'Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did.'

Jun 30, 2018

If you read my blog post yesterday, then you probably already know that I loved everything about Beartown. I don't know why I put off reading it for so long! I'm glad I did, however, because I was able to pick up the recently released sequel, Us Against You, soon after I finished the first. Still reeling from the emotional events in the first book, I thought I was more prepared for the second. I wasn't. But I was sucked back in from the very first lines:
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We'll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.”
I won't go into too much detail about the plot, but Us Against You picks up after the events in Beartown. The community was divided in the first book, and the fissures get worse in this book when the town learns that their local hockey team will soon be disbanded. Tensions are higher than ever, especially because former Beartown players are now on Hed's team. The rivalry between the two cities runs deep, and it exacerbates all the dissatisfaction and division that already exists within Beartown. Of course, things eventually come to a head.

Although you probably don't have to read Beartown first, I strongly suggest that you do. The beginning of Us Against You does revisit what happened in that book, but I think Backman's strength is in his character development. And Beartown is a character in and of itself. If you miss out on all that backstory, I'm not sure you'll fully understand how the town and the people who inhabit it got to this point. It's significant information!

Why should you pick up this book? Because Backman delivers another emotional, engaging and unforgettable story. If you read and loved Beartown, you probably want to know what happens next. So, you should read it for that reason first. But, beyond that, you should pick this up because Backman returns to characters you've grown to love and introduces you to new characters who will surprise you. He brilliantly depicts the way people are complex and proves yet again that he has a keen understanding of human nature. 
“The worst thing we know about other people is that we’re dependent upon them. That their actions affect our lives. Not just the people we choose, the people we like, but all the rest of them: the idiots. You who stand in front of us in every line, who can’t drive properly, who like bad television shows and talk too loud in restaurants and whose kids infect our kids with the winter vomiting bug at preschool. You who park badly and steal our jobs and vote for the wrong party. You also influence our lives, every second.”
Truthfully, I can't do this book justice. Backman writes in a way that is wholly unique and hard to describe. But I can't get enough! He infuses the story with so much emotion. I felt like I was on the verge of tears the entire time I was reading. I was simultaneously desperate to know what would happen next and dreading getting to the end. I care so deeply about these characters and am so invested in their futures that it's hard for me to believe they aren't real. I have no idea if there are plans for a third, but I've got my fingers crossed because I need more. 

Us Against You was on my list of best books I've read so far in 2018, and I know it will make my final list at the end of the year, too. Almost nothing I've read this year has compared to this book. It succeeds on every level: profound writing, a thought-provoking story, and well-developed characters. Backman rips my heart out but still gives me hope. This story will stay with me for years! Despite the heaviness, I know I'll re-read Beartown and Us Against You many times over because books like this don't come around very often. 

So Quotable
“He’s twelve years old, and this summer he learns that people will always choose a simple lie over a complicated truth, because the lie has one unbeatable advantage: the truth always has to stick to what actually happened, whereas the lie just has to be easy to believe.”
Release Date: June 2018 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 448 pages | Source & Format: NetGalley/Kindle & Hardcover/Bought

* I received a copy of each book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my review.

'This is the story of how we got there.'

Jun 29, 2018

It only took one book for Fredrik Backman to become one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read  and loved My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here. So, there's no excuse for the fact that it took me more than a year to read Beartown. It was always there, in the back of my mind, but I kept putting it off. The sports-focused summary didn't appeal to me, but I knew that the book would be a character study. And from the first two sentences, I was hooked:
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's head, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.
It's hard for me to articulate all the reasons I loved this book. I supposed I should start with the fact that Backman was born to tell stories. Every word and phrase seems to be chosen with such care. And you know what's hard for me to wrap my mind around? His books are translated into English! If it wasn't printed on the book's title page, I would never guess. I have so much appreciation for this translator, Neil Smith, because he makes it feel seamless.

Backman's previous books contained more humor and whimsy, and the tone of this one was a departure. But, for me, the writing still felt so consistent with what I've come to know and love about his work. Rather than focus on one main character, as he has in the past, a place is the character at the heart of this story. Beartown is in the middle of nowhere and has almost nothing to show for itself. Except for its junior hockey team. 

This small town lives and breathes hockey... and probably dreams of it while they sleep, too. I'm not a sports person, but I was still swept up in this narrative. Backman helps you understand why hockey is revered, how it has come to represent so much more than a game, and the way it's holding the town together. So, what happens when something happens that rips that community in two? That's what Backman explores in this novel.

