December 31, 2017

My Year in Adventures {2017}

Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. I've been highlighting what I loved in 2017, and today it's adventures! I loved the idea of ending the year reflecting on a few of my favorite memories from the last twelve months. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, however, since some of the most meaningful moment can't be captured with a camera.


Deanna Raybourn + Joshilyn Jackson Signing - I decided to go to this signing on a whim, even though I'd only read one book by each author at the time. I'm so glad I went because I ended up loving what I read next from both authors!

Visiting Monroe + The Story Shop - This is only on my list once, but I could have mentioned it multiple times. Whenever we were in need of a bit of adventure, we hopped in the car and headed to this gorgeous children's bookstore. 

Colleen Oakley Signing - I adore Colleen's debut, and Close Enough to Touch was just as fabulous. Since I'm a huge fan of her work - and she's a local author! - I had to attend the launch party for this release. So much fun!


Samantha Shannon Signing - I binged the Bone Season series just a few days before attending this signing, and I'm so glad I finally had the motivation! I loved hearing Shannon talk about the world she's created - and what's to come.

Kelly Visits Atlanta - Back in April, I finally got to meet Kelly in person! I got her hooked on Happy Planners and soaked up every second we got to spend talking, planning, laughing, and snacking. Boo, long distance friendships!

My Boy Turns One - This little boy is such a bright spot, and I am so very thankful that I get to be his mama! I can't believe how quickly time is passing. I know it's cliché, but I feel like he'll be off to college in the blink of an eye.


Trips to the Zoo + Aquarium - We took multiple trips to the Atlanta Zoo and the Georgia Aquarium this year, and it was so fun to see them through my son's eyes. He's obsessed with animals, which makes me so very happy!

Exploring Tallulah Falls - Nick proposed to me here six years ago, but we hadn't been back since then. It was so wonderful to explore it with our son and marvel over how far we've come since that day on the bridge.

Beatriz Williams + Karen White Signing - This was my second Beatriz Williams signing of the year, but it was the one right after I'd completed my Bestie Beatriz Binge. I loved telling her about reading them with Kelly!


Visiting the Mountains - I was bummed we didn't get to go to the beach this summer, but we were able to spend a week in the mountains. From the cute little towns to the gorgeous views, we had a blast getting away as a family.

Moderating Sarah J. Maas' Event - Honestly, I still pinch myself when I remember that I moderated Sarah's Tower of Dawn tour event! This is definitely a highlight of 2017 and one of the coolest things I've been able to do as a blogger.

Botanical Gardens - Having a toddler has made me more pay more attention to the adventures we can find close to home, and this is an example! I didn't realize we lived near a botanical garden, and it became such a fun afternoon. 


Kelly Visits Again - Once we confirmed that we liked each other just as much in person as we did over the phone, I convinced Kelly to come back for a second visit. Haha! I loved having her stay and was sad to send her home,

Stone Mountain - We forgot to visit a pumpkin patch before they closed for the season and then came up with this alternate Saturday escapade. We were freezing from the unexpectedly windy day, but we made great memories!

New York City - In November, Nick and I took our first trip together since our son was born! We had the best time exploring the city, shopping, eating delicious food, seeing shows on Broadway and spending time together. 


What adventures did you go on in 2017?
Here's to a happy 2018!

December 30, 2017

My Year in Obsessions {2017}


Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. For the next few days, I'm highlighting what I loved in 2017. Today, it's obsessions! I haven't done this topic in the past, but I had to add it so I could talk about more of my favorite new finds.


1. Madewell The Post Wallet ($78) in Dark Cabernet - I recently decided I wanted a slimmer wallet. I purchased this one after browsing around and have fallen in love! The color is gorgeous, and it's lightweight but still durable.

2. Banana Republic Satya Sunglasses ($98) in Light Pink - After seeing someone wearing these, I couldn't resist buying them for myself. I haven't used any other sunglasses since! The frames make me feel like Audrey Hepburn.

3. Kate Spade "Rise and Shine" Stud Earrings ($38) in Clear - Cassie got me these earrings for Christmas last year, and they've become my go to. I prefer studs for my everyday look, and these stand out without being flashy.

4. Helen Ficalora Charm Necklace - While in NYC, I made sure I stopped at Helen Ficalora. I've wanted one of these necklaces for years, and it was such a treat to get one (not the charms pictured). I wear it everyday and am obsessed!

5. Madewell High-Rise Skinny Jeans ($128+) - High-waisted jeans are a gamechanger! Honestly, I'll never go back to low rise. Madewell are my fave - cute washes, great fit, perfect details and come in longer lengths.

6. Merona Magnolia Quarter Strap Sandals ($20) in Cognac - I grabbed these at Target one day and never expected them to become a new favorite. They're so comfortable - and so affordable! I should have purchased more.

7. Frye Harness 12R Leather Boot ($328) in Tan - For years, I wore a pair of Frye lookalike boots that were super inexpensive. Well, I got the real thing for Christmas last year and they're perfect. I want to live in these boots!

8. Madewell The Canvas Transport Tote ($58) in British Surplus - This canvas tote is so classic, and I have gotten so much use out of it this year! And I just got this tote for Christmas, so you'll probably see it in next year's recap. 


