4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, romance

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Rating: 4 stars

Two years after losing her fiance in a motorcycle accident, Sloan finds a dog running around in the street.  She ends up bringing him home and calling the number on his id tag to locate his owner, who does not respond.  After several days, she is in love with the dog and finally the owner, Jason, calls and explains his situation.  He and Sloan end up texting and talking and when he gets back into town, she agrees to go on a date with him.

This was a really cute, light, happy story.  Jason is a semi-famous musician and I usually avoid books about the rich and famous, it’s just not my thing.  But I loved @authorabbyjimenez’s first book, The Friend Zone, and so many of my friends loved this one, so I gave it a shot.  With a semi-famous musician as a lead, I expected a story of excess and extravagance, two things I am not interested in reading about, but this story could not have been further away from that.  Jason was a very down-to-earth, family oriented guy. I loved how Abby Jimenez explored the demands of a record label, the demands of a music career and touring with a band. I thought it was really well done and added a lot of depth and dimension to this unique rom com.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes romance and rom coms.  

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, Women's Fiction

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

I love books about people on the autism spectrum.  I feel like their personalities magnify universal truths that we can all relate to.  Annika meets Jonathan when they are both students at the University of Illinois.  She is on the autism spectrum, but she doesn’t know it.  Social situations behoove Annika, but both she and Jonathan are aces at chess and they fall in love.  Jonathan doesn’t mind if she’s a bit different.

He graduates and moves to New York to be a stockbroker.  He eventually marries someone else, while Annika is still in Illinois, pursuing a Master of Library Science degree.

Ten years later, they meet again, and try to have a relationship once again.

The author did a tremendous job of showing the reader what someone with autism goes through, how they want to be loved and accepted and just don’t always understand how social situations work and how that is very difficult.  This was a lovely story, with plot twists that I never saw coming.  This is not just your average love story–there is A LOT MORE HERE.

I recommend this to anyone who loved Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, or The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison.

I received this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review.

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth

4.5/5 stars

There is A LOT to discuss in this book. It makes an excellent book club book.

Like the previous two books in the series, A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times and Farewell to the East End, this book is about Jennifer Worth’s experience as a nurse-midwife in London’s East End after the Bltiz, when the area was deeply impoverished but the tough Cockney residents who had been there for generations were committed to sticking it out.

This book shows the reader the pain of tuberculosis and losing one’s children and siblings to TB, being a carrier of TB and the devastating effects of the disease. This book explores the controversial topic of abortion and shows just how complicated of an issue it is. There are many other stories of residents of the East End, stories about a way of life that no longer exists in an area that no longer exists. I am so glad that Worth took the time to write them down and preserve them.

These books are about women. Hardships women face. How strongly women love. How women are taken advantage of or abused by men. How strong women can be. How empowered women can be. How women can lift each other up or destroy each other. Although some of the subject matter in these books is difficult to read, there is a feeling of being part of a sisterhood that is so pervasive and strong and uplifting. These are very powerful books and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about what women’s lives were like in the 1900s in London.

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, Women's Fiction

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I heard so many good things about this book from book bloggers and on Bookstagram, that I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did because I LOVED it!!

Stella has high-functioning autism. She is super smart, from a wealthy family and makes a lot of money, but she doesn’t like people touching her and her mom would like her to get married and have babies. She realizes that she has to get over her aversion to being touched, so she hires a male escort.

Stella hires Michael Phan. Michael is an escort, he’s half Vietnamese and half Swedish, he works out a lot and has a dragon tattoo wrapped around his body. He’s hot and he knows what he is doing in the bedroom. He is also very kind and patient with Stella and he takes time to figure her out and really help her.

Michael’s dad abandoned their large Vietnamese family and Michael has a lot of issues because of it and a lot to work through. But he is such a great hero!

Here is why I LOVED this book:

Excellent, well developed characters

A great story

I learned A LOT about high-functioning autism. I have several friends that have autistic children and I have heard that when you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person; everyone is different, there is no way of saying that all autistic people are the same or have similar traits and characteristics. I loved learning about Stella and at times, I saw myself in her. I think we are all on the spectrum, some just more on the autism side than others.

