April 17, 2017

Quick Lit: March 2017

One of my worst blogging habits is my inability to write about what I've read in a timely manner. So, I'm trying something new: recapping what I read at the end of each month and linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy. I feel like "traditional" reviews have declined in popularity, although I'll still be writing some every month, so I'm hoping this will be a fun way to share what I'm reading. The exception will be review books that I can't discuss yet! 

If you missed it, I recently read and reviewed Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams. Three of them were new favorites!

I'll have reviews for more March reads soon - The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon, Disruption and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington and First Comes Love by Emily Giffin.

THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER | This book wasn't on my radar at all until I kept seeing it on "Best of 2016" at several blogs I follow. And when I investigated further, I discovered so much praise for it on Goodreads that I couldn't resist snagging it for my Kindle when the price dropped to $1.99. Set in rural Tennessee, this book follows three friends (Dill, Travis and Lydia) at the start of their senior year of high school. The writing immediately captured my interest, the Southern gothic vibe was unique and I liked the small town setting. But... I didn't really care about the characters. I was skeptical about the romance, felt no emotion at a pretty critical moment in the plot, and just struggled with the bleakness. So, I was So Okay With It in the end.

A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING BY DEANNA RAYBOURN | Earlier this year, I loved A Curious Beginning, the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series. I knew I wanted to read this follow up while the first book was still fresh in my mind, so I started the audiobook at the beginning of the month. Once again, I loved the narrator, Angele Masters. She brought so much to the characters! It was fun to spend more time with Veronica and Stoker, to savor the witty dialogue and to follow along with another adventure. But it took me a lot longer to finish this book than I expected, and I think it's because the mystery was a little dull and the pacing was uneven. Plus, the sexual innuendo got old quickly. I So Liked It, but I truly hope the third book will recapture the magic of the first.

GEEKERELLA BY ASHLEY POSTON | I was so excited to read this book for review because I'd heard such good things about it! This cute and charming contemporary retelling of Cinderella is a love letter to all things nerdy. I loved the nods to its inspiration, the geeky references to current pop culture, and the way the fictional sci-fi series at the heart of the book felt completely real. If you've ever been a part of a fandom, this is a must read for those aspects alone. I was hoping for more from the characters and the romance, but both aspects fell a little flat for me. The chemistry was lacking, and the "evil" characters were too one-dimensional. But I still I So Liked It and would recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate the joy of fandom. *

*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.

What have you been reading lately?

April 14, 2017

"Just as He was faithful then, He will be faithful now."

I first heard about She Reads Truth a few years ago. It was something that originally "started as a small group of strangers on the internet who wanted to be more intentional about reading God's Word." That small group become an entire online community in pursuit of one goal: to spend time reading the Bible every day. You can explore their website to find out about their current study (and browse through past plans). 

Although I was familiar with their website and app, I had no idea the founders, Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams, were coming out with a book. When I was browsing in Barnes & Noble one night, I spotted the title and picked it up out of curiosity. I was thrilled to learn it was written by the woman behind the website. I sat down with a copy in the café and read a few pages... and ended up buying it that night.

I had every intention of reading it right away, and yet it still ended up joining the pile of books on my shelves. So, I thought it was the perfect choice for March's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt - “A Book You Had to Buy, But Still Haven't Read.” And as soon as I started it, I remembered why I'd felt like I had to buy it that day. She Reads Truth is about two women with different stories but discovering the same unchanging God:
“It's okay to study God's hand in our present circumstances. It's good and appropriate to move that telescope around to see what other people are dealing with too. But opening God's Word and studying His character is like lifting our eyes from the viewfinder long enough to remember that the God who calls us His people has been hanging the stars in the heavens since time began. Just as He was faithful then, He will be faithful now.”
It's essentially a dual memoir - some chapters are written by Raechel and others by Amanda. They share the struggles they've faced and what they've learned about God (and His Word) during those times. As the summary says, “Sometimes it takes telling two very different stories to notice how the Truth was exactly the same in both of them.” And that's exactly what happened in these pages.

