What I Read January 2021

January is statistically my biggest reading month of every year. Something about the long, cold, and dark days inspire many more excuses to skip other things and curl up with a book instead. While I didn’t read as many books as I have in January’s past, I did still finish 14 – and most of them were fantastic! (And some of them were quite long!) I even read three nonfiction books! I have a lot of great recommendations for you today.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Rating: 5* stars

This book has been on my radar since it first came out, mostly because I really loved the cover and it looked like a contending book for something Caden and I could both read. But because I don’t actually pick up middle grade almost ever (I just LOVE the covers!!) I never got around to starting it until the first of the year. It was on SO many top lists of 2020 that I just couldn’t justify ignoring it any longer. I could tell right from the start that this book was going to be very different from the type of book I normally read – or like. It was quirky and magical and just not my style. And to be honest, it probably took me 30% in before I was even sure I was interested. The only downside of this book is how slow the set up is. For this reason alone I’m not sure it’s a book Caden would read. He needs something to grab him from the first page. This wasn’t it. But I’m so glad I powered through because I ended up falling in love with it in the same way that so, so many other people did last year. This book truly is beautiful. It’s about an objective case worker who is in charge of checking on the orphanages filled with magical children that need to be monitored and kept away from regular society. He’s sent to a classified location to check in with the six most dangerous magical children and their mysterious caretaker. Throughout his month long stay, Linus, the caseworker, has many changes of heart as he learns that every child is worth loving and protecting, no matter the cost, no matter their challenges. The children were absolutely endearing and funny and I adored them all. This book just made my heart so happy. I loved it and all of the wonderful lessons it had to teach. I’m actually hoping to eventually get a hard copy so I can read it again and highlight all the passages that really spoke to me. It WAS beautiful and so worth the read.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
Rating: 5 stars

I’m determined to listen to more audiobooks this year. It’s a great thing to do while I work and a better option than watching tv because my eyes can just focus on my sewing and I’ll be much more productive! But I’ll also FEEL more productive by getting more books read! Win win. I picked this one first because it didn’t have a wait from the library and it’s a book I’ve kind of wanted to read for awhile, but hadn’t. It sounded like a book I needed, but also didn’t want to read because I love shopping. Why should I read a book that will make me feel guilty for it? Well, because maybe I NEED to feel guilty for it. This book is part memoir and part month by month accounting of how Cait was able to fulfill her year long shopping ban. I didn’t know who she was before, but she’s been a blogger for some time with a huge following and wanted to share some more personal accounts in the book that she never shared on her blog. Mainly how much she struggled with alcoholism. I definitely have never had that struggle, but I could still relate so well to everything she wrote about. An addiction is an addiction, no matter what it may be. Overall, I thought this was an excellent food for thought book to read, especially at the start of a new year. Am I inclined to start my own year long shopping ban? Well…no, not really. But am I inspired to make a whole lot of changes? Yes. Her story was inspirational and the audiobook was only about six hours long. Perfect for a day or two of pairing with all the mindless activities you have to do during the day!

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer
Rating: 5 stars

I’m not usually a big fan of poetry, but every once in awhile a book is released that intrigues me enough to pick it up and give poetry another shot. And I’m usually surprised by how much I enjoy the different format. This book had so many rave reviews and it still managed to surprise me. Every poem is about different aspects of womanhood. And they’re all very abstract – another reason I rarely like poetry, but after awhile I was getting really into it. I felt a connection to so many of her words, which is always a pleasant surprise is this lonely life most of us our leading right now. I’ll definitely be picking this one up again and again in the future.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai
Rating: 5 stars

This was my January BOTM pick mostly because I fell in love with the cover. (See a trend?) You don’t see many purple covers! I also didn’t realize that it was a pre-release so I read it two months before it came out. Exciting! ūüôā I didn’t realize that there was a book that technically came first, but this book does have all those little developed hints of side characters that have a story you should maybe already know. It’s definitely not necessary, but I enjoyed this book so much I plan on going back to read the first. Anyway, this was about Daisy, an Indian woman who stumbles across the boy she loved as a teenager but ghosted her at prom and disappeared for the next ten years. In a moment of haste she kisses him and calls him her fiance in order to avoid an awkward encounter with her ex-boyfriend and ex-boss. Right around the same time Liam finds out he’s come into an inheritance, but there are stipulations that he must be married by his next birthday in order to get the family business – and his birthday is in six weeks. The two of them concoct a plan to date for the next six weeks and then get married the day before his birthday to help each other out, no real feelings involved. Though of course there are plenty of feelings on both sides. Overall, I thought this book was really well developed and sweet. I loved all of the characters and felt their hesitations were well founded and realistic. The whole book was a joy to read.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 4 stars

This was kind of an odd sort of interim book where we catch up with everyone who is staying in the Night Court over the Winter Solstice. For some reason this book went beyond my notice until now, so it’s been quite awhile since I read the first three books and I spent half of this one trying to remember who all the characters were and what their relationships were to each other. That was so distracting and the beginning of this book was so NORMAL I had a really hard time understanding the point. But as it went on I really appreciated how Feyre was coming into her own as an artist and finding ways to help rebuild her community through art because it IS valuable. It also seemed kind of weird to write about, but I loved how much of this book was devoted to what everybody was going to give everyone else for Solstice gifts. After all the action in the third book, it was deeply surprising how little happened in this one. But I’m glad I read it to get a refresher for the next book coming out next month!

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
Rating: 3 stars

Tallie is a therapist who is driving home from work and sees a man about to jump off a bridge. She pulls over and convinces him to come back home with her where they spend three days together, mostly just sitting around and talking. I was intrigued by the premise of this book, but ended up finding the whole thing kind of boring. Maybe I like plot driven books more than I thought, since it was really missing in this story. Both Tallie and Emmett have their own secrets that they keep from each other while also getting closer in other ways. And of course those secrets eventually come out. What bothered me about this book was that I just couldn’t see a therapist actually acting the way that Tallie did. I feel like no matter what the first thing she would have done would have gotten him to a hospital to help. Not bring him back home with her. It was just so odd to me. I didn’t hate the book or anything, it just was very slow.

Wintering by Katherine May
Rating: 4.5 stars

Wintering is the concept of understanding parts of your life are going to be cold and low and quiet and slow. It’s about more than the actual seasons, though that can be part of it as well. But it’s really about the ups and downs of life and learning to accept the bad along with the good and find ways to appropriately get yourself through them and find things to enjoy in the process. Of all years to hear this message, this is the one. It’s sort of a memoir and sort of an encouraging outlook on making the most of the hard parts of your life. It was also a little bit sad. I identified strongly with the author as most of her wintering seasons included mysterious physical ailments and losing herself to motherhood. I feel like those things are relatable to so many people. There were a few chapters that I just didn’t connect with as well, but for the most part I was greatly intrigued and couldn’t wait to keep picking this one up again.

Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
Rating: 3.5 stars

Brynn is a 17 year old who is really struggling in both school and life after her brother OD’s, her mom and stepdad treat her like crap, and her girlfriend breaks up with her. As a school assignment she’s supposed to write to one of her heroes, so she chooses a news anchor that she strongly admires. She then spends the rest of the school year writing unsent emails to Rachel Maddow, using the talk to text feature to get all of her feelings out on the screen. I picked this book up because as you know I love epistolary novels. This one was a bit different since there was nobody ever responding, or even receiving her emails. But the whole thing still reads like a novel. I enjoyed Brynn and her spunk, but the story is honestly quite depressing. I thought it was a good read, but it wasn’t really what I emotionally needed this month that’s already been filled with enough doom and gloom.

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Rating: 4 stars

For two hundred years there has been a curse in the Fontana family where the second daughter of every family will never find love and marriage. Some second daughters have actively tried to fight the curse and have been met with sorrow. Other daughters, like Emilia, have used the curse as an excuse to not even try to find love and happily go about living on her own, even when her family walks all over her. This book is about a trio of second daughters who take a trip to Italy together in order to break the curse on Great Aunt Poppy’s 80th birthday. Overall, I enjoyed this book and found it pleasant. I liked it while I was reading it, but I wasn’t captivated by it. It did get better as it went along, but it was a pretty slow moving story. They didn’t even leave for Italy until about halfway through and that’s when things picked up. It was a good book, just perhaps a bit more literary than what I tend to pick up and was harder for me to really lose myself in.

The Invitation by Vi Keeland
Rating: 5 stars

Stella and her best friend Fisher decide to crash a swanky wedding pretending to be her no good ex-roommate. There she meets Hudson, who is intrigued by her – until he finds out she’s not who she says she is. Deciding to apologize to the bride, she ends up getting into business with Hudson and his sister as they help her grow her new perfumery business. And of course the two of them inevitably become closer. I really liked this book. This is maybe the third or fourth Vi Keeland I’ve read in the last few months and she’s quickly becoming a favorite. Stella and Hudson were both genuinely fantastic and kind characters who had a lot of depth and a believable and sweet love story. I had a hard time putting this one down.

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 3 stars

This is marketed as a thriller, but I wouldn’t go into this book thinking you’re going to get a lot of action. It’s about a family of three with plenty of secrets and disdain for each other that live in a big house with too much room. Juno, an elderly homeless ex-therapist ends up living in their house with them – but they don’t know it. The story follows Juno and Winnie, the wife/mother of the family, as they go about their daily lives, striving to keep their own secrets. This book was interesting in the fact that it was amazing someone could live for so long in a house without three other people even knowing it. But also – not very much happens for the majority of the book. I was intrigued, but ultimately not that impressed.

Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Rating: 3.5 stars

I was in the mood for something that felt seasonally appropriate after weeks of very cold weather. Getting stuck in Antarctica with only a tent and barely any food? Seemed to fit the bill! My like for this book went up and down. The beginning? Kind of confusing and hard to understand what was going on. The middle? LOVED IT. The end? Rushed through with a pretty annoying cliffhanger. It felt like the middle of the story – when they were in the elements just trying to survive – was very well thought out and written perfectly. And then the author had to concoct a larger story around that wonderful middle. Overall, I had a hard time putting this down, I just wish parts of it felt more developed or explained. It could have been great with some extra polishing.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is definitely a book you need to listen to on audio. Matthew McConaughey is VERY entertaining in the reading of his own book, giving the whole thing a bit of a theatrical element that would never come through on the page. It was a joy to listen to. One thing that struck me again and again while listening to this is that how much he loves LIFE. I listened to Bryan Cranston’s audiobook a few months ago and the biggest message I got out of that one is how much he loved acting. Matthew? He loves LIFE. It was a great message that pulled through the chapters as it’s inspirational to anyone, not just people who’d like to be actors themselves. The only reason I marked it down half a star is that many of the beginning chapters talk about some of the abusive behaviors his parents had, and how he totally agrees with how he was disciplined. It was off-putting how many times he brought this up and I had a hard time getting past it. But I did really enjoy everything else about the book! It’s a great listen.

Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Rating: 5 stars

Shay is going on her tenth year as a producer for a public radio station when high and mighty fresh from grad school Dominic shows up and starts getting air time right from the start – something she’s dreamed of since she was a kid. They immediately clash around the same time the station is desperate for a new show to up their ratings. They come up with a show where two exes will talk about what it’s like to stay friends after a breakup. And who better to play the part than Dominic and Shay? Despite how uncomfortable they both are with building a show on a lie, they reluctantly agree and begin hosting an immensely popular talk show while also finding some real feelings in the midst of it all. I really loved this book. It was an office romance, but with both partners on relatively equal footing and not one of the stereotypical tropes. Both characters had a lot of depth and fantastic chemistry. It did take me a couple of chapters to get into it, but I was hooked after that. Highly recommend!

What I Read December 2020

December was a pretty good reading month for me! Fifteen books, my second highest month of 2020. Of course most of them were pretty light and quick, but that’s exactly how I wanted and needed to end the year. Check them out!

Single Dad Seeks Juliet by Max Monroe
Rating: 4.5 stars

Holley is a journalist in charge of running a Bachelor Anonymous contest. Chloe is a teenager who enters her dad Jake into the contest unknowingly and of course he wins the vote for being the bachelor. It takes some convincing – and a whole lot of time together first – but Jake agrees to enter the contest as long as he gets to meet with Holley to plan each date ahead of time. To be honest, the premise of this whole book is pretty weak because the contest has very little to do with anything. But you won’t care because you’ll just want to see as much of Jake and Holley together as possible. I thought this book was hilarious. I loved both characters so much. It was heartfelt and intriguing and a really nice love story!

One Way or Another by Kara McDowell
Rating: 5 stars

Paige is a teenager who suffers from fairly extreme anxiety. When faced with the decision of spending Christmas with her best friend Fitz who she has secretly been in love with for years or visiting New York City for the very first time with her mom, she is paralyzed with indecision. Then she slips and knocks herself out and the story splits into parallel universes following Paige in each of her fates. I thought this was a really unique way to do a story. Don’t get caught up in the details of living in a multiverse, just think of it as two separate stories. I thought it was fascinating to see how differently Paige acted in each of her fates. And the conclusions she drew after her very different Christmas celebrations. I wasn’t sure if I’d like this book because of how strongly the anxiety presents itself. But I found myself getting quite teary by the end. It was a really great book.

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 4 stars

I read this book in an afternoon. It was delightful! Riley Kennedy keeps having email issues with her coworker from another branch, Kennedy Riley. The two meet at the Christmas party and end up making a pact to visit each other’s houses over Christmas to help deal with some of their family drama. This was definitely a quick read, but it was so much fun! Both characters were really entertaining to read. It’s also quite an innocent romance, if you’re looking for something tame! I loved it.

Secret Admirer by DJ Jamison
Rating: 3 stars

Benji is a quiet and inexperienced gay college freshman who has had a lifelong crush on his older brother’s best friend Ace. When Benji’s brother convinces him to come to the same college as them, but then takes a fellowship across the country, Ace wants to help Benji get more comfortable with the college life. Ace also finds himself bi-curious the more time he spends with Benji and concocts a way to help give him more confidence by pretending to be his secret admirer. Overall, this book was fine. There was a lot of angst on both sides with constant narration about their feelings. It got pretty repetitive. But overall, it was an okay book!

The Noel Letters by Richard Paul Evans
Rating: 3 stars

Noel is returning to her hometown to be with her estranged father in his dying days after 16 years away. Unfortunately, he has already passed by the time she gets there. A series of other unfortunate events keep her in town running his bookstore through the holidays while she decides what to do with herself. And of course she is destined to help get over her lifelong anger toward her father and find a way to move forward with her life. This book was kind of a downer. I’m not a big fan of stories that have no hope of reconciliation. Yes, a character can change going forward, but I hate when there is no chance to truly make amends. The story was really not that interesting to me. Honestly, the part I really loved the most is that each chapter started with a great quote about writing. I was recently trying to find a good writing quote to put on a journal’s cover and was having the hardest time coming up with anything that fit. This book was filled with ideas! Anyway, Richard Paul Evans is guaranteed to write a book that’ll pull at your heartstrings, but this one felt a bit too over the top and preachy to me.

Layla by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 4 stars

Colleen Hoover’s first paranormal book. Whew, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. I don’t do paranormal books. But I wasn’t going to skip a Colleen book! I’m going to tell you now that it’s only SCARY for like one page. So…if you don’t do paranormal either, this book won’t terrify you. It’s about Leeds, a struggling musician who meets Layla dancing at her sister’s wedding. They immediately hit it off and never go back to their regular lives. Then something happens that leaves Layla with a very different personality and Leeds trying to figure out how to bring back the girl he fell so instantly in love with. They go back to the now abandoned Bed and Breakfast where they met to try and rekindle their spark. And then things get weird. As always, this book was compulsively readable and interesting. But it didn’t really hit me in all the feels the way Colleen’s books normally do. But I still thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciate that she continues to churn out two great books every year for me to get really excited about!

Calm Christmas by Beth Kempton
Rating: 5 stars

I basically picked out this book because I loved the cover. Amazon has a different title (and publishing date of a year ago), but Target and independent bookstores have this gorgeous embossed cover that immediately made me feel like it was the perfect book for this holiday season. And – it was. I really loved it. The whole book feels like a warm cozy hug and the exact encouragement you need to let go of the busyness of the season and find a way to make this Christmas the best you could imagine. This book is meant to be started in late November and finished around the New Year. I finished halfway through December, but still really took my time going through it. It was a lot of great food for thought and gave me comfort, especially this year when so many of our celebrations won’t be happening. It helped me to see the possibilities of what we could do instead. Anyway, by the time you see this review it’ll be too late to really apply it to your Christmas season (obviously), but I still recommend picking up a copy for next year!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a delightfully festive and fun book about a woman in her mid-thirties trying to find a little romance in her small English town. She signs up for a twelve nights of Christmas event, going on dates with twelve separate men throughout the month of December. She meets a few winners and a few losers, but she also can’t seem to stay away from grumpy cafe owner Matt, her first love, but also the man who ignored her for a decade. Overall, this is probably one of the most developed Christmastime books I’ve ever read. It did take me awhile to get into it, mostly because there were SO many characters. It was hard to keep track of everyone and also confusing that the author named two of the main characters Mac and Matt. Why so similar?? But I loved Kate and found it quite delightful that she was a fabric designer, always out in nature trying to get new inspiration for her drawings. She was also a baker for Matt’s cafe, which is equally as exciting to me. ūüôā Anyway, I just really enjoyed all the festive little details that made this book feel so utterly perfect for reading right before Christmas!

Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert
Rating: 3 stars

I was a good chunk of the way into a more serious “Christmas” book and decided I wanted something lighter and this seemed like it would fit the bill. Annoyingly (lol), it was also pretty heavy. It felt a little too heavy at times for a book that falls somewhere between a novella and novel length story. Two characters with troubled pasts involving unhealthy relationships with their parents manage to fall for each other, but not without a lot of hesitation and fear. Other than the Christmas decorations in the tattoo shop where they both work, very little of this book is about Christmas. Overall, it was fine. Just not exactly what I was hoping for.

Best Friends Don’t Kiss by Max Monroe
Rating: 4 stars

Ava is in desperate need of a boyfriend by Christmas to take to her sister’s wedding and her high school reunion. After many failed internet dates, she manages to finally convince her best friend of fifteen years, Luke, to pretend to be her boyfriend for all of the events. This is my second Max Monroe book this month and I enjoyed it as much as the first. I really appreciate that the characters are actually kind and funny and good people. It’s so refreshing from the typical romance trope where the guy starts out as an absolute jerk. I thought this was a sweet and enjoyable Christmas book.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Rating: 4.5 stars

After reading mostly Christmas books all month, I actually found myself desperately needing a change in the few days before Christmas. I picked up this one because thrillers are always a great way to break the romance streaks I tend to find myself on (especially this year when I mostly just wanted light and happy predictable reads!). This one definitely held my attention! A wedding party is gathered on a cold and treacherous Irish island and everybody has their secrets. The chapters alternate between many of the guests and as the story progresses you begin to find out how many sinister ways they’re all linked to each other. While I definitely enjoyed trying to piece together the mysteries in the book, I did feel like it went a bit overboard on constantly pointing out all the things the reader did not know and wouldn’t find out until the end. It was minorly frustrating. But overall, I think this book certainly earned all of it’s amazing reviews this year!

Frostbite by Deborah Bladon
Rating: 2 stars

Calder is a jerky sculpture artist who crashes into timid painter Raelyn on the street and convinces her to “work with him” to create a custom sculpture for her sister’s husband before Christmas. This was a novella, which I typically don’t read, because they annoy me. This one annoyed me too. The characters had very little depth, everything was ridiculously easy and predictable, and the sex scenes were not earned. It was fine for a light read on Christmas, but I have no real appreciation for it.

Instant Karma by Melissa Meyer
Rating: 4 stars

Prudence and Quint are science lab partners but constantly butt heads. They find out on the last day of school that their final project that they worked all year on only garnered a C because they didn’t actually work together and it was very obvious. Prudence refuses to accept this grade and manages to convince both her teacher and Quint that they can redo it over the summer to raise their grade. This leads to the two of them working at an animal rescue center that Quint’s mom runs. They continue to constantly get on each other’s nerves, but also begin to understand why they each are the way that they are. In the meantime, there’s also this side story where Prudence slips on some beer, gets knocked out, and can now dole out “instant karma” punishments and rewards for people she observes doing good or bad things. Basically – there is a lot going on in this book. A lot. I enjoyed Quint. Prudence was really getting on my nerves at some points in the story. Type A personality to the extreme. I started to feel like part of the book was a lecture on taking care of sea wildlife and it lost me for a bit. But overall the book was still enjoyable. I just felt like it was maybe trying to do a bit too much. One thing I genuinely enjoyed was that this was an immensely clean book. No swearing, no hints of sexual endeavors. It was a really refreshing change from basically every book I ever read.

The Particulars of Peter by Kelly Conaboy
Rating: 5 stars

This book was an absolute delight. I saw it the day it came out and immediately ordered it because it sounded so perfect for me, but I also adored the cover. It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever read a nonfiction book because I loved it so much. The first half is absolutely hilarious. The author talks about her crazy love and devotion for her dog Peter and all the ways she’s tried to connect and bond with him. I could relate so much to her fascination with Peter as I’m equally as fascinated by Annie and could spend my entire day just watching her, except that it seems to make her uncomfortable at a certain point so I stop. My cats don’t seem to mind, though. The book did slow down a bit when Kelly started researching what felt like rather random things – like if Peter could see ghosts or if a pet psychic could communicate with him. This is the point in the book when I realized she might actually be a bit crazy lol. Not really, but – it was a lot. But overall this is a really sweet and genuinely funny book that is PERFECT for any dog lover. I highly, highly recommend it!

