Books Make the Best Memories

Jul 28, 2020

In honor of Top Ten Tuesday's tenth anniversary, I revisited some of my past answers and shared my favorite topics. This one – my top ten bookish memories – led to one of my favorite posts on my blog. I mentioned wanting to revisit the topic and add some more recent memories, and today's prompt was a freebie. So, what perfect motivation to write this post! Here are ten of my best bookish moments from the past five years:

1. Buying Baby Books with My Mom (2016)
I'd been trying to get pregnant for a few years and wanted to wait a while to tell almost everyone, but there was no way I could keep that kind of secret from my mom. Not long after I told her the news, we met up for lunch together near my workplace. We dropped into the bookstore after, and she bought me every BabyLit Classic they had available. She knew how long I'd admired the adorable books, and it was such a generous moment of celebration. It was the baby's first gift, and it couldn't have been more fitting. A few months later, I used those books in the pregnancy announcement I posted on social media. And every time I see them on my big boy's shelves, I smile.

2. Moderating Sarah J. Maas' Event (2017) + Book Releases
There are no words to describe the shock and excitement I felt when I was asked if I was interested in moderating the Atlanta book tour stop for Sarah J. Maas' Tower of Dawn. I couldn't say yes fast enough! The high school theater where it was held was packed, and I got to have the best conversation with Maas beforehand and on stage. It was definitely one of the coolest opportunities blogging brought into my life! And I have to give a special shout-out to all the memories I have associated with her book releases, such as taking the day off work to read Queen of Shadows, my big boy sharing a birthday with A Court of Mist and Fury, and binging Kingdom of Ash in one day.

3. A Bookish March Madness Bet (Est. 2018)
Kelly knows I don't care about sports at all, including major tournaments or events like the Olympics. So, she devised a clever way to make me fill out a March Madness bracket: adding a bookish bet to the equation. The winner got to make the loser read any book of their choice. How could I resist the chance to make Kelly bend to my will?! To no one's surprise, I lost my first year – but I consider it a win because it led to a new favorite series for me. In our second year, I won. Yay! And with no March Madness this year, we created our own bookish brackets. You can read the post to see how that turned out! It's been such a fun, silly tradition that I look forward to every year.  

4. Nick Built Me Bookcases (2018)
When we decided to sell our house and move, we bought a house in a great neighborhood that just needed a little care and attention. There were so many things I adored about it, but one of my favorites was the room that was perfect for a library. I showed Nick a few posts about making Ikea Billy bookcases look like built-ins, and he told me he could make it happen. Y'all, it's literally a dream come true. It's my favorite room in my house, and I don't just love it because it's filled with beautiful books. I love the memory of those late-nights working on them together, and the love Nick put into the project. He's earned eternal bragging rights, and I'm so thankful for him!

5. #FebruaREREAD with Kelly (2019)
Near the end of 2018, I told Kelly, “I wish I could ignore my TBR for a month and just re-read old favorites.” “Why can't you?” she immediately replied. And so: we decided to spend all of February re-reading our favorite books! We called it our #FebruaREREAD. What better time to do it? The month we were both born in AND the month meant for celebrating love! It was so much fun to dedicate an entire month to old favorites. I was so proud of myself for re-reading 24 books, and I loved dedicating so much time to books I loved. We didn't do it again this year – mostly because I had a baby in February – but I wouldn't be surprised if it makes a comeback in 2021. Stay tuned!

6. My Mom Replacing My First Anne of Green Gables (2019)
In April of last year, I posted a photo on Instagram of these pastel editions of the Anne of Green Gables series in honor of the first day of spring. And I pointed out that I was missing this edition of the first book in the series because I loaned it to Deanna H. in fourth grade, and she never gave it back. Yes, I was still bitter. About a month later, my mom surprised me with a copy of this beloved book that she'd tracked down for me. Now, my collection is complete! It was such a sweet, thoughtful gesture. I love having the memory of the missing book and the precious way it was replaced all these years later. Mom, if you're reading this – I don't deserve you!

7. Bookstore Browsing with My Sister (2020)
I almost chose a different memory that was very representative of this year – getting alone time by  reading The Heir Affair while eating Culver's parked in my car – but I had to go with the one that's a lot more meaningful. Once things started to re-open after quarantine, my sister and I met up at Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. While I'm still not used to the feeling of wearing a mask, our bookstore dates have felt normal adjacent and have been a delightful way to get out of the house for a bit. And, inevitably, Caroline convinces me to treat my shelf and buy way more than I actually need. I'm not complaining, however, because we all need a little retail therapy this year.

