Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

The Best Books of 2018

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Can you believe I stuck around and blogged for another year? Me either! Yet, I’m STILL HERE talking to you about books after all these years.

Books are magic, aren’t they?

2018 was another incredible year of reading and I am so honored to have a place where I can share my thoughts on books.

Once again, I set the lofty goal of reading 100 books. This year, I barely squeaked by and really sweated it out this last month.

It makes no sense to me because the year prior seemed much breezier. Thanks to GoodReads though, I figured out why I was barely cha-cha sliding through 2018.

A Few Quick Reflections on My Year in Reading

I am a numbers person, so please humor me for a few seconds while I reflect on my GoodReads Challenges.

In 2014, I would have been so amazed at my goal of 100 books. Just who does she think she is, kind of amazement. Like, GET OVER YOURSELF side-eye stuff.

Yet, my 2018 self is JADED because I could have done better.

I read 100 books in 2017 and I could have aimed higher.

I am such a loser.

The reason I share this is because I see how hard I am on myself and how ridiculous it is that I can’t just be proud of this enormous thing that I pulled off, in the midst of being a mother, wife, and my job. I get bogged down hearing about people cranking out twice the amount of books and their plates seem fuller than mine. I am, truly, my own worst enemy.

I had to see this though to realize that I did WAY better than 2017 and feel like I deserve a congratulations.

I read 2,763 MORE pages than I did in 2017 which means that I can now say I’m proud of myself.

It’s so dumb.

Don’t get me started.

Just ask my dad about me. He witnessed my meltdown in front of a librarian because I set a reading goal too high and she wouldn’t give me a prize when I was little.

Some people never change.

I’m setting my goal again for 100 so I can set myself up for some real disappointment (hardy har har!). If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club! I announced our selections and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page. Did I mention that our book club is FREE and welcoming to ALL? You will be so glad you joined.

Are you ready to hear about the best books I read in 2018? I couldn’t trim my list to ten so I hope you enjoy a my list of 20 favorites this year. Please note, if the books I have read have not been officially published, they will be moved as potential picks for 2019!! 

Let’s get to it-

The Best Books of 2018 (sign up for my newsletter and never miss a book review AGAIN! No spam, I promise!):

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird, is, truly, one of the most charming novels I’ve read in a long time.

Set in 1940, Emmeline Lake discovers a help wanted ad for a job with the newspaper in town and can’t believer her luck to secure a job as a reporter as she dreams of all the important stories she is going to be able to cover during the war.

When she arrives for her first day though, she realizes she is greatly mistaken about her war correspondent duties and discovers that her job is really just a typist and the person who must screen all of the letters that the advice columnist, Mrs. Henrietta Bird, receives, to be answered in a tired woman’s publication.

Mrs. Bird has a verrryyyy long list of topics she refuses to cover (referred to as UNPLEASANTNESS)  and Emmeline is required to tear these “racy” letters up into tiny pieces as soon as she realizes what unladylike topics are being asked of her.

Emmeline knows that these topics deserve responses though, although she feels too young and unqualified to always give the best responses.  She secretly begins responding to the letters under Mrs. Bird’s name and, as she becomes braver, she begins publishing  her responses too.

Emmeline quickly discovers why giving advice isn’t always what it is cracked up to be, especially as her own life begins to unravel and the consequences of war hit too close to home.

Pearce was inspired by real letter submissions from this era and topics that were explored in women’s publications around the time of World War II and, cleverly, crafted these elements into her own witty debut.

If you are a fan of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I just know you will adore this read too.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

If you haven’t read Diane Chamberlain before, you really must! She is, truly, one of the most gifted writers.

Time travel is MY JAM so I was REALLY excited to see that her newest historical fiction novel had a science fiction spin that would be focused on time travel.

Diane Chamberlain AND time travel?

SIGN.

ME.

UP.

Set in the 1960’s, Carly’s husband has passed away in the Vietnam War before she can even share with him the news that she is pregnant.

At her routine doctor’s visit, they discover that this baby has a heart condition that cannot be treated and that her baby will die.

It is when she gets this news that her brother-in-law, a gifted physicist, shares with her that there is actually a surgery that can be done, but this surgery won’t be available until 2001.

How could he know this?

Well, let’s just say that he has time traveled a bit…

With his help, Carly time travels so her child can be part of this experimental surgery. Nothing is guaranteed, but Carly will do anything to save her daughter.

Chamberlain creates such suspense with this story that I could not put it down. This could have quickly turned corny, given the time travel aspect, but she does it with such beauty and believability, even crafting strain on the relationships of those left behind.

I hate to pick favorites, since I have loved so many of her books, but this is definitely one of my top 5 from this author!

Fans of, The Time Traveler’s Wife, will really embrace this one and the clever plot twists that surprised even me!

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

Debut novelists are my favorite and Vanessa Hua comes into the writing arena with, A River of Stars, like a seasoned pro.

It goes without saying, but if Celeste Ng puts her stamp of approval on it, I will be adding that book to my book stacks.

I have loved reading so many books about immigrants this year and Hua tells a gorgeous story of Scarlett Chen, a scared girl who has been taken far from her home in China.

Scarlett worked in a factory where she met and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. When Boss discovers she is pregnant with his first son, he sends her away to America where she can be cared for by the top doctors and kept on the right diet and regime to insure he will have the healthy son he has always wanted.

Oh, and he needs her to leave too because he is already married with three daughters of his own.

Unfortunately, this place that Boss has sent her to is nothing like it had been described in the brochures. The conditions are horrible, the caretaker is evil, and Scarlett would do anything to escape.

In the end, that is exactly what she does, with a surprise stowaway in the back of the stolen van she hijacked.

What Scarlett doesn’t know is that Boss needs her baby in his life to fight a battle of his own. He will stop at nothing to find Scarlett and his child, because it means life or death for him. His unrelenting hunt for her terrifies Scarlett because she knows she will be punished for running away.

Scarlett will stop at nothing to keep them both safe and Boss will stop at nothing to make sure they are found.

This book is just INCREDIBLE and, again, you will see this one on my top ten list, FOR SURE. Hua’s writing has the rich qualities of Lisa See where she is able to see a story through with these characters from beginning to end.

She also told a story that I just did not want to end.

I really hope there is a sequel in the works because it is that good.

This novel is gripping and perfectly timed for understanding more of what it is like to be an immigrant. Hua dives deep in exploring the definition of home, family, and belonging.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

This book selection was made for my stack after hearing that it would be a great selection for, A Little Life fans.  As you guys know, I am a huge fan of this book and even scored this amazing tee from a friend after we talked about our undying love for these characters.

Shortlisted for the National Book Award, this is a beautiful story of friendship during the height of the AIDS epidemic and offers similar themes of beautiful male friendships during the thick of a crisis in the gay community.

There are two intertwining stories being told in this story. Yale Tishman is a development director for an art gallery in Chicago and, as his career begins to really flourish, his friends are dying around him, one by one.

Meanwhile, thirty years later, Yale’s younger sister is in Paris desperately trying to reconnect with her daughter who has joined a cult. While staying in Paris with an old friend, she also is forced to deal with what AIDS has robbed of her and how it affected her relationship with her estranged daughter.

While many of us can never fully understand what the AIDS epidemic looked like during this time in history, particularly for gay men, Makkai does an incredible job bringing humanity and compassion to these devastating stories. The friendships that are weaved are beautiful and believable. I loved these characters and the gorgeous writing that Makkai brings to the table. She is definitely deserving of the National Book Award and I am so glad I got to read it this month.

If you are looking for something to fill your, A Little Life void, I highly recommend this touching read. It would be an excellent book for discussion for book clubs too!

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I can tell you now that, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, will be on my favorite reads of 2018. I was so swept away by the vivid storytelling and the poetic descriptive language in this book.

The author uses elements of her own life story (a discovery I made after reading the author’s notes at the end) to create this incredible coming-of-age story from two markedly different Columbian girls, growing up during the time that Pablo Escobar has captured the nation’s attention.

Chula & Cassandra are sisters that grow up in a more protected gated community, although they are still surrounded my unsafe elements outside of their neighborhood walls. They are well-cared for, adored by their mother, and given everything they need.

While Chula & Cassandra are carefree and curious, Petrona (who is around their same age) is folding under the burden of being the breadwinner for her family. She ends up finding a job, working as a live-in maid for Chula & Cassandra’s mother.  Living in their home is a true blessing since she has grown up in the guerrilla-occupied slums.

When Petrona meets her first love though, she finds herself in the middle of a horrible situation that threatens her safety, the safety of her family, and the safety of the family she is working for. This relationship really sets the plot in motion as you worry for each of these girls and their safety.

I am not sure why I’m not hearing more about this novel because it is a powerful and devastating read. While I have read a lot of historical fiction, this is an era and country that I have not read a lot about so it made the story even more impactful for me.

If you love a good coming-of-age story, I have a feeling you will really connect with this incredible read.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

I didn’t know anything about this book going into it and, perhaps, that is why it shocked me in both its beauty and darkness. Although I had also known the general premise of Lolita, I had no point of reference that this novel had been based on a true life kidnapping crime. In Rust & Stardust, Greenwood pulls back the curtain on this horrific case and chillingly illuminates what all this girl had been through.

In 1948, Sally Horner is desperate to get into the cool club with a group of girls from school. As part of her initiation process, she has to steal a notebook at a local drugstore.  When a man with the F.B.I.  sees her take this notebook, he tells her that she must pay for her crime and that he won’t rat her out to her parents, as long as she follows all of his instructions.

He poses as a father from a friend from school and says that they are going on a beautiful beach vacation and would like to take Sally along with them. Sally’s mother, struggling with debilitating arthritis and pain, knows that Sally will have a wonderful adventure and begrudgingly allows her to accept the invitation. Sally knows that she must go on this trip for her court hearing and punishment for the stolen notebook.

The thing is, this guy is actually a dangerous child predator who has just been released from prison and Sally is his latest conquest.

This book wrecked me in the same ways that, A Little Life, ripped a little of my heart out. Nabbing criminals back then is a frustrating process to witness, let alone be a victim too. It takes a strong reader to read this one and I have a feeling Sally’s story is going to be imprinted on my heart for a very long time. Greenwood’s writing is poetry in motion, even in the evil bits of it.

I doubt you will be able to put this one down, but given the context of the story, know this is a dark read.

The One by John Marrs

I think I have been reading too many thrillers because they just haven’t been grabbing me in the same way. I can’t say that though about, The One, which will be my top thriller recommendation this year.

Black Mirror fans may recall an episode of the show where potential mates are matched in a very science-fiction type of way. This thriller explores the concept of DNA matching in a similar fashion, but goes much deeper into the complexities of love and lust that happen when we are told that someone is scientifically matched to you.

There are several amazing stories going on- a straight man who finds out he is matched to a man, a woman who discovers her match has died before she has connected with him, a woman who finds out that her match is terminally ill, the founder of the profiling system and the relationship with her match…oh, and a serial killer who is out on the loose and pursuing a few matches of his own.

I listened to this one on audiobook and the narration is absolutely fantastic. There wasn’t a dud in the stories and I loved, loved, loved the plot twists in this one.

If you want a thriller you can’t put down, this is better than any of the summer buzz book thrillers I have read. I think you will love it!

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Described by one reviewer as Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups, one of my favorites this year was definitely, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance. I can’t recommend this one enough for a gorgeously written escape, with equal parts myth and relatability.

Weylyn is an orphan and has been raised by a pack of wolves which is just one of many reasons why he can’t seem to fit in with others.  When he finds that he can single-handedly stop a tornado, with his own powers, he realizes just how different he really is.

Weylyn finds a sweet friendship with a girl named Mary and her devotion has never ended, even as they have gotten older. This beautiful relationship is followed as Weylyn brings magic into everything he does, even as an adult trying to hold down a regular job. The gift he has though is a blessing and a curse and we get to hear his story through the eyes of many in this book.

I could not put this one down and would recommend it for anyone who enjoyed, The Snow Child, because it has that fairytale quality to it that makes you never want to stop flipping the pages until you reach the very end of the story.

Although not labeled as a YA, I would confidently pass this one on to my children because it is a clean, sweet, and magical story. In fact, that’s just what I did. It’s the type of book that you just want to share with others, with unforgettable characters and unbelievable storytelling.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

A coming-of-age story combined with a murder mystery, Where the Crawdads Sing, has the framework for a book that anyone would love.

Kya Clark is a little girl who has found herself abandoned by her family and will do anything to keep anyone from finding out, knowing she would be taken from her home. Resourcefully, Kya finds ways to secure food and clothing, with help from a shop owner who takes mercy on her. Thanks to her love of nature, Kya never feels entirely abandoned because the animals and world around her make her feel like she is surrounded by friends.

As she grows up, her beauty and the mystery around her intrigues two local boys, that both make a way into her heart.

Years later though, one of those boys is found dead and the locals immediately suspect that Kya is the suspect. Known as the, “Marsh Girl,” no one in town likes or trusts her. How could they possibly trust her though because they don’t even know her?

The story goes back and forth through time as Kya goes from a frightened young girl to a more confident author to becoming the main suspect in a murder investigation. This story begs the question, can we ever escape our past?

If you are looking for an audiobook to enjoy this month, this one is BEAUTIFULLY narrated and should be savored. The writing is exquisite, the story is heartbreaking, and the characters are so well-developed that they lift off the pages.

Each year I get asked what book someone could confidently share for the holidays. I would put this book at the top of the list this year because it is one that I could hand to my mom, grandmother, or sister and know that they would be just as swept away as me. Buy this one in multiples for all the people you want to share a book with this year.

This book has had a lot of buzz already, thanks to being picked up by the Hello Sunshine book club, but I just had to add my stamp of approval too!  This is a buzz book that REALLY delivers and I think you will love it too.

Educated by Tara Westover

If you are looking for a gripping memoir to add to your book stacks this year, you MUST, MUST, MUST read this book. I polished this one off in a day because I had to know how Westover’s story would end.

If you haven’t heard about this one, I will try to briefly fill you in. Educated is the story of Tara Westover who was seventeen before she had ever stepped into a classroom. Born to Mormon survivalists, her parents spent their days stockpiling for the end-of-days, salvaging metal from the junkyard, and stewing herbs for the healing and midwifery that her mother did as her job.

Tara’s father is mentally ill and and has a strong distrust for the medical establishment and government. She grows up never seeing a doctor, never going to school, and doesn’t even have a birth certificate. If you lived a rather normal existence, this might work, but it doesn’t work in the treacherous world that Tara must live in.

My heart was in my throat almost this entire story as Tara is physically abused by a sibling, neglected by her parents, and mentally abused through her father’s version of God and the church.

Tara decides to teach herself math, grammar, and science so she can take the ACT. It is through this act that she finds her own salvation, while trying to navigate a secular world that is foreign to her.

Fans of, The Sound of Gravel and The Glass Castleare sure to love this achingly beautiful story.

Between Me & You by Allison Winn Scotch

If you are looking for a book that you can really escape with, Between Me & You was a fantastic read that I savored this month.

Loved the plotline of, A Star is Born? This is a similar love story of two people on the search for fame and what happens when one person moves forward in their career while the other is struggling.

Ben has all the cards stacked in his favor in Hollywood. He comes from a privileged family and seems to have the right connections. Tatum, however, is a struggling actress who is working as a bartender at an NYC dive bar. When the two meet, they fall in love and get married.

The thing is, Tatum’s career takes off and Ben finds his own career is fading.

This touching love story is told from two perspectives with one rewinding history and one moving their story forward, both laced with their own bias and regret.

Told from their unique perspectives and with this shifting timeline, the raw honesty in each of their stories really pulls through in a really unique way.

Usually, I find I gravitate toward one perspective, but this wasn’t the case with this one. I loved seeing each of these viewpoints and Scotch does an incredible job fleshing these out.

I must admit, I have read all of Scotch’s books and her debut has always been my favorite…

That is, until I read this one.

 

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

If there has been one Kindle book that has consistently been top of the charts these past few months, it has been, The Storyteller’s SecretBadani graciously joined me for an interview, after releasing her debut novel, so I had a feeling that this book was going to be another incredible treat and I wasn’t wrong. This book is GORGEOUS start to finish and, as the title suggests, if you just love beautiful storytelling, this book is one I would hand to you.

Jaya is a New York journalist who has suffered her third miscarriage and has found herself in a struggling marriage and emotionally drained. Desperate to relieve her anguish, she goes to India to uncover the answers of her family’s past.

When she arrives, she is greeted by Ravi, a trusted former servant of her family, and he has been waiting for Jaya to share the beautiful stories of her grandmother’s life. Growing up in the traditional Indian culture, her grandmother is a gifted storyteller with a big heart and strong spirit. Her husband dislikes these glimmers of independence, but also gives her the space she so desperately craves.

