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Book Reviews: 1 to Read, 2 to Listen + 3 to Ponder

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo: If you want a book that will surprise you, punch you in the gut and make you think about it long after you’ve finished reading, this is it. The non-fiction work is derived from a journalist’s eight-year journey across the country to understand real women’s desires and their stories. The power in Taddeo’s storytelling is it reads like fiction, and all three women’s narratives will captivate you.
Grade: A

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know – Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell can do no wrong in my mind, and this book was just as fascinating as his others in a completely new way. He examines our interactions with strangers, through the lense of history, pop culture + psychology, to try and make sense of why and how we invite misunderstanding into our lives. Though not a “self-help” book to teach us how to talk to strangers it does give us unique perspectives, which we could all use a little more of.
Note: highly recommend this one on audiobook, you hear the actual interviews, media clips + historical re-enactments
Grade: A

What Happens in Paradise – Elin Hilderbrand: The second in Hilderbrand’s current series, this is such an easy, great read. There’s mystery, romance and it’s set in a tropical paradise. What more could you need?
Grade: A

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile: If you’re not sure what the enneagram is – pause, google it, then come back. If you’re new to this whole enneagram business and want to actually learn more (vs just following meme accounts on Instagram) this is a great book to get you started. It offers some history, a little depth on each number, details on wings and access, and provides great real-life analogies to help you understand yourself better as well as those around you.
Grade: B+

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett: I’m obsessed with this book, and it will most likely be my book of the year (followed closely by Where the Crawdads Sing). The story seems so simple – it follows a brother and sister through the typical ebbs and flows of life across five decades, with the house they grew up in (The Dutch House) as an unsuspecting framework for their lives. I don’t want to say much more, just read it or listen to it …
Note: highly recommend this one on audiobook, Tom Hanks narrates and is just fantastic (because obviously, it’s Tom Hanks) Also, yes I’m getting into audiobooks lately!!
Grade: A+

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewel: Such a strange, twisted, dark story about an orphan who inherits a house when she turns 25, which leads her to a horrifying discovery about her birth parents. It’s a little slow to start and the characters lacked depth, but the story was so bizarre and surprising it kept me reading.
Grade: B+

 

xo xo
You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: Summer ’19 Edition

I’m so happy with how much I’ve been able to read this summer – 10 books in 2 months. Check out my reviews below and let me know what you’re favorite book has been this summer!

No Exit – Taylor Adams: This was a perfect vacation read – quick and suspenseful with twists and turns until the very end. The premise is ridiculously creepy. A girl gets stuck in a snowstorm and has to wait it out at a remote highway rest stop. She makes a horrifying discovery – in the back of the van parked next to her car is a little girl locked in an animal crate. With no cell service and no exit, she has to unmask and unwit the captor inside.
Grade: A-

Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker: I’m already fascinated by sleep and dreams, and this book gave me everything I wanted and more. If you’re not already as interested as me, it might feel a little repetitive, but the author says in the beginning to jump around, read the chapters that interest you, and even (you guessed it) fall asleep reading! Ha. Read this book and you will never think about sleep the same way again … and you’ll become a sleep nazi to everyone around you!
Grade: A

Summer of ’69 – Elin Hilderbrand: I’ve only started reading Hilderbrand’s novels in the last year, and I’m ready to go to the library and check them all out for my summer reading list. Her latest follows her typical formula, and draws you in to the stories of every member in the family – their secrets, their love interests and their personal struggles while also intertwining the national climate (Vietnam War, Woodstock, Apollo 11) during the summer of ’69.
Grade: A

Lock Every Door – Riley Sager: I devoured this book in 2 days. Set in a mysterious, famous residence in the Upper West Side of NYC, I was immediately drawn in. Sager’s writing is efficient yet captivating, and has the right amount of twists and turns to haunt you throughout. Want a quick beach read that will keep you guessing? This is it.
Grade: A

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens: This was the first audio book I’ve ever listened to as an adult (Mom and I used to listen to them all the time growing up – picked them up at Cracker Barrel on road trips, ha!). I felt like I was late to the party on this Reese Witherspoon pick, but I’m so glad I joined. This book has the most fascinating main character and an intriguing plot. While there’s an underlying mystery, I found myself not as concerned with solving that and more interested in life in the marsh. A very unique book that I think will soon become a high school reading list staple.
Grade: A+

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living – Meik Wiking: Hygge n.(pronounced HOOH-GA) – a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).
I am currently all in on living my best hygge life. This book is part self-help, part Danish culture and part happiness psychology. Not only did I learn a lot, but it provoked a lot of introspective thinking. This is a perfect little gift for someone, and a perfect side table book to pick up when you’re feeling down and want to learn how to be happier.
Grade: A+

The Golden Hour – Beatriz Williams: My least favorite book of the summer – it starts out a little slow, but picks up as the character’s stories across countries and decades start to weave together. I was hoping for another Along the Infinite Sea (one of my favorite books of 2016), and though it felt similar in ways, this didn’t have the same intrigue and sparkle. Historical fiction set in WWII era-Nassau, it follows a love story, the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Windsor and a mysterious crime.
Grade: B-

When Life Gives You Lululemons – Lauren Weisberger: The quote-unquote sequel to The Devil Wears Prada, this is a quintessential summer pick. Though I never read the former, I obviously know and love the movie. In the book, you’re immediately entertained by Emily’s new job post-Miranda Priestly, and you quickly get swept away in the drama of the housewives of Greenwich, CT with their neighborhood gossip and never-ending happy hours, all while wearing lululemon.
Grade: A

