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The Charm Offensive: Finding Happily Ever After

Review: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Reality dating tv shows have just never really been my jam. So many of my friends and sorority sisters look forward to watching The Bachelor or the Bachelorette every Monday night, but I just never really got the appeal, to be honest. So, when I heard about the premise of The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. But it turned out to be my favorite book that I read in the month of August! And that is high praise, because I managed to read a total of 15 books in August, with five of them being 5 star reads for me! So, thank you to my friends at Atria Books for asking me to be a part of the blog tour as we celebrate the release of The Charm Offensive this Tuesday September 7th! I know you guys are going to fall in love with this one!

“Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So, it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.”

The Charm Offensive, Alison Cochrun (Atria Books)

This is hands down one of the best romances that I’ve read this year! I love everything about this novel. I love how much asexual representation was shown in the novel, and even learned about the different forms that asexuality can take.

What struck me most was the focus on mental health and neurodiversity. The characters felt real and I connected to them so quickly. Very often, we see mental health discussed in novels as almost an afterthought. But in The Charm Offensive, we really got to see up close how Charlie and Dev navigate the world and how their mental health issues affect their relationships with others, both in romantic and platonic relationships.

This book was so thoughtfully written with plenty of heart and humor. I cannot wait to see what Alison Cochrun writes next!

Click HERE to pre-order The Charm Offensive from a Seat at the Table Books in Elk Grove, CA! It will be available everywhere on Tuesday September 7th!

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W. Bruce Cameron: Author Interview & Mini Reviews

In my first ever author interview, W. Bruce Cameron (#1 New York Times bestselling author) and I discuss his journey as an author and his bestselling books such as A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Courage, and his Puppy Tales series! Bruce has two new books out this year that I’ve already had the privilege of reading. Thank you to my friends at Forge and Starscape Books for my gifted copies in exchange for an honest review!

Head to the end of the interview for my mini reviews of A Dog’s Courage and Cooper’s Story: A Puppy Tale, both by W. Bruce Cameron and both available now! Without further ado, here is my interview with W. Bruce Cameron with some help from my godchildren (some of his biggest fans!) Thank you so much to Bruce for taking the time to answer our questions!

Image from Goodreads


How did you get your start as an author?

I literally can’t remember a time when I did not want to be an author. I assume I began writing my first novel when I was still in the womb. To me, there was nothing more exciting than being an author. I suppose I pictured tickertape parades and being featured as a guest on The Tonight Show on a regular basis. It was only in later life that I discovered that mainstream society holds an author in about the same amount of regard as it has for “professional sun-tanner.” By then, it was too late: my ambitions were focused and intense and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

A long time ago, literally before the invention of the World Wide Web, I decided to start writing what I called The Cameron Column as an email humor column. The idea I had was that I would garner so many subscribers that eventually I would be able to convince a publisher to print one of my books. It was such a stupid idea it worked. I eventually generated more than 50,000 subscribers, and as result was given a job writing humor columns for the Rocky Mountain News. Even though my columns were so bad the newspaper folded, I was able to secure a publisher for a book-length version of my most popular essay: 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. That started my career of writing humor books.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Understand that to write about different worlds you really need to live in them somehow. It is certainly possible to write a Western novel that takes place in the year 1850, even though you can’t go back in time to truly experience what life was like. But you can visit ghost towns, you can spend nights in Colorado, and you can do other things to broaden your understanding of the era. You can research, you can watch movies, you can drink in everything until the world seems as real to you as the one in which you are living.

If you’re young, and your parents are not willing to let a third grader take the car and drive around the western United States for a couple of years, you might rather turn your attention to a world you know. It may be difficult to believe, but most of us adults are no longer in third grade. If you write about third grade, write about what it is like to you right now to be a third grader. You will surprise us with things that we have long forgotten, and experiences that are totally new to us because when we were in third grade, things hadn’t been invented, like the Internet, or water. Whatever your age, your place in life is a wonderful laboratory for you to give thought to what is happening that is unique and interesting and that would make a good story.

My family loved the tv show 8 Simple Rules, based on your column and book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. What was it like to see your work be adapted for tv for such a large audience?

8 Simple Rules was loosely based on my own life. Watching episodes being made was like watching a troupe of actors doing an artistic interpretation of my own family situation. Of course, the real children were not happy with their TV versions, but that’s what they get for being such difficult teenagers; I was able to start a career based on them.

Most of your books are written with the dog being the narrator. How do you imagine how a story is told from a dog’s perspective, and how is it different from a human’s?

Dogs are much more accepting of human schemes and plans than humans are. Imagine how you would feel if all of a sudden one day a family member picked you up and carried you to the bathtub and scrubbed you? To a dog, a bath is just something to be endured. I also believe dogs are always optimistic that everything will turn out to be even better than it already is. Humans usually are far more pessimistic about the future. We’d all be happier if we were more like dogs.

The last four questions are from my godchildren Gabriella, Aubrey, Destiny, and Anthony, who are huge fans of your A Dog’s Purpose Puppy Tales series and the movie A Dog’s Purpose!

What inspired you to write your Puppy Tales series and base it off of the perspective of different dogs?

Children of all ages were drawn to my dog books – A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey in particular. However, those weren’t really written to be read by young children and there are a lot of adult themes woven into them. I had parents and teachers complain to me that I had come so close to writing novels for children but then screwed it up with all my adult conflicts. I decided, therefore, that I should set out to make books that are more accessible to children. With my Lily to the Rescue series, I now pretty much cover all grades of schoolchildren who are ready to read.

So far, what is your personal favorite book that you have written in the Puppy Tales series? Why?

Honestly, it has to be Cooper’s Story, the tale of a dog who is recruited to be a service animal despite the fact that he thinks he has a life figured out: it’s supposed to be about having fun every day. He struggles with the concept of becoming a working dog, but when it clicks for him, it’s because of his love for his boy, Burke. I also love that my editors gave me permission to put more human drama and conflict into Cooper’s Story that might be true of some of my other books.

How did you react to seeing your books play out on screen in the movies?

I was lucky enough that my writing partner (my wife, Cathryn Michon) and I were screenwriters on all three of my movie projects (so far). So we not only were able to witness the process, we were fully involved and engaged in making the films.

Reading a book is necessarily a solitary act. Even if a librarian is reading the book to a group of children, each child is forming the images mentally and has an individual take on every scene and character. A movie, though, can be a group event where everyone sees and hears exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. It is so much fun to picture grandparents, grandchildren, parents and aunts and uncles all together watching our movies and experiencing the story together.

Do you have any dogs? And what are their breeds and names?

I have cohabitated with a whole bunch of different kinds of animals, but currently I’m down to just a single dog. His name is Tucker and he’s 24 pounds of scruff. He is the only dog I have ever met who truly never wants to go for a walk. He’s fine with me going for a walk, but when I get out that leash, he regards me with utter disdain. He gives me a look like, “You go pee on a few bushes and come back and tell me how it went.”

We rescued Tucker when he was around eight weeks old. At the time, we lived in a high-rise apartment. Housebreaking a dog under such circumstances requires a keen sense of anticipation. You have to know he needs to go before he does. Very often, if I left it a little too late, I would wind up with a soaked T-shirt and a dog with a smugly amused expression on his face.

Mini Reviews

A Dog’s Courage by W. Bruce Cameron (Available Now from Forge Books)

“Bella was once a lost dog, but now she lives happily with her people, Lucas and Olivia, only occasionally recalling the hardships in her past. Then a weekend camping trip turns into a harrowing struggle for survival when the Rocky Mountains are engulfed by the biggest wildfire in American history. The raging inferno separates Bella from her people and she is lost once more.

Alone in the wilderness, Bella unexpectedly finds herself responsible for the safety of two defenseless mountain lion cubs. Now she’s torn between two equally urgent goals. More than anything, she wants to find her way home to Lucas and Olivia, but not if it means abandoning her new family to danger. And danger abounds, from predators hunting them to the flames threatening at every turn.

Can Bella ever get back to where she truly belongs?”

This was such a surprising read for me! This is the first book I’ve ever read of Bruce’s and I see why they make such great movies as well! I felt like I could see the whole thing playing out! It was stressful at times but I loved getting a peek at a disaster like this through the eyes of a beloved pet like Bella.

Cooper’s Story: A Puppy Tale by W. Bruce Cameron (Available Now from Starscape Books)

“When Cooper — a Malamute-Great Dane puppy — is taken to an adoption fair, he finds the perfect forever home with a boy named Burke. Soon Cooper discovers his very important purpose: to help Burke by pulling his wheelchair, fetching things for him, and assisting him in and out of his chair.”

My godchildren are all huge fans of Bruce’s A Puppy Tale books! I’ve gifted them several for birthdays or Christmas over the years, so I scored some major cool points with them for the interview and reading some of their favorite books! I see why these are such great books for kids. Cooper’s story, in particular, presented wonderful lessons. This is definitely one you’ll want to pick up for the young readers in your life!

You can order A Dog’s Courage HERE and Cooper’s Story HERE from my friends at Bookshop Santa Cruz!

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It Had to Be You: How Do You Stay True to Yourself While In Love?

Review: It Had to Be You by Georgia Clark

Sometimes, I am just in the mood to watch a good rom-com movie. When I was asked to be a part of the Blog Tour for Georgia Clark’s novel, It Had to Be You, I read the synopsis and that’s what it sounded like it would be: a decent rom-com. I did not expect to fall in love with all of the characters the way that I did. This is one of my favorite books of the year! Thank you to Atria Books for having me on the Blog Tour and sending this ARC of It Had to Be You, available everywhere this Tuesday, May 4th!

“For the past twenty years, Liv and Eliot Goldenhorn have run In Love in New York, Brooklyn’s beloved wedding-planning business. When Eliot dies unexpectedly, he even more unexpectedly leaves half of the business to his younger, blonder girlfriend, Savannah. Liv and Savannah are not a match made in heaven, to say the least. But what starts as a personal and professional nightmare transforms into something even savvy, cynical Liv Goldenhorn couldn’t begin to imagine.

It Had to Be You cleverly unites Liv, Savannah, and couples as diverse and unique as New York City itself, in a joyous Love-Actually-style braided narrative. The result is a smart, modern love story that truly speaks to our times. Second chances, secret romance, and steamy soul mates are front and center in this sexy, tender, and utterly charming rom-com.”

It Had to Be You, Georgia Clark (Atria Books)

I get a bit nervous when I see that books follow a large number of main characters because sometimes, I find it difficult to keep track of everyone’s stories and have a tough time connecting with each character. But Georgia Clark mastered the art of writing ten main characters. I can’t believe how much I loved them all and how easy it was to keep up with everyone. They all felt like real people with their own flaws but still so loveable. I also appreciate how diverse the cast is and how real the book feels. I would love to see this book put to the big screen some day! If you’re looking for an uplifting, yet still real love story, this is the one, you guys!

I definitely need to look into Georgia Clark’s other books because I absolutely love her writing style. It contained so much depth but was still so easy to read. It was really a page-turner of a novel, the entire way through. You will not be able to put this one down!

Click HERE to pre-order It Had to Be You from Marcus Books in Oakland, CA! It will be available everywhere on Tuesday May 4th!

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To Love and to Loathe: Is a Casual Romance Possible in Regency-Era England?

Review: To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters

By now, the Netflix sensation that is Bridgerton has taken the world by storm. I am included in this; I binged the entire season in a weekend. The works of Julia Quinn brought to life by Shonda Rhimes and her team made me fall in love with regency-era romance. To be fair, I’m bound to love anything that comes out of Shondaland (die-hard Grey’s fan here, remember?). And while I anxiously await the arrival of the first three books in Julia Quinn’s series (The Duke & I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and An Offer from a Gentleman) in my Once Upon a Book Club Special Edition Bridgerton Box, there is another author that I have quickly become a fan of. Last year, I read and reviewed To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters (read my review here) and now, the amazing Martha Waters is BACK with a spin-off of the original novel! To Love and to Loathe will be available everywhere this Tuesday, April 6th, published by Atria Books!

While To Have and to Hoax centered on the marriage of Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley and their shenanigans, Martha Waters’ newest spin-off To Love and to Loathe follows the antics of Lady Diana Templeton and Jeremy, the Marquess of Willingham. Diana, one of Violet’s best friends, is recently widowed but has re-entered society after her period of mourning. She has a long history of bickering and bantering with Jeremy, which is no secret to the society they live in. Jeremy’s reputation is well known throughout the ton, and Diana decides to make a bet: Jeremy must be married within a year or he owes her one hundred pounds. But Jeremy later proposes another idea: to engage in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, temporarily. He has received less than stellar reviews from other romantic liaisons. So, his big idea is to enlist the help of Diana to help him improve his skills, so to speak. But can this relationship stay strictly casual?

              I really loved the first novel, To Have and to Hoax, but I love this one even more. To Love and to Loathe was much faster paced and I love the banter between Diana and Jeremy. Diana’s independence is so admirable and I related to her a lot throughout the novel. This is also the first regency-era novel I have ever read that discussed a same sex couple, so that was nice to see. While they were not the main focus of the novel, it was nice to see some more representation.

              After reading To Love and to Loathe, I really hope that there is a third novel in this series centered on Emily’s story. Emily is the best friend of Violet and Diana and I really hope to see how her story unfolds. We got to see more of her personality come out in this book. After reading the first two books, I’m now a Martha Waters fan! I love her comedic writing style. I did not expect to love historical romances as much as I do! If you love regency-era romances like Bridgerton or even contemporary romance novels, I think you are going to love this one! Thank you to my dear friends at Atria Books for having me along for the Blog Tour!

Click HERE to pre-order To Love and to Loathe from Marcus Books in Oakland, CA! It will be available everywhere on Tuesday April 6th!

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No Pain, No Gaines: Who is in Your “Network”?

