The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

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I just finished a really great, refreshing contemporary “Women’s fiction” book titled The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves. I’d definitely call it a romance but it was definitely non-traditional. Annika (rhymes with Monica) is a beautiful Illinois college student in the 1990s who has always felt a bit “different” than other people. She’s incredibly uncomfortable and awkward in social situations and has trouble forming relationships and being able to connect with others. I loved seeing the main character as vulnerable and flawed. This was a character not often seen in literature, so I LOVED this.

During chess club one day, Annika meets the incredibly handsome and kind Jonathan Hoffman, who is immediately attracted to her brilliant mind and falls in love with her not only despite her awkwardness, but partly due to her little qwirks. They fall madly in love and all goes well until they break up (we don’t find out why until later in the book).

Flash forward to 2001….Jonathan and Annika bump into eachother after not talking or having any contact for several years. Both of them have changed and grown a lot, and they slowly make their way back towards each other. The book jumps back and forth between their time together in college and the time they reconnect.

I loved their story, and I LOVED the representation of Annika’s character. Not all relationships are easy (DUH!), and not all women are flawless. Yet even people who are awkward and “different” (you’ll find out more about her differences in the book) yearn for love, have relationships, and navigate heartbreak.

The ending was really surprising for me and was incredibly emotional! If you are looking for a great contemporary romance/Chick Lit/Fiction, this one is definitely for you!

4 out of 5 stars for The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves, which will be published on April 2nd, 2019.

Thank you to the author and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

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As an admirer of the former First Lady, I was thrilled to receive this book as a gift for Christmas, especially because I was #1300 in line for it at the library. Clearly this book has struck a chord with millions of people, and I’m happy to say this is the most memorable, wonderful memoir I’ve read in a LONG time.  I realized I didn’t actually know a whole lot about Ms. Obama’s past, and this book provided the context behind much of the headlines between 2008-2016, as well as her life leading up to becoming First Lady of the United States of America.

First, I felt like I was reading a book written by a friend and not one of the most powerful women in America. Her writing is incredibly down-to-earth, and I loved her descriptions of growing up with her family in Chicago. I loved all of her family members’ nicknames (Southside, Dandy, to name a few), the respect that was given to their parents, and the family’s constant struggle of trying to make ends meet and be present for each other. I could feel the love Mrs. Obama has always felt for her family- her disabled yet hardworking never-missed-one-day-of-work father, her no-nonsense mother, and her charming and exuberant big brother.

I felt myself relating to Michelle Obama in so many ways. I was also an academically gifted child with a mother who relentlessly advocated for me over the years when I felt I wasn’t being challenged enough at school, and I continue today to advocate for my own GT (gifted & talented) children. I laughed at her anecdote about relying on her piano teacher’s faded middle C key for months, only to panic at the pristine perfect keys at her first recital because she couldn’t find her hand placement….that was 100% me!

I think my favorite part of the book was the section where she describes a period in her life, after the hard work of completing Princeton and Harvard, after getting a fancy job and fancy car, where she realizes, heartbreakingly, that she doesn’t love practicing law. In fact, she hated it. She really delved into that internal struggle of “What should I be doing with my life?” and “Is the money I’m making really worth sacrificing my happiness?” The strength it took to realize, after years of hard work, that she needed to go a different direction (one that would pay far less, might I add) in order to find fulfillment was inspiring.

Of course, I also loved learning her views on her husband’s decision to run for Senate and then the presidency, and I LOVE how real she is when explaining that she seriously didn’t think her husband would win. She was such a reluctant political spouse, but the faith she has in her husband and their wonderful love story really showed how much one will endure for the love of their life. I also loved her take on different critical points of Mr. Obama’s presidency, as well as the frustrations she felt at seeing the increasingly strong political divides in Washington. Her fun stories about raising her children in the White House- the kids’ slumber parties and sporting events with Secret Service- were great!

All in all, Michelle Obama comes across as a devoted mom, daughter, sister, and wife, and after reading her memoir, I believe more than ever that she is one of the classiest, strongest First Ladies this country has ever had. Also, let me just say- after seeing the awkward relationship between our current President and First Lady over the past couple of years, it was refreshing to read about a couple who remain faithful and devoted to each other, even after 25 years of marriage.