Also, I LOVED The Author’s Note. I loved learning the story behind the book and why Helen Hoang wrote it. I loved learning more about Helen Hoang and how she she made herself vulnerable and got personal with her readers.

I can’t wait for The Bride Test, Helen Hoang’s new book out in May 2019!

4 star reviews, 4.5 star reviews, 5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, thriller, Women's Fiction

My Top Ten Books of 2019 + Honorable Mentions

I saw a lot of book bloggers and bookstagrammers doing this and I thought it would be fun. I learned a lot about what I like to read during the process. I like books that stretch me and challenge my views and make me think.

My favorite books this year:
🥂
The Wife by Alafair Burke– This was my first book by Alafair Burke and I look forward to reading more. This book kept me guessing and I never could have predicted that ending!
🥂
Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering – reminded me of what it was like to be in college and willing to do anything to be liked. I also had an eating disorder and was prone to self-destructive behavior at that time in my life.
🥂
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia – I fell in love with the outside-the-box thinkers and the rebel heroine and the Boundary Waters. I loved this story that kept me literally on the edge of me seat.
🥂
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter – This book was like Erin Brockovich meets Mean Girls – the factory in town is poisoning people, the main character is assigned to check it out and encounters all the popular people from high school who are still acting like its high school. There is also a sweet romance.
🥂
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala – this book blew my mind and made me rage and cry and understand life for a smart, successful African immigrant who is gay and from a conservative family. This book challenged me in all the best ways.
🥂
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin – the aftermath of a school shooting and how it effects one family. This felt real to me because we are not perfect in our life or our grief.
🥂
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy– this book reminded me of what it was like to be a new mother; it reminded me of the solid group of mom friends that I had when my girls were little. The ending was a surprise.
🥂
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jenny Worth – I LOVE this show and the book gets into more details about the people and what the East End of London was like in the 1950s. 🥂
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – this book showed me what racial profiling FEELS like.
🥂
How to Walk Away by Katharine Center– all the feels and inspiration. There is so much about the human experience in this book. She is left by her fiance when she is in the hospital after becoming paralyzed in an accident that was her fiance’s fault, her fiance’s mother-in-law needs some throat-punching, there is a whole thing with her sister and a lot of sexual tension with her physical therapist.

I had a REALLY hard time narrowing it down to just TEN BOOKS, here are a few more that I REALLY enjoyed:

Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult – this book made me think, it made me see things from perspectives other than my own (as most of Jodi Picoult’s books do) and I love to understand different points of view and challenge my own.
🥂
One Day in December  by Jodi Silver – Love is all around us. I loved this book. It felt real to me. Just seeing someone on the bus and falling in love and having it be easy wouldn’t seem real, but the way this story unfolded felt real and beautiful and at times it ripped my heart out.
🥂
Winter in Paradise by Elin Hildebrand- after four glorious Christmases with the Quinn family, I didn’t think I could get as into a new family, but Irene is my mom-if-adult-kids role model, I love Huck and Ayres and I am Team Cash all the way. This book had me feeling all the feels and immersing myself in another family’s woes.
🥂
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – As a child of the 70s who grew up watching Mountain Family Robinson and Grizzly Adams, I’ve always had a part of me that wanted to live off-the-grid and this book gave me a taste of what that might be like. Along with a beautiful love story.
🥂
Watching You by Lisa Jewell – I know this has not been popular, but I loved it. I loved the characters and I found the ending unpredictable. 🥂
Did you read any of these? What did you think?

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, Christmas, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I spent the last four Christmases with the Quinn family in Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Street series and it was beginning to feel like they were part of my Christmas tradition. I looked forward to my time with them, just as I look forward to my friends’ annual holiday parties and spending time with my friends and their families and neighbors. I was disappointed that the series ended and not sure how I felt about a new series.

I fell in love with the Steele family. Irene Steele is poised and has so much integrity and warmth. She guided her adult children without getting overly emotionally involved in their lives, something I want to strive to do with my children. I found her to be such a great role model!

Irene has two adult sons, Cash and Baker, both struggling in their own ways – one’s business failed, the other’s marriage failed. The day after New Year’s, Irene gets a call from her husband’s business associate’s secretary that her husband was in a plan crash off the coast of St. John and that he is dead. Irene gathers her sons and they make the trip to St. John, where they realize that they never really knew what their husband/father did for a living and how he made money and that he had a secret life for many years that none of them knew about.

