Quick Lit: May 2017

Jun 30, 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! 

Yes, you read the post's title correctly. I am finally posting my May Quick Lit. To be honest, I had most of these mini reviews written at the beginning of June but kept forgetting to take photos of the books. Oh well! 

If you missed it, in May I reviewed The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon, Disruption and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington and The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I reviewed a number of other books in June, but I'll link to those in my June Quick Lit post.

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID | I don't want to begrudge an author the opportunity to write in a new genre or try something completely different. But if I'd read this without the author's name attached, I'd never have guessed the truth in a million years. This didn't have any the trademark TJR qualities I've come to love, and it breaks my heart to say it. Every character in this book was incredibly unlikeable, a number of aspects of the plot were just too convenient, the ending was awful and the theme/message was done in such a heavy-handed way. I'm so very sad to say that I So Disliked It.*

A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN BY SARAH J. MAAS | If I had to choose my "most anticipated book of 2017," it would be this one. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and re-reading the first two books in April just increased my excitement tenfold. Thankfully, it completely lived up to my expectations! The action was intense, the emotion was palpable, and I loved exploring more of the Courts in this world. But it was the characters who truly brought this book to life and have made this series an all-time favorite. I adore the Inner Circle - individually and as a group! While ACOMAF is the best in the series, ACOWAR was amazing and I'm So Obsessed With It.  

HUNTED BY MEAGAN SPOONER | This is a book that ended up on my radar because I kept seeing other bloggers talk about it. In this Beauty and the Beast retelling, Yeva (Beauty) must track down her father after he disappears while hunting a mysterious creature. Her search leads her to a ruined castle, a strange Beast and a curse. While I enjoyed the descriptive writing and the wintery fairy tale vibe, the pace was just so slow. It felt like nothing was happening! And I wasn't very invested in the characters, which was a bummer. I was So Okay With It overall, but I'm definitely in the minority with that opinion so it's probably worth a try for fans of retellings!

GOODNIGHT FROM LONDON BY JENNIFER ROBSON | Goodnight from London is set during WWII and is the story of an American journalist, Ruby Sutton, who is given the chance to move to London to report on the war. I thought the story had a lot of potential, the time period was well researched, and the focus on a war reporter felt unique among most of the WWII fiction I've read. However, it was just lacking that bit of oomph for me. I found most of the characters forgettable, the plot a bit too predictable (possibly because I've read a lot of this time period) and wasn't emotionally invested what was happening. I was So Okay With It for those reasons.*

THE ROYAL WE BY HEATHER COCKS & JESSICA MORGAN | This book is one of my all-time favorites - and not just because I love Go Fug Yourself and modern royalty! Bex Porter is an American who falls in love with Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. It's loosely inspired by William and Kate, but it definitely stands on its own merits. You can read my original review for more in-depth thoughts on why I love the book so much, but I can now recommend the audiobook version, too! Narrator Christine Lakin was such a delight to listen to, and she somehow managed to make me love the book more - even though I was already So Obsessed With 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.

'You and I are not monsters. If anything, we’re miracles.'

Jun 29, 2017

Although it came out in 2015, Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was never really on my radar. I wasn't crazy about the cover, and I zoned out the few times I scanned the summary. There's something about the words "motorcycle race" that just made me mentally dismiss the book. However, I felt like I kept seeing people talk about it earlier this year - which surprised me since it's not a new book. When I spotted it in Audible's "First in Series" sale in February, I loved the narrator's voice in the sample and decided to buy it. So, it immediately came to mind for June's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt: "A Book You Bought on Audio."

Wolf by Wolf is historical fiction... except it's not. It's an alternative history: set in 1956 and in a world where the Axis powers won World War II. Yael, a former death camp prisoner, is tasked with one mission by the resistance: assassinate Hitler. The reclusive Hitler always attends the Victor's Ball at the end of an annual motorcycle race, and last year he allowed the winner of the race to dance with him. Yael is uniquely qualified for the mission because she possesses the ability to skinshift (due to human experimentation in the camp). So, she's able to impersonate the previous winner, Adele Wolfe, in this year's race. But she doesn't count on Adele's twin brother, Felix, entering too... or the watchful eyes of Luka, another rider.

There are two main timelines in the story: Then and Now. Now is 1956 and follows Yael through the motorcycle race. It introduces treacherous characters who'll stop at nothing to win, surprising moments of kindness, the harsh reality of spending that much time on a motorcycle, the fear of being discovered, the complication of a twin brother tagging along, and the threat of a secret connection between Adele and a boy. 

Then is the story of Yael before - of how she became. It is the train journey, the camp, the Doctor, the needles, the loss, the escape, the resistance... It's all the moments in Yael's life that have led to this one. She has five wolves tattooed on her arm that cover the numbers marking her as a death camp prisoner and serve as a tribute to the loved ones she has lost. They are the reason she fights. And in Then, you get to hear their stories. 

