My Week in Books (5/13/19)

(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

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I hope all of you mothers had a wonderful day yesterday being celebrated! I have to admit that it’s hard for me to get excited about Mother’s Day – this will be the fifth one without my own mama to spend the day with. But I have to remind myself that my own children deserve to celebrate this holiday with their mama, so I put my sadness to the side and try to embrace the moment with them.

All grief aside, it was a wonderful day shared with those that mean the most to me. I hope the same for all of you!

Last Week’s Reads:

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*** The Night Tiger by: Yangsze Choo (Flatiron) – Pub Date: February 12, 2019

As one of Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club picks, I was excited to read this one! I haven’t read all the books she’s chosen, but I’ve had great success with the ones I have. This is a story set in 1930s Malaya (modern-day Malaysia) and it’s rife with themes of magical realism, Chinese superstition, and mystery. Also, a missing finger. 🤷🏼‍♀️ Admittedly, I would usually shy away from a book with that description and that’s probably why it’s sat on my #unreadBOTM shelf for as long as it did.

But I gotta say, Choo’s writing is so beautiful that I was pulled into the story right away. I wanted to know about this mysterious tiger, the seemingly connected deaths, and this missing finger. I began by alternating between reading my hard copy and listening to it on audio, and I quickly abandoned the book altogether because the audio was incredible. Choo narrates the book herself and she is fantastic! I’ll listen to anything she reads!

Overall the book was engaging and I loved the story. And while this had potential to be a 5-star read for me, there were a few problematic things I couldn’t get passed. The main one was the step-sibling romance. I know they aren’t technically related, but it was so off-putting to me that I really wanted to skip over these sections; however, their part was central to the story. I don’t understand why it was so important to add in to the story because it would have been just as strong without that addition. Also, there was a mid-book slump that definitely killed the momentum – thank goodness it sped right back up towards the end!

*** The Unhoneymooners by: Christina Lauren (Gallery Books) – On Shelves: May 14, 2019

This book will be for me this year what The Kiss Quotient was for me last year – a sweet and fun rom-com summer/beach read. Olive and Ethan surmount innumerable hurdles to finally find themselves happily in love with each other. There were funny moments and hilarious one-liners throughout that kept me rolling through the pages.

I did find it very slow to start and that was a little frustrating. I was a little annoyed with Olive’s reaction to the culminating issue (#nospoilers) but when I remind myself that rom-coms are supposed to be taken more lightly, I realize that everything fit together perfectly in the end.

Overall, I appreciated Olive’s growth throughout the novel and her advocacy for being a curvy girl with no shame. We need more of this from authors! I liked the evolution of Olive and Ethan’s relationship, and I loved Olive’s supportive family and her relationship with her twin sister.

This is the second book I’ve read by Christina Lauren (the other one was Love and Other Words). If forced to choose, I think I prefer this one, but generally speaking, this writing duo masterfully writes the rom-com story!

*** A Bend in the Stars by: Rachel Barenbaum (Grand Central Publishing) – On Shelves: May 14, 2019

While I was hoping I would love this one a little more than I did, I still found it a fascinating look at Russia just prior to the start of WWI. There’s A LOT going on in this story – an eclipse is coming which will help solve Einstein’s incomplete Theory of Relativity, the family is separated and supposed to meet back up in another part of Russia before trying to escape to America, there are soldiers and other people in pursuit of them all because they are Jewish, and there is a love triangle.

Seriously, ALL of this activity was a little distracting at points. It felt like the author realized she had a lot of loose ends to tie up because the ending was quick and abrupt for me. Overall, I liked the story but it lacked the emotional connection throughout. I kept reading thinking I would eventually find it, but it eluded me up until the last 25% of the book. I thought the characters were well-developed and I was very curious where this story would end up. The story kept me turning pages – but for me, the story never found its rhythm.

Also, I would have appreciated an Author’s Note at the end to see which parts of this book were factual – all I could come up with was that the solar eclipse was real and the climate of Russia pre-WWI was similar. I still don’t know if Einsten really did ask for scientists to help him complete his theory or if that was just embellished for the story.

The Mother-in-Law by: Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press) – Pub Date: April 23, 2019

I didn’t read the synopsis going into this one; everyone seems to love it so I decided to give it a try. It’s way less thriller/mystery than I assumed it would be and way more of a complicated family drama. I was surprised at how smart it was. While there are some parts that were very unrealistic to me, I was still able to stick to the story because the characters were well-developed and there was an interesting plot to follow. I listened to this one on audio and it was fantastic!

Currently Reading/Listening:

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Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by: Jacob Tobia (G.P. Putnam) – Pub Date: March 5, 2019

Just about halfway through and this book is proving to be one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve ever read. I believe this will make it onto my Top Reads of 2019!

*** 1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently by: Marc and Angel Chernoff (Tarcherperigee) – On Shelves: May 21, 2019

Currently reading a few pages in the morning to kick off my day. It kind of reminds me of Timothy Ferriss’ Tools of Titans.

Likely to Read Next:

Moving forward, I will be eliminating this category from these posts. Honestly, I’m such a mood reader that I rarely read the books that I put here, so in an effort to streamline my efforts and not waste time, this feature will no longer be available!

