October 23, 2017

Quick Lit: September 2017

I read 14 books in September, and I have reviews for 8 of those books (plus one from August) here today. If you're looking for more book recommendations, check out the linkup at Modern Mrs. Darcy. I shared my August Quick Lit in September, which was packed with books, and then two additional full reviews: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Y'all, I loved The Alice Network and didn't review it for months because I couldn't put my love into words. It was an excellent read.

Some of my favorite September reads aren't featured here because I'm doing a separate review for them: the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins. I raced through all five books three days - they were that addicting! But my favorite read of last month, Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas, was my most anticipated, too. I should be reviewing it here soon, but needless to say, it didn't disappoint. I love those characters so much!

The Cuckoo's CallingThe Silkworm and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith | These books weren't even on my radar until it was revealed that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling. The mystery mood struck me at the end of August, and I quickly binged the first three books in this series. Rowling's writing is, as expected, fantastic. I thought the mysteries were surprising and the characters were very engaging. 

The first mystery was my favorite because it was the most procedural. The tone definitely changes in the second and third mysteries - they're much more gruesome/gory. Truthfully, I had to skim a few parts in those books. But I wasn't really reading for the mysteries at that point: Detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, were the real draw. I love them so much, especially slowly uncovering the backstories.

The pace is a bit slow in these books, and the writing is definitely descriptive/detailed. Additionally, I'm slightly convinced that it's impossible to actually solve these mysteries until the end (but I may just not be any good at keeping track of clues along the way). Regardless, this series was so good and reminded me of why I do enjoy this genre from time to time. And now I'm dying to get my hands on the fourth after the cliffhanger of the third!

Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins | I finished Higgins' Blue Heron series and wasn't ready to say goodbye to her writing, so I picked up one of her standalones. Unfortunately, it was a dud. The humor is definitely still there, which is the main reason I finished the book. But the heroine drove me crazy: 1) giving your sister and ex-fiancé permission to date is SO WEIRD, 2) stop making up fake boyfriends and 3) why are you THIS obsessed with the Civil War?! And even the romance didn't redeem it because that was so rushed and then oddly melodramatic at the end. I'd say I'm So Okay With It, which is a bummer.

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave | I was wary when I picked this up because I hated Dave's previous book. However, I was immediately hooked by the premise: a foodie with a popular YouTube cooking show is revealed to be fraud. While I enjoyed Dave's writing, I felt like everything needed more development. It felt like the book needed to be longer, and I don't typically feel that way. The ending was rushed and unsatisfying, and the themes were so promising (how keeping up a public persona affects your personal life) but never went deep enough. I debated the rating because I did like some of it, but I think I'm just So Okay With It overall.

Broken Harbor by Tana French | I don't read a ton of mysteries, but I definitely gravitate towards psychological ones when I do. I know that's why I've enjoyed the previous books in French's Dublin Murder Squad series. She definitely focuses on the why of a crime more than the who. Sadly, however, this one didn't really work for me. The detective annoyed me, the secondary story involving his family felt largely unnecessary, the resolution of the mystery felt completely implausible and the book could have been 100 pages shorter (at the very least). I still love French's way with words, but not much else. It's definitely a So Okay With It.

The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd | This was one of those "just browsing Target and walked out with $100 worth of stuff" situations. I hadn't heard of this book before (or the blog Coffee + Crumbs). Honestly? I just liked the title and fell prey to the siren call of the red bullseye. When I finally picked it up, I was pleased that this spontaneous purchase was a winner! This collection of essays made me tear up, laugh, and underline like crazy. I found it relatable and encouraging. I So Loved It: both the celebration of motherhood and the commiseration over its difficulties. Plus, the book itself is lovely and will make a fantastic gifts for new mothers.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence* | The cover of this book caught my eye while I was browsing NetGalley one day, and I requested it as soon as I read the subtitle: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life. Although I do like the concept and books about books, Spence's writing just didn't work for me. I didn't connect with her humor, found the profanity gratuitous after a while, and ultimately found the book too gimmicky. But my biggest issue? She didn't make me want to read any of the books discussed! Ultimately, I'm So Over It - but I do think there are readers who will enjoy it if they share her taste in books.

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner | I loved the first book in this series but found the second book a little disappointing, which probably explains why it took me so long to read this conclusion. I just wasn't hyped for it! Although the "whispers" remain my least favorite part of this world, I found the world less confusing in this installment (and the pacing was better). I loved Gideon and Sofia, and I was so excited to see them interact with Lilac + Tarver and Jubilee + Flynn. The resolution was pretty satisfying, but I'd probably just say I So Liked It. It was fun while I was immersed in it, but I don't see myself re-reading it in the future.

* 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.