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a modern southern reimagining of Jane Eyre. Jane is a poor dog walker with a load of secrets, working in a rich Alabama suburb. And then she meets Eddie Rochester, whose wife mysteriously disappeared – presumed dead – just six months earlier. She’s attracted to him, but also sees him as a target – an in for the lifestyle she’s always wanted. And then things get interesting. I enjoyed this book, though I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. You really need to keep in mind that it’s a reimagining, not exactly a retelling. Otherwise you might get hung up on the differences. Overall, this one really held my attention and it was a great book to finish out my year of reading!

My Favorites of 2020

I wanted to end the year with something FUN. I noticed that a lot of my favorite internet follows have been curating lists of their favorite things of 2020 and since I LOVE “favorite things” I decided I needed to make my own list! I’ll be honest, a lot of these things might have been featured in my Friday Favorites posts over the year. I’m not going back to look. Instead I went through most of my purchases this past year and took note of everything I used and loved and wanted to share. I’m also including my favorite books and tv shows of the year too. Head’s up, this is going to be a long post!

Favorite Fiction Books
I read 138 books this year and 115 of them were fiction. I love the joy and escapism that comes with diving into a great book. Lighter romance (as in, not the erotica type) is my favorite and my list shows that the haters to lovers trope is clearly my favorite. I read a lot of light love stories this year, desperate for the happily ever after. I actually read less YA than usual (37), but five of them still made my top list (and one middle grade, a genre I almost never read (4 this year, if you were wondering)).

Favorite Nonfiction Books
I know I say this all the time, but I am such a slow nonfiction reader. I love the idea of nonfiction, but when it comes to doling out how I spend my time, I’m almost always going to choose to jump back into whatever fiction book I have going. But this year I really tried to take time in the early mornings and late evenings to read a little bit of nonfiction here and there. I still didn’t get through nearly as many as I would have liked (I have hundreds of unread nonfiction on my shelves just waiting for me), but I gave almost every one I finished a very high rating. If it can hold my attention enough to get to the end, it’s a good book!

Candles
I’ve always loved candles, but they were typically reserved for October-December when I really wanted that extra boost of seasonal cheer. This year, however…I kind of lost my mind searching for new ones to fit my every mood. It became a bit of an obsession trying to pick out the perfect scents for each area of the house that I spend time in and then making sure before I light that particular candle I’ll be in that spot long enough to truly enjoy it. It’s basically nonstop babysitting, properly taking care of candles. But I’m addicted to it. And in a year where I basically never left the house, I found immense joy in them – the ambiance of a flickering light, but also the power of scent to change a mood.

  • P.F. Candle Co. Smoky Cinnamon Special
    I had this candle lit during October in my reading area and I was addicted to it. It had such a strong and intoxicating scent. I purchased a second one, but it was December by then and it didn’t feel quite right, so I’m saving it for next fall. It’s not even currently for sale anymore, so it must always be a seasonal release.
  • Ranger Station Leather + Pine
    While I don’t particularly think this smells like leather or pine, it has an incredibly fresh winter morning scent to it that I adore. It really fills a room too. I loved it! As an added bonus, the glasses are designed to be cleaned out at the end and used for whiskey (or whatever).
  • Apotheke Charcoal
    This is not marketed as a Christmas candle, but actually has a really wonderful smell reminiscent of the holiday season. I also love the black wax – it’s a nice change from the mostly glass jar white wax candles I typically burn.
  • Frostbeard Bookstore
    This wasn’t a new discovery in 2020, but it might be my all time favorite candle. I love the scent, so, so much. I always burn it at my desk when I plan on writing for a long time.
  • Novelly Yours Joshua Templeman
    This isn’t a new scent for me either, but it’s also one of my all time favorites. I originally bought it for the novelty because Joshua Templeman is the leading man in The Hating Game, one of my favorite books. But I ADORE the candle and keep going back to purchase another every time I finish one.
  • The Burlap Bag Baked Bread
    Again, not a new scent this year, but I love it. It genuinely smells like a fresh yeasty loaf of bread. I’ve never smelled another candle even the tiniest bit similar. I like to burn this one in my bedroom at naptime!
  • Forget Me Not Candle Co. Midnight Bonfire
    Bonfire type scents are one of my favorites because they’re great in summer and they feel equally as fitting in winter. This is a new one I picked up and I love it! Shepard thinks it smells like bacon. It really has a distinct smoked scent, but I love that smell!
  • 7th Street Salvage Picket Fence
    I almost forgot this one because I haven’t burned it since early summer. It’s only sold seasonally, but I ADORED it. It was such a wonderful scent for the season. I’ve liked all the candles I’ve gotten from this company and particularly enjoy their unique jars with recycled wood tops.
  • DW Home Sugar Cookie
    Okay, so this was a candle I bought last year but didn’t have time to light. I brought it out this Christmas for the family room and was amazed at how strong of a delectable vanilla scented throw it had. I usually get DW Home candles from HomeGoods or Marshall’s, so be on the lookout next year for this scent to come back! They usually have it in fun Christmassy styles.

Nail Polish
I’ve never been a nail polish person – and definitely not on my fingernails. I’ve only had a manicure once in my life before my wedding and I hated the experience. But this year I just needed something different and special that I could do for myself. Painting my nails seemed like a good and inexpensive thing to delve into. And boy, did I! Like most things in my life I found extreme joy in coordinating my nail colors with the seasons (I also only burn seasonal scented candles and use seasonal mugs and drink seasonally flavored drinks now). And now that I actually take care of myself, giving myself mini manicures every few days, I love looking at my nails! It’s a tiny thing, but it brings me great joy.

Blankets
When you’re home all the time you start to really appreciate all the little comforts that make your space more welcoming and warm. Especially through the long and cold Wisconsin winters! My favorite touches to any room are switching out blankets and pillows with every season or holiday. Basically any excuse to always pick up a new throw or pillow that catches my eye! I’ve gotten a couple new blankets in the last month or so that I’m totally in love with.

  • Dreamothis Sherpa Weighted Blanket
    I believe I shared this in my last Friday Favorites post a few weeks ago, but it was out of stock at that time. It’s back – for now! Only in this teal color, but I happen to think it’s the prettiest of the ones they had originally. I first got one in a purplish pink color that I use on my reading chair. But I loved it so much I got another for my bedroom for nap time. Then each of the boys got one for Christmas. Then I ordered one for my goddaughter. I LOVE them. They’re so warm and cozy, but not as suffocatingly heavy or slippery as other weighted blankets I’ve tried in the past.
  • Pottery Barn Throws – All of them, any of them
    So I was listening to a podcast about a month ago where they were talking about some of their favorite gift ideas and they spent quite a while discussing the benefits of gifting people with Pottery Barn throw blankets. Apparently they are recognized as being really high quality throws. I started obsessing about this possibility, especially as it was starting to get really cold in the house and we don’t really have any good “winter” blankets. I also really hate how unwelcoming our family room seems and decided the reason this is is because I don’t decorate it with piles of cozy blankets and pillows the way that I do the living room, where I spend the most time. So I bought myself two – one is plaid knit on one side and faux fur on the other (it was on clearance, no longer available), and the other is the Cozy Pom Pom Throw. I adore them both. So do all the pets. And the boys. And it REALLY makes me like the way the family room looks and feels so much more. There’s another one that I was looking at over and over and over again and is on a huge one day sale today, but I’m trying to restrain myself. I also LOVE the look of this one, but doesn’t look very practical for sharing with hairy animals. Similarly, the edging on this one is gorgeous! From my somewhat limited experience, I really do think these are pretty great!

Skin and Body and Hair
Since I didn’t have much else to do, I decided this would be the year I’d finally start taking care of my skin. It started early in the pandemic when I took a selfie of myself and was horrified by the big wrinkle I had between my eyebrows. I’ve since been religiously applying night cream and doing masks every week to try and keep on top my wrinkles before they become so obvious everywhere! I’m definitely no skincare expert, but these are some products I started using this year and really have enjoyed.

  • Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
    My sister-in-law gave this to me last Christmas and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but it seemed expensive, so I kept it around. Then I started using it this summer – just slathering some on before my moisturizer in the morning. I’m still not even quite sure what it is or what it’s for, but I’m convinced it helps! I’m not sure if I’ll repurchase when I run out, but my skin has enjoyed it this year!
  • Olay Regenerist Retional24
    This is what I chose as my night cream. There are just so many options out there, it’s overwhelming. But this one seemed to work great and didn’t make me break out the way other creams have in the past (and the reason I never used them long term before).
  • Soap & Glory Heel Genius
    This was the only foot product I’ve ever used (I’ve tried them all) that actually fixed the skin on my feet. Well, this and starting to use a foot grater, which is possibly my favorite thing of all time.
  • Soap & Glory Smoothie Star Body Buttercream
    I’m not big on lotion, but I picked this up during a sale and actually really like it! The smell is quite nice too.
  • Versed Back-Up Plan Acne Control Body Mist
    Here’s a fun one for you – and possibly TMI (lol). But when I started biking so much this summer I found myself breaking out on my chest quite a bit. I happened to see this at Target and decided to try it out. And shockingly, it worked super well. It’ll last forever too and is so easy to spray all around your back or front.
  • Bliss Mint Chip Mania Facial Mask
    I really like face masks that you smear all over your face (as opposed to sheet masks, where I question how much they actually help anything, plus are always freezing cold and slimy). Earlier this year Target had a big sale on all Bliss masks, so I got a couple different ones and this is definitely my favorite. It legit looks like putting mint chocolate chip ice cream or frosting on your face, but it smells so good and seems to really improve my skin.
  • Aveda Cherry Almond Leave in Conditioner
    I haven’t done much of anything with my hair this year – nobody sees me! But because of the lack of attention – and haircuts – it was getting very hard to keep combable by the middle of summer. So I gave this a shot, massaging some into my hair right out of the shower. It worked really well. Now that it’s been another long chunk of time since the one pandemic haircut I got, I think it’s time to pull this back out again. Tangles are the worst!

Jewelry
I LOVE jewelry, but I haven’t had much reason to wear it this year. It felt a little silly loading up on jewelry when nobody ever saw me. But I did try to pull myself together a couple times a week and it was always fun to remember how much I love so many pieces in my collection. I didn’t add many new things this year, but I have two recommendations!