Tell me, friends, what’s been your favorite reads lately?

My Week in Books (5/6/19)

(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

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Summer is so close I can taste it! I’m dreaming of lazy days on the lake with a book in my hands! As other mama’s know, May is the new December…so here’s to a few chaotic weeks and then sweet, sweet summertime!

Last Week’s Reads:

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Verity by: Colleen Hoover (Hoover Ink, Inc.) – Pub Date: December 7, 2018

Every time I see a review for this one, the emoji 🤯 is included. It set the expectations high…and while I enjoyed this book – it’s a true page turner – I also think I kept wondering when my mind was actually going to be blown. I didn’t feel like it ever had that twist that was sure to blow me away; it was predictable to me throughout. However, that predictability didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. It’s dark…very dark…so dark it reminded me of Baby Teeth (another book I’m not sure I should be proud to admit I liked. 😬🤷🏼‍♀️).

This is a departure for Colleen Hoover. She usually writes in more of the romance genre, so it was fun to see this new side of her writing. She’s talented; there’s no doubt about that! I really enjoy her writing style – regardless of the genre!

Reviews are EVERYWHERE for this book, but I kind of think going in blind would be better for this one in particular. The reviews kind of set you up for some crazy, outlandish thing to happen, and in my opinion, that somewhat stole the thunder from my overall reading experience.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by: Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) – Pub Date: August 9, 2016

I last read this book in 2016 and I can honestly say it changed my family’s life. We were stuck in the hustle of busyness (can anyone say travel baseball?!?) and, while it was a tough decision to stop chasing my son around the baseball diamond, it was absolutely the right decision for our family. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders and we got our life back! Thankfully, three years later, we’ve said goodbye to baseball for good; our summer looks wide open and the view has never been better!

I don’t know why, but Niequist’s “permission” to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and to make the decisions that are right for my family was exactly what I needed to hear at that stage of my life. When I saw this audiobook available on my Hoopla app, I decided to give it another go and I’m glad I did. Different parts of the book spoke to me the second time around, but it was still so good!

I put this book in the same category as Tiny Beautiful Things and anything written by Brene Brown. These are books you can return to over and over again and still find nuggets of truth. 

*** The Farm by: Joanne Ramos (Random House) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019

“Golden Oaks hired women to be surrogates. If you were chosen to be a Host you lived in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where your only job was to rest and keep the baby inside you healthy. According to Mrs. Rubio, Golden Oaks’ clients were the richest, most important people from all over the world, and for carrying their babies Hosts were paid a great deal of money.”

I was hesitant going into this one because I mostly saw poor reviews or DNFs. The Goodreads rating is low – only 3.5. Somewhere I saw a comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale and dystopian themes so, regardless of the opinions I’d seen, I knew I needed to check it out for myself.

And thank goodness I did! I really enjoyed this one! This is the kind of story I LOVE – realistic but not outlandish, depth that goes beyond the surface level, multiple perspectives and layers, and a story that gets under your skin so well that you can’t stop thinking about after you’ve finished.

This would be a great book club choice as there are themes of wealth and privilege, opportunity, surrogacy, “designer” babies, immigrants and their limited options, and many more to discuss.

*** What Matters Most: The Get Your Shit Together Guide To Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What-Ifs” by: Chanel Reynolds (Harper Wave) – Pub Date: March 19, 2019

When Reynold’s husband was tragically killed in a bicycle accident, she quickly realized that they didn’t have their sh*t together (regarding wills, medical decisions, and estate planning)From that experience, Reynolds set up a website and wrote this book to help people have the tough conversations in order to be as prepared as possible should tragedy also strike their families.

While I enjoyed this book very much, it didn’t have as much as the logistical information I was hoping for. My husband and I are in the midst of updating our wills so I was hoping to get better information for that process. This read more like a memoir to me…so in that respect, it was very good. As a guide to getting your sh*t together though, it fell short for me.

*** Juliet the Maniac: A Novel by: Juliet Escoria (Melville House) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019

This is a semi-autobiographical novel about mental health issues, anxiety, and depression. It’s a tough read at times; my heart hurt so bad reading about Escoria’s experiences and knowing there’s nothing I could do to help her. I was frustrated by her parents and their seemingly obliviousness to their daughter’s cries for help. Once they did get her the help she needed, she ended up in a boarding school that was later shut down for inappropriate practices. 

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word given the content of the book), but I was also a little bored after awhile. At times, it felt like a regurgitation of all of the same information, but without any new insights or clarity to the behavior. After awhile, it’s just hard to continually read about someone’s downward spiral without any sense of hope.

Also, the book ended very abruptly when she turned eighteen and returned home. And while she referenced several times that she was thirty-two years old and married when she wrote the book, we have no idea how she got there; those years are not accounted for whatsoever. We don’t know if she’s good now or still struggling with her bipolar diagnosis. If she continues to seek help for her drug addiction…I guess I’m left assuming she’s doing well now, but some closure in that respect would have been nice.

There are many, many trigger warnings here, so be careful if you’re nervous about: mental health, anxiety, depression, suicide, drug use, cutting, and/or hallucinations. 