October 13, 2017

Creating a Capsule Library

About a month ago, I was talking to my husband about what an honor it was to moderate Sarah J. Maas' Atlanta Tower of Dawn tour stop and trying to convince him to start reading the series. In order to convey just how much Maas and her books mean to me, I said, "I mean, if I had to narrow my library down to five authors, she'd definitely be on the list. At the top." He laughed at me, but guess what he's currently reading?

Afterward, I couldn't get my offhand comment out of my mind. I started imagining a completely hypothetical situation (because you'll never actually pry my books out of my hands): if I had to narrow my library down to a limited number of authors, who would they be and why? It reminded me of a concept that fascinates me: capsule wardrobes. The idea is to simplify your closet by creating a mini wardrobe made up of essential and versatile items that you love (typically around 30 pieces). You can read more about it here.

I started to imagine approaching my library the same. I'm blessed to have the ability to buy books, the space to display them, and a love for re-reading that makes owning books so worthwhile. But if I had to narrow my books down to the essentials, what would make the list? Because choosing isn't just about listing my favorites. It's the books that make me say: I don't want to live in a world where I can't return to this world.

And so, the idea of the Capsule Library was born. I loved coming up with my answer and asked Kelly from Belle of the LiteratiRachel from Hello, Chelly and Alexa from Alexa Loves Books to join me in sharing theirs today, too. We allowed ourselves to have 10 total pieces in our libraries:
  • The Clothes: 5-7 authors (any/all of their books would be in library)
  • The Accessories: 3-5 individual books (and series couldn't be grouped into one)
I matched each author/book with an item of clothing or accessory that would be in my capsule wardrobe and explained how they were related. It was so much fun, and the end results capture my eclectic taste in books!


THE CASUAL JACKET • Jane AustenOne of my favorite item of clothing is my military-style jacket. Even when it's too hot to wear it, I love knowing that it's in my closet -- just waiting for the right outfit and season. Jane Austen is a little bit like that jacket. I don't re-read her books as often as I wish that I did, but I can't imagine a world where they aren't in my library. I just need to know that they're there when I need them.

THE CLASSIC TEE • Suzanne CollinsTruthfully, I only want Collins on my list so that I can have The Hunger Games in my capsule wardrobe. This series is my classic tee: a simple, understated basic that's a favorite for a reason. A tee may seem boring, but it's a staple of my daily wardrobe. I'll always reach for these books when I'm not sure what I want to read next because I know they'll never let me down.

THE WORN-IN JEANS • Sarah J. MaasI'm a denim girl through and through, even in summer. They're the most-worn item in my closet - and my favorite, too. And that's Sarah J. Maas for me. In any season, mood or moment, I can reach for her Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses series. They're some of my most re-read books - and my favorites, too. The time is always right for Celaena or Feyre and their friends!

THE COMFY BUTTON-DOWN • Melina MarchettaI love how versatile a good button-down shirt is, which is one of my favorite things about Melina Marchetta's books. She's written multiple genres (fantasy, contemporary and mystery), and they've honestly all been excellent. Just like my favorite button-down, I can pick up a Marchetta book and know that I won't be disappointed. It's always the right fit.

THE PLAYFUL BLOUSE • Mhairi McFarlaneWith a lot of simple pieces in my wardrobe, I knew I needed something fun, too. I love a basic blouse with some unexpected details (like embroidery or lace or pattern) that make it more whimsical. Similarly, Mhairi McFarlane's books could easily feel clichéd, but her quick wit and nuanced characters elevate them to something more. They're classic stories told in a way that feels fresh.

THE COZY SWEATER • L.M. MontgomeryI have a lot of sweaters in my closet, even though I don't always need them. But when I do, I'm so thankful to have so many options at my fingertips. And the same is true for L.M. Montgomery. I don't often pick up her books these days, but I can't imagine my library without them. There were an integral part of my reading journey! And like a good sweater, it's comforting to go back to that world.

THE DRESSY JEANS • Beatriz WilliamsI hesitated a little bit to include Beatriz Williams in my capsule library because I've only recently fallen in love with her writing. What if the obsession fades over time?! But I realized that's like my dressy jeans: they're new and still haven't been broken in, but chances are good that they'll have a forever home in my closet. Plus, I had to have some historical on my list!


THE MEANINGFUL NECKLACE • The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum • I own a lot of necklaces, but I always wear the two that are the most meaningful to me. It almost seems silly to feel so attached to an object! It reminds me of The Opposite of Love, which has been a favorite for years, gotten better with every re-read and now feels so important to me. I can't even articulate all the reasons I love it so much.

THE COLORFUL SCARF • Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center • Kantha scarves instantly make me feel like I look more pulled together. They can add some brightness and style to an otherwise basic outfit, which is a confidence booster. Plus, they just make me happy! And that's Happiness for Beginners - a book that brings me joy, helps me recognize all the good things in my life and leaves a smile on my face.