I'm not always a fan of dual timeline, but I absolutely loved it in this book. I was swept up in the action of the motorcycle race - and in the fear that someone would uncover Yael's secret. In the portions in the past, I was moved by the suffering Yael experienced and all that had been taken from her. It allowed me to see so many sides to her: the fighter, the survivor, the victim. And through it all, I admired her strength of will.

I enjoyed the pacing of the book. The portions leading up the race and during it are exciting and nerve wracking. There's so much on the line and so many ways it could go wrong. But I liked the shift to the past, too, and how those portions were a bit slower. I never felt like the Then sections interrupted the flow of Now. Instead, they added depth by fleshing out all the reasons Yael must not fail at her task.

Listening to Wolf by Wolf on audio exemplified why I love this format so much. Narrator Christa Lewis brought so much to the story - everything from accents to a richness of emotions. I honestly think I loved the book more because I was listening to it than I might have if I'd picked up the hardcover. I was completely immersed in the story! And as soon as the book ended, I hopped on Audible and bought the sequel, Blood for Blood, so I could continue. The audio made it such a wonderful reading experience.

I can't tell you anything about the plot of Blood for Blood because it might spoil the ending to the first book. I'll just say that it increased the tension and the stakes tenfold. I loved the way it shifts to focus primarily on three characters. While Yael still anchors the book, it was wonderful to have her story juxtaposed with two others that were quite different. There were twists that I didn't see coming, and Graudin made several choices that surprised me. I was racing to find out how it would end, and I honestly didn't expect to be so emotional. 

In case you can't tell, I loved reading Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood! If I've convinced you to give them a try, I hope you'll strongly consider listening to them on audio. I just can't say enough about how much I loved the way Christa Lewis narrated! But no matter what format you choose, these books are worth reading. The writing, characters, and plot were all on my mind long after the books were over.

PS: Pretend that I took a photo highlighting the audio editions instead of the hardcovers. #struggle
Narrated by: Christa Lewis
Release Date: October 2015; November 2016 | Publisher: Hachette; Little Brown BFYR
Pages: 400 pages; 481 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Audiobook 

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

1. How long has this book been on your TBR?
Not long - only since February of this year! I had older, unfinished audiobooks in my account, but they're all be re-reads. I figured I'd choose something new-to-me, even though it hasn't been on my TBR very long!

2. Why did you choose to buy it in audiobook format? 
Although Wolf by Wolf came out in 2015, it wasn't on my radar until earlier this year. I kept seeing people talk about, and then I noticed it in Audible's "First in Series" sale. I couldn't resist because I loved the sample.

3. Would you listen to more audiobooks with this narrator?
I would! Christa Lewis added so much to the reading experience that I feel like I probably loved the books more than I might have if I'd just read the hardcover myself. She exemplified why I love this format!

'For a long time we didn't know what we wanted.'

Jun 28, 2017

There was something about the shift from spring to summer that made me think of The Penderwicks. I'm sure it's partly the fact that the novel takes place over the course of one exciting summer. But there was something else to it - I was longing for the charm of the story and the feeling of nostalgia that I got when I first read it. It was released in 2005, but I remember thinking that it read like a classic and could easily find a home next to my well-worn (and very loved) copies of books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.

It's not historical fiction, though there are moments where I find myself imagining that it's all happening in the past. But Birdsall's lovely writing, the charming characters and the sweet (and funny) plot give it a timeless quality that I just adore. The first book in the series is the story of the four Penderwick sisters and their father, a widower, who spend their summer in a rental cottage on a large Berkshire estate. I loved it the first time around and decided to re-read it recently when I couldn't get the book off my brain.

One of my goals with The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge was to tackle books on my TBR that I had purchased prior to this year. They didn't necessarily have to be older books, but I wanted to feel like I was making a dent in stuff that was already sitting on my shelves. I've done pretty well so far, but I cheated a little bit with the "A Book You Bought Because It's the Next in a Series" prompt. 

In one way, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street has been on my TBR for five years. I finished The Penderwicks back in 2012 and always meant to continue the series. However, I technically just bought a copy of this book for myself last month. That's why I said I kind of cheated with this one. But when I decided to re-read the first book, I figured this prompt was the perfect excuse to dive into the second! I'm glad I did, even though I probably should have read one of the "next in series" books that I've owned for ages.

I finished my re-read of the first book in a day - and loved it even more than I had originally! I started the next book a few days later, and for some reason it took me a week to finish it. This is a Middle Grade novel, so it's technically something that would be pretty easy to finish in a day. I love the writing, but it's definitely accessible and not difficult to get through. The plot is adorable, but it's not too complex. Truthfully, I think I just wanted to savor the reading experience. I didn't want to rush through it and on to the next book.

In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the sisters and their father are back at home for the fall. Adventure follows them wherever they go, but this time it's one they all desperately want to avoid: Mr. Penderwick's sister has decided it's time for him to start dating again. The girls come up with the Save Daddy Plan to make sure they don't end up with a stepmother. It's hilarious and heartwarming!