Currently Reading/Listening:

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*** The Night Tiger by: Yangsze Choo (Flatiron Books) – Pub Date: February 12, 2019

This one has been on my list for a few months so when Reece Witherspoon chose it as her Book Club’s April read, I knew it was finally time to read it! I have it in hard copy, but I also got the audible after hearing Reece’s endorsement! (If you’d like to receive 3-for-1 audiobooks, follow this link to Libro.fm and use my promo code: HAPPIEST)

*** A Bend in the Stars by: Rachel Barenbaum (Grand Central Publishing) – On Shelves: May 14, 2019

Compared to All the Light We Cannot See (which I loved!), this novel is set in Russia during WWI. A time period I don’t see in historical fiction novels too often, I am excited to read about the political climate as well as Albert Einstein! This one promises to be intense and has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in awhile!

Likely to Read Next:

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*** The Unhoneymooners by: Christina Lauren (Gallery Books) – On Shelves: May 14, 2019

I’m already seeing some of my trusted review friends singing this one’s praises! Looking forward to diving in soon!

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by: Jacob Tobia (Putnam) – Pub Date: March 5, 2019

Yes…STILL on my list, and I’m mad about it! I have so many ARCs I need to read and review that this one keeps getting pushed to the back…but not for much longer. I’m dying to read this one!

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by: Camille Pagán (Lake Union Publishing) – Pub Date: April 1, 2019

Hearing great things about this one and I’m curious to get started on it!

Tell me, friends, what’s been your favorite reads lately?

May 2019 TBR

(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (**) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

May 2019 TBR

These monthly TBR posts are almost comical because I rarely stick to them. I’m such a mood reader, so while I list them here with the best of intentions, not all of them have made the cut by month’s end. 🤷🏼‍♀️

** The Farm by: Joanne Ramos (Random House) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019

  • I’m all about books that push the boundaries of our thinking and this one promises to mess with your mind. Hosts live on the grounds of a retreat, all their needs (money, food, etc) met while they are pregnant. Once they give birth, the baby is given to a wealthy client. With themes of motherhood and privileged lifestyles vs those who have less, I hope this one delivers. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews and DNFs but I’m hopeful I’ll enjoy it!

Beyond the Point by: Claire Gibson (William Morrow) – Pub Date: April 2, 2019

  • I have yet to see a negative review for this one. I’m so glad I added it to my Book of the Month box last month!

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by: Jacob Tobia (Putnam) – Pub Date: March 5, 2019

  • I still can’t believe I haven’t made the time for this one yet because it’s probably the one I want to read the most! 

The Affairs of the Falcóns by: Melissa Rivero (ECCO) – Pub Date: April 2, 2019

  • I started this one on audio and the writing was just too beautiful to miss so I ordered the book. It’s here now and I can’t wait to read it. I’ve only seen great reviews!

** Waisted by: Randy Susan Meyers (Atria) – On Shelves: May 21, 2019

** What Matters Most: The Get Your Shit Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What Ifs” by: Chanel Reynolds (Harper Wave) – Pub Date: March 19, 2019

  • Who doesn’t need help when it comes to wills and money? My husband and I are in a place where we’re wanting to review our options and I’m looking forward to the advice in this one!

** Necessary People by: Anna Pitoniak (Little, Brown and Company) – On Shelves: May 21, 2019

  • Toxic female friendship? I’m intrigued. This is also a Book of the Month selection this month so I think it’s going to be showing up quite a bit soon!

The Mother-in-Law by: Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s) – Pub Date: April 23, 2019

  • This is another book I’ve seen mostly good reviews on. I’m not sure it’s much of a thriller; as I understand it, it’s more of a deep character study? I’m not sure, but I’m excited to get to it!

** The Flatshare by: Beth O’Leary (Flatiron) – Pub Date: April 18, 2019

  • I think this one is going to be a great “brain candy” read, as my friend Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves) likes to call them. I usually refer to them as “palate cleansers” – just something light and easy and enjoyable, particularly after a dark and/or heavy read! Also, this is what summer/beach reading is all about!

** Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting by: Anna Quindlen (Random House) – Pub Date: April 23, 2019

  • Like everyone else, I’m going to try to read this one quickly before Mother’s Day so I can pass it along to a grandma in my life! 

 

My Week in Books (4/22/19)

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(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

{#partner #librofm) This week kicks off Independent Bookstore Day (read more here) – a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the United States on the last Saturday in April (this year it will be April 27th). To celebrate, Libro.fm wants to thank everyone who supports independent bookstores with five free audiobooks!

If you’re like me and live in a rural area where there isn’t an independent bookstore, Libro.fm allows you to still be able to support your favorite indie bookstore…which makes them my favorite place to buy audiobooks. Libro.fm is the first and only company to make it possible for customers to purchase audiobooks through their local bookstore of choice. This is an easy way to provide ongoing support to your bookstore from the convenience of your mobile device!

To thank everyone who supports independent bookstores, Libro.fm is gifting its members five free audiobooks. All you need is an account – which is free, does not require any credit card information, and does not require any commitment. What do you have to lose?