THE BASIC BOOTS • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak • The Book Thief is anything but basic, so bear with me here. It might have made more sense to include a pair of Converse in my capsule, since I probably wear them more often. But my heart wanted my boots... just like my heart wanted The Book Thief on my list, despite the numerous other books that might have made more sense based on how often I re-read them.
What authors and books would be in your Capsule Library?
I'd love to see what you'd choose, so leave your link in the comments if you do a post.
And specifically, I'm tagging Morgan from The Bookish Beagle and Cassie from The Casserole!

October 5, 2017

“Grief is a mystery to be lived through, not a problem to be solved.”

I picked up First Comes Love by Emily Giffin with a lot of trepidation. I'd always been a fan of her books... until her last one. It's been three years since I finished it, and I could still rage about it. Don't even get me started. So, as you can imagine, I started this one with lower expectations. Thankfully, it felt like a return to the type of Giffin novel that I love! I'm often not a fan of her characters' actions, but I still typically lose myself in her stories.

Despite my anger over her previous book, I still pre-ordered this one. I'm not sure why exactly, though I think it's partly because it's about sisters. That's a topic that I'm typically drawn to in books. Plus, I figured I'd only truly hated one out of her seven books - pretty good track record, all things considered. So, I decided to chose First Comes Love for September's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt, "A Book You Pre-Ordered... But Haven't Read Yet." Despite the leap of faith I took by pre-ordering it, I kept putting it off out of fear I'd hate it.

First Comes Love is the story of two sisters - Josie and Meredith - whose relationship fractures in the aftermath of a family tragedy. Josie was always the outgoing and impulsive sister whereas Meredith was more reserved and cautious. They end up on different paths in life, but they're both dissatisfied with where they're at. Josie is ready to swear off dating but still longs to become a mother, and Meredith appears to have the perfect life (great job, husband, and daughter) but wonders if she gave up on her dreams. As the fifteen year anniversary of their family's loss approaches, it forces the sisters to face the issues that have divided them all these years.

More so than any other Giffin novel I've read, this is primarily a story about family and sibling relationships. There isn't much romance to speak of, and I actually appreciated that about it. I loved the family dynamics, even when it meant I wanted to smack one (or both!) of the sisters. Giffin continues to write flawed, complicated women who aren't always likeable. If you need to root for the characters to enjoy a story, this probably isn't the book for you. One of the quotes I highlighted might help you understand what I mean:
“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.”
Both sisters have moments where their dissatisfaction with their lives feels so selfish and spoiled. However, I liked the way Giffin explored their emotions, their choices, and the way grief and loss changed them. But one of the best parts of this book was the way it portrayed the patterns you can get into in your relationships, especially within a family. The book showed the assumptions you make, the grudges you hold, the guilt you carry and the way you can see a sibling as they used to be and not necessarily as they are now... I enjoyed getting both Josie and Meredith's perspectives because it truly illustrated how there are two sides to every story.

There are a few things I didn't like about the book, but they weren't major issue. The plot was occasionally boring or too slow, and I did feel like it ended right when things were getting truly interesting. I'd actually love a sequel to find out what happens next for these sisters! And I have one super nitpicky annoyance with a phone-related thing that I would swear didn't exist in the time period where it was referenced. But the emotional and relational aspects made up for the negatives for me overall, and I'd recommend this book to fans of stories about complicated families, sisters and dealing with grief and forgiveness.
Release Date: June 2016 | Publisher: Random House; Ballantine Books
Pages: 384 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my ninth 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've owned it since the day it came out - June 28, 2016. But I knew I wanted to read it as soon as it was announced!

2. Why did you want to pre-order this book?
I've read everything else that Emily Giffin has written! Although I hated her previous book, I've enjoyed the other books I've read (some more than others, of course) and was hoping this would be a winner. I was also drawn to the summary because I like stories about sisters.

3. Did you get any pre-order goodies?
I didn't! I don't think they offered any, and even if they had I probably wouldn't have filled out the information to receive them. I almost never remember to do it in time.

October 4, 2017

September 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

I'm welcoming autumn with open arms! I had a lovely summer, but I'm so excited for my favorite season. Give me all the cozy sweaters, tall boots, mild temperatures, and delicious Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

1. Moderating Tower of Dawn Tour Event - I was so honored to be asked to moderate Sarah J. Maas' Tower of Dawn tour stop in Atlanta at the beginning of September. Honestly, it was a highlight of my year and blogging career (not just of September). I had the best time chatting with Sarah - it was such a surreal experience, and I'm so thankful I had the opportunity! I'm hoping to finally write a recap of it in October.

2. Outdoor Afternoons - It's still pretty hot in the south, but there was a little cooling off in September. For us, that meant lots of afternoons and evenings outdoors: reading on the porch, running around the park, playing in the sprinklers, blogging on the back deck and flying high on the swings. I loved getting to spend quality time outside - without being drenched in sweat - and make so many special memories.