When a school is opened in the village, she is given the generous offer of being a teacher at the school and in exchange Amisha will be gifted English lessons. This generous offer is gifted to her by a handsome soldier who is stationed there during the British occupation. He can never know what a joyful gift it is and the heartache that will, in turn, come from that gift.

Badani writes again with kindness and wisdom for Indian customs and the religious beliefs they have built upon. I always learn so much from her writing and she does a phenomenal job of showing the beauty of India while also acknowledging the harder to swallow truths of the caste system and superstitious punishments that have been gifted within the family.

More importantly, given tasked to write the poetic stories of Amisha AND the task of telling Amisha’s story…well, that would take a talented storyteller to pull off. It comes as no surprise, Badani delivers the storytelling magic with abundance.

I would recommend this beautiful read to fans of, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

Fans of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will absolutely ADORE What If It’s Us and will not be able to put this charming coming-of-age love story down.

Arthur is in New York for the summer and never expected that a trip to the post office would change his life. While standing in line though, he chats with another guy who is at the post office to rid himself of his ex-boyfriend’s items. The two strike up such a great conversation that Arthur just knows that the two were destined to meet.

Wouldn’t you know that a flash mob decides to come in to perform on that day and Arthur realizes that the boy of his dreams has left before he was able to get his name or number?

With encouragement from friends, he decides to put in an ad on Craigslist to see if he can find this newly single guy.

Magically, the universe delivers and the two find each other and end up going on some really terrible dates.

They aren’t willing to give up though and repeat their “first date” many times, getting to know each other through the process. What unfolds is an awkwardly sweet and honest teenage love story that I am such a sucker for.

I listened to this one on audiobook and it was a really fun one to listen to. The chapters alternate between Arthur and Ben and I found myself laughing out loud and even quite teary as I remembered my own dating struggles when I was growing up.

This was charming, adorable, heartfelt, and perfectly imperfect…as all love stories are.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

This gorgeous story is set in the seventies and is about a former POW father who comes home from the Vietnam War completely changed. His behavior and decision-making is wildly erratic and when a property becomes available in rural Alaska, he decides that they should seize the opportunity to live off the grid and make a different life for themselves.

Braving harrowing and life-threatening conditions is what is all about and thirteen-year-old Leni is caught in the middle of it all as they attempt to carve a new life in the wild frontier.

Living off the grid is not all it is cracked up to be and neither is surviving the difficult Alaska winters.

Braving the wilderness is tough and Hannah writes so eloquently about this impossible marriage and the honest struggle of a Vietnam veteran. I couldn’t have loved this more and was honored to also help showcase some fun ideas for a book club discussion around this book.

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Y. Kang.

If you are looking for a historical fiction pick that you won’t be able to put down, The Impossible Girl is a book I would HIGHLY recommend. Kang uses her own background in medicine, working as a practicing physician on the side, and crafts the incredible story of a girl born with two hearts in 1850.

Cora, born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and nameless immigrant, is the stuff that legends are made of. At a time in history where grave robbers would dig up freshly buried bodies for profit, she knows that her own body would garner a fine wage for a resurrectionist and builds her own business as a trusted resurrectionist to protect her identity and her own phenomenal medical miracle.

Acting as herself and posing as a brother, she is able to both administer the deals and help with the digging.

She isn’t the only one though looking for bodies that can serve as specimens for dissection and display. A series of murders has begun, beating Cora to her profits and worrying her that she could be the next victim.

Well-written and beautifully researched, I devoured this book and can’t wait to dig into Kang’s debut novel next.

If you are a fan of Fingersmith (please say you are!!), you are going to flip for this incredible read!

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

If you are looking for a tear-jerker to add to your book stack this month, then be sure to add Genova’s latest novel, Every Note Played.

I have read everything that Genova has written and this has been my favorite of all her incredible books.  This story explores the disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and the swift decline that occurs when someone is faced with this illness.

Richard is a world-renowned pianist that has chosen to make playing music the focus of his life, even over his family. Divorced and estranged from his daughter, he bounces from one relationship to the next. When he begins having difficulties playing piano, particularly with his right hand, he sees a doctor and is faced with the devastating news that he has ALS and will soon see paralysis throughout the rest of his body.

Unable to afford the care that he needs, he must ask his ex-wife to help care for him, someone he had cast aside and cheated on during their marriage. This dynamic is quite toxic as Richard and Karina must learn to live together again and face the horrific and heartbreaking decline of Richard’s health.

Richard is an unlikable character from beginning to end and I do think that this makes Karina’s sacrifice even greater because he is so ungrateful. Some readers may struggle with a connection to him, but you definitely won’t struggle to sympathize as you see the gravity of this illness and how quickly it takes over the body.

I cry about once a year over a book, thanks to a hardened soul and reading so much.

This book WRECKED ME.

I was crying reading it and then two days later I was still crying about it. It moved me emotionally, in ways that books rarely do.

Once I came to the end and saw all of the people that Genova lovingly mentions that shared their journey with ALS with her, you see how much thought and research went into this project. Genova’s compassion in telling this story is, truly, a gift.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

So many of my readers said that this book made their top ten and I can see why! This book was beautiful from start to finish and told the sweeping story of several generations of a Korean family in Japan and the cultural struggles that they face over the years.

The book begins in the early 1900’s with the unplanned pregnancy of a Korean girl, named Sunja. Sunja faces a lot of humiliation when she discovers she isn’t the only one who has captured her lover’s eye. When her path crosses with a tubercular minister, he offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life as thanks for helping him through his difficult illness.

The story then unfolds as generation after generation deal with their own cultural challenges, the discrimination they must face, and the poverty that threatens to take everything away from them.

This story is RICH in beauty and detail. Lee’s writing is just gorgeous and she weaves this tapestry of characters so very well.  At almost 500 pages, this one is a bit of a commitment, but I finished it in just a few short days because I had to know what would happen to these characters. I highly recommend adding this one to your stack!

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

If you are a Me Before You fan, you won’t want to miss this gorgeous read. Center’s builds a beautiful and believable story that I think you are going to be completely swept away with.

Imagine you were terrified of flying and, just as you always suspected, you are in a tragic accident. This is exactly what unfolds from the opening chapters of How to Walk Away, and the reader is taken along the journey as Kit’s life, as she knows it, is forever changed.

Also, imagine that the person you love walks away from the experience unscathed.

The book centers around the difficult recovery, the surprises of those who step up in tragedies, the sadness around those that walk away, and how to find love again.

I devoured this book in a single day and can’t say enough good things. Fans of Emily Giffin or Taylor Jenkins Reid are sure to fall in love with this book.

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

If you are looking for a really good YA read to add to your stack, My Name is Venus Black REALLY captured my heart this month.

Venus Black is a good kid, fascinated by astronomy and a strong student. That is why it is so unbelievable and shocking when she commits a crime that tears apart her family.

No one knows why she commited the crime and Venus refuses to talk about it, yet puts much of the blame solely on her own mother.  In the chaos of this crime, her developmentally challenged brother, Leo, goes missing.

Five years late, Venus is released from prison, but struggling to be released from her own identity. She tries to get a fresh start in a town, but no matter how hard she tries, she is unable to escape her own past.

Meanwhile, Leo is living his own challenging life and it has been doubly challenged by his environment and the person who kidnapped him. This change in residency though just might yield a different kind of family for this boy as those around him come to know and love sweet Leo.

I couldn’t put this one down and I know that these characters will be in my heart for a long time!

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

What I heard frequently from our book club members was that this was a book that they would have not picked up on their own and that it ended up being a book club reader favorite. The best part, for me, was also hearing that it changed people’s viewpoints and made them more empathetic to refugees and immigrants that have come to America.

This story is about two women- one who is in her teens and coming to the states illegally and the other who is living the American dream version of the immigrant story in Berkley. When Soli, our teen narrator, becomes pregnant on her perilous journey to the states, she decides to keep her son and do her best to juggle her job as a housekeeper and care for her child.

The other woman is struggling with infertility and would do anything to have a child.

When Soli’s little boy enters her life, she must do everything she can to keep him in it.

Our “lucky” boy is loved fiercely by two women and both will stop at nothing to keep him in their lives.

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past eight years!!

Best Books of 2017

My Top Ten Books of 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2015

My Top Ten Books of 2014

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge– swoon! It is heavenly stuff!

Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2018 or share your links to your own round-ups!

Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads or on IG or hang out with me in the book club!

This post contains affiliate links. I promise to only recommend what I truly love!

December 2018 Must-Reads

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Can you believe that we are coming to my last month of reviews for 2018? I BARELY made it to my 100 book goal, but spent the last week and a half reading as many books as I could, amidst the holiday craziness, so that I could say that I NAILED IT!

This reading month was SO GOOD though that I am rethinking my top ten book list for 2018 because so many great books made it just under the radar. You can catch my best-of list on the blog tomorrow.

The good news is that MANY of these are priced in the $2.99-$5.99 on Kindle so many of this month’s selections are awesome AND affordable.

This week I will be plowing through two books for this month’s upcoming book club chats. I hope you will join me as we discuss this one and this one this month.

Typically, we only discuss a book each month, but the holidays were just too crazy to try to weave in a book chat there.

In case you missed it, did you see that our 2019 selections have been announced?

Let’s Be BFFs on GoodReads

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there!

There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!!

This month’s selections:

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Maid by Stephanie Land

Golden Child by Claire Adam

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Plus our extra book, available for add-on by members:

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

This month’s special:

Using code FRESHSTART, new members can get a free book when they join today.

Here are 10 must-read books I tackled in December:

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

I wanted to get Dumplin under my belt before the movie came to Netflix and I’m SO glad I did. If you are looking for a satisfyingly sweet feel-good message, this YA novel delivers.

Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’) is the daughter of a local former beauty queen and has always felt at peace in her own body,  in spite of her self-proclaimed fat girl status.

The beauty queens all look the same around her town though and she decides to submit her own application to join in the beauty queen fun. Seeing Willowdean’s bravery, peers that normally would never enter decide to also participate in this year’s contest.

Where does a girl learn some show-stopping skills and nail her stage walk down though? Well, Willowdean finds out that her aunt had a secret spot she loved to visit where some of the best showstoppers can show her and her friends the ropes.

I loved this book so much and the beautiful message in body positivity that this character embraces.

After you read this, be sure to stream the film because it captures all of the magic that this book embraces. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series after enjoying this one so much this month!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

I received an advanced reader copy from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I was a huge fan of Loigman’s debut novel, The Two-Family House, and so excited to see that she was continuing down the path of historical fiction with her second novel.

Loigman shines when exploring complicated family relationships, and one of the most complicated is the love of two sisters. In this story, two estranged sisters find themselves reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII.

Ruth & Millie could not be more different and their contrasts are often brought front and center by their mother who seems to find favor with Millie. Her need to pit them against each other causes them each to carry secrets from one another and to grow apart.

When Millie loses her husband and finds herself penniless though, she comes to stay with Ruth to find a job and shelter. Ruth’s bitterness has not gone away, especially as Millie seems to attract attention, just as she did when they were young.

Secrets can’t stay buried forever though and the reader is taken along the very strained journey to the twisted conclusion where each sister must own their part in the story.

Loigman weaves the chapters together flawlessly and utilizes many voices to help round out the story. It is evident that she has done a lot of research on the Springfield Armory and the types of jobs the women would have held while their husbands were at war.

Just like her first book, the story seems straightforward, but Loigman is so gifted with building a character-driven story that would give a book club a lot to chat about.

Be sure to add this one to your stack this month, it does not disappoint!

5 out of 5 Stars

Between Me & You by Allison Winn Scotch

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Wow, wow, wow, this book was INCREDIBLE. If you are looking for a book that you can really escape with, Between Me & You was a fantastic read that I savored this month.

If you were a fan of, A Star is Born, this is a similar love story of two people on the search for fame and what happens when one person moves forward in their career while the other is struggling.

Ben has all the cards stacked in his favor in Hollywood. He comes from a privileged family and seems to have the right connections. Tatum, however, is a struggling actress who is working as a bartender at an NYC dive bar. When the two meet, they fall in love and get married.

The thing is, Tatum’s career takes off and Ben finds his own career is fading.

This touching love story is told from two perspectives with one rewinding history and one moving their story forward, both laced with their own bias and regret.

Told from their unique perspectives and with this shifting timeline, the raw honesty in each of their stories really pulls through in a really unique way.

Usually, I find I gravitate toward one perspective, but this wasn’t the case with this one. I loved seeing each of these viewpoints and Scotch does an incredible job fleshing these out.

I must admit, I have read all of Scotch’s books and her debut has always been my favorite…

That is, until I read this one.

This is a love story that really delivers and will definitely be on my top ten this year!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Y. Kang

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

If you are looking for a historical fiction pick that you won’t be able to put down, The Impossible Girl is a book I would HIGHLY recommend. Kang uses her own background in medicine, working as a practicing physician on the side, and crafts the incredible story of a girl born with two hearts in 1850.

Cora, born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and nameless immigrant, is the stuff that legends are made of. At a time in history where grave robbers would dig up freshly buried bodies for profit, she knows that her own body would garner a fine wage for a resurrectionist and builds her own business as a trusted resurrectionist to protect her identity and her own phenomenal medical miracle.

Acting as herself and posing as a brother, she is able to both administer the deals and help with the digging.

She isn’t the only one though looking for bodies that can serve as specimens for dissection and display. A series of murders has begun, beating Cora to her profits and worrying her that she could be the next victim.

Well-written and beautifully researched, I devoured this book and can’t wait to dig into Kang’s debut novel next.

If you are a fan of Fingersmith (please say you are!!), you are going to flip for this incredible read!

5 out of 5 Stars

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Each time I think, “NO MORE THRILLERS,” I stumble upon another amazing one that just sucks me in! Despite my thriller burnout, I couldn’t have loved, Jane Doe more! If you are having Joe withdrawal, this thriller gave me all the same sociopathic fun feelings as I got with my addiction to the Caroline Kepnes series.

Jane is probably the most unremarkable woman ever. She secures a day job at a mid level insurance company, has zero fashion sense, and has a cheap apartment filled with cheap furniture. A girl like this might not catch everyone’s eye, but it does catch the eye of the middle manager, at her insurance agency, and Steven Hepsworth won’t take no for an answer.

Jane is hiding something though. The only person that her sociopathic heart has ever loved was her best friend, Meg. Meg commits suicide though, all because of her relationship with Steven.

Now it is time for Steven to pay.

If you love a good game of cat & mouse in your thrillers, this one is wickedly sadistic and, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. Steven is a character you will love to hate and Stone builds a great complexity and layering to Jane that makes her highly intriguing.

If you need a quick page-turner with a sadistic spin (come on, I know I’m not alone!!), snag this fantastic thriller today.

4 out of 5 Stars

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I think I enjoyed this book a ton, simply for the reason that I went into this one knowing nothing about it. In our last blind book club exchange, I won this book from a friend and decided this would be the perfect month to read it. Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Green’s last book, but found his earlier work to be some of my favorite YA reads.

In this story, Miles “Pudge” Halter heads to the Culver Creek Boarding School where he meets a rather hodge podge group of pals, including a beautifully mysterious girl named, Alaska Young. Alaska & Pudge bond over the holidays, when they are the only two students to roam the halls of the boarding school corridors and dig up dirt on their fellow students.

It is through this moment of bonding that Pudge realizes he would do just about anything for Alaska, including being a part of their series of infamous pranks that they are intent on pulling off on each other. What Pudge doesn’t know though is how Alaska is going to forever alter his world and separate his life into two sections: the before and the after.

If you like quirky characters with a good friendship storyline, I just know you will love this one. I thought it had the sweetness of, The Serpent King with a bit of the Eleanor & Park quirkiness thrown in, for good measure. I really enjoyed this one, mostly for this book’s humor and heart.

This book proves, once again, just how much I have enjoyed Green’s earlier works.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Waiting Room by Emily Bleeker

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Veronica has been struggling with postpartum depression ever since the death of her husband collided with the birth of her daughter. Her depression is so deeply rooted that she is unable to even touch her beautiful baby girl and knows that her daughter would be so much better without her.

That is why she is horrified when her home is broken into, while her mother is caring for her daughter, and she discovers that her daughter has gone missing. Due to her fragile mental state though, she soon realizes that she is the primary suspect in this disappearance and she will now stop at nothing to be reunited with her baby girl and finally be the mother she has always known she could be.

Ah, but nothing is ever as it seems when it comes to unreliable narrators, is it? Veronica is a mentally unstable guide in our story and there is soooo much more than the reader could ever guess.

I loved the smart plot twists that Bleeker has woven into this story and found it to be a quick page turner that delivered on an ending that I could have never guessed.

Anyone who has ever struggled with postpartum depression or the guilt of not measuring up as a mom will find Veronica to be very relatable character with flaws that seem fitting for her circumstance.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

I received an advanced reader copy from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Gown is going to be one of those buzz books this winter that everyone will be talking about, I guarantee it.