9. O-Venture Keyring ($55) in Rose Gold - I saw this in a little boutique one day and splurged on it. Y'all, I adore it! The big leather O can fit over your wrist or elbow so that you can carry your keys (and even a small wallet) handsfree.

10. Happy Planner & Accessories - By far, this is my BIGGEST obsession of 2017. I need to write a post about it, but I've fallen in love with my Happy Planner and the various accessories. Yay for organization and cuteness! 

11. Book Darts ($9) - A gift guide last year introduced me these, and I can't get enough of them. When I'm reading, I never want to take the time to pause and write down quotes that I love. These let me mark specific lines to save later!

12. Sudio Vasa Bla Wireless Earbuds ($79) in Rose Gold White - I just got these for Christmas, so it's probably a little early to include them. But I can't wait because I've already used them a ton and adore them! Cute and practical.

13. Coffee & Jesus Travel Mug ($6) - The reviews online aren't great, but I haven't had any issues with this travel mug. I've been using it all year and love it! And it's perfect for those Sundays when it's a struggle to get to church.

14. Hoopla Digital App - I joined a new library this year and found out that I could get access to this digital media service through it. It's seriously amazing! The selection is great, and I love being able to borrow so many audiobooks.

15. Amazon Fire TV Stick ($40) - My husband travels for work, so we originally bought this for him to access our streaming accounts no matter where he's staying. But we loved it so much that we bought one for home, too!

16. Plan to Eat ($39/year) - Cassie convinced me to try this meal-planning app, and I am so thankful for it! I used to hate meal planning + making my grocery list, but I actually look forward to it now. Thanks, technology!

17. The Mindy Project Pencils ($18) - This was a random Etsy find that I couldn't resist! I don't use them a ton because I'm more of a pen person, but these look so cute on my desk that they totally earned their spot on this list.

18. ACOMAF Carry-All Pouch ($16) - Alexa gave me this pouch for Christmas last year, and I've used it so much. Whether I'm using it for my various chargers or my favorite makeup, it makes me smile every time I see it in my purse. 

19. Rewined Candles ($28) - I've never been a huge candle person, but things changed this year. I've been gifted some adorable fandom ones (Rhysand! Peeta!), but these are my favorite fancy ones. The Chardonnay scent is AMAZING.

20. She Reads Truth Bible ($35) in Gray Linen - I've been a fan of She Reads Truth for years, so I was excited when I found out they were releasing a beautiful, thoughtfully designed Bible. I love the intention behind it!

What have you been so obsessed with this year?
Anything on my list that you love or want to try, too?

December 29, 2017

My Year in Books {2017}

Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. For the next few days, I'm highlighting what I loved in 2017. Today, it's books! (2016 Favorites)


ADULT FICTION

1. The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn - I can never resist Jane Austen-related books, and this one didn't disappoint! The time travel element actually worked, and the setting came to life. So well researched!

2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Just as great as everyone said! It was a little slow in the beginning, but I was so emotionally invested in this story about sisters during WWII. The audiobook narrator was wonderful, too.

3. On Second Thought by Kristin Higgins (+ backlist) - I read all of Higgins' backlist this year (minus one), but this was definitely my favorite! I love her sense of humor, well-developed characters and perfectly paced stories.

4. The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson - An engaging heroine, quirky secondary characters, a bit of mystery, and a clear-eyed look at the South made this a new all-time favorite and kickstarted a Joshilyn Jackson reading binge.

5. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta - Adult mystery is a new genre for Marchetta, but she delivers everything I've come to expect: a tightly plotted story, nuanced characters, lots of emotion and spectacular writing.

6. Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley - No sophomore slump here! A memorable story with quirky characters, an unlikely romance, and a needed reminder that everyone longs to feel connected to the people around them.

7. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn - Two strong heroines made me fall in love with the dual timelines, the gripping search for a missing person and the slow reveal of the truth. I've recommended this to so many people already!

8. Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams (+ backlist) - I read all of Williams' books in about a month and a half and absolutely loved them all! But I think this one might be my favorite because it's the one I can't stop thinking about.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Mothers by Brit Bennet, The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie, Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny and A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn


YOUNG ADULT FICTION

1. The Memory Book by Lara Avery - A surprise favorite! I loved these characters and the way this story was told, even if the end did leave me sobbing in bed in the middle of the night. One of the most memorable books I read!
  
2. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han - The perfect conclusion to one of my favorite YA series! I love these characters so much, and I'm so thankful for the extra time with them (and the hopefulness at the end).

3. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - Not my typical read, but the hype convinced me to try it - and I'm so glad! The audiobook was fantastic, and I can't wait to see what happens in this series. The stakes are so high!

4. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord - Lord depicted the heroine's faith journey in an authentic and relatable way + created another fabulous friend group. It was deep without being heavy, and I thought it was Lord's best yet.

5. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas - An epic ending to a favorite series! I loved exploring more of the Courts, spending time with the Inner Circle and seeing how everything was resolved in the end. EMOTIONS.

6. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas - I should have known that I could trust SJM! I wasn't as excited for this story beforehand, but now I can't imagine the series without it. I loved the new characters and world so much!