I don't want to spoil what happens to change everything, but I will say that it's devastating. Backman focuses on numerous characters, something that I normally dislike. But it felt so necessary for this story, and I'm thankful he wrote it this way. You'll get to know some of the key team members, fellow students, parents, politicians, business owners, and local bullies. Some of the characters are central to the entire story, and others have brief roles to play. All serve a purpose and are complex and richly drawn. If you love character-driven stories, this is for you.

What I loved most about this book is that it made me think. It's been a month since I finished, and I can still feel my mind drifting to some of the questions raised in this book. Do sports teach teamwork  and selflessness or breed groupthink and entitlement? How do you choose to react in the present to something that threatens your future? When an accusation is leveled against someone, who do you believe? What does it mean to be loyal?
“There are few words that are harder to explain than 'loyalty.' It's always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”
Beartown is an emotionally draining read, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I honestly loved everything about it! It's about so much more than a town obsessed with sports. It's timely and relevant to the world today, but I can see it being just as impactful a hundred years from now. Technology marches on, but human nature stays the same. And Backman explores the best and worst of what it means to be a parent, a coach, a friend, a teammate, and a sibling in these pages. I can't get these characters out of my brain, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether this is your first and fourth Backman, I hope I've convinced you to read it! This was on my list of best books I've read so far in 2018, and I know it will be on my final list at the end of the year. It's stunning, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. It further cemented Backman's place on my "auto-buy" list, and I cannot begin to tell you how many lines I marked in these pages. Nothing I've read in the weeks since I finished this has compared... until I got to the sequel, Us Against You. I'll be sharing my thoughts on that one tomorrow!

So Quotable
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”
Release Date: April 2017 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 418 pages | Source & Format: NetGalley/Kindle & Hardcover/Bought

* I received a copy of each book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my review.

Finding New Favorites in 2018

Jun 28, 2018

One of my favorite Top Ten Tuesday topics has always been "Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in ____." When I didn't see it on the schedule for this summer, I decided to go ahead and write the post anyway! We're halfway through the year, and I've blown past my Goodreads Challenge goal. It's going to be so hard for me to compile my 2018 favorites in December, but here are the strongest contenders from the past sixth months:

1. Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh This is the sixth book in the Survivor's Club series, which I binged back in March. While I thoroughly enjoyed the entire series, this is the book that's stayed in my memory. It made me cry more than once, and that doesn't happen often to me! I'm still thinking about one scene in this book, in particular, months later. Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie almost made this list but the tears gave Balogh a slight edge.

2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – I honestly didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did! The summary and cover didn't really appeal to me, but a recommendation from Estelle finally convinced me to give it a try. I picked up a copy while in the UK with Kelly, and I fell in love with the heroine and her story when I read it this month. And I noticed a lot of parallels to Jane Eyre, which made it a fun reading experience.

3. The Virgin's War by Laura Andersen  Thank goodness Kelly won our March Madness bet and made me read this book! I'd enjoyed the Boleyn trilogy but wasn't super motivated to read this series. I would have been totally missing out! All three books are great, but the third was definitely my favorite. I finished it at 1 a.m., crying and spamming Kelly with texts about everything that happened. If you like alternate history, I hope this is on your radar!

4. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly – I'm cheating a little bit with this book book because I'm pretty sure I read it years ago, but I honestly didn't remember anything about it. Reading and obsessing over all 1,865 pages of this trilogy in a week in January definitely earned it a spot on my list, and this one was my favorite of the three. I just love these characters so much, and I'm already anticipating re-reading this in the future.

5. My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan – I'm ashamed that I still haven't written my review for this book because I adored it! I studied abroad in Oxford for one summer in college, and I was transported back there in these pages. The story went in an unexpected direction, but I came to love it by the end. I'll be buying the audio for future re-reads, especially because Whelan is an accomplished narrator and reads her own book.

6. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – As someone who generally dislikes sci fi, I'm so surprised by the depth of my love for this series. I read the first two books last year, and re-read them before this was released in March (even though I still remembered what happened in both!) because I already wanted to revisit the characters. This conclusion didn't disappoint. I loved how everything came together, and how it surprised me!

7. A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas – This book almost didn't make my list, but I had to give it a spot for my emotional investment alone! I know why this has gotten mixed reviews – and don't entirely disagree – but I'm ultimately so glad that it exists. I appreciated getting a glimpse at what's happening in the Night Court and within the Inner Circle, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book. The teaser at the end broke my heart!

8. Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman – Cheating again, I know! Sorry that I made this a two-for-one special, but I needed to mention both. I read these in the past month, and I can't stop thinking about them. I am confident this duology will be on my final "Best of 2018" list in December. Backman has created unforgettable characters, and he is a born storyteller. I just want to soak up all his words and savor them slowly.

