What I Read July 2019

It was a pretty good reading month! One delicious cookbook, one amazing nonfiction book that I think all women should be required to read, one beautiful book of poetry, three five star fiction picks, and a few good to okay reads. It was a nice variety! I’m excited to share them with you tonight.

Before I jump in, though, I just wanted to clarify my rating system again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few months and have decided to become a lot more forgiving in what I’ll rate a book. It’s really become clear to me how much ratings and positive reviews affect the success of a book and I don’t want to be part of a negative group of people that brings a book down unless I genuinely hated it. As a small business owner who depends on high ratings to draw in more customers, I would be devastated if the people who bought my dolls left me anything less than a 5 star review when I put so much of my time, heart, and soul into my creations. The same is true for authors – or at least the majority of them. So I want to be a little more willing to look past parts of a storyline that maybe just didn’t agree with me and give a book a rating I think it probably deserves. As always, I reserve the special 5* rating for the books I absolutely adore because they touched my heart, made me laugh, made me cry, and I’d definitely read them again. If I really loved a book I’ll give it a 5. If I liked a book and didn’t find anything significantly wrong with it I’ll give it a 4. If I thought a book was just okay, but I didn’t have a problem finishing it, I’ll give it a 3. If I hated a book, but still finished it, I’ll give it a 2. And that’s really as low as I’ll go. I feel like some people (I pay a lot of attention to reviews, particularly those of people I follow on goodreads and on podcasts and facebook) take pride in how harshly they judge the books they read. And I don’t want to be that kind of person. Authors are real people and they deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the very hard work that goes into not only writing, but publishing their written words.

Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook by Perre Coleman Magness
Rating: 5* stars

This may very well be my favorite specialty cookbook of all time. I was absolutely tickled to randomly come across it at Half Priced Books. A whole cookbook about pimento cheese?! Incredible! I LOVE pimento cheese. Growing up in Wisconsin, it’s definitely not a thing around here. I’d never even heard of it until I tried The Pioneer Woman’s recipe on peppers (it’s delish) just a couple of years ago. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I also recently tried the recipe from The Happy Cookbook and loved it with all the spicy extras. But this cookbook! I marked down almost every single recipe as being something I wanted to try. Just the number of variations alone is exciting. But all the additional ways you can use the cheese really sounded great. I immediately gathered a bunch of smoked cheeses I had open in the fridge to create the Smoky Bacon Pimento Cheese – and proceeded to scarf down a ton of it on fresh farmers market bread. Another huge draw is that I believe every single recipe had a beautiful accompanying photo – the best part of any cookbook. Honestly, I am so very excited to use this cookbook again and again. Highly recommend if you love pimento (or any) cheese as much as me!

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
Rating: 4 stars

Amy Harmon is another Book Bonanza author, so her books have been on my radar a lot in the last year. Even though her book Making Faces is one of the best books I’ve ever read, I kept dismissing this newest release because it’s historical fiction – a genre I tend to avoid unless a book is getting a massive amount of buzz. I finally got around to reading the description and realized it was set in Ireland, my favorite place in the world, and decided to give it a shot. Overall – a beautiful and well written story with a tiny bit of fantasy around unexplained time travel. Where the book lost me, however, was how in depth it got about the political climate in Ireland around 1921. I can’t stand reading about politics. Apparently even in my beloved Ireland. It’s definitely essential to the story, but just wasn’t for me. It took me a pretty long time to finish this, but I loved the sweeping saga of love and family and staying connected throughout time.

Loving Mr. Daniels by Brittainy C. Cherry
Rating: 3 stars

I was on a roll with teacher/student romances last month – and this is another Book Bonanza author – so I picked it up. The difference with this book compared to the ones I read last month is that this was a romance between a high school teacher and high school student. Most definitely off limits – not just frowned upon. I had very mixed feelings on it. Ashlyn is a 19 year old senior whose twin sister just died and she’s sent to live with her estranged father and his new family. On the train to her new life she meets Daniel and they have an instant connection. Until they realize he’s her teacher. I really struggled with finding things to like about Ashlyn. Yes, she was grieving and grief makes you act in unpredictable and perhaps childish ways. But she was so snotty! And Daniel. Yes, he seemed like an adorable hero with plenty of his own grief – way more than anybody should have to live with at that young of an age. But I couldn’t get past how little he tried to protect both Ashlyn and himself with their forbidden romance. Basically the only thing I liked about this book was the new family. I loved them. So overall – not that great of a book.

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
Rating: 3.5 stars

More mixed emotions on this one. I read it very quickly, but I had some serious issues trying see Elouise as anything more than a crazy annoying child that is obsessed with making the world bend to her wishes. But the story was packed with summer nostalgia of working a high school job in a small town. I did find it a bit unbelievable that so many of the high schoolers in such a tiny town were so fluid in their gender identification. MAYBE that’s how things are now – but I kind of doubt it. It just made everything a bit too convenient. At any rate, as annoying as Lou was, I really adored how everything came together in the end.

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
Rating: 5 stars

If you’re looking for a truly realistic love story between two amazingly written characters, this is it. I loved Josh and Kristen so much. They meet through their best friends, Kristen hires Josh to help her out with some carpentry for her business, and they become the greatest of friends. They both long for something deeper, but know it can never happen – Josh wants kids and Kristen’s about to get a hysterectomy. I admit I was a little bit surprised at just how much Kristen’s periods and bleeding issues featured in the book, but I appreciated how true to life that actually was. Not some steamy romance where everyday things like that just somehow don’t exist. I was definitely frustrated that the entire thing keeping them apart could have been figured out if Kristen had just STOPPED KEEPING HER SECRET. It’s infuriating sometimes when a single sentence could clear up everything. But then you probably wouldn’t have a book. Anyway, this story is shockingly emotional, but I loved it so much.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this nuanced look into the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This is the first book I’ve read by Sally Hepworth and it was so well done. The subtleties of the family dynamic and relationships felt so realistic. The book itself goes back and forth in time from the perspective of both Diana and Lucy. I believe this book is marketed as a psychological thriller, but you won’t be getting any insane twists and turns. It’s just interesting enough to keep you reading. I really enjoyed it.

Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
Rating: 4.5 stars

As you might know, I really struggle with nonfiction books. I WANT to read them. I can’t stop finding and buying more that sound life changingly incredible. But if they’re not abundantly interesting, relatable, and easy to read – I barely ever get past the first chapter or two. This started as one of those books, but I kept hearing so much buzz that I didn’t want to give up on it. And I’m so glad I didn’t! This felt like the kind of reading every woman alive should be given. It discussed stress and adequate rest, and well, burnout, better than anything I have ever read before. There were so many visualizations in the book that helped me understand things that have only ever been vague concepts before. BUT, there is also a lot of science in this book. That’s the point – using science to prove these concepts. And I don’t like reading about sciency things. Fortunately, there was enough other stuff to keep me intrigued. And while it did take me two months to finish, I’m so very glad I did.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin
Rating: 5* stars

This was the perfect happily ever after book to read on a stormy summer day with nothing else to do. I loved it so much! Cover designer Eva is bequeathed a large sum of money after her mother’s death and she decides to use it to take a round the world trip, checking things off a list of her mom’s dreams. She books everything through a company that will provide an escort to keep her safe and on task during her travels. By a twist of fate she ends up traveling with Danish hunk, Thor, who she feels an immediate spark with. And together they travel the world. I wasn’t expecting so much exciting adventure in the pages of this book. It was such a joy to read. I’ve loved all of Holly Martin’s books and this one was especially sweet with such wonderfully endearing characters! It was a perfect summer romance.

A Love Letter from the Girls Who Feel Everything by Brittainy C. Cherry and Kandi Steiner
Rating: 4 stars

Brittainy Cherry has been on my radar as another Book Bonanza author (they’ve really taken over my reading life the last few months!) and author of Loving Mr. Daniels which I read earlier this month. I was intrigued by this slim book of poetry – different from both author’s romance novels. I read it in a single very short sitting and probably would have benefited from picking it up time to time for a more impactful reading experience. But I’m antsy to up my book totals for this month and was happy to read it all at once! Anyway, I still struggle with much like Rupi Kaur’s poetry, a single sentence can be given a few line breaks and then it becomes a worthwhile publishable poem. I read poetry VERY rarely, and if it makes an impact that’s all that should count, right? But sometimes it just feels a little too easy. At any rate, I really enjoyed these poems. I couldn’t relate to many of them because they were very obviously about past relationships and men who have hurt them. But the universal feeling of betrayal and rejection is widespread and I could definitely appreciate the emotion behind them. If you do like Rupi Kaur’s poetry, I think these would be a great book to pick up with a similar writing style!

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
Rating: 2 stars

I did not like this book. Let me save you the trouble of picking it up and tell you that the entire book is about fighting the logistics of dating a super famous British boy bander. With a lot of struggle thrown in because the heroine is twice his age and mom of a tween girl who idolizes the band members. I kept reading because I somehow expected something to change and the book wouldn’t literally be a same reiteration of the same idea paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter. I was actually about to DNF around 40% when something intriguing happened, but it was barely ever brought up again. I did not like Solene. She felt entitled and lived a life of luxury to begin with that was so far from most people’s reality. I liked Hayes, but I didn’t feel like he was genuinely given that much personality. I wish I hadn’t wasted five days of my reading time finishing this book.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: 5 stars

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I would like this book. I don’t particularly like reading about teenage moms because the assumption is that they really don’t have their lives together and the whole book will revolve around that particular struggle. I picked it up anyway because it’s about food and a love of cooking and that line of story will always pull me in. And honestly, I loved this book. It was genuinely inspirational how together and positive the character Emoni was. I fell in love with her unconventional little family and her supportive friends. Her take on motherhood and being there for her daughter while still finishing high school, working, and participating in a rigorous culinary arts course kind of put me to shame! It was a beautiful book and I’m so glad I picked it up.

What I Read June 2019

My goal for June was to only read books that delighted me. I wanted stories that would bring me joy and laughter, without having to think too hard. Interestingly, I ended up reading about a lot of mental health struggles. But for the most part, I really enjoyed most of the books I picked up.

Kissing Tolstoy by Penny Reid
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a delicious rom com of a book that I read in a single evening. College student Anna finally gets into a Russian Lit class she’s been dying to take for the last two years, only to find out her hot professor is actually the mysterious man she ran away from in a restaurant months earlier. Luca, the professor, is enamored with Anna but determined to ignore and push her away as both a student and a woman. From what I can understand, this book was written in weekly installments for fans through Penny Reid’s newsletter. With that in mind, I think it could have used a bit more editing and some clarification behind the handful of Luca chapters and what kinds of things he was going through. But the Anna chapters – most of the book – were an absolute delight! The story was funny and smart and the perfect tingly escape from reality. Loved it!

The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Bad by Cookie O’Gorman
Rating: 5* stars

This is another delightful book that I read in a single day. I’m so bummed it’s only on kindle because I really want the paperback to add to my shelf of books I’ll re-read again and again. Honestly, this book was definitely predictable, but it was also so much fun. 17 year old Sadie is known for being the ultimate good girl. At the retirement home where she likes to hang out, she made a Carpe Diem list of things she’d like to do to be more of a bad girl. Her best friend and life long secret crush finds the list and together they enroll the help of his twin brother – her arch nemesis and well known bad boy – to coach her on breaking rules and branching out a little. While the title of this book is quite literal in terms of the story, I really wish it had a sweeter name instead of implying Sadie is really going to be a “bad girl.” This is a totally PG rated YA romance that made me swoon.

