Category: awesomeness

The Best Books I Read in May (2020)

In May, I read 33 books, bringing my total for the year up to 132 books. Some of those books were good, some were okay, some were just “meh.” But three of them were really exceptional!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Yes, this a re-read. I’m actually not sure how many times I’ve read it, but this time was was just as wonderful. I wish I could re-read this again for the first time! So many laughs at Lizzie’s wit, and so much sympathy for poor Mr. Darcy.

what unbreakable looks like
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

What Unbreakable Looks Like, by Kate McLaughlin. (My review will be up on the 16th as part of the blog tour.) I don’t even know what to say about this book! It opens with the cops rescuing Lex from human trafficking, and tells the story of her life in the aftermath. This book doesn’t pull any punches with what she deals with and how she handles it, and it made me so sad that women and girls experience things like this—and also inspired me with her strength.

juniper jones
Image belongs to Wattpad Books.

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, by Daven McQueen. (My review is up on the 11th.) Set in small-town Alabama in 1955, this is the story of Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, who goes to stay with his aunt and uncle for the summer. There he meets prejudice, persecution, and Juniper Jones. Parts of this were awful to read because I know there is truth in this tale. But the friendship between Ethan and Juniper is wonderful and full of hope. (And I love this cover!)

Book Review: The Summer House, by Lauren K. Denton

the summer house
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  The Summer House
AuthorLauren K. Denton
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

Lily Bishop wakes one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated but forced to contemplate her next steps when she sees a flier at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago–just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw. Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets of their own. Lily even finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins–a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over, and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

Neither Lily nor Rose is where they expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve lived so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.

I’m just going to say it:  I love Lauren K. Denton’s writing! This was another entrancing summer read! If only I’d been at the beach reading….I was glued to the page from the moment Lily woke up to find her husband gone without warning.

Rose changed the most during this novel, and her journey was wonderful to read. Despite her emotionally barricaded life, she learns to open up and trust people, just as Lily does. Even the secondary characters are wonderful, and this is definitely a book worth binge reading!

Lauren K. Denton is a bestselling author. The Summer House is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab

Breath Like Water Blog Tour Banner

Breath Like Water
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press.

Title:  Breath Like Water
AuthorAnna Jarzab
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her Olympic dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews.

As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost–and the beauty–of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

This was a fantastic read! Susannah is strong and determined, but she’s struggling.  The walls she’s built around her emotions are impenetrable—until she meets Harry, who sees her, not an elite swimmer struggling to recapture former glory. Susannah has to be truly broken before she can rise again, and this novel captures all the anguish of her struggles and her search to find what she truly wants.

Then there’s Harry. He’s got walls of his own, walls he tries to hide behind humor and pranks, but he’s just as vulnerable as Susannah is—and he’s struggling with things that are just as overwhelming as Susannah’s opponents.

Anna Jarzab is a Midwesterner turned New Yorker. Breath Like Water is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter

carolina breeze
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Carolina Breeze
AuthorDenise Hunter
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina–the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn–a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk–or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

This is another wonderful read in the Bluebell Inn Romance series! I really like the setting, and the characters are so well-done I just want to hang out with them and chat. Poor Mia has been dealt a pretty raw hand, but she handles it with grace and aplomb, despite her frustrations. She demonstrates the good side of Hollywood.

Levi is kind of overbearing towards his sisters, but he’s able to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. It’s nice to see his self-awareness, as he and Mia learn to trust as they expand their horizons. This is a sweet and easy read.

Denise Hunter is a bestselling author. Carolina Breeze is her newest novel, the second Bluebell Inn Romance.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in April (2020)

I read 35 books in April, bringing my total for the year to 99. (Apparently eliminating my 2-minute commute by working from home increased my reading speed.) Some of these were just so-so, some were excellent, some were solid reads. But if I had to narrow it down to my three favorites…

perennials

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell. I love Southern fiction, and this was a drowsy, sweet, and enthralling read—perfectly Southern—from the very first page. Highly recommended!

of silver and shadow

Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke. My review will be up on the 27th, but isn’t this a gorgeous cover? Ren was such a prickly character, but I enjoyed her antics, the world, and the other characters very much. Can’t wait to read more from this debut author!

Breath Like Water

Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab. This hasn’t hit stores yet, and I don’t know anything about elite swimming or bipolar disorder, but I loved Susannah and Harry and their struggles and unexpected triumphs.

What I Read in April (2020)

Well, April was an excellent reading month for me. I finished reading all the books I’m reviewing in May…and their reviews.

Books Read in April:  35

Books Read for the Year: 99/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Finding Your Way Back to God, by Dave Ferguson (spiritual). This wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I enjoyed the real-life stories.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (classic). It’s been a long time since I read this…and I loved it all over again!

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell (TBR). Okay, I’ll just say it:  I loved this book! Well-done Southern fiction is my jam. And this was well-done. I sympathized so much with Lovey. This book made me laugh, cry, and remember everything I love about the South.