Final Girls – Riley Sager: I’m now officially a Riley Sager fangirl and have read all of his books (yes it’s a him, under a pseudonym), this one being his first. Three girls are part of three separate unthinkable tragedies and are the only ones left behind. This thriller is about how they cope separately, until another tragedy hits close to home. It’s full of so many twists, is seriously creepy and a terrific debut.
Grade: A

My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress – Rachel Deloache Williams: I can’t say this book was written well, or didn’t get a little lengthy about mid-way through, but I can say the story is FASCINATING and I can’t wait for HBO show (it’s already in the works.) The true story of a Russian girl who conned New York City’s wealthy, you’ll be questioning how she did it the entire way through.
Grade: A-

 

xo xo
You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: The Six Artists, The Seven Husbands + The Millions of Corks

 Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid: This is one of the most uniquely written, and captivating books I’ve read in a very long time. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story of the whirlwind rise and fall of a rock’n roll group in the ’70s is hauntingly beautiful, fascinating and kept me turning the page for more.
Grade: A+

Cork Dork – Bianca Bosker: If you’re interested in wine – and not just drinking it – but the behind the scenes of the wine industry, the restaurant/wine culture in NYC and the makings of becoming a sommelier, read this. It did drag a bit in the middle, but overall very interesting and enjoyable. And obviously makes you want to drink more wine.
Grade: B

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid: So after I read Daisy Jones, I was told to read this book by the same author. I’d heard so much about this one, but for some reason never picked it up. After loving Daisy Jones, I was skeptical it could be as good, but had to try. Y’all. This author can do no wrong. Again, uniquely written, captivating and hauntingly beautiful. Do yourself a favor and pick them both up to read this summer.
Grade: A+

The Bride Test – Helen Hoang: Another repeat author, Hoang wrote one of my favorite books of 2018 – The Kiss Quotient. This one is similar in that it’s a super sweet story, easy read, but has more depth than you’d expect. A love story between an autistic man who doesn’t think he can love and a Vietnamese “mail order bride.” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be rooting for these characters.
Grade: A

 

xo xo
You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: The Dreamers, The Sisters + The Photographers

The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker: As someone who loves all things related to sleeping/dreaming, this book fascinated me. An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep. Though a little repetitive in the middle, this unique story kept me quickly reading to solve the mystery.
Grade: A

The Winter Sister – Megan Collins: Another female-led thriller (my fave) with a little less suspense than I’d like, but still enjoyable. Solid B, easy read, didn’t love the characters.
Grade: B

The Age of Light – Whitney Schrarer: I love love loved this book! Set in 1940s Paris, it’s based on the real-life love affair between photographer Man Ray and model turned photographer Lee Miller, whom I knew nothing about, but immediately took me down the Google rabbit hole. The writing was sharp, the characters complex, and it felt like a romance novel + historical fiction. I couldn’t turn away.
Grade: A+

Girl, Stop Apologizing – Rachel Hollis: This one makes me very sad to report because I’m such a Rachel Hollis fangirl (and still am). However, this book just didn’t do it for me. It felt like it was trying too hard to be the cool older sister to Girl, Wash Your Face. There were still some great nuggets of wisdom, advice and empowerment, but overall not quite the energy I was hoping for.
Grade: B-

 

xo xo
You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: Becoming Busy, Becoming Anonymous, Becoming More

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty: I’ve read most of Liane Moriarty’s books and typically devour them. This one was thicker than most and took me a little longer to get into, but overall I really enjoyed it. She weaves the unique cast of characters and intriguing plot together well – this one focusing on nine strangers who go to a “health retreat” that ends up being quite a bit different than what they all signed up for.
Grade: B+

An Anonymous Girl – Greer Hendricks + Sarah Pekkanen: I loved this duo’s first book The Wife Between Us so was excited to see what they could come up with next. Unfortunately for me this one fell kind of flat. It was a similar style of differing perspectives per chapter, of which you didn’t know which character to trust, but it didn’t have quite the same excitement or intrigue.
Grade: B-

This Will Only Hurt a Little – Busy Philipps: Y’all, I liked Busy Philipps before this autobiography, I love her now. That’s a good endorsement, yeah? Her childhood and story are so radically different from mine, and she tells it in such a distinct, funny voice. I laughed, I was shocked, and I learned some behind the scenes TV secrets about Freaks + Geeks, Dawson’s Creek and Cougar Town. By the end of it, she really feels like your crazy best friend.
Grade: A-

Becoming – Michelle Obama: I cannot recommend this book enough!!! I know it’s probably the most hyped book of the year, but it 100% lived up to the hype and more. I was fascinated by Michelle’s entire story, everything from her Chicago upbringing to falling in love with Barack to the intricacies of White House living. She makes you feel like an insider. She gives you hope. And she really makes you long for the Obama presidential era.
Grade: A+

xo xo
You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: Sweet Lies, Sweet Love + Sweet Lights

Sweet Little Lies – Caz Frear: This felt like a typical English detective novel, which if you’re into those, great. If you’re not, it might take you a while to get into, like me. The writing was different, more harsh perhaps? and hard to follow some of the dialect. The characters were not instantly relatable, but at about the 50 page mark (where I determine if I’m going to keep reading or not) there was a big enough twist that kept me intrigued.
Grade: B-

Party Girl – Rachel Hollis: We know I’m a Rachel Hollis fan girl so obviously I had to read her first novel. It was a little rough at first with fairly elementary writing, but you grow to love the main character so much and enjoy the fun, lush details surrounding party planning in LA. The book is also semi-autobiographical, so again, if you’re a Rachel Hollis fan girl, it’s pretty interesting. Very The Devil Wears Prada-esque, this is an easy, beach read.
Grade: B+