3. Family Explorations - In addition to spending time outside around the house, we went on a few family adventures, too! We went back to the zoo for the first time since our son's first birthday, and it was so neat to see how much can change in just a few months. He was so much more aware of the animals and loved imitating their noises! We also visited some local botanical gardens, which was a fun afternoon adventure.

4. My First Book Sleeve - I've been curious about book sleeves for a while now, but I could never seem to commit. But I finally managed to snag one from Story Time Sleeve and am in love with it! I love the fabric pattern on the outside and inside (here's a closer view of both). The size is just perfect for paperbacks and many hardcovers, and I have nothing but praise for the quality of the sleeve. Now, do I need more?!

Read 14 Books | Favorites:
Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
The Blue Heron Series  by Kristan Higgins
The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd
Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
“You could find beauty nearly anywhere if you stopped to look for it,
but the battle to get through the days made it easy to forget that this totally cost-free luxury existed.”
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

 “Rowan beheld all Aelin was and is, and he was not afraid.”
Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

“Maybe love isn't just a bouquet of roses once in a while.
Maybe it's just sticking it out, when it's hard, when you're mad, when you're tired.”
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

“Because no one becomes terrible all at once. It happens in very small increments.”
Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

“Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant;
once they've cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin.
The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.”
Broken Harbor by Tana French

“I've always thought of nostalgia as kind of a sad feeling,
like a longing for what was but isn't anymore. But maybe it's more of a blessing.
It's bits of the past that have stuck around and hang in the air of the present.”
The Magic of Motherhood, edited by Ashlee Gadd
As usual, I started the month with my August 2017 recap. Next, I shared my review of The Winter Sea by Susana Kearsley for August's Picky Pledge Challenge prompt, "A Book I Was Gifted." Then, my August Quick Lit was packed with books - twelve, to be exact! And I finally reviewed a favorite, The Alice Network by Alice Quinn. 

But the two other posts I shared this month were my favorites! Three Ways I Tackled My TBR This Summer was my first discussion in a long time. It was so much fun to write that type of post and talk about the strategies I used, including seasonal reading lists (my new obsession!). And finally, I wrote about Thirty Favorite Picture Books. It's been such a joy watching my son develop a love of reading -- and strong opinions on what we read. 
I barely checked Feedly the past month, so I've got tons of blog posts to catch up on. If you've got any I should read, share the link in the comments. But here are two articles I read and enjoyed this past month:

1. Turn of the Season by Alexa from Alexa Loves Books - I really enjoyed this event that Alexa co-hosted with Kristin from Super Space Chick! Summer and autumn are my favorite seasons, too, so I loved that they found a way to recap their fave summer reads and memories and share what's on their radar for fall.

2. Five Things by Lauren from Bookmark Lit - Did I bookmark this post partly because I might want to copy it? Maaaaaaybe. Regardless, I'm excited about the changes Lauren is introducing to her blog and can totally relate to her desire to talk about more than just books. This post was a fun extension of that mission!

3. Five Star Summer - The Best Books I Read by Cassie from The Casserole - Okay, I didn't technically bookmark this so that I could come back to it later... I saved it so I could make sure I shared it with everyone else because I'm just so happy that Cassie might be blogging more this fall! I have missed her voice.

Favorite Song: “... Ready for It?” by Taylor Swift
This was a given, right? I LOVE THIS SONG SO MUCH!
I was iffy on her first single, but this one gave me more hope for the album.

Favorite Album: Coming Home by Leon Bridges
This isn't new, but I listened to it a lot this month. I already loved the song "Smooth Sailin'"
but Big Little Lies got me hooked on "River" and then the rest of the album.

I've been a fan of this podcast for a while, but I listened to a lot of episodes in September.
Their chats about books, small business and life in the South are so enjoyable!

Younger, Seasons 1-3, starring Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff and Debi Mazar - I don't know why I didn't watch this show sooner! My love for Hilary Duff should have been enough to make me tune in when it first premiered. But I righted those wrongs in September and binge watched the first three seasons. The show is so fun, even if the premise is implausible. Watching it makes me laugh - even when it's ridiculous! 

Big Little Lies (2017) starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley - I hadn't planned on watching this mini series, even though I did enjoy the book. But curiosity finally got the best of me when I saw it was a new release at Redbox. I'm not a big fan of Kidman or Woodley, but both won me over in their roles. And Reese was, as expected, wonderful! This was tough to watch, but it was well done. (The book is better.)

The Big Sick (2017) starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan - I heard about this on The Popcast and saw the trailer on TV several times over the summer, so it was definitely on my radar to watch as soon as it came to Redbox. I liked it, but I didn't love it as much as I was hoping. I didn't feel super invested in the characters. Holly Hunter, however, stole the show and was absolutely fantastic! It was worth watching for her alone.