  • Made by Mary Moonstone Necklace
    I’ve hated gold jewelry all my life – until this year. I suddenly kind of love it. I don’t like MIXING metals (other than my white gold wedding rings), but I really like the way gold jewelry looks better with a lot of my more jewel colored tops. Anyway, this moonstone necklace is my favorite gold necklace. I love it so much. It’s the perfect size, length, and has such a pretty chain. They also have a couple other colors. I got the orange one for my best friend for Christmas. My sister-in-law introduced me to Made by Mary – she loves their rings. I’ve picked up a few rings for myself in the last few years and have been highly impressed with everything I’ve gotten. With some Christmas money from Greg’s grandparents, I ordered myself this necklace (with seven blooms for the seven people and animals I’ve spend so very much time with this year!). It shipped yesterday and I’m SO excited for it to arrive.
  • RQP Studio I Trust in the Lord Unicorn Wax Seal Necklace
    Greg gave me this for Christmas and I love it SO MUCH. I’ve been wearing it every day. I’ve purchased a couple other wax seal necklaces from this company over the years and have always really liked them (though I always get a heavier chain from amazon that doesn’t feel so breakable). But this one is my favorite. It’s just so ME.

Clothes
I’m not sure that I have specific clothing items from this year that stand out as my absolute favorites, but I do have two SOURCES of clothing that I bought almost exclusively from this year. It’s tough finding plus size clothing that are both flattering and cute, but these two places continue to come through for me.

  • Stitch Fix
    I highly recommend giving Stitch Fix a try. It’s been the main place I’ve gotten clothes for the last five or six years. The more fixes you get – especially if you stick with the same stylist – the better curated the selection. My stylist knows me so well and always sends me the greatest things. My favorite way to shop these days, though, is the actual Shop collection with ever changing options of things that will interest me. I love it. Many of the items are definitely more expensive than your regular department store prices (much of my sewing money goes to buying myself clothes!), but if you have a hard time finding clothes like me, it is SO worth it. I’ve been very, very happy with them.
  • Fabletics
    This is my new favorite place to buy leggings. There are SO many styles (and tons of options in plus sizes), they seem to have a lot of great sales and deals – at least around the holidays, and they fit so well! I’ve gotten a handful of pairs in the last few months and I genuinely love them. The tops? Not really for me – I’m not going to be walking around in a sports bra or crop top anytime soon. (Though they look really cute if you can pull it off!) But the leggings are amazing. I especially like the styles with side pockets!

Other Wearables
Here are a couple other things that I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this year!

  • Crocs
    Yes, I know. Not stylish at all. But…nobody sees me. My feet are the worst. I wanted something I could put on very quickly when I had to take Annie out and all the better if it could get dirty and cleaned up quickly. I got some regular bright green crocs in spring and wore them all summer. Then I ended up getting furry lined ones to use as house shoes this winter and I honestly think they’re fixing my plantar fasciitis. When I wear these shoes all day I almost have no pain at the end of the night. I can’t remember the last time my feet have felt this pain free. Four years ago, maybe?
  • Ililily Face Masks
    I tried so many different styles of face masks at the start of the pandemic and this style is by and far my favorite. I only have two of them that I switch back and forth wearing (remember I only go to one store once a week, so I don’t have a HUGE need for a ton of masks).
  • Baleaf Thermal Helmet Liner
    This has been a lifesaver in keeping me out biking through fall and into winter. It looks ridiculous – like a swim cap. But it’s mostly covered by your helmet and actually really will keep your head and ears warm. I wouldn’t bike in these freezing temperatures without it.

TV Shows
Okay, I watched a lot of tv this year. A LOT. I won’t recap any of them because this post is already getting crazy long, but here are the ones that stood out to me as being really worth watching!

  • Robbie
  • Succession
  • A Million Little Things
  • PEN15
  • Manifest
  • Outer Banks
  • Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
  • The Resident
  • The Good Doctor
  • The Rain
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Sneaky Pete

Random Quarantine Purchases
We bought a lot of bigger ticket items this year in lieu of going on vacations and to try and improve our lives since we were all home all the time. I’d say almost all of those purchases were worthwhile, except perhaps the trampoline, which was the most expensive and the least used. The novelty of trampoline jumping wears off when you have one in your yard. Especially when you break your arm on it and then never want to go on it again… But everything else was great. Here are some of my favorites!

  • Bear Hybrid Mattress
    Greg and I had been using the same pillow top mattress since we got married and it was so lumpy. I’m always in pain (thanks, fibromyalgia) so we finally decided to get a new mattress. After weeks of research, this is what I picked. I’m very happy with it!
  • Hoover Pet Max Vacuum
    We’d also been using the same $50 vacuum cleaner since we moved into our Columbus apartment nine years ago. It was time for an upgrade and it was AMAZING what a difference it made. We do have hardwood floors in our whole house, but the area rugs get so dirty from the pets and kids, so it’s nice to have a more heavy duty cleaning method!
  • Frigidaire Retro Mini Fridge
    Earlier this year I converted my “writing desk” – that was basically just a dumping ground for random things – into a big drink making area. It was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done with a small space in my home. But I really wanted the area to be complete with a small fridge where I could store my creamers. Which sounds kind of ridiculous, but we were also having a ton of problems fitting everything into our regular fridge now that we were all eating a lot more food at home and going out to grocery stores a lot less often so I was always trying to be stocked up. This fridge was the perfect solution. Now we keep all our extra drinks in it and it’s freed up tons of space in the main refrigerator.
  • Char-Broil Grill
    I’ve been wanting a new grill for years and with everything that happened this year, we decided it was time to finally get a new one. I did SO much research (I feel like I did an entire month of nonstop research on all this new stuff, most of which was purchased in May!) and then ended up just getting the same one my brother has and recommended. No complaints!
  • Priority Turi Bike
    I think I did more bike research than any other after a couple of months of daily biking on my old beach cruiser and desperately wanting something better. The biggest issue was that nobody had bikes in stock anywhere to even try out, so I had to base such a huge decision only on what I could read about it. I finally took a gamble on this Turi bike from a very small Brooklyn based bike company and then had to wait four months for it to arrive. But I LOVE IT. I haven’t had a ton of opportunity to ride it yet because – snow and ice. But I can’t wait to get back to my daily sunrise rides on my new wheels in spring!

Random Food Purchases
I bought so much food online this year! I used to depend on going to a variety of grocery stores – it’s one of my favorite things to do – to find unique new things. But that was not really a safe or responsible option this year, so I just ordered a lot of random things to try out.

  • Luxardo Cherries
    This is a luxury purchase for sure. Not to be shared with your children – they won’t appreciate it. They’re meant to be put in cocktails where you’d only have one or two at a time. I used them as an ice cream topper. And they are incredible.
  • Dorothy’s Comeback Cow Cheese
    This was a middle of the night facebook ad purchase. And it is hand’s down the best brie I have ever had in my life. I’ve bought it multiple times in the last six months and have gifted it to many. I also saw it at the Sun Prairie Pick ‘n Save once, so you might be able to find it locally as well.
  • Bushwick Kitchen Bees Knees Salted Honey
    If you want something AMAZING to accompany your cheese, get this honey! I’ve been eating it all week on a cave aged gouda. The combination is absolute perfection. But it would also be fantastic on brie!
  • Don Chilio Chile Crisp – Jalapenos
    So this is a totally random purchase that I am completely addicted to. I first bought the habanero variety and they are SO spicy. The only thing I’ve used them for is stirring into queso and I only use the tiniest amount. I loved the idea, though, so I asked for the jalapeno ones and got them for St. Nick’s Day. I ate the whole jar in a week and am almost done with the second jar I ordered for myself. On their own they’re kind of a weird thing. But I’ve mostly been eating them on toast that’s covered in cream cheese. Just spread some jalapenos on top, make sure you get some of the oil from the bottom of the container because that’s what’s actually spicy, and then add a bit of flaky sea salt. It’s amazing. My second jar didn’t have much oil in it, so I added some because it’s the best part.

Coffee and Tea
Let’s end with my favorite collection of beloved things – everything new I’ve gotten for my tea and coffee area!! I love it all. It brings me so much joy. I use that area multiple times a day. I bond with the boys over each day’s new drinks. I’ve experimented with every random coffee recipe I’ve seen online. It’s just so much fun!

  • Gator Pour Over
    This continues to be my favorite method for making coffee. I’ve tried them all, seriously. I think pour over tastes the best, has the easiest clean up, and is basically fool proof. BUT it’s not conducive to serving more than one person at a time, so I only use it when I’m making coffee just for myself. Which in normal life would be all the time, but in pandemic life is only a few days a week.
  • Cosori Electric Gooseneck Kettle
    Okay, this isn’t new this year – my mom gave it to me for my birthday last year. But I use it like 3-5 times a day. It’s incredible. This is how I heat the water for my pour over coffee, but it’s also how I heat the water for all the tea I drink. It only takes a minute or two to heat to the perfect temp.
  • OXO Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
    I got this from my in-law’s for my birthday this year and it’s so great! I was just using a cheap grinder before that constantly made huge messes. This one is SO much better. I only use freshly ground beans for my coffee so I love having the freedom to pick what type of grind I want and only the exact amount I need for that brewing method so my coffee tastes the absolute freshest. This is another thing I did a TON of research on and this grinder is at the top of so many charts as being the best grinder out there (without paying an arm and a leg).
  • OXO Brew 8 Cup Coffee Maker
    I bought this with my birthday money. I did a lot of research, but mainly bought it because it was new, had amazing reviews, and matches the grinder that it’s sitting next to on my table! I really wanted the ability to brew a larger quantity of coffee at once since the boys like to drink it with me (and I’ll hopefully eventually be able to resume my friend coffee mornings!), but I also wanted it to still TASTE GOOD. Comparable to my pour over. And this is the best I’ve found.
  • Nespresso VertuoPlus
    You might be wondering why I need a Nespresso when I already have a pour over and a drip brewer (and a Moka pot and a cheap but very annoying espresso maker and multiple french presses). But…I like having a fast option. Especially for espresso. Which isn’t my favorite type of coffee, but I do really love using it for iced drinks in summer. I got this on major sale earlier this year and I actually really love it. It’s so much fun watching all the froth appear at the top of the mug! Despite my extensive mug collection, I always use a glass mug with the Nespresso because I love seeing the colored stripes of coffee and cream. ūüôā And yes, it tastes worlds better than Keurig k-cup coffee – which is how I started my coffee journey a few years ago.
  • Nespresso Aeroccino
    So this came free with my Nespresso. I wouldn’t have bought it on my own because I had two other milk frothers already (I thought I had lost my first one, so I bought another, and now I have three). But this is the one I use right now. I LOVE being able to froth my creamer or milk before adding it to my coffee. I also love that it heats it up so the whole drink stays hot a lot longer. I used to use a cheap hand frother which works well too – it just doesn’t heat it up.
  • Bayka Floating Shelves
    This has nothing to do with coffee itself, but they are the shelves I picked out to hang on the walls above my coffee area. It’s where I keep my tea and syrups and sugars. And they look really, really nice. I love them.
  • Spinning Tea Storage
    I used to store all my tea in a drawer. It was such a mess that it really stopped me from actually wanting to make tea. But now I store it in one of these where it’s so easy to find what I’m looking for and looks cute to boot! Mine is black to match my aesthetic, but I can’t find that one anymore.
  • Farmhouse Tabletop Mug Rack Tray
    I love this thing. I purchased it from Antique Farmhouse, which is a deal site with curated things that are only for sale for a couple of days – but do eventually come back. I’m so happy I found this when I did because it’s my favorite way to display my top six seasonal mugs. And I use the tray portion to hold all my nespresso pods. It looks great, is very functional, and matches my coffee area perfectly.
  • Brandywine Coffee Roasters
    This is hands down my favorite coffee roaster. I almost exclusively use their beans because they are SO GOOD. It doesn’t even matter what roast you pick, I guarantee it’s going to taste amazing. I love the uniquely designed bags and I especially love that they’re constantly releasing new blends. I’m stocked up for awhile because I bought a 12 Days of Christmas variety pack from them, but I’ve got my eye on this 2021 roast!
  • Bixby Vanilla Creme Brulee Coffee
    I gave up artificially flavored pre-ground coffee awhile ago, but when I saw this creme brulee whole bean option I just had to give it a shot. And it’s amazing!
  • Twinings Buttermint Herbal Tea
    I’ll drink pretty much any tea that isn’t black (lol), but have heavily leaned on minty flavors this year. This buttermint tea with a hint of vanilla is my all time favorite. I really do buy it in six packs from amazon so I always have it on hand. I also recently saw it at Woodman’s, if you need a local option.
  • Oatly Barista Edition Oat Milk
    I’ve been trying to stay away from regular creamers (like Coffee Mate or International Delight) now that I drink a lot more coffee than I used to. I do still use more pure ingredients only creamers (like Chobani), but I wanted to try something with more nutritional value. My friend recommend this one and after checking multiple stores with no luck I ended up buying it online since they are shelf stable until opened. I’m so glad I did because I really love it! I don’t alway use this, but it’s perfect for a latte. I froth it (it froths SO well) with a bit of flavored syrup and it tastes fantastic.
  • J.T. Cooper Flavored Syrups
    I’m such a sucker for great packaging and design and these grabbed me the second I saw them. They’re really great if you want to make coffee shop drinks that would typically use syrup. My favorite is actually a sample size I got of the Grenadine. I mixed it with a sample of the single origin chocolate and combined with a rich coffee and frothed oat milk it made the most delicious cherry mocha! Cherry mochas definitely feel like a February seasonal drink, so I’m going to have to order a large bottle of it soon!