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Rating: DNF

I really wanted to love this book. I made it 45% in and I just couldn’t read a page more. There was nothing wrong with it, per se. I just wasn’t connecting with it. Something about the very quirky characters, yet told in third person point of view, made it feel oddly impersonal. The internet tells me third person POV is the most common in all storytelling, but I don’t think that’s true in like 90% of the books I read. It felt very off to me. Anyway, I might consider picking it up again in the future, but I’m determined to only read books this month that absolutely delight me and as adorable as the two main characters seemed, it just was not hitting the spot.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Rating: 3.5 stars

I was so excited about the premise of this book – you know how much I love a good epistolary novel. While I definitely enjoyed it overall, it took me a really long time to get into. There was a lot of build up for what turned into a very slow and gentle romance. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It just wasn’t what I was expecting, or necessarily wanting in this month of only reading delightful things. As a whole, it’s still pretty weird to think that any man and woman would agree to a living arrangement where they share a bed and flat, but only for their half of the day. But the supporting characters are all skeptical enough about the arrangement, that you end up being okay with it. I really liked Tiffy and Leon and how they were both so genuinely kind and supportive of each other.

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald
Rating: 4 stars

I randomly saw this book somewhere online and was highly intrigued so I immediately got it from the library. It’s a look at some of the interesting tattoos people have gotten and a brief story behind them. I love the glimpses into the lives of strangers and what made them decide to get sometimes completely random and sometimes filled with meaning permanent inking on their body. The foreword explains why they decided to do the tattoo drawings in ink (art is art), but I think this book could have been SO much more compelling with photographs. Then again, I LOVE photography as my favorite artistic medium, so maybe I’m just bias. The drawings of the tattoos kind of left a lot to be desired, but the brief stories – written by the people with the tattoos – were incredibly interesting. It was a fun book to just sit down and read in an hour as something totally different from the types of things I usually read.

Eleanor & Grey by Brittainy C. Cherry
Rating: 5 stars

This was a beautiful story about finding hope and love in the midst of grief and sorrow. Trigger warnings for sure with loss of a parent and loss of a spouse. The first thirty or so percent of the book is the sweet and budding friendship between high schoolers Eleanor and Greyson as Ellie is about to lose her mother to cancer. The story picks up again sixteen years later when she is hired as a nanny to Grey’s two daughters after the loss of his wife. I guess, presumptuously, I assumed this book was mostly going to be a steamy romance. It was recommended highly in my Book Bonanza group which is almost all romance authors. I grabbed the book and started reading without even knowing the synopsis. A steamy romance book this was not! Which was fine. It was beautiful and paced in a way that made sense and gave the characters a chance to truly discover their feelings for each other. I really enjoyed it.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Rating: 3 stars

I have many mixed thoughts on this book. It was slow. It took me forever to read. I almost DNF’d it multiple times. The writing style was somewhat detached and skipped over so many details of the characters’ lives that I felt like I was missing out on so much. But the writing itself was beautiful and poignant. There was a chunk of the book that I really loved. And then it got dark. Ultimately, (sort of a spoiler) despite what was written on the very last page, the message I took from this book is that if you have a family history of mental illness, you are doomed and any offspring you create are also doomed to a life of hardship and pain. The second half of this book was so depressing. I wanted to finish it and I’m glad I did, but it never reached that uplifting turn I was so sure would come. This book really didn’t fit in with my June theme of books that delight me, but I also don’t think it’s one I’ll forget anytime soon.

Parental Guidance by Avery Flynn
Rating: 3 stars

Hockey player Caleb has a bit of a PR nightmare on his hands and is forced by his coach and the team’s publicist to join a dating app where his mom will pick his match. Zara is a miniatures artist who spends every waking minute working. Her best friend convinces her to join the app because it’ll help out her dad with his new dream of becoming an actor while also improving her sex life. Overall, I thought the premise of this book could have used a lot of work. It was so obviously just a half hearted attempt at something original, but the consistency with everything related to the the app/company, the improving of image, the parental involvement, etc. was really weak. That being said, it was still a cute and fun book with very likeable main characters.

Kissing Galileo by Penny Reid
Rating: 4.5 stars

After reading Kissing Tolstoy earlier this month, I was very excited to learn that Penny Reid was right about to release her next weekly newsletter installment written book. I really enjoy the falling for your teacher trope, though it’s not forbidden in this series – I have no idea if that’s true in real colleges or not. At any rate, this was another fun and genuinely enjoyable book that I wanted to drop everything for to keep reading. I loved Emily’s character, I liked Victor. I liked the additional storyline surrounding Victor’s huge weight loss and body image frustrations. I do think there’s an obvious downside to releasing a book chapter by chapter – there are things brought up early in the book that are never referenced again, which is a little irritating to me. If it had been released as a book only it might have flowed a little better. But other than that, I really liked this one.

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett (re-read)
Rating: 5* stars

Re-reading a favorite book is like a sweet visit with an old friend. I’m so glad I decided that re-reading books was definitely worth my time this year. I was really craving an escape that was guaranteed to give me all the feels. This one takes place during the summer and felt like the perfect fit for this month. And I loved it every bit as much as I did the first time around. I think Porter might be one of my favorite book boys ever. At least in YA. He is kind and sweet and funny and so very attentive, remembering everything about Bailey and using the knowledge to demonstrate how much he likes her. As always, I adore a book that begins in an anonymous online/written friendship, though it plays a pretty small role in this story. This book makes me so happy and I highly recommend it if YA is your genre.