9. Still Me by Jojo Moyes – It's a miracle that I even read this book. I couldn't stand After You and practically swore this one off when it was announced. Thankfully, Kelly convinced me that the ending made the journey worth it. She was, as usual, correct. Now that I've read all three, I can appreciate the second more. The last book brought everything full circle. It wasn't perfect, but this was the hopeful future that Lou deserved – and I needed!

10. Act Like It by Lucy Parker – All three books in this series deserve a spot on my list because I'm legitimately so obsessed with all of them! I think the first has a little more of my heart because the characters are my favorites, but add Pretty Face and Making Up to your TBR list, too. Parker is a master at swoon, sass, and the right amount of drama. The writing, characters, setting, story – I love it all! I've pushed her books on so many friends already.

What's the best book you've read so far this year?

Check Your Neck: My Thyroid Cancer Story

Jun 22, 2018

Two years ago this week, I had surgery to remove my thyroid. I've mentioned past health issues on the blog before, but I've always been vague about it. I process things privately, and I've never been sure how much I wanted to open up to the Internet about personal things. But I realized recently that I wanted to write about it now that I've got some distance. It was a memorable time in my life in its own right, but it also coincided with the birth of my son. My first surgery was when he was six weeks old, and he was fifteen weeks old when I had my second surgery. It's an understatement to say that I never expected this would be my early motherhood experience.

But that's the thing about life: you never know what's coming next. And so, I want to take a second to share my story. You might be a regular blog reader or, if you're anything like I was in the days leading up to my thyroidectomy, maybe you got here from a Google search. Whatever the case, I hope this helps you in some way.

My journey with my thyroid goes all the way back to middle school. Seventeen years ago, I had half of my thyroid removed due to benign nodules on it and never had to take medicine because the remaining half of my thyroid produced enough hormone. I'd revisit the story when people asked about my scar or when filling out patient history paperwork at a doctor's office, but I never really thought about it beyond that.

Then, in March 2016, my mom mentioned that it looked like I had a lump in my neck. I was eight months pregnant, and it was the last thing I wanted to hear. I went back to the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor and an ultrasound confirmed a growth on my thyroid. The next step was a needle biopsy, but the doctor wanted to wait until my baby was born. I added a reminder to schedule the appointment to my to do list and then focused on the present.

My son was born soon after, and I was in heaven. But there was this little cloud stealing some of my sunshine. I was so happy holding my son, reveling in the love I already felt for him, but I needed to know what was going on in my neck. So, two weeks after he was born, I went in for the biopsy. The pathology came back inconclusive but suspicious, and the ENT felt the rest of my thyroid needed to be removed as soon as possible. I was three weeks postpartum, hormonal, and emotional. Those early days as a parent are overwhelming no matter what situation you find yourself in. Nothing can truly prepare you, and this was something I'd never anticipated.

In the days leading up to my surgery, I alternated between complete denial and total obsession. I'd put it out of my mind for a while, and then I'd find myself reading thyroidectomy stories online for hours in the middle of the night. HUGE MISTAKE. The Internet is one big horror story. I discovered that very few people write about their surgery experience if it goes well. You only read about the bad ones! I wasn't as worried about the surgery, since I'd been through it before, but having no thyroid terrified me. The inside of my brain was like a broken record!

How long would it take to get my thyroid dosage right? Would I gain weight? Would I ever feel like myself again? What if it was cancer? What if I had to get radioactive iodine therapy and had to be sequestered? Would I be able to breastfeed after surgery? Could my baby come to the hospital? How would I get through a night away from him? 

L: Post Op Surgery #1 | R: Post Op Surgery #2

The day of surgery came, and things went well. There are so many details about it that I think I'll always remember – and so many that I have already forgotten. I remember the kind anesthesiologist who calmed my fears, the nurse that let me hold my baby after surgery (even though it was against the hospital policy), the way I was my most outgoing and chatty self while sitting in a hospital bed.

And I remember the phone call a week later when my doctor told me that I had thyroid cancer.

The next few weeks passed in a blur. I started my thyroid medication, met with my endocrinologist and discussed the next steps, and did my best to focus on my reality instead of all my what ifs. But there was something that I couldn't ignore: I still had a lump in my neck (and it wasn't just swelling from the surgery). The fear, of course, was that the cancer had spread. Testing came back inconclusive, and I needed a second surgery.

The second surgery went well, and I went home from the hospital the next day. When pathology came back, it was confirmed that it had been a thyroglossal duct cyst and no cancer was found in the tissue. It was such a relief! And with that positive result, it seemed as though that chapter of my story was closed. And in many ways, it is.