And just to sweeten the deal a little bit more…get your 5 free audiobooks at https://libro.fm/ibd?rf_code=lfm56658&cmp=IBDLLS and use HAPPIEST to also get 3-for-1 audiobooks when you join as a member! Then on Saturday, April 27th, you’ll also receive an email from Libro.fm with a link to collect your five free audiobooks!

It’s that simple! And it’s a decision you won’t ever regret!

Last Week’s Reads:

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  • *** The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2) by: Helen Hoang (Berkley) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019
    • I’m truly not a fan of romance, but Hoang creates quirky love stories unlike anyone else. I loved The Kiss Quotient last year, so I was excited to read the second book in the series. I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t a continuation of Stella and Michael’s story; we’re introduced to new characters in this book. This one didn’t hold up as well for me…There are still plenty of blush-worthy moments, but overall this one lacked engagement for me. I didn’t connect with the characters as deeply and I was just super frustrated with their lack of communication. Readers of Hoang’s first book will recognize and appreciate her writing as it is similar and if you’re looking for a quick and light summer read, give this one a try!
  • 🎧 Life Will Be the Death of Me:…And You Too! by: Chelsea Handler (Spiegel & Grau) – Pub Date: April 9, 2019
    • This book was the last thing I expected it to be. While I’ve never read any of Handler’s previous books, I know enough from her tv shows etc, to have made some presumptions about what this book would be about: drinking, joking, and pointless…BUT I WAS WRONG!! It’s so much more than that! Handler veers off from her regular course and gets real, honest, and vulnerable. This book is raw because she tackles grief, difficult family relationships, and her intense hate for the current administration and the direction of our country. She acknowledges her real sense of privilege and examines how to use her voice to initiate change. I was unexpectedly blown away by this book. I listened to it on audiobook and I think that made it come alive in a totally different way than it would have in hard copy. I saw a new side of Handler and have a greater respect for her now.
  • Finding Dorothy by: Elizabeth Letts (Ballantine) – Pub Date: February 12, 2019
    • Finding Dorothy is a true gem of a book you don’t want to miss! This is historical fiction at its finest – a sweet, whimsical, {mostly} happy story that had my heart from the first page. Alternating between 1939 in Hollywood, California and the late 1800s throughout the US’s midwest, this is the story behind the massive book, and eventual movie, hit The Wizard of Oz. I remember growing up and loving the movie {minus the #flyingmonkeys 😳}. It was so fun to go “behind the scenes” to see the inspiration behind that childhood memory. Historical fiction seems to center around WWII a lot of the time, so if you’re looking for a change of pace – and something a little less depressing – give this one a try. It’s truly magical and will give you all the feel-good vibes!
  • Normal People by: Sally Rooney (Hogarth) – Pub Date: April 16, 2019
    • I honestly don’t know what to say about this one. For me, it was a case of #bookstagrammademedoit…which usually works for me. But this one really didn’t. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it – I mostly feel very meh about it. Some of my most trusted sources LOVED this one (Sarah’s Book Shelves, Katie from @basicbsguide, Tyler Goodson, Novel Visits, ItsBookTalk, Annie B. Jones), so I’m not sure where the disconnect was for me. Was the writing good? Yes. Did it keep me turning the pages? Yes. Did I care about the characters? Very much so. This book had all the makings of a book I usually fall for – great character development, deep and emotional feelings, coming-of-age, layers upon layers that need to be peeled back in order to see the full picture – so I’m very confused by my ambivalent feelings. But at the end of the day, this book really didn’t make me feel anything – not one way or the other. 🤷🏼‍♀️

I Tried, But Wasn’t Feeling (aka: DNF):

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  • 🎧 White Elephant by: Julie Langsdorf (ECCO) – Pub Date: March 26, 2019
    • I DNF’d this one around the 20%-(ish) mark. I was really into and thought this was going to be a great read for me, but when I came back to it the next day, all I could think was, “Really!??! All this about a tree?” and from that point on, I could not get reengaged. Possibly a downfall of reading it on audio – maybe the hard copy would have kept me engaged – but I just couldn’t get back into it.

Currently Reading/Listening:

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  • Miracle Creek by: Angie Kim (Sarah Chichton Books) – Pub Date: April 16, 2019
    • After reading two books that fell rather flat for me (The Bride Test and Normal People), I was in need of a page-turner. Miracle Creek is all over #bookstagram and now I know why! This courtroom drama is engaging, intense, and brilliantly executed. I cannot believe this is a debut novel! I’m about half-way through and can’t imagine it not being among my favorite reads of the year!
  • *** The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by: Melinda Gates (Flatiron) – On Shelves: April 23, 2019
    • Full review to come tomorrow on its Publishing Day!
  • Piecing Me Together by: Renée Watson (Bloomsbury) – Pub Date: February 14, 2017
    • My daughter and I are still making it through this one. We are both enjoying it very much, but the end-of-the-school year always keeps us running more than usual. We’re hoping to get some reading in time this week to get it finished!