The last three memories on my list don't have specific dates associated with them because I'm cheating by grouping a ton of my favorite memories together. Keep reading, and you'll see what I mean!

8. All the Book Signings I've Attended
Before I started blogging, I don't think it had even occurred to me to attend a book signing. I loved to read, but I didn't think about book tours or conferences like BEA. That all changed once I joined this community, and since then I've gotten to meet some of my favorite authors in person! From telling Beatriz Williams about my #BestieBeatrizBinge to listening to authors like Colleen Oakley, Gayle Forman, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor and more chat about their inspiration, I've loved the people I've gotten to meet and the events I've attended. And my favorite, by far, was meeting Markus Zusak when he came to Atlanta for the tenth anniversary of The Book Thief

9. All the Bookstores I've Visited with Kelly
Kelly and I have visited a lot of bookstores in the past three years. Every time she comes to Georgia, we visit an ever-growing list of used bookstores in the surrounding area. We have our favorite stores, but we can't resist the thrill of the hunt even when it takes us to some random places. When I went to Wisconsin, we continued our tradition by exploring bookstores in Milwaukee and Madison. And, of course, we've gone in a lot of bookstores in our two trips across the pond. But none of those compare to the memories we've made at the Piccadilly Waterstones. You know how some people have a "this is our song" thing? Well, that store is Our Place.

10. All the Books I've Read While Traveling
For many books, I can remember the time and place that I read them. But none are quite as vivid in my mind as the books I've read while traveling! There's something special about going somewhere new that just cements a book in my brain. And it's even better when those stories become all-time favorites. I love looking at my shelves and remembering the little details – the cramped plane ride, the sand on my hands, the roar of the waterfall, the shadow of the Eiffel Tower – about the day I got to explore the world in more ways than one. And this item on my list has inspired another blog post: my ten favorite memories of reading while traveling. Coming soon!

What's your best bookish memory?

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #9

Jul 24, 2020

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. I love this kind of content so much that I started highlighting my loves and lusts with So Obsessed With posts. So, here are eight things I'm so obsessed with lately:
Back in April, face masks weren't as easy to find from major retailers like Target. So, I turned to Etsy. I saw someone on Instagram recommend this shop, and I liked this Rifle print. I'm very happy with the quality, and it's washed well. Even though I wear a mask every time I go out, I still can't really believe this is the state of the world.

After I finished off my current cleanser, I mentioned to my sister that I needed to get something new. I'd been using Cetaphil but wasn't a huge fan because it didn't remove makeup very well. She recommended giving this one a try, and I've been pleased so far. It's gentle, has a subtle scent, and actually cleans my face. And it's a great price!

I've made this a few times since I first saved the recipe, and it hasn't gotten old. I love baby gold potatoes, and I never would have thought to try Italian-style chicken sausage but it's delicious in this meal! I've just made this in my oven, but I want to try it on the grill eventually. Sprinkling bacon and cheese on top is the perfect final touch.

Last year, I was obsessed with Book of the Month (referral link) for a few months before canceling. Well, I re-joined in April and haven't regretted the decision. I've loved their picks lately, and the app is an awesome bonus. I love the notification when selections are added, placing my order right from my phone. The Reading Challenge in fun, too!

This was purchased to solve a recurring problem in our household: forgetting that we'd run out of an item and needed to add it to our next grocery order. So, I got this simple but cute magnet for our fridge, and now we have no excuse! As soon as we notice an item running low, we write it down. The small size was perfect for our needs.

I added these to my cart after I saw them in one of @plannerstateofmind's Instagram photo. She's one of my favorite accounts to follow because she uses her Simplified Planner is such a practical way. I love getting ideas for my Notes pages from her, seeing her functional sticker usage, and admiring her gorgeous handwriting.

When I was searching for a solution to the problem mentioned in #5, I remembered this calendar that I'd bookmarked forever ago. The magnet worked better for my shopping list needs, but I realized I could still use this in my kitchen. It's the perfect way to keep track of appointments, Nick's upcoming travel, etc. I'm legit OBSESSED!

Previously, I would have considered myself a pretty loyal Publix shopper. It's still my favorite grocery store, but I've been using Kroger's Pickup option for a few months. It's made my life so much easier, and there's no going back! It's so well designed and convenient. Now I just pop in to Publix for favorites like flowers or bakery items.

What have you been loving lately?

