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

Mar 31, 2017

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

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

Quick Lit: February 2017

Mar 10, 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?

February 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

Mar 6, 2017

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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