A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess (TBR). I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Salt to the  Sea, by Ruta Sepetys (TBR). This was just kind of “meh” for me. Too many POVs, for one thing. And the time with each character was so short, I never really felt comfortable in their heads.

For Review: 

the secrets they left behind

The Secrets They Left Behind, by Lissa Marie Redmond. A thriller about a cop who goes undercover as a college student to catch whoever is behind the disappearance of three female college students. I enjoyed this a lot!

how to have a better relationship with anybody

How to Have a Better Relationship with Anyone, by James Hilt (review forthcoming). This is a solid read, with a very relatable voice.

miss austen

Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby. This is the story of Jane Austen’s sister, what it was like living with her famous sister, and her struggle to keep the family reputation intact. A good read, but not really a cheerful one.

copycat killer

Copycat Killer, by Laura Scott. I love faith-based books and romantic suspense novels, so combining the two should have been a win for me. However, I found this to be insta-love with the faith aspect barely mentioned…and the main murder mystery barely mentioned as well.

the stolen letter

The Stolen Letter, by Paige Shelton. A woman who thinks she was a queen in a past life. A plot to close a bookstore secretly for nefarious purposes. A murder investigation. This was a fun read, even if I hadn’t read the first four books in the series!

truths I never told you

Truths I Never Told You, by Kelly Rimmer. Long-hidden family secrets come to life in this quiet family drama.

the engineer's wife

The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood.  PT Barnum was my favorite character in this historical fiction novel and I enjoyed the look at the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement, but the main characters weren’t entirely sympathetic for me.

braised pork

Braised Pork, by An Yu. Okay, I’m not going to lie:  the only reason I finished reading this was because it was so short. Thee was some magical realism in this, but the whole thing seemed kind of pointless. Creative name, though not really related to anything.

the stone of sorrow

The Stone of Sorrow, by Brooke Carter. I enjoyed this Icelandic (sort of) fantasy, with Norse myths and legends come to life. A little more character development would have been nice, but it was a decent beginning to a new series.

the queen of paris

The Queen of Paris, by Pamela Binnings Ewen. This is the story of Coco Chanel during the great war, and I have to say, she was pretty self-absorbed and oblivious of everything but her own concerns.

the golden flea

The Golden Flea, by Michael Rips. This is so far outside my wheelhouse—but I totally enjoyed it! It’s about the Chelsea Flea Market and the people and treasures found there, and ended up being absolutely fascinating.

my name is Tani

My Name is Tani…and I Believe in Miracles, by Tani Adewumi. The inspirational story of a family who fled Nigeria for asylum in America, and their youngest son, who became a chess champion after less than a year of playing.

feels like falling

Feels Like Falling, by Kristy Woodson Harvey. I actually liked the secondary characters more than the main characters, and their interactions made the book a fun read. Gray was pretty spoiled/oblivious to reality, so I wasn’t a big fan of hers, but this is an easy read.

seven endless forests

Seven Endless Forests, by April Geneviebe Tucholke. This is set in the same world as The Boneless Mercies, which was a fantastic read! I enjoyed this a lot, but the ending felt really rushed.

the summer villa

The Summer Villa, by Melissa Hill. I enjoyed reading about vacationing in Italy…but two out of three of the main characters were pretty self-absorbed and unlikable. This also seemed a little too good to be true, frankly. I mean, who really falls in love with a gorgeous Italian man while on vacation…and it’s mutual? That’s possibly every woman’s fantasy, but it isn’t reality.

sugar and vice

Sugar and Vice, by Eve Calder. This was a fun cozy mystery, and I intend to go back and read the first of the series since I enjoyed this one so much.

finding balance

Finding Balance, by Kati Gardner (review forthcoming). Loved this #ownvoices YA read!

the secrets of love story bridge
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, by Phaedra Patrick. This was a solid read, but I wasn’t in love with it.

her hidden hope

Her Hidden Hope, by Jill Lynn (review forthcoming). This was an excellent inspirational romance! Sometimes they can feel a bit preachy, but this one does not fall into that category.

TheParisHours_300

The Paris Hours, by Alex George (review forthcoming). to be honest, I didn’t care much for this. Or, I should say, I’m neutral. I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters, so it was hard to care what was happening to them. And it felt really sloooow.

this is how i lied

This is How I Lied, by Heather Gudenkauf (review forthcoming). The idea that 1995 was 25 years ago kept tripping me up here, as half the story was set in 1995, the rest in the present-day. I didn’t really like any of the characters, so I wasn’t a huge fan of this. And the sister is crazy!