Instead of exploring the story of the royal family and all of its mystery, Robson decides to explore a royal wedding through a different set of eyes. These eyes she chooses to tell her story through are those of the women that made and embroidered the dress of Princess Elizabeth when she wedded Lieutenant Philip.

Set in 1947, Ann Hughes & Miriam Dassin are talented embroiderers that have been tasked with the intricate stitching that will adorn the royal bride’s priceless wedding gown. Following the royal wedding though, Ann moves and never tells her family of her life in London and the work she did for this famous gown.

It is only in 2016, when Ann’s granddaughter stumbles upon a box of her late grandmother’s belongings that she finds a set of hand-stitched flowers with no background information on them. What she discovers though is that these motifs are the same that decorated the Queen Elizabeth II’s gown and she begins to wonder if there was more to her grandmother’s story than she realizes.

Heather travels to London to unravel the past that Ann never shared with her family and her secret friendship with Miriam Dassin, a celebrated artist and Holocaust survivor.

Robson discusses, rather frankly, her struggles with finding information on the real women behind the real gown. It was through a chance meeting that she got in touch with Betty Foster, a woman who aided in the actual embroidery of the dress, that she was able to use this interview to flesh out these characters, along with her own independent research at another embroidery house.

An excerpt of the interview with Betty appears at the end of the book and showcases how much her voice shaped Robson’s writing and these gorgeous characters that she has crafted.

Fans of, Secrets of a Charmed Life and the show, The Crown, will DEFINITELY be swept away in this gorgeous book.

I absolutely loved it!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

If there has been one Kindle book that has consistently been top of the charts these past few months, it has been, The Storyteller’s Secret. Badani graciously joined me for an interview, after releasing her debut novel, so I had a feeling that this book was going to be another incredible treat and I wasn’t wrong. This book is GORGEOUS start to finish and, as the title suggests, if you just love beautiful storytelling, this book is one I would hand to you.

Jaya is a New York journalist who has suffered her third miscarriage and has found herself in a struggling marriage and emotionally drained. Desperate to relieve her anguish, she goes to India to uncover the answers of her family’s past.

When she arrives, she is greeted by Ravi, a trusted former servant of her family, and he has been waiting for Jaya to share the beautiful stories of her grandmother’s life. Growing up in the traditional Indian culture, her grandmother is a gifted storyteller with a big heart and strong spirit. Her husband dislikes these glimmers of independence, but also gives her the space she so desperately craves.

When a school is opened in the village, she is given the generous offer of being a teacher at the school and in exchange Amisha will be gifted English lessons. This generous offer is gifted to her by a handsome soldier who is stationed there during the British occupation. He can never know what a joyful gift it is and the heartache that will, in turn, come from that gift.

Badani writes again with kindness and wisdom for Indian customs and the religious beliefs they have built upon. I always learn so much from her writing and she does a phenomenal job of showing the beauty of India while also acknowledging the harder to swallow truths of the caste system and superstitious punishments that have been gifted within the family.

More importantly, given tasked to write the poetic stories of Amisha AND the task of telling Amisha’s story…well, that would take a talented storyteller to pull off. It comes as no surprise, Badani delivers the storytelling magic with abundance.

I would recommend this beautiful read to fans of, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.

5 out of 5 Stars

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman

Some books just devastate you and, Waiting for Eden, wrecked me with each word.

Like, gutted me.

At under 200 pages, Ackerman shows you that you need not make your stories long for them to be emotionally impactful.

Eden Malcom is in a hospital bed, unable to speak or move.  His wife spends each day with him in the hospital with their daughter… a daughter that he has never met. You see, Eden is a very wounded soldier who was injured in a Humvee explosion, an explosion that killed his best friend.

Eden’s wife, Mary, sits with him everyday, and turns away all attempts to cause her to end Eden’s suffering. His best friend waits for Eden in a comfortable limbo-like state – ready to ease his transition.

On Christmas Day, Mary is not at his bedside and Eden’s consciousness comes flicker back to life. He is determined to communicate his wishes to his family.

Eden’s best friend, who has died, is our narrator and through his eye we can see more of these fractures in these relationships and what his part was in them. He also is able to illustrate about what has happened to Eden and which soldiers are left unattended while he is cared for .

I listened to his one on audiobook and I found myself with tears in my eyes through almost every page. You are left, as a reader, to wonder what you would do if the tables were turned and to look at the complexities of this marriage and friendship.

The ending left me unsatisfied, but I have to acknowledge that this was such a messy story that I would never have got the ending I wanted. It definitely gave me so much to think about and Ackerman has gained one more big fan of his writing.

4 out of 5 Stars

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads

September 2018 Must-Reads

October 2018 Must-Reads

November 2018 Must-Reads

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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9 Cozy Books for Winter Reading (Plus a HUGE GIVEAWAY)

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Winter is my favorite reading season because there is nothing that fills my cup more than sitting my the fire, sipping a warm drink, and flipping pages on a cozy new read.

I am hoping you can’t think of anything better too and that is why today’s post is such an exciting one. Not only am I sharing a great reading list, but I’m also sharing the brand new Kindle Paperwhite with one lucky reader.

Today I’m partnering up with The PickUp Line to giveaway a brand new Kindle Paperwhite with all its new bells and whistles.  The new Paperwhite has TWICE the storage and it is WATERPROOF.

I mean, how awesome is that??

The Pickup Line is a newsletter that can keep you informed on the headlines, help you figure out what to make for dinner, and even provide a playlist for your ride, look no further than The Pickup Line.

If you are a book reader,  you will love knowing that each week I share a book selection for moms AND a YA book selection for tweens/teens each week with their subscribers. I would love for you to subscribe over here.

SCROLL DOWN TO ENTER TODAY’S GIVEAWAY!

In honor of today’s giveaway, I’d love to share 9 cozy reads I recommend you put on it for the winter season!

The Snow Child by Eoywn Ivey

The Snow Child takes place in 1920 in Alaska where a city-bred girl Mabel and her husband Jack are trying to make a life for themselves in the isolated woods of an Alaskan farm. More than anything Mabel & Jack have longed for a child, but have remained childless and are beginning to drift apart. Mabel is in the throes of a deep depression and Jack is beginning to wonder if their decision to move to Alaska was a sound one.

One night, amid the first falling snow, Jack & Mabel have a moment of tenderness and begin playing in the snow. They decide to make a snow child and add little additions from Mabel’s wardrobe to wrap her in.

The next morning, their snow child is gone, but they begin catching the glimpse of a child running through the woods wearing Mabel’s items that were once on their snow child.  This child  of the woods contentedly runs around the forest in the freezing cold with a red fox. Mabel and Jack are left wondering…is this a real child or is this a fairy tale child that they are simply hallucinating?

This is a grown-up fairy tale that is just so beautifully written that your heart will be aching for Mabel and Jack that they can make this child that they have longed for to be their own.  I was enraptured with the story from the first page and I have a feeling you will too!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

If you are craving an escape from the holiday crazy, I can think of no better suggestion than an evening with, Seven Days of Us.

The entire Birch family must come together for seven long days to be locked down into quarantine for the holidays. Olivia, their daughter, is a doctor and has been treating an epidemic abroad and they need to insure that no germs are spread. The family hasn’t been together this long in years and, as we all do, everyone falls back into their old roles. Children become children again, parents resume fighting, and they all must learn to live with one another again.

Each of these family members is carrying a secret that holds detrimental consequences for the entire family. Told from their alternating perspectives, the chapters begin to twist together as these secrets are revealed.

Even in the predictable moments, this made for a highly entertaining read and is a great way to unwind over the holiday weekend. It made me smile in many of the same ways of some of my favorite holiday films. I think you will love this one!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’m not even going to lie, this novel is absolute perfection from start to finish. Never a lag, never a dull moment, audible gasps at shocking plot twists, a steamy sordid love affair…friends, THIS is unbelievable.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I could not put this down and can’t wait to dig into more of her books now that I finally know what all the fuss is about. This book was amazing!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I really loved The Nightingale and had really been hoping Kristin Hannah would tackle another historical fiction book, but this contemporary coming-of-age story ended up being sweetly satisfying for a winter escape.

This story is set in the seventies and is about a former POW father who comes home from the Vietnam War completely changed. His behavior and decision-making is wildly erratic and when a property becomes available in rural Alaska, he decides that they should seize the opportunity to live off the grid and make a different life for themselves.

Braving harrowing and life-threatening conditions is what is all about and thirteen-year-old Leni is caught in the middle of it all as they attempt to carve a new life in the wild frontier.

Living off the grid is not all it is cracked up to be and neither is surviving the difficult Alaska winters.

Braving the wilderness is tough and Hannah writes so eloquently about this impossible marriage and the honest struggle of a Vietnam veteran.

If you are looking for book club ideas for the winter, I highly recommend this one and even share 7 tips for hosting a successful book club all around this incredible read.

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Described by one reviewer as Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups, my favorite book this month was definitely, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance. I can’t recommend this one enough for a gorgeously written escape, with equal parts myth and relatability.

Weylyn is an orphan and has been raised by a pack of wolves which is just one of many reasons why he can’t seem to fit in with others.  When he finds that he can single-handedly stop a tornado, with his own powers, he realizes just how different he really is.

Weylyn finds a sweet friendship with a girl named Mary and her devotion has never ended, even as they have gotten older. This beautiful relationship is followed as Weylyn brings magic into everything he does, even as an adult trying to hold down a regular job. The gift he has though is a blessing and a curse and we get to hear his story through the eyes of many in this book.

I could not put this one down and would recommend it for anyone who enjoyed, The Snow Child, because it has that fairytale quality to it that makes you never want to stop flipping the pages until you reach the very end of the story.

Although not labeled as a YA, I would confidently pass this one on to my children because it is a clean, sweet, and magical story. In fact, that’s just what I did. It’s the type of book that you just want to share with others, with unforgettable characters and unbelievable storytelling.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Winter reading is made for classics so I had to include my favorite.
This story is one of the most unbelievably beautiful, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny in portions, make me weep in others, and heartwarming books that I have read in my life.The story is about Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie) and she shares the story of her life from the tender age of eleven until she turns sixteen.

Growing up as a poor girl in Brooklyn, she shares the story of the survival that they must go through to keep food on the table and the difficulties of family life when ends just don’t meet. With a mother who is doing the best she can to keep their family afloat and an unreliable, but loving father who works as a singing waiter and takes to drinking at night to cope with the realities of his life, the family lives in a tiny flat in Brooklyn where they try to make the most on the very least.

Francie is forced to be older than she is from the very beginning of her life. Often saddled with the task of bartering at the grocery store, figuring out a way to get into a better school so she can get her education, and made to get jobs to help with the family finances or assist her mother on jobs, you can’t help but admire Francie’s resourcefulness throughout the book.

The Christmas scenes, the things that the children treasured the most, the tin can filling with pennies of earnings that would later feed them, the diary entries carefully edited because of her mother who didn’t want Francie writing about her father’s alcoholism, the impractical gifts that the children gave to each other (and their mother let them) only to discover their mother was right, those feelings of first love- all beautifully captured in prose that held me and wouldn’t let me go.

While I can’t say that there is a definite plot to the story, the book is told almost in short story format sharing the daily trials and tribulations of growing up in a poor family, it really did not need a focused plot because the writing was so beautiful. 

I would say that it mainly focused on the self-discovery that Francie makes about herself and about her parents as she becomes more aware of what is happening around her and as the responsibilities later shift to Francie’s shoulders when she struggles with wanting to be an adult and support the family, but also desires to get an education.

No words can describe what a treasure this book is to read. Despite being written so long ago, the themes are still so current- the need to keep up with one’s reputation, the importance of hard work and honesty in life, the discovery that money isn’t everything, but that it does make it easier when you don’t have to focus on it, and the importance of loyalty to your family.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Does anyone else get sucked into food shows and creating comfort food in the winter season? If you are a foodie like me, you are going to love this pick!

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down! Fans of Eleanor & Park will really appreciate the quirk in this one!

You can read my interview with J. Ryan Stradal and read more about his passion for food & the Midwest in our Sundays With Writers series.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

When winter hits, I always crave a fun holiday read and One Day in December fits the bill perfectly. If you are looking for a fun romantic read around the holidays, I would DEFINITELY snag this one (Pssstttt- it is one of the BOTM selections this month!!)

Laurie never believed in love at first sight, but one snowy day in December, she sees a man that she just knows is THE ONE. Unfortunately, the bus takes off before she can do any of the romantic things she has dreamt of wayyyy after her chance has passed her by.

She shares about this moment with her best friend, Sarah, and each of them keeps hoping that Laurie is going to run into him again so Laurie can be with the guy of her dreams.

As the holidays approach again, the two host a holiday party and Sarah couldn’t be more thrilled to bring together her boyfriend and Laurie for the first time. Wouldn’t you just know it that Sarah has found the guy of HER dreams and it is THE ONE that Laurie has been waiting for.

The story follows the three over the course of ten years as they navigate these muddy waters.

Although it was light, it has some surprisingly deep moments that make it both fun and compelling.

If, “Love Actually,” is your favorite holiday movie too, you are going to adore this read.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

Dreaming of escaping the cold? How about a romantic island adventure for your stack?

I’m a sucker for a good love story and I can’t rave enough about the beauty of, Castle of Water.

In this story, a small plane crashes in the middle of the South Pacific leaving two of the passengers stranded as they both washed ashore on a small island.  If you think this sounds a bit predictable, I did too, but Huckelbridge writes a story that is anything BUT predictable as the two castaways work together to try to remain alive in the face of numerous hurdles.

The writing is surprisingly witty and laugh-out-loud funny, while still giving you that ache in your heart at all they have lost. Being stranded on an island requires a writer to really drive this story with strong characters. This character development is the heart of the story as these two seem to lift off the pages.

While the ending didn’t bring all that I had hoped, it felt truthful to the storytelling and didn’t overshadow this beautiful story! Run, run, run and get this one!

It’s giveaway time with The Pickup Line. One lucky winner will receive the NEW Kindle Paperwhite!

You have three easy ways to submit entry today!

1- Leave a comment and share your favorite winter read. Don’t worry, you don’t have to choose just one, bookworms!

2- Subscribe to The Pickup Line Newsletter. Once you subscribe, just check the button that you have are part of their mailing list

3- Subscribe to the MomAdvice Newsletter. Once you subscribe, just check the button that you are part of my mailing list.

Good luck, everyone and happy reading!

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November 2018 Must-Reads

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Looking for your next great book? Check out this stack of 6 must-reads. From YA to Romance to Science Fiction. I’ve got you covered!

I can’t believe that we are closing in on our last month of reading this year.

I am on the struggle bus for December as I try to put 11 books under my belt to reach my 100 books goal, but I am determined to make it happen. If you are on the struggle bus too, this quick reads to reach your reading goals list might be the ticket for you.

This month I had the best time joining in as co-host for the Currently Reading Podcast. If you haven’t listened to this podcast before, you are in for a big treat. Kaytee & Meredith share their bookish moments and discuss what they are reading with kindness and honesty. I loved sharing about a few of the books that I had been reading as well as some tips for starting your own book club.

Speaking of book clubs, did you see that our 2019 selections have been announced?

After a month of research and gathering, I am REALLY excited about these picks and can’t wait to share them with you. My fingers are crossed that I have found a few of your new favorites for 2019!

Speaking of great books, did you know that Prime members get a book for FREE every single month BEFORE it is released to the public? Be sure to select a free book for December! You earned it!

My Usual Reminders

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there!

There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club!

announced our selections (here is what we will be reading in December) and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page.

Need another challenge to push you out of your reading comfort zone?

Be sure to download this year’s Reading Challenge Worksheet.

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!! (I already read TWO of these so check out the reviews below!!)

This month’s selections:

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Severance by Ling Ma

This month’s special:

When you give a Book of the Month subscription as a gift this season, you’ll get a gift for yourself: one free month! We have 3-, 6-, and 12-month subscription plans available for purchase. Give a gift, get a gift! today.

I HIGHLY recommend this one as the perfect holiday gift. It has been a hit with ALL of my friends and family. It is also SO fun when a gift can be enjoyed over a few months rather than just for one day!

Also, using code NICE2MEETU, new members can get their first book for just $5.

Here are 6 must-read books I tackled in November:

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I chose  An Absolutely Remarkable Thing as my Book of the Month selection, just knowing that this would be a book that I could pass on to my husband and son. Both of us read and loved this fun science fiction debut from Hank Green.

In this story, April May happens to be roaming her way around NYC in the wee hours of the morning when she stumbles upon a giant sculpture. It is an unusual looking ten-foot-tall industrial Transformer-type sculpture, unlike anything she had ever seen before.

