So Obsessed With: The 2019 Gift Edition

Nov 29, 2019

Today I'm sharing a fun, holiday-inspired edition of So Obsessed With! I've done different gift guides in the past but decided to make this year's post allllll about meeeeee. Ha! Instead of rounding up things I've used and would gift, here are some things I've got my eye on this year. There are a few things I've already treated myself to and some I'll buy in Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales, so they won't all be gifts. Even then, they won't all make the cut. But here's what I'm so obsessed with for Christmas this year:

Under the Tree

1. Oventure Big Ossential Set in Mocha Ostrich ($130) – I have the rose gold leather key ring and ID case, and I'm still so obsessed with them. But now I want to add to my collection, especially with this larger size wallet.

2. Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Robe ($99) – The new baby is getting a blanket from this company, and it's so soft that I want to steal it for myself. I think the robe will be an even better treat – and perfect for after baby arrives, too!

3. SUPERGOOP! Your Everyday SPF Kit ($32) I use this sunscreen almost every morning on my face and neck and noticed recently that it's running low. The sunscreen is cheaper by itself, but I want try the other two products.

4. Kindle Fire 7 Tablet ($30) I typically use my phone or Macbook for browsing and blogging. I've contemplated trying a Fire tablet, however, and it's hard to resist at this price. Even if my son is the only one to use it!

5. Sonix Brown Tortoiseshell Phone Case ($35) My current phone case is one from Target, and I bought it last Christmas. While I still think it's cute, I've been craving a refresh – and this tortoiseshell has caught my eye.

6. Handheld Garment Mini Travel Steamer ($21) Every grown-up Christmas list has to include at least home appliance, right? I never iron my clothes but occasionally need to deal with wrinkles. This would do the trick!

7. Apple AirPods with Charging Case ($140) I've gone back and forth on getting a pair of these headphones, mostly because I'm terrified of losing them and don't love how they look. But I think it's time to commit...

8. Madewell Leather Laptop Case in English Saddle ($88) – I've had my current laptop sleeve for years, and I just recently broke the zipper on it. So, I've on the hunt for a replacement and this simple, stylish one is my pick.

9. Val Marie Paper 2020 Prayer Journal ($47) – This product launched in the fall, and I pre-ordered to get the best price. So it's not technically on my wishlist, but I do think it would make a lovely gift! I'm excited to use it.

10. Diamond Eternity Band in 14k White Gold ($210) – Here's one of those "don't need / won't actually get, but still want it" additions to my list. Because, hi pretty. I don't even have room on my ring finger for another band!

11. Circe by Madeline Miller ($19) + Other Books – Can you call yourself a reader if you don't ask for any books for Christmas? I've got a few on mine this year, including the UK hardcover of this favorite read from 2019.

12. Banana Republic Satya Sunglasses in Blonde ($98) – Have you ever found a product that you loved so much you needed it in every style? That's me with these sunglasses. I own them in two other colors, so this is a must.

13. Madewell Shoulder Bag Strap: Leopard Calf Hair Edition ($45) – I'm going back and forth on this bag strap. I love how it will change the look of my two Madewell bags, but I'm iffy on it since I can't adjust the length.

14. Madewell Jean Jacket in Pinter Wash ($118) – Is a denim jacket considered a closet staple? I don't have one and have to remedy that pronto! I don't want clothes for Christmas (hi, pregnancy), but this is an exception.

15. Kate Spade Women's Metro Leather Strap Watch ($90) – I love the idea of a gorgeous watch, but I never find myself wearing one. So, this isn't the most practical item on my list. But it was just too pretty to leave it off!

16. SCOUT Bags Hidden Gem Jewelry Case in Black Velvet ($39) – SCOUT Bags makes such great totes, but I didn't realize they had smaller bags, too. I'm interested in a few of them, but this jewelry case is the top of my list.

17. Plan to Eat Yearly Subscription ($19.50 – sale starts 11/29) – Plan to Eat has changed the way I feel about meal planning and grocery shopping. I used to hate both, but this makes them stress-free. Yay for renewing it!

18. Crock-Pot 6qt. Programmable Slow Cooker ($38) – My current crock-pot was a gift when I got married eight years ago, and I just noticed it now has a crack in the stoneware insert. If I can't replace the part, here's what I'll do.

19. Longchamp Large Le Pliage Tote in New Navy ($145) – I have a black Longchamp that I got in college, and it's my most-used purse by far. I don't know why I've never treated myself to another, but I think it's finally time.

20. Helen Ficalora Alphabet Charm ($165) – Nick bought me a Helen Ficalora necklace two years ago, and I adore it. I have charm with our firstborn's initial, so it's almost time for a second charm for Baby #2.

21. Poldark: The Complete Fifth Season Blu-Ray ($34) – For some reason, I enjoy this more when I binge an entire season rather than watch week-to-week. I can't believe this is the final Christmas I'll have this on my list!

22. Tartan + Twine Deluxe Weekender ($58) – There's a really well-reviewed makeup bag on Amazon that I may end up getting instead, but this one is much prettier. Will looks win in the end? Only time will tell.

23. Farmacy Sweet Greens Holiday Set ($44) – This makeup remover balm is one of my favorite beauty products, so I was excited to see a full-size of it in a set. I don't know much about the other two items, but worth a try.

24. 2020 PowerSheets Goal Planner ($60) – I treated myself to this as soon as it launched in October, but it looked too perfect on here to leave off! I have heard great things about this product and hope that I love it.