The Peach Truck Cookbook by Jessica and Stephen Rose
Rating: 4 stars

I pre-ordered this cookbook the minute I heard the owners of Tree Ripe Fruit were releasing it. It conveniently coincided with being delivered two days before the peach truck made its stop in Columbus. I read through it right away and was interested to hear the story behind the truck and see how passionately the owners feel about peaches and connecting people with fresh, ripe fruit. There were a large variety of recipes, but I honestly felt a little too overwhelmed to actually make any of them. Not that they were hard or anything. I just wanted to stick with all the usual things I do with my 25 pound box. I’m not really sure how often I’ll reach for this cookbook – probably only once every summer before the truck comes. But it was nicely written with a lot of great photographs and ideas.

The Other Side by Kim Holden
Rating: 2.5 stars

It was really hard to decide a rating for this book. Honestly, it is SO depressing. It’s about depression and the point of the book is to bring more awareness to what it’s like to be depressed and suicidal. With that in mind, it certainly achieved its purpose. But it was a tough read. It was definitely tied up nicely in the end, which I wasn’t so sure was going to happen. But it was a slog to get there. I was so angry at all the characters and the decisions they made to not let simple truths be told – things that could have helped Toby SO MUCH if he just knew. There’s nothing wrong with the writing, I just did not like this book very much.

Beauty and the Professor by Skye Warren
Rating: DNF

I really hesitate to add this DNF book to my monthly recap. I made it about 40% in and just couldn’t take it anymore. I was drawn to this book because it had great reviews and because the author is going to be at Book Bonanza and I’m madly trying to read as many authors as I can before I go. I was intrigued by this one because I love Beauty and the Beast retellings and the next day it happened to be free on amazon, so why not? But first of all – this is straight up erotica. Which is fine, sometimes I might be in the mood for that. But most of the time I want a whole lot more emotional connection and substantial plot building before you jump right into things on the first page. It was pretty ridiculous. After reading a lot of fluffier books this month, I was ready to set it down and move on.

What I Read May 2019

This was a rough month for reading! I was so incredibly busy and had such a hard time getting in the right headspace to relax enough to get into a story. Kind of a first for me over such a long period of time. I did not like it! I only ended up reading ten books, and three of those are cookbooks so I feel like they barely count (though I DO read them cover to cover). I also read one great nonfiction and then what is probably a record breaking low of only six fictional titles this month. Though my numbers were down, the books themselves were almost all fantastic. I can’t wait to tell you about them!

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Rating: 3 stars

This was a slow “thriller” about Hen, a woman who is fairly certain her next door neighbor Matthew is a murderer. The problem is that Hen is bipolar and has a history of being manic and accusing people of violence that was not real, so she’s not taken seriously by the police, even when she witnesses something first hand. I wrote this little review about a week and a half after I read it, and it took me quite awhile to jog my memory on what happened. Never a great sign for a book. I liked it while it was reading, but it was also somewhat predictable (if you read a lot of psychological thrillers) and ultimately, forgettable.

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith
Rating: 4 stars

I thought this was a fairly straight forward and sweet YA love story. Hugo, a British sextuplet who just broke up with his girlfriend decides to go ahead with the train trip across America she had planned for them. The only problem? He needs to find someone with the same name to claim the tickets and travel with him. He ends up with Mae, an aspiring filmmaker who is on her way from New York to start college at USC. I think a big part of why I found this book so enjoyable was because of the unique and fun supporting characters. Hugo’s amazing set of siblings and parents and Mae’s two dads and spunky grandma. Even though none of them were on the train and in the picture for most of the book, their presence was still felt and really rounded out the characters. I liked this book a lot!

Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever
Rating: 3 stars

I picked up this book because I wanted a comprehensive guide (rather than searching pinterest) on making marshmallows. Last year I found a company that makes the most amazing marshmallows, but they cost a fortune and shipping is ridiculous, so like all foodie things it seemed time to take matters into my own hands and just learn how to do it for myself! I liked this one because the cover is colorful and fun and a glance at the original vanilla marshmallow recipe looked easy to do. And it was! I think if you’re interested in learning to make marshmallows and could see yourself doing it often for gifts or whatever, this would be a great guide. It’s straightforward and easy to follow. My only complaint is that there really aren’t that many recipes. There are many tips and hints for things you could change to enhance a recipe, however. I mean, it’s hard to really flush out a cookbook centered around one single thing. The recipes included looked delicious and I loved all the fun photographs. So far I’ve still only made the vanilla marshmallows, but I’m looking forward to figuring out how to recreate my favorite salted caramel version from what I learned in the cookbook.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Rating: 4.5 stars

I had a really hard time deciding what to rate this book. I felt a lot of it was somewhat mediocre as you follow the lives of Annika and Jonathan, jumping back and forth between when the met in college and when they reconnected ten years later. I was definitely interested enough to keep reading, but nothing was really gripping my attention until at least halfway through when you start to notice how much Annika, who is on the autism spectrum but doesn’t want people to realize it, is growing. The last about twenty percent of the book took such a turn that I was literally sobbing through the entire thing. I have never rooted so strongly for a character in her own personal journey. I went pretty lackadaisical to deeply emotional about everything. By the end, I have to say that I highly recommend this. And stick with it. It was so worth it.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Rating: 5* stars

I loved this book! The enemies to lovers trope is one of my all time favorites in a romance, and this book did it justice! It reminded me a lot of The Hating Game, one of my all time favorites. There is so much snappy dialog, hilarious circumstances, and total delight immersed in all of the character interactions. Unlucky Olive and grumpy Ethan find themselves taking their siblings’ honeymoon package when they’re the only two people at the entire wedding who don’t come down with an immediate case of violent food poisoning. They hate each other, but after being forced to spend time together they realize how wrong they’ve judged the other. The first half of the book had me laughing out loud almost nonstop. I didn’t want to put it down. The second half got a bit more serious, but I loved it just as much. This book is definitely finding a place on my very limited shelf of books I want to re-read in the future. It was great!