Review: No Pain, No Gaines by Chip Gaines

I can’t be the only one that has found themselves watching hours of HGTV on a weekend, absolutely enthralled by home improvement and design shows! And if you’re like me, you have to have stumbled upon the power couple that is Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame! Their signature Texas farmhouse style is everywhere, and has even become a home goods line in Target! I am also a huge fan of Joanna’s cookbook Magnolia Table. The three-cheese quiche is a huge hit every single time I’ve made it for friends and family. Well, now Chip and Joanna Gaines are embarking on a new journey of launching their very own television network called Magnolia Network!

Chip Gaines has learned a lot along the way of their business journey. In his newest non-fiction book No Pain, No Gaines he teaches all about how to build a network. And no, not as in our own television network, but a network of people that can support us in all aspects of our lives. As he says in the book, it’s a book about building a network, not networking in the traditional sense. Over the course of the book, he discusses how important is to be in the company of people who will life you up. He takes us through so many lessons that he’s learned over the course of his life that can be applicable to both business and relationships.

Listening to the audiobook was great because it made his story even more impactful. I was able to hear it in his own voice. He even had members of his family and “network” read stories throughout. I highly recommend the audio for this one! I’m always a fan of listening to the audio for non-fiction titles. I learned so much about Chip’s background. I also loved hearing all the construction metaphors! Although he works in residential construction and I work in commercial/industrial construction, I was able to relate to a lot of what he discussed!

This was a quick read/listen that held so much valuable advice and amazing stories from Chip’s life! It is not your traditional personal development/business book. While the lessons can definitely be applied to business, I think anyone will enjoy this!

Click HERE to purchase the audiobook of No Pain, No Gaines and click HERE to purchase the hard copy from Marcus Books in Oakland, CA! It’s available everywhere now!

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The Memory Collectors: What Memories and Emotions Do Objects Hold?

Review: The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville

Today is my stop on this blog tour! This Tuesday, March 16th, The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville will be released from my sweet friends at Atria Books. Upon initially reading through the synopsis, this sounded like it would be a heartwarming story about objects that bring up strong memories. I was not expecting the thriller-like element or how dark this story would be at times. This novel was filled to the brim with surprises and twists. Once I started, I could not put this one down!

The Memory Collectors follows the story Ev, who has the incredible ability to feel the emotions that are attached to objects. She finds treasures that hold memories and sells them at the Night Market in Vancouver’s Chinatown to earn a living. Little does she know that there is someone else in town with the same ability. Harriet hoards objects containing memories (good, bad, or otherwise) in her apartment making her neighbors sick from the oversaturation of emotion in that one place. One day, Harriet stumbles upon Ev and can tell that she has the same ability. She sets out to convince Ev to help her to curate a special museum that can help heal people by walking through spaces filled with specific emotions. But Ev has a dark past including a trauma that she has yet to deal with that threatens her present-day life.

This novel was not at all what I expected it to be! I thought it would be sweet and heartwarming, and it was at times. But it had a darkness that I did not anticipate and was so much more interesting than I thought it would be. I really connected to Ev’s PTSD and her tendency to push down her trauma so that she could just push forward. I know that many of us that have PTSD tend to do this. I also loved seeing how Ev and Harriet each viewed their gift differently. One saw their gift as a curse but used it to make a living, while the other viewed it as a beautiful ability to help people. But both characters had difficult pasts.

The character development was so strong in this novel. It was incredible to see Ev and Harriet’s journeys develop over the course of the book. I read this so quickly because once I started, I did not want to put it down. Ev’s past was slowly exposed, layer by layer, and I found myself trying to piece things together to understand what happened. Every time a new detail was revealed, it completely changed my mind about what I thought happened to her. The author used just the right amount of flashbacks and did not overuse the device at all. The Memory Collectors is Kim Neville’s first novel and I hope that it will not be her last because I truly loved immersing myself in her writing.

Click HERE to pre-order The Memory Collectors from Marcus Books in Oakland, CA! It will be available everywhere on Tuesday March 16, 2021!

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Ordinarily Extraordinary: Finding Wonder in the Everyday

Review: Ordinarily Extraordinary by Patrick P. Long

At some point or another, most of us have experienced an incredibly difficult time in our lives. Whether you have lost a loved one, struggled for independence, or have even suffered a trauma, we have all gone through tough periods. I have tried to be very open about my own traumas because I truly believe that discussing them can be healing for both myself and for anyone who may hear or read about it. Another person who has done that is Patrick P. Long. In his heartfelt book, Ordinarily Extraordinary, Patrick takes us through a heartbreaking journey that is somehow filled with hope, light, and love.

              Ordinarily Extraordinary: Love and Anger, Life and Death, Hope and Inspiration takes us through the series of events leading up to the loss of Patrick’s wife, Melanie. Melanie and Patrick have four children. After some early medical issues, Melanie is diagnosed with breast cancer. While the book begins with one particular medical incident, Patrick takes us through Melanie’s journey and battle for her own health and life. While telling stories of Melanie’s life and marriage, Patrick teaches us countless lessons that he learned for himself. This book was about love, hope, death, grief, and inspiration.

              I was nervous to read this book about a mother’s medical issues after losing my own mother three years ago. Though her death was sudden and I didn’t experience the medical journey that Melanie’s family did, I related to so much of their story. Hearing about trips to the hospital, I felt the same fear that I experienced. Even through all the fear and trauma in their family’s story, Patrick’s gratitude for Melanie shown through. He took an experience that would have absolutely broken most people and saw the small pieces of beauty in it. He spoke so lovingly, yet realistically of his wife. I too felt I like I knew Melanie well after reading this. Ordinarily Extraordinary is an absolutely extraordinary tribute to Melanie and the life that she lived. We all have so many lessons to learn from her.

Click HERE to order Ordinarily Extraordinary from Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA!

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The Love Proof: How Do We Experience Memories?

Review: The Love Proof by Madeleine Henry

Today is my stop on this blog tour! This Tuesday, February 9th, The Love Proof by Madeleine Henry will be released from my good friends at Atria Books. As soon as I read the synopsis for this new novel, I was hooked. I will admit that I was slightly intimidated when I saw that physics plays a large role. Years ago, I took all of one physics class in college and it was astronomy. Even THAT was challenging for me! But this book was such a joy to read. I finished it so quickly and got absolutely absorbed into the lives of the two main characters. This is not your typical love story, and I’m so glad that it was one of my first reads of this new year!

              Set on the campus of Yale University, we meet our two central characters: Sophie Jones and Jake Kristopher. Sophie, a physics prodigy, catches the eye of Jake upon their arrival to campus their freshman year.              Although Sophie is intent on pursuing her love of physics while asking the big questions about the nature of time, she finds herself absolutely, head over heels, in love with Jake. Their connection is so strong that it brings up even bigger questions of life and the universe from her. Their love for one another is all consuming. A major change in her life forces her to rethink her path and the innerworkings of the universe, time, and love.

              Some of the major themes of this novel are time, memory, and how we experience them. I was nervous that I would have a hard time understanding the physics elements in this book but it was written in the most relatable way. I learned a lot but I related so heavily to the themes that Sophie grappled with. The story humanized a prodigy and made her feel like someone I know. On a surface level, I love books that are set on university campuses. Maybe it’s the book lover in me, or just nostalgia for the campus of my own alma mater, but I love reading about stories based in academia.

              This book was not what I expected it to be, and I fell in love with the characters so quickly. It is not your typical romance novel, but I think romance readers will still love it. It had the feel of a classic novel set in modern day times, while spanning several decades. The story and themes that The Love Proof discusses were timeless and are things that we all grapple with at some point or another. You will definitely want to pick this one up!

Click HERE to pre-order The Love Proof from Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA! It will be available on Tuesday February 9, 2021!

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Single and Forced to Mingle: Living the Single Life

Review: Single and Forced to Mingle by Rachel Croce


As of May of 2020, I’ve been back to living the single life. I’ve discussed it briefly here on the blog, but over the first weekend in May, my relationship of two years ended abruptly with the decision being made for me by my ex. As you can imagine, it has been an emotionally tumultuous experience, so I have been hesitant to write about it much. But now that it’s been about eight months, I finally feel ready to write about the topic. Recently, I learned about a soon to be released book by Melissa Croce, called Single and Forced to Mingle: A Guide for (Nearly) Any Socially Awkward Situation. Talk about incredible timing! Thank you to Atria Books for reaching out to me about this release! Single and Forced to Mingle will be available on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

              As many of us know, being single can be amazing, but it presents some particular challenges in a world that is constantly pushing us to be in a relationship. Broken up into nine parts, Melissa Croce takes us through various situations that are bound to come up in our lives. She hilariously talks her reader through each of them with witty advice, while simultaneously helping them to feel less alone. A few favorite topics/sections of mine include: “If Classical Literary Heroines Were Modern-Day Millennial Women”, “Cocktails Every Single Person Should Know”, and “Patron Saints of Single People, Both Real & Fictional”. Along with funny advice and commentary, Croce includes fun quizzes, ideas, and even a little M.A.S.H., for those of us that remember!

              This was such a fun read! Melissa Croce must be about my age because I related to so much of what she wrote about. One of the real challenges to being newly single is the feeling and fear of being along. Getting through a pandemic can feel like a lonely experience, and let me tell you that going through a break-up DURING a pandemic is a special level of hell. This book reminded me that being single can be a fun period in one’s life. It helped me to laugh at the awkward situations and to be grateful for the freedoms that I have as a single lady. It was a pretty quick read and I LOVED the quizzes she included. I would love to hear her take on online dating/dating apps since that’s about all I can do right now.

              Looking back on the last eight months has helped me to reflect on how much better off I am now without my ex in my life. I really believed in the relationship and continuously pushed to make it work, but relationships cannot work if only one person is willing to do that. I deserve someone that understands what I have been through and comforts rather than criticizes. I deserve someone who is consistent, compassionate, respectful, empathetic, and that takes action. I am now free to find that person, rather than wasting two years on someone that didn’t deserve what I brought to the relationship. Melissa Croce’s new book helped me to find the fun in moving forward in this new chapter of my life.

 Click HERE to pre-order Single and Forced to Mingle from Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA! It will be available on Tuesday January 5, 2021!

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The Preserve: Defining Humanity

Review: The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that my absolute favorite genre is dystopian fiction. I am always on the hunt for new dystopian novels to check out, so I was stoked when Atria Books asked me to be a stop on the Blog Tour for Ariel S. Winter’s new book, The Preserve! This book comes out Tuesday November 3, 2020 (Election Day! Have you voted yet??). Thank you to the team at Atria Books for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Preserve takes place in the near future after a plague has made humans a minority. Technological advances have given rise to robots, complex AIs, that now rule. The robot run government gave the remaining humans designated sections of land to live on called the preserves. But the preserves have just had their first ever murder. Laughton, the chief of police in the SoCar preserve, is leading the case but is caught between complicated systems and jurisdictions while he attempts to find out who killed the victim. Drug-like programs, called sims, have turned up in connection to the victim, further complicating the case. As opposing government agencies collide, Laughton finds that he is not only solving a murder, but is attempting to save the preserve from collapse and invasion of the robot ruled government.

Upon finishing this book, I found that it was not at all what I expected when I picked it up. I am always excited to dive into dystopian novels. I love the slow, well thought out world building that they typically begin with. Along with English, I also majored in sociology in college so I am always fascinated by the social forces that create a world that is so different from the one we know today. Unfortunately, The Preserve did not have the type of world building that I’ve come to love and expect from dystopian fiction.

This book read more as a murder mystery with the presence of AIs than it did a dystopian novel. While it was definitely not my favorite book I’ve read this year, I think fans of crime mysteries will enjoy this. If you love science fiction, you will also enjoy this one. They just are not my cups of tea. However, there were some wonderful themes that emerged through out the story that I really enjoyed. The main character had to grapple with some heavy existential questions about what life is for and what he’s fighting for in this world. If humans are the minority, what does that mean for the future of humanity? I enjoyed grappling with these questions along with the characters.

Click HERE to pre-order The Preserve from Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA! It will be available on Tuesday November 3, 2020

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Eventide: Sinister Secrets and Sisterhood

Review: Eventide by Sarah Goodman

It’s that spooky time of year and there’s nothing better than cozying up with an eerie ghost story. I tend not to read a lot of scary books but the story of this one grabbed my attention! Tor Teen was kind enough to send me a copy of Sarah Goodman’s debut novel, Eventide! I’ve been loving YA novels lately and this one sounded perfect for the Halloween season. Just take a look at that gorgeously haunting cover! I expected this to be an interesting story but I did not expect to fall in love with it as much as I did. I wish the story could have gone on for another 300 pages, at least! I connected to the main character so much, and I love layered family mysteries.

Eventide takes us to Wheeler, Arkansas in 1907.  Verity and her younger sister, Lilah, have been sent by train from New York after the death of their mother and their father’s descent into madness. The local schoolteacher adopts Lilah quickly, but Verity is forced to move in with a different family as a farmhand to try to stay close to her sister.  Verity quickly gets the sense things are not normal in Wheeler. Aside from the locals’ superstitions, the woods prove to be an eerie place, especially the old well deep into the forest. Verity has a frightening experience cutting through the woods only to be surrounded by fog and an unbearable chill. And is her mind playing tricks on her, or did she spot a figure in the woods that’s not really there? As she tries to understand the mysteries of this small town, she begins to uncover her own parents’ sinister past connections to Wheeler.

This book was such a surprise to me. I usually stay away from haunting novels but I truly loved this book. It’s such a wonderful YA novel for anyone that loves a mysterious story. It was so festive to read close to Halloween but would be great year-round. There were so many layers to this mystery. At times, it felt like a loving story of sisterhood while other times, it made me feel downright spooked!

One major theme of this novel is that of sisterhood and family. I related a lot to Verity’s character in a few ways. I also have a younger sister. We lost our mom too, although it was when we were in our early twenties. But Verity and I both share the desire to protect our younger sisters from anything we can. When you lose a parent, you cling to your sibling because while others can empathize, no one understands what you’re going through like your sibling can. The themes of family and self-sacrifice really resonated with me. I also loved the mysterious nature of the novel. It felt like I uncovered a new layer to the mystery with every chapter. I was constantly questioning the other characters, which makes for a great, fast-paced read.