Likely to Read Next:

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  • *** The Farm by: Joanne Ramos (Random House) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019
    • Women who are in desperate need of money go to the farm and become surrogate mothers. That’s about all I know about this novel, but I’m intrigued. With Handmaid’s Tale (which I LOVED) vibes, I’m hoping this is a good one!
  • *** Juliet the Maniac: A Novel by: Juliet Escoria (Melville House) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019
    • Again, I don’t know much, but Tyler Goodson gave it four stars and that’s enough for me to give it a shot! With themes of teenage mental illness, I’m interested in what this book has to offer!
  • Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by: Jacob Tobia (Putnam) – Pub Date: March 5, 2019
    • First of all, this is a case of “The Cover Made Me Do It”…it’s incredible! But beyond that superficial aspect, I’m excited to read this emotional memoir about a “boy” that has fought gender stereotypes. I admire people that revolutionize our way of thinking and I believe Jacob Tobia will rock my world! 

Tell me, friends, what’s been your favorite reads lately?

My 2 Weeks in Books (4/15/19)

(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

I intended to post last week from Arizona but it was just complicated without my laptop (I only took my iPad), so I decided to let it go…and do two weeks instead! So brace yourselves, this one is going to be jam-packed! Not only was I on vacation, but we came home to #bombcycloneparttwo, so I’ve had lots of reading time!

Last 2 Week’s Reads:

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  • 🎧 Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by: Brittney Cooper (St. Martin’s Press) – Pub Date: February 20, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • Dr. Brittney Cooper may not have written this book with me (a privileged white woman) in mind, but these essays taught me so much and broadened my perspectives in ways I’ve been craving for awhile now. I’ve wanted to read some well-written work from some #ownvoices and this book was more than I hoped for. Though I listened to this on audiobook (Cooper reads it herself and it’s beyond powerful), I will pick up a hard copy at some point; it’s relevant and quotable and should be #requiredreading for everyone. Eloquent Rage forced me to confront my beliefs and it will stick with me for a long time. If you haven’t read it yet, please add it to your TBR and read it soon! Every person should!
  • *** 📖 Lost Roses by: Martha Hall Kelly (Ballantine) – Pub Date: April 9, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
    • Despite not falling in love with this one quite like I did LILAC GIRLS, it’s still a solid read. Following three women – Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka – during the First World War, the character development is good and I found myself rooting for each of them. As a story, I think this one holds up well, but as a historical fiction novel, I found it lacking. There were references to the Russian upheaval that happened, but I wanted more. There are so few historical fiction novels about WWI, and I was really hoping this one would give me a better understanding of what was going on in the world, both politically and economically. I left this book with little understanding of why the war happened. It’s a fantastic story, I just had higher expectations of learning about WWI.
  • *** 📖 When We Left Cuba by: Chanel Cleeton (Berkley) – Pub Date: April 9, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • After reading Cleeton’s first book, NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA (my review here), I had very high expectations for this one. I loved the political background I gained in Havana and fell in love with Cleeton’s writing style. It’s lyrical and poetic, making you feel like a participant in the story rather than a reader. Cuba came alive in that novel and all I’ve wanted to do since reading it is walk the Malecón and see the sights for myself. I don’t know if the disconnect with this book was due to it being primarily set in America – somewhere I’m more familiar with – or the storyline, but this story wasn’t nearly as strong for me. (That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though, just not as much as Havana.) The writing is still strong – Cleeton has a gift for crafting a story that immediately sucks you in. However, I kept waiting for something to happen that somehow just felt elusive throughout the novel, like it was just waiting on the next page, but then it never appeared. I felt like the political events were glossed over in a way I didn’t feel in Havana. The story could have been just as rich with all the political happenings that occurred during that time period, so this felt like a huge missed opportunity. I think I would have loved this novel if I didn’t have Havana to compare it to. Also, for those who’ve asked, I absolutely think this novel can stand alone. There’s enough background information provided from the previous book that you won’t be lost at all! As I’ve mentioned already, this is still a strong novel, but having had the Havana experience previously, I simply prefer that one over this one. I’ll be curious to see other reviews and if I’m alone on this assessment, so if you’ve read it, let me know!
  • 🎧/📖 Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by: Cheryl Strayd (Vintage) – Pub Date: July 10, 2012 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • When I was on Sarah’s Book Shelves podcast a couple months ago, I mentioned that one of my reading goals was to try to get into audiobooks more. She recommended TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS and said it’s one of her favorites…and I’d have to agree! Silly me, I didn’t realize that the podcast, Dear Sugars, was what this book was about…I have listened to that podcast for awhile and I LOVE IT! Within a few minutes of listening to this book, I ordered the hard copy where it will live on my favorites shelf forever. I will be buying copies of this book to hand out to my friends…yes, it’s that good! Strayd’s advice is relevant to all and I think everyone can find nuggets of truth relative to their own situations in each of the letters Strayd answers. I’m sure my copy will be highlighted and underlined and perused many times for years to come!
  • 📖 I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by: Mary Laura Philpott (Atria) – Pub Date: April 2, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • This one reminded me of TELL ME MORE by Kelly Corrigan – one of my favorite books from last year. Philpott speaks honestly about being satisfied with a life that has given her everything she’s ever wanted – a thought that, at first glance, seems ridiculous, but a sentiment I relate to very strongly. With kids passed the toddler/early childhood stage, I found many of her stories relatable. Truly, at times, I felt like I was sitting across from one of my best friends, drinking a glass of wine and discussing marriage, motherhood, and stay-at-home-momming with an honesty and realness you only find with someone you’ve shared a whole lot of life’s ups and downs with. Also, there are moments of pure hilarity as I actually lol’d many times while reading on the plane home from vacation! This book is a gem and I every mother needs this one on their home’s bookshelves!
  • *** 📖 The Parrot’s Perch by: Karen Keilt (She Writes Press) – On Shelves: April 16, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
    • What an insanely intense book this is! Thrown in Brazilian jail for an unknown crime, Keilt and her husband endured forty-five days of torture, rape, and humiliation. Even though this book was a page turner, there were many times I had to take a break from it because Keilt’s writing made it feel all too real. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s an incredible insight into the corruption within the Brazilian law enforcement and an on-going investigation into the human rights violations the country apparently participates in quite regularly. There is strength and resiliency within these pages, and ultimately, some hope along with tragedy. How something this absurd could happen is terrifying. I admire Keilt’s courage and perseverance. Trigger warnings: torture, rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, abuse. 
  • *** 📖 Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by: Mira Jacob (One World) – Pub Date: March 26, 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • Everybody needs to read this book! This is a graphic memoir of conversations with a six-year-old that will leave you mind-blown. Touching on race, immigration, and the current US political situation, Jacob incredibly packs a ton into a small amount of space. I felt gut-punched by the end and had to spend some time unpacking what I’d just read. It’s incredibly powerful and I know this will be a book I return to over and over again.