This isn't a book about how to study the Bible - though it does illustrate why you should. And it isn't a book about She Reads Truth, the ministry. If you're interested in what led them to create it, how they launched it, etc., you won't find that here. It's truly a book encouraging you to spend time in God's Word and to remember His faithfulness. The book felt a little bit repetitive at times, but I liked that their theme was pointing you to the permanence of God and His Word.
The good news of the gospel is that our internal paradox of faith and faithlessness does not disqualify or dismiss us from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Lately, I think I've treated reading the Bible like it's a duty and not a privilege. I'd misplaced that sense of awe and reverence, so She Reads Truth was a perfectly timed reminder and encouragement. I loved reading it, even though I did bawl my eyes out at one point, and I'm so glad this challenge was the catalyst. This vulnerable, relatable memoir (and call to action!) was just what I needed in this season of my life.
Release Date: October 2016 | Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Pages: 224 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my third 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? 
I bought this book in October 2016, so not too long!

2. What about this book made you want to read it immediately?
I'm a big fan of She Reads Truth, but I had no idea that the women who started it were writing a book. While wandering around Barnes & Noble one night, the title and bright yellow on the cover caught my eye. I read a few pages and decided like I had to take it home to read immediately. Better late than never?

3. Why did you end up waiting to read this book?
Probably because it's non-fiction. Although I love reading non-fiction, I find that I'm more hesitant to pick it up. I think it's because it typically takes me longer to read because I don't "binge" it the way I would a fiction book. I kept it by my bedside for a few weeks before moving it to my bookcase when I realized I still hadn't started it.

April 12, 2017

"Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done."

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Release Date: October 2014
Publisher: Random House; Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Add on Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. 

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Thoughts on Just Mercy
Although it's a New York Times bestseller, I don't think I would have discovered Just Mercy if it wasn't for Facebook. It ended up on my radar after I saw it repeatedly mentioned (and highly recommended!) in the comments on a post about empathy. And this book wrecked m, so I would have missing out if I'd never read it!

Just Mercy is written by a lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most in need. In the US, those are the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. By sharing the stories of the people he has defended, Stevenson paints a profound and moving picture of our shared brokenness and the power of mercy:
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.
I'm slow to read non-fiction, and a book about prison and the justice system is not something that would typically pique my interest. But I requested a copy from the library, assuming I'd try it and likely return it. Y'all, I was immediately gripped by what I was reading and couldn't put it down. I read passages aloud to my husband, highlighted numerous quotes, and could not stop talking about what I was learning. I had no idea our justice system was so flawed, so harsh for the poor or people of color, and so easily abused.

Although it's well written and full of compelling stories, it's a difficult read because it's so shocking and depressing. A significant portion of the book focuses on Walter McMillian, a man who was sentenced to die for a murder that he insisted he didn't commit. Reading about Stevenson taking on his case - and learning what he uncovered in the process - left me flabbergasted. That case anchors Stevenson's book, but there are so many other stories interspersed throughout. And truthfully, they left me speechless.

Stevenson writes, "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned." And he makes a compelling case for truth of these words in his book. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished. And honestly, I wish it was required reading for everyone. Stevenson writes with passion, and I loved his conviction that we all need mercy, justice and unmerited grace.

So Quotable
I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

April 11, 2017

“I believe in deeds, not words.”

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Release Date: December 2010 (originally 1983)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atheneum BFYR
Pages: 260 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Song of the Lioness #1

Summary (from Goodreads)
Alanna of Trebond is no ordinary girl: her dream is to become a knight. So she disguises herself as a boy and begins training at the palace of King Roald. Alanna quickly finds out that the road to knighthood is not an easy one, but her skills and stubbornness help her become friends with Prince Jonathan and his followers. At the same time, Alanna makes an enemy of the prince's uncle, the overly charming Duke Roger. 

Here begins Alanna's first adventure, one that will lead not only to fulfillment of her dreams but to a magical destiny that will make her a legend. 