Well, congratulations if you made it to the end of this insanely long list of all my favorite things of 2020! I was feeling bad that I never got around to making gift guides this year – I had so much fun doing it last year! But this kind of doubles as a gift guide for your future use! Or if you just want some ideas of tried and true items that might brighten your day – or your life. Thanks for checking it out!

What I Read October 2020

November 1st – I’m right on time this month! I was actually going to write this BEFORE the end of the month, but I had one last book to squeeze in last night. October turned out to be a pretty good reading month. After a pretty rough couple of months I finally got my groove back and reading once again became my favorite delight. I have a couple of great recommendations this time around!

Real Fake Love by Pippa Grant
Rating: 3.5 stars

Henri is fresh out of luck at her fifth unsuccessful wedding when she meets Luca, professional baseball player who has sworn off love. She concocts a plan to convince him to teach her how to not fall in love so she won’t have to go through the pain and embarrassment of another failed wedding. This book started out pretty wildly. I honestly couldn’t even get a grip on what was going on because every character was so off their rocker. I’ve never read a Pippa Grant book before, and this is listed as a standalone book, but felt VERY clearly like a book further along on a series and it would have helped to have known about some of the characters before diving into this. It was entertaining, laugh out loud funny at some points, but also utterly ridiculous. Everything did settle down as the book went on and I enjoyed it, I just really dislike reading books where I always feel like I’m missing something.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a fresh and unique book – at least compared to most of the books I’ve been reading the last seven months! Seventeen year old Avery is living in her car after her sister’s abusive boyfriend moves back in when she finds out she has inherited a massive fortune from a man she’s never met. The only condition for keeping the inheritance is that she must live in the manor with the rest of his family for a year. That family includes four grandsons, all around the same age as Avery. The reading of the will leaves the grandsons and Avery with letters from the grandfather, each with clues to help solve a riddle – the reason why he chose to leave his fortune to Avery. This book is a series of puzzles to be solved while Avery tries to figure out which brothers to trust and which will turn on her for their own gain. I really loved the storyline because it felt so unique and intriguing. My only complaint is that it all got a bit repetitive at times and I wanted more from the Hawthorne brothers. I would have liked to have dug a little deeper into them so I felt more connected. But other than that, I truly enjoyed this book and am really excited to see that it will have a sequel!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Rating: 3.5 stars

I was really intrigued by synopsis of this book and all the initial rave reviews I saw for it. Addie LaRue makes a deal with the devil to gain a little freedom from her small and predictable life and ends up becoming immortal. The catch being that nobody can remember her after they leave her sight, so she has all the freedom in the world but no ability to make long standing connections. Until around three hundred years later when somebody remembers her. This is the most literary book I’ve read in quite awhile. It started as a great change of pace, but I really lost my enthusiasm for the book about halfway through. It was very long and honestly, not a whole lot happens. Chapters switch back and forth from the present time and different parts of Addie’s life, mostly within the first few years after she gained her immortality. Later in the book I kept really wishing we’d just stick in the present since that’s really all I cared about. I’m pretty surprised by how many people continue to rave about this book being the best they’ve read all year. It just didn’t hit me with that same intensity. My favorite part of any book is character interaction and there isn’t a lot of interaction with a woman who spends over 300 years damned to loneliness. Anyway, it was a very well written book and a long and strung out story, if you’re into that kind of thing. I didn’t dislike it, I was just frustrated with how slow it seemed and how long it took me to finish it.

The Bribe by Willa Nash
Rating: 4.5 stars

Okay, let’s start by saying just how much I hate books with half naked ripped men on the cover when the story itself is not super sexual. It annoys me because it feels like it cheapens a story that was so much more than a gratuitous romance novel. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything wrong with romance – I read quite a few, especially this year when it’s the easiest type of book to concentrate on. This book was a lot more than that, though. Country singer Lucy is on the run after a scary stalker situation in Nashville when she meets Sheriff Duke Evans who wants to know why she gave him a fake name and what she’s really doing in town. I really enjoyed this book. Duke and Lucy were both so NICE. It was really wonderful reading about such pleasant people. There was also a bit of mystery and suspense which made the book that much more readable. I read it very quickly and was so excited to keep picking it up.

The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
Rating: 5 stars

Kendra Adachi is one of my favorite internet people. I don’t actually listen to her podcast The Lazy Genius very often, but I AM a patreon member of it so I have access to the exclusive Lazy Sisters podcast she does with her sister Hannah. It’s one of my favorite things to listen to every month. Anyway, I preordered Kendra’s book the second she announced it like last year and was really looking forward to reading it. It did take me quite awhile to get through it because I need a lot of time to process new ways to organize my life, but I really, really liked it. She makes great suggestions and strongly encourages you to only focus on what matters TO YOU. Don’t get bogged down with that you think you’re supposed to do, or what everyone else is doing. Stay in your own lane and make your schedule and your space and your choices be what is important to you. She gives plenty of practical tips throughout the book, but also just a lot of food for thought. I highly recommend this book!

Happily Letter After by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 4.5 stars

Sadie is a newspaper columnist who also takes over fulfilling letters to Santa around the holidays. In early summer she receives a random Santa letter from a sweet 10 year old girl who only wants to bring some happiness to her widowed father. Sadie decides to fulfill her simplest wish and ends up very intrigued by Birdie and her dad. And what follows is a heartfelt and just a tiny bit cheesy love story between them all. I enjoyed this book because it was so heartwarming and sweet. It does also have a bit of a Christmas feel, so it would be a great book to read in December. Parts of this story were definitely a little far fetched, but it did make for a fun read. My only complaint is that 10 year old Birdie really read as like a six year old. I was having a hard time seeing her as the age she was supposed to be, which was very distracting.

The Honeysuckle Cookbook by Dzung Lewis
Rating: 3.5 stars

It’s been awhile since I’ve been intrigued by a newly released cookbook so I picked this one up for fresh inspiration. Dzung Lewis is – from what I can gather from her cookbook – a widely known youtube cook, though I have never heard of her or seen a single video. Perhaps if I had I would have enjoyed this cookbook a little more. It was fine, I enjoyed that each recipe had a story behind it. But only about half of the recipes had photos, which is always a disappointment. I’m guessing I marked maybe 25% of the recipes as something I’d be interested in making, but none of them really blew me away. Normally this would be grounds for not keeping the cookbook at all, but I think I’ll try a few of the recipes out before making my final decision.

The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle
Rating: 5 stars

I could not put this book down. It’s the first book in months that I was so intrigued by that I literally spent most of my day sitting my chair reading it. I guess it’s also the first psychological thriller I’ve read in quite some time, so the difference in my normal pandemic reading genre might be partially why I was so intrigued. But I thought it was fantastic. Twins set out on a voyage across the Indian Sea and only one of them survives. She is mistaken as the dead twin, the more favored twin, when she finally lands on shore and decides to play along in both her grief and her desperation to win her father’s inheritance by producing the first grandchild before her five remaining siblings. I really thought this whole story was so twisty and unique. I made the mistake of just looking at the amazon reviews and it seems half of the people loved it, half of the people hated it and were bored to tears. I certainly didn’t find this boring! Anyway, I highly recommend it for a fun and intriguing read!

Love to Hate You by Jo Watson
Rating: 5* stars

I think I’ve finally got my reading groove back! I LOVED this book. It begins with a very steamy scene between strangers – something that usually turns me off in a book. But it was already so intriguing and funny within the first chapter that I had to see what happened next. And then proceeded to read and read and read. I laughed out loud so many times while reading this. I fell completely in love with Ben. It does turn out to be an office romance type of book – but with a boss who is actually kind and wonderful, not a closed off jerk. There were certainly a few more serious underlying complications between their love story, but most of the book was just so cheerful and fun. I will definitely be picking up a copy for my shelves to re-read again and again in the future.

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert
Rating: 3.5 stars

Conrad and Alden are rivals in a huge card game phenomenon. They play each other often for Gamer Grandpa’s youtube channel and end up with promotional tickets to a huge convention in Vegas. For separate reasons they decide to drive across the country rather than fly and after a series of events it ends up just being the two of them on the trip. As expected, they begin to get to know each other a little better and their rivalry turns into something much sweeter. Overall, this was a very predictable, yet cute book. Basically the two characters just talk and talk and figure out their own feelings. Which I’m fine with – I love character interaction above all else in a story. I didn’t really care about any of the card game stuff, but it didn’t interfere enough in the story to bother me.

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.

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!

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.