If I had to choose, I think I liked the story in the first book a bit better. There's something magical about the summer and all the mishaps the sisters get into in their little rental cottage. The second book, by contrast, is a bit more serious. There's still a lot of humor and hijinks, but the prospect of Mr. Penderwick dating (and how each sister reacts to it) casts a more serious shadow on the novel. That being said - I loved how it all turned out!

But it's the sisters that brought me into this series and will have me reading it again and again in the future. I'm always drawn to stories about sisters, and these are two of the best sister stories that I've read. The girls have so much depth! I love the different storylines they each have and how they all converge for the main conflict of their father's decision to date (four years after the death of their mother). I find myself smiling and laughing the whole time I'm reading. Take, for example, this conversation between Jane and Skye:
“Jane,” she said, climbing down from the chair. “Remember last year when I built that model wind tower for you and you wrote those poems for me?”

“And you said you'd never switch homework assignments with me again.”

“For good reason. My teacher had a hard time believing I wrote Tra-la the joy of tulips blooming, Ha-ha the thrill of bumblebees zooming. I'm alive and I dance, I'm alive though death is always looming. When I finally convinced her that I had, she asked me if I needed to talk to the school counselor.”
That moment cracked me up! I just find these books so charming. They're a little on the slow side, but they aren't boring at all. While I was reading, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I'd like to listen to these on audio. I bet they're wonderful read aloud! I feel like I haven't talked that much about what happens in the books or exactly why I love them, but the truth is that it's hard for me to explain it. There are so many reasons I could recommend it, but the biggest one is the way I feel when I'm reading them. It's like returning to my childhood and to the books that made me a reader. And what more needs to be said beyond that?
Release Date: April 2008 | Publisher: Random House; Knopf BFYR
Pages: 320 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover

This was my fifth 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 finished the first book in 2012 and planned to continue the series. So, in that respect, this book has been on my TBR for five years. However, I didn't actually buy the book until last month. 

2. What made you want to keep reading the series? 
I loved the first book because it reminded me so many of my favorite childhood classics, and at the time it was immediately something that I could picture myself reading aloud to future children. There is a timelessness to it that I just love. Thankfully, that feeling continued with the second book!

3. Will you continue reading this series?
Absolutely! I'd planned to read all four back-to-back, but then I got sidetracked. I'm hoping to finish the other two books by the end of the year (and then the fifth and final book whenever it's released). 

'Life is not just a series of triumphs.'

Jun 27, 2017

If you're reading this, you're probably wondering who you are... You are me, Samantha Agatha McCoy, in the not-so-distant future. I'm writing this for you. They say my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.
And so, The Memory Book by Lara Avery begins. Sammie has always had a plan for her future: win the National Debate Tournament, graduate valedictorian, study at NYU and become a lawyer. She's on track to complete several items on her list... and then she receives devastating news during her senior year of high school. Sammie is diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that will soon steal her memories and her health. She creates the Memory Book: a document with notes to her future self so she can remember the details of her life.

Although it was released in July 2016, I didn't really hear anything about it until the end of last year. It was included in several "Best of" lists on blogs I follow, and then just so happened to go on sale for Kindle around the same time. It felt like kismet, and so I clicked the "Buy now with 1-click" button without a second thought. 

When I was pondering what to read for April's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt - "A Book You Bought Because It Was on Sale" - this was one of the first things that came to mind. I didn't buy it solely because it was on sale, but it was a big part of the reason I purchased it so soon after hearing about it. This category is probably my biggest book buying weaknesses: I can't resist a book that intrigues me if it's a great price. 

However, I can't completely bash my bad habit because it paid off with The Memory Book! I have a feeling I'll be re-reading this one in the future. Within the first few chapters, I was hooked. I loved Sammie's voice because it felt so authentic. I could imagine her - this girl who knows herself inside and out until she learns something life-changing about her body. Early on in the book, Sammie writes:
Then your mom forced you to join a club, and debate team was the first table at the club fair. (I wish it were more epic than that.) Anyway, everything changed. The brain you used to employ memorizing species of aliens you used instead to memorize human thought, events, ways of thinking that connected your tiny house tucked in the mountains to a huge timeline, one just as full of injustice and triumph and greed as the stories you craved, but one that was real.
My heart broke for her from the moment I learned about her diagnosis, and the ache grew with every page as she became a new version of herself. Although many of the physical changes were debilitating, I mourned the fact that she was going to lose her memory - the strength that had come to define her in many ways. Sammie is a unique character. In fact, you might even say she's weird. She doesn't quite fit in with most people, but I still loved her. The attachment grew with each new detail in her Memory Book because you could see how hard she was fighting to maintain her sense of self and her independence. She's not ready to give up on her dreams.

As I was reading, I kept forgetting just how serious her condition was because she had such a great sense of humor. She's awkward and nerdy and intense and focused - and even though I should have seen the ending coming, it still caught me by surprise. As I wrote on Goodreads when I finished - 4.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because EMOTIONS. Yeah, I had a lot of them. A lot. It didn't help that I finished it in bed at 1 a.m.