Brief Thoughts on Alanna
I bought a set of all four books in the Song of the Lioness series after seeing so many readers rave about them. I felt like I saw so many readers point them as one of the ways they were introduced to the fantasy genre as a child. Then, Gillian's Literary PSA: So You Want to Read Tamora Pierce sold me on them. I'm probably going to break a few hearts, but I wasn't a huge fan of this book. There are probably a few factors at play, but here are the top four:
  1. What I'd heard about it. So many readers have called this series an all-time favorite, which means I had really high expectations. While I will keep reading to see if my feelings grow as the story progresses and the characters mature, I probably wouldn't continue the series if I didn't know how much people love it.

  2. When I read it. You can't turn back time, obviously, but I think I might have liked this book more if I read it when I was the target audience. It just seemed so young to me! The writing didn't stand out, and the book was over right as the story was getting interesting. But I did like the characters!

  3. What I read before it. I've seen a lot of people talk about how this series contributed to their love of the fantasy genre. It seems like this book paved the way for a lot of today's YA fantasy. But I couldn't help comparing it to what I've already read and loved, and it just didn't measure up!

  4. How I read it. I ended up checking out the audiobook from the library, and I thought the narrator was just okay. I listened to most of the book on 2x speed, and I probably missed some details because of it. Or, at the very least, didn't connect to the characters like I might have if I'd read it myself.
I wish I'd lowered my expectations a little before going into this book, but I'll be curious to see how my feelings change (or stay the same?) as I continue the series.

So Quotable
“Alan, you seem to think we won't like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you're different?”

April 10, 2017

March 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

Happy April, darlings! I love welcoming spring, aside from all the pollen that makes being outside slightly miserable. March was a good month for reading and family fun, so let's ignore the fact that I barely blogged.

1. Colleen Oakley Signing - I kicked off the month by celebrating Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley! I adore this author and her books, so I loved being able to attend the launch party for her recent release. If you haven't read this book yet, let me convince you to pick it up immediately. It's already on my "Best of 2017" list!

2. Mindy Project Pencils - This is a silly thing to include, especially since there are "bigger" things I could talk about from March, but I truly do love these pencils! I had them on my Etsy wishlist for a while and finally bought them. The quotes are just too perfect, and they look so cute on my desk. Now I want the Grey's Anatomy set...

3. Samantha Shannon Signing - I'd had The Bone Season on my TBR since it came out in 2013, When I found out Samantha Shannon was coming to Atlanta, I knew I needed to finally read it so I could decide if I wanted to go to her event. That led to me bingeing all three books in about a week and now I WANT THEM ALL!

4. Family Adventures - We made several fun family memories in March! We got to hear our boy say his first word (our dog's name), see the joy on his face as he got to use the swing we bought for our backyard and laugh at his newfound love for yogurt. PS: This petting zoo made for a cute picture but was actually terrible.

Read 12 Books | Favorites:
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon
Corruption by Jessica Shirvington
She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams

Honorable Mentions:
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon 
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.
An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation.
Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer
from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“Knowledge in dangerous. [...] Once you know something, you can't get rid of it.
You have to carry it. Always.”
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

“Never allow yourself to believe you should be silent.”
The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

 “I find myself wondering which is more egregious, to pretend to be happy when you’re not,
or to feel so consistently dissatisfied when you should be happy.”
First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

 “When I’m zoomed in on my fear, I can’t see the faithfulness of God
and the steadfastness of His covenant.”
She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams
Well, March was a bit of a bust when it came to blogging! I kicked off the month by recapping February 2017. Then, I recapped what I read in February with my Quick Lit: February 2017 post. Finally, I reviewed Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley - a new book from one of my favorite authors and already on my "Best of 2017" list! And that was it... Haha! Oh well, tomorrow is a new day.
1. Major Reorganization Goals by Lauren from Bookmark Lit - I love basically everything Lauren posts, but this post caught my eye because I've got all these to dos floating around in my head... and half-finished projects hanging around my house/computer/brain. This was a reminder that I need to write down my goals!

2. So I Quit Drinking by Sarah Bessey - I don't know anything about Sarah Bessey, but I saw this post shared on Facebook in March and immediately saved it. It was beautifully written, honest and relatable. I loved her thoughts on the value of conviction and the perspective of seeing it as an invitation. 