Winter in Paradise – Elin Hilderbrand: I fell in love with Elin after my first read of hers The Identicals, which I wrote about in my last book review. This book starts with the main character’s husband dying a suspicious death in a helicopter over St. John. When the entire family travels to the island to find answers, they find so much more than they bargained for – love triangles, tropical adventures and definitely more questions than answers. The first in a series of 3 books, I can’t wait to read the next one!
Grade: A

The Light of Paris – Eleanor Brown: As a $5 bargain-bin book, I didn’t have high expectations going in, but I DEVOURED this book in a matter of days. The sweetest parallel stories about a woman and her young, late grandmother, both trying to find themselves through art – one story is set in Paris and one in Magnolia, Arkansas (what?!). It will make you long for Parisian nights and to re-discover your own passions.
Grade: A+

xo xo

You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: A Thriller, A Beach Read + An Unexpected Love Story

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena: I wasn’t expecting much out of this book, and I didn’t get much out of it. It’s a typical thriller about a couple whose child is kidnapped, with the parents as the prime suspects. The best part about this book was a (very) shocking ending, but otherwise one you could skip.
Grade: B-

The Dinner List – Rebecca Serle: This book though … I wasn’t expecting much out of it, and I got SO MUCH out of it. I loved it. It’s a quirky plot – who are the 5 people (living or dead) you’d invite to dinner, then what if that actually happened on your birthday? It’s a cute love story with a deeper subtext and a dash of Audrey Hepburn. Winning combo to me.
Grade: A+

Kind is the New Classy – Candace Cameron Bure: A sweet friend sent this book to me in the mail. It’s an easy read with great reminders about how and why to be kind. Kind is the new classy and will never go out of style. It’s interesting to hear Candace’s Hollywood perspective, with a Christian worldview and specific ways to lead by example.
Grade: B+

The Identicals – Elin Hilderbrand: This book is set in Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket. Mom gave it to me after her trip to Nantucket, and boy, am I dying to go now!! This is such a cute, beach read about two identical sisters, their separate lives on the two islands and how they get intertwined when they least expected it. If you’re looking for a great end-of-summer read that will make you laugh and cry, this is it.
 Grade: A 

xo xo

You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: To Kiss, To Lie, To Revolutionize

Calypso – David Sedaris: I might be the only person who thought so, but I was let down by this book. Of course some of the stories were classic Sedaris, some made me laugh and some made me contemplative, but overall it just wasn’t as great as I was expecting, and found myself rushing through more chapters than I should have.
Grade: B-

The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang: This book was so stinkin’ adorable! I would characterize it as Eleanor Oliphant (another favorite) meets 50 Shades of Gray – yes, it’s steamier than you’re expecting, but has such a great story about a 30-year-old woman with Asperger’s who just wants to learn how to date. I don’t want to say much else, just read and fall in love with this fun, original, sexy book.
Grade: A+

The Revolution Was Televised – Alan Sepinwall: This book was made for me because it contains two of my favorite things – TV shows and talking incessantly about TV shows. It’s a fascinating read with each chapter focusing on a specific show that was revolutionary for it’s time – The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, to name a few. It’s full of interviews, behind the scenes tidbits and commentary on how the show changed the TV landscape. My only complaint would be too many spoilers.
Grade: A

The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s been a while since a thriller has kept me in suspense the ENTIRE BOOK. And a while since I’ve stayed up late (1am!) finishing a book because I had to know what happened. It’s basically Pretty Little Liars goes to summer camp, so I was obviously interested from the get go, but the storytelling is just fantastic without a single dull moment.
Grade: A+

xo xo

You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: She Lives, She Loves, She Lies

Counterfeit Gods – Timothy Keller: This was definitely one of the best studies we’ve done with our Community Group in the last few years. It was convicting, challenging and created great dialogue among the group. One of the things Keller succeeds at doing in this book is weaving in Biblical stories and perspectives to tie in to modern day idols.
Grade: B+

Women in Sunlight – Frances Mayes: From the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, this book did everything I wanted it to and more. The story follows four older women whose children want to put them in a retirement home, but instead become quick friends and decide to move to Tuscany. I laughed, I cried and I was transported back to Italy with every single page. The writing is terrific, changing with the character’s perspectives, and the story will give you passion to do something radical.
Grade: A+

The Perfect Mother – Aimee Molloy: This book was a classic female-led thriller, which is my favorite mindless reading. Yet the ending was truly shocking. Though I’m not sure I loved that – it seemed maybe a little too out there, if that makes sense. That being said, it was an easy, enjoyable read AND Kerry Washington is starring in the movie, so obviously a win.
Grade: A-

Still Lives – Maria Hummel: Set in a modern museum in LA focused on the mystery of a famous artist gone missing, I was intrigued by the set-up. While it had all the makings of a good book, something about it fell flat for me. The behind the scenes of a museum and their artist relationships surrounding the plot was the most fascinating piece, but the ending was rushed and too complex.
Grade: B+

xo xo

You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: Crazy Asians, Crazy Ladies + Crazy Mobsters

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan: What a unique book this was. And I say that meaning – I’m not quite sure what I thought of it, but on some level I enjoyed it. The setting is one of my favorites (New York) and the female lead is a badass woman who’s determined to be the first woman diver during WWII, but overall the story drifted and was a little hard to understand where it was headed.
Grade: B