7. No Limits by Ellie Marney - Marney's writing hooks me every time! I couldn't get enough of the high-stakes plot, the intense emotions and the swoony romance. The perfect blend of depth, drama and damn good storytelling. 

8. The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon - After a slow (and confusing!) start to the series, I ended up completely captivated by Paige. I loved how this book expanded the scope of the world and raised the stakes for everyone.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington


NON-FICTION

1. Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan - This lovely memoir explores the bond between mothers and daughters. I really enjoyed Corrigan's writing - it's witty and warm and kept me reading until I'd finished the book in one sitting!

2. The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd - A collection of essays about motherhood that was just what I needed when I picked it up. It was relatable and encouraging - celebrating the highs and commiserating over the lows.

3. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequiest - The heart of this book was a reminder of the beauty of life around the table. The pairing of short essays with related recipes was the perfect format, and I highlighted so many quotes!

4. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - This was an eye-opening and heartbreaking book about the U.S. justice system. I learned so much while reading, and I can honestly say it was the most thought-provoking read of 2017.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and She Reads Truth by Raechael Myers & Amanda Williams

What was your favorite book of 2017?
Are any of these on your list? Or on your TBR pile?

December 28, 2017

My Year in Beauty {2017}


Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. For the next few days, I'm highlighting what I loved in 2017. Today, it's beauty products! (2016 Favorites)


1. Buxom Dolly's Wild Side Eyeshadow Palette ($40) - I just got this palette for Christmas, so it may be a little early to include it on a list of favorites. But I'm doing it anyway because I really love this selection of colors!

2. Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner ($27) in Caviar Ink - This was my go-to eyeliner years ago until I abandoned it for a YSL one that's since been retired. I've fallen back in love with this one, especially the almost-black brown color.

3. Laura Mercier Lacquer Up Acrylick Lip Varnish ($28) in Seductive - I probably wouldn't have purchased this gloss for myself, so I'm glad my mom didn't love the color and passed it on to me instead. I really love it!

4. Real Techniques Blush Brush ($5) - When my blush brush started losing its bristles, I knew it was time for a new one. I ended up with this one that I found while browsing Target and have been really pleased with the quality.

5. Tarte Double Duty Shape Tape Contour Concealer ($27) in Fair - Last year's list included a different Tarte concealer, but this is my new favorite. It lasts forever and is great for extra coverage on blemishes or undereye circles. 

6. Anastasia Brow Definer Pencil ($23) in Caramel - Honestly, I never do anything to my brows. But I wanted a quick and easy way to fill them in a bit, and a Sephora employee recommended this to me. I love it so much!

7. MAC Pro Longwear Paint Pot ($22) in Bare Study - I've been using this as an eyeshadow base/primer. The hint of shimmer is perfect and seems to help my eyeshadow last longer and look more pigmented.

8. Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm ($8) in Lemon & Shea Butter - This was another recommendation from a Sephora employee, and I am obsessed. I don't know if I'll ever buy another lip balm. This ons is just too good.


9. Kristin Ess The One Shampoo & Conditioner ($10 each) - These haven't replaced this shampoo and conditioner as my favorites, but it's an awesome option when I need a change! I love how my hair smells when I use it.

10. Wet Brush Bamboo Earth Collection ($16) - I don't have this exact Wet Brush, but mine just has a different color handle (and was a little cheaper). But I've fallen in love with the brush, which easily detangles my long hair.

11. Pixi By Petra Glow Peel Pads ($22) - I saw these mentioned on Instagram as an affordable skincare product that actually works, and I can now second that recommendation! I love these little exfoliating pads.

12. Beachwaver S1 Curling Iron ($129) - This was a random splurge that I bought based on the online hype. And it was worth it! I know I'll love and use it even more once I finally get a much-needed haircut.

13. Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb ($38) - This was another Sephora employee recommendation, and it's been so great! I love it the most during the winter because I can tell it's hydrating my dry skin.

14. Simple Micellar Cleansing Water ($9) - My mom had a bottle of this at her house, and I tried it out of curiosity. Hello, new favorite! It quickly removes my makeup without leaving behind any oiliness or residue.

15. Thayers Witch Hazel Toner ($9) - Toner isn't typically part of my routine because I feel like they dry my skin out. But tried this one based on reviews and really like it, even though I have no idea if it makes a difference.

Do you have any beauty product recommendations?
See anything new on my list that you want to try?

December 27, 2017

My Year in Movies & TV {2017}


Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. For the next few days, I'm highlighting what I loved in 2017. Today, it's movies & TV! (2016 Favorites)


Of the many movies I watched this year, these were the five standouts:

Dunkirk - I saw this in theaters with my dad, and it was the perfect father-daughter movie date. We both loved the movie! The pace was slow, but the multiple timelines and different viewpoints were outstanding.

Hidden Figures - This was another movie that I saw with my dad! I thought it was so inspiring, perfectly cast and left the theater wishing I'd heard of these women before. I'm glad their story is finally being told!

Lady Bird - I recently saw this by myself after it was recommended on The Popcast. It's not the type of movie I'd typically watch, but it was my favorite of the year! It was quirky, vulnerable and just so well done. 