I can’t recommend Eventide enough, especially at this time of year: spooky season! With this being Sarah Goodman’s debut novel, I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Click HERE to order Eventide from Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA!

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In a Holidaze: Take the Leap of Faith

Review: In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

I know that it’s only October, but for me, that is the start of the coziest time of the year. That also means that it’s officially time to bust out all the holiday things that make me happiest. Fall is my favorite season and I love Christmas so much. I try to start getting excited and celebrating as early as I can so that I enjoy the season as much as possible. I knew I wanted to pick up some new Christmas-y books this year to cozy up with a blanket, a cup of coffee, and some candles burning. When I found out that the author duo Christina Lauren had one coming out this year, I knew I had to get my hands on it! Thank you so much to Gallery Books and Simon & Schuster for sending me an advanced review copy!

In a Holidaze is set in a cozy, snowy cabin in Utah. Maelyn Jones’ family along with her parents’ college best friends and their families come together every Christmas to stay at the cabin and celebrate the magical season. This is Mae’s favorite place to be, but this year, things just don’t feel the same. She’s had to move back in with her mom and hates her job. She wakes up the morning after Christmas, filled with regret after drunkenly kissing one of her childhood friends, Theo. But for as long as she can remember, she’s had feelings for Theo’s older brother Andrew. Not only that, but she finds out that their parents want to sell the beloved cabin. She leaves her favorite week of the year behind downright miserable. As her family drives away, she makes a silent plea to the universe: “Please. Show me what will make me happy.” Almost immediately, their car is hit in a horrible accident. She wakes up on a plane on December 20th all over again on her way to Utah. She has to live the week all over again.

I had a feeling I would enjoy this Christmas story, but I did not expect to love it as much as I did! It is the coziest book I’ve read all year. It gave me that warm, magical Christmas feeling that I long for all year long. Like Mae, I love and long for tradition, especially family Christmas traditions. I don’t know if I’ll get that this year but it was so lovely to escape our present-day reality into this beautiful book. I loved the depiction of the love story in this as well.

But my favorite part was the lesson in learning to trust yourself and take chances. This is something I’ve been pondering in my own life. My relationship ended and I immediately had a hard time. But as time has gone on over the last several months, I’ve seen what a blessing it ended up being. I’ve progressed in my career, bought a home, and have started living my life for myself. Sometimes, we need life to give us a bit of a push to trust ourselves and take that leap of faith into the things we’re the most scared of.

I can’t recommend this one enough! A lot of us are looking for fun, festive Christmas books and this one should be at the top of your list this year! I’ve heard so many people rave about Christina Lauren books and now I totally understand why! Please let me know which are you favorites because I definitely need to read more! Thank you again to Gallery Books for sending this my way!

Click HERE to pre-order In a Holidaze from Harriett’s Bookshop in Philidelphia, PA!

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Anxious People: Who Knows the Truth?

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Since becoming a book blogger and “bookstagrammer”, one author that I keep hearing about from fellow readers is Fredrik Backman. I have heard how beloved his books are and how amazing his writing is. One book that people keep recommending to me is A Man Called Ove, so I picked up a used copy from a local bookstore. And as many of you Backman fans know, he released his newest novel, Anxious People, on September 8th with Atria Books! They were kind enough to send me an advanced readers copy for review a few months ago, and I recently finished this highly anticipated novel.

Anxious People is about a bank robbery. Well, not really. It’s about a hostage situation. But also not really. As we learn about the backstory of the “bank robber” and what led to the events of the present day story, we learn about the connections of the eight strangers who find themselves taken hostage (but not really) and how they attempt to get out of their predicament. Through moments of heartache, comedy, and true human connection, we learn that others can help us discover profound truths about ourselves.

This novel was such a fun surprise for me and was not at all what I expected. I’d heard about the relatability of Backman’s writing and the way that he gets to the heart of real experiences and truths that we all go through, but I had no idea how truly beautiful it would be to experience it for myself. Backman discusses the traumas that the characters have faced and how it leads to the events of the present day, while still maintaining some whit about it all.

The structure of the novel really played with the sense of time. It bounced around quite a bit to various points in time and to so many different character focuses. It made the entire book a slow reveal. This kept me guessing and on my toes the entire time. I love novels like this that are not told in a chronological order, but slowly reveal the important pieces of truth throughout. The topic of human connection really affected me, especially during this time where we aren’t able to connect with others the way that we used to. 

I now fully understand why so many people are fans of Backman’s work and I now consider myself a proud member of that club! I can’t wait to get to A Man Called Ove now, and I would love to hear what your favorite Fredrick Backman books are so I can find them next! I highly recommend Anxious People, especially right now. 

Click HERE to order Anxious People from my favorite independent bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz!

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The Girl from Widow Hills: Can We Really Escape Our Past?

Review: The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

One genre that I don’t read nearly enough of is psychological thrillers. It’s not something I typically gravitate towards but once I pick one up, I cannot put it down! So, I was very excited to see Megan Miranda’s newest release land in my mail. Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending over this ARC of The Girl from Widow Hills for review. This book solidified for me that I am definitely a fan of thrillers! I am definitely going to be checking out her other books after finishing this one; it was a wild ride!

Twenty years ago, Arden Maynor was swept up in a rainstorm while sleepwalking one night at only six years old. Everyone from the town of Widow Hills formed a search party and sought out to bring her home safely. She was later discovered hanging onto a storm drain, miraculously alive. The story of “the girl from Widow Hills” blew up as word spread. Arden’s mother wrote a book and the public attention poured in, as did letters and obsessive creeps who wanted to know more. And every year, on the anniversary, the interest and attention would spike again. Once Arden was old enough, she left town and changed her name, attempting to leave her past behind her. Now living as Olivia Meyer in another state, she has rebuilt her life with a great job, her own house, and her future before her. As the twentieth anniversary approaches, paranoia begins to set in as Olivia senses that someone is watching her. She has begun to sleepwalk again, and one night wakes up standing outside her home in front of a dead man, who looks strangely familiar. Can she ever really escape her past?

This book was such an intense ride. As I was reading, I really felt the main character’s sense of fear settle in. There were so many twists and turns to this story, that I really never had any idea what might happen next. I finally stopped making predictions, which is the sign of a great thriller for me. I love how realistic this novel felt, with Olivia going about her normal day to day life, and then just noticing how little things were just off. I also loved that it explored the aftermath of what these missing child cases turn into for the victims once they’ve grown up. As a society, we get fascinated by these stories and make movies and documentaries out of them and watch them for entertainment, but we don’t think about what life is like if you’ve survived a situation like that. The attention can be overwhelming and even dangerous, as demonstrated in this story.

If you’re a fan of thrillers you will love this one! And if you don’t typically read thrillers, this is a great one to start with! I for one will now be seeking out Megan Miranda’s other books after reading this one. I highly recommend it! Thank you again to my friends at Simon & Schuster for getting this one over to me for review!

Click HERE to order The Girl from Widow Hills from Chicago’s only Black woman owned bookstore, SemiColon!

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Head Over Heels: When Life Flips You Upside Down, Spring into Action

Review: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

I know I haven’t posted a review for you all in a long time. Some major life changes have happened over the last six weeks, mainly the ending of my two-year long relationship, so I’ve taken some time for myself to heal and reflect. I plan to write more on that later, but I wanted to be honest with you readers. After all, that’s the “life” half of Life Meets Literature.

On a more important topic: Black Lives Matter. Since the murder of George Floyd, I along with so many of you have been reading, listening, and sharing important information about the racial injustices that Black people face every day in America. I wanted to devote time to listening to voices that have been ignored and overlooked for far too long. More people are speaking out than ever before, but I want to be clear that the last three or so weeks cannot and will not be enough. We have to keep this momentum up and continue to fight racial injustice every day. We have to listen to the voices who experience this racism and do our best to be anti-racist. As Ibram X. Kendi reminds us, it’s not enough to just be not racist; we have to strive towards anti-racism every day. Personally, I have been ordering more books from Black authors and have only been supporting Black-owned bookstores this month. I’ve always strived to have a diverse and inclusive book collection, but after a recent audit of my shelves, I saw that I had not done enough. You will also notice that I will no longer be sharing Amazon affiliate links on this blog but will instead be linking you to various Black-owned bookstores for you to order books that I review. I have ended partnerships and subscriptions with companies that have not done well enough for their Black influencers, authors, and customers. I have made several donations to organizations like the Minnesota Freedom Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative. A friend and I have teamed up to kick off an Anti-Racist Book Club next month, where we will be discussing books on the topic. Those will also be written about here so that we may continue the conversation. I’ve also been trying to share as many helpful resources as I can find over on my Instagram stories, which I’ve saved in my “Black Lives Matter” highlight for you to find. I have had those tough conversations with friends and family about why saying “all lives matter” is so dismissive, damaging, and disrespectful. No matter what our positions in life are, there is so much that each of us can do to help. I hope you are also committed to this work, as it is not even nearly over. I plan to continue to listen, learn, and share as much as I can as we continue to fight racial injustice. And now, onto today’s review:

Thank you so much to the team at Atria Books for reaching out to me and inviting me to be a part of the Blogger Tour for Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein. It’s been a while since I’ve had so much fun reading a book. Reading the synopsis of Orenstein’s newest novel got me so excited. Gymnastics was the first sport I did as a child. I never did it competitively, but I loved my time in the sport. It is still my favorite sport to watch during the Olympics. When I saw that Head Over Heels is about a retired gymnast, I gravitated towards it instantly. I also appreciated that the author included a note to the reader in the beginning of the book. While the events of the book surround the lead up to and pursuit of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, we all now know that they will not be happening this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are also well aware that countless gymnasts have spoken out about USA Gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar, who sexually abused so many young women over the years. This topic is also covered in the novel so if that is a triggering topic for you, proceed with caution. Hannah Orenstein invites us to “escape into a world in which the coronavirus pandemic does not happen, the [2020] Olympics go on as planned, and gymnasts deserving of justice chase their dreams.”

Avery Abrams had trained as a gymnast for her entire life to chase her dreams of being an Olympian. But at the 2012 Olympic Trials, she suffered an accident and injury that ended those dreams forever. Her best friend Jasmine, however, made the team and went on to be an Olympic champion and married their strict, emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri. After the end of her long-term relationship with football star, Tyler, Avery heads home to Massachusetts to figure out the next step in her life. During dinner one night with her parents, she receives a phone call from former fellow gymnast, Ryan, asking her to return to her old gym, Summit, to help train Hallie, a young 2020 Olympic hopeful. She returns to the world of gymnastics but is not prepared for the chemistry she discovers between herself and Ryan. When a scandal hits the gymnastics world, Avery must re-evaluate her place in this world.

One of my favorite themes that I took away from Head Over Heels is that of female friendship. Since elite gymnastics is such a highly competitive sport, I did not expect to learn so much about the friendship between gymnasts and the power of sticking together. On a personal level, I obviously related heavily to Avery’s breakup with her ex-boyfriend Tyler (insert big exaggerated eye roll at how close to home this hits). I’ve had to re-evaluate my own life and what my future looks like now that it will not look the way that I thought it would. I think so many of us can relate to having our world’s turned upside down in so many ways, especially right now. Avery’s story teaches us so much about using that to fuel us into our next life chapter, and I am so grateful to have discovered and read this book at this moment in my life.

Head Over Heels comes out this Tuesday June 23rd! Check out the link below to order your copy! Thank you again to the team at Atria Books for inviting to be a stop along this Blogger Tour!

Click HERE to order Head Over Heels from Chicago’s only Black woman owned bookstore, SemiColonChi!

TW: sexual abuse discussed

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The Grace Year: Female Magic

Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

One of my all-time favorite genres is dystopian fiction. I’ve always been drawn to dystopian/apocalyptic novels. I totally sound like a broken record, but my favorite book of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale and I am always on the hunt for similar books. A book that came out last year kept popping up as I was searching: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett. I’ve seen a few different people describe the book as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games which is the fastest way to get me to buy a book. I bought this one back in November of 2019 and have put it on my monthly TBR list every single month but had yet to read it until last week! Other books that were soon to be released were taking priority for me. But with everything going on right now, a lot of book release dates have been pushed back so my reading calendar has opened up to allow time for some backlist titles I’ve been dying to get to. This one was right at the top of my list!

The Grace Year centers on the story of 16-year-old Tierney James living in Garner County. She is approaching her Veiling Day, when the 16-year-old girls find out who has been chosen to be married off. Once they find out, the veiled and unveiled girls are sent out to live in the woods for a full year in the Grace Year encampment. It is said that they come into a sort of magic at this age and must use and get rid of it all before being allowed to return to the county. It is known that they don’t all return alive, so the girls enter the woods fearful they may never return home or at the very least, will see and experience things beyond their worst imagination. Tierney longs for a life outside of the prescribed path of becoming a wife or being cast out to the outskirts or labor camps.

This is already my favorite book of 2020. I had a feeling that I would love it since it has been so raved about, but I didn’t know that I would love it this much. The pace of this book never let up, which I loved. I tore through this book in a few days because it was so fast paced. A lot like The Handmaid’s Tale, the descriptions of the physical experiences of the main character were so detailed and visceral that I felt the stress and fear right along side her. The major themes of this book are obviously gender roles and how young girls are brought up. Though our own society is not like that of the book in a literal sense, there are glaring overlaps. We too teach young girls how to act and to be jealous and competitive with one another. We are taught not to trust one another and are often pitted against each other.

The glimpses of female friendship and empowerment were my favorite sections of the book. The novel proved that this is how we challenge the dangerous patriarchal systems that confine and restrict us: by fighting for each other, rather than against one another. There are so many powerful lessons to be learned from The Grace Year about the beautiful yet difficult experience of being a woman. I cannot recommend this book enough!