Currently Reading/Listening:

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  • *** 📖 The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by: Melinda Gates (Flatiron) – On Shelves: April 23, 2019
    • I’m a few chapters into this book and already completely blown away! I’m inspired and I can’t stop thinking about the social actions necessary that Gates writes about. If you’re looking for a book that honors the role women play in society and fights to help them gain empowerment, this book is a must read! I have a GIVEAWAY happening right now for an ARC of this book over on my Instagram page (@happiestwhenreading)…head over and get yourself entered!
  • 🎧 Life Will Be the Death of Me:…and You Too! by: Chelsea Handler (Spiegel & Grau) – Pub Date: April 9, 2019
    • I’m an hour into the audiobook of this and cannot stop listening. This is Chelsea Handler like we’ve never seen her before – raw, honest, and vulnerable. There’s a lot of truth bombs in here (which is a downside of listening to it on audio), but I’d highly recommend listening to this one. Handler narrates herself and she is incredible – at times, she gets choked up and it humanizes her in a way that breaks down the comedic barrier I’m so used to her having. I have a feeling this will be one of my favorites books of the year!
  • *** 📖 The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2) by: Helen Hoang (Berkley) – On Shelves: May 7, 2019
    • I LOVED The Kiss Quotient last year so of course I had to continue on with the series…though don’t make the same mistake I made – this is NOT a continuation of Stella and Michael’s story! I’m only about 20% in but it looks as if Hoang has created another quirky love story!
  • 📖 Piecing Me Together by: Renée Watson (Bloomsbury) – Pub Date: February 14, 2017
    • The latest book my daughter and I are reading together. We’re not too far into it but we’re both enjoying it!

I Tried, But Wasn’t Feeling (aka: DNF):

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  • 📖 It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by: Megan Devine (Sounds True) – Pub Date: January 1, 2018
    • DNF @ 15% – I love a book about grief. After losing my mama to cancer, I seek them out and almost always find something relatable in them. But this book felt repetitious of other books I’ve read previously. Maybe I’m further along in my grief journey so this one didn’t quite speak to me, but I made the decision to stop reading.
  • 📖 Warlight by: Michael Ondaatje (Knopf) – Pub Date: May 8, 2018
    • DNF @ 30% – As one of my most anticipated reads from last year, I was a little let down by this one. I think I could really enjoy it had it been at a different point of my reading life. It’s had strong reviews so I’m sure it’s just a matter of timing for me.
  • 🎧 White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by: Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press) – Pub Date: June 26, 2018
    • I DNFd this one FOR NOW…I will pick this one back up as soon as I can get my hands on a hard copy. This one is too important and too intense for me to be able to focus on it through audiobook. What I heard is convicting and good, and I want to be able to devote more attention to it!

Likely to Read Next:

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  • Miracle Creek by: Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books) – On Shelves: April 16, 2019
    • I’m hearing the best things about this book! I chose it as one of my Book of the Month selections (here’s my referral link) and I don’t think I can hold off reading it much longer!
  • Normal People by: Sally Rooney (Hogarth) – On Shelves: April 16, 2019
    • Another BOTM book full of hype and recommended by some of my trusted sources. Sounds like it’ll break your heart – an element I love in a book!
  • The Ash Family by: Molly Dektar (Simon & Schuster) – Pub Date: April 9, 2019
    • I’m cautiously curious about this one. Cults? Off-the-grid living? I’m intrigued…but after seeing mixed reviews, I won’t be afraid to DNF if it’s not working for me.

Tell me, friends, what’s been your favorite reads lately?