Finding New Favorites in 2020

Jul 22, 2020

About halfway through the year, I often do a little assessment of my reading. How am I doing on my Goodreads Challenge? Am I making progress on the various bookish goals I've set? Is there anything I need to prioritize in the next six months? In the process, I take a look at everything I've read to see what has stood out. I love to think about what will be on my favorites list at the end of the year. Today I'm highlighting my top ten from the first half of 2020! On my list, clicking the book title will take you to my original review. Each title and author is followed by my rating. And, as a bonus, I've added a heart () to the books that I have no doubt will make the final list in December, too.

My Top Ten of 2020 (So Far!)

This highly anticipated companion to The Friend Zone didn't disappoint me! In fact, I loved it so much that I've already read it twice this year. I loved the heroine's hard-fought healing after the devastating loss she experienced, the amazing relationship she has with her best friend, and the adorable romance with one of my new favorite book boyfriends. It was fun, immediately had me hooked, and gave me just the right amount of emotional catharsis. 

McFarlane has been an author obsession since I read my first book from her back in 2014, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. In some ways, I think each new book is even better than the one before... but you can never make me choose a favorite! This release is the perfect example of everything I love about McFarlane's books: a ton of personal growth for the heroine, a swoony romance, and so much emotion. Bonus: this one has fake dating!

If a summary mentions hate-to-love in it and has an interesting premise – like an engaged couple who can't stand each other – I have to read it. It worked in my favor with this book! I might have some reservations recommending it broadly based on the heroine + how most of the couple's issues stem from miscommunication, and yet... I loved it! The quirky characters, sarcastic writing, and twist on my favorite trope just stole my heart.

If you love Veronica Mars or Nancy Drew, this book is for you. As soon as I started reading, I was hooked! The way the book had the heroine's project logs, suspect lists, evidence, and interview transcripts interspersed throughout made me feel like I was part of her investigation. I didn't know how much I needed a crime-solving teenager in my reading life! This mystery is wrapped up by the end of the book, but I'm so happy this will be a series. 

This is probably my most unexpected favorite of 2020 – and the only non-fiction book to make my list. I can't remember the last time I read a book of essays, but I'm so thankful I was drawn to this cover. I think that I read this book at the exact right time in my life. There was something about the way the author explored memory, time, and identity that struck home with me. I have a feeling this is a book I'll return to again and again.

When I chose this for my Book of the Month pick, it felt like taking a risk. I've been burned by books about rich, entitled moms before! But this was the perfect blend of realistic, honest thoughts on motherhood through a satirical lens. I was so invested in all the drama, the way privilege played a role in what happened, and thought the ending was so satisfying. If you like Big Little Lies, this should be on your radar, too.

Based on my history with Moyes' book, I was a little skeptical about her latest release. But I couldn't resist the siren call of horseback-riding librarians in Depression-era Kentucky, so I gave it a try. And what a great decision it turned out to be! The time period, setting, and the female friendships worked so perfectly. I loved that it had a vivid setting, well-developed characters and a plot with lots of drama – a winning combination.

From the moment I finished The Royal We in 2015, I was hoping for a sequel. 2020 hasn't been the year I'd wish for, but my dreams did come true with the release of this book. I loved all the ways it explored trying to be a person when you're also a position – the weight of history on your shoulders and trying to please the public with all of your choices. It was the perfect blend of thought-provoking scenarios and dramatic, dishy fun. I can't wait to re-read!

This book snuck up on me! Rave reviews on Instagram put it on my radar, and I'm so glad I listened to the hype. It had so many elements I love: great backstories for the characters, quippy banter, a fabulous female friendship, a fun premise, and a surprising amount of emotion. You may be expecting a light and breezy beach read, but it's a little more like wading into the ocean and being blown away by all the life underneath the surface. 

More than anything else on this list, my reaction to this book was It's Complicated. I went on such a journey while reading that I had to write a long review showing how feelings changed while I was reading. Thankfully, I loved it by the end, but it did take me a while to get there. I'm so glad it ended on a high, despite the slow and confusing start, and can't wait to see what happens next. And I have a feeling re-reading will cement it more as a favorite.

The perfect first book of the year and new decade! Parker consistently writes amazing romances with well-developed characters and just enough drama, and her latest release was no exception. The only reason it's feature here instead of in my stack? I don't own a physical copy yet! And yes, I'll be remedying that oversight immediately.

A few more "honorable mention" books that I've loved this year: The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord and Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

*I received The Happy Ever After PlaylistIf I Never Met You and The Heir Affair for review consideration. This did not affect my opinions or reviews.