Her friend, Andy, happens to be trying to make an audience on YouTube so she calls him to come and film her making a video of her with it and shares how she notices that even a sculpture of this size barely catches the eye of any New Yorker that’s passing.

In the morning, April awakens to find that her video has gone viral…and so has this sculpture. You see, this sculpture didn’t just end up in NYC.  It ended up in cities all over the world and no one knows how they got there.

The story builds out from there as April tries to be the first to discover the mystery of these metal fixtures (nicknamed Carl). She isn’t the only one looking for the answers though and this becomes a contest that the whole world seems to be participating in.

My husband loved all the geeky fun in this one, but I loved the more complex moral exploration of how social media can change us and our relationships with others.

Although this one is supposed to be in the adult category of literature, it read more like a YA read to me.

This was a strong debut (what else could we ever expect from John Green’s brother?) and the ending to this one screams sequel.

Fans of Ready Player One will LOVE this fun read!

5 out of 5 Stars

One Day in December by Josie Silver

I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When winter hits, I always crave a fun holiday read and One Day in December fit the bill perfectly. If you are looking for a fun romantic read around the holidays, I would DEFINITELY snag this one (Pssstttt- it is one of the BOTM selections this month!!)

Laurie never believed in love at first sight, but one snowy day in December, she sees a man that she just knows is THE ONE. Unfortunately, the bus takes off before she can do any of the romantic things she has dreamt of wayyyy after her chance has passed her by.

She shares about this moment with her best friend, Sarah, and each of them keeps hoping that Laurie is going to run into him again so Laurie can be with the guy of her dreams.

As the holidays approach again, the two host a holiday party and Sarah couldn’t be more thrilled to bring together her boyfriend and Laurie for the first time. Wouldn’t you just know it that Sarah has found the guy of HER dreams and it is THE ONE that Laurie has been waiting for.

The story follows the three over the course of ten years as they navigate these muddy waters.

Although it was light, it has some surprisingly deep moments that make it both fun and compelling.

If, “Love Actually,” is your favorite holiday movie too, you are going to adore this read.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones

I thought I might be a bit burnt out on thrillers, but I read this twisted thriller in about 24-hours, proving that I am still digging this genre.

The Other Woman has had some pretty polarizing reviews so I have a feeling that this is one that you will really love or really hate. I joined the loving it camp because it was just what I need after a busy holiday weekend and I liked the fun twists that Jones weaved into this story.

Emily meets the guy of her dreams and they fall into a fast and heavy relationship in a matter of weeks. Although she seems unsure if he really loves her, Adam asks Emily to move in with him and then to be his wife.

Although Adam is reserved and Emily is unsure where she stands with him half the time, the real issue is his mother.

This woman does everything she can to sabotage their relationship and Adam is (or pretends to be) oblivious to all of his mother’s games. From snide comments to inviting someone to her hen party (gosh, I love that party phrase so much more than the ol’ bachelor party phrase) that she had a major falling out with, Pammie will stop at nothing to make sure that the two won’t get married.

Oh, and did I mention that Emily is having feelings for Adam’s brother?

I don’t want to say too much more, but things escalate quickly and Pammie is a pretty infuriating character.

In fact, I am pretty sure I can blame my jaw pain on her this week since my teeth were clenched through almost everything she said.

Although I thought I knew where this one was going, the ending surprised me a lot more than I had expected and I found this ride, even though it was predictable at times, to be worth the wait.

If you are looking for something quick and light to break up the heavy stuff, this one just might be the ticket.

4 out of 5 Stars

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

If you are looking for a really good YA read to add to your stack, My Name is Venus Black REALLY captured my heart this month.

Venus Black is a good kid, fascinated by astronomy and a strong student. That is why it is so unbelievable and shocking when she commits a crime that tears apart her family.

No one knows why she commited the crime and Venus refuses to talk about it, yet puts much of the blame solely on her own mother.  In the chaos of this crime, her developmentally challenged brother, Leo, goes missing.

Five years late, Venus is released from prison, but struggling to be released from her own identity. She tries to get a fresh start in a town, but no matter how hard she tries, she is unable to escape her own past.

Meanwhile, Leo is living his own challenging life and it has been doubly challenged by his environment and the person who kidnapped him. This change in residency though just might yield a different kind of family for this boy as those around him come to know and love sweet Leo.

This book is BEAUTIFUL and I loved every bit of it.  Since so many wanted to read this one, you can catch an impromptu discussion (lead by Kaytee!!) in our MomAdvice Book Club.

I couldn’t put this one down and I know that these characters will be in my heart for a long time!

5 out of 5 Stars

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

Fans of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will absolutely ADORE What If It’s Us and will not be able to put this charming coming-of-age love story down.

Arthur is in New York for the summer and never expected that a trip to the post office would change his life. While standing in line though, he chats with another guy who is at the post office to rid himself of his ex-boyfriend’s items. The two strike up such a great conversation that Arthur just knows that the two were destined to meet.

Wouldn’t you know that a flash mob decides to come in to perform on that day and Arthur realizes that the boy of his dreams has left before he was able to get his name or number?

With encouragement from friends, he decides to put in an ad on Craigslist to see if he can find this newly single guy.

Magically, the universe delivers and the two find each other and end up going on some really terrible dates.

They aren’t willing to give up though and repeat their “first date” many times, getting to know each other through the process. What unfolds is an awkwardly sweet and honest teenage love story that I am such a sucker for.

I listened to this one on audiobook and it was a really fun one to listen to. The chapters alternate between Arthur and Ben and I found myself laughing out loud and even quite teary as I remembered my own dating struggles when I was growing up.

This was charming, adorable, heartfelt, and perfectly imperfect…as all love stories are.

5 out of 5 Stars

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I really enjoyed these two authors first collaboration in The Wife Between Us so I was excited to get my eyes on an advanced copy of this one.

Guess what?

You can get your hands on it too thanks to this being one of the selections for Book of the Month.

This book kept me up until the wee hours of the night and I was completely hooked within the very first chapter.

Jessica works as a freelance makeup artist and ends up doing a job for a woman that completely changes her path. When she overhears that her client is planning to turn down a psychology study that is paying a good sum of money, Jessica decides to turn up in her spot to see if she can take her place.

In a room alone, the survey on the computer begins with, “Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?”

That is just the opening question though and the questions start to become more and more invasive.

The thing is, Jessica starts to enjoy answering these questions and since she is doing such an incredible job, the doctor conducting study asks if she can assist in further research.

The money is too good to pass up and this is how Jessica finds herself becoming more and more paranoid as she worries that things happening in her daily life are really her being tested in the study.

Jessica could never guess though just what Dr. Shields is really up to and, at times, neither can the reader.

This is a smart psychological thriller with a well-thought plot.  If you love Black Mirror, I have a feeling you will love this one as it toys with the moral compass and what happens when we choose the wrong keeper to our secrets.

5 out of 5 Stars

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads

September 2018 Must-Reads

October 2018 Must-Reads

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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October 2018 Must-Reads

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Check out this incredible list of 7 great books to add to your book stack. From historical fiction to dystopian, this list has you covered for your next night in!

Did we blink and head right into November? I apologize I’m a bit a late with this month’s reviews, but excited to share 7 incredible books I read in October with you.

I am hoping there are a few on this list that you haven’t tackled yet and these might be added to your book stacks this month.

I am happily chugging away at my GoodReads Challenge of reading 100 books this year. According to GoodReads, I’m just one book off pace, which I am hoping I will fix this month.

How are you guys doing on your goals?

My Usual Reminders

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there!

There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club!

I can’t believe we have almost 1,900 bookworms in this group now. Each month we chat about a book, but the real beauty is getting to talk 24/7 about books with people who love them as much as you.

announced our selections (here is what we will be reading in November) and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page.

Need another challenge to push you out of your reading comfort zone?

Be sure to download this year’s Reading Challenge Worksheet.

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!!

This month’s selections:

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

This month’s special:

New members will get a free book with code FRIENDSGIVING.

How it works: Members will pay $14.99 when they sign up for a subscription that will renew monthly.

They’ll also receive a credit for a free book at the time of this transaction (redeemable at any time). Then they’ll be renewed at the end of their second month (unless they cancel).

Here are 7 must-read books I tackled in October:

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The first book I read this month was, The Great Believers, after hearing that it would be a great selection for, A Little Life fans.  As you guys know, I am a huge fan of this book and even scored this amazing tee from a friend after we talked about our undying love for these characters.

Shortlisted for the National Book Award, this is a beautiful story of friendship during the height of the AIDS epidemic and offers similar themes of beautiful male friendships during the thick of a crisis in the gay community.

There are two intertwining stories being told in this story. Yale Tishman is a development director for an art gallery in Chicago and, as his career begins to really flourish, his friends are dying around him, one by one.

Meanwhile, thirty years later, Yale’s younger sister is in Paris desperately trying to reconnect with her daughter who has joined a cult. While staying in Paris with an old friend, she also is forced to deal with what AIDS has robbed of her and how it affected her relationship with her estranged daughter.

While many of us can never fully understand what the AIDS epidemic looked like during this time in history, particularly for gay men, Makkai does an incredible job bringing humanity and compassion to these devastating stories. The friendships that are weaved are beautiful and believable. I loved these characters and the gorgeous writing that Makkai brings to the table. She is definitely deserving of the National Book Award and I am so glad I got to read it this month.

If you are looking for something to fill your, A Little Life void, I highly recommend this touching read. It would be an excellent book for discussion for book clubs too!

5 out of 5 Stars

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I can tell you now that, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, will be on my favorite reads of 2018. I was so swept away by the vivid storytelling and the poetic descriptive language in this book.

The author uses elements of her own life story (a discovery I made after reading the author’s notes at the end) to create this incredible coming-of-age story from two markedly different Columbian girls, growing up during the time that Pablo Escobar has captured the nation’s attention.

Chula & Cassandra are sisters that grow up in a more protected gated community, although they are still surrounded my unsafe elements outside of their neighborhood walls. They are well-cared for, adored by their mother, and given everything they need.

While Chula & Cassandra are carefree and curious, Petrona (who is around their same age) is folding under the burden of being the breadwinner for her family. She ends up finding a job, working as a live-in maid for Chula & Cassandra’s mother.  Living in their home is a true blessing since she has grown up in the guerrilla-occupied slums.

When Petrona meets her first love though, she finds herself in the middle of a horrible situation that threatens her safety, the safety of her family, and the safety of the family she is working for. This relationship really sets the plot in motion as you worry for each of these girls and their safety.

I am not sure why I’m not hearing more about this novel because it is a powerful and devastating read. While I have read a lot of historical fiction, this is an era and country that I have not read a lot about so it made the story even more impactful for me.

If you love a good coming-of-age story, I have a feeling you will really connect with this incredible read.

5 out of 5 Stars

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Our story opens with eighty-four-year-old Florence who has fallen and is awaiting help in her room at the assisted living facility, where she resides.  She has kept many secrets that have been buried, but with her dementia, she is unable to always recall the exact details or why she feels a certain way about things.

Thankfully, her lifelong best friend, Elsie has retained her memory and is able to help Florence fill in those gaps where Florence needs it.

When a new resident arrives, Flo immediately becomes distressed, even though she can’t remember why. She is convinced that this man is there to punish her and has been doing things that make Flo look unstable. Flo is already on thin ice with the nursing home director and she can’t afford to look unfit because she will be shipped off to a facility for people who cannot care for themselves anymore.

Flo makes it her mission to try to remember just why this man’s presence is causing her so much distress and Elsie will be with her every step of the way.

Cannon does an incredible job showing the true struggle of dementia and  the beauty in having someone by our side who is able to fill in the gaps on our life.

Flo is an unreliable narrator and that unreliability makes the plot more interesting, especially as they go on a wild adventure to figure out more about this mystery man.

Be sure to have a tissue handy, this story is a beautiful one and worthy of being Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year.  It’s a gentle reminder of how we all would love to leave the world with our dignity intact.

Fans of, A Man Called Ove, are sure to love this sweet read.

4 out of 5 Stars

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

Debut novelists are my favorite and Vanessa Hua comes into the writing arena with, A River of Stars, like a seasoned pro.

It goes without saying, but if Celeste Ng puts her stamp of approval on it, I will be adding that book to my book stacks.

I have loved reading so many books about immigrants this year and Hua tells a gorgeous story of Scarlett Chen, a scared girl who has been taken far from her home in China.

Scarlett worked in a factory where she met and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. When Boss discovers she is pregnant with his first son, he sends her away to America where she can be cared for by the top doctors and kept on the right diet and regime to insure he will have the healthy son he has always wanted.

Oh, and he needs her to leave too because he is already married with three daughters of his own.

Unfortunately, this place that Boss has sent her to is nothing like it had been described in the brochures. The conditions are horrible, the caretaker is evil, and Scarlett would do anything to escape.

In the end, that is exactly what she does, with a surprise stowaway in the back of the stolen van she hijacked.

What Scarlett doesn’t know is that Boss needs her baby in his life to fight a battle of his own. He will stop at nothing to find Scarlett and his child, because it means life or death for him. His unrelenting hunt for her terrifies Scarlett because she knows she will be punished for running away.

Scarlett will stop at nothing to keep them both safe and Boss will stop at nothing to make sure they are found.

This book is just INCREDIBLE and, again, you will see this one on my top ten list, FOR SURE. Hua’s writing has the rich qualities of Lisa See where she is able to see a story through with these characters from beginning to end.

She also told a story that I just did not want to end.

I really hope there is a sequel in the works because it is that good.

This novel is gripping and perfectly timed for understanding more of what it is like to be an immigrant. Hua dives deep in exploring the definition of home, family, and belonging.

Add this to your stack ASAP!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

I always love to read a spooky book for October and selected, The Hunger, for our October Book Club selection. This novel has been listed as one of NPR’s Top 100 Horror Novels and was endorsed heartily by Stephen King.

Many of us are familiar with The Donner Party and their infamous trek across the trails that ended in death.

Katsu decides to use this story as the framework for exploring this story deeper and adding a supernatural twist to it.

What if these people were actually being pursued by something that inevitably caused the death and destruction of these families? How would this change the story?

Katsu didn’t just put together a supernatural telling of this story, but she dived deep into reading as much as she could get her hands on to fill out this story with facts about this journey. These elements really help round out the story, along with some fictionalized motives and characters that make the story more interesting.

If you love a good dystopian theme, I have a feeling you will enjoy, The Hunger. Fans of darker suspense novels, like Bird Box, will really enjoy this story!

4 out of 5 Stars

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

A coming-of-age story combined with a murder mystery, Where the Crawdads Sing, has the framework for a book that anyone would love.

Kya Clark is a little girl who has found herself abandoned by her family and will do anything to keep anyone from finding out, knowing she would be taken from her home. Resourcefully, Kya finds ways to secure food and clothing, with help from a shop owner who takes mercy on her. Thanks to her love of nature, Kya never feels entirely abandoned because the animals and world around her make her feel like she is surrounded by friends.

As she grows up, her beauty and the mystery around her intrigues two local boys, that both make a way into her heart.

Years later though, one of those boys is found dead and the locals immediately suspect that Kya is the suspect. Known as the, “Marsh Girl,” no one in town likes or trusts her. How could they possibly trust her though because they don’t even know her?

The story goes back and forth through time as Kya goes from a frightened young girl to a more confident author to becoming the main suspect in a murder investigation. This story begs the question, can we ever escape our past?

If you are looking for an audiobook to enjoy this month, this one is BEAUTIFULLY narrated and should be savored. The writing is exquisite, the story is heartbreaking, and the characters are so well-developed that they lift off the pages.

Each year I get asked what book someone could confidently share for the holidays. I would put this book at the top of the list this year because it is one that I could hand to my mom, grandmother, or sister and know that they would be just as swept away as me. Buy this one in multiples for all the people you want to share a book with this year.

This book has had a lot of buzz already, thanks to being picked up by the Hello Sunshine book club, but I just had to add my stamp of approval too!  This is a buzz book that REALLY delivers and I think you will love it too.

5 out of 5 Stars

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I won a copy of this book in a GoodReads giveaway. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favorite authors and I was so psyched when I won a copy of her next novel, Daisy Jones & the Six (releasing March 5th, available for pre-order). I have to say, timing this book with catching, A Star is Born, this week really could not have been more perfect. Reid has crafted a fictional band story set in the 1970’s that was so beautifully rendered that you can’t believe it is even fiction.

Daisy is the girl that every girl wants to be. She is stunning and has the ability to capture any man’s attention, sneaking out to clubs when she is just a kid, and capturing the heart of anyone her heart desires. She finds she has a knack for singing, a knack that people spend years trying to train their voices to achieve.

The Six is lead by Billy Dunne and is also getting noticed in the music world. Billy is an addict who has just discovered that he is going to be a father and he feels he needs to sow his wild oats before settling down.