Here's the thing about thyroid cancer – the most common types are the most curable. It's typically a slow-moving cancer which means it's more likely to stay contained to the thyroid. In many cases, it's completely removed with surgery. And that's what happened with mine. I didn't have to undergo radioactive iodine therapy, and the only ongoing treatment is suppressing my thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels with my daily medication.

And that's part of the reason I wanted to write this post: to encourage everyone to check your neck. Thyroid cancer doesn't usually present any symptoms, and blood tests generally don't detect it. My TSH levels were totally normal pre-op. Neck examination is the most common way a nodule is discovered. In my case, my mom noticed a lump while talking to me. Here are instructions from on how to perform your own neck check. (And if you want more info about thyroid cancer, check out the American Cancer Society and ThyCa). Please do it!

How My Scars Look Today

But there's another reason I had this post on my mind, and it goes back to a book I picked up during this time: The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Here's a quote I underlined while I was reading:
“Sickness burrowed deep inside you, and even if you were cured, even if you could be cured, you would never forget how it felt to be betrayed by your own body.”
This has been true for me. One thing I've heard a lot in the wake of my cancer diagnosis is that thyroid cancer is "the best kind of cancer" possible. I know what people mean, and I know why they're saying it. I didn't have to go through painful treatment with lingering side effects. Surgery took care of the problem! I'll have to take medicine daily for the rest of my life and consistently meet with my doctor to look for signs the cancer has returned. Both of those things are, in the scheme of things, minor inconveniences.

And yet, I've grieved over it. I know it could have been so much worse, but it's still painful. In one of the sweetest and most special times of my life, I had so much anxiety and uncertainty. Some of it still hasn't left me. I don't know if I'll ever stop wondering about what's happening inside my body. I think that's why that quote from The Mothers resonated with me and why it's taken me so long to write about what was going on that year. It's hard for me to revisit the fear and the sadness because it's not how I want to remember those first months of my son's life.

In my recent post about how I'm writing my story of motherhood, I talked about my gratitude journal and how I've made a conscious effort to see the beauty and find the good in the each season of my life. For me, keeping a three good things journal – trying to train my brain to be more positive – was what my anxious, overwhelmed self needed most during that season and has continued to be so helpful since then. I don't want to ignore the bad stuff, but I am actively trying not to retain it. I want the good things to be the story I remember!

Last year, I read a book called Lift by Kelly Corrigan. And here's what she wrote to her daughters:
“I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you’ll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won’t remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don’t even know about yourselves.”
My son won't remember those months of his life. He'll only know the stories I tell about that time, and he'll know the mom I became because of the lessons I learned that year. So, I'll tell him how we were shocked by his head of hair, how he loved to be held, how he laughed when I made up songs for him and how he was my Very Best Thing when I needed it most. A mama is supposed to take care of her baby but, in so many ways, he took care of me.

'I could not solve the puzzle of me.'

Jun 14, 2018

I heard a lot of buzz for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine when it came out last year. In fact, I even went so far as to request it from the library. But when my hold came in, I just didn't feel compelled to start it. I hated the US cover, and the summary didn't appeal to me very much. Eleanor sounded prickly and a little off-putting. In the absence of a review from a trusted friend, I just returned the book to the library unread.

Enter Estelle. She read this book in December, loved it, and told me I needed to read it, too. I've learned to trust Estelle when she specifically recommends something to me. She's introduced me to so many of my all-time favorite books/authors. In the case of Eleanor Oliphant, Estelle compared it to Attachments (a favorite!) and The Rosie Project (which I haven't read but knew enough about to understand the context). She definitely made me curious!

Then, I kept seeing it in every bookstore Kelly and I visited in the UK. I couldn't resist buying a copy – especially since I liked the cover so much better. It's been sitting on my shelves the past few months, but I started it last weekend and read the whole book in a day. Bless Estelle for bringing this goodness into my life!
“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine, as you'll discover in the first few chapters. She's almost thirty, good at her job but not progressing professionally, and just doesn't quite fit in. Eleanor thrives on routine, can't stand artifice, and is essentially alone in the world. A weekly phone call with her mother and mundane interactions with her co-workers are her only source of social connection. Then, two things shake up her carefully crafted existence.

First, she sees a musical performer, decides he's the love of her life, and dedicates herself to pursuing a relationship with him. Around the same time, she witnesses an accident on the street that introduces her to Raymond, an IT guy from her office. Both events bring a lot of upheaval into her life – the quest for romance prompts her to make a lot of changes to her appearance and habits and the growing friendship with Raymond thrusts her into a lot of new social situations. It took me a few chapters to settle in to the story, but then I was hooked.