The Breakdown – B.A. Paris: This had all the makings of a typical book I’d love, yet didn’t fully deliver. The beginning was enthralling, keeping me on pins and needles and the end was a satisfying twist, but the middle got too repetitive and I feel like I could have skipped probably 100 pages and been fine. Overall, good story that will make you think you’re going crazy from those tiny things you forget every day ….
Grade: B

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan: LOVE, LOVE, LOVED this book! I couldn’t put it down! It was hilarious. I dove deep into a world of which I knew nothing about, and didn’t want to come up for air. Luckily there are two more books by this author AND they’re turning this one into a movie this year. All you need to know is it’s about exactly what you think it is: Crazy Rich Asians.
Grade: A+

The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware: This book was actually a huge disappointment. So many people told me how much they adored this book, and I just couldn’t get into it. It was a fast read, but the character development wasn’t great, the writing was so-so and the “thrilling” plot was fairly predictable.
Grade: B-

xo xo

You can read all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: The Best Ones + The Ones to Beat

Towards the end of last year, I took a little hiatus on my blog. I was getting overwhelmed with work + the holidays and was putting way too much pressure on myself to blog consistently, so I stopped. No harm, no foul. The great thing about this blog is I’m doing this for me so when it starts to be too much, there’s no reason why I can’t take a little break.

That being said, one my favorite things on my blog (and that friends tell me they love!) are my book reviews. I read quite a few books the last few months that I didn’t want to forget, so I added them to a list and here they are. A few of them made my top 5 books of the year list, and a few were duds, so we’ll quickly review these and get back on track for the new year.

GREAT books…

Lilac Girls – Martha Kelly Hall: (#1 book of the year) I have two typical genres of favorite books – thrillers with female leads + WWII historical fiction. This is the latter, following three very different women throughout the war and how their experiences shaped them for years to come. It’s unique in it’s perspectives (one a concentration camp doctor and one a prisoner) and is written in such beautiful detail, that you will be transported in time and come back remembering how very thankful you are.
Grade: A+

Sourdough – Robin Sloan: (#3 book of the year) This book is great and hilarious and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s such an easy read about a young woman developer who turns baker through a funny happenstance. I learned a lot about sourdough starters (of which I knew nothing), and genuinely enjoyed this quirky book all the way through.
Grade: A+

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng: (#4 book of the year) This book is very different than my typical reads, and I’m so glad I tried something new. Little Fires Everywhere is a slow burn. Literally. You see the ins and outs of two family dynamics and how they become intertwined. While there were several surprises throughout, the book mostly just leaves you contemplative.
Grade: A

The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen: Thriller with female lead – obviously knew I’d love it, and I did. There were several page-turning twists, that keeps you questioning everything. As the front cover of the book says, assume nothing.
Grade: A

Books not as great … 

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen: I really liked this book, though think I would have enjoyed it more had I not seen the movie and knew what was coming. That being said, it’s a terrific story and gave me all the circus and animal and love story feels as it did via film.
Grade: B+

The Late Show – Michael Connelly: I honestly can’t remember now how I came across this book, but it’s a departure for me, as I don’t typically read established authors/series (such as a Michael Connelly, John Grisham, etc.). While this book wasn’t earth-shattering, it was a solid, easy-read, Detective novel.
Grade: B

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker: Sadly, this book disappointed me. I adore Jen Hatmaker, but this book was too hit or miss with no cohesive binding throughout. One chapter would be hilarious (as Jen is), then one would seem completely random and I couldn’t relate. 7 is still her best book I’ve read to date.
Grade: B-

The Unspeakable – Meghan Daum: This book was okay. It was a collection of personal essays/short stories that were billed as funny and deep and vulnerable. Some of the stories were a little funny or a little relatable, but mostly I was not impressed.
Grade: C

I’ve already read 2 terrific books this year and look forward to many more. What’s on your reading list for the year?

xo xo

[You can read all my book reviews here.]

 


2017: My Top 5 TV Shows + Books

T V   S H O W S 

While I’ve done this annual post 6 years running now, this year was by far the hardest to narrow down to my top 5 favorite shows. TV is KING, and I hardly have enough time to watch everything on my list. I’m sure you will all disagree with my picks …  I’m okay with that, and would love to hear your thoughts. I’m even faltering at the last minute on my top 5 as I post this, but here we go.

5. This Is Us – NBC: I’m sure some of you will think I’m such a sucker, but this show has me wrapped around its little finger. I cry every single episode – to which Husband asks me why I watch, and I have no answer. I cry and laugh and am inspired and cry some more. Everyone can find something to relate to in the show, and it only keeps getting better. Lord help us all when we finally find out how Jack dies.

4. Master of None – Netflix: Another show that will make you laugh and cry and laugh some more. It starts out in the Italian countryside with all the pasta and wine, so maybe I was partially bias watching before our Italian adventure, but this show is just incredible. Aziz has created something so unique and heartwarming that it’s truly hard to put in to words. Just watch.

3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – Amazon: This show was hyped so much as “a new favorite for Gilmore Girls fans” that I was seriously skeptical. Well, look where it is on the list. It cannot be hyped enough! Set in 1950s NYC, it’s about a witty, newly single woman trying to make it as a comedian. The writing is outstanding and you will fall in love with Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, and want to watch it again and again. A new favorite it is.

2. Outlander – Starz: Why do I LOVE this show so much?! I honestly can’t believe it myself (since I often claim how much I hate period pieces), and can’t even remember why I started watching it, but I quickly became obsessed with the time-traveling love story. If you only watch it for Jamie Fraser, that’s enough for me, but whether you like it or not you’ll get sucked into the series.