While down there, Irene’s two sons both fall for the same girl – Ayres, who was the girl I wanted to be when I was in my twenties, free-spirited, sexy and fun. Irene meets Huck- a fishing captain and so different from Irene, yet they really seem to hit it off and he seems to bring out something in her.

I loved all of the characters in this book, but I am Team Cash all the way; Baker kind of annoyed me, but I did like that he had his “school wives” since he was a stay-at-home dad and I liked the advice they gave him and the things he learned from them.

I look forward to spending my next two Christmases with the Steele family and finding out what happens next in their lives.

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

My Review:

I LOVE Liane Moriarty’s books and I have been waiting for three years for a new book from her.  I was SO EXCITED when I heard Nine Perfect Strangers was coming out!

Nine Perfect Strangers has some BIG SHOES to fill as Big Little Lies has been a very talked about book and now HBO TV series.

Nine perfect strangers meet at a luxury health resort, each for their own reasons.  Masha, the woman who runs the health resort is an interesting character who was a CEO of a large corporation but had a heart attack and changed her lifestyle and transformed her body and mind and has now opened this health resort.  I’ve never read a book about a health resort and the experience of transformation through lifestyle change before, so I was intrigued and wondered from the beginning if maybe there was something I would glean from this that I could take into my own life to make some positive changes.

I will say that Nine Perfect Strangers started slowly for me.  I didn’t connect with any of the characters at first and found it hard to be emotionally invested in them.  But, as usual with Liane Moriarty’s books, there is something you can’t quite put your finger on that keeps you reading because you want to know what it is.

As the story builds, I did connect with Napoleon and Heather who are raising teenagers and with Carmel who is a mom.  I did end up really liking Tony’s character, as well.  I do think that the diverse-ness of the characters lends itself to many people finding aspects of themselves in the characters and things they can relate to and connect with about the characters.

I would never have predicted what happened in this book.  The last third of the book was INTENSE and kept me on the edge of my seat and up way past my bedtime!!

From the Publisher:

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWhen I was just out of college and in my first year of teaching, my mentor and I shared a love of books and reading.  She loaned me Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg, which was her favorite book.  I had never read a book more simply and beautifully written.  It still stands out to me as one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

When I am in a reading slump, I can always count on Elizabeth Berg to get me out of it.  Her writing is simple and her characters complex.  The chapters are short enough that you can say, “one more” and before you know it, you are done with the book.  She is the only author whose books I have read in one sitting.

Night of Miracles starts out by reminding the reader of what the earth looks like from an airplane, quilt patches of farmland, neat divisions of road, perfect little boxes of houses.  Elizabeth Berg reminds us of the feeling we get when we see that: a feeling that the world can be organized and orderly.

And then she takes us into a small town, like we often imagine when we are flying over them.  She takes us into the lives of various people in town.  Lucille, a retired school teacher who teaches baking classes.  Tiny, an overweight taxi driver.  Monica, a heavy set waitress.  Iris, a new transplant from Boston.  Abby and Jason and their son, Lincoln, and the issues that arise for them.  Maddy, who has moved away but comes back to visit with her daughter.  Arthur, who died, but who is important in the lives of several characters.

This is a beautiful story about love and loss, forgiveness, sacrifice, friendship, neighbors, marriage.  I recommend it to anyone who loved The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom or Us Against You by Fredrik Backman.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House for my advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the Publisher:

The feel-good book of the year: a delightful novel of friendship, community, and the way small acts of kindness can change your life, by the bestselling author of The Story of Arthur Truluv

Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.

When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most.

“Elizabeth Berg’s characters jump right off the page and into your heart” said Fannie Flagg about The Story of Arthur Truluv. The same could be said about Night of Miracles, a heartwarming novel that reminds us that the people we come to love are often the ones we don’t expect.

 

4.5 star reviews, activism, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

4.5/5 stars

photo 6

From the Publisher:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

One of the most fearless writers of our time, Jodi Picoult tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

My Review:

Jodi Picoult is one of my go-to authors.  I love how she takes relevant, timely and often controversial issues and shows them from the perspectives of many people on different sides of the issue.