But I didn't just love Sammie. I loved her parents, her siblings, her longtime crush, her debate team partner, and her neighbor and childhood best friend. They each play a significant part in her life, and I appreciated the honesty with which Sammie wrote about them. You get immersed in her world - and you truly grasp everything she's losing and everyone whose lives will never be the same without her. The notes from her parents and siblings near the end of the book made me BAWL. MY. EYES. OUT. I'd share a quote from it but looking one up made me start to cry again so NOPE. I can't even go there right now.

I selfishly wish there hadn't been a love triangle, solely because I wanted her to be with the right person for as much time as possible. There were a few aspects of it I didn't like, but I can't talk about them without spoiling things. But I will say that once it was all sorted out, the romance was so unexpectedly sweet. Plus, it was one of my favorite tropes so that earned bonus points! I look forward to re-reading this one for many reasons, but this specific relationship is definitely one of the biggest. 

The Memory Book caught me by surprise. I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did or to be so emotionally invested in these characters. I've thought about this book several times since I finished it and have even flipped back to re-read a few of my favorite passages. And honestly, I don't do stuff like that very often. Sammie was an unforgettable character, and I was moved by her story. I highly recommend this book! 
Sometimes life is really terrible. Sometimes life gives you a weird disease.  Sometimes life is really good, but never in a simple sort of way.
Release Date: July 2016 | Publisher: Hachette; Poppy
Pages: 368 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Kindle e-book 

This was my fourth 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 in December 2016, so it's only been on my TBR for a few months.

2. Do you remember how much you paid for this book? 
I bought the Kindle edition for $2.99!

3. If you bought this book secondhand, will you keep it or replace it?
Although I didn't buy it secondhand, I only own a digital copy. But I want this book on my shelves and am trying to decide if I want the US hardcover or the UK paperback (which has an amazing cover). Maybe I'll get both!

Welcome to Haven Point

Jun 26, 2017

When a publicist reached out to me about reading Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne for review, I was over the moon. Y'all, I discovered this series at the end of last year and quickly became obsessed with it! Here's how it all started: in December, I'd been chatting with Kelly from Belle of the Literati about her love for holiday romances. That conversation and the fact that I couldn't stop watching Hallmark holiday movies put me in the mood for that type of book. But I didn't know where to start because I typically avoid the romance genre!

However, as luck would have it, I was browsing Amazon's Kindle Daily Deals page around that time and spotted Snow Angel CoveRedemption Bay and Evergreen Springs for $0.99 each. I won't lie: I primarily wanted to read the books because of their covers. They're so pretty! Instead of just starting out with the first book, I fully committed and bought all three. Although this bookish habit has backfired on me in the past, it was the right call with this series. I started the first book on December 19, and I finished the fifth on December 25. 

It was the best kind of series binge, and I made a mental note to talk about them on my blog. But, of course, I never got around to it. Thankfully, being invited to participate in the blog tour for the release of Serenity Harbor on June 27 ended up being the perfect motivation! I didn't want to just talk about the new book, so I'm gushing about the series overall. Don't worry, there aren't any spoilers! Here are six reasons y'all need to visit Haven Point (each is loosely matched with a specific book, but the reasons apply to the series overall):

Your introduction to the town of Haven Point is through the eyes of Eliza Hayward in Snow Angel Cove. She arrives in the little mountain town to find that the job she was counting on has gone up in flames... literally. Aidan Caine thinks he has the solution to her problems, even though she's skeptical. But she's desperate, too, and will do whatever it takes to provide for her sick daughter. As soon as I started the first book, I knew I was in for a treat. Thayne writes such lovely, charming characters. It's easy to reduce them to quick descriptors (like the downtrodden single mom or the workaholic tech genius), but the books let you see their hopes and fears in ways that make them feel realistic. While I could relate to some characters in the series more than others, I enjoyed spending time with all of them. They each have their charms, and I was rooting for them to find love and a place to belong in Haven Point.

Of course, I have to talk about the romance with Redemption Bay because it has one of my favorite tropes: hate to love. McKenzie Shaw is the mayor of Haven Point, and she will do anything to save her struggling town... including play nice with Ben Kilpatrick. When he closed down his family's factory years ago, it left the town's economy in shambles. Now he's back to figure out if his tech firm can open a local facility there, and a lot of old animosity is resurfacing. Needless to say, I was all in! Since I don't typically read this genre, I wasn't sure what to expect from the romances in this series. They ended up being exactly what I wanted but wouldn't quite have known how to articulate. They're sweet, pretty chaste, often slow burn, and always leave you with a smile on your face. You know when you start these books that they are headed towards a happily ever after, but Thayne makes each minute of the journey there count.