3. 15 #TryPod Recommendations for New & Seasoned Podcast Listeners by Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy - Another month, another favorite post from Anne Bogel. Haha! I sporadically listen to podcasts, but I saved this for reference in the future. Am I the only person who struggles to balance music, audiobooks and podcasts?

Favorite Song: "Every Little Thing" by Carly Pearce
I found this song through author Bethany Chase. She mentioned it in an Instagram post
because "it's kind of turning into the mantra of my current book." I WANT THAT BOOK!

Favorite Album: ÷ (Deluxe) by Ed Sheeran
This was probably a given, right? I've been anxiously awaiting this release, and it didn't disappoint! 
I honestly think it might be Ed's best album yet. (And no, I can't pick a favorite song.)

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) starring Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington - Nick and I had been interested in seeing this movie when it first came out but never made it to theaters. We finally watched it in March and loved the story. It's almost hard to believe that it's based on a real person - it's that inspiring! The movie itself wasn't a total favorite for me, but it was still worth watching to learn about Desmond Doss.

Vampire Diaries, Season 8, starring Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder - I made no secret about the fact that I still watched The Vampire Diaries. Although I lost a lot of interest after Nina Dobrev left, I kept tuning in to see what would happen to the Salvatore brothers. But I wasn't sad to learn the show was ending this year because it was time. The series finale was in March, and I was really pleased with the ending overall!

The Americans, Seasons 1-3, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys - Nick and I were looking for a new show to binge, and I suggested The Americans based on what I'd heard about it. Although I hate the sexual content, we've been obsessively watching it! The secret spy business, political maneuvering and complicated emotional tension has me hooked. Plus, I've loved Keri Russell since her Felicity days so it's fun to see her in this role.

Bargain Books: The Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, Golden Son and Morning Star by Pierce Brown 

From Signings: The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon and Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Just Because: Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker

From Kelly: Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer and Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn 

From Lauren + Danielle: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

For Review: Corruption by Jessica Shirvington, The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen M. Flynn, The Secrets You Keep by Kate White, The Translation of Love by Lynne Katsukake and The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

NetGalley: The F Word by Liza Palmer, Beartown by Fredrik Backman and Purple Hearts by Tess Wakefield

Kindle Deals: The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center, Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon, Swipe Right by Levi Lusko, Falling Free by Shannan Martin, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp and Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

April 3, 2017

"... you need a little help, sometimes, getting happy again."

At the end of last year, I went on a major Middle Grade kick and ended up buying a ton from Book Outlet. It was one of those shopping binges where I later wondered why I didn't just request most of the books from the library. But hey, lack of self control is what led to the Picky Pledge in the first place so is anyone really surprised?  
The Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu ended up in my cart because I knew that Alexa from Alexa Loves Books and Estelle from Rather Be Reading were both fans of the author and of this book in particular! Although they didn't specifically tell me to read it, I still chose it for February's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt - "A Book You Bought Based on a Recommendation." When I was checking out my shelves, it immediately caught my eye. I love the cover, and the summary seemed right for my mood.

At its heart, this is the story of four sisters. The youngest, Silly, is feeling more left out than usual. Her older sisters treat her like she's too young, but Silly knows something isn't right with their mother. And she sees her sisters sneaking away to their rooms together and returning with glittery cheeks and golden hair. When she finally learns the truth, it's more magical than she ever could have imagined. But what appears to be the family's saving grace just may turn out to be its undoing...

I don't know if I would have read this book if I hadn't seen my friends raving about it - and I would have missed out on something special! It blends family secrets, serious subject matter and powerful magic into a story that felt like a fairy tale. I wasn't expecting the book to tackle heavy themes like alcoholism and abuse, but I felt like it was handled very carefully. It seemed, to me, to walk a delicate line of sharing enough detail to potentially spark important conversations while remaining vague enough that it doesn't require further discussion.