Check out The Grace Year and the other books referenced in this post below!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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To Have and to Hoax: Mr., Mrs., & Miscommunication

Review: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters

Thank you to the team at Atria Books for sending me an advanced copy of To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters in exchange for an honest review. This adorable cover is honestly what caught my eye first, it’s beautiful! And after reading the synopsis, I knew I was interested! I don’t read a ton of romance novels and this one happens to be a historical rom-com, so it sounded like something outside of my normal reading material and like it would be a fun one!

To Have and to Hoax is a historical rom-com set in early 1800s England. Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley were married five years ago after meeting and falling madly in love. But for the last four years, the couple has been estranged after a fight that rocked their marriage to the core. When Violet receives word from her husband’s friend that he has been injured, she rushes to find him. Upon discovering that he is perfectly fine, she becomes enraged that he did not tell her himself. In an effort to get revenge on James, Violet comes up with a supposedly “brilliant” plan.

This was such a fun and unexpected read. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the prose was. There is something about getting lost in beautiful language. The actual plot of the novel is not super complicated but it was such a pleasurable read in the way that the writing style laid it all out. There was definitely a lot of humor and a little bit of steam throughout. I loved Violet’s character. She was sassy, spunky, a bit immature at times, and always questioned tradition and propriety. Sometimes these qualities got her into a bit of trouble or caused problems, but it was so fun to see someone like her navigate this world of Regency England with all it’s social customs and traditions.

I loved that the novel was told from both James and Violet’s perspectives so that we understood each of their motives and how two people who live in the same house that are married can see events so differently. It’s a great reminder to try to see things from someone else’s perspective, especially your partner. The lessons that I took from this novel are that conflicts often stem from a misunderstanding or from miscommunications. Many of us are at home with partners right now and disagreements or conflicts are bound to come up. I think this is a fun read with some great lessons for us. There were times when I was frustrated with the characters’ actions and there were times when it felt like it was taking me forever to read this for some reason. But overall, it was a fun escape from our current reality.

To Have and to Hoax published on April 7th and is available now!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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The Simple Wild: Are We Doomed to Repeat Our Parents’ Pasts?

Review: The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

Contemporary romance novels are books I don’t typically gravitate towards, but I’ve been open to reading some. One that has been making the rounds all over Bookstagram is K.A. Tucker’s The Simple Wild. I started seeing that beautiful cover everywhere and I had several followers recommend it to me. I mentioned the book to my sister and she got it for me for my birthday back in February. I was so excited to dive in. Once I picked it up, I just could not stop reading!

Calla Fletcher is a lifestyle blogger in Toronto that just got laid off from her day job. As she grapples with this life change, another even bigger development is on the horizon. She receives a call from Alaska about her father. When Calla was two years old, her mother took her from their home in Alaska to leave her dad and his life of flying planes to a more stable life that her mother craved in Toronto. Calla has not spoken to her father in twelve years. But the surprise phone call brings bad news: Calla’s dad Wren has been diagnosed with lung cancer. As reluctant as she was to speak to her father, she knows she needs to fly to see him; this could be her last chance. Life in Alaska couldn’t be farther from the life she knew in the city. A young pilot named Jonah that works for her father points out how out of place she is, but she continues to attempt to prove him wrong. As tensions rise between the two, Calla senses something else brewing beneath the surface with Jonah. Calla’s mother warned her of her past, telling her not to fall in love with a pilot. Will history repeat itself?

This was hands down, one of my favorite books of the year. K.A. Tucker has such an incredibly engrossing way of writing that just pulls you in. The story never lagged and just kept on going. Some books tend to dwell on parts of the story that don’t seem very important and can start to feel slow in some parts, but I never felt that with The Simple Wild. Scenes lasted the perfect amount of time to maintain my interest and keep me wondering what would happen next and I so appreciated that. I loved the complexity of the relationships and the character development that was so excellently illustrated throughout the novel.

Fans of contemporary romance will love this, and even if you aren’t, it may make a fan out of you like it did for me! I’m going to check out Tucker’s other work now, because I love her writing style. This did not feel like a formulaic romance novel; it truly felt like its own unique, realistic story. I was sad to see it end, so I immediately ordered the sequel, Wild at Heart. I finished that one last night and I’m so sad it’s over already! I wanted to stay in that world as long as possible; a sign of truly great writing. Let me know if you’re interested in a review of Wild at Heart! I would love to review it but I know that it would contain spoilers so the review would come with plenty of warnings! I related so strongly to so many of the themes in the second book and would love to write about them.

Order the book and/or the sequel below!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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Jo Dares to Be Different: On Embracing Your True Self

Review: Jo Dares to Be Different by Maria Angeles Rodriguez Vazquez

Thank you to Maria Angeles Rodriguez Vazquez, the author of Jo Dares to Be Different for sending me a copy of her book for review! As you may have noticed, I don’t typically review children’s or middle grade books, but when I read the synopsis, I knew this was one I wanted to check out! I’m the proud godmother of a smart, fierce 10-year-old girl and one thing that I’ve done since she was little is gift her books for Christmas, her birthday, or just because! I’m always on the hunt for great books for her and her sisters and brother. When Maria’s team approached me about reviewing Jo Dares to Be Different, I was so excited to find a new book that’s perfect for my goddaughter’s age!

Jo is a young girl who had to leave her parents to go live with a host family in a different country. She knew it was not safe to stay in her hometown so she had to be brave. She arrived at the home of her host family, a farm. As Jo began to meet other children in town, she became increasingly aware that she appeared very different from everyone else. Her hair was short, she wore bright, colorful clothes, and carved wooden shoes. With some help from some unlikely new friends on the farm, Jo learns courage and teaches others to embrace their differences.

This was such a sweet book with a beautiful, universal message of embracing your authentic self. Not only does Jo learn about herself, but she teaches incredible life lessons to those around her. This book has such an important message for kids especially, but for adults too. I recommend this for 9–12-year-olds, depending on their reading level. It’s about 145 pages long with some illustrations. For those of you parents who have kids in that age range who are home from school, this is a great book to order (link below) to keep your kids reading, learning, and engaged!

Order Jo Dares to be Different below!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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The Roxy Letters: Oh My Goddess!

Review: The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry

Thank you to the team at Simon & Schuster for sending me an advanced reader’s copy of Mary Pauline Lowry’s hilarious new novel, The Roxy Letters! I saw this book floating around Instagram a bit and I knew I had to read it. I received this book awhile ago but was waiting to read it because I had so may ARCs to get through that were being released before The Roxy Letters. I was SO happy when the time finally came for me to crack open this book! It came with some cute gifts, one that was pretty risqué that gave me a good laugh (DM me for photos!).

The Roxy Letters is structured as a series of letters from our main character Roxy, to her ex-boyfriend who has recently become her roommate in order for her to afford her mortgage. Roxy works at Whole Foods (the original location) in Austin, Texas for a terrible manager in the deli. She’s a sometimes-vegan who is trying to revive her own love life. When Roxy finds out that Lulu Lemon is moving in to take over the previous location of a local business, she decides to do something about it. Throughout the novel, Roxy finds herself in several unfortunate situations that she hilariously navigates through, taking hit after hit that life throws her way.

I loved Roxy’s wit and sense of humor. The format definitely took some getting used to. When I first started the book, I didn’t think a book full of letters could be that sustainable but I grew to love it! I found her daily struggles of being a twenty-something trying to make it and be independent to be so relatable. I think many young women will connect with Roxy. I recommend this book for young women especially, and it is definitely for the mature reader as there is some adult content. I really enjoyed reading this book; it comes out on April 7th. You can pre-order using the link below!

Pre-order The Roxy Letters below! Out April 7th!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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The Body Politic: Memory, Politics, and The Evolution of the World

Review: The Body Politic by Brian Platzer

Thank you so much to the team at Atria Books for reaching out to me and inviting me to be a part of the Blogger Tour for The Body Politic by Brian Platzer. When I first read that this book focuses on four friends and the evolution of their lives and the world around them from the events of September 11, 2001 through the aftermath of the presidential election of 2016, I actually texted my three best friends and said “I think someone wrote a book about us!” All jokes aside, I was definitely intrigued right away. I was nine years old when the tragic events of 9/11 happened but I remember it so clearly. It had such a defining impact on my generation in our day to day lives and, obviously, on the world around us. The 2016 presidential election also had a profound influence on us and the majority of my generation. As we grew up, our lives went through dramatic changes and shifted in ways we never could have predicted, but so did this country and world.

Brian Platzer’s newest novel somehow managed to distill that feeling in the telling of the lives of these four friends: Tess, David, Tazio, and Angelica. Tess, an actress in New York, is caring for her husband as he struggles to recover from an accident. Not only is their relationship suffering because of David’s injury, but they are also struggling to overcome the effects of Tess’s infidelity as they raise their two young sons. Their best friend Tazio, who had worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has disappeared and left his fiancé Angelica wondering what made him leave. As we learn more about each of the four main characters, we delve into their own personal traumas that they have experienced and how those events influence the people they have become and how they interact in the various relationships in their lives.

The emotional impact of this novel is so striking. Brian Platzer manages to make his readers truly feel that hopelessness that the characters experience. 2016 was a very difficult year for me on a personal level and I know that it was for many of my peers as well. I had to grow up a lot that year and I felt many similar feelings that the characters in this novel went through. One of the main themes of this book is that of trauma and the effects that it can have on memory and with PTSD. I’ve talked a little bit on my blog about my own PTSD and how that as manifested in my life.

I highly recommend this book for people in my generation, especially. So many themes are so relatable for us. A lot of the feelings that we experienced over the last twenty years were captured here through the events of the lives of Tess, David, Tazio, and Angelica. I found myself cheering, crying, and feeling all of their emotions right alongside them. The Body Politic came out on March 3rd so it is available now! Check out the link below to order your copy! Thank you again to the team at Atria Books for inviting to be a stop along this Blogger Tour!

Order your copy of The Body Politic using the link below!

Life Meets Literature is a participant in the the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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The Red Tent: The Once Untold Stories of Women

Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

As you have seen me mention a million times on this blog and Instagram, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is hands down my favorite book of all time. I love the Hulu tv series, the movie from the early 90s, and any and all things about The Handmaid’s Tale that can help me learn more about the fictional world of Gilead. After watching the Hulu series for a bit, I discovered Red All Over: A Handmaid’s Tale Podcast hosted by bay area comedians, Molly Sanchez and Kelly Anneken. First of all, I will always be excited to hear about work coming from women in the bay area, as a northern California girl myself. Although they ended the podcast after the third season of the Hulu show and their coverage of The Testaments, it is still my favorite podcast. They are so incredibly smart and funny and help me to digest this incredibly difficult subject matter in a way that is so meaningful. Plus, it’s so nice to listen to comedians that get and make amazing book jokes.

During their podcast episodes they always mention other books they are loving and that are relevant to the content of the show or book. One that kept coming up was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. If you are at all familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale, then you know the importance of the Genesis verse that serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs and the basis for the Sons of Jacob’s creation of the handmaids:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die.’ And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, ‘Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?’ And she said, ‘Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.’

(Genesis 30:1-3)

With this being one of the founding ideas of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, I was incredibly drawn to read The Red Tent, which tells the same story but from the perspective of a woman central to the story. And since I have been reading so many books, I decided to listen to this on audio because I just did not want to wait any longer to dive in!

The Red Tent is narrated by Dinah, a daughter of Leah and Jacob. In the bible, we barely learn much of anything about Dinah. But Anita Diamant expands her story that gives insight into the world of the women in the bible that are largely glossed over. In such a patriarchal religion, women’s stories are typically left out or minimized. But as Diamant re-imagines these stories, we are brought into a true sisterhood of strength and resilience. The red tent is a place that the women of the novel go during times of menstruation or to give birth. These sacred times and this place for only women are described in a way that is empowering. The narrative takes us from the marriage of Jacob to Rachel and Leah all the way through the end of Dinah’s life.

I cannot recommend this book enough! So much of our literature references biblical stories so even if you are not even remotely religious at all, it’s so helpful to know these stories to better understand allusions and symbolism in fiction. Although my mom was Catholic, my sister and I were not really raised to follow any particular faith. So, my knowledge of biblical stories is limited to the New Testament/Christian Origins and the Women in Christianity courses I took in college. But as I pursued my degree in English literature, I found that I wished I had known more so that I could pull more out of the texts I was reading. Reading The Red Tent was such a fun way to do that for me. One of the reasons I decided to major in English literature and sociology while minoring in gender studies is because I am fascinated by women’s stories, and up until relatively recently, these stories were largely still untold.

              After reading The Red Tent, I saw that there was a Lifetime mini-series based on the book! I will definitely be checking that out soon! I hope you check out The Red Tent; you can head to the bottom of this post for a link to the book. And although there won’t be any new episodes of the Red All Over Podcast by Kelly & Molly, I hope you check that out here as well! They are incredibly funny and smart and are always working on amazing projects!

You can order The Red Tent or any of the books referenced in this post here!

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Ten Days Gone: Can a Serial Killer be Stopped in Ten Days?

Review: Ten Days Gone by Beverly Long

Growing up, there was a lot of Law and Order playing on TV in our house. My mom loved that show, so I naturally watched a lot of it with her. But as a reader, I’ve actually never read a police procedural novel until now! Thank you to Mira Books for sending a copy of Ten Days Gone by Beverly Long for me to review! This is the first novel in the A.L. McKittridge series.

Ten Days Gone takes place in Baywood, Wisconsin and follows detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan as they attempt to solve a mysterious murder in their otherwise quiet town. Not only was a woman murdered, but were two other women: one ten days before and the other ten days before that. A.L. and Rena know that they have only ten days to find and stop the killer before he takes the life of another victim. But what is the connection between these three women? Why these women and why ten days apart? The bodies were left in such an odd way that they know there is something mysterious going on. A.L. and Rena navigate their own family issues in their personal lives as they try to stop this murderer from claiming the life of another innocent woman in Baywood.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel! There were times when I felt like it was a bit slow and even boring at times, so it took me a while to really get into it. But then certain details in the case would come up and I’d get invested again. The ending was not entirely predictable for me so I enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be reading the next novel in the A.L. McKittridge series when it comes out. I’m really interested to see more of the lives of A.L. and his partner Rena. Each of their stories took interesting turns that I’m now intrigued by.