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

Tales & Tiger Lily: June 2020

Jul 20, 2020

My sister recently joined bookstagram as @talesandtigerlily. Her name is Caroline, and Tiger Lily is her adorable sidekick (pictured above). Since she's discovered a love of reading, I've had the best time talking about books with her. Be sure to check out her introduction post to get to know her better. Once a month, you get a new installment of Tales & Tiger Lily. In each post, she reviews three of her favorite reads from the previous month and ends with a list of everything she read with ratings (and links to reviews, if applicable). Her top three from June:

“This country needs someone to punish. And I am that person.”

We see the story unfold through the eyes of Jiva, a Muslim girl from the slums. All she longs for is a better life, but she makes a choice that jeopardizes any chance of her attaining it. She posts a careless comment on Facebook, landing her in jail as a prime suspect for a terrorist attack that killed more than 100 people on a train near her.

The story is also told from two other perspectives: PT Sir and Lovely — two people who are in a position to possibly save her from this injustice. But will they stand up for what is right, or will their selfish desires to rise to the top cause them to look the other way? Will anyone help Jiva?

The events that unravel are truly saddening. My heart sank as person after person threw morals aside for the betterment of their own lives. I was angered by the political corruption and the selfishness of humanity. Although A Burning is fiction, the issues tackled in this novel are so real. They are catastrophic and quite devastating.

I highly recommend Megha Majumdar’s debut novel. At just 288 pages, this book can be finished in one sitting. You won’t be able to put it down, so I suggest carving enough time in your day for this book. Oh, and get a big fuzzy blanket, and bring some tissues while you’re at it. | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ

“She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.”

So I did a silly thing. I binge-watched Normal People on Hulu, and I was obsessed with Marianne and Connell. Then, I just had to read the book. Their relationship was beautiful and messed up. I loved watching them grow up, but it was also devastating seeing how much of their past and personal struggles affected their view of the world. I adored the bond these two individuals shared, and it was an emotional rollercoaster watching the events unfold.

I know this book has mixed reviews, and maybe watching the show influenced my view of it. But I am in love with this story. I can’t believe Sally Rooney is only 29 years old — her writing is so perfect. Now I want to read Conversations with Friends and anything Rooney writes in the future. | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ

“Most people say developing is linear, but for survivors it is cyclic. People grow up, victims grow around; we strengthen around the place that hurt, become older and fuller, but the vulnerable core is never gone.”

I really have no words to describe my adoration for this memoir. I knew from the first 10 pages that it would be a five-star read for me, and I’m quite speechless. This is the kind of book that makes you want to sit alone with your thoughts for hours and reflect. This is the kind of book that makes you want to hold every woman’s hand and unite together. This is the kind of book that stirs something deep in your soul — one you will never forget.

Chanel Miller’s story is saddening and frustrating, yet it offers hope for survivors of trauma. I highly recommend Know My Name. I want everyone in the world to read it. | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ

Recapping the Rest of Caroline's June Reads:
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ Review
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ Review
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ
Stray by Stephanie Danler | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ Review
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ
Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ.5  • Review
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ.5  Review
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
Little Family by Ishamel Beah | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐ŸถReview
All Adults Here by Emma Straub | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
The Mothers by Brit Bennett | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ • Review
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix | ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐ŸถReview

Quick Lit: June 2020 (Part 2)

Jul 15, 2020

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my June Quick Lit, I finished 17 books in June. I chatted about ten of them yesterday and then six in today's post. As a bonus, I'm reviewing a series I read a month ago in this post, too. As you'll see, my reading has been eclectic lately! If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

I MISS YOU WHEN I BLINK BY MARY LAURA PHILPOTT – I can't remember the last time I read a book of essays, and I'm still not sure what prompted me to buy this collection. Regardless, I'm so glad I did. This is one of my favorite reads of the year! I loved so many of the stories Philpott shares and the meaning she extracts out of them. Although I'm not in the same stage of life, I still felt like I read this book at the exact right time in my life. There was something about the way she explored memory, time, and identity that struck home with me. It helped that I could relate to her Type A personality in so many ways. I'm So Obsessed With It, and I thought Philpott was wise, relatable, and funny. She made me want to be her friend. I can't wait to re-read this one!

WHAT YOU WISH FOR BY KATHERINE CENTER* – I'm going to rip off the band-aid: I was incredibly disappointed by this book. Since Happiness for Beginners is an all-time favorite, I was thrilled to learn Duncan was the hero of this story. I expected this to be exactly what I'd wished for! Instead, I felt so let down. I loved the theme of the novel, a few quotes from it, and a cameo from a certain favorite couple. But that's it. The heroine made me want to scream. She got on my last nerve and made a "just okay for me" book even worse. I was continually questioning her reasoning and actions in a way that just pulled me out of the story. I didn't like how internal the writing was either. Give me more dialogue, more action, and some showing instead of telling. Sadly, I'm So Over It

AMAL UNBOUND BY AISHA SAEED – Did I buy this book because I loved the cover? You better believe it. I haven't read many books set in Pakistan, so that aspect appealed to me, too. For me, this was one of those experiences were I felt like a great story had a lackluster execution. I liked the heroine's voice, but something about the writing felt unemotional and clunky. There is a great message here about speaking up and inspiring change, as well as the importance of education for girls around the world. But there was just no spark or vibrancy to the writing or characters. Both were very average. I kept wondering whether I'd be more immersed in the story if I was the intended audience, but I just don't know. I was So Okay With It overall, but I did love the message at its heart.

