What I Read February 2020

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

Bared to You by Sylvia Day
Rating: 3.5 stars

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

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

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

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin
Rating: 4 stars

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

Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosy by Laura Weir
Rating: 2.5 stars

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

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Rating: 4 stars

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

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn
Rating: 5 stars

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

Here’s to a better reading month in March!

What I Read January 2020

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

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

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

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Rating: 5* stars

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

Relish by Lucy Knisley
Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

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

Say Yes by Elle Kennedy
Rating: 3 stars

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

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Rating: 3 stars

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

Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina Homolka
Rating: 3 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ama by Josef Centeno
Rating: 4.5 stars

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

Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
Rating: 2.5 stars

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

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

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

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Rating: 5 stars

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

I Know You Remember by Jennifer Donaldson
Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

My Favorite Books of 2019

This has been a fantastic year for reading. It’s always been my favorite thing to do, but I think this year I really prioritized it as THE thing to do whenever I had a spare moment of time. I’ve also found extra joy in tracking a lot of new stats using Book Riot’s Reading Log. This may not interest anyone but me, but I’m definitely going to share all that with you in a minute. ūüôā I am SO happy to be a reader and have this chance to share all of my favorites with you each month! The bookish community is my favorite place to hang out online, researching and finding new books to read is almost as much of a hobby as reading itself, and diving into that perfect book is about the best feeling in the entire world. I pour over these end of the year lists each December, adding more books to my TBR list than I’ll ever have time to actually read. And I’m okay with that, as long as I always have options! Reading is simply THE BEST.

(I should mention that other than number of books read, my stats are SLIGHTLY skewed because I didn’t realize the spreadsheet was going to include my DNF’d books and I can’t delete them without messing up the numbering for everything else, so if you’re actually doing the math, there are 158 books included in my stats. I won’t be marking DNF’s on this tracker in 2020!)

THE STATS:

Books Read: 152

This actually surprised me as I have such a hard time FINISHING the nonfiction books I’m obsessed with buying. Though a large chunk of these are cookbooks, which I decided to start including in my reading this year because I DO read them word for word.
This is the year I became dedicated to actually reading a lot of the print books I already own and love to purchase. My Kindle is amazing, but there’s nothing like having an actual book in your hands. As for audio, I didn’t listen to many, but this is still more than ever before!
Full length novels are definitely my favorite! I had a hard time deciding which of my nonfiction were prose vs. essays, so they should probably be lumped in together since I normally just picked one or the other.
My only issue with this tracking system was how limited the genre classification seemed. I wish there had been a “Thriller” and “Cookbook” option. I definitely steer most toward contemporary fiction, though a lot of those could MAYBE have been also classified as “romance,” but I tried to only mark that if it was a full blown sexy town kind of book. I should also note that Book Riot only gives you lists of your stats, I created these pie charts separately for visual appeal. ūüôā
I like normal fiction sized books. I don’t like huge books. Most of the short books were graphic novels and cookbooks.
Some people seem to take pride in how prudely they rate a book and seem happy that the year has come to an end and they’ve only had a handful of 5 star books. I feel like it’s much better to have MOSTLY 4 and 5 star books because it’s proof that you’ve had a great year of reading and you picked wonderful books! I tend to very rarely rate anything less than a 3 if I actually took the time to finish it. And on a separate spreadsheet where I’ve tracked books for the last ten years, I have an addition 5* rating, to indicate the best of the best.
I’m a pretty consistent reader no matter what time of the year it is. Probably always higher in January and December when I’m reading more cookbooks and short Christmas books.

The Books

Okay, okay, enough with the stats, let’s get to the books. I’m going to give you my top 5* fiction – the books that I ADORED, I can remember clearly long after I’ve finished them, they probably made me both laugh and cry, and I’m likely to want to read them again. And because I had so many 5 star fiction books in total, I’ll give you a bonus so they’re not left out! Then I’ll give you my top nonfiction of the year and my top cookbooks. Enjoy!

Top 10 Fiction Books of 2019

  1. The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
  2. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (READ THIS, second book comes out in a few weeks!!)
  3. Regretting You by Colleen Hoover
  4. Well Met by Jen DeLuca
  5. Five Minute Life by Emma Scott
  6. Heidi’s Guide to Four Letter Words by Tara Sivec and Andi Arndt
  7. To Night Owl From Dog Fish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
  8. The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Bad by Cookie O’Gorman
  9. The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin
  10. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Bonus 5 Star Fiction Books of 2019

  1. Eleanor & Grey by Brittainy Cherry
  2. The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
  3. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Aceveda
  4. Savaged by Mia Sheridan
  5. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
  6. The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2019

  1. Everybody, Always by Bob Goff (audio!)
  2. Fail Until You Don’t by Bobby Bones (audio!)
  3. Skinny Liver by Kristin Kirkpatrick
  4. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  5. The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin
  6. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
  7. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  8. Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness (audio!)
  9. Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
  10. Book Love by Debbie Tung

Top 5 Cookbooks of 2019

  1. Tex Mex Cookbook by Ford Fry
  2. Half Baked Harvest: Super Simple by Tieghan Gerard
  3. Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook by Perre Coleman Magness
  4. The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook by Olivia Hops
  5. Salt and Straw by Tyler Malek

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 November 2019

November has been a weird reading month for me. I started the month with a bang, finishing a book every day or two. Then one book took me ten entire days to complete and threw everything off. The best books I read this month were nonfiction – which is usually the case, so I wish I could force myself to devote more time to them! I also read one cookbook, one re-read, and a lot of lighter romances.