When Billy & Daisy cross paths, a producer realizes that putting these two voices together could be just the ticket to make them all successful.

Told in interview format, the reader uncovers the story of Daisy Jones & the Six from their humble beginnings to their explosive endings. It’s the stuff of legends, as all good rock and roll stories are.

As a reader, don’t be surprised if you don’t find yourself thinking of these people as real people. Reid is such a wildly talented writer that it should come as no surprise that this book is just as wildy fabulous as she is.

Be sure to pre-order and read this one before you see it!

5 out of 5 Stars

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads

September 2018 Must-Reads

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

September 2018 Must-Reads

Monday, October 1st, 2018

What have you been reading lately? I’m excited to hear what was in your stack this month and hoping you have a few good recommendations for October!

This month I squeezed in 7 great reads that I think you will enjoy and was excited, in particular, to share my thoughts on two buzz books that will hit store shelves tomorrow- A Spark of Light & The Dream Daughter.

You can scroll on down to read those reviews today!

I can’t tell you how much I am loving my Paperwhite this year. I am astounded at the battery life, love how much it is has helped with my eye strain, and have the best time loading it up with books from my library and those inexpensive Kindle steals.

Since it is so lightweight, I carry it around everywhere with me now!

In fact, this is the first month I don’t have a big stack of actual library books in our book bin to return.

What a time saver!

And, also…

WEIRD.

Let’s get chatting about this month’s books!

My Usual Reminders

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there!

There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club!

I can’t believe we have almost 1,900 bookworms in this group now. Each month we chat about a book, but the real beauty is getting to talk 24/7 about books with people who love them as much as you.

announced our selections (here is what we will be reading in October) and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page.

Need another challenge to push you out of your reading comfort zone?

Be sure to download this year’s Reading Challenge Worksheet.

join here

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!!

This month’s selections:

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

In the Hurricane’s Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick

This month’s special:

New members will get a free book with code SUGARHIGH.

How it works: Members will pay $14.99 when they sign up for a subscription that will renew monthly.

They’ll also receive a credit for a free book at the time of this transaction (redeemable at any time). Then they’ll be renewed at the end of their second month (unless they cancel).

Here are 7 must-read books I tackled in September:

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

You know that magical question you get asked about who you would pick, living or dead, to share a dream dinner with? Serle decides to actually explore that in her charming novel, The Dinner List, laced with just the right amount of magical realism as she crafts a dream dinner for her main character.

If you are expecting a light read though, this one had a bit more weight to it than I had thought it would.

Sabrina arrives for her thirtieth birthday dinner and is greeted by her dream dinner attendees, all arranged by her best friend.  When we think of who would we ask to our table though, we rarely think of the dynamic that might happen between the guests and the tension that people from different sections of our past can bring with them.

Sabrina’s list includes several important people from her past…

Oh, and Audrey Hepburn.

I mean, why not?

We are talking about our dream dinner, right?

Through the alternating chapters, we really learn more about Sabrina’s love of her life, Tobias, and the struggles of staying together through the for better or worse of our relationships.

In particular, Serle does a great job exploring the resentment and difficulties that can be had when sacrifices must be made to stay together.

4 out of 5 Stars

Lies by T.M. Logan

I received a copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It was an honor to get to partner up with St. Martin’s Press to share about this fun new thriller this month. Be sure to check out that post (along with a delicious Candy Apple Martini to pair this one with)!

If you haven’t yet heard of T.M. Logan it is because he is making his debut this month with, “Lies.”

Logan is a seasoned writer who has worked as a national newspaper journalist.

This is why, perhaps, this book does not seem like a debut at all.

In this story, our lead character, Joe Lynch, is driving home from work with his young son. He happens to see his wife’s car ahead of him and decides to follow her and ends up witnessing a secret rendezvous with another man.

This encounter threatens to tear the two families apart and Joe finds that he is being set up for a murder that he never committed.

If you are a fan of Peter Swanson’s writing, I have a feeling you are going to absolutely love this thriller.

Logan expertly weaves the plot of this story so well that you will find yourself questioning just who is innocent and who is guilty.

Even more than that though, we all know that a satisfying thriller has a twisty conclusion that we don’t see coming and Logan not only keeps the reader on their toes throughout the story, but he also manages to add smart twists that even a seasoned thriller reader just won’t expect.

The author really goes to great lengths to help us explore the question, can we ever really trust those closest to us?

I absolutely loved this thriller and finished it in a single day.

4 out of 5 Stars

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

I received an advanced reader of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Picoult’s latest is definitely one of those buzz books that many people have been looking forward to, including myself. I wanted to be sure to read this one early so I could share my thoughts with you on it!

In this novel, patients and staff are held hostage in an abortion clinic by a distraught gunman. As a hostage negotiator struggles to negotiate with this man, he later discovers that his daughter also happens to be one of the hostages. This situation becomes all-too-personal, but he refuses to allow anyone else to take the case over, especially after building trust and dialogue with the shooter.

As is her signature, the story is told through all the different viewpoints from someone who is protesting the clinic, someone who has just undergone an abortion, a doctor who performs the abortions, and a girl who just picked the wrong day to get birth control. With eight different viewpoints, the topic of pro-life and pro-choice is addressed from all different angles.

Picoult decides to tell this story in reverse chronological order which sometimes works (like this book, for example), but  can also sometimes create a bit of confusion and disconnection to characters for their readers. Since we open with the conclusion, I felt less vested in this story than I had hoped to be.

I  have no problem with the topics of pro-life or pro-choice, but in order to create a less biased slant on the topic, I felt a bit preached to, in certain sections, for Picoult to drive home that both sides have reasons for their viewpoints.

As we have come to expect with Picoult, she does weave a trademark twist, but it wasn’t enough to redeem the confusion and disconnection I had with these characters.

Even though this book was a miss, for me, I will still read anything Picoult serves up and hope to connect more with her next novel. Regardless, I appreciate and am always intrigued by her research when writing her novels and she did a lot of research, on both sides of the table, to create this story.

I can see how this one might spark a lively book club discussion though, but with such a hot button topic, you probably want to reserve it for a group that you can engage in that kind of dialogue with and still do life with later.

Curious who Picoult wishes would read this novel? You might appreciate her answer, especially after this month.

Although I find this topic a tired one, if you are looking for a fresh take on this controversial topic, I found this documentary a bit more compelling than this novel this month.

3 out of 5 Stars

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird, is, truly, one of the most charming novels I’ve read in a long time.

Set in 1940, Emmeline Lake discovers a help wanted ad for a job with the newspaper in town and can’t believer her luck to secure a job as a reporter as she dreams of all the important stories she is going to be able to cover during the war.

When she arrives for her first day though, she realizes she is greatly mistaken about her war correspondent duties and discovers that her job is really just a typist and the person who must screen all of the letters that the advice columnist, Mrs. Henrietta Bird, receives, to be answered in a tired woman’s publication.

Mrs. Bird has a verrryyyy long list of topics she refuses to cover (referred to as UNPLEASANTNESS)  and Emmeline is required to tear these “racy” letters up into tiny pieces as soon as she realizes what unladylike topics are being asked of her.

Emmeline knows that these topics deserve responses though, although she feels too young and unqualified to always give the best responses.  She secretly begins responding to the letters under Mrs. Bird’s name and, as she becomes braver, she begins publishing  her responses too.

Emmeline quickly discovers why giving advice isn’t always what it is cracked up to be, especially as her own life begins to unravel and the consequences of war hit too close to home.

Pearce was inspired by real letter submissions from this era and topics that were explored in women’s publications around the time of World War II and, cleverly, crafted these elements into her own witty debut.

If you are a fan of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I just know you will adore this read too.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

I won a copy of this novel on GoodReads from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

If you haven’t read Diane Chamberlain before, you really must! She is, truly, one of the most gifted writers.

Time travel is MY JAM so I was REALLY excited to see that her newest historical fiction novel had a science fiction spin that would be focused on time travel.

Diane Chamberlain AND time travel?

SIGN.

ME.

UP.

Set in the 1960’s, Carly’s husband has passed away in the Vietnam War before she can even share with him the news that she is pregnant.

At her routine doctor’s visit, they discover that this baby has a heart condition that cannot be treated and that her baby will die.

It is when she gets this news that her brother-in-law, a gifted physicist, shares with her that there is actually a surgery that can be done, but this surgery won’t be available until 2001.

How could he know this?

Well, let’s just say that he has time traveled a bit…

With his help, Carly time travels so her child can be part of this experimental surgery. Nothing is guaranteed, but Carly will do anything to save her daughter.

Chamberlain creates such suspense with this story that I could not put it down. This could have quickly turned corny, given the time travel aspect, but she does it with such beauty and believability, even crafting strain on the relationships of those left behind.

I hate to pick favorites, since I have loved so many of her books, but this is definitely one of my top 5 from this author!

Fans of, The Time Traveler’s Wife, will really embrace this one and the clever plot twists that surprised even me!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

I’m not much of a romance reader, but this one came highly recommended by our online book club so I thought I would give it a spin.

I’m SO glad I did because this was an absolutely adorable read! If you can get the audiobook of it, you really should. The narration was absolute perfection and my husband found me snickering around the house a few times while I was listening to it.  I tell you, these headphones and my fanny pack are the perfect combo for listening to great books while tackling stuff around the house.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Unfortunately, their publishing house merged and they now must work together as executive assistants to the two CEO’s of the company. Since they find each other intolerable, the two engage in passive aggressive behavior towards one another, playing mean games to pass their time.

Now up for the same promotion, the hating game has elevated…as has their frustrations with each other.

As the tension mounts, so does their attraction for one another.

The thing is, neither knows if it is still a game or if these feelings are real.

If you loved this novel, I have a feeling that you are going to be completely charmed by, The Hating Game.

Thorne really lays on the humor and creates great sexual tension in this fun debut. I giggled through so many of these two and their antics, making it the perfect little romantic comedy for any reader.

5 out of 5 Stars

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

YA isn’t for everyone, but sometimes you find that YA novel that really works for adults and for young adults. Far From the Tree is one of those kinds of books. Benway tackles the broad topic of what it means to be family through different adoption stories.

Grace was adopted and now finds herself pregnant and putting her own daughter up for adoption. After going through this heartbreaking experience, she decides that she wants to know more about her own adoption story.

It is when she begins to search for her own family  that she discovers she has both a sister AND a brother. Each of them have had very, very different upbringings and experiences with their families and Benway tells these stories with so much heart and beauty.

I don’t typically get very weepy in books, but each of these stories really pulled at my heartstrings. Grace giving her baby up for adoption and Joaquin’s struggles to find his forever family really made my heart hurt.

I loved this book and just know that you will too! I can’t wait to read more from this author!

4 out of 5 Stars

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Candy Apple Martini and a New Chilling Thriller

Monday, September 24th, 2018

This post is sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. Thank you for supporting our sponsors! 

Are you looking for a way to escape the back-to-school chaos?

Lucky for you, I have the perfect thriller and cocktail to escape with this fall.

Today I’m sharing about the new twisty thriller from T.M. Logan called, “Lies,” and I’m pairing it with a new Candy Apple Martini recipe to sip while you are indulging in this suspenseful read

If you haven’t yet heard of T.M. Logan it is because he is making his debut this month with, “Lies.” Logan is a seasoned writer who has worked as a national newspaper journalist. This is why, perhaps, this book does not seem like a debut at all.

In this story, our lead character, Joe Lynch, is driving home from work with his young son. He happens to see his wife’s car ahead of him and decides to follow her and ends up witnessing a secret rendezvous with another man. This encounter threatens to tear the two families apart and Joe finds that he is being set up for a murder that he never committed.

If you are a fan of Peter Swanson’s writing, I have a feeling you are going to absolutely love this thriller. Logan expertly weaves the plot of this story so well that you will find yourself questioning just who is innocent and who is guilty.

Even more than that though, we all know that a satisfying thriller has a twisty conclusion that we don’t see coming and Logan not only keeps the reader on their toes throughout the story, but he also manages to add smart twists that even a seasoned thriller reader just won’t expect.

Logan really goes to great lengths to help us explore the question, can we ever really trust those closest to us? I absolutely loved this thriller and finished it in a single day. It was the perfect way to unwind from the craziness of back-to-school season.

I know as moms it can be difficult to carve out time for ourselves, particularly during this time of year. The thing is, more than ever it is important to incorporate self-care activities that fill your cup too. Reading, for me, has always been my self-care outlet.

In busy seasons, I gravitate more towards the thriller genre because these tend to be fast page-turners and offer a much-needed escape during difficult parenting seasons.

This novel hit stores on September 11th and is available now for purchase. You can read the first 27 pages of the book over here.

I guarantee, you will be hooked.

 

I wanted to pair this book with a fall cocktail so today’s recipe is for a Caramel Apple Martini that you can sip while furiously flipping those pages.

This drink is a combination of butterscotch schnapps, sour apple schnapps, vodka, and cranberry juice. These flavors, once shaken together in a martini shaker or mason jar, taste just like a delicious candy apple.

To fancy this drink up, dip the rim in water and then dip it in a little cinnamon and sugar mixed together. It can then be garnished with a fresh apple to bring it all together.

I can’t think of a better pairing than a great thriller and a delicious martini.

Happy reading, friends!

Candy Apple Martini
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 martini
 
A delicious combination of butterscotch schnapps, sour apple schnapps, cranberry juice, and vodka make the perfect martini that tastes just like a candy apple. Dip the rim in cinnamon & sugar and garnish with an apple, to add those special finishing touches.
Ingredients
  • 1 ounce butterscotch schnapps
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces cranberry juice
  • 2 ounces sour apple schnapps
  • Cinnamon & sugar mixture
  • Apple slice
  • Martini shaker or mason jar
Instructions
  1. Dip rim of glass in a shallow bowl of water.
  2. Next, dip it in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Add your apple garnish to the rim.
  3. Add ice to a mason jar or martini shaker.
  4. Pour the butterscotch schnapps, vodka, cranberry juice, and sour apple schnapps over the ice.
  5. Shake for thirty seconds.
  6. Pour strained drink into prepared martini glass.
  7. Sip while reading, "Lies," by T.M. Logan

 

Purchase, “Lies,” HERE. You can follow T.M. Logan on  Twitter and Facebook!

This post is sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. Thank you for supporting our sponsors! 

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53 Historical Fiction Novels To Escape With

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

53 of my favorite historical fiction picks that you won’t be able to put down! Bookmark this list for your next library visit!

I can admit that I was never that passionate about history so picking up a historical fiction novel, for the first time, made me realize just how much I had been missing. While some authors take great liberty with fictionalizing stories, there is always those grains of truth that lead me down the Wikipedia rabbit trail to discern truth from fiction. Basically, reading historical fiction took me right into my very own history lesson.

Today I wanted to share a few of my all-time favorite historical fiction novels that I believe you will be completely swept away with. I’m sharing 53 historical fiction novels that have moved me, changed my point of view, and challenged me.

Although many of these stories are laced in actual history, some of these were chosen simply for their beauty in a certain time period and how memorable they have been to me.

The best part?

You won’t be able to put any of these down.

P.S.- Love my book reviews? Be sure to give me a follow on GoodReads or join my free book club where we talk about books 24/7!

53 Historical Fiction Novels To Escape With

Those That Save Us by Jenna Blum

As most books take a heartbreaking look at what the Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust, this book focused on the survival tactics that many Germans had to employ to survive and stay alive.

This book follows the story of Anna who is under the thumb of her demanding and unkind father. Anna’s father is a Nazi lawyer who can’t seem to keep anyone on hand to help with the day-to-day maintenance of the home and makes Anna do all of the chores and care for him & his home.

When Anna believes her dog to be dying, she heads to a Jewish doctor for help and an unlikely friendship and love blossoms between the two. When the Jewish doctor must go into hiding, Anna keeps him in a hidden place in their home for as long as she is able.

When the doctor is captured, Anna must runaway as she has discovered that she is pregnant. Unfortunately following the birth of her daughter, Anna finds she must go into survival mode and ends up catching the eye of an SS officer who takes advantage of his position and begins to visits her weekly for trysts. When the officer comes, he brings with him gifts for Anna that can help keep herself and her child alive. Anna knows that if she does not give up her body to this officer that she could compromise the safety of both herself and her daughter.

As with all books that share about the Holocaust, it is not an easy read, but a memorable angle for discovering the story of survival from the German perspective.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Our story begins in the early 1900’s with the unplanned pregnancy of a Korean girl, named Sunja. Sunja faces a lot of humiliation when she discovers she isn’t the only one who has captured her lover’s eye. When her path crosses with a tubercular minister, he offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life as thanks for helping him through his difficult illness.

The story then unfolds as generation after generation deal with their own cultural challenges, the discrimination they must face, and the poverty that threatens to take everything away from them.

This story is RICH in beauty and detail. Lee’s writing is just gorgeous and she weaves this tapestry of characters so very well.