A Spark of Light is about abortion and a woman’s right to choose.

Both the gunman and the hostage negotiator are struggling with their teenage daughters growing up.  Both of their daughters have been to the clinic.  We don’t know Hugh, the hostage negotiator’s position on abortion, but we know that when his college girlfriend got pregnant, she had the baby and derailed his dreams of becoming an astronaut and we know he wants to save his daughter.

Jodi Picoult allows us to go inside the mind of an abortion activist who has gone undercover in the clinic on the day the hostages are taken to try to get some incriminating information about the clinic.  We also go inside the mind of a woman who was raised in foster care and is struggling to put herself through college when she gets pregnant.  And we get inside the head of the nurse, who is pregnant herself and was raised in poverty but now has a devoted boyfriend from a different background and she lacks the confidence to believe he could love her.  We get to see the pain that each of these women is in as they come to grips with their situation.

We also get to understand the position of the doctor, who is a Christian, but whose mother died having an illegal abortion.  I found his perspective to be the most interesting and the most different and things that I had never thought of before.  At the end of the book, he takes one of the pro-life activists out for breakfast and they have a talk and he explains his position.

I think this is an important book.  It’s easy to be on the side we are on, it’s more difficult to understand someone else’s perspective but we need to be able to do that.  So often I feel that our country is becoming more and more divided.  Twenty-four hour news and the de-personalization of social media and I find myself angry with people that I have been friends with for thirty years because they don’t understand my side of things or because they don’t agree with me.  Politics and religion were always two things we didn’t talk about in polite company, yet now we seem to feel free to put those things on social media and it is dividing us more and more.  I am guilty of it myself.  I feel strongly about things and I want my voice heard.  I think it’s ok to use social media as a political platform, as long as you are open to the perspectives of other people.  That is what I love about Jodi Picoult’s books, she makes it easy to understand the perspectives of other people.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House Ballantine for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart

4.5/5 stars

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetMy Review:

Domestic thriller; perfectly paced; wonderfully developed characters

Jessica and Evan are recently separated.  They have two sons, their biological son, Max and their adopted son, Gabe.  The characters are very well developed and relatable.  I wanted to be friends with both Jessica and Evan and I would have liked to see them get back together.

One night Evan is supposed to pick the boys up, but he doesn’t show.  Jess is annoyed until she finds out that he died on a hunting trip–when he was never the outdoorsy type.  Jess and her boys are devastated by Evan’s death and Jess finds herself not accepting it, something doesn’t feel right and she starts to investigate.  She discovers that Evan was in contact with Gabe’s biological mother.  Jess continues to investigate and I could not put this book down!  Domestic thrillers where kids are involved just make me want to make sure that the kids are safe and I can’t stop reading!

I loved this book.  I loved the characters and I wanted to be friends with them.  I could really relate to Jess, she seemed so real to me.  The story kept my interest and was the perfect blend of women’s fiction and thriller written beautifully and paced perfectly.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because the characters were so well developed and the pacing was so right on and also because I appreciated the statistics regarding open and closed adoptions, biological parents who want to be found and those who don’t and why.  I found it very interesting as I have several friends who were adopted and some have looked for their biological parents and others have not.  I never really understood not wanting to find your biological parent or child, but after reading this I have a better understanding.

From the Publisher:

Jessica Chamberlain, newly separated and living with her two sons in a small Iowa town, can’t believe that a tragedy in another state could have anything to do with her. But when her phone rings one quiet morning, her world is shattered. As she tries to pick up the pieces and make sense of what went wrong, Jess begins to realize that a tragic death is just the beginning. Soon she is caught in a web of lies and half-truths—and she’s horrified to learn that everything leads back to her seven-year-old adopted son, Gabriel.

Years ago, Gabe’s birth mother requested a closed adoption and Jessica was more than happy to comply. But when her house is broken into and she discovers a clue that suggests her estranged husband was in close contact with Gabe’s biological mother, she vows to uncover the truth at any cost. A harrowing story of tenacious love and heartbreaking betrayal, You Were Always Mine is about the wars we wage to keep the ones we love close, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Atria books for my copy in exchange for my honest review.