Beard in Mind by Penny Reid
Rating: 4.5 stars

It’s taken me a long time to pick up book four in the Winston Brothers series, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first three. But the final book in the series just came out and there is SO MUCH hype around it, that I really need to catch up! I have to say that I enjoyed this one a lot. I think I’d been putting it off because we were introduced to Shelly in book three and there wasn’t much appealing about her. But I really grew to love her in this and how hard she struggles to overcome her OCD. My affection for Beau grew as well. The weird thing is that this book takes place at the exact same time as book three and even though there aren’t exactly repeat scenes, I did keep questioning if I’d actually read this installment already or not. Overall, I really enjoyed this one.

The Wholesome Yum Easy Keto Cookbook by Maya Krampf
Rating: 4 stars

I had a hard time deciding what to rate this cookbook. IF you buy this because you’re on the Keto lifestyle, or looking to start it, this seems like a great resource with a lot of viable recipe options. If you’re like me, just hoping to find some great lower carb recipes, it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. I’m not on the Keto diet, nor do I plan to be, so it was a little surprising and maybe disappointing to realize how many substitutes you need to make so many different recipes. And how so many of the recipes are “easy” but it is all 100% made from scratch, which just isn’t always realistic. I’m not going to make my own mayo that’s only good for a week before I use that mayo to make another recipe in the cookbook. I’m not interested in filling my pantry with multiple sugar substitutes. I don’t want to cut out the fruits and vegetables that are apparently the most carb filled, but also the ones I like the most. If my doctor had told me to go on this diet, I’d be more open to trying things, but she didn’t point me in this direction, so I’m not going to worry about it. All that being said, I did still find about 25 recipes that looked fantastic and I’m definitely excited about trying at least a few of them. It helped me to think of ways to make some of my favorite dishes more low carb and a better fit for my own needs. The whole cookbook was well written, colorful, with a beautiful photograph for every recipe. Even if I might not use it all the time, or even follow all the keto substitutions, I plan on keeping it on my shelves for inspiration.

Finding Cinderella by Colleen Hoover (re-read)
Rating: 3.5 stars

I re-read this novella because Colleen Hoover announced she’s releasing a new novella around Thanksgiving and you need to read this one first. I first read it over five years ago and didn’t have any recollection of it. I just went back and saw that I gave it 5 stars the first time around, but I’m sticking with 3.5 for the re-read. I think the reason for the lower rating is that Daniel did not appeal to me as much this time around. He’s too charismatic, too over the top charming. I don’t trust people like that (lol). Overall, it’s a short and interesting story, but once the plot came back to me I just felt such doom around the whole thing it was hard to enjoy. Colleen also said her upcoming novella will connect Finding Cinderella to All Your Perfects – if you’ve read both the connection seems like it will be very obvious! I like what she’s doing tying things together, but it’s also a little confusing. If she wasn’t my favorite author, I wouldn’t have the energy to try and keep track of everything the way I have. It’s the main reason I don’t often read series of books. Just figuring out what book comes next is too much work!

Atomic Habits by James Clear
Rating: 5 stars

I found this to be an incredibly approachable book about making small daily habit changes that compound and really transform your life. Every chapter was short, interesting, filled with examples, and not loaded with science that makes my brain glaze over. Much like Eat That Frog, which I read in September, I was happily surprised to realize that I’m actually doing many of the habit tricks the author writes about. It’s a great reinforcing message that I’m on the right track and should continue in that direction. While this book isn’t specifically about losing weight or getting healthier, I found that so many of the chapters also applied to those types of habits, which is exactly what I needed as I’m making many changes to my lifestyle right now. It did take me over two months to get through this because I have the hardest time in the world picking up self help books. But – it was worth it. I highly recommend.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Rating: 4 stars

In this book a husband and wife who have grown rapidly apart in their three year marriage are on the brink of divorce. Desperate to save the relationship, but not sure how to do it, a group of Gavin’s guy friends secretly bring him into their bromance book club – a club where they read romance novels to learn how to better their own relationships. I preordered this book IMMEDIATELY after author Avery Flynn was raving about it at Book Bonanza this summer. I was anxiously awaiting it, hoping it would live up to all my expectations. And it was good! But reading a book about a failing marriage brings on a lot of more complex emotions than a fresh new romance between strangers or friends or even enemies. While some of the things that happened in this book were a bit unbelievable, it WAS believable that a marriage could fall apart in the ways that theirs had. My only pet peeve was that their twins couldn’t have been more than two, or just turned three, yet were talking and acting like and going to school as if they were at least 5 or 6. It seemed like a glaring oversight that kept bothering me. But overall, this was a sweet story about a man who made some mistakes, but was willing to do anything possible to win his wife back before it was too late.