Bought: The Good People by Hannah Kent, Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas and Faithful Place by Tana French

Gift Card: Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor

Gifted from My Mama: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Kindle: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas, Who's That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane, Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne and The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

NetGalley: Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

September 27, 2017

So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #4

I've shared three posts of favorite baby products in the past year (So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #1, #2, and #3), but I hadn't talked about books yet. I've had this post on my mind for months, and I finally made the time to sort through our ever-growing library of picture books to pick out our favorites. We spend a lot of time reading in our household, and it didn't take me long to identify our most-read books!

For a long time, we read the same 1-2 books on repeat. When my son was a newborn, we'd just read one short book before naps and nighttime sleep. It was boring, but it helped us establish a routine. I still read to him before both naps and bedtime, but now it's usually for about 10 minutes before naps and 15-20 minutes before bed (unless we're too tired to read that long). And, of course, we read throughout the day!

There's a bookcase in the nursery, and the side table next to the chair has a shelf for current favorites. We've got a basket of books in the living room, too, where we spend a lot of our time. My boy is surrounded by books! I think those two things - making reading part of our daily routine and having books readily available in the areas where we spend our time - have been the biggest ways I've helped my son develop a love of books. 

He loves having us read to him and flipping through books on his own. He's got very strong opinions on what he does and does not like, so the following list contains only books that have his seal of approval. I don't love all of his favorites, which I'll mention in my comments on each book, but many of the books are winners for both of us. And there are plenty of picture books that I love that he wants nothing to do with... haha! 

And now, here are my son's thirty favorite picture books:

1. All of Baby Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler - I found this for a few dollars at a used bookstore and couldn't resist it. We love the illustrations, the way it goes through all of the baby's adorable features (eyes, nose, tummy, etc.) and the repetition of the question "Who loves baby's _____?" with "Me! I do." as the answer.

2. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann - For a few weeks, it seemed like this was the only thing my son wanted to read! He loves pointing to all the different animals. There are no words in this book - sometimes it's fun to embellish the story as I go... and sometimes I just wish I could read out loud without having to think.

3. Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers - I love this book, and so does my son! He can be pretty opinionated on what he does and does not want to read, but this ones always gets a "YES!" It celebrates all the things babies learn to do and way they are cared for "everyday, everywhere." It's wonderful, as are the diverse illustrations. 

4. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury - This is a book that I want to like more because my son loves it. The repetition gets so old to me when I'm reading it out loud, though I'm sure that's a big part of why he loves it + all the noises are fun to act out. But shhh! - sometimes I skip over parts of it.

5. Alphaprints: ABC (and 123) by Roger Priddy - These are a big hit in our house! I think my son loves all the bright colors, the fun text, the embossed fingerprints that are fun to touch and random objects that are used to illustrate the animals. I have a feeling he'll like these for a long time! And I love that they'll help him learn.

6. Bunny Roo, I Love You by Melissa Marr - This is probably in our top five favorites from this whole list. I adore Teagan White's illustrations (the reason I bought the book in the first place). And I love every single thing about the text inside! This will be a go-to baby shower gift for me, without a doubt, because it's just so sweet.

7. Most of Sandra Boynton (The Going to Bed Book) - Boynton is definitely popular with my son, though we don't own all of her work. I don't particularly like these books, but my son doesn't really care about my opinion. Haha! We read The Going to Bed Book frequently when he was younger because it's short and simple.

8. I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak - Aww, I will always associate this book with my son as a newborn. For months, we read this book before every single nap + bedtime. It's not that I love it that much - it's just what seemed to work for him. He cried through so many books early on, but not this one.

9. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - This wordless adaptation of one of Aesop's fables is absolutely gorgeous! I try to avoid "reading" this one when I'm too tired, but my son loves it even when my storytelling is a bit lackluster. He loves roaring for the lion, pointing to the mouse and staring at the detailed illustrations.

10. That's Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal - This book was on my radar because I love the work of illustrator Teagan White. Thankfully, the story was just as lovely! The parent is reminding the child wherever they go, the parents love will be there too. It's super sentimental, but I love it all the same.

11. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman - My son loves this silly book about a family of bunnies that adopts a wolf. And I think it's such a sweet way to talk about an older sibling coming to love a new addition to the family! It's a fun book to read aloud, and the illustrations are very eye catching. We read this one a lot!

12. Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney - My son usually prefer books about animals or kids, but this is the rare exception. He likes looking at all the different construction vehicles, especially because the text includes lots of noises. The rhyming makes it very sing-songy to read aloud, and the message is a good one.

13. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers - I got this book because I loved it, and initially my son wanted nothing to do with it. It didn't surprise me because I think this will be most appreciated by adult book lovers, but recently my son has changed his tune. I'm happy because it's a lovely tribute to imagination and the power of stories.

14. Little Blue Truck (and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way) by Alice Schertle - This is a top five favorite for both of us! It's one of the first "longer" baby books that my son would sit through. We love everything about it: the illustrations, the rhyming text, the message about being friendly, and all the sound effects. 