ANNIE'S LIFE IN LISTS BY KRISTIN MAHONEY – I randomly found this one while browsing at the bookstore. I don't read a lot of Middle Grade, but this one felt like it was made for me! I'm going to list some of the reasons why:

1. As a lover of lists, I could totally relate to the heroine, Annie.
2. A book written entirely in lists ended up being a cute and clever construction!
3. Annie was an enjoyable heroine, and I loved how Mahoney captured her voice.
4. The problems felt very realistic, and Annie's reactions to them made perfect sense for her age.
5. The adorable illustrations throughout gave me even more to love about the book.
6. I was happy that the book focused on family and friendships. 
7. All of the secondary characters were well-developed and memorable.

I So Enjoyed It and can't wait to read more from this author!

HYPERBOLE AND A HALF BY ALLIE BROSH – I was familiar with Brosh's blog by the same name but hadn't read her book. I have no idea where it would be shelved in a bookstore, since it's a combo of humor/memoir/graphic novel, but this felt like a good way to dip my toe into the graphic novel genre. It's a mix of of new content and fan favorites from her blog, and I was surprised by how many of the stories I recognized. Whether Brosh was talking about her dogs or her depression, she writes with self deprecation and humor. The illustrations are rudimentary and weird, but they work somehow. It was just disjointed for me – there were stories that made me laugh and others I found awkwardly cringe-y or honestly kinda sad. I think it balanced out to a lukewarm So Okay With It overall. 

THE SONG OF ACHILLES BY MADELINE MILLER – Having read and loved Miller's Circe last year, I had to go back and read this book. I haven't read a lot of Greek mythology and know little about the Trojan War. So, most of the things described in this book were entirely knew to me! As with Circe, I found Miller's writing to be gorgeous. I listened to it on audio, too, and loved the narrator's voice. This is a character-driven story, and I did think Miller did a great job developing both Patroclus and Achilles and the secondary characters. But despite that fact, I just didn't find myself very invested in anyone. I'd expected way more emotion, at least based on some reviews I'd read. Instead, I felt a distance and detachment as the story unfolded. I So Liked It, but Circe remains my favorite of the two.

Thanks Kelly, @xoxokellynina, for letting me use your photo!

I planned to write a separate post about this series but have clearly gotten too lazy. So, instead, you're getting my short and sweet thoughts about each book! Luckily, Kleypas is an incredibly popular and well-known author, so I'm just joining a chorus of people who are already a fan of this series. But here's the backstory you have to know first: Kelly has been begging me to read Sugar Daddy for years, and I flat-out refused. I hated the title, the cover, and the sample I read once in a bookstore, so my mind was made up. Then, we did our bookish March Madness bracket and tied (I won by half a point!). Typically, the winner choses a book for the loser to read. Since we basically both won, we both got to choose a book for the other person. Can you guess what Kelly picked?

Yep, Sugar Daddy. Thankfully, Hoopla had the audiobook that I could borrow, so I figured I'd rip the bandaid, turn it to 3x speed, and get it over with. Can you tell I went into it with such a chip on my shoulder? It's a miracle that I'm able to say: this book won me over! It's unusual for the genre and felt more women's fiction than romance in many ways. I loved the heroine and was rooting for her the entire novel. I'm shocked to say I So Enjoyed It! I personally wish the hero had been introduced sooner and that the romance has been more developed because it ended up being the weakest element for me. After spending so long getting to know this heroine, I was disappointed we didn't get to dig deeper into her relationship with the hero. The narrator of the audio, Brittany Pressley, added to my enjoyment and is a big reason I almost immediately started the second book.

Blue-Eyed Devil was my favorite in the series, which I wasn't expecting. We first meet the hero in Sugar Daddy, and he had a lot to make up for based on the way he'd acted in that novel. Thankfully, this book spent a lot of time with the heroine first, and she stole my heart right away. Her backstory is heartbreaking, and it's hard to watch her go through some truly awful, traumatic things. I appreciated that Kleypas handled it with care. I loved how the hero slowly won her trust over time, and I thought it was great that the romance didn't "fix" her life. She found healing on her own, and the "happily ever after" was just icing on the cake. I So Loved It and will definitely re-read it. 