25. LUSH Stardust Gift Set ($50) – This specific set isn't on my wishlist. All I really want is a bunch of bubble bars! The bath bombs are nice, but the bars last so much longer. And I used up the stash I've been hoarding!

Stocking Stuffers

1. Reusable Makeup Remover Pads ($11) – These could be a total bust, but I feel like I waste so much money on disposable ones. I go through them so quickly and never have more when I need them. I want these to work!

2. Seche Viche Top Coat ($10) and Essie Nail Polish in Off Tropic ($9) – While I don't paint my nails as often as I used to, I still love finding a new color or two in my stocking. And I just ran out of top coat!

3. Portable Travel Medicine Organizer ($7) – I saw this on someone's Instagram story and immediately added it to my Amazon wishlist. I don't know why I haven't already bought it, but it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

4. AirPods Protective Cover ($9) – If I end up getting AirPods, I know I'll want this protective cover for the case. I saw Rachel from Hello, Chelly recommend it in one of her posts about things she's been loving lately.

5. Reese's Peanut Butter Holiday Tree ($1) – Candy is just a given as a stocking stuffer, right? There are lots of sweet treats I'd be happy to find inside, but my personal favorite is this Christmas-shaped classic.

6. Aquis Original Performance Drying Hair Turban ($22) – This is random, but I saw it recommended on a blog I follow. I just can't remember which one! I wrap my hair in a towel after a shower, and this looks so much better.

7. Philips Sonicare Replacement Toothbrush Heads ($25) – My son's stocking usually includes a pack of toothbrushes. I need replacement heads for my electric toothbrush, so this is just a practical necessity.

8. L'Oreal Lash Paradise Mascara Set ($13) – This mascara is my favorite, and it's always worth it to have at least one backup for that day when you realize the one you've been using has completely dried out.

9. Fabric Shaver, Lint Remover and Sweater Defuzzer ($15) – There are two chairs in my library that have been looking pilled recently, and I want get them looking like new. And if this works on my sweaters, too? Even better!

10. Mint Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix ($5) – I love hot cocoa, and my favorite Starbucks drink is a Peppermint Mocha. Will this essentially taste like a combo of those two things? I certainly hope so! It sounds delish.

11. Simplified Planner Color-Coding Sticker Set ($10) – I switched from a Happy Planner to this brand in August, and these are the only stickers I use now. I haven't run out of my first pack, but I might as well stock up.

12. Jack Black The Balm Squad ($19) – My favorite lip balms, and my favorite time of the year to replenish my dwindling stash. I've used Mint before, but the Asian Pear and Black Cherry ones will be new to me. I can't wait!

13. Makeup Brush Cleaning Shampoo ($5) and Makeup Brush Cleaning Mat ($7) – Rachel mentioned a brush cleaning mat in one of her posts, too, which I'd never even heard of before. This is something I definitely need!

14. Gingerbread Cozy Boxed Sock Set ($15) – Whether it's slippers or socks, you've got to have something a little cozy in your stocking. Target has lots of cute options, but these looked so fun while I was browsing.

15. Tweezerman Rose Gold Slant Tweezer ($21) – My tweezers have gotten dull, so it's time to replace them. I have Anastasia Beverly Hills currently, but I know Tweezerman is popular. Always fun to try something new!

What's on your wishlist this year?

My Thankful List

Nov 28, 2019

I'm taking a little pause from catching up on my monthly recaps and Quick Lit reviews to share two fun, holiday-inspired posts! Today, I'm reflecting on the things I'm thankful for in 2019. Tomorrow I'll be sharing a Christmas wishlist. And yes, I've noted that my gratitude is followed by greed. Blame Black Friday! It was fun to flip through photos, notes on my phone, and my journal to create this list. Some things came to mind immediately and others were surprise additions as I reflected on the past eleven months. I added commentary, too, because I'm me.

For the last three years, I've made thankfulness one of my daily practices by keeping a "Three Good Things" journal. It was inspired by a passage in one of my all-time favorite books, Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center, and started during a year where I needed the blessings to be what I remembered most. The habit of sitting down each night and finding the good moments in every day, even when they're small or silly, has been life changing for me. My list looks like flipping through my journal – some deeper things mixed with small delights.

1. Celebrating 30 years of life.
In February, I celebrated my 30th birthday. I spent the day cuddling my baby, reading a good book, and going on a date with my sweet husband. And this milestone inspired one of my favorite blog posts of the year: 30 Things I Learned by 30. It was so meaningful to reflect back on my life thus far and anticipate the next 30 years.

2. Rereading some of my most beloved books.
At some point in 2018, I joked to Kelly that I wanted to ignore my TBR for a month and just re-read old favorites. "Why can't you?" she asked. So we did! #FebruaREREAD was born out of that conversation, which was so energizing for my reading life. Plus, we set a goal to re-read one series a month – and that's been fantastic, too.

3. Being able to travel with my bestie.
My birthday gift from my husband and family was an international trip with my bestie. We went back to England and spent a day in Paris, too. The laughter we shared and places we saw are things I won't forget. Whether down the road or across the pond, traveling is so worth it! And I loved time away from my normal routine.

4. The sweetest family adventures, usually involving animals.
Nick and I were able to take our son on so many local adventures this year, and I cherish those photos and memories. Since he is an animal lover, lots of those activities involved animals – the aquarium, zoo, a drive-thru animal park, neighborhood petting zoo, wandering the pet store, and more. He's at a great age for exploring!