Christmas is the last thing on Cole Barrett's mind in Evergreen Springs. Ever since his ex-wife died in a tragic accident, he's barely keeping things afloat for his two kids. When physician Devin Shaw waltzes into his life, she makes him an offer he can't refuse: she'll help him make Christmas special for his kids if he'll allow her patients access to the hot springs on his property. And a little holiday magic is just what their hearts all need! Since my desire for a holiday/winter-y read is what first drew me to this series, I'd be remiss not to mention it on my list. The first, third, fifth and seventh (coming in September) books in this series are all set during the holidays - and I loved that about them! If you want to read something the captures that cheery feeling you get during the holidays, you'll want to pick up these books. But don't worry: there's lots to love about the season in the second, fourth and sixth books, too! It has its own charms.

Wynona Bailey is a police officer in Riverbend Road, so her job has always involved a certain amount of drama. But lately her personal life does, too. She wants more from her career and from handsome Cade Emmett. The only problem? He's her boss and her brother's best friend. She's convinced that he just sees her as a little sister, but Cade is keeping his distance for different reasons. When Wyn is injured in the line of duty, it forces both of them to face what they've been hiding. For me, these books just have the right amount of conflict in them. I like the different internal conflicts throughout the series - all the ways the characters avoid and/or make peace with their feelings. But I like the external conflicts too: the overprotective brothers, the natural disasters, the threatening people from the past, the life-threatening accidents, the struggling economy, etc. It helps shake up the predictability and make each book an adventure!

It seems fitting to talk about the setting with this book since Snowfall on Haven Point has the town's name in the title. Andrea Montgomery is hoping that she's finally found a place that she and her kids can call home after the death of her husband two years ago. She's already agreed to keep an eye on her neighbor, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, as he recovers from a hit and run. Neither one of them is thrilled about the arrangement, but it's hard to say no to the people in this town. And y'all, I wish this place really existed! I really like the way Thayne describes this adorable small town and how each book reveals more reasons that I wish I could vacation there. But even more, I love this community! I love picking up a book, often already knowing a little bit about the main characters, and waiting patiently for references to characters from previous books. The connectedness of each book in this series gives them a familiarity that's comforting.

I read the first five books within a week in December, so I was worried when I picked up Serenity Harbor that the charm might have worn off. Thankfully, it felt like coming home! The last thing Katrina Bailey wants to do is work for Bowie Callahan, but she knows she's the right person to care for his young half brother, Milo. Plus, she needs the money and it's just for two weeks. But a lot can happen in that time... I love all the friendships and families throughout the series. Thayne gives you so many different and unique relationships. For example, in this book alone there's Katrine's tense relationship with her mother, her love for her siblings (Wynona and Marshall, from previous books), her longing for the girl she hopes will become her daughter and her changing friendship with Samantha. I love the sense of community that exists by getting to see the characters' support systems (or lack of one). These books aren't just about the romance!

Do I need to say more? The Haven Point series is worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of sweet contemporary romances. Although I generally know how they'll end, I enjoy every second I spend in this town! I have my favorites and least favorites, of course, but the series is really consistent overall. From the lovable characters to the heartwarming setting, these books never fail to leave me with a smile on my face. They're just so fun to read, and there's something to be said for books that bring you joy. I have a feeling I'll be revisiting this town again and again in future re-reads when I need some chemistry with a dash of comfort.

*I received a copy of Serenity Harbor for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

'What kind of maniac travels in time?'

Jun 19, 2017

I'm pretty sure that everyone who loves to read has certain things that will make them automatically want to pick up a book. I call them book hooks - the topics or time periods or themes that are right up your alley and are practically guaranteed to make you add a book to your TBR pile. One of mine is Jane Austen.

But there comes a moment in every reader's life where you have to decide how committed you are to a book hook. For example, I love books about sisters but won't read a book solely for that aspect. However, Jane Austen is a different matter entirely. My obsession with her has led me to read numerous Austen retellings, a wide variety of non-fiction about her life and her works, and even a book with Jane as a vampire (which was pretty entertaining, actually). So, when I heard about The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn, I knew I was going to have to read it. After all, Jane Austen + time travel was a combination that totally piqued my interest - especially when the publicist said it was just so good!

In case you're worried, let me promise you that this book doesn't have Jane Austen traveling through time (because that concept would be asking for eyerolls). But what it does involve is even better: two researchers from the future travel back to London in 1815 in order to meet Jane, recover one of her unpublished novels, and learn as much as they can about the illness that ultimately killed her in 1817. Intriguing, right? Rachel Katzman is disaster-relief doctor and Liam Finucane is an actor-turned-scholar, but both are trained by the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics on how to befriend and steal from Jane Austen herself. They aren't the first people to travel through time, but their journey holds special significance. And their mission will prove more difficult than they ever anticipated...

Honestly, so much could have gone wrong with this novel. And I have to admit that I kind of expected it to. I was intrigued by the summary when I started it, but I had pretty low expectations because I've been let down by so many Austen-related books before. That's the risk you take when you follow a book hook into uncharted territory. However, I'm so pleased to be able to say that The Jane Austen Project far exceeded my expectations - and is already one of my favorite reads of 2017! Now, let me tell you why.