Y'all, this book reminded me of a modern-day Jane Eyre. Those are bold words, but hear me out! This isn't a Brontë retelling, and there are significant differences between the two books... and yet I couldn't stop drawing a connection between them in my mind! Like Jane, Eleanor has had a traumatic childhood. You get a sense that something is amiss early on, but the full extent is revealed piece by piece. Honeyman explores the effect that Eleanor's past has on her present and future, which is similar to Jane's story. In fact, Eleanor reads Jane Eyre:
“I reached down into the gap between the mattress and the wall and sought my old faithful, its edges rounded and softened with years of handling. Jane Eyre. I could open up the novel at any page and immediately know where I was in the story, could almost visualize the next sentence before I reached it. [...] Jane Eyre. A strange child, difficult to love. A lonely, only child. She's left with so much pain at such a young age – the aftermath of death, the absence of love.”
Jane and Eleanor yearn for the same things: to be loved, to belong, to be valued. In Chapter 22 of Jane Eyre, the heroine thinks to herself, “There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” And observing Raymond with his mother in Chapter 10, Eleanor notes, “She looked at him with so much love that I had to turn away. At least I know what love looks like, I told myself. That's something. No one had ever looked at me like that, but I'd be able to recognize it if they ever did.”

Despite this longing to be seen and loved, Jane and Eleanor have a greater desire: to protect their independence. They have been wounded – by the very people who ought to have loved them the most deeply and unconditionally. And so, they have built walls around themselves in an attempt to guard their hearts from further hurt. They fear being dependent on anyone else because they have learned others cannot be trusted. Can you love and be loved when the very act binds you to another person? In their own words:
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”    – Jane Eyre

“Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don't find very funny, do things they don't particularly want to, with people whose company they don't particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I'd fly solo. It was safer that way. Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.”                                – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Can you see why my mind kept drifting to Jane Eyre while I was reading? There is more romance in Jane's story and more humor in Eleanor's. But the themes at the heart of both books are so similar. Jane and Eleanor are survivors, and they're unforgettable characters. I admire Gail Honeyman for writing a novel that is modern and unique but feels as though it has literary roots. There are so many layers to unpack with this one!

I know I haven't really touched on any of the things I'd typically discuss in a review like the writing, plot, setting and such. But honestly, there are more than 140,000 reviews of this book on Goodreads so you can easily find many of those details. For me, what stood out about this book – and what I will remember months from now – is the way it made me feel. Honeyman explores heartbreaking loneliness and illustrates how small acts of kindness can lead to meaningful connection. She made me ache for Eleanor and left me with hope for her future at the end.
Release Date: May 2017  | Publisher: HarperCollins (UK)
Pages: 385 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Paperback

Quick Lit: May 2018

Jun 12, 2018

I read 13 books in May, and I'm chatting about 8 of them in today's post + one book I read in 2017. On the blog this past month, I shared reviews for the Devil Riders series by Anne Gracie, the Tudor Legacy trilogy by Laura Andersen, the Huxtable Quintet by Mary Balogh, A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas and Making Up by Lucy Parker. I've read so many great series lately and have been on such a reading binge!

Soon, I'll have reviews for three other books I read in May that aren't included in this post:  Beartown by Fredrik Backman and Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas. As always, check out the Quick Lit linkup that's hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy if you're looking for more reviews and recommendations.

STARRY EYES BY JENN BENNETT | After liking Alex, Approximately, I was looking forward to this release. I'm not a huge fan of hiking or camping in real life, but I picked this up hoping that it would remind me of one of my all-time favorite books. Unfortunately, I never quite clicked with it. I liked aspects of it and wanted to find out what was going to happen, but I felt like too much of a mom while reading it. That's not the book's fault, however, because I'm definitely not the intended audience. And I liked the book less the more I thought about it after I was done, so I'm just So Okay With It. But this will probably work better for many other readers!

SOMEONE TO CARE BY MARY BALOGH* | After loving the first three books in the Westcott series, I wasn't as excited for this because of the heroine. I realize this is terrible to admit, but I didn't want to read about the mom. Give me all the young people falling in love! Thankfully, I have to eat my words – and my expectations – because this was a fun read. The heroine decides to run away with a rake from her past for a week or two of fun. But, of course, it becomes so much more. I liked the second-chance romance and the new secondary characters. If the couple had communicated better (or had just a bit less baggage), I might have loved it. But I'm still pleased that I So Enjoyed It.

HEIR OF FIRE BY SARAH J. MAAS | After I finished A Court of Frost and Starlight, I was in the mood for more Maas. I remembered that I hadn't listened to several of the Throne of Glass books on audio and couldn't resist a re-read in that format. I started with this one, the third, which I've always thought of as my favorite in the series. But I realized I haven't re-read any books past this one, so maybe I'll end up being wrong? We'll see! As expected, I loved this just as much as I have in the past and experienced ALL THE EMOTIONS. I knew what was going to happen, and I was still gasping, tearing up, laughing, and swooning over every development. I'm So Obsessed With It, obviously.