1. Game of Thrones – HBO: Trust me, I’m as shocked as anyone that this is my number 1 … a show that has never been on my list before! We tried it when it first started, and I didn’t think I liked it. Then we re-started it and binged 4 seasons last year leading up to the latest, and holy cow, I couldn’t believe how hooked I was. This show has everything you could ever want in a show – and ended with a sultry/scandalous love story that left me breathless for the final season.

Honorable Mentions: Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, Younger (still one of my favorite comedies!), The Good Place (give this show a chance – I promise you won’t regret it)

 

B O O K S 

5. Option B – Sheryl Sandberg: I’ve already written an entire blog post about this book, so I’ll keep this short. This book rips you apart, then helps put you back together again. I want everyone to read it – especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is.

4. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng: This book and the next are very different than my typical reads, and I’m so glad I tried something new. Little Fires Everywhere is a slow burn. Literally. You see the ins and outs of two family dynamics and how they become intertwined. While there were several surprises throughout, the book mostly just leaves you contemplative.

3. Sourdough – Robin Sloan: This book is great and hilarious and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s such an easy read about a young woman developer who turns baker through a funny happenstance. I learned a lot about sourdough starters (of which I knew nothing), and genuinely enjoyed this quirky book all the way through.

2. The Girls – Emma Cline: This book has been on my list for forever, finally became available at the library, and oh my gosh I devoured it! Set in 1960s California, the book follows a teenage girl who gets caught up in a cult that ends very very badly. I was fascinated not only with the cult, but also the transformation of the main character. If you’re interested in cults at all or just want a unique read that will pull you in, this is for you.

1. Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly: I have two typical genres of favorite books – thrillers with female leads + WWII historical fiction. This is the latter, following three very different women throughout the war and how their experiences shaped them for years to come. It’s unique in it’s perspectives (one a concentration camp doctor and one a prisoner) and is written in such beautiful detail, that you will be transported in time and come back remembering how very thankful you are.

[You can read all my book reviews here.]

Previously, I have also shared my top movies of the year. However, I’ve stopped watching as many movies and focused on TV shows. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two top movies – Dunkirk and Wonder Woman. Both amazing in very different ways.

What were your top TV Shows, Books + Movies of the year? I’d love to know!
xo xo

[Catalog – 20162015201420132012]


Book Reviews: Into the Water, Into the Countryside + Into Small-Town Texas

 

My Italian Bulldozer – Alexander McCall Smith: What a fantastic, easy-to-read, fun book – especially as you’re on a train traveling throughout the Italian countryside. Thanks to Mom for buying it for me to take to Italy, as it was absolutely perfect. It’s a quirky read about a food writer going through a divorce who just needed to get away and get inspired. It’ll leave you salivating for a trip to Montalcino.
Grade: A

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg: I’ve already written an entire blog post about this book, so I’ll keep this short. This book rips you apart, then helps put you back together again. I want everyone to read it – especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is.
Grade: A+

The Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanna Gaines: If you’re a fan of Fixer Upper, you’ll be a fan of this book. It gives you an inside look at the Gaines’ story – from their first date to their first call from HGTV and everything in between. It’s an interesting, refreshing love story that makes you fall in love with Chip and Jo even more. (And I didn’t even think that was even possible.)
Grade: A

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins: From the writer of Girl On The Train (one of my favorite books of 2015), I was a little skeptical about this one. I wasn’t sure how she could possibly follow such an incredible debut. Yet, she did. Though not quite as thrilling and page-turning as the previous, the story and characters were still terrific. I was thoroughly entertained throughout and pleasantly surprised. Her next book will definitely be on my list.
Grade: A-

You can read all my book reviews here.

xo xo

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Kicking the Shit Out of Option B

As you know, I typically do book review posts with short commentary on books I’ve read and give them a grade. I love sharing what I’m reading and inspiring others to read more as well.

However, sometimes there are books that are just so eloquent and inspirational, they deserve their own post. First of which was Carry On, Warrior, which you can read here. And now, Option B by Sheryl Sandberg.

I read Sheryl’s first book, Lean In when it came out several years ago and loved it. I blogged about it in my book reviews in 2013 and gave it an A, saying it had inspired me to lean in and take more control of my career. I knew then Sheryl was a remarkable, passionate woman and someone to follow.

Fast forward to her new book, Option B. Not only do I still believe she is a remarkable, passionate woman, but I’m convinced her writing is changing peoples lives all around the world, something I’ve always aspired to. And I say that, because her writing changed my life back in 2013 and again in 2017, and I’m just a simple 20-something girl in small-town Bentonville.

Option B is about facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. It sounds like it could be a cheesy self-help novel, right? Completely wrong.

She opens the novel by sharing the story of her husband’s sudden death while on vacation in Mexico, and having to travel home and tell the kids their father wasn’t coming home. I read this on a train in Italy and had to literally stop myself from just losing it. It was so real and so raw and so emotional, and I could feel it all.

The thing about this book is, though it rips you apart, it then helps put you back together again. As she was telling her story of grief, it opened up all the wounds of my own grief from a few years ago when my Dad died. But then it put me back together again. Not only could I relate to so many things she wrote (like, the elephant in the room or using journaling as therapy), but she also gives very practical advice on how to build resilience and find joy again. She validated all of my feelings and reminded me I wasn’t alone on this journey of grief, even 3.5 years later.

I want everyone to read this book. Especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is. And if for any reason you can’t afford it, I will buy one for you.