What I Read December 2019

I think it’s pretty safe to say I won’t finish any more books this month, so I’ll sneak this post in before I do my best books of the year. December was a good reading month! One of my top goals was to read whatever would bring me joy, and I think I did a pretty good job picking them out. I read 18 total books: 1 nonfiction audio, 1 anthology of short Christmas stories, 1 graphic novel, 1 hard copy nonfiction, 4 cookbooks, and 10 fiction books. The majority of the books were really great! I can’t wait to share them with you. ūüôā

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff (audiobook)
Rating: 5* stars

I received this book in a swap a few months ago, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. Around the same time I requested the audio version from the library and it became available the week before Thanksgiving when I was way too busy to think about listening. Finally getting back to work on December 2nd I realized I only had one day left before it would be snatched away again, so I decided to listen to the entire 5.5 hour book that day. It was worth it. This book was profound in its message of love everybody, love always, and give your love away as if you are made of it. Bob Goff is filled with so many incredible stories because he lives his life loving everyone around him. He’s funny too! I laughed out loud so many times. I cried too. Honestly, it was quite the whirlwind of a single day’s listen! I am absolutely going to dig into my hard copy now too because I need to highlight probably 60% of his words and figure out how to start living my own life that way. I’m not good at loving people. I’m horrible at accepting interruptions and changes to my schedule and plans. I spend most of my life isolated, rarely going out of my way to connect with others. I think that needs to change. Anyway, I think this would be an incredible book for literally anybody to read or listen to. It has the potential to be life changing.

In the Unlikely Event by L.J. Shen
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was one of those odd books I couldn’t make up my mind how to rate. Two young people fall desperately in love within hours of meeting each other, make a promise to marry each other if fate ever brings them together again, and then don’t see each other for eight years. By then Mal hates Rory with a destructive anger and Rory does not know why. On one hand, I was very sucked into the story and anxious to read it at every opportunity. I haven’t read many books like that in awhile. On the other hand, it infuriates me when the entire conflict in a book could be resolved in a twenty second conversation to fix the misunderstanding that tore them apart. I also thought some of Mal’s behavior and words when he was angry with Rory were unforgivable. And on a personal level, I find it really irritating when intriguing and random details are thrown into a story, but serve no purpose. For example – Rory’s half brother that she just found out about, but also just died, and she doesn’t even give it another thought. If I found out I had a half brother, even if he had died, I’d want to know everything there was to know about him. Or the fact that Mal has five brothers and one sister and only the sister is mentioned again in the story – but not even present. Why give him five brothers if they serve no purpose? Why not two? Something more “normal.” Anyway, I did like the book, but I had a hard time accepting Mal as the great hero in the story.

All Wrapped Up for the Holidays by Colleen Hoover (and others)
Rating: 3

This was a surprise Christmas anthology released by a group of authors, including Colleen Hoover. You can only get it through Book Funnel, but it’s free (for a limited time). I’m not really a fan of short stories, they always leave me wanting more. For this particular collection, most of the stories are about characters from the authors’ previous books, so if you haven’t read those books you might not get a lot out of their Christmas story. I wanted to read this because Colleen Hoover’s Finding Perfect was basically an epic epilogue to her Hopeless and All Your Perfect books. And THAT was amazing. I also enjoyed the first short story in the collection. The third had a crazy amount of characters and I gave up on it. The fourth and fifth were pleasant. Overall, totally worth reading Colleen’s story if you’ve read the other two.

Instant Loss Cookbook by Brittany Williams
Rating: 4 stars

I picked up this cookbook a while ago because it sounded very inspiring. Though I was also a little doubtful of anybody who could lose 125 pounds in a year, just by making all her meals from scratch. After reading through the entire cookbook I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. It WAS a good cookbook and her story IS inspiring. But she does mention in a couple of different places that she basically only eats vegetables, with a small grain portion just twice a week. That is NOT a diet I can sustain. It makes me wonder about the authenticity of all the recipes and if she actually uses them for her own meals. She doesn’t do dairy either. I’m never giving up cheese, guys. Anyway, most of the recipes are pretty simple (that was her plan – keep food whole and simple) and many of them require the instant pot. I dug mine out after two years of no use and made her salty potatoes right away. It was probably the easiest recipe in the entire cookbook, but it worked! I’m planning to go through the recipes more thoroughly and work my way through them, mostly to gain comfort in using the instant pot more regularly. Sadly, there were not photos with every recipe, but there were still a lot. I’m always a little discouraged to realize how many new ingredients I’m going to need to make most recipes in a cookbook, but I think it’ll be worth it for these. I’m intrigued!

Heidi’s¬†Guide¬†to¬†Four¬†Letter¬†Words by Tara Sivec and Andi Arndt
Rating: 5* stars

This book was so much fun that I read it in a single day! It was the first genuinely funny and sweet book I couldn’t put down in quite awhile. Hoping to gain some confidence in her ability to talk to men, while also helping her own self empowerment, Heidi decides to start a podcast where she reads passages from erotic novels. When she’s not working or doing the podcast, she’s crushing big time on her neighbor Brent and talks about said feelings on every podcast episode. I laughed out loud so hard and for so long multiple times during this book. I really loved it!

Notting Hill in the Snow by Jules Wake
Rating: 4 stars

This was an ultimate cozy Christmas light romance about a single father and his daughter and a woman who warms their hearts. I wasn’t sure in the beginning how much I would like the book – it felt a bit stressful. But it very quickly eased into something so sweet and beautifully holiday driven filled with heartwarming moments. The only reason I knocked it down a star is because I felt Nate could have had a bit more backbone when dealing with the conflict that arose. Overall, though, this book was exactly what I was looking for in this busy Christmas season.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5* stars

With the exception of a few hours in the middle to sleep, I read this book straight through. Colleen Hoover will never disappoint. Even though she’s always switching up genres and you never know what you’re going to get – you can always rely on the fact that it’s going to be a great story. This book is mostly about the relationship between a mother and daughter, but there is plenty of beautiful romance on the side. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and sweet and touching. I loved it. I love them all, but this was really wonderful.

Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really sweet graphic novel that I read in about half an hour. It’s about a new friendship between two teenage boys, one who is gay and one who isn’t really sure who he is yet. It always amazes me how many emotions can be conveyed in just the simplest drawings and so little dialog. It was so sweet. ūüôā I’m just a bit perturbed to realize it ended on a cliffhanger. It took me so many months to get the first one from the library, now I have to wait again.

Instant Loss by Brittany Williams
Rating: 4 stars

Much like her first cookbook, I found this freshly released book to be highly valuable and filled with encouragement, simple recipes, and a lot of hope that I, too, can change my life around. I really resonate with both of Brittany’s cookbooks because she seems to be focusing on all of the same types of diet changes that I’m also working on. She does use “different” ingredients, but as I build my pantry with those alternatives I’m finding more and more freedom in the food I can eat. No, it’s not what I’ve eaten my whole life, but yes, it DOES taste good and it DOES make me feel better. I’m excited to try a huge chunk of the recipes in this book – mostly the breakfasts, snacks, and basics. The only area I found lacking are the actual dinner ideas. They just look so plain and bland to me. I’m thrilled to have more ideas for breakfast and lunches that I will mostly be eating on my own. But I’ll find sources for flavorful and exciting dinners elsewhere.

Dwelling by Melissa Michaels
Rating: 4 stars

This was a fun and encouraging book that I enjoyed reading, but also felt a bit confused by. Honestly, it felt like a whole lot of rambling and filler for what could have been chopped down into a much more concise and focused message. The extra words and ideas weren’t BAD – and it wasn’t a long book to begin with. But it seemed to lack a real structure that was honestly just a tad confusing! I think to get the most out of this book you need to also be a huge journaler and follow all the prompts on almost every page. While I WANT to be that kind of journaler, I just didn’t have the time for it. I’d definitely consider going through it again at some point in my life, really taking the time to delve deeper. Overall, it was a really good book for introverted homebodies that want to get the most out of their lives through cultivating their homes and priorities.

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a YA epistolary novel told entirely in texts, so you KNOW I was here for it. But this book gave me so much anxiety!! A self proclaimed weird/awkward teenage girl gets a text from a boy in her class and mistakes him for his cousin who has the exact same name. He doesn’t realize she has them confused until it feels too late into their text only friendship to clear things up. As their friendship progresses through words alone he becomes determined to wriggle his way into her actual life, which only confuses her more because she thinks that the real him is the “bad” Martin and doesn’t know how to reconcile how nice he’s being to her when she comes across who she thinks is “text Martin” and he ignores her entirely. Of course this book is entirely predictable, but it still gave me all the teenage angsty feels and I kind of loved it.

Christmas Cliche by Tara Sivec
Rating: 3 stars

This book is a bit ridiculous – but it’s supposed to be, hence the title. I feel like it was trying too hard to be funny, which is a turn off to me. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it definitely wasn’t a must read Christmas book.

The Boss Who Stole Christmas by Jana Aston
Rating: 3.5 stars

It took me about half of this book to decide I liked it. Granted, these fluffy Christmas books I like to read in December are rarely meant to be deep and well developed. But when the characters are so UNDERdeveloped book after book, it gets old really fast. About halfway through it suddenly became funny and sweet, however, and I liked how much Christmas spirit was infused into the plot. It was a fast and cute read.

Beautiful Boards by Maegan Brown
Rating: 4 stars

If you enjoy putting together cheese plates or throwing together easy weekend meals on boards (like me – kids love it!), this is an awesome book with tons of great ideas. The photos are beautiful and very inspirational for creating boards for every meal, party, and occasion. I did find all the words, however, to be a bit excessive. If you REALLY need to be walked through the steps for exact portioning to buy of every single item on the board, you’ll appreciate the directions. I was really more in it for the photos and ideas. The only thing I found to be a bit frustrating is that SO many additions to the platters were specialty items and treats that you could never just randomly find in a regular grocery store. They looked awesome on the author’s platters, but unless you want to devote an excessive amount of time and money to finding those exact items, you probably won’t be able to make the exact boards in the book. But – it’s still great inspiration to be on the lookout for cool little treats to add if lots of board making is in your future!

The Gift of Happiness by Holly Martin
Rating: 4 stars

So every year I get excited about the prospect of reading lighthearted and happy Christmas books in December and every year I tire of them VERY quickly. They’re cute and sweet and predictable, which never holds my interest the way I expect it to. I purposely saved this one to read right on Christmas because Holly Martin is one of my most reliable authors for this type of book. And it WAS good. The characters were so kind and cute, the setting was festive, the plot was interesting. I just wasn’t in the greatest mindset to enjoy it. But still, a very nice Christmas read.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 5 stars

A book about polygamy, when the wives have never met each other or even know each other names? This was the exact unputdownable book I needed on Christmas day when our commitments were finally over and I could spend the entire day reading. I loved it! It was fast paced, interesting, and really messes with your head. I had some apprehension about starting it based on reviews other people have left, but I ended up really enjoying it.