The third, Smooth-Talking Stranger, was my least favorite. And it was even more of a letdown following the magic of the second book! I thought the heroine was pretty annoying, and the hero was a bit too alpha male for me. I just was never fully invested in the story. The romance felt more attraction-driven rather than emotional, and that's never a favorite for me. Two things redeemed it and made it a So Liked It: the heroine's commitment to making sure her nephew was cared for and the cameos of the previous couples. I don't see myself revisiting it, however.

And finally, we end with Brown-Eyed Girl. I had some issues with this one, but the overall story appealed to me more than the third book. I loved the heroine's wedding planning business, her relationship with her half sister (and another storyline involving that character), and the way the heroine's possible career move was presented and resolved. But honestly, I'm not sure what the hero saw in her. She continually pushed him away – for no reason except her own insecurity! Yes, it can be realistic, but it is hard to believe that this supposedly wealthy and gorgeous man would keep pursuing her after so much rejection. That being said, I So Enjoyed It once I just suspended my disbelief on that aspect. Overall, a fun way to say goodbye to the Travis family.

*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 2020 (Part 1)

Jul 14, 2020

I read 17 books in June, and I'm sharing my thoughts on all of them over the next two days! Since the post was too long, I split it into two parts: ten mini reviews in today's post and six in tomorrow's post. You'll find one June read only briefly mentioned at the end of this post, along with thoughts on three books I read in May. And tomorrow's post contains some thoughts on a series I read a month or two ago. I had to make sure I was all caught up! If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

VALENTINE BY ELIZABETH WETMORE – Let's start by laying it all on the table: if I'd solely read this physical book, I would have DNFed it. There are no quotation marks in this novel or even any stylistic indication that dialogue is occurring. WHY?! However, I listened to it on audio and thought it was brilliantly narrated. If you decide to try this book, I highly recommend that format. This is a book where the setting feels like a character, and I loved that fact. The story, set in 1976, explored how this small Texas oil town shaped the lives of seven women who lived in it. With multiple points of view, I was impressed by how Wetmore captured the voice of each character. The first two chapters, in particular, wowed me. I So Loved It, the kind of read that lingered in my mind long after I was done.

LONG BRIGHT RIVER BY LIZ MOORE – I borrowed a copy of this book from my sister, even though she hadn't read it yet. I was drawn to the idea of two sisters divided by their very different lives until one of them goes missing. I was expecting it to be primarily a mystery, but I was pleasantly by how deeply it explored the characters and their family dynamic. The Then/Now structure created a great slow build and kept me completely hooked. Focusing on the opioid crisis and addiction did make a very bleak, heartbreaking read. It's heavy, I won't lie. But I was totally engrossed in the heroine's search for her sister and the way Moore unflinchingly depicted their story and this city. It's more literary than what I'd expected from a mystery/thriller and that worked in its favor for me. I So Enjoyed It.

YOU DESERVE EACH OTHER BY SARAH HOGLE – I bought this on a whim at Target one day because we all know I can't resist a summary with hate-to-love. An engaged couple who now hates each other? You know I had to find out how they'd gotten there! Here's the deal: I So Loved It, but I think it will be frustrating for a lot of readers. The heroine is pretty neurotic, and most of their issues stem from her inability to communicate. I kept thinking, "Um, I think this is all in your head... and you're being rude." Regardless, I still found it to be such a fun read. The writing was quirky and sarcastic, the story was ultimately adorable, and it was a fun twist on my favorite trope. I laughed so much while I was reading it! It worked for me, personally, but I'd recommend it with some caveats.

ONE OF US IS LYING AND ONE OF US IS NEXT BY KAREN M. MCMANUS – After loving A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, I found myself craving more YA mysteries. That led me to this duology! The first was like The Breakfast Club – but with murder – and I thought it was thrilling. I solved the case about halfway through, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment at all. It was twisty, fast paced, and I was rooting for the characters! I So Enjoyed It. The sequel was set at the same high school but followed different characters, including one we met in the first book. It was also quite fun: the Truth or Dare game stressed me out, the characters were enjoyable, the hints of romance were cute, and the ending surprised me. I thought the first was a bit more engaging, but I still So Liked It.