5. A lighter-than-usual travel schedule for my husband.
My husband works from home when he isn't traveling. Usually, he's traveling a pretty decent amount. Some trips are a few days and others can be as long as six weeks, but it's both domestic and international. We miss him so much when he's gone! It felt like we had him home more this year, and we loved every minute of it. 

6. Three years since my thyroid cancer was removed.
June marked three years since my surgery to have the remaining half of thyroid removed, due to a mass on it that turned out to be cancerous. It was news I never expected, and it was particularly hard since it came only six weeks after the birth of my son. My blood tests have been normal since then, and I'm so thankful. 

7. Waterproof casts in the summer.
While enjoying an afternoon at the playground with my husband, our sweet boy walked right off one of the platforms and broke his arm. We were thankful it was only a buckle fracture, which is both common and heals quickly. And since it was June, a waterproof cast was worth the extra money and didn't slow our boy down at all.

8. Hours-long phone calls and frequent flights.
If you'd told me when I found book blogging world that I'd find my best friend, I wouldn't have believed you. Because how would that work with states between us and no "real life" meeting? Now I know the answer – with showing up in all the ways that count. Whether it's on FaceTime or in my library, I'm thankful for Kelly.

9. Preparing for a second baby to join our family.
It took me a few years to get pregnant with our firstborn, and we'd been going through the same thing while trying for another baby. We were overjoyed when we found out that another little boy is headed our way next year! The last six months have been all about nesting and savoring this time with my firstborn, which I've loved.

10. One year in our new home.
Last September, we moved into a house that I love more every day that we're here. The neighborhood and floor plan were what sold us in the first place, but the changes we've made since then have truly turned this into our home. From exterior paint to new blinds, it's all making me hope this is where we'll live forever.

11. A special beach trip with my mom and my son.
I love going to the beach in the summer, and I'm always stalking Nick's travel schedule in hopes we can plan a trip. It wasn't going to work out this year, and then my mom suggested this alternative. And oh my word, the three of us had so much fun! It was a quiet, relaxing week with gorgeous weather and sweet memories.

12. Beautifully crafted paper products – planners, journals, and more.
When I was looking at my gratitude entries, I laughed at all the references to things I'd bought that brought me joy. So many of those were paper products! I've got a new weekly planner I'm loving, a goal planner that I'm excited to use in 2020, my next reading log ready to go, and more. I'll link to all of them in my 2019 favorites post.

13. Our pediatrician and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
We thought our son had a stomach bug but soon knew something wasn't right. I'm thankful for our pediatrician who ordered an ultrasound, just in case, and everyone at the children's hospital who took care of my son before, during, and after his surgery for a ruptured appendix. I didn't even know it could happen to someone his age!

14. My family (and living so close to them).
The older I get, the more I realize how blessed I am to have the family that I do. I've been extra grateful for my parents this year, and I can't even put all those reasons into words. From babysitting my son to helping me decorate my house, the list is endless. What a gift to live just a few minutes down the road from them.

15. Apps that make my life more productive, organized, and functional. 
This seems like the most ridiculous thing to include on my list, especially since I've had a love/hate relationship with my phone lately. But I can't deny that some of the apps I bought this year have helped me do things like save money, prioritize my to dos, tackle my digital photo clutter, and sort my notes. They've made my life easier!

16. Getting out of my comfort zone.
One of my goals this year was to be more social. I don't have many local friends, and I know that meeting people requires me to put myself out there. It's just scary – and I can feel so awkward! But I joined a small group this fall and have been striking up conversations with other moms at the playground. Little by little, it is progress.

17. Audiobooks and wireless headphones, forever and always.
This certainly isn't a new discovery in 2019, but it still had to make my list. You want to know how I'm able to read so many books in a month? This is my secret! I am a fast reader, but audiobooks take it to the next level. They make household chores and errands so enjoyable! Plus, I love how it allows me to fit in so many rereads.

18. A hobby that encourages me to be more creative.
Blogging had to make my list, even though I took a long hiatus from it this year. I love talking about books, engaging with other readers, learning new skills, and challenging myself to be creative. And I'm extra thankful for encouraging comments and blog readers who stick around, even when my content isn't consistent.

19. My calm, steady spouse and the bravest, best three-year-old boy.
I had to save the best for last! I'm most thankful for my husband and our handsome little boy. Nick is so dependable, hard-working, and loves us so well. And I'm grateful every single day for this little boy we're raising. He's brave, smart, affectionate, sassy – I could go on and on! I just adore being his mom.

What are you thankful for this year? 
I hope today brings you joy!

Quick Lit: August 2019

Nov 26, 2019

August was an odd reading month. I wasn't in the mood to read much, and fiction didn't  really appeal to me at all. That rarely happens to me! I still managed to finish 9 books, which felt like a major accomplishment considering my mood. I'm reviewing 8 of those today and will mention the other one that I read at the bottom of the post. If you're interested in more Quick Lit posts, you'll find lots of links from other reviewers over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE AND MOCKINGJAY BY SUZANNE COLLINS – Near the end of July, I could feel my reading mojo fading. I wasn't in the mood to pick anything up, and the things I tried just weren't working for me. So I decided to re-read this series since it never lets me down. Plus, all three audiobooks were recently re-released with a new narrator, Tatiana Maslany. I'd couldn't tolerate the previous narrator and was so excited to finally get to listen to these favorites. The experience was so wonderful! Maslany was an excellent choice, and it was so easy to lose myself in these stories. This is one of those series that I just love more every time I revisit it. I could spiral into why I'm So Obsessed With It, but my re-read review from 2015 does a good job of capturing my love.

THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL BY STACEY LEE – Lee's debut, Under a Painted Sky, is one of my favorite YA historical fiction books. Her more recent books have been enjoyable but not super memorable for me, and this one ended up being about the same. I've seen some glowing reviews since then that made me wonder if my mood affected my read, but I can't say for sure. I loved learning more about the history of Chinese in the South following the Civil War, something I was very ignorant about prior to reading this book. I struggled with the story, however, because it felt like it was trying to tackle too much. There were so many things happening that it was hard to focus! The pacing was uneven for me, and the narration was just bland. I wanted to love it, but I was just So Okay With It in the end.

GRACE, NOT PERFECTION BY EMILY LEY – I have a print of the Emily Ley quote this title came from ("I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection") hanging in my house. But for some reason, I'd never felt compelled to pick up the book. My mom bought it for me after I spotted it in a store and flipped through a few chapters, and I read it in full a few days later. It's a beautiful little book full of ideas that are pretty simple but still inspiring. I think the message itself has broad appeal, but I'm not sure the actual delivery did. It's definitely coming from a privileged point of view, and the photos contradict the idea of not expecting perfection from yourself. I So Liked It and did takeaway some good advice from it. Plus, I'm now using Ley's Simplified Planner – so clearly I'm a fan.

A SIMPLIFIED LIFE BY EMILY LEY – After finishing Grace, Not Perfection, I grabbed this book from the library. I was interested to see if this on expanded on the ideas from the first or repeated them. In the end, it was a little bit of both. This one is a more tactical, strategy-based approach. Each chapter begins with the word Simplified followed by the theme: Space, Style, Meals, Schedule, Finances, Hospitality, Technology, Self, Motherhood, and Faith. Chapters contained tips and tricks related to each topic. I preferred this one, in many ways, even though the advice was very basic and superficial. But something about it was still motivating for me, even though I continued to be annoyed at how the photos conflict with the actual theme. But I So Enjoyed It overall, despite its flaws. 

DESIGN YOUR DAY BY CLAIRE DIAZ-ORTIZ – This book is tiny, clocking in at around 140 pages and smaller than a typical paperback. It wasn't on my radar until I read a post at Ashlyn Writes about her morning routine. Ashlyn talked about the PRESENT method, which she learned from this book. So, I decided to pick it up! It's a self-help / business book that seemed like a compilation of ideas that originated from others. Almost like a brief introduction to popular productivity tips, if that makes sense. A lot of the business advice didn't apply to me since I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I did take away some good strategies to help me accomplish my goals and evaluate how I'm spending my time. I So Enjoyed It, especially since it was just right for my mood at the time.

HELLO MORNINGS BY KAT LEE – This Christian book introduces a three-step morning routine that is simple and easy to start. Lee proposes that every day begin with God, Plan, and Move. God is reading your Bible, a devotional, or something that nourishes your faith. Plan is reviewing your calendar, including what's scheduled for the day ahead and what you need to accomplish. And finally, Move is to help you become more active – even if it's as simple as drinking a whole glass of water. Divided into three parts, the first explains the important of mornings, the second discusses each step of the proposed routine, and the third provides advice on building good habits. The book was short but still a bit repetitive. However, I So Enjoyed It and intend to implement things from it.

I also read Lady Bridget's Diary by Maya Rodale. The plot is Pride and Prejudice in broad strokes with details reminiscent of Bridget Jones' Diary (I know that's inspired by P&P, but it does have its own tone and style). I was looking for something to break my slump, but I think my mood made me more critical of how derivative this historical romance felt. It was fun in a way but didn't bring anything new to the table. I was So Okay With It.

What have you been reading lately?

August 2019: Recap + On My Shelves

Nov 25, 2019

August was a pretty chill month for me! I didn't read very much, didn't blog or bookstagram, and barely watched anything, too. What was I doing? I was cleaning, organizing, and fully embracing my nesting mode. Let's discuss!

1. Bargain on a Baby Bassinet – It didn't take long for me to start seeing baby-related advertisements and posts online. One thing I kept noticing in perfectly styled Insta photos were gorgeous bassinets from Design Dua. But as much as I loved them, I couldn't justify the cost. AND THEN! I found a barely used one + the stand on Craigslist (only an hour away!) – for essentially 75% off the retail price. Our first new baby purchase! *happy dance* 

2. All the Projects – I spent most of June and July feeling exhausted, which is the main pregnancy symptom I experience in my first trimester. But I finally entered the second trimester in August and felt all of my energy returning! In fact, I started a major project cleaning, purging, and organizing every room of my house. That project involved several shopping trips, including one where we found a cute chair for the playroom.

3. New Planner – For the last two years, I've been so obsessed with Happy Planners. In fact, I've written several posts about how I use the various sizes as a gratitude journal, daily planner, bookish bullet journal and reading log. They were all still working for me, except the actual planner. I realized I was only writing in it after the fact and starting to dread the stickers. So, I decided to give Emily Ley's Weekly Simplified Planner a try, and I am LOVNG it.