 

 

 

January 2019 Reading Wrap-up

{Thank you Pegasus Books, SJP for Hogarth, Algonquin, Random House, and NetGalley for the free books to review. All opinions are my own.}

Here’s my Reading Wrap-Up for January!

Book suggestions by mood:

  • For those that love immersing themselves into new worlds: The Oyster Thief by: Sonia Faruqi
  • For those who love WWII historical fiction: We Were the Lucky Ones by: Georgia Hunter
  • For those that would like a humanized look into the immigration debate: Lucky Boy by: Shanthi Sekaran
  • For those that like creepy, yet realistic, vibes: The Dreamers by: Karen Thompson Walker
  • For those that like historical fiction but want something other than WWII: The Paragon Hotel by: Lyndsay Faye
  • For those that love a slow meditation on life: Waiting for Eden by: Elliot Ackerman
  • For those that love a modern-retelling of a classic: Unmarriageable by: Soniah Kamal
  • For those that enjoy a nonfiction book that reads like John Grisham: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by: John Carreyrou
  • For those that want a quick, light, and easy read: The Dinner List by: Rebecca Serle
  • For those that want a book they can’t stop thinking about: Golden Child by: Claire Adam
  • For those that like to cheer for the underdog: Sugar Run by: Mesha Maren
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January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up (Not pictured: Sugar Run, The Dreamers, and Unmarriageable)

Even though there were problematic things to me throughout – I didn’t really like the protagonist; I was disappointed in the female characters and thought they were all mean and vindictive, and I hated that not one female character was kind, supportive, or nice – yet I continued to read and, at times, I couldn’t put it down. Despite the things I didn’t like – even major things -, there was also so much about it that I did like. Ultimately, I was intrigued enough to overlook my grievances and to see it through to the end. It wasn’t an overwhelming good – or bad – book. I appreciate books like this because they force me to contemplate them for days to come, trying to determine where I ultimately land. They’re also the trickiest for me to recommend because…🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️

Why it took me so long to read this one, we’ll never know. But after listening to Sarah’s Book Shelves podcast last week where she interviewed the author, Georgia Hunter, the book shot to the top of my TBR, and I’m so glad it did. It’s a lovely book that records one Jewish family’s miraculous journey through the various atrocities of WWII. My own grandmother lived through many of the same horrors, so the heartbreak felt personal – like Hunter has put my family’s story to the page. I appreciated every single page of this book and I’m so glad I finally picked it up.

Two worlds collide when Soli, an undocumented woman from Mexico, finds herself in a detention center awaiting deportation. Her child, Ignacio, is placed in the temporary care of the Reddy’s, an Indian-American couple that decides to become foster parents after many years of struggling with infertility. Both mothers love the child and want to raise him as her own…but what makes a mother? And who does the child belong to? This book is heartbreaking and timely. It’s so well done; Sekaran presents both sides without judgment or blame and really forces the reader to think through the issues. With themes of immigration, adoption, and infertility, this book would make a wonderful book club selection!

I love a book that can capture you from the first page and hold your attention until the very end. I couldn’t put THE DREAMERS down! A strange illness takes over an isolated college town in Southern California. As the number of people infected with the illness increases, the National Guard comes in and establishes a quarantine. What made this book enjoyable for me was the author’s writing style. Clear and concise, there were no wasted words. Told from various points of view, the mystery of the illness kept me reading to find out what was behind the mystery. I wish the story would have been wrapped up a little better and I wouldn’t have been left with so many questions; however, if you’re looking for something quick and easy to read, pick this one up and give it a try…I have no doubt it will be one of the books that gets the most buzz this winter!

A historical thriller that has themes of racism and violence, love and loyalty. I loved this story, especially the characters. Strong and well-developed, I was immediately invested in their stories – individually, and as a whole. Told in alternating timelines, this story primarily takes place in Portland, Oregon during the 1920s. I knew nothing about the KKK’s overwhelming presence in that area or the foundational beginnings of that city. In fact, Portland’s KKK division was the biggest one west of the Mississippi. The Paragon Hotel, though fictional for the purposes of this book, was also based on a real hotel in Portland that was a sanctuary for Black people within this overwhelmingly white city. Learning these small details, along with the fascinating characters and the mystery the book is centered around made this an unforgettable story. Fair warning: the cadence is difficult to grasp and can take a good while to get the hang of and can be a bit distracting.

This book made so many people’s Top 10 last year, so I knew I had to read it! It’s short – almost more of a novella – and I cannot believe the punch it packs in such a short amount of time. It’s a beautiful meditation on death, love, loyalty, guilt, and yearning. This book’s premise is unlike anything I’ve read before and Elliot Ackerman masterfully delivers. You’ll want to add this one to your TBR soon, if you haven’t read it already!

Unmarriageble, the latest retelling of an old classic, Pride and Prejudice. It takes place in Pakistan and it was fun getting an inside look into another culture. I liked the characters (and even vehemently disliked a few, which keeps things fun!), and I thought the emphasis on class importance between the two societies parralled quite well. A few the characters were strong, empowered, and independent females (somewhat frowned upon in the Pakastani culture) which I greatly appreciated. I also found the men that could handle a woman with thoughts and ambitions of her own, without feeling threatened, refreshing. If you’re like me and the thought of reading #classics sounds kind of boring (**gasp! I know!!**), then I think you’d enjoy this book. I certainly know I’d rather gain my insights to classic literature through these more-relevant-to-modern-times novels than through the original books themselves.