THE LONG GAME BY JENNIFER LYNN BARNES | I read The Fixer two years ago and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I kept meaning to read the sequel, and then watching the series finale of Scandal prompted me to finally pick it up. OMG, Y'ALL. Barnes holds nothing back in this installment! I was quickly caught up in the drama, hooked by the mystery, and stunned by a few of the reveals. The stakes are higher, and I'm sad there aren't plans for a third book because I'd happily spend more time with Tess! This story is begging to be continued. I haven't read many political thrillers so I'm no expert on the genre, but this was a great one. I So Enjoyed It!

CULTIVATE BY LARA CASEY | I was introduced to Southern Weddings magazine, which Casey founded, a long time ago and that led me to read Casey's first book, Make It Happen. I'd been curious about this one, but then couldn't resist when I realized how perfectly the theme fit in with my word of the year. I read this little book in one sitting and enjoyed much of what Casey had to say. It's hopeful, encouraging and filled with nice reminders about being intentional. However, it was repetitive (the gardening metaphor is heavily emphasized) and didn't seem to say anything particularly profound or new. I So Liked It, but I skipped all the sections prompting a response. 

THE FOREVER SUMMER BY JAMIE BRENNER | I started this book with high hopes... and wanted to throw it against the wall by the time I was done. There were way too many characters + storylines, so nothing was given the development it deserved. The book took place over months but read like one week of insane drama. The lackluster writing combined with the overdramatic story and flat characters made it feel like a bad soap opera. And yet, for all the chaos, the book was boring. I didn't care about anyone or anything in it. I can't even recommend it as a light, easy beach read because there are so many better ones out there! As you can probably tell, I was So Over It.

THE GREAT ALONE BY KRISTIN HANNAH | Do you ever finish a book, look at the ratings, and wonder if you read the same book as everyone else? Because that's what happened for me with this one. It has a 4.35 average rating with 60,000+ ratings on Goodreads, and I just do not get it. I was somewhat engaged with the first half of the book (though it felt repetitive), but then the second half made me livid. This book was a melodramatic mess, and it wasn't even well written! Awkward dialogue, a rushed romance, ridiculous drama, and at least 100 pages longer than necessary. YIKES. It felt like Nicholas Sparks on steroids, which is not what I was expecting. I'm So Over It

ONE AND ONLY BY JENNY HOLIDAY | I read this because the cover reminded me of a Kristan Higgins novel, and I've been looking for more books with that vibe. And I'm wondering if that expectation set me up for disappointment? I didn't like the romance at all, though it was probably more me than the book. The hero frustrated me to no end, their feelings seemed rushed, and it was a lot steamier than I expected. I skipped over a lot and was So Over It by the end. But I did love the strong female friendships! Even when the bride was being difficult, it was nice to see the friends have grace for her and recognize that the wedding stress was only temporary.

THE WEDDING DATE BY JASMINE GUILLORY* | I read this book in November 2017, it came out in January of this year... and I'm just now writing about it. Oops! I picked it up because the Fug Girls recommended it, and they didn't steer me wrong. I loved the premise: a man gets stuck in an elevator with a woman and asks her to be his fake girlfriend at a wedding. Although the couple fell into the "JUST COMMUNICATE!" trap, I still So Enjoyed It overall. The fake relationship that becomes something more is such a fun trope, and it was refreshing to read about their careers. It's steamier than I prefer + a tad cheesy, but this rom com would make a great summer read! 

What have you been reading lately?

* 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.

Waiting in the Wings

Jun 8, 2018

I know we're only halfway through the year, so it's a little early to be making declarations about my favorite books from 2018. However, I already know that Lucy Parker will be on my list of favorite new-to-me authors I read in 2018 and that the London Celebrities series will be on my "Best Books of 2018" list. It's just a fact!

The first book in the series, Act Like It, was a spontaneous purchase before I went to the UK with Kelly. I wanted some contemporary fiction on my Kindle – and the fact that it was set in London made it all the better! I ended up reading the whole thing on my flight home, and it was the best reading experience. You know how there are some books where you'll forever remember where you were when you were reading them? Act Like It will be one of those for me. If I had to leave England, at least my book was able to take me back.

I finished the book with a huge grin on my face and bought the second book, Pretty Face, as soon as I was home. This book solidified Parker as one of my new favorite authors! With both books, I was smitten from the beginning! They were snarky, sarcastic and totally swoony – something that I've now come to think of as Parker's trademark. I'm just obsessed with her writing, sense of humor, and seriously charming romances.