There's a dreamlike quality to the book, especially when combined with Haydu's lyrical writing, that infused everything with light even in the darkness. There aren't answers to every question you may have about how the magic works, but I liked the ambiguity. I loved the focus on the complexity of family, on forgiving others and ourselves, and on hope and healing. It was a sad, heavy read that was so unique. 
"Sometimes people are haunted. And ghosts aren't white things in sheets. They're the scary bits of the past that follow us around."
My heart grieved for the sisters - and all the kids like them who grow up in homes with addiction and uncertainty and pain. The girls discover an escape, but they also learn that healing won't come from hiding. I loved that they ultimately found an anchor in one another, even though there was so many secrets and screw ups along the way. And honestly, I thought about the book long after I finished. It was an unforgettable introduction to Haydu, and I definitely plan on checking out more from her in the future.
Release Date: September 2015 | Publisher: HarperCollins; Katherine Tegen
Pages: 336 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my first 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 book we read!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
Not very long! I purchased a copy in October 2016, but it was on my radar for about a year before that.

2. Who recommended this book to you?
I bought it based on the praise of Estelle and Alexa, though they didn't specifically suggest it to/for me.

3. Do you know (or have a guess) why they recommended the book for you?
I cheated a little by choosing this book for this challenge prompt because I didn't buy it based on a specific "you should read this!" recommendation. However, I did buy it because my friends loved it - so I think it still counts! If that had recommended it for me, I think they would have done so because 1) they love the author's writing, 2) it has a magical realism feel to it and 3) it's about a group of sisters. I love all three of those things!

March 31, 2017

"One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died."

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Gallery Books
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Author; ARC
Add on Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died... 

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from. 

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition... 

Thoughts on Close Enough to Touch
I fell totally and completely in love with Colleen Oakley's debut, Before I Go, when I first read it back in 2014. It's the story of a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is about to celebrate three years of being cancer-free but learns that her cancer is back with an aggressive stage four diagnosis. Y'all, it earned a spot on my forever favorites shelf immediately. Here's how I'd try to sell you on it in one sentence: both heartbreaking and hopeful, Before I Go captures the blessing of love, the beauty of life, and the burden of leaving both of them behind. (And yes, I'm beginning my review of Oakley's most recent book by trying to make sure you've already read her previous one. Because I loved it that much!)

Now, let me press pause on my Before I Go book pushing so that I can convince you to pick up Close Enough to Touch. I was honestly so nervous before starting this book. Before I Go was Colleen's debut - I had nothing to compare it to and no backlist to binge once I was done. What if this story didn't live up to my expectations? Or suffered from that dreaded sophomore slump? I knew there was a good chance I'd still love her writing style, but I still tried not to get my hopes up when I opened to the first page. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about! Colleen has written another moving story with unforgettable characters.

The first chapter begins with a sentence that made me sit up and take notice: "One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died." I'm sorry, WHAT?! And the story that followed was just as interesting and compelling as that beginning promised. Jubilee Jenkins has an incredibly rare medical condition: she's allergic to other humans. After the kiss that almost killed her, Jubilee has become a recluse. But her safe and predictable existence is turned upside when her mother dies, forcing her to finally face the world outside. That's when she meets Eric Keegan, who just moved to her small New Jersey town for work. His life feels out of control: his marriage has failed, his daughter is no longer speaking to him and his adopted son is obsessed with telekinetic destruction. Eric and Jubilee soon realize that they may be able to help each other in ways they never expected.

Chapters alternate between Jubilee and Eric, which I loved. I'm not always a fan of multiple POVs in a book, but it definitely worked in this case. It helped me to get to know the characters better and become more invested in their stories. And though they are facing such different personal challenges - one incredibly rare and one perhaps a little more relatable - I thought there was a lovely commonality between them. They're both struggling and feeling disconnected from the world. And that helped me understand why they'd be drawn to each other but still seem so guarded and unsure of everything because of their histories.

Although their relationship was at the heart of the book, there were a number of other relationships that I really loved. Jubilee had a really difficult relationship with her mother, which affected her entire life. On one hand, her mother enabled her by making it possible for Jubilee to live with no financial responsibilities for nine years. But on the other hand, her mother basically abandoned her physically and emotionally. That complex family dynamic was fascinating and one moment in particular made me so emotional. Then there's the burgeoning friendship between Jubilee and Madison, someone she knew in high school. And you can't forget Jubilee's new co-workers and patrons at the library where she finds a job - each memorable in their own way!