15. The Quiet Book (and The Loud Book) by Deborah Underwood - We love reading The Quiet Book at bedtime - the perfect read aloud to wind down before sleep. I never would have thought of all the "different kinds of quiet," so I'm a fan of the concept of this one. The illustration are soft and muted, which is just right for the story.

16. Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev - Oh man, I love the message of this story: when a boy and his elephant are banned from a pet club, they create their own where all are welcome. I appreciate the diversity in the illustrations (which are also so lovely) and the themes of inclusiveness. A surprise treasure!

17. Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson - This was a random find at the library, and it's gone on our "to buy" list because my son loves it so much. It's cute to see the little boy and the bear exploring the wild - and then teaming up to have adventures together! The story is simple but sweet, and I'm a fan of the illustrations.

18. Dream Animals (and Day Dreaming) by Emily Winfield Martin - I bought these for my son this past Christmas (mostly because I love the artwork), and they were a little too long for him at the time. Now he really enjoys these books, and I like that they celebrate dreams and imagination. They're lovely books!

19. Llama Llama (gotta start with the original, Llama Llama Red Pajama) by Anna Dewdney - Y'all, we love all the Llama Llama books in our household! The illustrations are cute, the situations are relatable (like llama's first overnight trip in Llama Llama Gram & Grandpa) and the sing-songy text is perfect for reading aloud.

20. Little Critter (I Just Forgot is our favorite!) by Mercer Mayer - My mom wouldn't stop talking about how much she loved the Little Critter books when we were kids and how she regretted getting rid of them. Thankfully, my boy got quite the collection for his birthday and he loves them! These are probably our most-read books.

21. If You Give... (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a winner) by Laura Joffe Numeroff - I found a cute little box set of five of these books at Costco earlier this year and gave them to my son for his first birthday. At the time, he didn't really care for them. But lately, he's obsessed! He likes the silly antics of the animals.

22. BabyLit Primers (Pride & Prejudice is my son's favorite, and YES I'M SO HAPPY!) by Jennifer Adams - Years agoI told my mom I wanted these for my future baby. After I found out I was pregnant, she got my baby's library started. We like some of these primers more than others, but the illustrations are so cute in all of them.

23. Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller - I saw Betty talking about this book back when she blogged and bought it based on her rec. I'm so glad I did! We've been reading this one on repeat lately. I love the message, the illustrations and the way each member of the household contributes to the Thanksgiving meal.

24. A Night of Great Joy by Mary Engelbreit - This is one of the few Christmas books I've found that I like too because it explains the Nativity in an engaging way. It isn't too short or simplified, but it isn't super long either. I like that the illustrations depict kids performing the story at a Christmas pageant. It's unexpected and cute!

25. Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck - This is a more simplified Nativity story, but it was perfect last year because my son was so young. Each illustration shows a different animal or person involved in the story with a simple rhyme about their role (ex: I am the donkey, / soft and gray, / I carried his mother / from far away.)

26. The Story of Easter by Fiona Boon - This was in my son's Easter basket, and he loves it way more than I expected! This book tells the story of Easter with rhyming text and cutesy illustrations. I like that it's simple enough for my son to listen to it, but it still accurately tells the story and presents the Gospel.

27. Bright Baby: Animals by Roger Priddy - This book is basically just a bunch of photos of animals labeled with their names, but my son loves it. He likes to point to the photos, tell me the noise they make (for the ones he knows) and have me say the name. But the "Lift-the-Tab" on the cover made me think it had flaps (it doesn't).

28. Where's Spot? by Eric Hill - This, on the other hand, is a lift-the-flap book and makes a frequent appearance around here. The story is kinda dumb, but the point of this is obviously the hide-and-seek aspect. Boring but a definite favorite for my son and it's cute when he seems surprised to find Spot in the end.

29. Busy Farm by Scholastic - This is a lift-the-flap book that teaches colors, numbers, shapes, animals and animal noises. I'll often bring this one in the car because it entertains my son for a little while. I like the learning element and that it uses real photos rather than illustrations (so it's easier to teach him to identify things).

30. Let's Find Momo by Andrew Knapp - This is definitely my favorite of the four "activity" style books! The left page in each spread has four objects to find (one is always the dog, Momo) and the right page has a photo in a different setting (a bookstore, a carnival, etc.). The dog is adorable, and my son likes finding the objects!

What picture books should we read next?
I'd love recommendations!

September 22, 2017

“Hope was such a painful thing, far more painful than rage.”

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Release Date:
 June 6, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 503 pages
Source & Format: ARC; Publisher
Add on Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister. 

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose. 

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth... no matter where it leads.