4. Time for a Big Boy Bed – After I found out I was pregnant, I started to go into planning and preparing mode. One of the biggest things on my list? Moving my firstborn into his big boy room! He was still happily sleeping in a crib in the nursery, and the "toddler room" was a dumping ground for random things we hadn't fully unpacked after moving in a year ago. In August, we finally cleaned out the room, decorated it, and moved him in. He is in heaven! 

Read 9 Books | Favorites:
A Simplified Life by Emily Ley
Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz
Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

(And honestly, none of these are truly favorites. It was a mediocre reading month!)

“The tricky thing about giving opinions is that sometimes
they cost you more than you wanted to spend.”
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

“Don't sacrifice the good to chase the perfect.”
Grace, Not Perfection by Emily Ley

“You see, living an exceptional life isn’t just an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime.
It’s an invitation that awaits us every single day. Every single morning.”
Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

“At that point I realize that the wild, faithful pursuit of big adventures
is so much more glamorous than the wild, faithful pursuit of the everyday.”
Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

Favorite Album: Lover by Taylor Swift
I was excited for this album but didn't love the first two singles, so I lowered my expectations.
Thankfully, the album as a whole was so much better. I've loved having this on repeat!

Walk the Line (2005) starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon – This wasn't a new-to-me movie, which is what I usually focus on in this section of my recap. But I didn't end up watching anything else this month, aside from a few episodes of Gilmore Girls, so I had to include it! It's been years since I watched this movie, and I'm so glad that I still adored it on rewatch. And I'm not even the biggest fan of Johnny Cash or classic country music!

Book of the Month: Well Met by Jen DeLuca, That's What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershall, and The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Used Bookstore: Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey and Make It Happen by Lara Casey

Gifted: Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley

Review: Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh

Audible: Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Kindle: The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman (Not Pictured)

Quick Lit: July 2019

Nov 22, 2019

My reading pace slowed down just a tiny bit in July, but thankfully I had more wins this month than the one prior. By the end of the month, I could tell that I was about to fully enter a "nothing appeals to me" reading mood. But I'll discuss that more in my August post! I finished 16 books and am chatting about 14 of them today (plus the three Harry Potters I read in June). I'll briefly mention the other two books I read at the bottom of this post! For more Quick Lit posts from other readers, be sure to check out Modern Mrs. Darcy.

SUMMER OF '69 BY ELIN HILDERBRAND – When I saw that Hilderbrand had a historical fiction book coming out this year, I was excited to give it a try. I just read her for the first time last year! Unfortunately, this release didn't really work for me. Hilderbrand knows how to write the kind of drama that keeps you turning the pages, but sometimes that comes at the cost of the characters. No one ever feels fully fleshed out, and I rarely seem to connect to anyone. And personally, it can be a struggle to read about characters that I just don't like. Everything that happened in this book felt so superficial and contrived, and there's nothing really interesting about the way it was resolved. And while numerous historical events are referenced, it still seemed so modern. Overall, I'm So Okay With It.

RECURSION BY BLAKE CROUCH – I read and enjoyed Crouch's Dark Matter a few years ago, so I was excited to pick up this new release. I think Crouch's stories are creative and compelling, and I definitely didn't want to put this one down once I'd started it. And although the science went over my head, I loved the relational aspects of the story. Exactly what I said about his previous book! However, I won't lie – this felt like almost the exact same story as Dark Matter. The science and concept were different, but it's still about someone trying to change the outcome of an event over the course of many timelines. And in this book, in particular, it got so repetitive. The first half of the story felt so tightly plotted, but my interest waned in the second half. By the end, I was just So Okay With It.

NEVER HAVE I EVER BY JOSHILYN JACKSON* – I've had a rocky reading relationship with Jackson in the past but adored her 2017 release, The Almost Sisters. I was nervous because this is a new genre for Jackson, but I shouldn't have been surprised that she tackled it with ease. She excels at giving her stories the right tone, and the complexity of her characters never fails to impress me. Every single time that I thought I knew what was going to happen next, Jackson threw me for a loop. My unexpected favorite element? The descriptions of scuba diving! That part was fascinating. Domestic thrillers can be hit or miss, but this one was exactly what I needed. I So Loved It! There's one aspect of the story that I found hard to read, but it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book. 

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE BY KATHERINE CENTER* – I didn't know it at the time, but this book was just what I needed! I flew through the story, loving every minute of it. The heroine is emotionally closed off, but I enjoyed her growth over the course of the book. The theme of forgiveness and how choosing to love is courageous was very moving, and it's a big reason this one earned a So Loved It. The writing occasionally felt clunky (like the heroine thinking something that was already spoken aloud), and there may have been a few too many "topics" packed in here – but I didn't really feel that while I was reading. The ending brought it all together for me, despite its predictability, and left me with the happiest grin on my face. (But Happiness for Beginners is still my favorite!)

THE WEDDING PARTY BY JASMINE GUILLORY* – After enjoying the first two books in this series, I was excited to step back into this world and friend group. And Guillory didn't disappoint! I loved the cameos from past couples and was glad I'd read the previous books. I've mentioned before that I don't think Guillory is the strongest writer, which is still true. But as soon as I start one of her books, I don't want to put them down. So I can't complain too much! This is a hate-to-love romance, and it was fun to see this couple navigate their growing attraction to one another. Bless their hearts for trying to keep it a secret, however. That aspect was a dumb, but I didn't care very much. This was fun, light read and I So Enjoyed It! It was steamier than I prefer, but I easily skipped those parts.

SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME BY K.A. TUCKER* – This is a second-chance romance, which is one of my least favorite tropes. Plus it's dual timeline, and flashbacks usually don't work for me. So, I was already off to a bad start with this story. In the past, we see the hero and heroine meet at summer camp as teens and fall in love, only to be parted after a mysterious tragedy before meeting again years later. I did not like how quickly the romance developed and how detailed it got in the past. I don't want to read steamy scenes between teenagers!! Add to that the fact that I didn't like the characters, felt like I was reading two separate books, think the mystery was problematic, and just dragged my way through this boring plot until I got to the end. I'm sad to say that I was So Over It.

HOW TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR PHONE BY CATHERINE PRICE – Christine from Buckling Bookshelves and I were chatting about feeling burnt out on social media and trying to find more balance, and she mentioned this book. I borrowed it from the library on her recommendation and finished it within a few hours. I didn't complete the author's 30-day challenge but still felt like I got some good advice and action items from it. I immediately turned off all app notifications (and have kept them off), starting tracking the time I spent on my phone, and created a scheduled Downtime reminder. While my progress hasn't been perfect, I have seen a decrease in my phone usage – and have felt motivated to continue to set healthy boundaries with screens. I So Liked It and am glad I read it!

WORLD WITHOUT END BY KEN FOLLETT – I adored Pillars of the Earth when I read it back in 2012, but I never got around to continuing the series. This sequel is set two centuries after the events of the first book, and it honestly felt like a watered-down version of that story! I finished all 1,000 pages in three days, so it was compulsively readable. But I kept asking myself, "Do I even like this book or these characters?" And the answer is... no, not really. Follett excels at bringing his settings to life, and that's the main reason I kept reading. The world was so rich and interesting! The plot was packed with action and intrigue, but it felt very formulaic. It was constantly building to one bad thing after another, and the resolution wasn't rewarding to me. Unfortunately, I was just So Okay With It.

HOT MESS BY EMILY BELDEN – I randomly spotted this at my local used bookstore, read the back, and sat down to sample it. Next thing I knew, I'd read almost 40 pages. How was I supposed to say no to it?! The Goodreads reviews made me nervous, and I can now see why this book didn't work for a lot of readers. I love books set in the culinary world, and this one focused on creating and running a restaurant. It was fascinating! The heroine really was a hot mess, and I judged a lot of her choices early on – but I was still rooting for her to succeed. Waiting for a certain relationship to self destruct took too long, but the growth afterward was so worth it. It's not the light, romantic comedy you might expect from the cover and summary, but I So Enjoyed It. So glad I gave it a shot!

SOMEONE TO HONOR BY MARY BALOGH* – I binged a lot of Balogh last year, including the first five books in the Westcott series. Of all the historical romance I've read, Balogh's typically feel the most authentic (and least modern) to me. She writes slightly slower, less steamy books – and that's exactly what I want and love. The Westcott family is so large that it always takes me a few chapters to re-familiarize myself with the characters, but I'm always hooked after that point. I loved how both the hero and heroine in this had to overcome baggage regarding their illegitimacy. And although there is a custody battle in the book, Balogh doesn't turn to any flashy twists or tricks. Instead, she just gives us a quiet story of two people finding love when they least expect it, and I So Liked It.

THE GOLDEN HOUR BY BEATRIZ WILLIAMS* – I loved my #BestieBeatrizBinge in 2017 but hated The Summer Wives last year, so that made me nervous for this recent release! While it wasn't a favorite, it still felt like a return to what I expect from Williams. This dual timeline novel follows two women and slowly pieces together the connection between them. I loved Williams' voice and was so caught up in the two settings. The romances were too instant for me, but that's typical for Williams' books. The stories in both timelines (as well as a surprise near the near) are the reason I So Liked It instead of raving about it. It got bogged down in too many details, the summary seemed to promise a different sort of book, and a lot of the action didn't involve the heroine (just existed around her). 

THE HARRY POTTER SERIES BY J.K. ROWLING – I didn't read the Harry Potter series for the first time until I was out of college, about eight years ago. And aside from re-reading the first when the illustrated edition came out, I'd never revisited this series. I planned to re-read one a month starting last November, but that didn't happen. I made it through the first but got no further. We own all of them on audio, however, since my husband loves them – so I figured that might be the key to finally get me to re-read. And it was! I listened to second, third and fourth in June and then wrapped up the fifth, sixth and seventh in July. And I have a confession: I've given all of these books five stars because they're so creative and well executed... but... I'm not actually so obsessed with them. They're really good, but I just don't care about them as much as everyone else. I'm invested in the stories while I'm listening, but then I'm kinda done with them when the books are over. It's hard to imagine myself re-reading them again anytime soon, unless it's with my kids. When I look at other fantasy series that I've read and loved as an adult, these books just don't compare. Is that blasphemy? I'm sorry, y'all! And I'm not reviewing them all individually since there isn't any reason to – everyone knows about Harry, even if you haven't read him, and I don't have anything new or insightful to add. My favorite is Goblet of Fire because I love the tournament and getting a wider look at the wizarding world. My least favorite is probably Order of the Phoenix because Umbridge + Harry's emotional state + Dumbledore being shady made that book feel like it lasted for-ev-er. I'd give them a So Loved It overall. 