I recommend this for any fans of police procedural novels, or for any lovers of Law and Order or CSI. This read like an episode of Law and Order for me and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I think it was a good introduction into this genre for me. Once I got through some of the slower parts, it was a pretty fast read, which I love. Ten Days Gone is available now! Check out the link below to order your own copy!

Order Ten Days Now below!

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Light Changes Everything: The Power of Staying True to Oneself

Review: Light Changes Everything by Nancy E. Turner

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press and Thomas Dunne Books for inviting me to be a part of the Blogger Tour for Light Changes Everything by Nancy E. Turner! When I read that there were some references to Jane Austen and Pride & Prejudice in this book, I was intrigued! But other than that, I really did not know what to expect from this novel. It seemed like a pleasant enough story so I was happy to read it. But WOW, was I blown away by this book!

Light Changes Everything is a coming of age story for seventeen-year-old Mary Pearl from the Arizona Territory in the early 20th century. Although banned by their mother, Mary Pearl and her sister sneak Jane Austen novels from their aunt and read them in secret. When Mary is introduced to a rich lawyer, Aubrey Hanna, she is swept into a swift engagement promising her a life of wealth and sophistication, so very different from her own humble upbringing. But when Mary Pearl is given the opportunity to attend art school at Wheaton College in Illinois, she puts the wedding planning on hold to pursue an education. Upon her arrival at college, Mary Pearl is thrust into a world she does not quite understand and is forced to adapt.

I expected this book to be quite slow throughout but it was such an electrifying book! Filled with twists and turns, I did not know where the story would go next. The character of Mary Pearl is such an amazing woman, strong in her own convictions. While she is smart enough to learn to adapt to different cultural customs, she manages to stay true to herself and pursue a life that she wants. This is a story about the bonds of family, the affects of societal gender norms, and knowledge being passed down through generations.

I truly did not want this book to end. I had no idea what to expect from it but I definitely did not anticipate this to be one of my favorite books of the year! This is absolutely a five-star read for me. I recommend this book for fans of novels about strong women and those who love a good coming of age story. The only complaint I have about the book is that I wish it were longer so that I could stay with the main character for a longer period of time! You can purchase Light Changes Everything using the link below!

Trigger warnings: rape & sexual assault


You can order Light Changes Everything using the link below!

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The Confetti Pact: A Clever Plan or a Disaster in the Making?

Review: The Confetti Pact by Michele Gorman writing as Lilly Bartlett

Thank you so much to UK author Michele Gorman for reaching out about reading her newest novella, The Confetti Pact! First of all, the cover art is absolutely adorable so I was interested right away. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this one! I have been reading a lot of heavier books lately with dark subject matter so I was totally ready for something light and funny and this came at the perfect time! So, thank you so much Michele!

The Confetti Pact centers on lifestyle blogger Nelly, who was recently dumped by her fiancé. Not only is she heartbroken, she is also put in a tough spot because a magazine had contracted with her to cover her wedding in a big feature, but she has no fiancé. One day, she is introduced to Rafael, a coworker from the accounting department at her job whose visa is about to expire. She needs a fiancé, he needs to get married to stay in the UK: match made in heaven or a disastrous plan? Rafael is such a good actor playing along, that Nelly inevitable develops real feelings for him. As they try to keep secrets from everyone, the magazine is documenting their every move in the wedding planning process. Nelly is forced to grapple with her past, the current plan, and what lays ahead in her future.

This was such a refreshing book! I needed a light-hearted read and this totally delivered. Nelly’s inner monologue contained so many hilarious jokes, that I found myself laughing out loud along with the book. But while it was funny and upbeat, it did force the reader to analyze what type of partner is best for the narrator and who has her best interest at heart. Can a relationship of convenience really be the best idea in the long run? Or can a fresh perspective help you see what is really important in life? It also had me questioning how much time I spend on social media. Nelly is constantly on her phone and is so focused on finding and creating content for Instagram that she was constantly distracted when it came time to being with Rafael. It was a wonderful reminder to focus on being more present.

This novella is such a fun read, I recommend it to anyone that loves comedies or romance! I’m going to keep my eye out for the author’s other titles now because they are wonderful to read in between some darker, more serious books. I hope you check The Confetti Pact out! And from now until the end of February 2020, the pre-order price for the e-book is only $2.99! In March, it will go back up to $9.99 so pre-order now! Valentine’s Day is in a few days so this is the perfect month to read a great rom-com! Pre-Order using the link below!

Pre-Order The Confetti Pact below for only $2.99 before the price goes back up in March!

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Infinity Son: What Makes You Family?

Review: Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

One of my major reading goals this year is to read books from genres that I typically stay away from. I have never really been interested in fantasy before so that is one genre I wanted to tackle somehow this year. The team over at HarperCollins & HarperTeen sent me a gifted copy of Adam Silvera’s newest book, Infinity Son! This is the first in the Infinity Cycle series and is Adam Silvera’s first fantasy novel! One of my best friends is a huge fan of Silvera and I had heard about his contemporary young adult fiction books so I was excited to dive into Infinity Son as my first step into the world of fantasy books!

Infinity Son takes place in New York and centers on the story of Emil and Brighton, brothers who have grown up in a world where celestials, specters, and magical powers are abundant. On the night of their eighteenth birthday, Brighton is filming a video for his successful YouTube channel when they witness an attack from a specter and Brighton is able to catch it on camera. Brighton has always desperately hoped that he would one day wake up with powers of his own, while Emil wanted nothing to do with this world. One day, that all changes when Emil discovers that he is more than merely human. The brothers find themselves in the middle of a war that spans multiple generations as they discover old secrets that change everything they thought about their own family.

One of the central themes to this book is that of family and brotherhood. In several interviews, Adam Silvera discusses some of his favorite fantasy books and shows. He says that what he loves about them is that they are not stories about witches, demon hunters, and wizards, they are stories about siblings who just happen to have powers or happen to be demon hunters. Infinity Son is action packed. Just when the story starts to settle and slow down a bit, something happens that shakes everything up and the action takes off like a shot again. At times, the action did feel a bit excessive but it did keep me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I loved the tension between the magical world and the ordinary struggles around family, loss, and brotherhood. Parts of the story felt so relatable, even in this completely fictional, magical world.

It was also interesting to see how this world shows up in an age of YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. It also delved a bit into politics and government when it discussed the rights of magical creatures and how that works into society at large. Another aspect I loved is that one of the main characters is a gay young man. It is so important for LGBTQ characters to be the protagonists of novels. LGBT youth need to see themselves represented in stories that they love.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as my first fantasy novel! Granted, my opinion is coming from someone who is not as familiar with this genre. I think fans of Adam Silvera’s or fantasy will love this. I also think it was a fun first jump into this world, so if you’re like me and are wanting to try out some fantasy, give this one a shot. This is also the first in a series so I am now excited for the sequel to come out! Thank you so much to HarperTeen and HarperCollins for gifting me this beautiful copy! Infinity Son is available now! You can order your copy using the link below!

Order Infinity Son and any of Adam Silvera’s other books here!

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A Beginning at the End: Trauma & the Future

Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

Thank you to the team at Mira Books, Harlequin, & HarperCollins for sending this gifted copy of Mike Chen’s newest book, A Beginning at the End. I constantly talk about how much I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels so this piqued my interested right away! I knew I’d be interested because the Golden Gate Bridge is featured on the cover. Not only is the book set in San Francisco, but the other is from there as well! This is so exciting! I’ve lived just a short drive away from San Francisco my entire life so I’ve spent a lot of time in that beautiful city seeing musicals, taking my dad to Giants games, and just spending the day there at Christmas time. So, I immediately felt a personal connection to this book!

A Beginning at the End takes place in San Francisco after “The End of the World”, which is what the characters call the flu pandemic that killed billions of people worldwide. The country went into a state of quarantine to protect the survivors. Once it was safe to come out of quarantine, everyone that was left experienced the country attempting to reset itself and find their new normal. The story follows the lives of four main characters: widowed Rob, his daughter Sunny, wedding planner Krista, and Moira, a former pop-star called “Mojo”. The book takes us through how they have been coping since the end of the world and how their stories all converge and interconnect.

One of the things that I loved most about this post-apocalyptic novel is that it focuses more on the emotional impact of the changing world rather than getting caught up in the details of the disaster. The world building is definitely there, but it centers more on how the characters are coping. It faces us with the question of how trauma affects our decision-making abilities. I relate to this idea so much. I know that the majority of the big decisions I make are affected by my past traumas and difficult experiences. I also particularly loved where Mike Chen decided to set his novel. I’ve spent so much time in San Francisco throughout my own life and could so clearly picture each of the locations he described. In one scene, two characters go to a bar right after a San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s game and I clearly pictured it taking across the street from Oracle Park at Momo’s! I was JUST there with my boyfriend a few months ago. Even the surrounding cities described were so familiar to me, so I felt even more invested in the story. I even felt like the book had a satisfactory ending! That’s rare for a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel to achieve. But I felt like it answered just enough and still left it open enough to not feel too predictable.

I recommend this book for any fellow dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction fans. You’ll love this one if “end of the world” stories interest you! This was one of the more realistic ones I’ve encountered. It’s definitely entirely different from my personal favorite, The Handmaid’s Tale. But fans of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel will likely love this! I read that the author was inspired by the structure of Station Eleven while he was writing this! I started Station Eleven a while back but didn’t finish it so now I definitely want to go back and finish it! Overall, I loved A Beginning at the End!

If you want to read any of the above-mentioned books, shop them below!

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These Ghosts are Family: How Did Our Family Get Here?

Review: These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card

I want to thank the team at Simon Books and Simon & Schuster for sending this ARC of Maisy Card’s debut novel, These Ghosts are Family. I saw @bookswithmeg_ on Instagram talk about it and I knew I had to read it. I was so thrilled to open the box and see that Simon Books sent it to me! I particularly love reading debut novels because I love to discover new authors and experience their unique writing style. I was so struck by the beautiful cover; it’s as interesting and layered as the novel’s story itself.

These Ghosts are Family begins with the story of Stanford Solomon, who we soon discover was originally Abel Paisley. Abel left his wife and children in Jamaica for England where he decided to assume the identity of his friend Stanford who died, while Abel faked his own death. He began a new family and settled in New York. The story begins from his perspective but from there, we are taken on a wild ride through the varying perspectives of all of the different relatives connected to Abel, now Stanford. The novel spans from the early 1800s Jamaica to present day United States and explores how a family was formed and developed on the basis of slavery, migration, and past traumas. Thankfully, this beautifully layered story includes a family tree, which I definitely had to refer back to several times.

I really enjoyed this book. At first, it was confusing to try and understand whose perspective I was reading as they changed, but as the book went on, more pieces of this family’s puzzle began to fall into place. I began to understand how such a complicated family history developed. It was so fascinating to start putting the pieces together and to begin to understand why certain characters made certain decisions. I was very interested in exploring the idea of how our ancestors’ traumas get passed down and how they affect us today. I wonder about this in my own family, as well as how our unique puzzle came together to create our day to day experiences with one another.

I recommend this book for any fiction fans that love a puzzle! It was so exciting to discover a new layer to the story to help put together the bigger picture as the book went on. I think it’s also important to make sure that we are reading books that vary from our own personal experiences. That is the reason that we read books, after all. We need to make sure that our bookshelves are as diverse as the world that we live in. Besides exploring other experiences, it’s what helps us to become more empathetic in our lives. Maisy Card’s novel, These Ghosts are Family publishes on March 3rd! Make sure to get your hands on this one!

You can pre-order Maisy Card’s new book These Ghosts are Family using the link below!

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Get Out of Your Own Way: How to Find Motivation to Reach for Your Best Life

Review: Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth & Fulfillment by Dave Hollis

When you’re stuck in a rut in your life, how do you find your way out? In my life, I’ve been battling the hardest things that I’ve ever had to face over the last two years. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I lost my mom very suddenly and traumatically over Thanksgiving weekend in 2017. The initial loss was unbearable and the aftermath of it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to navigate and grapple with. I was only 25 years old when my mom died (at age 52). She was perfectly healthy as far as we knew so getting a phone call at 1:48AM that paramedics were at my parents’ house trying to revive her was the most shocking and traumatizing experience I have ever been through. At 25, I was working at a great job, had graduated from my dream school with a BA, and had moved out on my own already. But there is so much ahead that I still need my mom around for. The thought of continuing life without her seemed too much to bear. Pairing that along with already existing anxiety and some PTSD (though I didn’t know it at the time) from childhood, I was overwhelmed to say the least. But I pushed through, I worked, I finished a certificate program going back to school part time, I served as an advisor for my sorority, I earned the promotion I had been hoping for at work, and began dating the man I have been in love with for years. But as amazing as all of this is, grief felt paralyzing, so I wasn’t dealing with it. One day, I decided that it was time to look for a therapist, and I’m so proud of myself for taking that big step. I learned to get to the root of my issues. It helped me to realize that I was not grieving or healing, I was just coping, soothing, and getting by the best that I could. But I started thinking, is this what my life will be like from now? In a perpetual state of crippling grief? Now that mom is gone, will I ever feel like I’m able to try to live a full life?

Around the same time, I was seeing that some of my sorority sisters and friends were reading Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. I didn’t think much of it, but it seemed to become more and more popular as time went on. I looked up the author and started to see what she was all about. In the beginning of 2019 I set a goal: to read more. So, I set a small goal of reading 12 books that year. I figured I could handle one book per month. I started seeing ads for a new book to be released soon: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. The title caught my eye because my (then) boyfriend was constantly telling me that I need to stop saying “I’m sorry” for everything. As a joke, I sent him a photo of the cover saying “Hey, this looks like a book I need to read!” Well, the day the book was released, I headed to my local Target and picked it up. I started reading it and was blown away. She simplified so many things that I found myself anxious about it my own life and they started to make sense. By the time, I finished the book, I knew it was something special and picked up Girl, Wash Your Face and was equally impressed. I started following Rachel on social media along with her husband Dave because I just craved more and more of that amazing motivation. They started to talk about their Last 90 Days challenge for the last three months of the year and I decided to try it out. If you’re curious about the whole challenge, check out my first blog post here where I talk all about it. The biggest thing I learned over that course of 90 days was the power of gratitude and that by creating great habits I can change my life. That challenge also inspired me to reach for one of my goals: launching a book blog.