The Light Between Oceans - I watched this on my birthday, which was a mistake because I ended up crying my eyes out. But that's just because I was so invested in the characters and found the story so heart-wrenching!

A United Kingdom - While it doesn't compare to Amma Asante's Belle, I did love that her newest movie was also based on a true story. It was wonderfully cast, beautifully shot, and I found the story engrossing!

 

When I was looking at what I watched in 2017, I was surprised by how many shows I binged. Here are five standouts:

The Americans - Nick and I started this in March and finished the first four seasons in a few weeks. It was so addicting! I love Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys + the secret spy business, political drama and emotional tension.

Anne with an E - I debated including this show because I definitely had some issues with it as an Anne adaptation, but I loved it as a costume drama (and mentally separated from the source material). I look forward to season 2!

Girlboss - I'm so bummed this wasn't renewed for another season! The heroine was often so unlikeable, but I was still rooting for her and invested in her story. How? I have no idea, but I'll give credit to Britt Robertson.

Parks and Recreation - Honestly, how had I never watched this show before? I watched the entire series during the month of August, and it was such an excellent life choice. Definitely my favorite TV binge of the year!

Younger - I'd been meaning to watch this since it came out because I love Hilary Duff, but I finally caught up this year and fell in love! It's so unrealistic, yes, but I don't even care. Watching it makes me happy!

{P.S. Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King was a stand-up special on Netflix that I adored. Definitely check it out!}


And finally, here are five old favorites that I made time for this year:

Grey's Anatomy - Listen, I still love this show! I have no shame in the fact that I look forward to tuning in every Thursday night. It's been really strong lately, and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Jane the Virgin - I'm a few episodes behind on the current season, but it had to be included because this show makes me happier than anything else I watch. It's so smart and underrated! Let me convince you to tune in.

The Mindy Project - I'm bummed that the last two seasons were this show's weakest because I would have loved to end on a stronger note. But I did enjoy the final episode and the bittersweet goodbye to these characters!

This is Us - Y'all, I still love this show just as much as I did last year. I feel so emotionally manipulated every episode, but in the very best way... and I always come back for more! (Randall and Beth are the best, obviously.)

The Vampire Diaries - Although I was ready to say goodbye to this show, I was really happy with the last season! I loved the finale, in particular, and it made me remember why I've loved watching TVD for so many years.

{P.S. I wanted to mention Outlander and Poldark, but I haven't actually watched the new seasons yet. 2018 goals?}

What was your favorite movie of 2017?
Did you binge any new (or old!) TV shows? 

December 26, 2017

My Year in Music {2017}


Although I've been slacking off as a blogger lately, I've been eagerly anticipating the month of December because recap posts are my favorite (to read and to write!). Whether it's personal reflections or newfound obsessions, I love looking back at the past year. For the next few days, I'm highlighting what I loved in 2017. Today, it's music! And here are my music favorites from 2015 and 2016, too.

I recommitted to Spotify Premium at the end of 2016 and haven't looked back since! I love having access to such a wide variety of music, especially because of my weird music quirks. I listen to an album for weeks until I move on to something new. Some albums end up on my all-time favorite (and must own) list, but many are brief obsessions. So, it's nice that one monthly fee gives me access to anything I'm in the mood for!

Last year, I listened to 3,000 minutes of music (down from 18,000 in 2015). It's weird to compare all three years because they're so different. I've listened to more artists and tracks this year than last, but I know I'll probably never listen as much as I did in 2015 since I'm not sitting at a desk all day. I cheated a little with my most-played artist because Spotify said it was Jean-Yves Thibaudet (because I'm still addicted to the 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack). However, I know that it was probably Taylor Swift -- I just listened in iTunes, so it didn't "count" for my stats. And I'm not shocked that Liam Payne's "Strip That Down" is my most-played track... though it's a little embarrassing.


The Hamilton Mixtape by Various Artists - I started listening to this in December 2016, but the obsession continued into 2017. While the Broadway album is better, I do love many of these interpretations + additions. 

Phase Me Out (+ other singles) by VÉRITÉ - I found VÉRITÉ on a Spotify playlist, and I'm so glad because I don't know if this would have been on my radar otherwise! I had this song in particular on repeat early in the year.

Red Sea Road by Ellie Holcomb - This is the only Christian album on my list since I tend to listen to that as individual songs rather than albums. But I loved this release! Ellie's lyrics and folksy voice are a great combo.


÷ (Deluxe) by Ed Sheeran - I was so excited for new music from Sheeran, and it didn't disappoint. I had this on repeat for ages and never got sick of it! I almost forgot it came out in 2017 because I've listened to it so much.

After Laughter by Paramore - Paramore has been a favorite for me... until their last album. I was curious about this release and never expected to become completely obsessed with it! One of my top three albums of 2017. 

Harry Styles by Harry Styles - I knew One Direction from the radio but didn't listen much beyond that. I've been surprised by how interested I've been in their solo careers! Harry's album is my favorite. So unexpected!


Pride and Prejudice (Soundtrack) by Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Will I ever get sick of this soundtrack? NOPE. If I need background music that helps clear my mind, this is my immediate choice. It's so calming and relaxing! 