But my favorite relationship in the book is the one between Jubilee and Aja, Eric's adopted son. I don't know if sharing any details about how Aja came into Eric's life would be considered a spoiler, so I'll just avoid it out of caution. But I will simply say that Jubilee and Aja share a special kinship - she understands him and can communicate with him in a way that Eric doesn't. There's a scene between them that totally made me cry, and I don't cry easily while reading! My heart ached for the pain Aja experienced and the ways that he tried to cope with his grief. But I loved that he found a kindred spirit in Jubilee and that she helped him open up.

There are moments of pain and joy in these pages, and I would definitely describe this as a character-driven story. It may not always seem like a lot is happening, but I loved the way the characters were fleshed out. They were human - prickly, occasionally unlikeable, somehow both impulsive and cautious, but still people you come to love. There's an Epilogue in this book, and I won't say much about it except: I WAS ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER. But whew, I breathed a deep sigh of contentment when I closed the last page and then rushed off to email Colleen to tell her that she gave me a minor heart attack. You know, nothing major.

I already knew that I loved Colleen's writing, but this book just sealed the deal. Close Enough to Touch was a story of family - the one you're born with and the one you discover along the way - and finding the courage to face your fears. It's an unlikely love story, a testament to the power of stories, and a reminder that we all long to feel connected to people. It was so delightful to read and will definitely be on my "Best of 2017" lists at the end of the year. So, grab a copy and discover its beauty for yourself! (And add a copy of Before I Go to your cart while you're at it, if you haven't read that one yet. #sorrynotsorry)

So Quotable
"... and I know that if I've learned anything, it's that love is messy. It doesn't come to us in a perfect box all wrapped up in a bow. It's more like a gift from a child, crayon-scrawled and crumpled. Imperfect. But always a gift just the same."
*I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

March 10, 2017

Quick Lit: February 2017

One of my worst blogging habits is my inability to write about what I've read in a timely manner. So, I'm trying something new: recapping what I read at the end of each month and linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy. I feel like "traditional" reviews have declined in popularity, although I'll still be writing some every month, so I'm hoping this will be a fun way to share what I'm reading. The exception will be review books that I can't discuss yet! 

If you missed it, in February I recommended seven recent adult contemporary releases: Results May Vary by Bethany Chase, We Were on a Break by Lindsey Kelk, My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, Who's That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane, The Young Wives Club by Julie Pennell, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld and The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I also reviewed The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, which was lovely. 

I'll have reviews for three more books - Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley and Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce - coming up later in the month.

LAB GIRL BY HOPE JAHREN | I'm not a science person, but Lab Girl was on my radar due to all the excellent reviews I'd seen. I was so excited to listen to it on audiobook, and it didn't disappoint! This memoir highlights a passion for the world around us, a dedication to uncovering mysteries at the tiniest level and the way a friends can push each other towards greatness and become family in the process. Jahren's love for science is interwoven with the story of her life, and it made for fascinating reading. It was outside my comfort zone, but I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, the science, the sense of adventure and Jahren's narration. And I'll never look at plants quite the same way again! It was a little tedious at times, but I So Enjoyed It overall.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND JEREMY MCCARTER | At the end of 2016, I finally caved to the hype and listened to Hamilton. Y'all, I get it now. Can you say obsessed? I've had the Original Broadway Cast Recording and the Mixtape on repeat ever since, so the only logical next step was the dive into the book. I spent a few weeks slowly reading through it, and I have a whole new appreciation for the musical now! I was already astounded by Miranda's talent, but the book just reinforced his creative genius. I loved learning about his writing process and inspiration, and it was amazing to see how everyone brought his vision to life on stage. I So Enjoyed It, and now I'm dying to go to New York City to be in the room where it happens!

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY BY MARY ANN SHAFFER AND ANNIE BARROWS | The first time I read this book was long before I started blogging. I remember loving everything about it! I'm not a huge fan of epistolary novels in general, but the format just works so perfectly for this story. I knew it was time for a re-read and settled on audio based on reviews. That was an excellent decision! The audiobook has multiple narrators, and they're all fantastic and brought the story to life in a whole new way. I felt like I was the one receiving the letters! I loved these quirky and lovable characters, the charming Guernsey setting, the format and the picture of how stories bring people together. What a delight, and I'm So Obsessed With It.