At almost 500 pages, this one is a bit of a commitment, but I finished it in just a few short days because I had to know what would happen to these beautiful characters.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

You may know Kline from her #1 New York Bestseller, Orphan Train (don’t worry, that one is on my list too!)

One of the author’s favorite paintings is Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. In this book she explores the story of Christina, Wyeth’s muse in many of his paintings, and what Christina’s life might have been like since the painting is so haunting.

This well-researched account of Christina and the disability she lived with was so beautifully told. The reader gets a full portrait of this woman from her childhood until her older years and many of the hurdles she went through in her life.

While, perhaps, not as heart-tugging as her first book, Kline’s astounding amount of research on the true story of Christina makes this a captivating read. Be sure to read the author’s notes because it really showcases the effort that Kline took to capture Christina.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I love when books introduce me to a time in history that I am unaware of. Set in 1945, Sepetys explores the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This ship had promised safety to over 10,000 people, even more than the well-known Titanic.

Uniquely told through the voices of four characters, all with different ethnic backgrounds, she explores a hidden time in history in a beautiful and heartbreaking way.

This is, perhaps, one of the most researched books I have read as the author traveled to over a half dozen countries to take accounts from passengers, their families, and even deep sea divers to round out her story.

Fans of The Book Thief will appreciate this tragic YA story.

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, Manning weaves a rags to riches story of Axie Muldoon. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

Axie goes from orphan to midwife to lady to prisoner, and Manning creates a compelling story of what it would be to be like to work as a midwife under scrutiny of the law for your services in the mid to late 19th century.

Controversial in her services and notorious in her community for offering birth control to those who needed it, it’s an incredible journey to follow and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

A beautifully woven love story between two orphans (one being the infamous midwife, Axie) who met on the orphan train and find each other later in life adds to the beauty of this story as they create a business together as adults.

A couple of things to note with this one. It’s a long one (464 pages), but was a really incredible read that was worth diving into! Secondly, if you have strong opinions on women’s reproductive rights this one will give you a lot of food for thought and would lend itself really well to a book club discussion.

I had many opinions of my own about reproductive rights and this one really illustrates the necessity of birth control options during such an impoverished time in history.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

One of my proudest career moments was getting the opportunity to interview Anthony Doerr who became a Pulitzer Prize winning author thanks to his incredible writing in this book.

In this story, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks.

When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home.

When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance.

More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

I didn’t know anything about this book going into it and, perhaps, that is why it shocked me in both its beauty and darkness. Although I had also known the general premise of Lolita, I had no point of reference that this novel had been based on a true life kidnapping crime. In Rust & Stardust, Greenwood pulls back the curtain on this horrific case and chillingly illuminates what all this girl had been through.

In 1948, Sally Horner is desperate to get into the cool club with a group of girls from school. As part of her initiation process, she has to steal a notebook at a local drugstore. When a man with the F.B.I. sees her take this notebook, he tells her that she must pay for her crime and that he won’t rat her out to her parents, as long as she follows all of his instructions.

He poses as a father from a friend from school and says that they are going on a beautiful beach vacation and would like to take Sally along with them.

Sally’s mother, struggling with debilitating arthritis and pain, knows that Sally will have a wonderful adventure and begrudgingly allows her to accept the invitation. Sally knows that she must go on this trip for her court hearing and punishment for the stolen notebook.

The thing is, this guy is actually a dangerous child predator who has just been released from prison and Sally is his latest conquest.

This book wrecked me in the same ways that, A Little Life, ripped a little of my heart out. Nabbing criminals back then is a frustrating process to witness, let alone be a victim too. It takes a strong reader to read this one and I have a feeling Sally’s story is going to be imprinted on my heart for a very long time. Greenwood’s writing is poetry in motion, even in the evil bits of it.

I doubt you will be able to put this one down, but given the context of the story, know this is a dark read.


11/22/63 by Stephen King

This novel offers to you the hypothetical scenario, if you could change something in history, would you alter it and what would the consequences be if history was changed?

Jake Epping teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and is recently divorced from his wife and going through the everyday minutiae of middle-aged life. When he happens upon an assignment from one of his students, a brain-damaged janitor’s story of a childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father, it brings him to tears and he finds that he can’t stop thinking about what if his life had worked out differently.

When he has lunch at his favorite diner, the diner owner and friend, Al, shares that he has a secret portal to 1958 that he uses to time travel in the back pantry of his restaurant. He has been taking notes and following Lee Harvey Oswald to see if he can alter the JFK assassination.

His dying wish is that Jake can use his notes and actually complete the mission of killing Lee Oswald Harvey before he kills JFK.

Jake decides to fulfill Al’s dying wish and begins a new life in 1958 under the name of George Amberson. What Jake doesn’t expect is how quickly his life can become settled in this new era or how his life would change if he met his one true love?

I loved absolutely everything about this book and when I finished it, I wanted to read the story all over again. It has a beautiful love story, great suspense, and leads to the ultimate question, “Would you change history if you could?”

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing.

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three.

Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

This book is so beautiful your heart aches. A coming-of-age story about what it means to be family and how the most unlikely people can be a part of that despite all racial and societal barriers.

Set in the ’60′s, the spitfire child narrator captured my heart. This story is a perfectly satisfying read that I believe anyone would love.

Once you finish the book, grab a cup of coffee and settle in with my interview with Susan Crandall– it is a fun one!

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Julia Win, a young lawyer from New York, is on a mission to find out what happened to her father. Tim Win, of Burmese origin, was a prominent Wall Street lawyer and had disappeared without a trace four years before, leaving Julia wondering if her father had been leading a double life.

One day, she finds a very old letter written in the 1940s by his father to a woman named Mi Mi in Burma. An address in Kalaw is all she needs to follow her instinct and begin a search for her father.

Once she arrives in Kalaw, she is approached by a gentle man in a restaurant named U Ba, who seems to know all about her even though Julia has never met him before. He wants to tell Julia a story… a story about her father. It is a story that confuses Julia and causes her to realize that the man she knew as her father, is not who he really was.

This is a love story that will captivate your heart with vivid imagery of a blind man falling in love with a disabled and beautiful woman. It  pulled at my heartstrings and was so moving that I still cannot stop thinking about it.


The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

There is a certain richness that comes with great Southern storytelling and this amazing book by Jenny Wingfield is laced with that type of richness I am speaking of and beautiful storytelling that you can picture just like a movie screen.

Samuel Lake, his wife Willadee (Moses), and their three children find themselves back home in Arkansas after Samuel finds himself out of work as a minister. When tragedy strikes, the family bands together in unlikely ways and find their faith is challenged to the core of even God’s most faithful.

The book offers the story of spunky Swan Lake (yes, her family did name her that), an unlikely little boy that the family takes in as their own, a town villain that has made it his life’s mission to make their family’s life miserable, and Toy, Swan’s uncle, who becomes her unlikely hero.

Each character is so vividly told with his/her own story line that Wingfield magically weaves together to create an incredible story that will stick with you long after you close the book.

The Snow Child by Eoywn Ivey

This novel takes place in 1920 in Alaska where a city-bred girl Mabel and her husband Jack are trying to make a life for themselves in the isolated woods of an Alaskan farm.

More than anything Mabel & Jack have longed for a child, but have remained childless and are beginning to drift apart. Mabel is in the throes of a deep depression and Jack is beginning to wonder if their decision to move to Alaska was a sound one.

One night, amid the first falling snow, Jack & Mabel have a moment of tenderness and begin playing in the snow. They decide to make a snow child and add little additions from Mabel’s wardrobe to wrap her in.

The next morning, their snow child is gone, but they begin catching the glimpse of a child running through the woods wearing Mabel’s items that were once on their snow child. This child of the woods contentedly runs around the forest in the freezing cold with a red fox. Mabel and Jack are left wondering…is this a real child or is this a fairy tale child that they are simply hallucinating?

This is a grown-up fairy tale that is just so beautifully written that your heart will be aching for Mabel and Jack that they can make this child that they have longed for to be their own. I was enraptured with the story from the first page and I have a feeling you will too!


A Good American by Alex George

I love to read books that sweep me quickly into their story line, whose words read like lyrics, and prose that reads as beautifully as poetry. Alex George offers a book that you will long remember that has been elegantly and eloquently crafted in a way that I had not read in many years.

“Always there was music.” The book opens with Frederick, an amateur opera singer, serenading an unlikely girl named Jette who is tall in stature and just as equal in her elegance & family upbringing.

Frederick quickly woos Jette in a whirlwind love affair and Jette discovers she is pregnant, forcing the couple to leave as quickly as possible from her family’s disapproving eyes.

The year is 1904, Jette and Frederick board a ship to New Orleans instead of their originally intended boat to New York when they discover that the boat is full.

“What’s the difference? They’re both new,” they say.

They end up settling in the tiny town of Beatrice, Missouri where we meet a cast of unlikely characters who all find refuge in this German speaking town. The book chronicles the journey of their family through prohibition, the Great Depression and the Kennedy assassination.

Despite the depth of the book and the plots it carries, it moves swiftly and is well-executed, leaving the reader hanging until the final page.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Tom Builder has lost commission on a home that he was to build and begins to roam England seeking work. As he is turned away from each job they find, their family begins to starve and his pregnant wife dies during childbirth in the woods.

Without food to give the baby, they abandon the child in the woods and Tom immediately comes into a relationship with a resourceful woman named Ellen and their son Jack who become a part of their family and help them navigate the forest life.

When Tom seeks shelter at a church his life never becomes the same again as he finds work through an unlikely fire that damages the church and then finds that his life is interwoven with the church in more ways than he could ever imagine. The building of a new church brings together unlikely characters and a determined character who threatens to destroy it all.

A story of good and evil that riveted me and one that will truly captivate you from start to finish, this book moved me and resides in the top ten books I’ve ever read.

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

This novel chronicles the life of Regret, whose name speaks volumes about how her father felt about having a daughter, in 20th century Korea. Regret has a strong desire to read and learn and through some unlikely assistance from her aunt, she makes friends with a prostitute who offers to give Regret lessons in reading.

As Regret learns, she begs her family to allow her to go to school, but her father has no desire to have a learned daughter.

When he discovers Regret knows how to read, he raises a hand to her and Regret knows that she cannot stay in their home any longer.

When she hears that prosperous Korean men that have moved to Hawaii are looking for mail-order brides, she decides that this will be the best way to get away from her traditional family. She submits her picture and is accepted as a bride, she looks forward to beginning a new chapter in Hawaii.

Prosperous does not begin to describe the men that meet these mail order brides though. Many are much older and much poorer than the pictures led these brides to believe and Regret finds herself with a field worker who has very little and expects no less than a traditional bride.

The reader gets to go on the journey with Regret as she is in a loveless marriage, as she struggles to make ends meet, as she makes friends with unlikely people, as she finds true love, and as she finds that her best friends and allies just happened to be her fellow mail order brides.

This is a beautiful tale filled with the politics and history of 20th century Korea, including well-documented research surrounding court battles and politics that were happening during this era.


The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Orphaned while aboard a ship from Ireland, a seven year-old Lavinia is taken in by the captain and placed in his kitchen to work among the servants. As a white girl, working in the kitchen and serving the master’s family is an unlikely place for her to be, but she is taken in and embraced by Belle, the captain’s illegitimate daughter.

As unlikely as it seems, Lavinia is taken in as part of the family and finds that she truly is loved by all who know her. Despite being white, she is treated like the rest of the children with the same amount of love and discipline that their own children are shown.

Unfortunately, her white skin sets her apart and she finds herself grappling with difficult situations as she grows older and who she must side with when racial situations arise. At sixteen, under the guidance of the captain’s family, she is sent away to get a proper education and to be among her own race.

Through an unlikely turn of events, she finds herself returning to the captain’s home, now in the unique role as the mistress of the home. Lavinia struggles with her new role and being in charge of instructing the staff (her own former adopted family) on the household maintenance and chores that must be done.

Her life takes one sad turn after another, as Lavinia struggles to find her place in a world that is so divided.

Likewise, Belle’s life is filled with sadness as she loves a man that cannot belong to her and is victim of abuse. Being the illegitimate child of the captain comes with no extra perks, and she works the kitchen as the rest of the staff, struggling to decide if she wants her papers to be set free, especially when her freedom comes with the price of losing the love of her life.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

A Mississippi plantation mistress, Amanda Satterfield, loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he refers to as a, “slave disease.” In turn of these events, Amanda begins to lose her mind and decides to take a newborn slave in as her own, taking her from her family that loves her.

She renames the little girl Granada, and begins to parade her around in her daughter’s clothing and allowing her to be part of family dinners, despite her husband and their friend’s discomfort.

Troubled not only by his wife’s mental illness, but by the plague that seems to be sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave who is known to be a healer. When Polly sets eyes upon Granada, she knows that she has the gift and requests that Granada be removed from the home so she can shadow Polly.

Seventy-five years later, Granada is now known as Gran Gran and takes in an abandoned girl in her care.

To help the girl to come out of her shell, she shares with her the powerful story of learning to let go of the girl that she thought she was to be to the mistress, to the amazing road of being a healer herself.

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Rachel Kalama is a spirited little girl who captures your heart immediately. Rachel is living a typical life of a little Hawaiian girl- she has spats with her sister, she dreams of getting out of Hawaii, and she is beloved by her family. When a rose colored mark appears on her leg, her mother pricks her leg and finds that Rachel does not react.

Rachel’s mother knows immediately that Rachel has leprosy. In fear of protecting her daughter, she covers the mark and hides other marks that appear on Rachel’s body. It is the family’s dark secret since all people afflicted by leprosy are quarantined and taken from their families.

When Rachel’s sister gets in a fight with Rachel, she calls her a, “leper,” and the authorities are immediately notified that Rachel is suspected of leprosy. When she is taken to the clinic for testing and the results come back positive, Rachel is taken from her family and moved to the island of Kalaupapa, a quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i.

Rachel’s life should be over, but it is just beginning. Rachel’s spiritedness pulls her through the devastation of losing her family as Rachel begins to find a new family among an unlikely cast of characters. She will capture your heart until the final page.

This book was so unbelievably good and fascinating that I could not put it down. What should have been a book of heartbreak has you walking away with such positivity about the human spirit and its ability to overcome tragedy.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This story takes place in California in the Salinas Valley, a home to two families whose lives are fatefully intertwined in many ways.

Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons replay out two of the Bible’s most memorable stories- the story of Cain & Abel and the story of Adam & Eve.

The story is so beautifully told and shockingly provocative for the time, it is said to be Steinbeck’s greatest work.  Although it took some convincing by my husband, I absolutely ended up loving this book and could not put this classic novel down.


The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Sage Singer works the night shift as a baker, preparing pastries and breads until the wee hours of the morning. She is scarred physically and emotionally and prefers to work alone, but finds that she is leading a lonely life.

When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship that will forever change both of their lives.

You see, Josef has a secret that he has been living with his whole life, and he is about to ask Sage for a favor that he hopes she won’t refuse.

I wish I could say more, but this is one that I guarantee you will be thinking about and that would lend itself well to any book club discussion. This book, by far, is my favorite ever written by Picoult. It is markedly different from her other novels and showcases Picoult’s gift for research.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Brunt writes the angst and emotions of a teenage girl in an achingly beautiful way that is sure to remind you of your own youth.

Set in 1987, June Elbus is at the tender age of fourteen and her uncle (and best friend), a renowned painter has passed away from AIDS. At the time, it is still an illness that few people understand and there is much shame and secrecy about Finn’s death.

At Finn’s funeral though, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days after the funeral, June receives a package that has a note from a man named Toby, who claims to be a friend of Finn’s. He sends to her Finn’s teapot, a treasured item that June has always loved, and says that he would like to meet with her.

An unlikely friendship is forged, but it is a secret friendship that threatens her family in unlikely ways.


The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

This book is actually two stories told in alternating chapters.

Our first story is the one of modern-day Molly Ayer who is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. After stealing a beloved classic book from her local library, she is assigned community service. Through her boyfriend’s mom, she finds a job helping an elderly woman named Vivian sort through her possessions.

As they sort, Molly learns that Vivian was an orphan too. A young Irish immigrant orphan who was placed upon a train in the Midwest, just as hundreds of other children, in search of a home. The reader follows Vivian’s journey in and out of homes as she searches for the kindness of a family and a safe place to sleep.

It is a heart-wrenching tale, but Molly & Vivian are going to find a way to help each other through their unlikely friendship.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I have read every single book that Taylor Jenkins Reid has written and I have loved each of them in their own way. This book is markedly different than anything she has ever written and is an absolutely spellbinding book filled with old Hollywood glamour, celebrity secrets, and the power of real and true love.

Evelyn Hugo is an aging starlet who has decided to hire a magazine reporter to write her biography. As someone who has been very private, it is the chance of a lifetime for a virtually unknown writer to be given the story that is worth millions of dollars.