1. It's not an Austen retelling.
Although I'll read almost anything Austen-related, I can't deny that I've gotten so sick of retellings of her novels. I think it's difficult to approach Austen's well-known stories in a way that doesn't feel predictable and actually brings something new to the table. Thankfully, The Jane Austen Project was so unique - an addition that felt fresh and surprising in all the best ways! If you want a new approach to Austen, this is it.

2. The inclusion of Jane Austen never felt like a gimmick.
In addition to retellings, I've read a few too many books where Jane Austen was a character and yet seemed wildly different than I'd ever imagine her or seemed like she was tossed in there as gimmick just to snag readers. That wasn't the case in this book! I loved that Austen wasn't the main character, but she wasn't sidelined either. Flynn's depiction of her seemed so close to how I like to picture her - intelligent, witty, and sharp-eyed.

3. The somewhat mysterious future was intriguing.
Rachel and Liam travel back to 1815, but they aren't leaving from our present day. Instead, they're leaving from a future where time travel exists. Although Flynn doesn't spend a ton of time discussing their world, she provides enough details that you can see the differences - and can almost imagine a novel dedicated to exploring the future she's created. Some readers may want more info about it, but it was enough for me.

4. The time travel element actually works.
Readers who love science fiction novels may find the explanation of time travel slightly lacking in the book, but I'm not sure because it's a genre and theme I rarely read. For me, the explanation answered my biggest questions without going into so much detail that I felt confused or overwhelmed. And I loved the reason behind their journey to the past - I totally believed that someone would travel back to recover a lost Austen novel!

5. 1815 actually felt right.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the setting. Flynn brought 1815 to life in all the ways I was hoping she would when I first started the book. I could tell how much research went into the novel because the time period felt so authentic. I have an above-average interest in those years due to my love of Austen, and yet I still found myself learning new things about that time and place. I could close my eyes and picture it all!

6. The Austen family was depicted in a believable way. 
Rachel and Liam befriend Jane Austen in this novel, but they also meet her sister Cassandra and several of her brothers. In fact, they initially develop a friendship with her brother Henry in order to gain an introduction to Jane herself! I really liked seeing the family dynamics, especially between Jane and Cassandra. I told you I'm drawn to stories about sisters! Meeting the family added a deeper sense of realism to Jane's world.

7. The theory on Jane's unknown medical condition was fascinating. 
If you're interested in Austen, you probably known there's a bit of a mystery surrounding her death. She died quite young (41) after an illness that began in 1816. Although details exist regarding her symptoms, it's impossible to know exactly what ailed her. The most common theory is Addison's disease, but other possibilities exist. But Flynn's Dr. Rachel Katzman suggests something entirely different, and I loved the theory!

8. I loved seeing how their journey disrupted history.
Rachel and Liam are tasked with traveling back in time and recovering a lost Austen novel while being as careful as possible not to change the past too much. Any disruption in the past - no matter how small - can have a profound impact on the future. It's one of the things I find so fascinating about books that incorporate time travel, and Flynn explores it to great effect in these pages. At the end you'll wonder - was it worth it?

9. Rachel Katzman was an excellent heroine and a great anchor for the story.
I've spent so much time talking about the setting and the Austens, but I've barely mentioned Rachel (and Liam, too). I enjoyed exploring the past through the lens of her perspective. I liked the way she mentally acknowledged the restrictions on women in the past without barging in and acting thoroughly modern. I liked the reasons she was driven to sign up for this mission and the way she struggled with aspects of it while there.

10. The ending left me wanting a sequel!
A part of me wanted just a little bit more of Rachel's story at the end because I would have loved a firmer resolution to a particular relationship, but I wasn't disappointed or frustrated. It's just the nosy part of me that wants to know more! However, Rachel's references to The Brontë Project made me long for a companion novel with that time period and family. There are so many possibilities that could be explored!

Can you tell just how much I loved reading this book? As an Austen lover, I can be an easy sell but a tough critic when it comes to books involving her. Thankfully, this one didn't disappoint. Truthfully, it was delight! I could nitpick a little on the romance, but everything else more than made up for it. I hoped The Jane Austen Project would live up to its eye-catching cover and unique premise, but it truly surpassed them and surprised me every step of the way! Flynn's well-researched writing brought this world and these characters to life in an unforgettable way, and I highly recommend picking up this book if you love all things Austen.

So Quotable
"When you dislike someone, and yet you're attracted, your mind does strange things. Every good feature becomes another strike against them."
*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.
Released: May 9, 2017 | Publisher: HarperCollins; Harper Perennial
Pages: 384 pages | Source & Format: Publisher; ARC

Got a secret. Can you keep it?

Jun 9, 2017

Have you ever judged a book by its cover? Let's be real - who hasn't? I'm totally guilty of this cliché. A gorgeous cover can make me pick up a book with an iffy summary or bad reviews, and an ugly cover can make me turn up my nose at a book that interests me or was highly recommended. I try to curb the judgements based solely on looks, however, because I don't want to miss out on something great just because I hate the cover.