The Forest Feast Mediterranean by Erin Gleeson
Rating: 3.5 stars

If pressed, I’d give this book 5 stars for being the most visually stunning cookbook I’ve ever seen – the reason I purchased it in the first place. But in terms of recipes I’ll actually use, I’d probably give it a 2.5. Mostly because it’s just not what I need right now. I was hoping picking up a vegetarian cookbook would give me a lot of great ideas. And honestly, everything in the book seemed so similar, so simple, and composed of mostly ingredients I either don’t like or can’t eat. Granted, this IS a Mediterranean cookbook, but there are SO many olives, which I won’t touch. Lots of tomatoes, eggplant, feta. A huge chunk of the book is pasta dishes, a type of food I’ve never liked, even if I could still eat white flours. And I’d say almost every recipe that’s not a salad or a pasta is some type of dish served on slices of baguette. Page after page and after page. I’d LOVE this idea if I could still eat baguettes! Obviously I could find some substitutes, but it wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, I maybe shouldn’t have been so trigger happy to actually purchase this book when I had an idea after paging through it wouldn’t contain the types of food I want to eat. But the artistic appeal was too strong! It’s truly the most gorgeous cookbook filled with a variety of photographs, drawings, and appealing fonts. You should find a copy to at least LOOK at if you can!

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
Rating: 4 stars

I decided to end the year reading something pretty disturbing. This is another book that I had a hard time putting down. Though it might be less because it was enthralling, but more because it was so distressing that I couldn’t wait to finish it. I moved this book way up on my TBR list because the second season of You was just released and I wanted to read the book before I watched the show, even though I’ve heard they’re very different. Anyway, much like You, this is a book about a truly terrible person who you can’t help rooting for. I kind of wonder about the state of mind of the author to get so in the head of this messed up serial killer. A lot of crazy things happened in this second installment, I think I liked it more than the first. But I’m very glad to put it behind me!

What I Read October 2019

October was NOT a great month for reading. I only finished nine books (my fewest of any month yet this year), and two of those were short audiobooks and one was a cookbook. Besides the cookbook – which was amazing – all of the books were only 3, 3.5, or 4 stars. Solidly “good, nice books.” None of them were books that will be particularly memorable or something I’m interested in rereading in the future. Not that being re-readable is necessary for a book to be GREAT – but I’m in a place in my life right now where I really just want to escape and be entertained and excited to jump back into the story every chance I get. I haven’t had many books like that all year. Which is eternally frustrating! I’m disappointed that in my birthday month, when I wanted to make reading one of my highest priorities, I had such a hard time getting excited about any of these. But – here goes.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Rating: 4 stars

Jane Eyre is a book I really wanted to read this month as I delved into my seasonal reading pile. I’ve never been a fan of classics, but had a distinct feeling that this might have been the only one I actually enjoyed reading in school. I found the most beautiful copy of it when I was out shopping day and couldn’t resist (see photo!). But then my library audiobook of it just happened to come in on October 1st and since I was up super early working I decided to go ahead and listen to it instead. It’s only about two and a half hours long! I still can’t figure out how that’s possible when the book is so thick and the internet says it should take approximately 12 hours to read. At any rate! The narration of this was perfect and I thoroughly enjoyed it – that coming from someone who can never, ever pay attention to fiction on audio. Though to be fair – short works for small attention spans! I listened to the entire book in a single morning and really did fall in love with the story. I found it a bit unbelievable how quickly Jane and Rochester fall in love, but he seemed like a much more likeable character than when I read this in college (at the time the 20 year age difference was probably really appalling!). If you’re looking for a short classic audio to pick up, this would really be a good one.

The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon
Rating: 4 stars

Amy Harmon’s Making Faces is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I also recently read her book What the Wind Knows and loved it. She writes beautiful sweeping stories that really draw you in and make you feel so deeply for the characters. When I heard she was releasing this book, however, centering around Norse mythology, I was really hesitant to pick it up. It did not sound at all interesting to me. But after seeing all the floods of five star reviews I gave it a shot. And like always – a beautifully written story. But I also felt like the plot ebbed and flowed a bit more than it should have. I was so interested and suddenly I didn’t really know or care about what was going on. Near the end of the book when the action really gets intense, I honestly had no clue what was happening. I loved the characters, though, and they really make the story sing. I liked the book a lot, but it also took me FOREVER to read, which is a pretty indicator that it can never be a five star book for me.

Baking Me Crazy by Karla Sorensen
Rating: 4 stars

There has been a lot of hype for Penny Reid fans about this series of Smartypants Romance books where other authors wrote stories about other characters in the Green Valley/Winston Brothers world. This was the first to release in the next two months and I hope to read all of them, soon after release date to keep up with all the online discussions. I was excited about this one because it’s supposed to be about the bakery and a baker. Though if you’re looking for a book where baking is featured highly, this is not it. Joss is a paraplegic who gets a job in the Donner Bakery. Her best friend Levi has been secretly in love with her for the last five years since the day he met her and she told him she was only ready to have a friend. This friends to lovers romance is sweet and tender and I enjoyed it. But I also found myself mildly bored by it in parts. Though that’s probably more my own fault than the book’s as I seem to be having an extremely hard time getting through them this month! Overall, it was a strong start to this unique series of books and I’m excited to check out more of them as they are released.

The Whisper Man by Alex North
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the first “creepy” seasonal book I finally made myself pick up this month. I was a little apprehensive about reading it because I don’t like horror and I don’t like books about terrible things happening to kids. But it had a lot of great reviews so I read it anyway. And…it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was almost relieved that the creepy/horror factor was honestly so minimal, I don’t know why so many people were making such a fuss about it. It really wasn’t even much of a thriller. More of a high stakes yet mild mystery novel. Overall, the book is much more about the complexity of relationships between fathers and sons. I enjoyed that part too – especially because I felt like I could relate to the main character, Tom, and how disconnected he sometimes felt from his six year old son, Jake. Overall, it was a good story. I just couldn’t muster up a ton of excitement over it. Again, like every book this month, it took me SO long to finish.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Lefanu
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, this is cheating a little bit, because I listened to a theatrical audio retelling of this book rather than listening to the actual text – though a friend said they were very similar. I was hoping to add another scary title to my October book list, and this was about two hours long – perfect for a morning at my sewing machine. And I liked it! I guess I’ve never read any class vampire fiction before now, but I was amazed at how may similarities this novella had to the tv show Vampire Diaries. For that reason alone I was kind of tickled by the entire story. I also enjoyed listening to it as Rose Leslie and David Tennant were the two main actors in the audio version. Who wouldn’t want to listen to them?! I guess I don’t have much else to say about it, other than that I enjoyed it. It wasn’t scary, but I can see how it might have been if read in the era it was written.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Rating: 3.5 stars

I wasn’t very great about recording my books and reviews immediately after finishing a book this month. The completion of this one almost escaped my attention entirely. I remember enjoying it, but it was apparently also quite forgettable. I’m always up for a book about people who love books and that aspect of this story was fun. But I had a hard time distinguishing what the book was really supposed to be about when there seemed to be so many main focuses. I LOVED the storyline of her new eccentric family members. And I was disappointed that a love interest was thrown in, but had very little to do with the story as a whole. Overall, it was a good book. Just definitely not a favorite.

Weight Expectations by M.E. Carter
Rating: 3 stars

Here’s another book written in Penny Reid’s fictional world, by a different author. This book overlapped with Penny’s Knitting in the City series – of which I’ve only read one book and didn’t particularly care for. But there were a lot of great early reviews for this one, so I was excited about reading it. Unfortunately, it really kind of fell flat. The entire book is about a man who is the epitome of health and obsessed with keeping himself in great shape so he can enjoy mindless one night stands with total bimbos. Until he meets Rian, an overweight woman whose doctor just told her she better get healthy if she wants to stay alive. This came at about the exact same time my doctor basically told me the same thing, so at the beginning of the book I really enjoyed Rian’s journey of starting to work out and finding new ways to eat healthier. But then it just took over everything and I got so tired of reading the same redundant plotlines again and again. I probably should have DNF’d the book, but I feel oddly loyal to this series of Smartypants Romances and think I need to read and finish them all. It definitely wasn’t a favorite, though.

Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

Earlier this year Christina Lauren released the book The Unhoneymooners and it was immediately one of my all time favorite swoony books. Snappy dialog, intense chemistry, and a lot of laughs. I was really hoping this book would be in a similar vein – and it’s not. So if you’re looking for pure fun, you won’t find it here. But you will find a sweet and forgiving love story between two flawed and hurt characters. They meet while they are young for a very brief but intense connection on a London vacation. Then one turns against the other and they don’t see each other for another 14 years when life brings them back together. I wasn’t enthralled by this book, but I had to remind myself that not every romance needs to also be a romantic comedy. With that in mind, it was a solid 4 star story.

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple by Tieghan Gerard
Rating: 5* stars

Half Baked Harvest is my all time favorite food blog. You are guaranteed to find the most amazing, creative, flavor bomb filled recipes – and incredible photographs to go with them. I make recipes I’ve taken from that blog more than any other – they’re fantastic. A year or two ago, Tieghan released her first cookbook and I of course immediately bought it. I went through it – and then it went on the shelf. I’m not sure I’ve ever made a single recipe from it. She makes a ton of great food, but a lot of it is fairly complicated with a ton of ingredients – it’s kind of intimidating when you just need a quick meal for your family. I was a little more apprehensive about her second cookbook, but bought it as well. And I’m so glad I did! This cookbook is incredible. I bookmarked almost every single recipe. Everything looks delicious and still maybe a bit more complicated than most “simple” cookbooks, I think it’ll be worth my time and effort. I’m almost a little overwhelmed at how many things look tasty that I don’t know where to begin in checking them off. My only complaint is that she uses her favorite ingredients in a lot of recipes. If it’s a flavor you don’t like or an ingredient you don’t have access to, it’s a bit of a turnoff. For example, she uses a lot of basil and pesto – flavors I can’t stand. She also uses a lot of burrata cheese – something I have only ever seen at Trader Joe’s (an hour away in the most inconvenient of locations) – and I go to a lot of different grocery stores! Every time she uses burrata in one of her blog recipes I wonder how SHE has access to it in her rural mountain area! But I’m sure there are plenty of substitutions you could make to create the perfect meal for your family. I’m extremely excited about working my way through this cookbook and finding some new favorites!

What I Read August 2019

August was a big month for reading! I always figure that in September I need to focus most of my time getting back to work and routine, so August is like a last ditch excuse to read as often as I want. I set a goal of 15 books, thinking I’d have so much time to read while I was in Texas that it wouldn’t be a problem. It didn’t work out that way, though, and I read more than half of them in just the last 10 days or so. I ended up just meeting that goal by throwing in a handful of middle grade graphic novels. Which was kind of cool because Caden read them all immediately after me. He usually flat out refuses to read any book I recommend to him, so I’ve stopped doing it. I guess those biases don’t apply when it’s a graphic novel. Anyway, I actually ended up with 16 books, though I technically finished the last one at 2am today (September 1st), after being up with Shepard massaging his cramping foot in the middle of the night. But that last book ended up being my favorite, and it officially is released this week, so I wanted to get it on my August list so you can pick it up sooner rather than later! Overall, it was a pretty diverse genre month, though maybe a little heavy on the romance/love story side. About half of the books were middle of the road and half of them were really great.