Before I even started this blog, I knew that there was one Advanced Read Copy (ARC) that would be the dream to receive. Rachel’s husband, Dave Hollis, was coming out with his own book, similar to Girl, Wash Your Face, but geared towards those of us that need a little help finding motivation. I knew that it was difficult to receive ARCs from publishers and I figured that this one would be impossible to get because so many people are fans of Rachel and Dave’s but I started the blog. My Instagram following began to grow, more people started coming over to this site to read my blog posts, and I fell in love with the process. Once I picked up a decent number of followers, I decided that it was time to start learning how to request ARCs from publishers. I learned how to do it, and sent in a request to HarperCollins Leadership for Dave Hollis’s book: Get Out of Your Own Way. I didn’t hear anything back but I knew it was a long shot. I was just proud of myself for trying. Then one day, I received an e-mail from the publisher’s publicist saying that she sent the book and it was on its way. I was FLOORED. I had set a small but “big for me” goal and I had achieved it. I received the copy using the exact methods and teachings that Rachel and Dave talk about all the time. I did the work on myself, made a plan to achieve my dreams, and I made them happen. Opening that package from HarperCollins was such an incredible feeling. Not only had I applied what I had already learned from Rachel and Dave, but I knew I was about to gain even more wisdom by opening the pages of Dave’s book, which comes out on March 10, 2020.

Dave titled his book Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment because as successful as he is, he is not motivated the same way that Rachel is. Rachel wakes up at 5:00AM every day ready to take on and conquer the world and do everything to make her dreams happen. She is naturally motivated individual with a growth-mindset. Dave, however, is not built that way. He has what he refers to as a “fixed-mindset”. He used to believe that personal development is for people that are broken and that there is something wrong with people who go to therapy. But from learning from his wife and deciding that he needed to reach for a better version of himself, he took a deep dive into personal development and learned so many tools to help him on his own journey of growth. His book is the toolkit that we all need to reach for more in our own lives, no matter what type of mindset we have. When things are hard, he teaches how to just “do it anyway”. He formats the book into twenty chapters. Like Rachel’s book Girl, Wash Your Face, each chapter of Dave’s book is titled with a lie or “limiting belief” that held him back. He used personal stories to demonstrate how each lie impacted him and how he overcame them. He ends each chapter with a list of three things that helped him, giving his readers the tangible, actionable advice they need to make positive changes in their own lives. The chapters that resonated the most with me were about shame, the compulsion to fix and care for others, worrying about what other people think, feeling lovable, and roles in relationships. But my biggest takeaway from his entire book came from the conclusion where he gives incredible advice about using leverage to go after what you want most in your life. As a bonus to the book, Dave even created a one-hour long e-course about “How to Find Your ‘Why’” that you get for free when you pre-order the book! And it also comes with the first thirty minutes of the book on audio! Click here or the link at the bottom of this post to pre-order!

Words cannot begin to express the value that Dave and Rachel’s teachings have added to my life, but I’ll try to delve in a bit! The most impactful thing that I learned from them is that I have the power to turn my life around. That, no matter how difficult life seems and no matter how impossible the traumas that I have experienced or will experience are, I have the power to continue on AND I can live a full and happy life, even after and during hard things. I did not believe it was possible to be happy after my mom died. I thought I would go on to live half of a life forever because how could I have anything more without her? But the power of a gratitude-practice every single morning changed that. I stopped feeling that life could never get better, because every single day I was writing down specific things that I’m grateful for and I realized that I am already living a good life. If I keep looking for things to be grateful for, I find them. Making them concrete and writing them on paper makes them that much more real for me and I stay in a place of gratitude for what I have and where I’m at, even when things are hard. I can honestly say that I am a happy person, and I didn’t think that could happen for me again. That’s not to say that I don’t have hard days. I miss my mom terribly every single day. There are moments when the memories of her are so crystal clear that it hurts to realize that they are only memories and I won’t have any new ones. But I am so grateful for the relationship that I had with my mom. I know that all she would want for me to is to continue on and reach for more in my life. She would want me to live the fullest life possible, and that is exactly what I have learned from Rachel and Dave. I learned that I am a powerful, resilient force that can get through anything and still live my best life, and I am forever grateful for the work that they do to empower others to find this for themselves.

I recommend this book for any lovers of personal development or anyone who is scared to dive into it or thinks that it’s overwhelming. I love nonfiction and personal development. I take notes while reading these types of books and took 17 (small journal sized) pages of notes of this book! If you’re feeling a bit stuck in a rut and don’t know how to motivate yourself to go after the life that you want, or don’t think you have the tools to reach for the best version of yourself, I highly encourage you to pick this one up and discover the power that you already have within yourself. This incredible book comes out on March 10, 2020. As Dave always says: Let’s GO!

Pre-Order Dave’s book using the link below! Then, head over to GetOutofYourOwnWayTheBook.com and scroll down to Step 2 to redeem the 30 minutes of audio and the free 1-hour e-course on “How to Find Your Why”!

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Such a Fun Age: On Race, Class, and Self-Awareness

Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

First off, I want to thank the team at Putnam Books for sending me this gorgeous copy of Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age. I was so surprised to receive the adorable package they sent which included crayons, a coloring page, and a mini box of Cheerios! It was the most adorable package and was perfectly fitting for this amazing novel!

Such a Fun Age centers on Emira Tucker, a black twenty-five-year-old babysitter for the wealthy, white Chamberlain family. Peter Chamberlain is a local news reporter while his wife Alix is a lifestyle blogger. They have two young daughters that Emira cares for. Emira wants to find a different job, as her twenty-sixth birthday looms over her so she is about to lose her health insurance. As much as she knows she needs something more, she has bonded with 2-year-old Briar Chamberlain. It is clear from their interactions that Alix is not in tune with what her oldest daughter Briar needs. One night, Alix calls Emira to come in to watch Briar while they deal with an incident at home. Emira takes her to the local high-end grocery store to keep the little girl occupied for a bit. While there, a white woman and a security guard approach them and begin to question Emira. In an explicit example of outright racism, the woman claims to be concerned for the young child’s well-being. Aa Emira explains the situation and defends herself, a young man is standing nearby filming the entire interaction on his cell phone. The only thing that eventually appeases the security guard is calling Peter Chamberlain to come down and speak to the security guard to vouch for Emira. The novel explores Emira’s relationship with the Chamberlain family, the effects and aftermath of the video, and Emira’s own journey through adulthood and independence.

I was absolutely blown away by this book. It was definitely a fun and entertaining read, but more importantly, it explores the often misguided actions and beliefs of well-intentioned white people who claim to be advocates of minorities. It beautifully demonstrated what can happen to those that lack self-awareness. While two white characters each claimed to have Emira’s best interest at heart, they were both doing the exact same thing to her. Instead of actually letting her speak for herself and listening to her, they made assumptions and projected their own issues surrounding race and class onto her. This phenomenon is all too common. It’s along the same lines of the tired old “I have a black friend so I can’t be racist” mentality. This novel does such an incredible job with the dual perspective that allows us into the minds of both Emira and Alix and their different social circles and how they collide. The novel explores the themes of race, class, self-awareness, microaggressions, privilege, nuanced power dynamics, motherhood, fetishization of minorities, and coming of age.

I really do recommend this novel for anyone, but particularly for those that struggle to understand privilege. It is also a very fun read and I found myself gasping several times as I read it. I was ecstatic to see that Reese Witherspoon also picked it up as her Book Club’s newest selection! This novel deserves all the praise it has been getting. I absolutely cannot wait to see what Kiley Reid writes next! I posted my Top Ten Books of 2019 on the morning of December 31st, but I finished Such a Fun Age that night and I need to amend it. This is in my top 3 books of 2019 and it was such a wonderful book to end the year on! It came out on December 31st so it’s on shelves now! You can order it below!

Order Such a Fun Age below!

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The Parrot’s Perch: Finding Resilience Through Gratitude

Review: The Parrot’s Perch by Karen Keilt

One of the best parts of what I do with this blog is being able to read incredible books that I might not otherwise have heard of. When I heard about the opportunity to participate in the Pop-Up Book Tour for Karen Keilt’s memoir The Parrot’s Perch, I looked up the summary and applied for it right away. The story sounded heartbreaking and important. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail saying that I was chosen to be on the tour! When the book arrived, I was struck by how gorgeous the cover is. I finished the book I was reading at the time as fast as I could so that I could start Karen’s book as soon as possible!

Karen’s life began in a family of privilege living in São Paulo, Brazil. Her family lived in a beautiful home, she rode horses, traveled, and lived an all-around privileged life. She met a man, fell in love, had a beautiful wedding, but not long after, the unthinkable happened. Karen and her new husband were abducted from their home in the middle of the night and thrown into a prison where they were tortured for 45 days without ever being given a reason why. Karen had always known that Brazil was corrupt but never thought it would come for her so violently and as traumatically as it did. The Parrot’s Perch is Karen Keilt’s horrifying, yet brave account of her experiences and what it took to come out of them and become the person that she is today.

After finishing the book two days ago, I was blown away. Karen is such an incredibly talented writer. The way that she is able to convey what happened to her and her thought processes through her experiences is so beautiful and brings you right into her story. There were so many times where I forgot that this is a memoir because it read like a novel. Then, when I would remember that this was her real life, my heart just broke for her. This is the mark of a truly exceptional writer. I cannot stress Karen’s bravery and courage enough. It is incredibly hard to write about traumas that we have experienced but Karen has done it with purpose. I’m sure that writing was also therapeutic and healing for her, but it is so amazing that she spoke out and helped to shed light on such a tragic and corrupt system & government. Her bravery will make it so that fewer people have to endure the pain and trauma that she did.

The Parrot’s Perch is a story of inner strength and perseverance. It explores themes of what it means to be and feel safe, post-traumatic stress disorder, violence, sexual assault & trauma, and toxic masculinity (if any of these difficult topics are triggering for you, read with caution and be gentle with yourself). It tells the story of a mother’s love and what a mother is willing to do and sacrifice for her child (in more ways than one).

Though I have never had do endure the atrocities that Karen was forced to face, I relate to her struggle with PTSD. Like Karen, while I was struggling, I had no idea that I was dealing with PTSD. It took a lot of therapy and personal development to understand it and begin to learn how to cope with it. I also had work to understand some of the decisions that my own mother made for myself and my sister. She made them for us, doing the absolute best that she knew how. I’ve also discovered how healing it can be to write about difficult experiences. This entire blog is a testament to that. Writing not only helps you to process life experiences, but by putting your writing out into the world, you make it possible for someone else to find it and be helped along the way.

I cannot recommend Karen’s book enough. It’s one of my top three books of the year. As difficult as some parts were to read, they were written so beautifully. It was an honor to read her work. I hope that by more people reading this incredible book, more can be done to protect the citizens of Brazil from traumas like Karen’s. She and her husband were not the only ones; thousands experienced the same. One of my favorite parts of the book is that Karen begins her acknowledgements with the definition of gratitude. I know I’ve already written about it extensively but gratitude truly has changed everything for me this year. Karen is another example of the life-changing power of gratitude. If someone who has endured what she has can turn their life completely around with gratitude, just imagine what it can do for you. I hope that you pick this one up and you get as much out of it as I did. Check it out Karen’s amazing memoir below!

And thank you again to Karen Keilt and the incredible teams at She Writes Press and BookSparks for selecting me to be a part of the Pop-Up Book Tour and for sending me this incredible book!

Check out and order Karen’s book below!

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When She Woke: When the Line Between Church and State is Blurred

Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, then you already know that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is my favorite book of all time. I’ve always loved dystopian novels and women’s rights are obviously always topics of concern for me. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I was constantly on the hunt for anything similar since I didn’t think we would ever get a sequel (see this post for how Atwood proved me wrong!). I searched blogs and Pinterest for suggestions for books like it and I’ve read a few that have been listed. One that came up a few times in the last several years is Hillary Jordan’s novel When She Woke.

The story is set in the not-so-distant future. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale where America is no longer and a new theocratic regime has taken over, When She Woke is set in a country that is still very much America, but the line between church and state is not as clearly defined as it once was. Extreme conservative views have become pervasive and have taken root in government at levels we have never seen. Not only is the majority of society anti-choice when it comes to abortion, but there is now extreme consequence to anyone receiving or assisting someone in receiving an abortion. Criminals are now “chromed” meaning they undergo a process that tints their skin tone so that all of society immediately knows the nature of their crime. Our main character, Hannah, is a Red. She is charged with murder for receiving an abortion. The novel takes us through the impossible decision she must make in such a religious and conservative society and the consequences she faces. We see how society responds to a woman like Hannah and the punishment she receives beyond just the altering of her appearance as she attempts to navigate this new life and chase freedom, if that’s even possible for her.

I’m drawn to any book that discusses women’s rights, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Although women today aren’t forced to alter their appearance when they get an abortion in our society, the right to choose is still being threatened by factions of the country every day. A woman’s right to choose what is best for her still remains between her and her doctor, but women are unfortunately not free from the scrutiny that comes from making such a difficult choice. The concepts of Hillary Jordan’s novel are partly inspired by The Scarlet Letter, but more so inspired by the reality that women continue to face every day. When She Woke is great for any fans of dystopian novels, like myself. It’s also great for those that are concerned with women’s rights (so hopefully, everyone). Keep an eye out on the blog for future reviews of other books that have been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale! You know I will find them, read them, and review them for you!

CHECK OUT THE BOOKS REFERENCED IN THIS POST!

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Ninth House: What Secrets Do These Societies Hold?

Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I have been seeing ads for the Book of the Month subscription for years. As an avid reader, I have always considered signing up, but since I was not reading as much as I’d like, I just hadn’t done it yet. But once I began to read more frequently and started this blog, I decided that it was time to get a subscription! One of the things that I love about Book of the Month is that they give you options to choose from each month that include upcoming releases or newer releases from several different genres (Click here to learn more about the Book of the Month subscription or to join for yourself!). For the month of November, I was torn between a few different books: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, and a few others. I read the summary for Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and was intrigued instantly, even though I’m not typically a reader of fantasy. But there is just something about mysterious stories set on a university campus that just draw me in, so I took a chance and picked it! Once I began reading, I could not put it down!

Ninth House is the story of Alex Stern, a young woman with a dark and dangerous past who finds herself at Yale University on a full ride, but there’s a catch. Her tuition is being funded by an organization that has tasked her with helping to monitor the activities of eight secret societies on the Yale campus; activities that are filled with magic, darkness, and power. Something strange is happening in New Haven and it is up to Alex to figure it out.

I love stories that are set on university campuses, especially those in New England. There is something beautiful and mysterious about the way these campuses look. My own alma mater, The University of the Pacific is often described as looking like an ivy league New England university of the west coast. This is one of my favorite things about my university’s campus. The brick buildings and ivory columns are absolutely beautiful, especially in the fall. And as a sorority woman myself, I’m fascinated with secret societies. Although, my organization is an international Panhellenic sorority and is vastly different than those societies in Ninth House. I’m drawn to the ritual aspect and that the secrets and legends of the organization are only known to its members. When I selected this book, I did not expect a lot of what happens within the secret societies. There were so many twists and turns. It started slow but once it picked up, it took off like a shot. I could not put it down. I recommend this for any fans of fantasy but honestly, you don’t have to be a fantasy reader to enjoy this one. It was my first fantasy novel and I loved every minute of it. I think it’s great for anyone that loves a mysterious story of any kind. And a bonus: Amazon is developing the book for a TV series! Score! Check back for future posts of my other BOTM picks such as my choices for December: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum.

Check out the books referenced in this post!

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A Christmas Adventure: Royal Holiday

Review: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. While this time of year is a difficult one for me since losing my mom, I find comfort in the holiday season and spending it with my family. I feel the most fulfilled when I’m surrounded by Christmas decorations, listening to Christmas music, and playing with my godchildren. Curling up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee and a warm blanket next to the tree watching The Family Stone or Elf is my definition of the perfect cozy night around this time of year. As much as I’ve always been a book lover, I’ve never really been one to go for Christmas themed books for some reason. But now that I’ve really been trying to read more intentionally, I wanted to try some out this year!

I wandered down the book aisle at my local Target and saw a few different options. I saw one that everyone always recommends: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. But the one that caught my eye the most was Jasmine Guillory’s newest novel, Royal Holiday. The gorgeous green cover was so festive and caught my eye instantly; I had to pick it up! Reading through the summary, I saw that it was actually a romance novel! Now, I love fiction so much but I NEVER go for romance novels. I don’t really know why, but they just have never really interested me much, but I decided to take a chance on this one. I’m so glad I did!

Royal Holiday is about a woman named Vivian, a middle-aged social worker from Oakland, CA. This piqued my interest because I live just over an hour away, so I immediately felt a connection to her story! Her daughter, Maddie, is a stylist and has been hired by the British Royal Family to style the duchess for the Christmas holiday. Since Vivian never takes time for herself, Maddie suggests that she join her! The story takes us along their trip to the gorgeous estate in northern England where the royal family stays for the holidays. There, Vivian is introduced the Queen’s Private Secretary, Malcolm Hudson. Their chemistry is real from the beginning, but their lives are an ocean apart. The novel takes us through their romance with the end of Vivian and Maddie’s trip looming over them.

My favorite part about the novel is that it brought back that feeling of winter vacation as a kid when you had no responsibilities and were able to escape reality and get lost in the magic of Christmas. It also showed readers how important it is to not only treat yourself from time to time, but to be able to let go a bit and be open to new experiences, no matter your age. It gave readers a portrait of a fun, respectful romance between two partners who learned how to communicate well in a healthy way. I think we all need more examples of that. Overall, this was a sweet, romantic story about a couple learning to overcome the challenge of time and distance. I recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of romance novels, Christmas themed books, or both. It’s also a great introduction into the world of romance novels because this was my first one! I’m open to others now that I’ve tried one out! It was a quick read, I finished it in under a week so it’s perfect even for those of you that have a busy holiday season. So, you can read a bit here and there between baking Christmas cookies and finishing your holiday shopping and wrapping! It was a fun, festive read that helped get me even more in the Christmas spirit.  

Shop the Christmas books & movies referenced in this post!

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The Testaments: The Book I’ve Waited 10 Years For

Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

As they say, history does not repeat itselfbut it rhymes.

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

I have loved reading ever since I learned how. As a child, I loved to be read to by both of my late grandfathers, I read anything I could get my hands on, and I started a pretty healthy book collection even when I was young, thanks to my family. I’ve loved books my entire life. When I was in high school, I took honors English classes and decided to take AP English my senior year. When I got my class schedule the first day of school in 12th grade, my friends and I saw that we were in AP English, but we did not have the teacher that we expected to have. Mrs. Hanna was a surprise to us that day but she ended up being one of the few teachers I’ve had that changed my life. Her love of literature and the way that she taught us to read and write about it ignited a passion for reading that was far beyond what I expected. She taught incredible classics that year, but the one that will forever stand out in my mind is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

To this day, I can confidently say that it is still my favorite book of all time. I’ve always loved dystopian novels but something about the way this was written was special. It’s so dense in prose and somehow beautifully and viscerally gets to the essence of what it is like to experience life as a woman. Published in 1985 by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became a classic. Set in the not-so-distant future, it gives us a glimpse into what could happen if the country was taken over by a theocracy where women have no rights. America is no longer, and Gilead has taken its place. Women’s only purpose is to bare children in a society where birth rates have plummeted. Fertile women who are unmarried or have what the government has deemed as “moral stains” are forced to serve the men of the upper class as handmaids. They are ritualistically raped every month by the Commander of their household in the presence of the Wife in order to bare children for the family. Our narrator through this terrifying journey is a handmaid named Offred who gives us deep insight into the mind of a woman who is held captive in a world that only values her ability to produce children. I can never praise The Handmaid’s Tale enough. If you have made it to this point in your life and haven’t read it yet, stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy.

In 2017, to my absolute surprise and delight, Hulu released a TV series based on the novel. I was skeptical because this is my favorite novel of all time. But when I watched the first episode, I was absolutely blown away. The care that the show makers have taken to give the viewers such a beautifully, terrifying experience is true art. Now the first season of the show ends with the end of the novel. The show has now completed three full seasons and is already hard at work on season four (Praise be!) which means that they have moved beyond the original novel. Now, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to know what happened after the end of the novel, but I wanted to know what Margaret Atwood herself would write.

Well last year I found out that we would get just that: The Testaments. I was ecstatic. I had always longed for a sequel but I truly never thought we would get one. I had countdowns set for the September 10th release date, I pre-ordered my copy, and bought tickets to my local theater to watch the live interview with Margaret Atwood from London. When the book was released, I could not wait to get to my local bookstore to pick up my copy after work, so naturally, I also purchased the audiobook so that I could listen on my commute and all day at work. Once I was off work, I drove over to Barnes & Noble to pick up my copy and read during any spare moments I had. Between listening to the audiobook and reading whenever I could, I finished that 415-page-long book in less than 24 hours.

Without spoiling plot for either book, The Testaments is told from the perspectives of three different women: Aunt Lydia, a woman in the upper ranks of Gilead; Agnes, a young girl brought up in Gilead; and Daisy; a girl that was raised in Canada. The three different perspectives offer a wider range of voices and experiences in relationship to the theocracy that is Gilead. The story of The Testaments takes place fifteen years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale so we are truly able to see how the society has evolved, grown, and developed. I have never anticipated and craved a book like I did with The Testaments. But like many highly anticipated novels, there is the possibility of disappointment. While I have only waited ten years, many have waited 34 years for this book.

Overall, I loved The Testaments. Having the opportunity to dive back into Margaret Atwood’s world of Gilead and her beautiful prose was what I craved, and I was so grateful for it. The thing that I hoped to get out of the book was a greater understanding of the foundation and inner-workings of Gilead as a régime and Atwood definitely delivered in a beautiful way. Now, some of the writing felt slightly juvenile, but I got the feeling that it was intentional given the age of two of our narrators. The thing that surprised me the most was that there were huge plot points taken from the later seasons of the TV show that ended up in the books. I never in a million year would have expected her to do this. Now with that being said, I don’t think you have to watch the show to understand The Testaments, although I HIGHLY recommend the show! I think both novels and the show can stand on their own. I recommend The Testaments to fans of Margaret Atwood and fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you are hoping for a perspective similar to Offred’s and pacing similar to the original novel, you will be disappointed. The Testaments is much more fast-paced and plot-driven than The Handmaid’s Tale. But if you are hoping to gain a better understanding of Gilead and the world-building aspect of that society, you will love The Testaments. While I know many readers were severely underwhelmed and disappointed with this release, it was exactly what I hoped to get out of it, and for that I am grateful that Margaret Atwood is still with us and was able to release this highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest classics of all time.

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From a Member of the Dead Moms Club

Review: The Dead Moms Club: A Memoir About Death, Grief, & Surviving the Mother of All Losses by Kate Spencer

And the fifth and final rule of the Dead Moms Club? You’re totally allowed to side-eye all people who say, ‘At least she’s in a better place now.’ Screw them. Welcome. I’m so sorry you’re here.

Kate Spencer – The Dead Moms Club

As some of you may know if you’ve read my previous blog posts, I lost my mom two years ago. It was incredibly sudden, unexpected, and utterly heartbreaking. Soon after we lost her, a friend who had also recently lost her own mom added me to a Facebook group for daughters grieving their mothers. I didn’t participate in the group much at first, but one day I was seeking some guidance (and you all know I love to read) so I reached out and asked everyone if there were any books that they recommended.

The first two that kept coming up were books that had already been gifted to me by my dear friend and leadership coach, Amanda King, who lost her mom when she was my age. The first was Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman. This one is more research based and discusses the commonalities between women who have lost their mothers whether from death, abandonment, or estrangement. The second was I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, PhD. This particular book is more of a how-to manual for getting through any type of sudden death of a loved one and provides helpful next steps to the reader.

The third book that kept coming up was The Dead Moms Club by Kate Spencer. When this was first recommended, I’ll admit that I was taken aback by the title. It sounded so harsh. That’s definitely not the club I want to be a part of, but I have no choice, I am a member. I looked it up and the reviews sounded great so I immediately purchased a copy. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. The author Kate Spencer has the incredible ability to tell her painful story in a way that is all at once heartbreaking, comforting, and hilarious. There is something to be said about comedians writing about difficult topics. Their observance and honesty allow them to be unbelievably relatable to their readers. Kate talks all about helping her mother through her last days as she battled cancer and the aftermath of her death.

When I hear stories of those that have lost a parent to cancer or long-term illness, I feel a strange envious feeling. I feel terrible for being jealous of those circumstances but I so desperately wish I had time to get used to the idea that I could lose my mom before it happened. I had absolutely no warning whatsoever. But the truth is that never can ever prepare you for the loss of your mother. We all thought my mom was perfectly healthy. I just got a phone call in the middle of the night saying that paramedics were at my family’s house trying to revive her. A loss like that felt impossible to process.

I am currently writing this blog post on November 24, 2019. Today is exactly two years after I saw and spoke to my mom for the very last time. My mom was at our local bowling alley where she bowled on a team with my sister, my grandma, my cousin, and our family friend just like every other Friday night. This was the day after Thanksgiving and I went down there to hang out with the family like I always did. We watched them bowl and all laughed together like we always did. Since it was black Friday, my sister, her boyfriend (now fiancé), and one of our best friends decided to go to Target after we were done to do some shopping. After they finished bowling, we all walked my mom and grandma out to their cars like we always did. I hugged my mom and said “Good night, see you later” and she said “I love you, be safe” and we left.

The next day I was busy at home and getting Christmas shopping done so we didn’t talk that day. That night at 1:48AM, I got the call that altered our lives forever. There is no way to prepare for that news. After we were told she was gone at the hospital, I drove to my apartment, packed a bag, and headed to my grandma’s house in the middle of the night to stay with her for the week. I was terrified that the unimaginable loss of her youngest child would be too much to bear and that we’d lose her that same week. After all, I was the one that had to called her to tell her that her baby died. The shock of everything kept me busy. I did every single thing that I could control and that I thought my mom would do in that situation. I planned her vigil, funeral service, burial, and reception. I wrote her obituary for the local paper and her eulogy which I delivered to a full catholic church filled with 400 attendees. I went back to work after only taking a few days off and even went back to my classes after only 2 days to take final exams.

I stayed busy because the overwhelming loss was too much to face and bear. I’m very proud of how her services turned out because they were as beautiful as she deserved and I can rest knowing we honored her properly. But it came with a hefty price. After I began therapy, I learned that I did not get to skip my grief, it was just delayed. And that at some point, I would have to go through those five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Though they may happen out of order, I would eventually have to experience them. But books like The Dead Moms Club help so much.

There are far too many of us in this club. So many of my friends and authors who have also lost their own mothers at a young age like I did, have helped me immensely through their courage and honesty. They inspire me to be vulnerable and open enough to share my own story. I only hope that it helps the next person to experience this terrible tragedy. If you have lost your own mother or a loved one, know that my inbox is ALWAYS open for you. I hope that you have the courage to reach out and ask for help, because that is true strength. Our power rests in our community and seeking help when we need it. Those who share similar experiences have the ability to help give tangible steps to processing tragedy, taking care of yourself, and reaching true happiness and acceptance again. I promise you that is happy to reach a place where you are content with your life and use your tragedy to propel you. We have to honor our loved ones that we have lost by living our best lives. And if you are lucky enough to have a good relationship with your own mother and she is still here, I hope that you cherish it as much as you possibly can, while you still can.