But the combination of a meh summary and an ugly cover is basically an automatic rejection... even if someone recommends it to me. And I'd admitting to this because The Mothers by Brit Bennett falls into that category for me. I kept seeing it pop up in magazines and 'Best of' lists year but dismissed it. I assumed it was too literary (not the genre for me) and hated the cover regardless. Then, Cassie read it and loved it. She didn't specifically recommend it to me, but she definitely piqued my interest when she talked about her experience with the audiobook. I moved it to my mental "Maybe" list and figured I'd eventually forget about it. But when I saw it at the library one day, I picked it up and read the first page. The next thing I knew, I was rushing to check it out because the writing enthralled me.

The Mothers is set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, and it begins with a secret:
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around in our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
That's all it took for me to take the book home with me. I immediately wanted to know more. Nadia Turner is seventeen, mourning the recent death of her mother, and rebelling against her father. She starts sneaking around with the pastor's son, twenty-one-year-old Luke Sheppard. Their secret relationship has far-reaching consequences when it results in a pregnancy and subsequent cover-up. The years pass, but Nadia and Luke are forever haunted by the choices they made that summer. It explores love and friendship, family and community, resentment and forgiveness in an unforgettable way.

There are so many things I could praise about this book, but I'd be remiss not to start with the writing. It's what helped me overcome my initial dislike of the cover and my hesitation to read it due to some of the subject matter. I have a hard time believing this is Bennett's debut novel - she writes with such maturity and depth! I bookmarked so many quotes in this book that resonated with me. Some were small gems, like:
Could you be nostalgic for a friendship that wasn't over yet or did the fact that you were nostalgic mean that it already was?
And then there were whole passages that stood out:
“But we were girls once, which is to say, we have all loved an ain’t-shit man. No Christian way of putting it. There are two types of men in the world: men who are and men who ain’t about shit. [...] A girl nowadays has to get nice and close to tell if her man ain't shit and by then, it might be too late. We were girls once. It's exciting, loving someone who can never love you back. Freeing, in its own way. No shame in loving an ain't-shit man, long as you get it out your system good and early. A tragic woman hooks into an ain't-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. He will drag her until he tires. He will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him. Yes, those are the ones we worry about.”
Because I heard so much buzz for this book, I imagined that it would be too literary or too pretentious for me. But it wasn't, and I was so pleasantly surprised! The characters were well developed, nuanced and memorable. Nadia, Luke and Aubrey (Nadia's best friend) all played important roles in the story, and I was interested in each of them. Bennett was able to create characters who were sympathetic, even when I disagreed with their choices, and I think much of that stems from how emotionally invested I was in their lives.

I believe the title of The Mothers partly comes from a literary device used throughout the novel: a collective voice that represented the women of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey's church community. These "mothers" become somewhat of a Greek chorus - commenting on what was happening and offering additional insight. I have a feeling it won't work for everyone, but I actually loved that aspect. Many of my favorite quotes came from those parts of the novel! But I think there's another layer to the title, and it stems from the fact that Aubrey and Nadia are both essentially motherless. Nadia's mother committed suicide, and Aubrey lives with her sister since her mother cares more about her whatever boyfriend she's currently shacking up with than she does about her own daughter. And so, the book explores coming-of-age without this central female figure.

I loved that it took place over a longer span of time than I'd anticipated because it allowed you to see these characters come into their own. Instead of following them through one season and only seeing the immediate consequences of their actions, you were able to see the long-term repercussions and the what if? questions that haunted each character. The ending was unexpected, but in a good way for me. I actually appreciated the openness of it, even though that sometimes bothers me. This is a book I'll definitely re-read!

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that The Mothers took all of my preconceived notions and turned them upside down. If I ever need a reminder to be careful judging a book by its cover, this is the review I'll return to. I thought I'd hate this book, and I ended up loving it. So, I was clearly wrong in my snap judgment because Bennett's writing blew me away. It tackled serious and heavy issues without feeling bleak, and I can tell that Brit Bennett is a born storyteller. She has a gift, and I'm so glad she's sharing it with the world.

So Quotable
“A daughter grows older and draws nearer to her mother, until she gradually overlaps her like a sewing pattern. But a son becomes some irreparably separate thing.”
Published: October 2016 | Publisher: Penguin; Riverhead Books
Pages: 278 pages | Source & Format: Borrowed; Hardcover

May 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

Jun 6, 2017

May was a special month full of celebrations, adventures and sweet memories. I had a hard time choosing my top four loves for the month because of it! I hope that's a sign of good things to come this summer.

1. My Baby Turned One - I can't believe that my baby is a one year old! This boy has been such a blessing and a bright spot in our lives. He's changed our family for the better, and I'm so thankful that God chose us to be his parents. We had a Puppy Paw-ty to celebrate, and it was a hit! He is one loved little boy and so worth the wait.

2. Visiting the Zoo + Aquarium - On my boy's first birthday, Nick and I took him to the Atlanta Zoo for the first time. He loved pointing to the elephants and pandas, but I think the carousel was his favorite part. Then, we took him to the Georgia Aquarium on my brother's birthday, and he loved getting up close to the glass.