Savaged by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 5 stars

I really enjoyed this part mystery/thriller and part romance. Trail guide Harper is asked to help with an investigation involving two murders and a “wild man” who is a potential suspect. Lucas has been living in the mountains for 15 years with only minimal contact from one of the murder victims. Harper, Lucas, and the supporting characters were so well written. The story was so sad, yet hopeful. It was unique and interesting and kept me reading at every available chance.

How to Hack a Heartbreak by Kristin Rockaway
Rating: 3 stars

If you’re experienced with the world of internet dating and are burned out by too many jerks and want some sort of fictional justice, this book is for you. If you have zero experience with internet dating and don’t really care about it at all (like me), you’re probably not going to find this book particularly exciting or interesting. I enjoyed the main character and her strong group of female friends. I was so uninterested in all the online dating stuff. And that’s the whole book. This is a book I probably should have just set aside because I found almost no enjoyment from it, but it’s not because the book was bad, it just didn’t interest me.

Maybe This Time by Kasie West
Rating: 3.5 stars

I’m always excited to see a new Kasie West book come out (I LOVED P.S. I Like You) because they’re guaranteed to be a solid yet tame YA romance. They’re sweet, they’re fun, they’re not overly complicated. This was about Sophie, an assistant florist with lofty dreams to escape her small Alabama hometown to become a New York fashion designer, and Andrew, son of a famous chef who is in town for a year to help Sophie’s best friend’s father’s catering business. I enjoyed the book, but found it frustrating that even though they all lived in this small and boring little town, the three teenagers only saw each other every month to couple of months when they came together for a big event that required both catering and floral arrangements. I wish there had been a lot more interaction and development over the rest of the year, though I also obviously understand why it was formatted that way. I liked the book a lot more as it progressed, particularly in the final few events. This wasn’t a favorite, but it was enjoyable.

A Five Minute Life by Emma Scott
Rating: 5* stars

Wow, what an emotional rollercoaster. I’m warning you now, this book will take you on a ride. But it was so beautiful. Thea was in a car accident that gave her a type of brain damage that only allows her to be awake and have memory in five minute spans before she resets and starts over again. Jim is a loner with a stutter who becomes an orderly at the sanitarium where Thea lives and becomes captivated by her. Everything about this book focuses on love and living life to the fullest and never giving up on those closest to you. It was such a fantastic read. My only regret is the cover that makes this book feel like it’s going to be so much less than it is.

The Prenup by Lauren Layne
Rating: 4 stars

This was a fast and fun light hearted book about two people who marry to get their inheritance and green card, respectively – and then don’t see each other for the next 10 years until one of them wants to get a divorce. Before the divorce can happen they realize there’s a clause in their prenup that requires them to live together for three months first. I did find the whole thing to be a bit ridiculous – why be so worried about immigration coming after them in the final three months of their marriage, but not in the entire ten years beforehand? It also took me a long time to start to like the main character, Colin. There’s a difference between attractive brooding and a character that says and does so little that he’s downright boring. I’ll also admit that I thought this was going to be a pretty sexy romance that I felt like reading while I was at this mostly romance author book convention. In the end, it is VERY PG. Which is totally fine! I love YA like that. This book just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it as a fun palette cleanser.

44 Chapters About 4 Men by BB Easton
Rating: 3 stars

I’m not sure what to make of this book. So. It’s a mostly true memoir of BB Easton’s three ex-boyfriends and her husband. I saw her on a panel at Book Bonanza and was intrigued by the concept and picked it up to read right away. The premise of the book is that she’s bored with her married sex life and decides to start writing down the memories she has of her past boyfriends in an online journal which she then leaves out for her husband to find. It’s a psychological experiment to see how he’ll react – either get incredibly angry, or up his game. Honestly, knowing that most of what she wrote about is true made me fairly uncomfortable! I can’t imagine being so explicit about my past and assuming my husband would be turned on and eager to impress in the same ways. It’s kind of bizarre to me. And kind of mean? I read the book very quickly and was definitely most interested in her actual happy ending with Ken – not the three boys she left behind. But as a whole…it was just hard for me to really accept simply because it was true. BB also wrote four full length books about each of them and I’m definitely curious to read the one about Ken. But I have zero interest in the rest. It’s kind of a weird thing to write a memoir about.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Rating: 5 stars

This was the perfect suspenseful thriller I needed to break up the string of romance books I read this month. It was quite the page turner! A well written story that was interesting, creepy without being terrifying, and still full of heart. This has definitely been my favorite Riley Sager book thus far. Highly recommend!

Finale by Stephanie Garber
Rating: 3.5 stars

Let me begin by saying that I’m really not a fan of fantasy or anything magical when it comes to books. It’s okay in small doses, but it’s never my first, second, or third choice when it comes to picking up a book. But I was looking for something different and figured it was time to finish up this series. And I liked it. But I also found myself reading it as fast as possible to just get it over with. The magic and extremely colorful details were so distracting to me. It’s unique in a story, for sure. But it was hard for me to stay focused when things were always changing and I was never sure what was real and what wasn’t. I also kept mixing up the magical abilities of this series with ACOTAR – a reason I don’t like to read fantasy series – so many details to keep straight! There were also just SO MANY MIND GAMES. The action was fast paced and the characters were all over the place. I think it was a fitting end to the series, but I’m also glad to be done with it.

Love Online by Penelope Ward
Rating: 3 stars

Okay, I have to admit I was pretty judgy about this book in the beginning. A lonely, but also super rich and hot guy, finds himself looking for porn one night and comes across an intriguing and beautiful cam girl. He immediately becomes attached to her and uses his money to buy more and more of her time every night for private chats – where all they do is talk to each other. The reason I read this book in the first place is that I got it in a grab bag from Book Bonanza and it’s called “Love Online” which led me to believe it would be more of an email/chat kind of romance and not of the video variety. Anyway, this isn’t a literary masterpiece by any means. But I actually did enjoy it and liked the way it concluded so perfectly. Realistic? Probably not. A little creepy if it were real life? Of course. But it was a nice little escape that I read very quickly.

El Deafo by CeCe Bell
Rating: 4 stars

This is the first of many books I picked up to power through at the end of August, trying to meet my personal goal of 15 books for this month. This seemed to be the most popular and well loved of the books I found at the library, so it was my first choice. And I liked it! It’s clear from the start that it’s a memoir of when the author had meningitis as a child and became deaf. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it never even occurred to me that people had varying levels of deafness. Something I found most interesting, but also still can’t really grasp, is that with her hearing aids Cece could HEAR, but she still couldn’t really UNDERSTAND people without also reading their lips. Overall, the book was definitely interesting to me, but also fairly repetitive. This is written as a children’s book, but I’m not sure it’s something either of my kids would be interested in enough to follow through on. But overall, a really nice graphic memoir on a subject that everyone should know more about.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really fun graphic novel about a 12 year old girl who finds herself when she joins a roller derby summer camp. Again, this was a subject matter that I knew very little about and it was interesting to learn more. I think it would be a great book for all kids to read as it teaches awesome lessons about friendship and perseverance even when things are hard.

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
Rating: 4.5 stars

I really liked this fast and very simple, but poignant look at what it’s like to bottle up your feelings and how harmful it can be in the long run if you do. The illustrations are beautiful and done in a limited color palette that made the whole book full of autumnal glory. The words are very limited – I do wish there had been more conversation instead of so many “…” bubbles. But it was sweet and a little sad and perfect for a short read.

Introverted Mom by Jamie C. Martin
Rating: 3.5 stars

I picked this up at the beginning of the summer, sure it would help me survive. Unfortunately it took me until the end of the summer to finish. On one hand – I actually finished it – something that doesn’t happen very often with the tons of amazing looking nonfiction books I buy but never get around to reading, or at least finishing. On the other hand – it wasn’t exactly enthralling. I liked it for sure. Some of the chapters really hit home as I consider myself on the extreme side of introversion. But there were also a few chapters, particularly those about living in the midst of needy toddlers and babies, that I just skimmed through and didn’t find that relevant to where I am in my life right now. Overall, I think this is a good resource if you’re introverted and a young mom. It gives you permission to be yourself and tells you that you are more than enough just the way you are. Sometimes I’m surprised by how many people are supposedly extroverted in the world, because I’d guess 90% of the people I know are introverted. None of this stuff is shocking because nobody is ever challenging me to be different. But if you ARE surrounded by extroverts, this might be the perfect life affirming book you need.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Rating: 4 stars

This is the kind of book you need to read in its entirety before you realize just how good it is. A story of three women over the course of about 60 years. Edith who takes great pride in her famous pie baking skills, but also wants zero recognition for it. Her sister Helen whose only goal in life is to make great beer to the point where she becomes estranged from everyone who loves her after convincing her dying father to leave his entire inheritance to her. And Diana, Edith’s granddaughter who also finds herself passionate about beer making after a series of unfortunate events in her youth. Honestly, this book did not sound all that interesting to me. I’m not particularly fond of books without any sort of romantic storyline. This is also very, very much about beer. I don’t like beer at all and know nothing about it (though I know a lot more now!). But I do live in Wisconsin and I’ve lived in Minnesota, and this book just has a general midwestern coziness about it that made me keep picking it up again and again. I really enjoyed the main theme of finding your passion in life and living for it, but never forgetting to love and support the ones who have loved and supported you. It really was a great book.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Rating: 4.5 stars

First of all, do yourself a favor and read this wonderful graphic novel in OCTOBER. That’s really the only time to read it and get maximum enjoyment. I was trying to figure out which of my graphic novels to end with this month and all of them except this brand new one looked too depressing. Rainbow Rowell is always a delight and I was happy to read another winner. I really enjoyed this sweet and nostalgic graphic tale about two teenagers working their last night at at a beloved pumpkin patch. It was cute and fun and just gave me all the warm feelings. Read it! In October. ūüôā

Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Rating: 5* stars

This was the perfect end of summer read. I adored it! A 25 year old recently dumped woman moves in with her sister and niece to help out for a few months and finds herself roped into joining a summer long Renaissance Faire. She’s immediately thrown off by the rigid and cranky English teacher in charge who seems to feed into all her insecurities. Until Faire starts and he slips into his flirtatious pirate persona and treats her like his beloved. I will say that the first few chapters felt pretty slow to me. But trust me, keep going. This book was the perfect love story between characters who are flawed and struggling, but find what they need in each other. It was so sweet with plenty of swoon worthy moments. I loved it!