The Big Bottom Biscuit by Michael Volpatt
Rating: 4.5 stars

I’ve been finding myself very drawn to specialty cookbooks lately. Can you tell?? This was another new cookbook I happened to see before it was released and thought it was definitely worth the $12 to check it out. And now that I have it in my hands I think it was definitely worth it. The original biscuit recipe was fabulous – and easy! And there are tons of variations, toppings, and recipes for related things they make at their restaurant. There’s even a chapter on how to use leftover dried out biscuits. While it was a comprehensive guide, I’d say about half the things listed did not align with my personal taste buds. Not the cookbook’s fault obviously, it’s just not the kind of book that I marked everything down as wanting to try. But there were still enough I’m definitely going to keep this cookbook around. I also found it a little odd that most of the biscuit recipes only make 6 or 9 biscuits (clearly not enough for my small family of four that would definitely want at least two each!), but the recipes for spreads and compound butters were enormous. I’ll have to wait until I actually make a few things to see if they even out a bit, but just from reading the ingredient lists, they seem very disproportionate. I took it down half a star because the writing itself was not particularly passionate, the way most cookbooks made by restaurant owners are. While the recipes looked great, the descriptions and stories just didn’t feel overly personal or interesting to me. But if you like biscuits and happened to be looking for random things to add to your meals, this would be a great book!

Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum
Rating: 4 stars

To be honest, reading a YA love story centered around 9/11 did not sound that interesting to me. But Julie Buxbaum wrote one of my all time favorite books (Tell Me Three Things), so I was definitely willing to give it a shot. This is the story of Abbi, who was the focus of a famous 9/11 photograph as a baby holding a balloon on her first birthday as she’s being carried away from the towers. Now 16, she meets Noah, who had his own related 9/11 tragedy. To me their relationship was pretty boring at the beginning. It felt more juvenile than the type of YA I get the most enjoyment out of. But it really pulled through later on and had me in tears quite often. Even though I was around for 9/11 and will never forget about it, I honestly haven’t read much about people who were there and still live in New York and have to process their loses again and again. It was worth finishing and gave me a lot to think about.

Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek
Rating: 4.5 stars

Now this is a cookbook written by someone who is consumed with passion for his craft! These are the specialized restaurant founded cookbooks that I adore adding to my collection. I first found out about this new release from a Tasty video I saw on facebook of the author showing off a recipe for Salted, Malted Cookie Dough Ice Cream that looked incredible. Instead of pinning the recipe, I preordered the book. I was quite disappointed to find out that the recipe isn’t actually in the cookbook! So I had to go back and find it and pin it anyway. (By the way – I made that particular recipe earlier this week and it is AMAZING.) But still – the cookbook is filled with innovative, unique, and fabulous looking ice cream recipes. In theory, the ice cream itself looks very easy to make, but it also has many different mix-ins you should/could make before you can throw them into the ice cream. I love all those included recipes, but it also makes it a lot less likely I’ll ever follow through on actually making many of them. They look like a lot of work! With a lot of forethought – which isn’t really my style when it comes to whipping up a dessert. I’d say I marked about 1/3 of the recipes as ones I wanted to try, which normally would make me feel iffy about the book as a whole. But the recipes looked so amazing I can see myself loving them and making them again and again. A lot of the flavors are just totally crazy and I’d probably never spend the time to risk something I’m fairly certain my family wouldn’t touch. It really just made me wish a Salt & Straw store was in this part of the country so I could take the easy way out and just buy some! Anyway, I’m taking off half a star for those reasons, but the cookbook itself is gorgeous and interesting and made me very excited about making my own ice cream in the very near future!

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Rating: 5*

This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it – did I really want to read a memoir about therapy? Do I really need a nonfiction book about other people’s problems? Did I need to hear all about the merits of therapy when I’ve had such an unimpressive journey with my own bouts of therapy? It turns out that I did. Gottlieb’s writing style as she jumps back and forth between her patients and her sessions with her own therapist made the book both fascinating and useful. As nonfiction it still took me a little longer to get through than fiction would, but it certainly held my attention in ways that nonfiction almost never does. I finished this book feeling like I had a better grasp on how to live my own life and its search for meaning, rather than happiness. I would highly, highly recommend this book.

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Rating: 4 stars

I almost gave up on this book. It’s the perfect example of why I’m so hesitant to DNF books too early – they really do have the potential to get so much better! Honestly, I was wavering about the first 30% of the book. The main character, Calla, was so entitled and materialistic, I had no desire to get to know her. But then it got good. Really good. I am in love with the male lead, Jonah. The rest of the Alaska characters are so sweet and supporting. The ending is bittersweet, but you’ll know that from the get go. It had me crying my eyes out at 3am last night when I finished it. If you can stick with it for that first chunk, it’s really worth reading.

What I Read April 2019

This was a pretty boring reading month. I did read one amazing YA fantasy book (which I typically avoid at all cost!), a pretty great nonfiction book on sex in long term relationships, and found an incredible newly released cookbook. But everything else? So middle of the road and bland. But, here goes.