And you know what's just icing on the cake? There's drama and conflict in each book, but it's never dragged out endlessly. I'm consistently surprised by the way Parker's characters communicate with one another. Sure, they sometimes argue and aren't always on the same page – but I've never once had the thought, "Why don't you two just talk like adults?!" And honestly, I think that at least once with most contemporary romances that I've read. 

So, I should probably get around to talking about the book that prompted this specific post: Making Up, the third in the series. I finished Pretty Face back in February and was immediately bummed when I realized the third wasn't available yet. Did I have a mini dance party when I got approved for a review copy on NetGalley? OBVIOUSLY. I read it right away! And then, three months later, I decided to read it again. Yep, twice in one year... it's just that good!

Making Up came out at the end of May, and there are SO many reasons why you should read it. The heroine is Beatrix Lane, who we first met in Pretty Face because she's best friends with that heroine. Their friendship is one of my favorites! There's one particular scene between them in this book that legitimately made me tear up both times I read it. I love female friends who are there for each other no matter what!

Although you don't have to, I would suggest reading Pretty Face before this one because you'll get some of Trix's history in it. Trix's previous boyfriend was emotionally abusive, and she's still struggling to regain her confidence months after their breakup. I loved how thoughtfully Parker approached the heroine's situation. The book felt a little more serious, to me, than the first two in the series, but it was so well done. My heart broke for Trix, and I couldn't wait to see this spunky ball of fire regain her spark!

And speaking of sparks, let's talk about this romance. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Parker's romances are equally amazing! I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. The hero's name is Leo Magasiva, and he's a makeup artist who's just been hired to work on Trix's show. Here's how he is introduced:
Fate had a habit of tossing him in her direction at regular intervals. Either when things were going well and she apparently needed a reality check, or when everything was already a crap heap and she made the mistake of uttering the fatal question: could this get any worse? For someone who wasn’t an entertainer, he never missed his cue.
Y'all, this is  everything I love in a romance! Hate-to-love is my favorite trope, and Parker does it so perfectly. There are definitely reasons that Trix and Leo are always butting heads. And unraveling their past + seeing how they sort through everything was just fantastic! I was so invested in them together, and I loved how – once again – Parker deftly handled the inevitable conflict. Gah, I'm smiling again just thinking about these two adorable, dorky people. 

There's some great conversations about friendship, family, and professional aspirations. Trix and Leo are both great at what they do, and I liked that their work was important to them. It was really nice to see them grapple with the next steps in their careers! Because of their work, the theater setting was prominent. From terrible bosses to nerve-wracking competitions, the setting definitely made this book extra memorable.

Honestly, I could keep going! The pink-haired heroine of Making Up somersaulted her way into my heart – and the handsome makeup artist waiting in the wings made it all the better. I love these characters so much, and I'm mad that Parker doesn't have a huge backlist that I can binge. I NEED MORE! I adore this series, and I cannot wait for the fourth book. If you're a fan of contemporary romance, I hope these books are on your radar. From the snark to the swoon, every page is a delight! And don't just take my word for it – I convinced Kelly to read them, too

So Quotable
Whenever I need help, you're there. It was one really shitty page in what I hope is a very long book for both of us.
* 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.

May 2018: Recap + On My Shelves

Jun 5, 2018

May was a month of celebration! From family birthdays to a visit from one of my best friends, it was packed with memories I'll cherish. And I hope it's just the beginning of summertime goodness!

1. My Baby Turns Two – I still can't believe that my baby is growing up so fast! My son, brother and dad all have May birthdays, and we celebrated with a family dinner one night. The best part was that my mom made it all dinosaur themed (my son's current obsession), and it made me feel so loved! So many sweet memories.

2. Kelly Came to Town – Was this the highlight of May? ABSOLUTELY. This was Kelly's third visit to Georgia – in a little more than a year, no less, because she's the best friend ever. We went on new adventures, like a day trip to the North Georgia mountains, but still made time for bookstore browsing and nerding out over our planners.

3. Updating the Blog – It's been a while since I changed my blog theme, and I recently got the urge to make a few updates. After browsing around, I found Maira Gall's shop on Etsy and am so pleased with the result. I loved being able to customize the theme so that it had the same overall look but with new functionality.

4. All the Afternoons Outside – The weather in May was gorgeous, so we spent most of our afternoons outside soaking up the sun. Our days were filled with dance parties, dinner picnics, running through the sprinklers, digging in the dirt, and playing in his new house. And I got some reading done, too!