3. Family Photos + Walking - We had family photos taken at the beginning of May, and they turned out amazing! I am so thankful for the talented photographer, Michele Zakeri, who captured our boy's personality so perfectly. And I decided to do two-for-one with this love because the photo worked: we have a walker! 

4. Little Bitty Kitty - At the very end of May, my brother finally got to pick up his brand-new Bengal cat. Her name is Bitty, and she's a beauty. I'm not a cat person, and even I can't help but love her! She's still shy and getting used to her new home, but my boy already obsessed with her. He can't wait to be her friend.

Read 7 Books | Favorites:
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
The Memory Book by Lara Avery
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
“Only you can decide what breaks you, Cursebreaker. Only you.”
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

“I believe that everything happened, exactly the way it had to... so I could find you.”
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

“Then your mom forced you to join a club, and debate team was the first table at the fair.
(I wish it were more epic than that.) Anyway, everything changed. The brain you used to employ
memorizing species of aliens you used instead to memorize human thought, events, ways of thinking
that connected your tiny house in the mountains to a huge timeline, one just as full
of injustice and triumph and greed as the stories you craved, but one that was real.”
The Memory Book by Lara Avery

“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.”
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
In May, I started off the month with my April 2017 recap. Then, I talked about my recent binge read of The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon. Things started off a little shaky, but I was in love by the end! Then, I talked about a duology that I fell in love with recently: Disruption and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington. I thought I was tired of dystopian novels, but these books definitely reminded me of why I loved the genre. I got to write one of my favorite yearly posts: ten reads for summer getaways! I had so much fun pairing five summer destinations with the books I'd want to read there and with some adorable bags + goodies. Finally, I recapped what I read in April with my Quick Lit: April 2017 post. 
1. 17 Books Everyone Will Be Talking About This Summer and The 2017 Summer Reading Guide by Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy - Are you surprised to see posts from Anne Bogel on my list? I'm in love with all of the content on her blog, but the book lists definitely top the list. I always look forward to her reading guides!

2. Teaching Them to 'Plot Twist' by Ashley from Under the Sycamore - I've been following Ashley's blog for a little while for the photography tips (learning on how to use my fancy camera is on my never-ending to do list) but had to bookmark this sweet post about teaching her kids to be flexible and go with the flow.

3. Why I Was Wrong About the Planner Life by Kelly from Belle of the Literati - Did I bookmark partly so I could gloat and say "I TOLD YOU SO!" to Kelly? Hmm... maybe. All joking aside, I loved having her visit and being able to introduce her to my newfound Happy Planner obsession. I love being her life coach!

Favorite Album #1: After Laughter by Paramore
I was so pleasantly surprised by this album! I was a huge fan of Paramore in college,
but I didn't love their last album. Thankfully, this one is a winner! I can't stop listening to it.

Favorite Album #2: Harry Styles by Harry Styles 
I never really listened to One Direction, aside from when they came on the radio,
but I heard so much hype for this album that I had to check it out. And it really is great!

Anne with an E (2017) starring Amybeth McNaulty - I couldn't wait for this show to hit Netflix, even though I had a feeling it wouldn't compare to the book or the original series. I enjoyed it, but only if I mentally separated it from my Anne. It takes a lot of liberties with the source material - some I could understand and some I found completely baffling. I loved many of the actors, however, and am still glad I watched it. 

Girlboss (2017) starring Britt Robertson and Ellie Reed - I wasn't interested in this show until Cassie mentioned that she was hooked on it, so I decided to give it a shot. And my goodness, talk about an unexpected obsession! I loved watching this series and thought it was so well done. Despite the fact that the heroine was often so unlikeable, I was still rooting for her. How? I have no idea. Maybe it was the magic of Britt Robertson.

La La Land (2016) starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling - I was so hyped for this movie but never got a chance to see in in theaters. When Emma Stone won the Oscar for Best Actress, it just added to my excitement. I loved these two in Crazy Stupid Love, so I had high hopes for the pairing. Unfortunately, I was sooo bored watching it. I'm not a huge musical person, which might have been part of the problem. So disappointing!

Cristela Alonzo: Lower Classy (2017), Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King (2017), Katherine Ryan: In Trouble (2017), and Ali Wong: Baby Cobra (2016) - I have no idea how I ended up binging a bunch of stand-up comics. It's so far from what I normally watch! My favorite was Hasan Minhaj, which I'll re-watch in the future. Ali Wong was my least favorite (though I loved parts) because I skipped a bunch that was just too vulgar. And I laughed the hardest at Katherine Ryan's line: Yeah, but you aren't normal... you're ordinary. It's different.” 

Hot Off the Press: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein, Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane and Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Bookstore Browsing: Here Goes Nothing by Kendra Broekhuis and The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd

Alexa: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

For Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and The Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech

Kindle: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas, Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker and The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

NetGalley: Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne
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