F*ck Love by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 2.5

I was really disappointed by this book. This is now my third Tarryn Fisher book and just like the second one I read, this one fell so far from my high expectations after reading Mud Vein late last year. I just realized she wrote Mud Vein BEFORE this one, so I can’t even blame it on a significantly evolved writing style. Anyway. This started out with such a great twist – a fantastical element that gets you excited about the rest of the story. Unfortunately, while it’s referenced, this is never actually explained for the rest of the entire book. It could have been SO GOOD if she had used this and actually wrote a fantasy book. I was really let down by that. There was also a very bizarre character twist thrown in at the end that I just could not understand. I wanted to like this book, I even read it pretty quickly. It just did not hit the spot.

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Rating: 4 stars

I picked this book up on the glowing recommendation of Kaytee Cobb on the Currently Reading Podcast. It sounded intriguing, even though I generally shy away from historical fiction because it’s just not my thing. I mean, I’ve read plenty of it, but it’s not something that usually draws me in. But I gave it a shot and found this to be a very pleasant book! It was almost alarming how calm the characters were about the constant bombing around London while they continued to live their lives and go about their duties. Emmy was a very likeable character – it reminded me so much of Helene from 84, Charing Cross Road. I do feet there was some missing element that could have really brought this story up to a 5. But it was a mostly fun read celebrating a great friendship and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

If you’re looking for a unique re-telling of Beauty and the Beast by a fantastic author – this is the book for you. I was enthralled by it. At first I found myself wanting to savor it because I knew it was going to be so good. Then I found myself reading way too late into the night, desperate to know the ending. Our heroine, Harper, is kidnapped from the modern world and brought into a parallel universe enchanted castle by Grey, Prince Rhen’s guardsman, and only remaining person at his side. She fights her kidnappers at every turn until circumstances change and she begins to learn about their world. She puts aside her own worries to help Rhen and his kingdom. Overall, I truly loved this book. I loved that the characters were together and interacting in almost every chapter. I was surprised at how much actually happened beyond their forced attempt to fall in love to break the curse. I was honestly more intrigued by Grey than Rhen, however, and the epilogue left me very excited about the second book coming in early 2020 (I already preordered it!). I can’t wait! I was really hoping this would be a stand alone book so I wouldn’t have to wait, though. But I think it’ll be worth it! As someone who very rarely reads fantasy, I think this book was well worth my time!

Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
Rating: DNF

This is a story about a family that falls to pieces after the older son is severely injured in a school shooting and spends the next ten years in a coma. I was intrigued by the premise, but the book started out SO slow. The writing was very “literary.” Basically – wordy. Not the type of book I usually enjoy reading, as I get the most enjoyment from snappy dialog and character interaction. The chapters alternate between different members of the family, so some of them are a lot more interesting than others. I put the book aside to read a couple of others and then when I still didn’t really want to pick this up I decided it’s not the book for me.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron
Rating: 3 stars

Okay, so I really hesitate to say anything negative about a person’s memoir – a life story filled with terrible things no child should ever have to go through. But this book fell a little flat for me. It was hard not to compare it to The Sound of Gravel, which is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. The authors are cousins and put out books around the same time, though they didn’t know each other before that. Between the two of them, this book just felt SO factual. It was just a straight forward retelling overview of the most striking moments of her life, but without any of the real emotional depth or storytelling behind it. If that makes sense. I was definitely interested and read the whole thing in two days, but it bothered me during the entire reading. It felt like a therapeutic retelling of one’s life. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn
Rating: 3 stars

So there’s a pretty big chance that I’m just really burned out on books about musicians on tour. I’ve read my fill of them in the last two months. Of all of them I’ve read recently, this has been the least interesting. It also really skimmed over the tour life, but still held all of the usual stereotypes – getting drunk and using women. This particular story is about two 18 year old country music stars with tragic family histories that find a way to come together after a summer on tour. Overall…it was okay. Not memorable. I was so desperate to finish it up that I just skimmed through the last few chapters and didn’t even read the epilogue. It’s pretty rare for me to be that desperate to be done with a book.

The Party by Lisa Hall
Rating: 3.5 stars

I thought this book had a pretty strong beginning. A woman wakes up in a strange room without half of her clothing and feels like she has the worst hangover of her life with no recollection of the night before. She realizes she’s at a neighbor’s house after a wild New Year’s Eve party and she’s pretty sure she was raped. The rest of the book is her struggling to get her memory back while she does her own investigating of everyone that could have been involved after the police deem the case unsolvable without any sufficient evidence. The main reason I enjoyed this book is that it was fast and easy and kept my attention during a week that very little else was. But near the end I was so sick of her repeatedly trying to figure out who her attacker was with still no memory of the incident. I also didn’t particularly like any of the characters. So if you’re looking for a fast thriller, this is a good pick.

After by Anna Todd
Rating: 2 stars

I hated this book and I LOATHED these characters. I picked it up without knowing anything about it – I just knew the movie version came out and it seemed intriguing, so I wanted to quickly read the book before I went to the theater. (It ended up only being in the theater for two weeks so I missed out.) Then I started reading and could not stand the characters. Let’s talk about a boy who gives off every single red flag that could possibly exist for being bad relationship material. Throw in a girl who thinks it’s fine to overlook those flags, cheat on her boyfriend, ignore her mom, give up her friends, all for the sake of winning over red flag boy. Seriously, this book was the worst. I finished it basically so I could write this review. I also had hopes that they might redeem themselves by the end. I didn’t realize until it was abruptly finished that there are FOUR MORE BOOKS. And sadly, I kind of want to read them. Hate read them? I mean, I was invested enough to spend an entire week of my reading time getting through this book. But I hated every single character SO MUCH. So unless you want to see horrible people make terrible decisions again and again and again, I would advise staying away from this series!

Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Rating: 3 stars

April is really shaping up to be the month of mediocre reads. Slow books that seem to take me three times as long as it normally does to get through them. In part because I’ve been so busy and distracted and in part because the books just aren’t drawing me in. This is another middle of the road story for me. There was nothing wrong with it, I just wasn’t that interested in it. Two teenage amature sleuths get together to solve a mystery at the hotel where they work. It sounded like the perfect kind of YA that I love, but I just never got into it. The characters behaved how real life teenagers probably would – which was honestly kind of boring. I just wanted a lot more personality from Birdie to amp up everything. Overall, it was fine, just not the best.

Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship by Stephen Snyder
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a compulsively readable book about sex in long term relationships. I’ve started reading a handful of similar books over the years and lost interest so quickly because they were too scientific, too technical, and too boring. This was interesting and relatable from the first to last page. I enjoyed the deep perspective of a 30 plus year sex therapist and how he’s worked with couples over the years. Even though it’s technically about sex in relationships, the emphasis of every chapter was much more about the relationship itself and what could inherently be causing hang ups between the couples. I only knock it down half a star because the majority of the book only followed about three couples and their specific issues. I wish it had provided more examples of differing relationships or struggles, even though it might have gotten hard to keep track of. Overall, I’d highly recommend this for any married or long time couple.

Tex Mex by Ford Fry
Rating: 5* stars

This was perhaps the most exciting cookbook I have ever purchased because it was filled with all the foods I actually want to eat every single day of my life. There were tons of gorgeous photos accompanied by a colorful and fun design. There is a lot of background information about tex mex food, but it’s interesting and succinct enough that you won’t lose interest. I bought this cookbook completely on a whim when I saw it listed as a new release and I’m SO glad I did. With the exception of the seafood and alcoholic beverage chapters, I marked almost every single recipe as something I want to try. I loved that all of the recipes looked flavorful and delicious without any hard to find ingredients or techniques. I’m so excited to dig in and start trying out these recipes. I think this will prove to be an essential cookbook in my collection that I will turn to often!

The Roommate Agreement by Emma Hart
Rating: 3.5 stars

If you’re looking for a light, fast, sweet romance, this was a good one. Two long time best friends end up living together and despite their very different living styles, end up feeling more for each other than friendship. I liked the characters and that they were pretty kind to each other, despite the constant sarcasm and quips. I didn’t feel extremely invested in their lives and felt that some things were a bit repetitive (how many times can you talk about Shelby’s introversion and say the words “best friends?”). But that didn’t stop me from reading the book in a day and a half. Overall, it was enjoyable and a nice palette cleanser.

What I Read February 2019

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 3 stars

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

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

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

Girl Boner by August McLaughlin
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid
Rating: 3 stars

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

Freefall by Jessica Barry
Rating: 2.5 stars

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

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Rating: 5 stars

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

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

What I Read January 2019

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

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

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

Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner
Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
Rating: 5 stars

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

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliophile by Jane Mount
Rating: 5 stars

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

Bright Side by Kim Holden
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Rating: 3 stars

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

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Rating: 4 stars

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

Maybe Now by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff
Rating: 4 stars

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

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Rating: DNF

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

Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 5 stars

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

My All Time Favorite Cookbooks: The Best Cookbooks to Amplify Your Meals and Treats

cookbook pinterest photo

I adore cookbooks. I’m a little bit obsessed with them. Though I have to admit that I’m not all that great about going to them when I’m in need of a quick meal idea. Pinterest is usually my greatest friend. But I do have a few cookbooks that I go to again and again because there are certain recipes I just love so, so much. I hope to eventually have that kind of relationship with all of my cookbooks. But for now, I’d like to tell you about the seven I use the most. These would be awesome to add to your own shelves, or would also make super Christmas gifts!

Joy the Baker Cookbook

1. Joy the Baker Cookbook

I would say this is my most used cookbook for the last four or five years. All of the recipes are simple and delicious. There are photos for every recipe, which is pretty much an absolute must for me in terms of a great cookbook. The majority of the book covers breakfasts and sweets. She is a baker, after all. But there are occasional sprinklings of savory dishes as well. There are a handful of recipes I go to again and again and again. I love this cookbook!

My Favorites:

  • Baked Chili Cheese Fries – These are to die for. They’re the only way I’ve ever made and pretty much every will make, baked french fries. They’re spicy, salty, cheesey, gooey – perfection.
  • The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting – You CANNOT live without this recipe. I’m not much of a frosting lover. Or a cake lover. But this frosting? I will literally eat an entire bowl of it, by itself. I’ve used it every single time I’ve needed chocolate frosting since I’ve gotten this book.
  • Chocolate and Salty Peanut Butter Ice Cream – Need I say more? My favorite chocolate and peanut butter ice cream recipe. So good.
  • Browned Butter Peanut Butter Crispy Rice Treats – This is the recipe that inspired my neighbor boy to build me a four foot tall trophy for “best rice krispy treat maker.” I’ve probably made this recipe fifty times. It’s a million times better than your regular rice krispy treat.

Joy the Baker has come out with two other cookbooks after this one, both of which I own. Homemade Decadence, which is full of desserts and treats, and Over Easy, which is mostly breakfast and brunch. I haven’t had as much time to try out recipes from these cookbooks, but they look just as fantastic.

The Cookies and Cups Cookbook

2. The Cookies & Cups Cookbook

If it’s not already obvious by book two on my list, I’ve always been much more into baking than cooking. I’m most drawn to cookbooks full of sweet and salty treats that I can make to satisfy my own cravings, and use to show off to my friends and family. This is another great book full of tasty goodness. There are also lovely photographs with each recipe.