“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shit out of it.”

xo xo


Book Reviews: A Lover, A Wife + A Handmaid

 

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff: There are only two reasons this book gets A minus – it starts a little slow and it’s a little too long. But everything else about it is just fabulous. It is a truly epic and fascinating love story that takes you on a ride with no clue of the final destination. Told in two parts – Fates is from the husband’s perspective and Furies is from the wife’s perspective. The latter infinitely more interesting and has a shocking twist.
Grade: A-

What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty: I’ve read several of Liane’s books, and I absolutely adored this one. It’s a tragic plot – she hits her head and has seemingly forgotten 10 years of her life, including her kids and her failing marriage – but it’s also so endearing. She sees her current life through a totally new, un-jaded lense and vows to get her marriage back on track. It’s cute, it’s easy, and it makes you thankful for what you have.
Grade: A

Wearing God – Lauren F. Winner: Highly recommended from a friend, I’m passing along this recommendation to all of you. This is a thought-provoking book about metaphors of God – though not the ones you immediately think of such as King or Shepherd, more like Clothing, Laughter, Laboring Woman… intrigued yet? This is a great book to read with a friend and discuss together. It will probably make you feel uncomfortable, but I promise it will also give you a new perspective on God.
Grade: A
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood: I vowed to read this book before I watched the show on Hulu, and I’m so glad I did. Oh.My.Gosh. This book AND the TV show are absolutely incredible. It’s creepy and weird and will make you cry and will make you gasp, but it is such a good story. I’m so glad Hulu has taken it over so well and expanded upon the book, because I finished it and was dying for more.
Grade: A

 

You can read all my book reviews here.

xo xo


Book Reviews: California, Cults + Catastrophe

What She Knew – Gilly Macmillan: This falls in to the typical genre of books I lean towards – thriller with a lead female character who’s a little shady (a la Gone Girl, Girl on the Train). That being said, I enjoyed it enough, but it didn’t hold up against the others on the list which kept me turning the pages all night. The ending didn’t close all the holes and left you with an uneasy feeling.
Grade: B

Present Over Perfect – Shauna Niequiest: Let me start by saying, I love Shauna Niequiest. She gets me, I get her and she is just wonderful. I love love loved her book Bread and Wine, which I’ve reviewed previously, so I was highly anticipating this book. However, it kind of let me down. There were great points that I totally related to, especially the main point of the book being present over perfect, but it seemed to kind of ramble/drag on. This would have been better in a series of blog posts or a chapter or two of another book.
Grade: B+

The Girls – Emma Cline: This book has been on my list for forever, finally became available at the library, and oh my gosh I devoured it! Set in 1960s California, the book follows a teenage girl who gets caught up in a cult that ends very very badly. I was fascinated not only with the cult, but also the transformation of the main character. If you’re interested in cults at all or just want a unique read that will pull you in, this is for you.
Grade: A+

The River at Night – Erica Ferencik: What I learned from this book: I will never ever ever go white water rafting in a remote location, especially on an annual girls trip – which is exactly the basis of this book. The book started out a little slow and I almost put it down, but then it started getting intense and I just couldn’t turn my eyes away from the horror. And it was literally that, horror. I couldn’t put the book down the last 100 pages, though I’m not sure it’s because I was enjoying it. It still freaks me out to think about it now.
Grade: B+

You can read all my book reviews here.

xo xo


Book Reviews: Mermaids, Macarons + TV Moms

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Mermaids in Paradise – Lydia Millet: This book is funny and spunky and totally surprised me with how enjoyable it was. I’ve always loved anything mermaids so when I heard about this one (a couple honeymooning in the Caribbean stumbles upon mermaids) it sounded right up my alley. It’s a little weird/sci-fi-ish, but still a fun, easy read. Warning: the ending is extremely weird. And if you read it, we must talk about it.
Grade: A

Talking as Fast as I Can – Lauren Graham: What a perfect stocking stuffer from Husband! I adore Lauren Graham and this book was no exception. She is so personable and quirky, and you can literally hear her voice reading the book to you. The best parts of the book were when she talked behind the scenes of Gilmore Girls and gave you juicy info like you’re an insider. However, if you haven’t watched GG or Parenthood, you might feel a little alienated reading the book.
Grade: A-

Paris My Sweet – Amy Thomas: Another great surprise Christmas gift from Mom! This book follows an advertising copywriter as she moves from NYC to Paris, and eats her way through the City of Light and all the sweets it has to offer. I love both cities and love desserts, so this book sounded perfect for me, as Mom said. (And it was!) It reads like fiction, but is actually non-fiction so the book also gives you loads of places to actually visit in NYC or Paris for the best macaron or cupcake or chocolate chip cookie or anything your heart so desires.
Grade: A-

Executive Presence – Sylvia Ann Hewlett: It’s often difficult to force myself to read these types of books instead of getting lost in a fictitious world, but I’m always glad when I do. This was a very practical book for anyone in the business world. The author shares the qualities of Executive Presence (EP), why they’re important, studies and stories to go with each, then tips for how to get better at each. I thought it dragged on just a touch, but overall I gained some good personal knowledge for my own EP.
Grade: B+

You can read all of my book reviews here.

xo xo


Book Reviews: a Play, a Thriller + a RomCom

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I’ve been in a reading rut lately.

It seems like forever ago when I read the three books in this review because I’ve been failing miserably to find my next book. I started and stopped four books that I just couldn’t get in to, and then just gave up and fell back into my latest TV binge, Suits.