In July, I also read two new adult romance. The first was The Deal by Elle Kennedy – one of Kelly's favorites and a book she'd been pushing me to read. Although it was definitely too steamy for me, I still found myself engaged in the overall story and rooting for the characters. I almost quit a few pages in because I hated the hero's narration (even if it was realistic for an athlete), but it got much better over time. I So Enjoyed It, especially the couple's hilarious banter. Caged in Winter by Brighton Walsh was the other book I read in July, and it was much more of the stereotypical story that I'd expect from this genre. It was a relatively quick and easy read, but the heroine's prickly and closed-off demeanor really frustrated me. I skipped past the sex scenes and was only So Okay With It overall, though I loved that the hero was a culinary student. That was the best part for me, by far!

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

What have you been reading lately?

Quick Lit: June 2019 (Part 2)

Nov 19, 2019

As I mentioned in Part 1, I finished 20 books in June. I've got reviews for nine of those books today, and seven were included in yesterday's post. You'll see three June reviews in my July Quick Lit, and the only other book I read is mentioned briefly at the end of this post. I could feel myself entering a reading slump this month, even though my pace didn't drastically change. I just wasn't loving a lot of what I was reading, as you'll see below. If you're looking for more reviews and recommendations, visit Modern Mrs. Darcy to see other Quick Lit participants!

THE SHELL SEEKERS BY ROSAMUNDE PILCHER – I can't remember where I first heard about this book, but it sounded like everything I'd love: a British family saga set in Cornwall. Sign me up! I own the paperback but ended up listening to the audiobook. Narrator Hayley Atwell was the draw for me, and I ended up being so glad I experienced this book that way. This is a cozy novel with an older heroine looking back on her life. She's reminiscing on her past, trying to enjoy her present and plan for her future – and I was just so invested in her musings. It's character driven, and that gives the book a slower pace. But I was happy to sink into this story! I loved the various relationship dynamics, especially between Penelope and her three adult children. A very solid So Enjoyed It

THE GLASS OCEAN BY BEATRIZ WILLIAMS, LAUREN WILLIG, & KAREN WHITE – After my Bestie Beatriz Binge with Kelly a few years ago, I've considered myself a huge fan of Williams' work. Lately, however, I just haven't clicked as much with her books. She is a co-author on this one, so it's possible that's why I didn't love it as much. But for whatever reason, I just found this book so forgettable and disjointed. I didn't really enjoy the contemporary storyline and had issues even with the two past POVs. I hated the romances in all storylines – the emotions that didn't feel earned at all and the love triangle drove me crazy. And, unfortunately, the book is heavier on the romance than any other storyline. It was all very meh for me, and I'm So Okay With It

MARRY IN SECRET BY ANNE GRACIE* – Gracie's newest series started off strong for me with Marry in Haste and continued to entertain in Marry in Scandal. But, y'all, Marry in Secret just wasn't working for me. I love Gracie, but she can do so much better. The heroine was so inconsistent, in my opinion. The way her personality is described earlier in the series and the beginning of this book doesn't really match the way she acts once the hero returns. And their relationship felt like one communication misstep after another. All they did was fight and make up, over and over again! UGH. The mystery was obvious and only seemed necessary in order to flesh out the plot a little more. I expect a certain degree of predictability in historical romance, but this one tried my patience. I was So Okay With It.

THE CLIFF HOUSE BY RAEANNE THAYNE – I first started reading Thayne's books a few years ago, when I discovered her Haven Point series. I've continued to read each new release in the series, but they've gone downhill for me. When I saw this recent standalone, however, I thought I might have better luck with a new setting and characters. Unfortunately, it just felt so bland to me. What happened?! It focuses on two adult sisters and the aunt that raised them, and each women gets her own point of view in the book. Despite reading it quickly and not having any major complaints, I just felt so underwhelmed by it. Every character has their own drama and romance, but the book is only 384 pages. I needed more from it in every way, and I'm only So Okay With It the more I think about it.

SORCERY OF THORNS BY MARGARET ROGERSON – The cover for this book is what first caught my eye, and then the mention of a magical library in the summary sold me. I grabbed a copy and couldn't put it down once I started it. This was a delightful standalone fantasy – something that's hard to find in a market saturated with series. I don't think I would have liked it nearly as much if it hadn't been a love letter to books and libraries, since that was what made me so invested in the conflict. The hero and heroine were both delightful, and their romance was a lovely subplot. I was hooked on the story and was pleased with the way it resolved, even though it felt a tiny bit rushed at the end. I didn't quite reach the same level of obsessions as other readers, but I definitely So Enjoyed It.

NONE LIKE HIM BY JEN WILKIN – I loved Wilkin's book about how to study your Bible and had been meaning to read this one for a while. When I spotted the audio on Hoopla, the timing was just right for me to finally start it. Because I was listening to it, I finished it much faster than I would have otherwise – and didn't spend as much time thinking deeply about the content. With this type of non-fiction, I usually have a highlighter in hand and go slowly so I can process the author's teaching. I'll probably eventually go back and do that with this one, even though I do recommend the audiobook, because I'd love to reflect more on the wisdom shared. But I So Loved It overall and thought Wilkin had excellent things to say about how God is different from us – and why that's a good thing.

SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM AND THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE BY KRISTY WOODSON HARVEY – This series is about a mother, Ansley, and her three adult children: Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson. The mother has her own point-of-view in all three books, and then one daughter is the second perspective in each book. So, the first book is primarily Ansley and Caroline's stories, for example, even though the sisters have their own subplots going on. This felt like the definition of a beach read. I loved the Southern setting and the family relationships in all three, but HOLY DRAMA, y'all. There was so much happening in these pages, including secrets in the past and present, and a lot of it didn't work for me. The characters all needed more development, and I think that kept me from becoming emotionally invested. The characters are often passively reacting to the things happening to them rather than being actively engaged in the action. Harvey has a warm voice that easily hooked me in, but things felt very surface level and repetitive. For a light summer read, I So Liked It.