Strip That Down by Liam Payne feat. Quavo - I knew almost nothing about Liam prior to this year, and now he's got my most-played track of 2017. How things change! I don't even know why I love it as much as I do.

Coming Home by Leon Bridges - This came out in 2015, and I listened and liked it. But it caught my attention again this year after a song was featured in Big Little Lies, and I fell in love with Leon's soulful voice.


Every Little Thing by Carly Pearce - I discovered Carly Pearce early in 2017 through the recommendation of an author I follow and couldn't wait for her album to come out this fall. It was as good as I'd hoped it would be!

Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini - I didn't think I was a Ballerini fan but numerous Instagram posts about her new album made me check it out. And I couldn't turn it off! It's so good (and reminded me of early TSwift).

reputation by Taylor Swift - No surprise here. I lowered my expectations for this album based on the singles, but then it blew me away! This is definitely my favorite album of 2017, no question. HOW DOES SHE DO IT? 


What was your favorite album in 2017? 
Were there any songs that defined your year?

December 22, 2017

"Am I not merciful?"


Honestly, I was super skeptical of Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. I'm not opposed to hyped books, but I just heard so much about these and wasn't sure they'd work for me. After all, I'm not generally a fan of science fiction. But I remained curious about that I couldn't resist buying the first when it was on sale on Audible earlier this year. I figured it was worth a shot!

When I was trying to think of a book for November's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt, "A Book Because of the Hype," this series immediately came to mind. These are definitely some of the most-hyped books that I can think of from the past two years (in the blogging / YA world, at least)! Realizing they were perfect for this prompt was the push I needed to dive in instead of letting them languish on my TBR.

I started the Illuminae audiobook on a day when I had to spend several hours in the car, which was the perfect decision. If I'd only listened to 30 minutes or so, I probably would have turned it off, majorly confused, and just saved it for a later date. But since I had almost four hours of uninterrupted listening, I got completely hooked! It was a little hard to get into the story at the beginning, especially because it's written as a dossier of hacked documents (emails, interviews, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, etc.), but I found my groove. 

The plot is a little hard to explain or summarize without sounding so overwhelming, but here's the gist: on the morning Kady breaks up with her boyfriend, her planet is invaded. It's the year 2575 and two rival megacorporations are at war over Kady's home, even though it's just a speck at the edge of the universe. As you might expect, this interstellar drama brings Kady and her ex-boyfriend back into each others' orbits as they're forced to work together to survive enemy warship, a deadly plague, and an Artificial Intelligence system that seems to be taking on a life of its own. This is NOT something that would typically appeal to me.

Y'all, I can't believe how much I loved this story! Listening to it on audio and flipping through my physical copy to see everything was the best decision. I thought the audio might lessen the experience, but it only enhanced it. The production is insanely amazing - a full cast of narrators, sound effects and more that make it feel like you're hearing a movie (but better, of course). This might be my favorite audiobook I've ever listened to! I loved having a print copy of the book, however, because I did feel like the format and details made it so unique.

By the time the audiobook ended, I'd fallen in love with the characters and the world. So, I had to start Gemina as soon as I was done. And y'all, dare I say it? I think I loved it even more! Honestly, I didn't think it was possible. Was part of my love based on the fact that the main characters were named Hanna and Nik (ahem, yours truly + my husband) and a side character named Jackson (my dog)? Maaaaaybe so. But I also just enjoyed this relationship dynamic (pampered rich girl vs member of a notorious crime family) immensely! 

I can't say anything about this plot without spoiling the first book, so I won't describe it at all. However, I can say that I was pleased at the way this built on the action from the first book! Seeing how the stories tied together was one of my favorite parts. As with the first book, I felt my pulse pounding and heart racing the whole time I was listening! I really thought these books wouldn't be the right fit for me, but I'm so thrilled I was wrong.

There's a good reason these books were so hyped, and I'm excited that I get to add to the praise. If I had to nitpick, I will note that they're occasionally gruesome (murder and plagues, y'all) and there's a lot of cursing (it's "censored" in the book, but your mind fills in the blanks). I think the stories make you work as a reader -- the format is different, it takes a long time for certain questions to be answered and they're ambitious in scope. But, for me, they were unique, creative, and addicting. They’ll definitely be on my Best of 2017 list! 
Release Date: October 2015; October 2016 | Publisher: Penguin Random House; Knopf BFYR
Pages: 608 pages; 659 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcovers & Audiobooks

This was my eleventh read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
Not very long! I bought the first in January 2016 - and really wasn't even interested in it before then.

2. What kind of hype (social media, Goodreads, etc.) made you want to read it? 
I think the hype actually made me MORE nervous to read it! I had such high expectations going into it and truly thought it would disappoint me. But I also know that seeing so much buzz on social media when it first came out, and then seeing so many high ratings from my Goodreads friends are the reason it was even on my radar in the first place. The positive Audible reviews were the final push I needed to give it a shot!

3. Did it live up to the hype?
YES, I GET IT NOW! They were so weird and wonderful, and I already want to listen to them again.

December 21, 2017

"...the kind of roots you would need when the storm was strong."