Then, the book gods blessed me with three new books in one week, and I’ve been devouring them. So, I decided to do my book review with only three books instead of my typical four, so I can start fresh with my new books.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling: I was so nervous about this one! I was afraid it would totally ruin one of my all-time favorite series, but I loved it! It takes a bit to get into the flow since you are literally reading a play. But once you do, and you immerse yourself again into the fantastical world of HP you will fall in love with the series all over again.
Grade: A

Pretty Girls – Karin Slaughter: This one falls under a typical, go-to genre for me – mystery thriller with a female lead, a la Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Good Girl, etc. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. There were some very dark themes in the book that I wasn’t prepared for (torture, rape) and were written about in more detail than I would prefer. If you like darker thrillers, you would probably really enjoy this.
Grade: B

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne: This one was given to me by a friend out of the blue so I knew absolutely nothing about it, and sometimes those are the best. I often build up books in my head so much that they don’t live up to the expectation. Well, I loved this book! It was such an easy, fun read that follows two work enemies who end up anything but enemies. It’s a very cute, playful love story with a sexy edge.
Grade: A+

xo xo
You can see all my book reviews here.
 

Book Reviews: Wine, Tears + More Wine

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When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi: This book will wreck you. But it is oh so worth the read. It is such a beautiful, true story about a 36-year old neurosurgeon whose world is immediately changed when he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. In his autobiography, he explores the meaning of life and death with such a unique perspective it will make you examine your own ways of thinking, and it will most definitely make you shed some tears.
Grade: A

Eight Hundred Grapes – Laura Dave: This is one of those easy breezy reads you should take on vacation – especially if you’re vacationing in wine country. It was light and fun, but had more depth and twists than I expected. It will make you want to drink wine, have a house on a vineyard and follow your dreams.
Grade: A-

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn: I really did not like this book, and I really don’t know why I finished it. Maybe because I loved Gone Girl so much (same author), and I was just hoping it would turn a corner and get infinitely better, but it didn’t. It was dark and twisted and not my cup of tea.
Grade: C

Bread & Wine – Shauna Niequist: I.am.obsessed.with.this.book. I seriously could  read it all over again right now. The author shares life stories and intermingles them with her favorite recipes. I felt like I was in her kitchen, living life with her, breaking bread and drinking wine. She is so honest and transparent, and shares her faith in such an amazing way. I can’t wait for her new book to come out, Present Over Perfect.
Grade: A+

xo xo
You can see all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews: The Widow, The Housewife and The Lover

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The Widow – Fiona Barton: I read this book a while ago and to be completely honest when I went to write this review I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the book was about. That wasn’t a good sign. Once I looked it up, I remembered the story and remembered how unimpressed I was. Touted as another “Gone Girl” type thriller, it was not. The twists were unsurprising and the characters were flat. Leave this one be.
Grade: C

American Housewife: Stories – Helen Ellis: This one on the other hand was exactly what I needed after The Widow. The short stories about American housewives were hilarious – everything you’d expect from and everything you wouldn’t. There were a few stories I skimmed over, but overall these were funny, engaging and made you wish you were an American Housewife (if only for the stories).
Grade: A-

Along the Infinite Sea – Beatriz Williams: This book captured me from the first chapter. It tells the story of two very different women, one growing up in WWII and one in 1960s America, and how their lives intertwine. This is a dazzling love story that will sweep you off your feet, thanks to the incredible writing. By the end I was bawling and dying for more.
Grade: A+

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell: It took me a bit to get in to this book, but it turned out to be a cute, easy read. Half the book is two friends writing back and forth to each other via email at work about their personal lives, and the other half is about the IT guy who’s reading these emails and falls in love with one of the girls. It’s quirky, it’s cute and it will make you think twice about sending that private email at work.
Grade: B+

xo xo
You can see all my book reviews here.


Book Reviews [Vacation Edition]: Girls, Girls, Girls

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We just got back from vacation (which I will be writing a post about soon…) and my goal was to finish 4 books. (Think: Beach, Read, Drink. Pool, Read, Drink. so on and so on) Thanks to my awesome fellow book nerds (Shelley, Susan, Rebecca) these 4 were suggested and lent, and so it began!

Girls in White Dresses – Jennifer Close: This was a great book to start out with for vacation – very lighthearted and easy to read. Following a group of college friends through their 20s navigating jobs and relationships, it was relatable and very cute. It took me a bit to get used to the style (it feels at first like you’re reading short stories), but once you get in to the characters its instantly likable.
Grade: A-

Brain on Fire – Susannah Cahalan: This is one of those books (like I’ve said before in my reviews) you just HAVE to read! Seriously, go buy it right now. It’s a true story about a 24-year-old journalist who gets very sick, very fast, and no one can figure out what is wrong. You will be fascinated by the medical and biological side of the story, as much as you will the personal and relational side. It’s non-fiction, but totally reads like fiction.
Grade: A++ 

Sam’s Letters to Jennifer – James Patterson: I was skeptical about this book at first. James Patterson? Yes, he’s a best-selling author, but doesn’t he just write cheesy books with no depth? (I’d never read one before.) I will admit – the writing was not great, a little elementary, but the story, oh the story! The story was so sweet and drew me in immediately. It’s also the perfect beach read, set at a lake house in the summer.
Grade: A-

Luckiest Girl Alive – Jessica Knoll: This book has been on my list for a while – it’s on all the “must-read” lists so I knew I had to give it a try, and I loved it. I tore through it, wanting to get to the ending so badly. Very suspenseful and well-written, I agree it’s a must-read of the summer. The only reason I won’t give it an A+ is because it wasn’t quite as big of a twist as I was expecting, but still a great book.
Grade: A

What’s on your summer reading list?
xo xo

You can see all my book reviews here


Book Reviews: Three Cheers (and tears)

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Me Before You – Jojo Moyes: This book surprised me so much by how much I enjoyed it. It had been on my reading list for a couple of years now, and I finally decided to give it a shot when I saw it at the library. It is such a beautiful tragic love story that makes you fall in love with the characters and then cry your eyes out at the end. The movie is coming out this summer so go read the book before then! And don’t watch the trailer unless you want spoilers!
Grade: A+
(Note: I tried reading the sequel After You and unfortunately didn’t enjoy it, so I didn’t finish it. The book really didn’t need a sequel anyway.)