If you have lost your own mother or a loved one, I highly recommend these books to you. You can order them here:

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I Am a Writer.

Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Like many of you, I discovered Elizabeth Gilbert through her New York Times Best-Seller Eat, Pray, Love (which was made into a fantastic movie starring Julia Roberts, it’s on Netflix, go watch it!). It’s no wonder that it spent 185 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller’s list. I read Eat, Pray, Love the summer before I started college and fell in love with her writing style immediately. It was so eloquent yet relatable and comforting all at once.

As I started to discover personal development books, I began to ask others for recommendations and one title that kept coming up was Big Magic. I looked it up and found out that Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the non-fiction book all about creativity. It sounded great but I didn’t really consider myself a “creative”, if you will. Sure, I like to paint or craft from time to time (I am a sorority woman, after all) but I never considered myself to be “artistic”. But the book looked interesting anyway.

As mentioned in my previous review of The Happiness Project, my boyfriend and I stumbled upon an incredible bookstore in Petaluma where I picked up three books that had been on my list: This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I got each of these books, brand new for under $10 each!! The more I looked at Big Magic, the more I felt a draw to start it right away. Once I began the book, I realized that I was drawn to it because I am indeed a “creative”, just not in the way I had been thinking of it.

In Big Magic, Gilbert breaks down her tactical advice into six sections: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, & Divinity. In each section she includes several short chapters exploring the topic. She gives personal experience, advice, and teaches her readers about people they may not otherwise have heard of. That is my favorite aspect of Gilbert’s writing style. She takes the opportunity to share stories about amazing people and I always learn so much about fascinating topics I’ve never explored before. It’s a true journey reading her work.

Once I began reading the book, I realized that I am creative. I realized: I am a writer. No, I am not a published writer. I have never written a book (yet, who knows!). I don’t write for work, in fact my job is in construction and is very much a numbers-based field. But I am a writer because I love writing! In college I ended up double majoring in English literature and sociology with a minor in gender studies. As you can imagine, all of those areas are VERY writing intensive programs. And I loved it.

In my personal life, I would occasionally write a slightly longer than normal post on my social media pages and I would have family members tell me that I’m a good writer, but I didn’t understand why. I still don’t quite understand why but I do know this: I love to write. This book is the very reason that this blog even exists! Gilbert talks about not taking your art so seriously and learning to love the process and to do it often. Well, here we are! This blog has given me the perfect outlet to write about what I am passionate about. Even if no other person ever reads this blog, I love that it exists because it gives me the purpose I need to write. I know that I am writing for myself and no one else. If someone else gets something out of this, then that’s amazing. But if no one does, it doesn’t matter because I get something out of it. I get to create the way that I want to.  Maybe it will lead to something else even bigger, and maybe it won’t. But all of if brings me joy. And that is the whole point of Big Magic. Sometimes your creation is amazing, but that’s rare. The important thing is to keep doing it, over and over again. That’s how the magic happens.

Check out all the awesome books referenced in this post!!!

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The Intentional Pursuit of Happiness

Review: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, & Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence

I have had countless people recommend Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to me so I was already intrigued. One day while my ex-boyfriend and I were on our anniversary trip to Napa County, we stopped at the most incredible bookstore in Petaluma (Copperfield’s Bookstore) that was filled with new and used books. I found three amazing titles on sale (each for less than $10, score!) that I had been wanting: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips, and of course, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was so excited to find these. Wandering through bookstores is one of the things in life that makes me the happiest. When I got home, I knew I wanted to get to these books ASAP. I ended up starting Big Magic first, because I’ve heard such great things and I love Elizabeth Gilbert.

But after I started it, I found myself extremely curious about The Happiness Project. In my own life, I’ve also started taking action to make myself feel better (emotionally, mentally, and physically) by participating in Rachel Hollis’s Last 90 Days Challenge. You can read all about it in my first blog post when I reviewed Girl, Stop Apologizing. But the basics are that for the last 90 days of the year, I do her 5 to Thrive items every single day: drink half my body weight in ounces of water, write down 5 things I’m grateful for, move my body for at least 30 minutes, wake up an hour earlier than usual and use that time for myself, and give up one category of food that I know I shouldn’t be eating. I’m not even quite halfway through the 90 days yet, but I can already tell you that I feel better than I ever have before. So, I knew that Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was all about her doing her own version of intentionally seeking happiness for a full year.

I couldn’t wait to finish Big Magic to start it so I decided on the next best thing: to listen to the audiobook! I know that some people don’t think that audiobooks count as reading, but for those of us with busy lives, they are the perfect way to get in more books that we want to read but may not be able to get to. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the career that I do. I work for an incredible company estimating on large multi-million-dollar construction projects. But this means that I spend 8+ hours a day estimating on my computer, staring at construction plans & drawings all day. I love it, I truly do. And a bonus to this job is that I can listen to music while I’m working and better yet, listen to audiobooks! Yes! This means I can be “reading” for the entire 8-hour work day while getting my work done! It’s a win-win for me! My favorite types of audiobooks to listen to are non-fiction, personal development books. I love these books and I find that I get even more motivated listening to the author read them aloud and I feel even more motivated to work hard at work! The Happiness Project ended up being perfect for this.

Gretchen Rubin is a writer from New York City. She left a career in law clerking for Sandra Day O’Conner to pursue her passion to become a writer. She began to ask herself if it was possible to intentionally make herself happier. She decided to embark on a yearlong mission to design a life and take specific action in order to become happy. Is this possible? Can you come up with a plan and just decide to be happy, and then actually feel true happiness? The answer that she found (and I too, found this year) is YES. Gretchen’s project was far more ambitious than just 90 days though. She settled on actively pursuing happiness for a full year. She makes clear that her action plan is specific to her and that anyone can do their own happiness project, and that everyone’s personal project would look different based on their own lives, needs, and dreams. For Gretchen, she focused on a different area each month: January – Vitality, February – Marriage, March – Work, April – Parenthood, May – Leisure, June – Friendship, July – Money, August – Eternity, September – Books, October – Mindfulness, November – Attitude, & December – Happiness. To be successful and keep herself grounded, she gave herself Twelve Commandments to keep in mind throughout the process, such as “enjoy the process….lighten up….there is only love” and another list she calls “The Secrets of Adulthood” including helpful life lessons such as “It’s ok to ask for help…Bring a sweater…Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” These basic principles helped to guide her journey and stay grounded.

Every month, she kept a short list of action items to be able to tackle the overall theme of the month. She refers to each of these action items as resolutions. This helped her to keep them at the forefront of her mind and attempt to pursue them with intentionality all month long and then to continue to pursue them in the months that followed. She found that although she didn’t always keep her resolutions 100% of the time, by remembering her commitment she was able to continue on and improve in those areas far beyond what she had before. And after her year was over, she truly felt happier!

I learned an incredibly valuable lesson this year from both Gretchen Rubin, Rachel Hollis, and a few other authors as well: you are the only one that can make yourself happy. There are life circumstances that are out of our control. I know this as well as anyone. I cannot control that I have anxiety, I cannot control that I experienced difficult childhood trauma that resulted in PTSD, I cannot control that my perfectly beautiful, healthy mom went to bed one night over Thanksgiving weekend and died in her sleep, I cannot control that the trauma of that night compounded my existing PTSD and made it more complex. But do you know what I can control? I can control my daily habits, I can decide to pursue things that I already know make me happy, I can seek help in the form of a therapist, I can talk to my family, friends, and boyfriend when I need support. But the biggest lesson that I learned is that I have to be INTENTIONAL. I can’t just say “I’m sad, life has been so hard, when will I ever be happy again?” I have to say “I’m going to actively do things to MAKE myself happy. No one can or should do it for me.”

One of my favorite Rachel Hollis quotes is “If you’re unhappy, that’s on YOU.” That may sound harsh to someone that has experienced life’s difficulties and traumas. But I am here to tell you that it is true. I was grieving and very unhappy for a while even though I had beautiful things in my life. But I was spending time trying to self-soothe and to make myself feel better in the moment. I was not actively doing things that were actually good for me. Once I realized that there were simple things that I could choose to do every day, I felt so powerful. I realized that I’ve been yearning to feel happy again. While Rachel Hollis’s ideas were about specific daily habits and Gretchen Rubin’s ideas were about creating a plan for the year and building on what she learned, the overall idea is intentionality. You have to have specific things in your life that you are doing that will make you happy ON PURPOSE. No one can do them for you. As Gretchen Rubin says towards the end of the book: “After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out for them, I found out that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along…” Both Girl, Stop Apologizing and The Happiness Project are great personal development books because they truly help to give you an actual action plan. So many books seek to be helpful by introducing powerful concepts, but these books give you specific action items that you can do right now to change your life. And that is endlessly powerful.

Here are a few of my favorite resolutions that Gretchen pursued during her year of her Happiness Project:

  1. Toss, restore, organize
  2. Tackle a nagging task
  3. Fight right
  4. Launch a blog (oh hey!!!)
  5. Work smart
  6. Take time for projects
  7. Take time to be silly
  8. Be generous
  9. Keep a gratitude notebook
  10. Make time

Check out all the awesome books referenced in this post!!!

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This Book Changed My Life Forever. No, Seriously.

Review: Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing & Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis

As most women do, I struggle with a truly horrible habit: I am constantly saying “sorry”. I say “I’m sorry” and apologize for EVERYTHING. I apologize for almost bumping into someone in Target, for asking a family member for something I need, and even for what I perceive as inconveniencing anyone at all, even in the most minor of ways. My ex-boyfriend constantly told me to stop apologizing because I have nothing to be sorry for. And the thing is: I know this! But as women, we feel this need to over apologize for everything. I am constantly working on stopping this habit but it has been ingrained in me since childhood.

One day I saw a Facebook ad for a new book that was coming out called Girl, Stop Apologizing and I immediately took a screenshot and sent it to my (then) boyfriend telling him, “Wow, this looks like a book written for me!” I looked up the synopsis and decided that I needed to read it ASAP. The day the book was released, I went to my favorite Target location and purchased it immediately. I did not know much about the author Rachel Hollis so I did a quick Google search and realized she also wrote the New York Times Bestseller Girl, Wash Your Face. I saw that several of my sorority sisters and friends had read this so I looked into her further and saw how much she has helped women with her honesty, relatability, and tangible advice for living your best life as your truest self.

I started Girl, Stop Apologizing as the second book in my “12 Books in 2019” goal I had set for myself and was instantly captivated by what she had to say. Rachel discusses her successes and failures in building her career and personal life and gives true step-by-step advice on how to achieve your goals. She laid the book out in three easy-to-read parts titled “Excuses to Let Go Of”, “Behaviors to Adopt”, and “Skills to Acquire”. In each section, she includes a chapter for each excuse to let go of, behavior, and skill needed to stop apologizing for who you are and to start pursuing your dreams.

Of all the topics that she covered, the one that struck me the most was the idea of habits. She discusses a set of five daily habits she has called the “5 to Thrive”. These include drinking half your body weight in ounces of water, moving your body for 30 minutes, waking up an hour early to use the time for yourself, giving up one category of food to prove that you can, and writing down five things you are grateful for. As simple as these things are, they are tasks that have to be done with intentionality. On her social media platforms, she was promoting a challenge called “The Last 90 Days” where from October 1st through the end of the year, you complete every one of the 5 to Thrive items every single day. The idea is to start the new year off as your best self, rather than waiting until January 1st to start an unrealistic goal after recovering from the holidays. If you can change your habits, you can change your life.

I was skeptical but I was looking for a life change of some sort. My life was going ok. On the surface it was great: I’m living in a house with two incredible friends, I have the job I set out for and I’m learning every day, and I have an amazing family. But over a year of unresolved grief from the traumatic loss of my mother and childhood hardship, coupled with a severe lack of self-care was causing me to feel stuck and like I was not able to enjoy my life as much as I should be able to.

I found a therapist that I love who challenged and encouraged me to take small steps towards my health and wellness. When I read about the Last 90 Days Challenge, I knew this was EXACTLY what I needed. I’m currently writing this post on October 26th which means I’m not even a third of the way through the challenge but I can already tell you that it is truly and utterly life-changing. Yes, it sucks to wake up early, to make it a priority to workout even when I don’t want to, and it’s super inconvenient to have to run the bathroom all day long because HELLO, drinking that much water means that’s what happens. But I have never felt better in my entire life.

I know what you’re thinking: “You mean to tell me those little things changed you after only 26 days?” Yes, they did. And I’m not even a third of the way done with this. The power of this challenge is in the habits. Doing these little things every day is what got me to prioritize my health, my mental state, and my overall well-being. I start my day early, but with gratitude. During my one hour every day I list 5 specific things I’m grateful for, do some goal setting journaling, plan my day, meditate, and read a non-fiction personal development book. Then I get ready for work and start my day coming from a place of taking care of myself. I drink water ALL DAY LONG and I get in a great 30-minute workout after work. I am happier than I’ve been in so long and probably ever. There is such power in taking care of yourself intentionally and doing things that make you feel good. I am better able to show up for my life and others when I take care of myself and pour into my wellness. Whatever form this takes for you, I hope you find a daily routine or ritual that fulfills you every day with gratitude, self-care, and intentionality and you will start to see all the beautiful things in your life to appreciate fully.

This book is great for all women, honestly, but especially if there is something that you dream about in your life but you just don’t know where to begin. Personal development is something that everyone should strive for but sometimes books on the topic are more abstract or concept based and don’t always tell you exactly what methods to use to grow. Rachel Hollis give true tangible tools to use in your every day life and teaches her readers to create a road map to achieve big, audacious dreams using exactly what they have right now with who they are and their own tenacity.

Have you read Girl, Stop Apologizing? If so, what did you take away from it and what are some of your big dreams and goals? If not, do you plan to read it? I also did end up reading Girl, Wash Your Face. Let me know if you would like me to cover that as well!

And don’t forget: Your existence is to be celebrated. Don’t you ever apologize for it.