year too and now I remember why – it’s too miserable to do basically anything else!

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Rating: 4.5 stars

You probably know by now that my love of epistolary novels is strong. I was especially intrigued by this one, which is a debut novel by a 70 year old author. The entire book is a correspondence between a middle age woman in England and a recently widowed museum curator in Denmark. What begins as a slow and somewhat unexciting exchange of intellectual letters, quietly turns into a beautiful friendship of connection and understanding. It took me a lot longer to read this than I expected and I almost set it aside multiple times in the first half because it wasn’t what I was expecting. But as I continued on, the letters between the two of them brought me to tears multiple times as I reflected on how beautiful a friendship through words alone can be. As all epistolary novels do, I wish this had ended a little differently. But overall, I really enjoyed this beautiful little book.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Rating: 5* stars

I couldn’t put this book down. When I HAD to put it down for a chunk of the day, it’s all I could think about. It’s hard to explain exactly what this book is about without giving away too much, but the idea is that in a “county” at some unknown point in time, there is a rule that all girls are sent away during their 16th year to get rid of their magic. This is the baseline for the story, but it’s also the least explained part, which did get a little frustrating to me. But I got so lost in Tierney’s journey and everything she was experiencing that I was able to gloss over the things that didn’t make as much sense to me. This book reminded me a lot of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. It’s harsh, yet hopeful, devastating, yet beautiful. I’d highly recommend it.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this graphic novel all about the love and appreciation of good food. It was fun to read and helped me to look back on my own memorable food experiences over the years. I did sometimes feel like the author/artist had a tiny bit of an agenda as most of book was about her parents in relation to her food experiences, but other than that, it was a good read.

The Skinnytaste Air Fryer Cookbook by Gina Homolka
Rating: 5 stars

I asked for and received an air fryer for Christmas, though I really wasn’t sure what to do with it. Which of course led me back to amazon to order the best looking air fryer cookbook I could find – this one. And I’m SO glad I got it! I’m really excited about this cookbook. It’s relatively small – only 75 recipes – but I want to try almost all of them. And not in the usual “I should try these because they’ll be good for me,” but because THEY LOOK DELICIOUS. I immediately did the tomatillo salsa verde recipe (a weird thing to make for your first time using an air fryer!) and it roasted the vegetables so quickly and so perfectly that I am really excited to try everything else I marked down. As usual, I have no interest in the seafood chapter, but everything else looked fantastic.

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, so this book definitely does not follow the format I usually prefer when it comes to romance. It starts hot and heavy between a boss and intern that hate each other. These days, there is all kinds of ick factor that comes with that sort of relationship, but if you can gloss over how wrong it would be in the REAL world, it was easy to fall into the passion of these characters and how intensely they felt for each other. Christina Lauren is one of my favorite sets of authors, but this is the first erotic novel that I’ve read by them. It was definitely steamy, but the character development was still prominent and kept me glued to the story.

Say Yes by Elle Kennedy
Rating: 3 stars

This novella popped up for free in an email and I decided to read it one night when I was once again putting off reading Love Lettering (up next). It was fine. Predictable. A cute little romp.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Rating: 3 stars

I wanted to love this novel so badly. A sweet romance that revolves around typography?? It sounded so perfect for me and the reviews were glowing, so I immediately ordered it. Unfortunately, it just was not holding my attention. I read two books in the middle of reading this one. I probably should have DNF’d it, but I bought it and felt responsible for reading it. It was FINE. But, as many reviewers stated, it is also “understated.” And that’s understating it. Overall, I’m just really glad to have finished.

Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina Homolka
Rating: 3 stars

I had such high hopes for this cookbook after loving the Skinnytaste Air Fryer Cookbook I also read through this month. Unfortunately, it just isn’t for me. I should have realized, a cookbook entirely filled with recipes that can be made in just one appliance – the instant pot, skillet, baking sheet, air fryer, etc. That is basically code for meals that are all mixed up together, which is not a type of food that I or my family enjoys most of the time. We like our foods SEPARATE. As a whole, if you like food like that, this is probably a really great cookbook. The photographs are gorgeous and make every recipe look so appealing. But of the 140 recipes, I only marked 24 of them that I’d like to try. One reason is that there were also a TON of seafood recipes, which is a category I’m just never interested in. I do plan on keeping this cookbook around because the ones I marked look great. But it’s definitely never going to be a favorite.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Rating: 5 stars

Both of my kids were reading books by Kate DiCamillo at school recently and they both kept talking about the books – which is highly unusual. I commented that I happened to have a book by her on my shelf – another middle grade novel that I only bought because I was IN LOVE with the cover (I have the Barnes and Noble special edition, which is different than pictured above). Once again, why are middle grade cover artists so AMAZING? Anyway, I was a bit surprised (pleasantly) to open the book and see it’s really a younger “middle grade” book, with a large font and big spacing, so I was able to read the whole thing in an hour or two. I loved it, though! Louisiana was such a likeable character. The entire thing was really sweet, despite being heartbreaking at the same time.

Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really great book about mindful parenting practice that I wish I could have read five or ten years ago. The author’s kids are the same age as mine are now, so most of the examples given are for kids more of the toddler and preschool age. You can still use the advice, but it doesn’t feel quite as applicable for older kids. I definitely resonated with so many of the hard parenting examples given and the author made me want to learn how to meditate to become a more mindful parent – and person. The essential message of the book is to focus on connecting and building a relationship with your child and in turn all of your conflicts will be easier to handle. Great advice, but sometimes very, very hard to implement. The book was interesting and relatable and I read it relatively quickly. I almost never make it through parenting books, so that’s saying something!

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (reread)
Rating: 5* stars

I really wanted to reread this book before reading the second book that was released this month. And I have to say – I loved it just as much the second time! I don’t read a lot of fantasy because it’s easy to get bogged down and confused by all the details, but this series is pretty straightforward. Few characters, a simple directive to break the curse: fall in love. The characters are so likeable, particularly Harper as she really comes into her own in a new land, fighting to save the kingdom when she could have put up a fight at every turn to get back to her family faster. Like all of Brigid Kemmerer’s books, I absolutely loved this.

A Heart so Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer
Rating: 5 stars

Okay, I feel like there’s not a ton I can say about this book without giving too much away. I really had no idea what to expect, other than seeing one ARC review months ago suggesting that it was definitely not as good as the first. And…I disagree, for what it’s worth, so maybe don’t let reviews sway you either way. This second book does feel decidedly DIFFERENT than the first book because it’s a lot less about the characters and their relationships (the reason I love the first one so much!) and more about duty and responsibility to the characters’ respective kingdoms. Like so many YA fantasy series, this is where it starts to lose me. I hate reading about battles and war. I just want the relationships! But Grey is such a beloved character and I fell harder for Lia Mara than I did Harper, which really helped me love this book as much as the first, even though it gave me SO much emotional anxiety! I thought this was another amazing book by Kemmerer and I can’t wait to read the third, even though it hasn’t even been announced yet.

Ama by Josef Centeno
Rating: 4.5 stars

It’s no secret that Mexican/Tex Mex food is BY FAR my favorite to both make and eat. Even though I already have tons of cookbooks, I’m always on the lookout for more. This one seemed like a sure bet, so when no one bought it from my wish list this past Christmas I immediately ordered it for myself. And it seems great! I haven’t yet made anything from it, but I marked so many of the recipes. I’m actually most intrigued by all the sauces and salsas at the beginning of the book – much more so than a lot of the meals. I took off half a star because not all the recipes had photos, and many of the recipes called for unique ingredients that definitely aren’t readily available in Wisconsin, especially in wintertime! Kumquats, persimmons? I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen any of those EVER in a store, and I go to a lot of grocery stores. And they’re included in multiple recipes, as an example. But I’m still very excited about the cookbook and plan to use it often.

Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
Rating: 2.5 stars

I didn’t like this book. Eliza, owner of her own small jewelry shop in New York, accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing the shop’s most outrageous engagement ring and her sales start skyrocketing. She decides to turn the small mistake into a huge farce, including planning a full out wedding without actually having a groom. She latches herself on to a guy who would be great for her, pretending her feelings are more than they are until he actually proposes and she convinces him to have a shotgun wedding. And then she tells him the truth and shocker – it all falls apart. Honestly, the only part I liked about this book was hearing about the jewelry. It made me REALLY want some new jewelry (lol). Everything else just continued to make me angrier and angrier.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
Rating: 5 stars

If I got this specific in my ratings, I’d probably really give this a 4.75, but I decided to round up to a 5 since a 5* is MY specific highest potential rating. My reasoning? I almost quit this book so many times in the first 70 pages. I was bored and annoyed with the traumatic but very vague past of the the main character and didn’t find much interest in the story itself – a woman trying to fit in with a group of male firefighters. But around page 70 everything turned and I could not get enough of the book after that. This turned into such a beautiful story of redemption, forgiveness, and ultimately – love above all else. I adored the characters and was so very happy with how everything turned out. It was also a great life lesson kind of book. Overall, if you can power through the beginning, this book is really worth reading.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Rating: 5 stars

This book epitomizes everything I love in a sweet YA romance. Two lovable and realistic teenagers that are faced with plenty of daily problems, but can still find fun and laughter in their relationship with each other. This one was particularly fun because it had a smattering of an anonymous texting friendship as well as a national twitter feud between their family restaurants. There was a lot going on! But I loved the characters so much. It was sweet, very innocent, and absolutely enjoyable.

I Know You Remember by Jennifer Donaldson
Rating: 4 stars

I went into this book blindly, just randomly picking something that looked like it might be a thriller from my plethora of unread books on my kindle. It turned out to be somewhat of a mystery/psychological YA thriller about a teenage girl whose mom died so she moves back to Alaska to live with her dad and new step-mom and step-sister, only to find out that her best friend from childhood is missing. I was definitely pretty lost in the story as it went along, impressed with how dedicated Ruthie was to finding Zahra. But certain things happened – cue the psychological thriller aspect – that I’m not so sure are believable. Overall, it was a solid read that kept my interest.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Rating: 3 stars

I had a really hard time getting into this book, but I can’t explain why. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it, I just felt very disconnected. Which is kind of weird, because I found it to be super interesting that the main character is a woman who suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic pain, something I also deal with and it’s so rarely talked about and would almost never show up in a romance novel! I liked how that fit into the story and the way the characters interacted and accepted each other, flaws and all. I really enjoyed the male lead, Red. But overall, this book was just an okay read for me.