My Favorites:

  • Salty Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies – I love browned butter. I love salty sweets. (Love passionately – much to Greg’s dismay because he hates salty sweets – loathes them.) I’m always up for trying new chocolate chip cookie recipes because they never seem to work out the way I want them to. But this one is great!
  • Salted Caramel Apple Butter Bars – (I might have a problem.) This is a really delicious and easy treat to make to share with a group.
  • Salty Caramel Corn – (Yes, a problem.) I’ve never liked caramel corn until I tried this recipe. It’s amazing. AMAZING. I’ve made it many, many times in the year since I bought this book.

The Everything Pizza Cookbook

3. The Everything Pizza Cookbook

We have pizza night every Friday. Even though Caden doesn’t eat pizza, Greg and Shepard practically live for Friday nights. I mostly just love knowing what we’re going to be eating one day a week, week after week. I have a handful of pizza cookbooks (the others are much prettier!), but this is the one I go back to again and again. I mostly use it for the crust recipes, though when I’m feeling more experimental (which doesn’t go over so well with the other pizza eaters in my house), I like to flip through the suggestions.

My Favorites:

  • Classic Crust – This is the recipe I use 90% of the time. Every few months I change things up with recipes from other places, but this is always my go to. It’s the crust that other people always rave about. It’s a good one!
  • Smoked Gouda Pizza – On the pepper crust recipe. Delish!

Eat Delicious

4. Eat Delicious by Dennis the Prescott

This one came out earlier this year and I bought it on a whim at Target in September. The photos are what will get your attention first – they are incredible. Every recipe looks like the best food you’ll ever eat. To be fair, I’ve only made two recipes in this book so far – tonight. The general steak cooking guidelines and the Hasselback Potatoes. But I can guarantee this book is going to be a favorite. Other than the seafood chapter, because none of us like seafood, I know I’ll be picking this one up over and over again. Everything looks SO GOOD. This particular cookbook would make a lovely Christmas gift for anyone on your list. Also, be sure to follow @dennistheprescott on instagram. You’re welcome.

My Favorites:

  • Maple-Bacon Scones – Flipping through this book again, I forgot that I did make this recipe! And it was fantastic!!
  • Ancho-Rubbed Steak Tacos with Pineapple-Avocado Salsa
  • Buttermilk Fried Chicken Burgers
  • Sriracha-Roasted Cauliflower
  • Brown Sugar Bourbon and Candied Pecan Ice Cream
  • Salted Caramel Apple Parfaits

Half Baked Harvest Cookbook

5. Half Baked Harvest Cookbook by Tieghan Gerard

The Half Baked Harvest blog is my all time favorite food blog. Every recipe I have ever made from Tieghan has been of the most delightful and flavor bursting sensational food produced in my kitchen. Her Korean Fried Chicken Tacos are my favorite food of all time. Her Thai Pomegranate Enchiladas rock my world. Her Cuban Chicken Quinoa Bowls have some of the most uniquely flavored chicken I’ve ever eaten. Suffice it to say, Tieghan was bound to create an incredibly first cookbook. I pre-ordered the day it was announced and anxiously waited the six months it took to be released. And it does not disappoint! All of the photographs are so beautiful. A photo per recipe, of course. I’d say the only downside is that many recipes do require an awful lot of ingredients. They’re not usually last minute quickly prepared meals. But if you have the time and buy all the ingredients, it’ll be so worth it. Trust me. And full disclosure, I haven’t had a chance to make many recipes from the cookbook yet. But I plan to rectify that very soon!

My Favorites:

  • Nonnie’s Dutch Baby – I love Dutch Babies for weekend breakfasts. So fast and delicious.
  • Salted Brioche Cinnamon Rolls
  • Apple Ricotta Pancakes with Bacon Butter
  • Crunchy Roasted Broccoli with Toasted Bread Crumbs
  • Fig and Cider Pork Chops – I made this last month with the apple instead of fig substitution and my family went nuts over it. I very rarely make pork, but this was a keeper!
  • Apple and Brie Soup with Bacon and Pumpkin Seed Granola
  • Salted Treacle Butter Apple Pie

First Prize Pies

6. First Prize Pies by Allison Kave

If you like to eat pie, make pie, read about pie, or know anyone else who does – this is the cookbook for you. First of all, it’s gorgeous. A perfect gifting book! Unfortunately there is not a photo with every recipe, but there are plenty. The cookbook is organized by season so you can always search for a pie that would be perfect for whatever season you’re making it in. It guarantees the freshest pie for that time of year. Every pie I’ve made from this cookbook has been a hit!

My Favorites:

  • Samantha Bee’s Salty Caramel Pie – Perhaps I should rename this post to my favorite salty sweet cookbooks! This one is easy and delicious!
  • Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
  • Trifecta Pie (Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel)
  • Ginger Peach Pie – I don’t even like the taste of ginger, but this is one of my all time favorite pie recipes. It’s amazing.

Simply Scones

7. Simply Scones by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright

This is probably the oldest cookbook in my collection. It’s a cookbook my mom used and I later bought a copy for myself. The cookbook itself is tiny and not much to look at. But the recipes are really great. I love making scones, especially for company or get togethers. They’re a treat that not many people actually make, despite how easy they are! They also taste wonderful.

My Favorites:

  • Banana Chip Scones – Like banana bread, but better!
  • Blueberry Coffee Cake Scones – Very messy, but very delicious!
  • Brownie Scones
  • Buttermilk Scones
  • Chocolate Stuffed Peanut Butter Scones
  • “Classic” Cream Scones
  • Gingerbread Scones

And that’s it for my all time favorite cookbooks! I have many, many more on my shelves, so I’m hoping with a little more intentional cooking, in the future I’ll have more cookbooks to share. Let me know your favorites!