5 out of 5 stars for Becoming by Michelle Obama, which can be purchased here.

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Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose

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Aren’t you just loving this book cover?! I thought it was spooky and beautiful at the same time, and that’s exactly how I’d describe this book. Although Karen Rose is a New York Times bestselling author, I’ve never read anything from her before, so Say You’re Sorry was my first introduction to this fabulous writer.

Here’s the gist of it- THERE IS A SADISTIC SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE, Y’ALL!

Daisy Dawson is a recovering alcoholic, hanging out one night with her good friend, Trish after attending an AA meeting. After noticing a shady figure following the two women, Daisy assumes her overbearing father has started sending men to follow her again in order to keep tabs on her activities, and she decides to confront this guy. However, this is not one of her dad’s “guys,’ it’s THE KILLER. Though small in stature, Daisy is a tough badass chick who manages to fight him off, albeit with injuries and nearly getting strangled. In the process of fighting her attacker off, Daisy grabs a necklace the attacker was wearing, which opens up a huge investigation into a creepy cult and a serial predator on the loose.

At the beginning of the investigation, Daisy meets Special Agent Gideon Reynolds, a major hunk (aren’t they all?) who has made it his life mission to uncovering the cult he belonged to as a child (and barely escaped from with his life) and bringing the cult leaders to justice. I loved his character and thought he was really multi-dimensional, rather than the typical hot-guy-protector.

I have to say, this isn’t really the type of book I’m normally into (suspenseful romance, romantic thriller), but this book was such a great ride! There was so much action, suspense, and terrifying moments, that I couldn’t put this one down! The romance story fits in nicely, though beware- there are some STEAMY scenes. My favorite thing about this book was that I literally had no idea what would happen to all of the characters until the last few pages, and the action didn’t let up at all until the very satisfying end.

If you’re looking for a super fast-paced, action-packed, steamy book, this is definitely for you!

4 of out 5 stars for Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose, which will be released on February 12th, 2019 and is available for pre-order here.

A huge thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book for me in exchange for my honest, unbiased review!

Welcome to 2019!

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I’m not sure about you, but I am SO happy to reach 2019 in one piece. For my family, this past year was filled with constant remodeling endeavors and challenges, busy schedules, hurried days, and not enough time for reading….and even less time for blogging about reading! I typically don’t make resolutions, but I have one simple goal for 2019: Read more, reflect more, and write more. Reflecting on this past year, I’ve decided to take the opportunity to schedule time for myself to do the things I love- reading, crafting, and journaling. Luckily, I’m an early riser, so I plan to make 5:00am ME TIME. I’m so excited!

Something that makes me even more excited is that my 9 year old daughter recently decided she wants to start journaling and list-making. This was MUSIC to my ears, and clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! I’ve equipped her with a fabulous journal, daily planner, and this fun 3 year, question-a-day book from Amazon. I’m so excited for her, as writing down my thoughts and opinions over the past 25 years has really shaped my views on life and opinions on basically everything. I definitely recommend this book for kids, and it’s a fantastic primer for journaling and self-discovery. Find the book here.

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On another note- have you all created your Goodreads 2019 goal? I just set mine this morning to 75 books, although I certainly hope I have time to read more this year. I love the goal tool on Goodreads because it helps me keep track of what I’ve read and also keeps me accountable to my goal. As always, let’s be friends at: https://www.goodreads.com/booksaresoawesome

I’m hoping for a wonderful 2019 for all of you, and here’s to a New Year full of books, books, and more books! Stay tuned for a new book review post soon, as I’ve got several AMAZING books on my currently-reading shelf and will be finishing many soon. This blog has been a blessing for me, and I’ve been truly shocked and pleased with the amount of traffic it receives, so I promise- I’ll be blogging more often!