Thoughts on The Alice Network
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn was on my radar because I knew how much Kelly from Belle of the Literati loved the author's Rome series. While I'll try those books someday, I was way more curious about this new release because I love these time periods. I requested it for review and was so excited when it arrived. Kelly read it first and immediately raved about it, so it didn't take me long to dive in. And I'm so happy that I can say this is one of the best books I've read this year and has become a new all-time favorite! 

Do you ever love a book so much that you just can't bring yourself to write about it? It doesn't happen to me that often, but it definitely did with this book. I finished it at the end of May, and I kept meaning to review it. It is, after all, one of the best books I've read in a long time. Who wouldn't want to push a new favorite on all their friends? Well, this is a recurring problem for me. If I really love a book, I can drag my feet when it comes to talking about it. It's so much easier to pinpoint what didn't work for me about a book than it is for me to explain all the reasons that I ADORED it. But I'll try anyway because The Alice Network MUST be on your radar...

This is the story of two women — a female spy in the real-life Alice Network in France during WWI and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 — who are brought together in an unexpected way. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried and desperate to find her cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Her search brings her into the path of Eve Gardiner, a former spy during WWI who now spends her days secluded and drinking to forget a betrayal from long ago. Eve is reluctant to help Charlie, but a single name leads them on an unforgettable search for the truth. 

Y'all, this book somehow managed to be funny, inspiring, heart wrenching, anxiety inducing and romantic. Do you have emotional whiplash from that sentence? Just wait until you read the book! I'm not usually a fan of dual timelines, but it was done perfectly. That's HUGE coming from me. Somehow, Quinn made me so invested in both stories. I never wished that one timeline didn't exist or took up less time. I loved both equally and felt both were absolutely necessary. The structure was crucial and added so much.

In addition to loving both stories, I was blown away by both heroines. They're such strong women - but in very different ways. They're both unconventional for their time, and it made me love them all the more. I loved the challenges they both overcame and how they helped each other find and face the truth. I was rooting for these women! I adored the setting and how the two time periods were distinct but complemented each other so nicely. The mystery that brings them together was compelling, tightly paced and so emotional. Quinn's writing was so lovely, too. The story came alive because of her skill with words!

Honestly, I loved absolutely everything about this book. Do you see why I have a hard time writing reviews for books that I love? I could keep praising it, but I think the gushing gets old after a while. If you're a fan of historical fiction, YOU MUST READ THE ALICE NETWORK. Sorry for the yelling, but I think it's necessary. Don't miss out on this story - it's one I haven't stopped thinking about and will be recommending repeatedly!

So Quotable
“We lingered inside our fragile bubble of happiness, the kind of happiness that sits on top of melancholy as easily as icing on a cake. I didn't want to leave it.”
* 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.

September 21, 2017

Three Ways I Tackled My TBR This Summer

Earlier this year, I realized that the number of unread books that I owned was getting a little out of control. Kelly from Belle of the Literati visited me at the end of April, and she manages her TBR like a boss. I mean, seriously, I want to be more like her! While she was here, I started to look at my shelves even more critically. Why did I buy so many books only to let them sit on my shelves? Something needed to change!

But I felt like a broken record. Buying fewer books and reading more of what I own have basically been my constant refrain during my past five years blogging. In fact, those two principles are the foundation of my goals for The Picky Pledge, a yearly accountability project that I do with Alexa from Alexa Loves Books. It's helped me work on some things, like being pickier with review books, but not so much with book buying...

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that I needed to press the reset button. I brainstormed ways to do it, and I came up with three strategies that I put into practice this summer. As the shift to fall begins, I thought it would be fun to reflect on what I did these past three months... and how it went!

I began my project in June with a book buying ban. I've attempted these in the past and have always totally and completely failed at them. But I did things a little differently this time, and I think that helped:

1. I decided to do a one-month buying ban, and I think the specific and shorter time frame helped me complete it successfully. In the past, I've tried broader "no more new books until I catch up on what I own!" type bans, and those just don't work for me long term. I wish they did though!

2. I made Kelly my accountability partner because I knew she'd keep me on the straight and narrow. She literally wouldn't let me justify anything that I wanted to buy that month. It was a firm "NO!" every single time, no matter how hard I tried to convince her.

3. I tracked it on a printable habit tracker that I bought from a shop on Etsy. I taped it to a dashboard that I use in my Happy Planner so that I was looking at it every day. It helped keep me focused on my goal!

While I'd love to stop buying books completely until I'm caught up on my TBR, I know that's not realistic for me. But this felt like the best of both worlds, and I could see myself doing it again in the future when I need to hit the pause button on my buying. It was the perfect way to kickstart this project!

The next step was to cull my TBR! I'm not opposed to culling books that no longer interest me, though I tend to do it pretty conservatively. I try to err on the side of keeping stuff if I think I might still read it. But for this cull, I wanted to be drastic. Here's what I did differently this time:

1. I got my friends involved in my mission. I sent Kelly and Alexa a spreadsheet with my full TBR (physical, audio, Kindle and review) with one request: mark anything you think I should cull. If I couldn't really justify keeping a book they'd nixed, that told me something. If I was surprised they didn't mark a book, it was often because I'd expected them to confirm my gut feeling that it needed to go. If I wanted to immediately argue about a book they marked, it deserved to stay. I saw my TBR with new eyes!