STIR BY JESSICA FECHTOR – Though I'm not a foodie at all, I weirdly love books about food. After reading a blog post about 20 tasty and tantalizing food memoirs, I added a ton to Goodreads – including this one! The author suffered a brain aneurysm at age 28 and lost her sense of smell and the vision in one eye. Struggling with her "new normal," she turns to food and cooking to find her way again. Jessica's voice was warm and inviting, her support system sounded lovely, and her outlook on life was inspiring. Even without the food element, this was an excellent memoir. Ah, but the food! She described cooking and eating with such love and joy that it made me reflect on my  own memories that are connected to meals I've eaten. I So Loved It and will be buying a copy for my shelves.

WRITERS & LOVERS BY LILY KING – Now that my sister Caroline has started reading a ton and joined bookstagram, I have another source of reading recommendations. This was one of her favorite reads in May, and she made it sound so good that I had to read it. This slow, slice-of-life story felt like nothing was happening, so its beauty snuck up on me. I thought I was simply enjoying it until I suddenly realized no, I So Loved It. Character-driven with insightful writing, I loved how King explored grief, love, adulthood, and finding your way. It was quiet and contemplative, and I thought the heroine was so well developed. I frequently wanted to reach into the novel and offer her advice or a shoulder to cry on. This isn't the kind of book I'd typically pick up, but I'm so glad I tried it!

COMING HOME BY ROSAMUNDE PILCHER – After thoroughly enjoying Pilcher's The Shell Seekers last year, I was excited to pick up this book from her. It sounded right up my alley: a continent-spanning saga following a young British girl, Judith Dunbar, from her early days in boarding school through WWII. But I had the audiobook equivalent of sticker shock when I realized it was 40 hours long. Yikes! There were things I loved about this quaint, cozy novel – particularly the characters and setting – but it also felt overly detailed and way longer than it needed to be. For me, not enough happened in the story to justify the length. The second half was more interesting than the first, but I was starting to resent it by the end. I So Liked It but don't see myself reading more from Pilcher in the future. 

THE VANISHING HALF BY BRIT BENNETT – I loved Bennett's debut, The Mothers, and couldn't wait for this new release from her. The way Bennett explored the concept of identity through these twin sisters and their children was so thought-provoking and discussable. It would make a great book club read! However, for me, it felt like something was missing. The shifts in time and way it moved between various characters wasn't my favorite. The characters were well developed, but it often seemed to leave a storyline right at the moment I wanted to dig deeper into it. It never felt like it was building towards anything, and I thought the first half was much stronger than the second. I So Enjoyed It and understand why it's getting a lot of buzz, even though it wasn't a favorite for me.

DON'T OVERTHINK IT BY ANNE BOGEL – As a longtime reader of Modern Mrs. Darcy and someone often guilty of overthinking and indecision, this book immediately appealed to me. I listened to the audiobook, so I got to hear Anne's conversational writing delivered by her soothing voice. A perfect combo! The strategies presented here aren't necessarily new or original ideas, but I loved that they were gathered into one helpful resource. The examples presented sometimes felt like shallow things to worry about, but I felt like that was part of the point – overthinking can cause such indecision and anxiety about things that are not deserving of that level of mental energy. It reads a bit like a series of blog posts, but I still So Loved It and look forward to re-reading, pen in hand.

I listened to the first three books of the Mortal Instruments series – City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass – by Cassandra Clare on audio back in May. I'd initially planned to review them once I finished all six, but now that a month has gone by... I'm not entirely sure that I'll go back to the series. I don't know what happened! I liked the action, thought the world was intriguing, and was hooked on the drama. The characters annoyed me, for the most part, but I'd still say I So Liked It for all three. And yet, the more time has passed, the less motivation I have to return. I think they were fun when I was immersed in the world but were forgettable once I'd left it. I have positive feelings for them overall and may complete the series eventually, but I definitely prefer the Infernal Devices.

Additionally, I read Book Love by Debbie Tung, a graphic novel about books. There's no story to it – just vignettes celebrating bookworms and the love of reading. It's the kind of thing I'd gift to another book lover. Nothing very new but makes a cute addition to a "books about books" stack. I read it in about 30 minutes and So Liked It

Don't forget to check out Part Two of my June 2020 Quick Lit tomorrow for reviews of six more books! And though I didn't re-read anything in June (what?!), I do have a few books that I'll briefly write about here. 

What have you been reading lately?

The Throne Must Go On

Jul 9, 2020

This week marks the release of one of my most-anticipated releases – and a book that you'll definitely find on my Top Ten of 2020 list at the end of the year. The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is the sequel to The Royal We, a book I first read when it came out back in 2015. I've re-read it twice since then, and I love it more each time. These characters feel like my friends, and it's such a comforting read for me. The Royal We is set in a world that's familiar but with a twist. You can read my review for more details about that story. But the fun nods to William and Kate's love story story, the insightful way it explores personal privacy vs. life in the public eye, and the descriptions of England (especially Oxford!) have earned it a spot on my all-time favorites list.