Breath Like Water

Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab (review forthcoming). I LOVED this! I don’t know a thing about competitive swimming, and only slightly more than nothing about bipolar disorder, but I was entranced by this novel from the first page.

carolina breeze

Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter (review forthcoming). I love this series of wonderful inspirational romances!

her amish suitor's secret

Her Amish Suitor’s Secret, by Carrie Lighte (review forthcoming). This was a sweet, enjoyable romance, although there were a couple of things that made me question the portrayal of Amish life. However…that could be my own ignorance talking, and I liked this.

on ocean boulevard

On Ocean Boulevard, by Mary Alice Monroe (review forthcoming). I loved the sea turtle and conservation aspects of this, but I didn’t have much connection with the characters, except Cara. I do love Southern fiction though!

sister dear

Sister Dear, by Hannah Mary McKinnon. (review forthcoming). So…this didn’t end like I expected, which is good. But I disliked all the characters, so there’s that. These people are not right.

of silver and shadow

Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke (review forthcoming). This was an excellent fantasy read!

the summer set

The Summer Set, by Aimee Agresti (review forthcoming). I enjoyed all the Shakespeare, but…these characters read more like young teenagers that 40-somethings. Selfish, willful, no consideration for anyone besides themselves…and everyone was sleeping with everyone else. (Not that I’m saying teenagers do all that, but these people were completely immature and vapid.)

madquerade at middlecrest abbey

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this murder mystery mixed with lots of family drama.

Stopped Reading

Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore. I read 25% of this, but…it was a little too dark and gritty and depressing for me right now, especially considering current dark events. Definitely my issue, not the novel’s.

Queen of the Owls, by Barbara Linn Probst. I think I made it about 10-15% of the way through this, but the voice was too depressing for me to slog through. Just not a good fit.

Bubblegum, by Adam Levin. Just no. That is all.

Book Review: Ruthless Gods, by Emily A. Duncan

ruthless gods
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Ruthless Gods
AuthorEmily A. Duncan
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet―those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

A lot of second novels are less impressive than the books they follow, but Emily A. Duncan’s Ruthless Gods is not one of them! This novel continues the story of Nadya, Malachiasz, Serefin, and the rest of their friends. It’s dark, cold, and compelling.

There’s a lot of blood, violence, and despair here, but there is also hope, albeit a tiny, trembling flame. The characters finally start to realize—truly realize—that what they’ve always thought to be truth may not necessarily be so, Compelling, mesmerizing, riveting…whatever your synonym of choice for “I couldn’t put this down!” is, Ruthless Gods is it.

Emily A. Duncan is a New York Times bestselling author. Ruthless Gods, her newest novel, is the second book in the Something Dark and Holy series.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in March (2020)

I read 22 books in March, bringing my total to 64 so far for the year. There were some less-than-stellar ones, but three books really stood out for me.

smoke bitten

Smoke Bitten, by Patricia Briggs. The Mercy Thompson series is phenomenal, and this was an excellent addition to it. Like, I read the entire thing straight through in about four hours on a Friday night, as my reward for making it through my first week working from home.

night of the dragon

Night of the Dragon, by Julie Kagawa.  I’m sad this series is over, but I was enthralled while it lasted. Loved the mythology and characters, the melding of magic and custom. Definitely read these books!

ruthless gods

Ruthless Gods, by Emily A. Duncan. The second book in the Something Dark and Holy series, and it was exceptional. Dark, cold, bloody…and absolutely mesmerizing.

Book Review and Blog Tour: Night of the Dragon, by Julie Kagawa

night of the dragon blog tour

night of the dragon
Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:  Night of the Dragon
AuthorJulie Kagawa
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

All is lost.

To save everyone she loves from imminent death, kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko gave up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must make one desperate final effort to stop the Master of Demons from using the scroll to call the Great Kami Dragon and make the wish that will plunge the empire into chaos.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko to stop a madman, and to separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now.

Julie Kagawa is one of those authors that I just know when I pick up a book she wrote, I’m going to be enthralled. The Shadow of the Fox series is no exception, and Night of the Dragon was a fantastic conclusion to this story.

The stakes kept getting higher and higher with every new scene and the challenges seemed ever more impossible. Yumeko is a lovely character who truly discovers her strength in this novel—and embraces it. Tatsumi is one of the best conflicted characters I’ve ever read—I mean, he shares his body with a demon—and his struggles are vividly rendered. The culture truly makes this story sing, and I loved every page of this novel!

Julie Kagawa is the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series. She was born in Sacramento, California.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in February (2020)

I read 22 books in February, bringing my total for the year to 42.

The three best of these were:

the robe

The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas. I first read this so long ago that I remembered nothing about it, but it’s the story of Marcellus, a Roman soldier who wins Christ’s robe at Golgotha, and then sets out to find out the truth about the Nazarene carpenter. I enjoyed so much seeing Biblical figures come to life!

isaiah's legacy

Isaiah’s Legacy, by Mesu Andrews. The story of Manasseh, a biblical king who did great evil, and how he comes to know Yahweh. I love Mesu Andrews’ way of bringing biblical tales to life, and this was a wonderful read.

the grace kelly dress

The Grace Kelly Dress, by Brenda Janowitz. Three women. Three weddings. One dress. The story of three generations of women and the dress they all wore at their wedding. I loved this!