2. I did multiple rounds (over several weeks) of culling. I started with the input of friends + my gut feelings, and then browsed through Goodreads reviews (low ratings? topics/keywords I dislike? etc.). Next, I checked the library to see if I could borrow something if I wanted to read it later. Finally, I sat down and read one chapter from each book. With every round, I dug deeper into my reasons for buying and keeping what's on my TBR. 

3. I created a "cull from TBR but keep" pile for a handful of books. Typically, I try to make myself put any books I own but haven't read on my Goodreads "To Read" shelf. But that includes books I want to own but don't really plan on reading anytime soon (if ever), like pretty editions of certain classics. I may read them, but I own them more for looks or nostalgia than anything else. Now, my TBR reflects what I actually plan to read.

When I looked at what I culled, they almost all had one thing in common: I justified buying them because they were on sale. I can't tell you how many Kindle Daily Deals and used bookstore finds didn't survive the cut. But I noticed some similarities with what I kept. And that helped me formalize my new book buying mantra:
"For my collection" gives me the freedom to buy new editions of books that I collect, and "from an author I love" allows me to buy stuff I haven't read before from a trusted author. "For a series I'm reading" specifically includes those last two words because I often buy an entire series before I've even started it. And finally, "that I've read and want to own" is probably my favorite reason to buy a book because it doesn't add to my TBR!

I'll occasionally make exceptions, but it does help me approach book buying a little differently. Because a bargain is only a good deal if you're actually going to use/read something! I don't want to be the bookish version of the extreme couponer with a bunker of products I never would have bought if they weren't on sale.

My first two strategies for tackling my TBR were things I've done before with varying levels of success. I used a few new principles that helped me stay on track more than I had in the past, but that's it. The third strategy, however, was the true gamechanger. And it's the real reason that I was inspired to write this post!

At the end of May, I created a Summer Reading List shelf on Goodreads. I went through my TBR and picked 40 books with one goal in mind: read as many books as possible from this list over the summer. I tried to choose a wide variety of options: fiction and non-fiction, Adult and Young Adult, older titles and newer releases, and multiple genres (with a bit more contemporary since that's what I'm drawn to in the summer). I didn't have to finish the list or exclusively read from it. But it would be my reference point when I thought, "What should I read next?"

In my July 2017 recap, I included a blog post by Christine from Bucking Bookshelves entitled: "The appeal of limited choices... and the irony of my overflowing bookshelves." In the post, Christine shared how having a limited number of books available while  on vacation helped her read from her own shelves. But, as you might expect, it was harder to keep the ball rolling once home and faced with stacks of unread books.

I loved the post because it perfectly aligned with my little reading experiment. And Christine's discovery reflected what I found to be true this summer: having a smaller, curated reading list made it easier for me to tackle my TBR. The specific, limited list of books made it easier to choose what to read next and helped me focus on an achievable goal. The length of the list was long enough to give me options but short enough that it didn't overwhelm me. The variety on the list gave me something for almost every mood. And the fact that my goal wasn't to read everything on the list gave me enough freedom that I didn't feel pressured or obligated.

In fact, it became a bit of a challenge. Although summer isn't officially over, I started reading from the list on June 1 with the intention of wrapping up by September 1. I wanted to spend three months with the list as my reading guide before checking on my progress. So, how did I do?

I was so pleased with my results! I read 42 books total for June, July and August - and 64% of them came from my summer reading list. That's not to mention the fact that I read 7 other books from my TBR. If you add those to my two re-reads, 86% of what I read this summer was something I already owned. That's so much progress on my TBR! I can't remember the last time I read so heavily from my own shelves.

In fact, I've decided to continue the challenge by creating a Fall Reading List. I've got a whole new set of books from my TBR, and I can't wait to see what I accomplish over the next several months. I carried over a few books from my summer reading list, but the majority is an entirely different selection. I have more fantasy and mystery, since those genres call to me in the fall. I included some new releases I've pre-ordered, a series or two I want to binge, and a handful of older titles I just haven't gotten around to yet.

For the first time that I can remember, my Goodreads To Read shelf is below 100 books. It will probably be a while before it's at my ideal number of books, but I actually feel like I'm headed in the right direction. While I hope to continue to implement buying bans and TBR culls when they're necessary, I'm fully embracing the concept of Seasonal Reading Lists. It's a little soon to say for sure, but I think they're going to have a big impact on my TBR and my reading habits. Creating a list and checking off books was so much fun!

Have you used a ban, a cull or a reading list before?
What strategies do you use when your TBR is out of control?
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