And do you know what I wrote in my 2015 review? I'm dying for a sequel so I can spend more time with Nick and Bex – and get an update on Freddie, too, of course. 2020 hasn't been the year I'd wish for, by any stretch of the imagination, but my dreams have come true! I couldn't wait to read The Heir Affair, and it did not disappoint. I read the book back in May and adored every minute of it! Picking up right after the end of the first book, it gives you an up-close look at the fallout from Nick and Rebecca's fateful wedding day. Marrying a prince doesn't guarantee a happily ever after, especially when you're in the midst of a very public scandal.

In this sequel, Queen Eleanor says it best, But what is it you Americans say? You break it, you buy it? Well, you broke it, and you've bought it, so it must be you who mends it. But will Bex… ahem, Rebecca… be able to fix it? You're going to have to buy the book to find out, but I can still tell you a little bit of what to expect from it (with no spoilers, of course). Clocking in at 464 pages, The Heir Affair will take you on a Journey. Yes, with a capital J. The newlywed period – living together, combining your lives, joining a new family and creating one of your own – can be hard for mere mortals. When your in-laws are monarchs, there's even more pressure added to the mix. 

Even if Rebeca's impropriety from the previous book hadn't come to light, she was still in for a rude awakening once she became an official member of the royal family. I truly believe that no amount of etiquette training beforehand can truly prepare someone for the world she was about to enter. With the first book, I loved how it explored the idea of what someone has to sacrifice as a sovereign. The idea of giving up your privacy because you fell in love with a public figure wasn't something I'd thought deeply about before that book. And now, it's always on my mind when I read articles + see photos of the British Royal Family. I certainly don't envy Kate Middleton.

What I love most about this sequel, on the other hand, is how it explores your entire life being judged in the court of public opinion, having the weight of centuries of history upon your shoulders, and what a monarch must sacrifice for the throne. You see all this private pain – things like tension in a marriage, distance between brothers, business interfering with a friendship, and heartbreaking medical complications  – that has a significant impact on your emotional and mental health. And yet, it's got to stay behind closed doors. The public wants you to be personable, sure, but in a polished way. Don't be too ambitious, too scandalous... too much of anything.

How can you be a PERSON when you're also a POSITION? That was the question that I couldn't stop asking while I was reading. There's a lot happening in this book: a marriage in crisis, a blossoming friendship between two unexpected people, a palace renovation, a quest to discover secrets from the past, and a prescient storyline for one character that echoes of real-life changes that have taken place in the British Royal Family in recent months. And that's certainly not all you'll find inside! There's a ton packed in these pages, and I couldn't get enough of it.

If your biggest issue with The Royal We was the length and/or pace, you'll probably feel similarly about this sequel. However, I had no complaints. I loved all the details – the witty dialogue, the emotional developments, and the major drama. Because these characters feel like friends, I was thrilled to spend as much time as possible with them. Could some of it have been cut? Probably. But I wouldn't lose a page personally. Did I like every decision these characters made? Nope. But I understood their motivation. Are these characters occasionally suffering from Privileged People Problems? Sure. Yet, I still wouldn't trade places with them. I'd rather be a "nobody" in Georgia than join the monarchy. Knowing history has its eyes on you (thanks, Hamilton) is an incredible amount of pressure.

And while I may have made this sound like it's all Deep Thoughts and Complicated Scenarios, it's also a ton of dishy, dramatic fun. It was thought-provoking read for me, but it was also entertaining and exactly what I needed in the midst of COVID-19. The drama is cranked all the way up, and it's messy, y'all. But so are The Real Housewives. Why would I expect anything less from the royal family? Give someone money and power, and shit's gonna start hitting the fan. If you've read The Royal We, I can't wait for you to find out what happens next. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? I love the Fug Girls and these characters they've created! Long may they reign.

So Quotable
I liked that used books brought with them their own history – every dog-ear, every stain, every crease. Maybe a book was slightly faded because someone had left it in the sun on their honeymoon. Maybe page ninety-eight was turned at the corner because it contained a glorious insult, or the perfect romantic turn of phrase. Maybe the person who'd highlighted nearly every line had graduated at the top of her class. Secondhand books could have lived in tiny walk-ups or hotel rooms of the White House – or, here, even in Balmoral Castle itself. Each book was a mystery, its secrets hidden in plain sight. Kind of like me.

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.
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