A series of serendipitous events brought Far from the Tree by Robin Benway to my attention. It started when I was looking for a book that could count for the "a book nominated for an award in 2017" prompt for Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2017 Reading Challenge. A few days later, I saw that Far from the Tree was nominated for the National Book Award. Since I'd enjoyed Emmy and Oliver last year, I thought it might be a good option. THEN, the ladies at Go Fug Yourself mentioned it in this post - celebrating its win and adding their own personal recommendation for it! I take their recs seriously, so I knew I had to read it.

Two weeks later, my husband and I took a trip to New York. It was a lovely little getaway, and we packed so many adventures into our time there. And I made sure we had time to visit Books of Wonder, a local children's bookstore! I spotted Far from the Tree on an endcap - signed, no less! - and promptly bought it. And that's the story of how it eventually became the perfect choice for October's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt, "A Book You Bought While Traveling." (Yes, I didn't read a book for this prompt until December. Oops!)

A few nights ago, I couldn't decide what to read and grabbed a few books off my shelves to sample. Far from the Tree was one of them, and I was hooked from the first chapter. This is the story "three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment." Grace is an only child who was adopted at birth, but she goes looking for her biological family after putting her own baby up for adoption. That search leads her to Maya, her younger biological sister (adopted at birth to a family with another child), and Joaquin, their older brother who has spent seventeen years in the foster care system.

This book switches between the point of view of each sibling, something that typically annoys me. But I was so glad I got to experience the perspective of all three siblings! They have had different upbringings, family experiences, expectations for the future and their own unique hurts and hangups. I grieved with Grace after she gave up her baby for adoption, with Joaquin as he dealt with guilt and shame over his past and with Maya as she watched her parent unraveling. I haven't gone through these experiences personally, but Benway brought me into their lives in a way that felt so real and so personal. 

Needless to say, it was an emotional reading experience. I laughed, got angry, shed some tears... Benway made me fully invested in these characters. If you ask me what I remember most about this book, it's the emotions. Don't get me wrong - it's a tightly plotted book with well-developed characters and quotable writing. BUT MAN, THE EMOTIONS. Reading this book reminded me of the way I feel when I watch This is Us -- a little weepy by hopeful and reminded of the beauty of families, even in brokenness. 

I wasn't crazy about the romances, but that's partly because I wanted them to be more developed (or just removed completely). With so many good storylines, they were the least compelling part of the book (with one exception because RAFE). I liked that you saw how insecurity (and sometimes self-sabotage) affected all of them, but it also made them feel a bit too similar or repetitive. But overall, that's a minor complaint!

Far from the Tree is about growing up, seeing your parents in a new light, being there for the people you love, getting some things right and others wrong, and being scared but doing it anyway. It's a love letter to families of all kinds. It's a heartfelt depiction of the people who annoy you the most but love you the deepest. It shows that families are messy and imperfect but they matter. I loved this one and am so glad I picked it up in New York City! Now I'll always have special memories associated with this lovely, heartwarming books.
Release Date: October 3, 2017 | Publisher: HarperCollins; HarperTeen
Pages: 384 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my tenth read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
By the time I read it, it had only been on my TBR for about two weeks!

2. Where were you when you bought this book?
In New York City! After a full day of wandering the city, we stopped at Books of Wonder.

3. Do you typically buy books while traveling?
I do! If possible, I try to buy at least one book from a local independent bookstore. But all bets are off when we go to the beach because I can never restrict myself to just one book

December 18, 2017

"Still, I always thought my homeland was a single place. I was wrong."


Release Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
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Thoughts on The Almost Sisters
The first book I read by Joshilyn Jackson didn't quite work for me, and I originally stopped reading the second. But I picked up The Opposite of Everyone earlier this year and really liked it! I loved Jackson's use of voice, the themes it explored, and the way I thought about it long after I was finished. After that experience, I was interested in more from her. Enter The Almost Sisters. I received an unsolicited review copy in March, just a few weeks after finishing The Opposite of Everyone. It was meant to be!

I read it in July, right around its publication, and fell head over heels in love. I immediately told Cassie she had to read it. I got the audiobook for future re-reads and grabbed a hardcover as soon as it was out (a signed edition, no less!). This is a new all-time favorite for me. And just like my review of The Alice Network from a few months ago, this is another instance where I loved a book so much that it took me forever to review it. I needed to secretly savor it's excellence! I'll tell you all the reasons I loved it in a moment, but first I've got to tell you what happened next.

On my new Joshilyn Jackson high, I picked up gods in Alabama, her debut... and the book I'd stopped reading a few years ago. As I returned to the story, I realized that I'd walked away initially because I hadn't been in the right frame of mind for it. When I was done with that one, I picked up Backseat Saints because the heroine was a secondary character from gods in Alabama. It ended up being my second favorite book from Jackson, and my love for it was the reason I then picked up A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. So, I've now read 6 of Jackson's 8 books (and will read the other 2 books, too). And you know? I'm planning to re-read the one I started with because I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll like it more now than I did originally.

With each new book I read, I've gained a deeper appreciation for Jackson's talent. Her characters are flawed but relatable. She approaches heavy topics with sensitivity and honesty. I love the way she writes dialogue, and I'm consistently impressed by the emotions she's able to capture. She's got a great sense of humor and never fails to make me laugh, even when the stories are more serious. So, obviously, I've become quite a fan of her work. Now, let me get back to talking about my love for Jackson's most recent release.