XOXO

An October Potpourri of Book Reviews

I’ve been a little MIA from the book blog world for the past month, but not for lack of reading! In fact, I’ve been on a major book binge and enjoying every second of it! For the past few months, I’ve spent a majority of my reading time focusing on advanced reader copies, but I was amassing quite a list of new releases and decided to focus most of October on these. Wow…and these NEW RELEASES were great! 2018 has certainly been a great year for books, so for this post, I’d like to give y’all a potpourri of mini-reviews!

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The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton- All politics aside, I REALLY enjoyed this #1 New York Times Bestseller! For me, James Patterson is hit or miss, and his most recent books over the past couple of years have been disappointing, but this one was a real winner! Politics, international crime, a conspiracy to topple the U.S., Russian meddling (did they? did they not?), a foreign hacker, a female assassin…I’m telling ya, this book had it all- suspense, thriller, patriotism, and a President who puts his country before himself. *Sigh* At just over 520 pages, this book is a long one but a quick read. I loved the short chapter format and the different looks at the jobs we often overlook- Chief of Staff, FBI director, as well as the international politicians whose positive alliances are critical to the well-being of everyone. The ending was very satisfying, and I couldn’t help but appreciate all of the honest details and depictions of what it’s like to be the President when something catastrophic is about to hit the fan. 5 out of 5 stars.

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All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin- I’ve been a fan of Emily Giffin’s for several years and even got the wonderful opportunity of meeting her once at a book signing event for one of her previous books. She is delightful! I really, really wanted to love this book, but I just really didn’t, which makes me disappointed. The book follows two families, the Brownings, a wealthy family whose son Finch is a popular high school athlete with his sights set on Princeton, as well as the Volpe family, which includes Lyla and her single father Tom who works hard to support his daughter. Lyla and Finch attend the same prestigious prep school, which Lyla attends on a scholarship and wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Anyway, after a party one night, Finch texts a compromising photo of Lyla along with a racist caption to his friends, which ends up making the rounds at school. This extremely devastating  and stupid act threatens to ruin not only Finch’s life, but affects Lyla and her father tremendously, along with many others. I really liked the premise of this book because this is such an issue in our society today, but I didn’t love the execution. I felt like Giffin tried too hard to make Nina Browning, the rich wife and mother of Finch, the heroine and biggest victim. I just couldn’t feel sorry for her. There was also too much focusing on “poor” Finch, whose character I just detested and not enough depth to Lyla or her father. This book was a really quick read, but I just didn’t think it was nearly as substantive as it could’ve been. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan- Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard a ton of buzz about this book, especially after the movie was released this summer and became a MASSIVE hit! I had this book placed on hold for my Kindle at the library for months, so when it became available, I read it right away. This was such a fun, fast read and I was surprised I loved it so much! The characters, all filthy rich Chinese expats living in Singapore, were interesting, full of depth, and the story line was extremely entertaining from beginning to end. The gist of this one is that Rachel Chu, a normal Economics professor (and American) gets invited to a wedding in Singapore by her handsome boyfriend, Nicholas Young. Rachel has NO IDEA that Nick is one of those crazy rich Asians, so when she accompanies him to Singapore, things get absolutely wild and crazy! This is a super juicy, soap opera type book, but I loved it! I’m also so happy to see the success of this book and movie, as representation is SO important in literature and film! If you’re looking for a light, fun, totally not serious read, this one is definitely for you. 4 out of 5 stars.

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The Fix by David Baldacci- This is the #3 book in the Amos Decker series by Mr. Baldacci, and it did not disappoint. In this one, Amos Decker, who’s working with his same FBI group in Washington D.C., witnesses a seemingly random murder one day just outside FBI headquarters. Even with Decker’s amazing abilities, this killing is baffling to everyone. The killer seemed like a normal, successful family man and businessperson, and the victim is a woman with no record and no details other than being a substitute teacher and hospice volunteer. Decker teams up with Harper Brown, a tough veteran who works with the Defense Intelligence Agency to try and crack this case. As they investigate, Decker and his team are in more danger than ever before, and the case weaves into a story crazier and more complex than anyone could’ve ever guessed. I read this one in just a couple of days, staying up WAY past my bedtime, because as Baldacci is such a master of this, I didn’t know WHAT THE HECK WAS GOING ON until the very end. Definitely thrilling, suspenseful, and full of crime elements like spying, the CIA, defense contracting, and international criminals. For fans of the Amos Decker series, there are also appearances from Melvin Mars, a popular character from the previous book. Loved this one! 4 out of 5 stars.