I mean, wow! That was quite a ride through fraud, lies, and manipulation. Carreyrou does a phenomenal job of taking the reader along a journey that could have been quite confusing. With lots of medical and legal jargon and technicalities, numerous people who played key roles in the development of the story over 15-years, and an immense amount of information, this non-fiction book read like a fast-paced John Grisham novel. A clear favorite from last year, this book made many Top 10 lists and is in production to become a movie, starring Jennifer Lawerence as Elizabeth Holmes (release date unknown).

If you could have dinner with five people (dead or alive), who would you choose? I saw this book everywhere last year and wasn’t initially intrigued by the synopsis, but after reading it, I was captured in so many unexpected ways. Not just the nostalgic idea of spending time with loved ones who are already gone, but also by the healing that could come from such a meeting. I’ve learned that no matter how good a relationship is, there are still so many regrets and questions that remain when a person leaves us forever. So the idea of getting to sit down again and heal those hurts and get those questions answered made this book such a good read for me. I enjoyed it so much!

So oddly, this book did what I LOVE books to do: made me mad, f’ed up my thinking, made me evaluate myself and what I think I’d do in a given situation, and WILL NOT leave my brain. For that, I LOVED it. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot understand any of it. It’s hard to talk about this book without revealing some major spoilers, but let me just say that I predict this will be one of the buzziest books of the year! It’s well done – I felt transported straight to the Caribbean country of Trinidad during the 1980s with the poetic descriptions of the land and food. I loved Claire Adam’s writing and I was sucked into this story from the first page. However, by the end, I was so angry and I was left wanting SO MUCH MORE from the story. It didn’t end with a pretty little bow, and that’s ok! I LOVE when authors take risks and force us to meditate on our thoughts. I’ve flip-flopped on my opinions of this story so many times…and that makes, for me, a GOOD BOOK! I also think these open-ended questions will make this book a fantastic book club selection!

This book has everything I love in a story – slow, methodical writing; deep, insightful character study; and a healthy dose of drama. After Jodi is unexpectedly released from prison after 18 years, she longs to return to her home – a small town set in the mountains of West Virginia. On parole and desperate to start a new life, she is immediately confronted with troubles. From the girl she falls in love with to dealing with addiction problems, some people are just destined for a hard life. And no matter what Jodi’s intentions are behind her choices, she always ends up on the wrong side of them. I was amazed that this was Maren’s debut novel. Her writing is seasoned and lyrical; I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

What did you read and LOVE in January?

Girls Burn Brighter

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**Thank you to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for an advanced reader copy (ARC) to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

In general, I don’t need a book to remind me how fortunate I am or to help me be more grateful for the life I live. But Girls Burn Brighter was one of them that had me on my knees thanking God for the blessings I have!

This story is heartbreaking in so many ways. Poornima, a young girl coming-of-age in India, loses her mother just as her family is getting ready to marry her off. As is custom in India, the wedding was put on hold after her mother’s death, and while this should seem like an insignificant part of the story, it is, in fact, the turning point for everything that will happen to Poornima.

Once Poornima is finally married off, she must leave her family and best friend behind. But once she’s gone, her best friend, Savitha, is never far from her mind. They have a special bond that will tie them together forever, regardless of time or distance. This bond allows each of the girls to survive with hope that they will one day be united again.

What I loved about this book was the friendship between Poornima and Savitha. It was the definition of true love – ultimately, the only thing that mattered was the other person’s well-being and happiness. They cared deeply for each other, and even after being separated without knowing anything about the other’s whereabouts or circumstances, they had an inexplicable connection to each other. Rao conveyed this commitment to each other so beautifully; it was my favorite aspect of the book.

Sadly, the thing about this book that didn’t work for me was what the book was about: human trafficking. I’ve heard the statistics about human and sex trafficking; it’s a lot more prevalent than many of us realize. This book brings to light the ease with which these men so callously buy, sell, and trade these women (oftentimes, they truly are still children). They are subjected to horrific and inhumane treatment. Some of the parts of the book are incredibly hard to read.

Any time a story comes along that sheds some light on atrocities, I’m all for it! That’s one of the reasons I read: to learn about things I don’t know about. However, in my opinion, when an author chooses to take on such emotionally difficult subject matter, they are taking on a huge responsibility. It isn’t enough to just bring the issue to light – you must also make that emotional connection to the reader as a call to action. Upset them, enrage them, make them cry! Then, maybe you will inspire action and change. Maybe then someone will rise up to be the voice for these girls that they don’t have themselves.

The book didn’t do this for me. And I think it’s a huge travesty for me to say that I actually felt very indifferent to it all. It read like fiction instead of reality – which it very much is real and happening right now, in this country! Let me be clear: it was difficult to read, but instead of outraging me and forcing me to connect the story with real life, it felt like the author just included it for shock value. And that, to me, is unacceptable given the subject matter.