THE NIGHTINGALE BY KRISTIN HANNAH | I've owned this book since it came out in February 2015, but I never made it past the first chapter whenever I'd pick it up. There isn't anything wrong with the beginning - I'd just always set it aside and think Maybe later. But when the audiobook became available at my library, I decided to try again. And this time, I was hooked! I could not stop listening to the story - the narrator was wonderful, but it was the story that was absolutely unforgettable. Vianne and Isabelle are living in France during WWII, and they both fight to survive in different ways. I laughed, I cheered, I gasped, I cried... it was an emotional reading experience, to say the least! This was a riveting and heartbreaking read, and I'm So Obsessed With It.

THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE BY JOSHILYN JACKSON | The first book I read by Joshilyn Jackson was a total bust, and I never finished the second one I attempted. But I was determined to try one more time! Jackson's writing is engaging and her characters are vivid, but there was still something about the story that wasn't quite right for me. Paula Vauss is a divorce attorney in Atlanta who is still dealing with scars from her childhood. The blend of Southern storytelling and Hindu mythology and the shifts between the present day and Paula's past were occasionally frustrating. That being said, I did enjoy the way it explored family, guilt, forgiveness and new beginnings. It was an odd read, but I thought about it long after I'd finished. So, I'd say I So Liked It.

DARK MATTER BY BLAKE CROUCH | Last year, I signed up for Book of the Month Club because they had a special offer that I couldn't resist. I thought it would be a fun way to read something that I might not pick up otherwise. This title definitely falls into that category! It's a blend of thriller and sci fi, and it reminded me of a darker and more twisted version of Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It's gotten rave reviews, and I definitely couldn't put it down once I started! I liked the main character, Jason, and was caught up in his race to uncover the truth of what's happened to him. Try to avoid spoilers for this one! Although the science element went over my head, I loved the relational aspects of the story. I So Enjoyed It but found the ending unsatisfying.

THE HIDDEN GALLERY BY MARYROSE WOOD | I read the first book in this series, The Mysterious Howling, last year because I loved the cover. The summary sounded cute, sure, but I truly picked it up for superficial reasons. Thankfully, it turned out to be utterly delightful! I knew I wanted to continue the series and was thrilled to see the audiobook available through my library. It's read by Katherine Kellgren, and I can honestly say she's my absolute favorite narrator. The book is delightful on its own, but she added so much to it! Although the plot is a bit thin and the mystery at the heart of the series is unfolding a little too slowly, the characters are so engaging and the writing is so clever. This book was just so much fun, and I So Enjoyed It!

FINDING AUDREY BY SOPHIE KINSELLA | After falling in love with Kinsella's latest adult release, My Not So Perfect Life, I decided to try this book next. I bought the hardcover at a bargain bookstore but ended up borrowing the audiobook from the library. It's narrated by Gemma Whelan, and I thought she did a nice job. This book is the story of a girl, Audrey, who is suffering from social anxiety and is trying to face her fears and move forward with her life. The subject matter was more serious than I would have expected from Kinsella, but I felt she handled it really well. But there was also her trademark humor, which I loved, and a quirky and endearing cast of characters. I was rooting for Audrey from the very start! This was such a gem, and I So Enjoyed It.

What have you been reading lately?

March 6, 2017

February 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

February is one of my favorite months, even though the weather is usually dreary, because my birthday is on the first and Nick's is on the twenty-ninth. And y'all, I'm blaming all my book acquisitions on my birthday... Oops!

1. Celebrating My Birthday - This isn't a great picture, so I hope you'll forgive me! I spent the morning of my birthday hanging out with my boys, then we met my mom and Grammy for lunch.,and they took our little peanut home with them for the afternoon. So, Nick took me shopping, and I got some awesome goodies.

2. Beatriz Williams, Amber BrockKaren White Book Signing - I recently discovered FoxTale Book Shoppe and immediately put this signing on my calendar. I've only read one book by Beatriz Williams, even though I own all of them (I KNOW), but I've been hoping I'd be able to meet her. What a bonus to meet Karen and Amber, too!