The only other book I read in June was Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young. I forgot to take a photo of it while and was too lazy to do it after the fact since I don't have a ton to say about the book. I didn't predict where the story was headed, but the journey to get there made me so depressed. It felt very timely and explored some current social issues in a sci-fi (dystopian?) setting, but I just didn't really enjoy reading it. I'm So Okay With It but think my issues were more about my personal reading taste than the book itself.

What have you been reading lately?

Quick Lit: June 2019 (Part 1)

Nov 18, 2019

In June we welcomed summer, and I started to enter a reading slump. My slump, unsurprisingly, coincided with the first trimester of my pregnancy. I wasn't sick at all, but I was so tired. And I actually finished a ton of books, but I just wasn't loving most of what I was reading – as you'll see below. I finished 20 books, and I'm reviewing 7 of them today and 9 of them in tomorrow's post. Of those not included, I re-read three of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (which will be included in my July Quick Lit) and one other book I'll briefly chat about in Part 2. Visit Modern Mrs. Darcy for more reviews and recommendations from other Quick Lit participants!

LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE BY KRISTY WOODSON HARVEY – This wasn't on my radar before I randomly found it for $1 at Goodwill and decided I might as well try it. I'd heard good things about the author and figured it was worth trying. Have you ever read a book that felt like something you'd typically mock but somehow worked for you in that moment? That was my experience with this book. It's narrated by a grandmother, Lovey, and her granddaughter, Annabelle. Y'all, Annabelle is a complete mess, and I was honestly judging her for the entire book. But it was a train wreck that I couldn't look away from! There were a lot of Southernisms and platitudes that I might call cheesy, but instead I So Liked It. It was like watching Hart of Dixie – a show a loved even as I rolled my eyes.

SIX OF CROWS AND CROOKED KINGDOM BY LEIGH BARDUGO – I first read these books in 2016, never reviewed them (struggle!), and can't remember fully how I felt about them on that first read. But Crooked Kingdom did make it on my best of the year list, so it's safe to say I loved them overall. Having re-read both of Bardugo's series, I can definitively say that I prefer these books over the Grisha trilogy. I love these characters so much more, and I find the plot gripping and action-packed. I love the Ocean's Eleven vibe and how all of the different point-of-views flesh out the story. Each character has their own voice and style, and it made the books so fun to read. This is Bardugo at her very best, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this duology because I'm So Loved It

KING OF SCARS BY LEIGH BARDUGO – A brand-new series starring Prince Nikolai, the best character from the Grisha books, sounded like music to my ears. Then I read it... and was so disappointed. Despite being billed as a Nikolai book, I felt like we got way more of Nina and Zoya's perspectives. I couldn't tell you anything about what happened to him because he was such a blip on this book's plot. So maybe my expectation of this being his story was my undoing? Whatever the case, I felt all 500 pages of this one. It was a drag to finish! It didn't help that I predicted one aspect near the end that absolutely enrages me. A lot of readers seem to love it, but I very decidedly do not. I'm sad to say I'm just So Okay With It but maybe the follow-up will redeem it for me. (Though I doubt it.)

DON'T DATE ROSA SANTOS BY NINA MORENO – I enjoy Laura Crockett's blog and opinions on books, so I had to give this one a shot since she is Moreno's agent. This YA contemporary felt like a blend of two TV shows that I love and adore – Jane the Virgin and Gilmore Girls – while still standing entirely on its own. There's a curse, a vibrant Cuban community, deliciously described food, complicated family relationships across generations, a heroine finding her voice and her future, and a sweet little romance, too. Add in a dash of lovely writing that was lyrical without trying too hard, and you've got a feel for this book! It was sweet and funny but still a little somber, too, in just the right ways. I So Enjoyed It and look forward to reading whatever Moreno writes next. 

THE LANGUAGE OF THORNS BY LEIGH BARDUGO – Since I'd been on a Bardugo binge, I figured I'd continue on to the one thing I still had from her on my To Be Read pile. This collection of short stories definitely reads like a book of fairy tales... and not the sweet, precious kind those words conjure up. But this is Bardugo, so perhaps your mind already went to a darker and more dangerous place. These stories are very atmospheric, to the point where I almost should have saved them to read in the fall/winter since they felt so seasonal. There is artwork throughout that enhanced the stories, which was a nice touch. I admire Bardugo's creativity and storytelling, and the six stories averaged out to a So Liked It. Not bad for a book that didn't appeal to me apart from the author!

ONE NIGHT AT THE LAKE BY BETHANY CHASE* – When I pick up a book from Chase, I know that I can expect a vivid setting, writing that hooks me, and characters in complicated situations. Whether they’re dealing with the fallout of long-held secrets or questioning their own decisions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll have strong opinions about what’s happening and won’t be able to stop thinking about it. And that’s all true of her newest release, too. This book, unlike her previous two, has a mystery at its heart. But it doesn't fully fit into that genre for me nor did it read as a thriller. It was cool to see Chase try something with a different tone, but I wasn't a huge fan of it. I had issues with the characters and the resolution. I was So Okay With It but continue to love Chase's writing style.

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

What have you been reading lately?
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