Evelyn’s love life has been something that Hollywood has often been speculated on, but no one could ever guess who captured Evelyn’s heart and how she was able, at times, to make her relationship work with the love of her life. Unfortunately, living in the spotlight often gets in the way of real living. This couldn’t be truer in Evelyn’s life and she is ready to divulge all of her secrets to Monique, in exchange for her writing her biography and publishing it upon her death.

I cannot rave enough about Reid’s ability to write real and relatable love stories. Each of her love stories has connected with me in some way and this book is no exception. I was swept away in Evelyn’s retelling of her life and Reid weaves smart plot twists in the end that I have a feeling you will really enjoy.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound is storytelling at its very best and offers a beautifully rendered portrayal of race and politics in the South during the forties.

This book is told from alternating points of view and shares the story of a Memphis-bred Laura McAllan who is struggling to adjust to being a farmer’s wife and living the idyllic dream that her husband Henry has for them to live off their own land.

When Henry makes an error by trusting a handshake rather than a contract on the home they are renting, they find themselves living in less than ideal conditions in a shack that Henry had hoped to turn into his dream house.

Laura not only must deal with the difficulties of living in this shack, but she has to do it with her racist father-in-law constantly judging and spewing hate at her.

As Laura struggles with this, the real story unfolds when Henry’s brother Jamie returns home from the war. Always the favored one, Jamie comes home as a raging alcoholic, struggling with nightmares and post-traumatic stress from the war he left.

Ronsel, a son of the sharecroppers who have been hired to work on Henry & Laura’s land, also struggles with leaving the war after being a hero in fighting for his country, he is now seen as just a black boy and treated with only racism and hatred.

When a horrible crime is committed, the four lives of these main characters are woven into one and the reader is taken along on the journey every harrowing step of the way.

Twist after twist creates a plot that illustrates racism in a very unique way.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

Chamberlain weaves a fictional story about the very real North Carolina’s Eugenics Sterilization Program that was in effect from 1929 to 1975.

In this story, 15-year-old Ivy Hart, her mentally slow 17-year-old sister, and young nephew “Baby” William all live with their grandmother who is in failing health.

Jane Forrester becomes Ivy’s family’s social worker and she encounters the state program that seeks to sterilize “mental defectives,” among others with supposedly undesirable characteristics.

Through every choice she makes from then on, Jane triggers an inescapable series of events that thrusts everything either she or Ivy ever held to be true into a harsh light, binding them together in ways they do not immediately comprehend or appreciate. If you love this book, be sure to check out her prequel!

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Fans of Middlesex will really and truly love this debut novel by Kathleen Winter about the difficulties of gender identification and the beauty that can bring the genders together in this lovingly crafted finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

In 1968, in a remote seaside town in Eastern Canada, a child is born in a typical home birth with a midwife present. When the midwife, Thomasina, presents the baby to the parents she notices that the child is neither fully formed as a boy or as a girl.

Jacinta and Treadway are disturbed by the news and must make the difficult decision to decide if their child will be a boy or a girl. The mother wishes to identify the child as a girl or to not identify the child, letting the child choose his/her own gender. Despite Jacinta’s wishes, they live in a traditional home where the man is the one in charge and Treadway makes the decision that the child will be a boy.

The surgery is performed and hormones are given to the child, whom they name Wayne, and Treadway makes every effort for Wayne to identify with the masculine side of himself.

Meanwhile, in secret, Jacinta is quietly nurturing the female side of Wayne and allowing him to indulge in the things that make him happy, as long as Treadway is not privy to what is happening. Wayne has never been told that he was born a hermaphrodite and does not understand why he cannot seem to identify with the masculine side of himself, but finds himself drawn more to the female side.

When the shocking secret is discovered after a terrible twist of events, Wayne finally comes to the realization of why he has always felt like two different people. Inspired by the postcards he receives from Thomasina, the midwife who delivered him, from other countries, Wayne decides to leave his small town and see if he can figure out who he is on his own.


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I just may have audibly gasped through a few of these shocking surprises!


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930’s in the Deep South where race and social standings are of great importance within the Maycomb community.

When lawyer, Atticus Finch, is the assigned defense to an African American charged with raping a white woman, he compromises his social standing by defending his case before the court. The entire story is told through the eyes of Atticus’ children as they try to understand what it means to be white during a time of great racism.

The story opens with Jem & Scout, Atticus’ two children, spying on their neighbor who is a town recluse and never leaves his home. The story of Boo Radley is how the children keep themselves entertained during those long summer days and Boo’s story is interwoven through the book. They are simple children that just love to fight, to play in the dirt, and who love to play pretend games with their neighbor boy.

Their entire world changes when Atticus is assigned the defense of an African American man who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell. While the Ewell family are the lowest in the white class, they are still accepted and believed more than Tom Robinson who has always been an honest and kind family man.

Everyone is against Tom even when all of the evidence points somewhere else and Atticus has to defend the toughest case of his career to a jury of white men.

The court scenes were riveting, the twists in the plot added depth to the story and characters, and telling the entire story through a child’s eyes was priceless to the story. The characters in this novel are so rich and beautifully written that a piece of yourself can identify with so many of them.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

Hannah tells a beautiful story of two sisters who fought the war in their own ways when the Nazis invade France. It is a beautiful tale of the survival skills needed to survive during this time focusing on the missions of one sister, in particular, who joins the French Resistance and brings soldiers to safety.

While her story may seem bigger, the everyday struggles of her own sister who must house a Nazi soldier are just as harrowing.

The writing is brutally honest and unflinching at what women had to do to survive and she captures their journey perfectly.

This is, truly, a well-researched rendering of women in the war.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

This novel follows Claire Randall, a young combat nurse in WWII who recently moved to Scotland with her husband. While they are out hiking one day, Claire accidentally passes through the stones of an ancient stone circle and awakens to find herself in 16th century Scotland.

Confused as to what has happened to her Claire’s path crosses with a Highland warrior named James Fraser that forever alters Claire’s path and begins a love story that rivals any other that you may have read.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart it is violent and sexually charged throughout. At times I felt like I was reading a Harlequin romance novel as some of the love scenes were quite steamy, but the good in this book definitely outweighs the bad.

I read it as a standalone, but you can also dive into the entire series, if you want to progress through their love story more.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Letter format is usually not a favorite of mine, but there was something magical about this one.  Within a  few short pages, I felt attached to the characters and loved to see how this story unfolded.

This book is set both in London and in Guernsey Island and is a series of letters from Juliet, a budding author looking for a new story, and the people of Guernsey Island as she learns about their Literary & Potato Peel Society that is set up as a way to survive the occupation of the Germans set up on a whim to explain why a group of them were out past curfew.

Juliet is a hysterically funny and witty character and comes to know The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society when one of the members happens upon a book of hers and inquires if she has anymore books to share with his book group.

Juliet asks for more details about this group and the members in it and through the letters comes to know more and more about them.

After much correspondence, she decides to visit the Guernsey Island and begins a personal relationship with each of them and corresponds to her friends and literary agent about her special time there.

This one is charming!


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This book was one of the most unbelievably beautiful, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny in portions, make me weep in others, and heartwarming books that I have read in my life. Fun fact, this is the book I hunt for at every bookstore so I can have a copy of it from its different printings!

This story is about Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie) and shares of her life from the tender age of eleven until she turns sixteen. Growing up as a poor girl in Brooklyn, it delves into the story of the survival that they must go through to keep food on the table and the difficulties of family life when ends just don’t meet.

With a mother who is doing the best she can to keep their family afloat and an unreliable, but loving father who works as a singing waiter and takes to drinking at night to cope with the realities of his life, the family try to make the most on the very least.

Francie is forced to be older than she is from the very beginning of her life. Often saddled with the task of bartering at the grocery store, figuring out a way to get into a better school so she can get her education, and made to get jobs to help with the family finances or assist her mother on jobs, you can’t help but admire Francie’s resourcefulness throughout the book.

The Christmas scenes, the things that the children treasured the most, the tin can filling with pennies of earnings that would later feed them, the diary entries carefully edited because of her mother who didn’t want Francie writing about her father’s alcoholism, the impractical gifts that the children gave to each other (and their mother let them) only to discover their mother was right, those feelings of first love- all beautifully captured in prose that held me and wouldn’t let me go.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This is an endearing story about Henry Lee, a Chinese American living in Seattle, who has just lost his wife to cancer.

After he hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants were found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the book begins a journey through his life currently and flashing back to his childhood where an unlikely friendship began with a Japanese girl named Keiko that has carried with him through his adulthood.

Henry Lee’s father desires for him to have the “American dream,” and he receives a scholarship to attend an all-white private school where he can get the education he needs to succeed in America. The other students taunt him mercilessly and his only reprieve from the taunting is when he is serving food in the cafeteria.

While serving the food, he finds the only other student of minority, a beautiful girl named Keiko, and they develop a fast friendship. Unfortunately, Henry’s father wants nothing to do with the Japanese and his growing love for Keiko has to be kept a secret.

When Keiko is shuffled over to a camp, to protect the Japanese from the anti-Japanese sentiments during WWII, Henry knows that he must find a way to go to her and to be with her. Through the help of the lady on staff in the cafeteria, he scores a position working on Saturdays where he can see and be with Keiko.

Their friendship and love grow through their letters and Saturdays together and Henry is forced to choose between his family or the girl that he loves.


Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Wingate shares the story of two little girls who become a part of one of America’s most notorious real life scandals of children being kidnapped and sold to wealthy families by Georgia Tann, a director of a Memphis-based adoption organization in the late 1930’s.

I was unfamiliar with the scandal or the heartbreaking stories of children being separated from their families and the tragic things they had to endure while under Tann’s horrific care.

This fictional story is built around the stories of real-life orphans and will just rip your heart to shreds.

Moving backward and forward through time, the reader gets to solve the mystery of two unlikely women with a bond that could never be broken and the granddaughter that must unravel it all, even at the expense of her family’s high society position.


The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

This book was just EVERYTHING and reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favorites , A Little Life. At almost 600 pages, I was worried if this book would hold my attention, but Boyne crafts the perfect boyhood friendship as it sprawls decades of time in this gorgeous and gripping saga.

You may be familiar with Boyne’s work, but I was not. I picked this book up on a whim and devoured it in just a few days.

A faithful Catholic Irish family casts out their daughter when they discover she is pregnant. Knowing she is not in a position to raise a child alone, she gives him up for adoption to his new parents…

That love to remind him that he is not their real son.

He is their adopted son.

This dark humor is layered so beautifully as the boy, Cyril, becomes dear friends with a boy named Julian. The problem is, as Cyril gets older, he realizes he has a deep and undying love for his best friend. Cyril must keep his sexuality under wraps and keep his affection for him a secret which ends up costing him a lot.

The book follows these two through the decades, beginning in 1945 and ending in Cyril’s elderly age. It finishes in the present day while tackling everything from being closeted to the AIDS epidemic to what it really means to be family.

I laughed and got a little teary-eyed following Cyril as he goes through this identity crisis and finds love.

I was really swept away in this story and Boyne builds a beautiful supportive cast.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

All children mythologize their birth… Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”

So begins the beautiful debut novel of Diane Setterfield, a book that took me on an adventure that I did not want to end. It was a book that interweaves two stories together seamlessly with some of the most beautiful writing I have had the pleasure of reading.

Margaret Lea has led a quiet little life, working in her father’s bookshop, and being proud of a few small autobiography write ups that she has done. She has a difficult relationship with her own mother and harbors a secret of her birth that has caused her to not be able to be close to the people she loves and has always left her feeling incomplete in her life.

When a surprising letter comes from the world-famous and reclusive author, Vida Winter, she is shocked to discover that Vida has requested her presence at her home to write the untold story of her life.

She is famed for the surprising volume of books she has written in her life and is well-known the world over for her beautiful prose. Her most famous includes the book of thirteen fairy tales, that only held twelve, a mystery that has never been solved.

Even more famous though is Vida’s gift for the storytelling she has weaved for other past reporters about her life story.

She has never truly told the real story to anyone, but it is her dying wish to have Margaret write her life story for the first time.

She promises to tell Margaret the real story, provided she allows her to tell it in her own way at her own pace. There will be no jumping ahead in this story, but it is a story that she promises will surprise Margaret and that she will tell as truthfully to her as possible.

The story is unlike anything ever told and Margaret becomes enchanted with the life of Vida and how, in many ways, it has reflected her own life story and who she is.

The story is about her mother, a set of feral twins named Adeline & Emmeline, a beautiful topiary garden that holds deep secrets, and a tragic fire that changes her life forever.


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The story is told through the unique perspective of Death, which adds a certain darkness to this book, as he shares the story of taking souls and the increase in unnecessary and cruel deaths during the terrifying reign of Hitler.

While so many books I have read have concentrated on all that the Jewish people had to endure, this book told their story, but also told the story of a poor German girl who is taken in by a foster family enduring poverty and the heartache of the loss of her family members.

Her moments of joy come when her adopted father teaches her how to read and she becomes engrossed in learning and reading the written word. In a time of great poverty and where books were scarce, the little girl becomes a “book thief” stealing books for these sweet moments of treasure during a time of aching heartbreak in her life.

When her adopted parents hide a Jewish young man, by the name of Max, in their basement, they form a fast friendship and this protection of this man becomes of great importance to their family.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

This novel is set in a remote Chinese mountain village where Li-Yan and her family work as farmers of tea. Li-Yan is unlike most girls because her parents do encourage her to go to school and believe that she is smart enough to concentrate on her education rather than farming.

When Li-Yan becomes pregnant with a child, out of wedlock, she decides to give her child up for adoption because it is tradition in their culture to kill these children.

Li-Yan now finds the course of her life has changed so much and the love of her life is not as he has appeared.

She courageously must forge a new path for herself and continues to buck tradition by becoming educated and cultivating her own business while never giving up hope on finding her daughter again.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Set in the seventies, this novel is about a former POW father who comes home from the Vietnam War completely changed. His behavior and decision-making is wildly erratic and when a property becomes available in rural Alaska, he decides that they should seize the opportunity to live off the grid and make a different life for themselves.

Braving harrowing and life-threatening conditions is what is all about and thirteen-year-old Leni is caught in the middle of it all as they attempt to carve a new life in the wild frontier.

Living off the grid is not all it is cracked up to be and neither is surviving the difficult Alaska winters.

Lucky for me, I got to partner on the launch of this incredible novel and share some tips for hosting a fabulous book club.


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Our story opens with Jacob Janowski who is ninety (or ninety-three, a fact he can’t remember) and now living in a nursing home. His days are spent being shuffled from his room to the dining area, suffering from the everyday minutiae of life in a nursing home.

Of course, his life wasn’t always like this, in fact, Jacob’s life was spent with a traveling circus after the untimely death of his parents.

Circus life was a hard life for Jacob and one that he jumped to unknowingly when he boarded a train to escape after his parent’s death.

Gruen’s writing is as vivid as a movie screen as the reader is swept away into the hard and difficult life of being a part of the traveling circus during the Great Depression.

When Jacob is appointed to veterinarian, he has a difficult role under August, a paranoid schizophrenic, who acts as the animal trainer of the circus. The reader is swept into the sad life of the animals and the repeated abuse that August inflicts on the animals.

The only sparkle of light in Jacob’s life is Marlena, a beautiful performer in the circus, who Jacob cannot stop thinking about.

Sadly, it is August’s wife that he has fallen in love with, and the reader will sit on the edge of their seat as Jacob risks it all to free Marlena from the abusive life that she has been leading with August.

More than a love story, it is an unbelievably well-researched look into the life of the circus at this time, and a love story of how Jacob & Marlena fall in love with an elephant named Rosie who makes a reader’s heart melt in her beauty. Equally impressive is how Gruen is able to capture the life of the elderly as Jacob reminisces and longs for his youth.


Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

There is so much to love in this story about two sisters who are separated from one another in such a sad way and how they are transformed by this experience and the war.

Set in 1940’s England, the book focuses on the bombings that happened in London, following the story of Emma Downtree who ends up losing everything in the bombs including her inability to find her sister after a series of bombs occurs in the building where their apartment resides.

This inevitably changes Emma’s entire life path leading her to a different career path, to find love, and uncovering some deep family secrets along the way.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This is the least glossed over story of slavery I have ever read and it is brutal in its honesty and the writing completely wrecked me at times.

It is the story of Cora who is leading, the difficult life of a slave and is brutally mistreated over and over again. When a fellow slave, Caesar, receives word about a new underground railroad that has been built, he and Cora try to escape to seek freedom.

Ah, but freedom isn’t ever easy to achieve especially in this awful world.

Whitehead envisions in this story an actual underground railroad with conductors and in a Gulliver’s Travels twist, each time Cora gets off, she is in a different place with different rules.
In one town, she is respected, educated, and treated with respect.