Read 13 Books | Favorites:
The Long Game by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Someone to Care by Mary Balogh

“Planning can't save you from everything. Change is inevitable and uncertainty is a given.
And if you plan so much that you can't function without one, life's no fun.
All the calendars, journals, and lists in the world won't save you when the sky falls.”
Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

 “Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand
and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies,
we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love,
because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side,
because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time.
The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe –
comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.”
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

 “Bitterness can be corrosive. It can rewrite your memories as if it were scrubbing a crime scene clean,
until in the end you only remember what suits you of its causes.”
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

 “The seasons teach us how to do life well, revealing a life-giving rhythm:
we flourish through intentional periods of stillness, growth, hard work, and rest.”
Cultivate by Lara Casey

 “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next.
There's a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.”
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I kicked off the month with a post that I'd been meaning to write for a long time. In honor of my son's birthday, I chatted about how I'm writing my story of motherhood. It was nice to reflect on the highs and lows of this season of my life – and finally chat about how a certain book taught me to be more grateful! 

After that post, I shared my April 2018 Recap and reviewed 14 recent reads in my April 2018 Quick Lit. I posted three series reviews throughout the month: for The Devil Riders Series by Anne Gracie, The Tudor Legacy Series by Laura Andersen (which I read because of a bet!), and The Huxtable Quintet by Mary Balogh. And I posted a full-length review for A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas.

I chatted about five things I've been loving lately and want to do more posts like this one in the future. It's fun to focus on a few mini obsessions! I think my favorite post was my 15 Ways to Treat Your Royal Wedding Fever gift guide. I had fun compiling royals-inspired items – and added a few to my wishlist! Finally, I was inspired by Cristina and talked about Eight Low-Rated Books I Enjoyed and Eight Highly-Rated Books I Didn't Like

1. All Apologies... No More by Christine from Bookishly Boisterous – I have to thank Christine from Buckling Bookshelves for putting this post (and blog) on my radar. I've often struggled with feeling like I have to justify purchases, but this was a nice reminder that I don't have to feel guilty about my love of buying books.

2. Why I Re-Read by Lisa from Bookshelf Fantasies – This is another post that was on my radar because of Christine! I can never resist clicking on anything that talks about re-reading because it's one of my favorite things. I loved all the different reasons that Lisa mentioned – some of which I'd never articulated before! 

3. Me, My Dad & Books by Rachel from Hello, Chelly – Ah, I love personal posts from my friends! This one was particularly sweet, and I can't wait to see an update in the future as Rachel reads her dad's five favorite classics. (But I don't envy her having to re-read Wuthering Heights because I can't stand that book...)

4. The 2018 Summer Reading Guide by Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy – I always look forward to this summer reading guide! Anne curates a fantastic mix of books, and I always find new things that I want to pick up. I've already read some of the books on this list and have put holds on many more at the library. 

5. Literary Roundup: Summer Reading Guides by Elisabeth from Lit & Leisure – I found this while browsing Twitter one day and immediately bookmarked it. Elisabeth has rounded up various summer reading guides from major publications, and I love having them all gathered in one place. I've already added more to my summer TBR!

6. The K-Beauty 10-Step from Soko Glam – I got on a major skincare kick in May and spent wayyyy too much time watching beauty-related YouTube videos and researching new products to try. Of course, I'm now convinced that I can commit to the 10-step process outlined in this article. Only time will tell... Haha!

Favorite Album: Electric Light by James Bay
I loved James Bay's debut album and couldn't wait for this release.
It's going to take a few listens for this to become a favorite, but I've been enjoying it!

Favorite Playlist: The Winner's Trilogy 
I saw someone link to a bookish-inspired Spotify playlist in an Instagram story,
and then I spent a long time finding tons more. This was my most-played one in May!

Favorite Audios: Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
narrated by Elizabeth Evans
After reading A Court of Frost and Starlight, I was in the mood for more Maas.
I ended up re-reading these three books via audio, which was an excellent decision. I love this narrator!

The Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – I pre-gamed the night before the wedding by watching their Lifetime movie and snark-texting Kelly throughout. But I was still excited to wake up the next morning and watching the wedding live! As an Anglophile, I just can't resist the royals. It brought back good memories of watching William and Kate's wedding when I was in college. How gorgeous are those flowers?!

The Americans, Season 6, starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell – Nick and I binged the first five seasons of this show in the past year, and we'd been anxiously awaiting the sixth and final season. I'm glad it ended when it did because I never got tired of it or felt that it had gone off course. The finale was so emotional and unexpected!

New Releases: A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas, My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan and Someone to Care by Mary Balogh 

Used Bookstores: The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

Gifted: The Boleyn King and The Virgin's War by Laura Andersen (thanks, Kelly!)

Kindle: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, Making Up by Lucy Parker and The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Audible: A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

Review: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
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