The Paris Wife – Paula McLain: Thanks to this book, I am now fascinated with Ernest Hemingway and Paris in the 1920s. If you’re a fan of either you will definitely enjoy this book. It’s historical fiction, so while not everything is exactly as it was, you learn a lot about the early days of Hemingway through the narrative of his first wife and true love. It was also incredibly well-written. (And you’ll want to take a trip to Paris immediately!)
Grade: A

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah: I adored this book! Set in France in WWII following two stories, it was reminiscent of All The Light We Cannot See (my #1 book of 2015). The character development was phenomenal and the writer painted the scenes so well. At one point I was crying so hard because I felt like I was in an internment camp and told husband through bleary eyes how I just couldn’t get over the fact that this happened in real life. Yes, there are some sad parts, but I promise you will not regret reading it.
Grade: A+

Why Now Is The Time To Crush It – Gary Vaynerchuk: So I saw this author speak at a conference recently and was blown away. Seriously. He was so passionate and purposeful about everything he said, and really made me stop and think. A colleague lent me his book (after I came home raving about him) and I could practically feel him emanating from the pages. If you’re entrepreneurial or think you want to be, this is a great, quick book to read that will get you fired up about living your passion and turning it into a business.
Grade: A

What a great round of books I had this time – all A’s! I’ve already started on my next one, The Widow by Fiona Barton. Do you have any recommendations to add to my list?

xo xo


Book Reviews: Mindy, Mars + The Undersea

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Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling: In my humble opinion, Mindy Kaling can do no wrong, and if you follow my blog this comes as no surprise to you. Her second book wasn’t quite as entertaining as her first (which I gave an A+), but still a great, easy read that made me laugh out loud and gave interesting behind the scenes insight into the life of a comedy writer (and my celebrity spirit animal).
Grade: A

The Martian – Andy Weir: I started and finished this on the plane ride home from Europe. I was sick of movies and magazines, so I grabbed husband’s kindle and this was the only thing that looked remotely interesting. I loved this book! It was fascinating. It was written so well and in such a unique way that you were hooked from the beginning. The only reason I didn’t give it an A+ is because it got a little too scientific a few times, but you could easily skim those (as I did) and still understand what was going on.
Grade: A

From This Day Forward – Craig and Amy Groeschel: This was our latest couples Bible study read, and I think we were all disappointed. This book was SO cheesy. Let me say it again – This.Book.Was.SO.Cheesy. It literally made me cringe at times. There were some good points of discussion, but they could have easily been shared in an article (or a pamphlet, as someone in our group suggested). There were no marriage revelations, but we had some great group discussions on basic marriage principles, and so for that, I gave it a passing grade.
Grade: C+

(City on Fire – Garth Risk Hallberg: I started reading this and stopped about 100 pages in. I wouldn’t say it was bad per se, but it wasn’t great either, and it was 900+ pages, so I wasn’t going to waste that much time on something I wasn’t really interested in. The debut author is definitely a talented writer, but took too long to get the story going and could be a touch superfluous.)

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel: This book has been on my list for a while and I’m glad I finally picked it up. As a post-apocalyptic story, it’s very different from my typical read, but I enjoyed it. I was a little bored at the beginning, but about mid-way through it takes on a whole new life weaving in stories of pre- and post- apocalypse and you see how they will all come together at the end. And it was, a terrific ending.
Grade: B+

Next Up: Me Before You – Jojo Meyes 

You can read all my book reviews here.
xo xo


Book Reviews: Chills, Thrills + Skills

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Before I Go To Sleep: This book creeeeped me out, but I really, really enjoyed reading it. It’s about a woman who has amnesia, and wakes up every morning and can’t remember anything – who’s sleeping next to her, where she is, how old she is, etc. She starts keeping a journal of everything she learns about herself that day, so the next day she can read it and get caught up on her life. We are reading the journal as she is, so it’s like we’re learning alongside her … eek! I found out it was turned into a movie with Nicole Kidman, so watch the trailer to see if you’re interested: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtSzAEvBIK0 

Of course, the book is always better than the movie.
Grade: A

My Sunshine Away: This book’s been on my list for a while, and sadly it was a disappointment. The characters didn’t compel me enough to really want to keep reading. I did though, mostly to solve the mystery in the book, but I could have easily put it down and not cared too much about it.
Grade: C+

[Dropped book: I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson – Another one I’d been waiting to read for a while, and I’m SO surprised I didn’t enjoy it. I read about 70 pages and stopped.]

The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way: After a few duds, I was so glad I picked up this book at the library because it’s FASCINATING. You follow three American kids going to school in other countries and you learn their cultures and why they are performing better than Americans. If you have any interest at all in the school system, this is a must read. Also, my kids will go to school in Finland.
Grade: A

The Good Girl: Oh.My.Gosh. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It’s definitely one of my top books of the year. The character development was phenomenal, and it is so so suspenseful. I wanted to keep reading constantly, but also didn’t want it to end! Speaking of the ending, I did not see it coming at all. If this is the author’s debut novel, I can’t wait to read her next one.
Grade: A++

You can read all my book reviews here. What’s your current read?
xo xo

[Follow along with what I’m reading on Instagram @milledavis and checking out my hashtag #mdavisreads]