No Judgements by Meg Cabot
Rating: 3.5 stars

I really should have learned my lesson by now about listening to fiction on audio. It’s NEVER going to hit me the same way that reading the word on a page will. (I have the opposite learning style when it comes to nonfiction books, however.) I listened to this book while I was driving all over North Carolina in my rental car. So I can definitely say that I was paying attention this time around! But the author’s deeper “male voice” for the main lead, Drew, was such a turn off to me. I think if I had read this in a book without connecting the character to that bizarrely female yet gruffish voice, I would have liked him and the romantic aspect of the story a whole lot more. But these are my issues and really no reflection on the book itself. Anyway, if you want to read about being stuck on a tiny island in Key West during and after a hurricane when most of the islanders have evacuated, this is for you. It never gets too serious – there are a lot of happy endings, which I’m sure is a very glossed over concept compared to the reality of hurricane aftermath. I was surprised by how much of this book is about animals and pets. I liked that everyone was such an animal lover. Overall, it was a pleasant listen while driving around, but I think I probably would have loved if had I read it on paper instead.

Be My Fantasy by Alisha Rai
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, sometimes you just need a good straightforward romance. I read this while I was in North Carolina and my brain was completely overwhelmed by the writing conference I was at. I needed a book that didn’t require a ton of extra thinking. Alisha Rai is a really good writer, though, who can write something steamy that still has meaning and depth with a lot of character development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not AGAINST romance, it’s just not something I can read all the time – unless it feels justified. This was a nice one.

Stay My Fantasy by Alisha Rai
Rating : 4 stars

I should point out that both of these books were actually novellas. But reading them back to back made it feel like a complete book. The second installment was less about the steam and more about the relationship. I enjoyed it. I read the entire thing while I was at the airport and on a plane.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
Rating: 3 stars

I heard so many great things about this book and I’ve loved all the other books the author has written (that I’ve read), so I thought this was going to be a winner. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t that into it. I did enjoy learning more about another aspect of history I knew absolutely nothing about – Sepetys is great about exposing all those untold stories. But this book felt very slow and disjointed to me. The chapters were SO short – normally something I love in a book, but because it jumped around to so many different characters, it felt like I had to step back and refocus every other page. I was much happier with part two of the book (which was only about 1/4 of the book or less), but I felt the actual ending was really lacking the closure I was anticipating. Overall, a well told story, but did not draw me in the way her other books have. As a side note, it took me TEN DAYS to read this book. That’s practically unheard of. If it had been any other author I probably would have dnf-d it.

Stud Muffin by Jiffy Kate
Rating: 3.5 stars

My overall opinion about this book is that it was a nice read. The characters were very nice to each other. The book was enjoyable and sweet, but I also wasn’t highly invested in it. I liked that as the second book about the Donner Bakery this one actually had some baking elements in it. Not many! But it was still a fun little quirk.

Someone to Kiss My Scars by Brooke Skipstone
Rating: 3 stars

Let me start out by saying that this is not a good book to read around the holidays (I read it over Thanksgiving) or if you’ve had any kind of sexual or physical abuse. Trigger warnings galore. The quick synopsis is that a teenage boy who had his memory essentially erased through shock therapy begins seeing other people’s worst memories when he’s in proximity to them. He can’t stop seeing the memory until he writes it down, so he’s spending almost the entire story writing down the awful memories of people he comes in contact with. It’s a downer, you guys. I was intrigued enough to power through and read it quickly, but it was also a little over the top. It kind of felt like an excuse to just describe all kinds of horrific sexual acts done to children. I’m not NOT recommending it, but I think it’s probably something I could have done without.

Skinny Liver by Kristin Kirkpatrick
Rating: 5* stars

This was EXACTLY the book I needed to read this month. After a lot of uncertainty and fear around a liver biopsy I had a couple of weeks ago, I really needed something concrete to read and help me understand what was going on with my body. Doctors will never have enough time to fully tell me all I need to know, so I’m really happy I purchased this book. It was understandable, relatable, encouraging, and filled with useful advice and plans to turn your life around and start taking better care of your liver – before it’s too late. The last part of the book contains a bunch of healthy yet tasty recipes. Overall, I think this book would be incredibly useful for anybody to read. I never knew any of this stuff about my liver! But if you’re having any kind of liver issues – GET IT. Don’t hesitate.