My son, Digby, began at exactly 3:02 in the morning on the first Friday in June. I don't mean his conception or his birth. I mean the moment he began for me, which happened in between those two larger event. It was a start so small I almost didn't notice. I was very, very busy panicking about my job.

And so begins The Almost Sisters. From this very first paragraph, I was hooked. Leia Birch Briggs is a graphic novelist with a love for superheroes, and that weakness lands her bed with a handsome (and anonymous) Batman one night at a comics convention. She winds up pregnant and can't find the right time to tell her conventional, Southern family about her impending single motherhood (or the fact that the baby is biracial) in the wake of the new that her step-sister's marriage is imploding and her ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, has been hiding signs of dementia. Leia returns to Alabama to put Birchie's affairs in order but ends up uncovering a family secret that reaches all the way back to the Civil War. Exposing the truth changes everything for Leia - the way she sees herself, her family and the world she thought she knew.

I honest to goodness loved everything about this book. Seriously, I wouldn't change a single thing about it. I was immediately invested in Leia's story - her love for graphic novels and comics was fascinating, her narrative voice was compelling and her journey was captivating. But the secondary characters -  Leia's grandmother, sister, niece and more - were all just as well developed. They jumped off the page and into my heart!

And honestly, the heroine and the quirky cast of secondary characters were elevated by Jackson's clear-eyed look at the South. The truths at the heart of this book are hard but necessary, especially in our current political climate. There were a few pages that I read multiple times. I wanted to quote them here, but they're more powerful in context. But the important thing is this: Jackson (who lives in Georgia) clearly loves the South, but she also sees its ugliness, too. And this is the story of a woman who is learning that the version of the South she's always known and loved isn't the only one that exists. It was powerful and, in my opinion, deftly handled.

There were a lot of storylines at play in the book, but I truly enjoyed them all. I predicted a bit of what happened, but that was fine with me. It wasn't the mystery or twists that drew me to this book. Instead, it was the characters, the voice, and the exploration of complex issues. This is Southern fiction at its finest. You won't find tired clichés or a cardboard setting here. Instead, it's a rich, nuanced portrait of a diverse place, the people who inhabit it, and the truth about privilege and perception. I have already pushed this book on several of my closest friends and will continue to sing its praises in the months to come. I cannot wait to re-read it in the future - on audio, of course, so I can enjoy Jackson's superb narration. A BEST OF 2017, no question.

So Quotable
“You go to bed, too, and don’t fret, hear me? Things feel hard now, but it will pass. Everything passes, and something new comes along to fill the space.”
* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

December 15, 2017

Quick Lit: October 2017

Yes, you read the post title correctly. This is my Quick Lit post for October. I know, I know. I actually had most of it finished by the end of that month, aside from two reviews, and then I completely forgot about it. Oops!

I finished 15 books in October, and I'm reviewing 12 of those in today's post. It's a long one! I surprisingly read a lot of non-fiction and many were library books. That's not super helpful for tackling my TBR, but at least it saves money. If you're looking for more book recommendations, check out the linkup at Modern Mrs. Darcy

I shared my September Quick Lit in October, which had a lot of variety. Additionally, I posted a review for First Comes Love by Emily Giffin (my September Picky Pledge Challenge choice) and a review of the The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, which included thoughts on the first two books after re-reading. On to the reviews:


GLITTER AND GLUE BY KELLY CORRIGAN | I heard of this book a while ago, but it popped up on my radar again recently. Y'all, I loved it so much! The title comes from the way Corrigan's mother summarized their family dynamic: "Your father's the glitter but I'm the glue." This lovely memoir examines the bond between mothers and daughters, and I couldn't put it down. I loved Corrigan's storytelling ability and the wit and warmth that nicely balanced the more heartbreaking moments. You don't have to be a mother to enjoy this book, but I think I appreciated it more now than I would have if I'd read it a few years ago. In fact, I So Loved It.

STANDARD DEVIATION BY KATHERINE HEINY | 
I've recently become a huge fan of the podcast From the Front Porch and love following co-host (and bookstore owner) Annie B. Jones on Instagram. I became curious about this book after her glowing review of it, but I thought it might be too literary for me. You can imagine my surprise when I realized that I So Loved It! Heiny's characters are fantastic - quirky but compelling. The writing had me completely engaged and frequently laughing over the dry humor. I wish there'd been a bit more to the plot (it's definitely a character-driven novel with a slower pace) but I think that was also part of its charm.

FOOD FIGHTS BY LAURA JANA AND JENNIFER SHU | My eighteen-month-old is a picky eater, which can be very frustrating. I know it's common at this age (and often a control / asserting independence issue more than anything else), but I felt like I needed some reassurance and practical advice. Thankfully, I loved that this book was positive, encouraging and helpful. The tone was occasionally corny, but I'll take that over judgmental/discouraging. I skimmed a few sections that weren't relevant, but I appreciated the overall advice. I So Liked It and thought it was a good starting point in my "picky eating" research.