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The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan- This has to be one of the most wonderfully charming books I’ve read this year. Taken from the book jacket, this is the description of this one:

“Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidently left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.”

This was such a fantastic book about tragedy, heartbreak, losing yourself, and then finding purpose and the ability to put yourself back together and become whole again. The characters were wonderful, the writing was beautiful and descriptive, and the mini stories of the lost things were equally heartbreaking and lovely. This book felt like a warm quilt of love and attachment, and I recommend it to EVERYONE! 5 out of 5 stars.

 

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

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There are a ton of great books coming out in the next few months- so many thrillers and mysteries- and my newest read is definitely one of them! First off, if you aren’t familiar with Lisa Jewell, you are MISSING OUT! She is such a fantastic storyteller, so whenever I sit down with one of her books, I know I won’t be doing anything else for the next few hours.

This book takes place in Melville Heights, a posh neighborhood in Bristol, England, where Joey Mullins and her husband Alfie are living with her ultra-successful doctor brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca. Two doors down is Tom Fitzwilliam, a famously successful teaching administrator beloved by communities everywhere for turning cruddy schools to success stories, who lives with his exercise-obsessive wife and their eccentric son Freddie, a voyeur who likes to keep tabs on everyone in the neighborhood.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, lives down the street with her mother, a mentally-ill former model and actress who thinks people are watching her and that Tom is a stalker and lunatic with secrets. It’s not long before all of the characters become intertwined, and Joey develops a crush on Tom, which becomes obsessive and threatens to ruin her marriage.

Meanwhile, secrets are starting to be uncovered about a dead girl from the past, who left behind a mysterious diary. She makes explosive allegations about her school and her teacher and this leads people to wonder, “So who really are these people of Melville Heights?” On top of it all, the book begins with a death in the neighborhood. so you spend the whole book wondering who/what/how/why. Is Tom just an amazingly devoted family man and successful teacher, or are things not quite as they seem?? Is Joey off her rocker, or just trying to cope with a marriage and her husband’s wanting to start a family? The ending was fabulous and I did not see it coming…..I always love that!

4 our of 5 stars for Watching You by Lisa Jewell, which comes out December 26th, 2018.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and Atria Books , who provided me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

So Far, This is My Favorite Book of 2018!

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I am SO excited to talk about Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield, which is one of the best books I’ve read in a LONG time. I paced myself with this one, which runs nearly 500 pages, because I loved everything about this story and didn’t want it to end. Do you ever get that feeling, after finishing a magical book, that you’ve just lost a friend? That’s how I felt when this one was over.

Once Upon A River takes place in a small English town that rests along the Thames River. One winter night, as villagers and and travelers mingle at the local tavern, famous for its storytelling and ale, a mysterious and severely-injured stranger bursts through the door, carrying what looks like a battered rag doll. However, it’s actually a little girl with the injured man, and she appears dead but is alive and seemingly back from the dead. Who is this little girl?  Is she the missing daughter of a local wealthy gentleman and his grieving wife? The sister of a parson’s housekeeper? The granddaughter of a exceptionally loving father whose only care in the world is his family?

We meet several characters, from nefarious crooks and thieves, to the caring and gentle villagers, who are just as desperate as anyone to figure out who the little girl is and where she belongs. Diane Setterfield weaves magical, lyrical storytelling with science and dark folktales to set the stage for a BEAUTIFUL, curious mystery that isn’t solved until the very end.

I’m certain this book, which comes out in December of 2018, will be on all of the “Best Books of 2018” lists, and I am grateful to have been able to read and love this book before it becomes a massive bestseller.

5 out of 5 stars for Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield, which is available for pre-order now and will be released on December 4th, 2018. Definitely add this one to your reading list!

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.