3. Enjoying the Gorgeous Weather - Honestly, it didn't even feel like February! Sure, there were some cold and/or rainy days... but the month overall was so lovely. We took advantage of the weather and visited the park, went on walks around the neighborhood and hung out on a blanket in the backyard. It was heavenly.

4. Setting Up My Desk - I mentioned to Nick recently that I wanted my own desk because I often end up blogging at the kitchen table (and then it's a mess). I wanted my own space and realized that I already had the perfect area - it just needed a refresh! That became my project in February, and I'm thrilled with the result.

Read 12 Books | Favorites:
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Honorable Mentions:
Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu
The Hidden Gallery by MaryRose Wood
“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume,
and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

“Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one's genes
and ignorance on one's education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this:
in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“The world was full of us, the leftovers and the leavers, the bereaved and the broken.”
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

“I can't help thinking that we're more than the sum total of our choices,
that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.”
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“[A]s Agatha Swanburne once said, 'To be kept waiting is unfortunate,
but to be kept waiting with nothing interesting to read is a tragedy of Greek proportions.”
The Hidden Gallery by MaryRose Wood
I kicked off the month by recapping January 2017, and then I finally finished the 2016 End of the Year Book Survey. I love that post once it's done, but I always put off answering the questions! Then, I posted Will You Be My Valentine? and highlighted seven swoony books for any mood. It was fun to talk about some recent adult contemporary releases that I'd recommend! I followed that up with So Obsessed With: The Winter 2017 Edition. It's so fun talking about seasonal favorites for my beauty, my closet and my entertainment. Finally, I reviewed The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan and featured it in the most recent edition of Buy the Book
1. 30 Things I Learned by 30 by Kelly from Belle of the Literati - I always love posts that are reflective, so it's practically a given that I was going to bookmark this post from my sweet friend, Kelly. I've learned some of these lessons myself, and it made me pause and think about what I'd add to her list. That's the best kind of post!

2. Guess What! by Morgan from The Bookish Beagle - This was one of THE BEST announcements in February! I just love Morgan and think she brings so much to the bookish and blogging world, so I'm ecstatic that she's launching her own blog. SUBSCRIBE, Y'ALL. She'll have you fangirling alongside her in no time!

3. Your Afternoon Chat: Books! Books! Books! by Jessica from Go Fug Yourself - The Fug Girls talked about books again in February, and I loved reading through the comments. It was fun to see people recommend books that I already love and find new books I want to check out. My TBR just keeps growing.

Favorite Song: "Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt
I discovered Sam Hunt years ago (when he only had a mixtape you could download for free), 
and I've been obsessed ever since. I listened to this song a lot in February!

Favorite Playlist: All Out 00s by Spotify
I was browsing Spotify playlists one day, came across this one with hits from the 2000s 
and ended up spending a lot of time reminiscing on high school and college! 

The Light Between Oceans (2016) starring Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender - All I wanted to do on my birthday evening was order BBQ from my favorite local place and watch this movie. I hadn't been able to see it in theaters and bought it as soon as it was released. I enjoyed the book and adore Alicia Vikander, so I had high hopes. I loved it, but it was a terrible choice for my birthday -- I cried my eyes out watching it! 

Book Depository: Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

Bought at Signing: Overseas by Beatriz Williams and A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock

Bought with Gift Cards: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees, On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins, The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams, My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, The Hidden Gallery by MaryRose Wood, Gemina by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee and Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

Book Outlet: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller, The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson, A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab and The Unseen Guest by MaryRose Wood

Bargain Buys: The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig, Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

From My Mom: The Gateway to Storyland by Watty Piper

From Cassie: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (not pictured)

From Kelly: The Perfect Stranger and The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie and The Secret by Julie Garwood 

For Review: Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson, Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue, The Emperor's Ostrich by Julie Berry and Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Audible Deals + First-in-Series Sale: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, Ross Poldark by Winston Graham, Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin and Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Caved to Kindle Deals: After Hello by Mhairi McFarlane, A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn, and A Fatal Grace and The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
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