BREAD AND WINE BY SHAUNA NIEQUEST | I bought this in a Book Outlet sale but ended up borrowing the audiobook from my library. While I missed out on the recipes in that format, it was lovely hearing Niequist read her own work. I'm not a foodie or an extrovert, so I was surprised by how much this book spoke to me! I loved Niequist's descriptions of food, her love for entertaining, and her talent for finding meaning in the smallest moments. I couldn't always relate to her lifestyle or personality, but she still managed to draw me in to her story. I will definitely be re-reading this one in the future - highlighter in hand - because I So Loved It.   

THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY BY NATALIE LLOYD | Many years ago, I was subscribed to a faith-based magazine for teen girls. My favorite thing about getting my copy every month was flipping to Natalie Lloyd's column. So, I've been following her work for more than a decade. I read A Snicker of Magic last year (obsessed!) and was excited to dive into this one. I borrowed the audiobook from the library and finished it within two days! The quirky characters, evocative setting, hint of magic, compelling mystery and fantastic writing made this such a delightful read. And narrator Kate Simses was the perfect voice for this story! I So Loved It.

HEATING AND COOLING BY BETH ANN FENNELLY | I would never have picked this book up if it hadn't been recommended on the podcast I mentioned earlier in this post. These essays make up 52 micro-memoirs, a term I was previously unfamiliar with. Fennelly says so much with so few words. For example:

WHY I'M SWITCHING SALONS
"We can put on a topcoat with glitter," said the manicurist. "We've noticed you like attention." 

Despite the fact that it's only 112 pages, I felt like I knew Fennelly so well by the end. She managed to capture such a wide range of emotions in a precise and relatable way. I've never read anything quite like this before, and I So Liked It. It was a pleasant way to pass an hour or so, and I love surprise gems! If I had one complaint, it would be to echo Fennelly's mother: "This book has a lot of penises, Beth Ann." 


LIFT BY KELLY CORRIGAN | After loving Corrigan's Glitter and Glue, I picked up this slim memoir. Written as a letter to her daughters, it was a short and sweet 96-page volume that I read in one sitting. On the fourth page, I couldn't help but pause to write down this passage:
"I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you'll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves. We won't come back here."
I don't think I would have appreciated the truth of this statement before having kids. As I spend my days taking care of my little boy, it makes even more thankful for the millions of ways my mother served us over the years. While I would have loved for the book to be longer and a bit more developed, I still So Liked It. There's something about Corrigan's writing style that I just connect to - there's so much heart and humor in it!

THE END OF THE AFFAIR BY GRAHAM GREENE | I used to read and adore classics, but this one was never on my radar. To be honest, I'd never even heard of it until I saw it while browsing Audible one day! But when I realized it was narrated by Colin Firth (BAE), I bought it immediately. This was well written, and Firth's narration was divine (as expected), but I didn't completely love the story itself. It's a reflective story where the narrator recounts a past relationship and discusses love, faith and identity. I So Liked It, though I'm not sure that I'd read it again or push it on anyone. I appreciated the writing and thoughtfulness, but I was never emotionally invested.

NO LIMITS BY ELLIE MARNEY | OH MY GOSH, THIS BOOK! After loving Marney's Every series, I was super curious about this new release (especially because the main character is someone from that series). I downloaded a sample on my Kindle and immediately bought it when I finished the sample... and then stayed up until 1 a.m. to finish it. I could not put it down, and I don't even have the words to tell you how much I'm So Obsessed With It. I adored the characters, Marney's writing, the high-stakes plot, the intense emotions and the super swoony romance. There's depth, drama and just damn good storytelling in these pages. I can't wait to re-read!


THE MIDDLE PLACE BY KELLY CORRIGAN | After falling in love with Glitter and Glue and then liking Lift, I decided it was time to pick of Corrigan's first memoir. She writes about being diagnosed with cancer at the same time as her father. But it's not just about the cancer - it's about being in the middle place, that point in time where adulthood and childhood seem to overlap. I liked the humor and the honesty, but I just didn't love the book. I was So Okay With It, and my biggest issue was Corrigan herself. I found her so selfish and off-putting by the end, which makes me sad to say (though is a common issue with memoirs since they are, obviously, self focused). 

UNTANGLED BY LISA DAMOUR | This book, about guiding teen girls through the seven transitions into adulthood, was on my radar because of this post. My child is nowhere near the teen years (and is a boy), so this was an incredibly random book for me to read. But I read a few pages at the library and couldn't put it down! I thought this book was absolutely fascinating. I thought the research was insightful, the writing style was conversational, the tone was supportive and confident (not trying to scare you!), and the advice was so valuable and practical. Even though I had no reason to read, I So Enjoyed It

OUTRUN THE MOON BY STACEY LEE | I pre-ordered this book after obsessing over Under a Painted Sky, but it sat on my shelf until I spotted the audiobook on Hoopla! Narrator Emily Woo Zeller was a little annoying at first, but I got used to her (and thought she toned it down, in a good way, as the performance went on). The story itself was good! I knew very little about the San Francisco earthquake and loved learning about it. It did seem to take a long time for the plot to develop, however, and that led to a slow pace. I loved the heroine and wished for fewer secondary characters, but I'd still say I So Enjoyed It

What have you been reading lately?
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