In another, black face shows ridiculing her people are on display in the town park.

In another she has to remain hidden in attic for months on end to protect herself and the family who houses her.

It gives the reader a chance it experience that shaky ground, that uncertainty, that feeling of never feeling safe.

The reader gets to experience the tiniest of fractions of this painful and true story of many slave stories that Whitehead has gathered.


Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Watson pens the story of his great-aunt, Miss Jane, and her struggles with a genital birth defect that alters Jane’s life path greatly.

Set in the early twentieth century in rural Mississippi, Jane knows that she is not like other girls. Her struggles with this defect every moment of her day are told in ways that often feel unfathomable.

Her kind doctor takes her under his wing and has honest discussions with her about limitations and continuing research to try to help her. He becomes her confidant in a time of true loneliness.

As she ages, she knows that her biggest hurdle will be having her own love story and Watson writes poetically of Jane’s love for a boy. Yet, in a time when a woman’s most useful task is to bear children, Jane knows that her love story must be a different one and she bravely accepts what this path looks like.

The peacock design on this cover is beautifully woven into this story and brings together all the beauty in this gorgeous book.

It reads like a well-versed literary classic.

I doubt you won’t fall in love with Miss Jane too.


The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

This novel is a sweet literary escape telling the story of brothers living in a two-family house in Brooklyn in the ‘40’s.

While the men are away to work, in the midst of a winter storm, both of their wives go into labor and end up delivering their babies at home, thanks to one determined midwife.

It’s the birth of these two babies that begins to threaten and unravel the two families, particularly their mothers, as they carry around a family secret that begins to impact them all.

A strong debut novel rich with characters and the raw emotional impact of family secrets, it is one that you will be unable to put down, and a storyline rich with lots to chat about for book clubs.

If you prefer character-driven stories, this book is for you!

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two.

When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. When she falls in love, she receives some devastating news that sends her back home again where she must make painful choices about her future.

This is an achingly beautiful coming of age story that perfectly captures the struggles of growing up and leaving your childhood home and family.

The real challenge lies in moving away and then finding yourself back at home again and finding your placement in the world AGAIN when you are all that your mother has left.

Do you stay or do you go?

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

I have always enjoyed Leavitt’s books (you can read an interview that I did with her over here), but this book…this book is EXCEPTIONAL and, I believe, her best book yet.

When I interviewed Caroline she was working on this book and she had said, “Cruel Beautiful World was sold on the basis of a first chapter and a thirty page synopsis. It’s set in the 60s and early 70s, the time when all the free love movement was starting to turn ugly, with the Manson murders and Altamont. It’s about a 16 year-old girl who runs off with her 30 year-old hippy teacher to join the “back to the land” movement that began in the 70s, a so-called-paradise that turns into a nightmare for her.”

Who better to describe it than the author herself?

What I would like to say about it is that she carves such incredible dynamics between the sisters and the fear that she creates in Lucy, as she worries for her safety during the Manson murders, is so poignant as she is being held captive herself by the man she thought she was in love with.

These characters are written in a way that they feel so real and you can’t help but worry for each of them after Lucy disappears from their family.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

Going into this one, I had no idea that this is based on the author’s own family’s Holocaust survival story. She was determined to share their story in this haunting debut, told from multiple viewpoints.

The cast of characters is vast and it took me a bit to get into my rhythm with each character, but once you get the voices down, you grow attached to each of their stories.

The story takes place in the spring of 1939 and follows three generations of the Kurc family as the shadow of the war grows closer. When the horrors of the war overtake Europe, each of these family members are thrown into different corners of the world, as they strive for survival in the only ways that they know how.

Hunter does a great job with the contrast between each of these stories.

Some family members have been dealt an easier road than others, but it doesn’t mean that the easier road doesn’t bring guilt and worry over the rest of their family.

Other family members must endure the horrors of the war and find a way to survive in treacherous living conditions and without food. It’s impossible to not be moved by these stories.

Although I have read so many books about this era, it never fails to surprise me how much I am still unaware of.

Mischling by Affinity Konar

I have read so many books about the Holocaust over the years, but I never feel like I am informed enough about the horrors and struggles that were faced during this time in history.

Once again, I find myself oblivious to those who suffered as Konar unfolds the story of twins, Sasha & Pearl, who became a part of the experimental population of twins that were known as Mengle’s Zoo, based in Auschwitz.

Many begged and falsely claimed that their children were twins to be part of Mengle’s Zoo because they believed they had been saved from certain death.

Unfortunately, these children were far from safe and became a part of tests to separate the twins from one another, both physically and psychologically. Konar explores this through these sisters, told from alternating perspectives, as they are brutally experimented upon.

How something so horrible could be written so beautifully is a true tribute to Konar’s writing.

Her writing style reminded me a lot of Eowyn Ivey’s writing in her beautiful book, The Snow Child, an almost magical quality even to the harshest of moments. It’s impossible to read Konar’s words and not feel deeply moved and surprised by her well-crafted language.

Beautifully told and based upon the stories of real victims of these crimes, Konar’s debut is strong and promising! You can read more about her writing process in my interview with the author.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana is a black woman married to a white man in the late sixties. After becoming dizzy one day, she finds herself transported to the South in 1815 when a little boy, named Rufus, is drowning in a river.

Dana saves him and this begins the first of many visits where he risks his life and Dana is pulled back into the 1800’s.

Her role as a black woman is not a free one though and she must work as a slave at the house and witnesses the true brutalities of an unkind slave owner.

Butler layers a great dimension by giving Dana a white husband and when they are transported together, he must act as her slave owner in order to keep her safe. The dynamics in these roles causes stress and doubts between the two.

If you are highly sensitive, this book is brutal in the telling of the treatment of slaves. It unsettled me a lot to read these horrific accounts, yet I know that I need to know them too.

The ending was a little strange to me, but reading through the reader guide helped me understand better the dimensions that Butler was hoping to achieve through this ending.

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Shreve uses Maine as her backdrop and in October of 1947, a summer-long drought caused fires to breakout all along the Maine coast that killed many and destroyed their homes.

The book opens with the telling of a, truly, loveless marriage. When the fires break in Maine, Grace is able to save herself and her two children, but has no idea what has happened to her husband. Without money, a home, a husband, or even clothing on her back, she takes her children back to her deceased mother-in-law’s home and waits for her husband to return.

It’s through this experience of independence that Grace must find herself from getting a job to learning to drive to managing money. Of course, as she finds her footing, she knows that her husband may return at any moment to take it all away from her.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This novel tells the story of the post-Civil Rights movement through the eyes of three different women. It is told through the eyes of Aibileen & Minny, two African American maids, and Skeeter, a young white woman.

Aibileen is a gentle soul that is intent on offering the best care that she can give to the white children that she cares for. She feels it is her duty to make them feel as special and loved because she knows many of the mothers do not give their children the love they need. Her tender spirit and soft motherly ways instantly makes you feel like she is an old friend.

Minny is a spunky character who has trouble acting as a maid because she doesn’t really like to be bossed around. She has so much spunk and humor that you can’t wait to see what kind of trouble she will get into and how endearing she truly is as you get acquainted with her own difficult home life.

Skeeter is a young woman who desperately wants to become a writer. She gets the idea to write an anonymous book with anonymous maids who could share their story and struggles as an African American woman acting as a maid and (often) being treated unfairly by their white bosses.

When these three characters come together it is pure magic!

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Set in the late 1800’s, Lilli becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is banished from her Quaker home. She gives birth to her daughter in an institution for unwed mothers and will stop at nothing to keep her.

In order to provide for her daughter, she must work as a wet nurse, nursing a child that is not her own, to pay her bills.

Told in diary format, it is an achingly beautiful read about the unbelievable challenges of motherhood and the sacrifices that must be made to keep your child safe.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

When Anne Morrow travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family, she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. T

he two marry and in a rare partnership, at that time, Anne even becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States.

Unfortunately, she is always viewed as the aviator’s wife and not as the independent spirit she is.

Their fairytale life begins to crumble under the scrutiny, along with their devastating hardships as they work to weather them together.

Obviously there are SO MANY more historical fiction books that I would love to list, but that will have to be for another day!

I’d love to hear from you and what historical fiction books YOU have been loving! Please tell me what I should add to my stack for the next historical fiction round-up!

 

Compiled below is a list of historical fiction favorites from our bookworm readers, if this list of 53 doesn’t keep you busy enough!

Neverhome

The Marriage of Opposites

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Between Shades of Gray

Out of the Easy

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Shanghai Girls

The Alice Network

News of the World

Boat Runner

The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Invention of Wings

The Girl You Left Behind

A Gentleman in Moscow

LOVE reading? I think you will love these posts too!

19 thrillers to keep you up all night

quick reads to reach those reading goals

top ten books of 2017

7 tips for hosting a successful book club

join my book club (it’s totally FREE!!)

blind date book exchange (this is a BLAST!!)

how to consume more books this year

visit our whole book section over here

photo credit: anthony tran

this post contains affiliate links

 

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August 2018 Must-Reads

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

August 2018 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about getting up the reviews for you! Having a busy holiday weekend complicated the timeline, but I’m here today to share about eight incredible books I read this month.

Last month was a CRAZY amount of reading, for me, and I think I had hit a wall when August started. All I wanted to do was lay around and binge on television shows and I was slogging through books at such a slow pace.

There is something to be said about moderation, isn’t there?

I’m hoping to be much more motivated this next month!

My Usual Reminders

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club! I can’t believe we have over 1,600 bookworms in this group. Our discussion this month was AMAZING and it is so much fun to have so many participating (and enjoying) the books that I selected to share. I announced our selections (here is what we will be reading in September) and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page. I am already hearing feedback that this one is amazing. I can’t wait to do a deep dive inot it.

Need another challenge to push you out of your reading comfort zone? Be sure to download this year’s Reading Challenge Worksheet.

Book of the Month join here

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!!

This month’s selections:

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

November Road by Lou Berney

Fashion Victim by Amina Akhtar

This month’s special:

New members will get a free book with code FALLFEELS. How it works: Members will pay $14.99 when they sign up for a subscription that will renew monthly. They’ll also receive a credit for a free book at the time of this transaction (redeemable at any time). Then they’ll be renewed at the end of their second month (unless they cancel).

Here are 8 must-read books I tackled in August:

Rust & Stardust

 

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

I received an advanced reader of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

I didn’t know anything about this book going into it and, perhaps, that is why it shocked me in both its beauty and darkness. Although I had also known the general premise of Lolita, I had no point of reference that this novel had been based on a true life kidnapping crime. In Rust & Stardust, Greenwood pulls back the curtain on this horrific case and chillingly illuminates what all this girl had been through.

In 1948, Sally Horner is desperate to get into the cool club with a group of girls from school. As part of her initiation process, she has to steal a notebook at a local drugstore.  When a man with the F.B.I.  sees her take this notebook, he tells her that she must pay for her crime and that he won’t rat her out to her parents, as long as she follows all of his instructions.

He poses as a father from a friend from school and says that they are going on a beautiful beach vacation and would like to take Sally along with them. Sally’s mother, struggling with debilitating arthritis and pain, knows that Sally will have a wonderful adventure and begrudgingly allows her to accept the invitation. Sally knows that she must go on this trip for her court hearing and punishment for the stolen notebook.

The thing is, this guy is actually a dangerous child predator who has just been released from prison and Sally is his latest conquest.

This book wrecked me in the same ways that, A Little Life, ripped a little of my heart out. Nabbing criminals back then is a frustrating process to witness, let alone be a victim too. It takes a strong reader to read this one and I have a feeling Sally’s story is going to be imprinted on my heart for a very long time. Greenwood’s writing is poetry in motion, even in the evil bits of it.

I doubt you will be able to put this one down, but given the context of the story, know this is a dark read.

5 out of 5 Stars

Neverworld Wake

Neverworld Wake by Marischa Pessl

I became a fan of Pessl’s writing after reading, Night FilmIn fact, I recently shared that one as one of 19 chilly thriller recommendations for you to enjoy this fall.  This novel couldn’t be more different from that as Pessl dips her toes into the YA world for the first time with Neverworld Wake. I’m going to recommend this one for fans of, We Were Liars, because it explores many of the same thematics, but with a Groundhog Day twist.

Beatrice and her group of friends all have been devastated by the death of Beatrice’s boyfriend, Jim. Beatrice has been estranged from her friends, but receives an invitation to celebrate a birthday with them all. After a strained night and a near-miss car crash, they receive a visitor who calls himself, “The Keeper.” He says they are actually stuck between the worlds of life and death and that in order for them to move on, they must all take a vote and unanimously choose one of themselves to save. Given the dynamics, the reader knows that they will be in for a bumpy ride.

Stuck in time, they live the same day over and over again until they can come to a decision. Of course, the death of Jim isn’t as straightforward as it seems and that is why it is so difficult to choose who should be saved in this scenario.

Pessl invents a lot of fun stories for them as they try to do the same things over and over again, but differently. The story builds to a satisfying conclusion that helps the reader understand the motivations, but I was not enraptured with this one as I had been with her last book. I loved the concept, but found it dragged a bit through different plot points, due to the repetitive nature of the story. That said, I’ll read anything she writes and can’t wait to see what she brews up next.

3 out of 5 Stars

Jar of Hearts Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts is a book that I just could not put down this month and ticked all the boxes that are required for a twisty dark thriller. Ironically, I see that Caroline Kepnes has endorsed this book and if you are a fan of her work (OH, JOE!), you are sure to love this one.

When she was just sixteen, Angela Wong disappeared from her town without a trace. No one would have ever suspected that Georgiana Shaw, a wealthy executive rising in a pharmaceutical company, could have been involved in any way back then. The truth is though that Georgiana (nicknamed Geo) has known all along where Angela has been buried.

You see, the love of her high school life is now known as a serial killer. The two of them were the only ones that ever knew what happened to Angela and now Geo must pay for withholding evidence in the case.

Geo has learned the hard way what it takes to get ahead in life and she isn’t afraid to do that while serving time. Now the reader gets a taste of the new Geo and the sharp contrast of her teenage innocence and the boy who had captured her heart.

This book goes to some dark places and is one of those stories that keeps you up until the wee hours of the night so you can uncover all of Geo’s secrets. Hillier builds a story worthy of a sequel and, lucky for us, it is another one that has plans to be on the big screen! I can’t wait to see who will play these characters and encourage you to add this one to your stack.

5 out of 5 Stars

Tell Me Lies Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering

I love a good love story, especially of the unrequited variety, but this one took unrequited to another level.

Lucy Albright heads to a small California college and is excited to embrace all the newness of friends and experiences that college can bring. It is at a gathering that she meets Stephen DeMarco. Although she is not initially charmed by him, Stephen has never had to take a no for an answer and charms Lucy right into his bed.

The thing is, Stephen is a horrible person and Lucy is just one of many conquests that he likes to play games with. His bed offers a rotating spot to whoever is available and convenient, but Stephen lacks the emotional capacity to love anyone.

Lucy will do anything to keep Stephen’s attention resorting to eating disorders, partying, and drugs to mask her depression. Lovering writes about the obsessiveness of young love in a beautiful and brutal way. Although Lucy takes things to another level, that obsessive passion is something I remember and that desire to be loved and liked no matter what. I think that is what makes this story really shine.

The story alternates viewpoints and the longer it goes on, the more I hated Stephen and the spirals he took other women on.

This is not a feel-good love story… it is a sad story of a girl who just wanted to be loved and a sociopath who doesn’t have the capacity for that emotion.

Brilliantly written, but the book left me feeling frustrated, and hoping more for Lucy and Stephen’s journeys.

3 out of 5 Stars

Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

I became a fan of Lisa Jewell after her gorgeous novel, The House We Grew Up In. I had high expectations for this novel and I was NOT disappointed. Jewell has a way of developing layered and believable family dramas and this thriller still has those elements folded in with a ten-year-old mysterious disappearance.

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter and loved by all who knew her. At the age of fifteen, she leaves one day and never comes back home. It is the nightmare of every parent and Laurel has now not only found herself without her daughter, but also in a strained relationship with her other kids and a fractured relationship with her spouse.

Just as she is beginning to move forward, the police run across Ellie’s backpack and Laurel is forced to rethink if her daughter was kidnapped or actually ran away from home. Determined to move forward, she meets an incredible man at a coffee shop and decides to go on her first day since her divorce.

He is everything she dreamed of and then she meets his daughter…and she looks just like her missing daughter.

Hang on to your hands, as Jewell cleverly unfolds what has happened to Ellie through all the different eyes of these characters. The plot is smart, the pacing is excellent, and Jewell’s writing shines.

5 out of 5 Stars

Little Broken Things

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

One of the biggest joys for me is hosting our monthly book club discussions. This month Nicole joined us for our chat about her incredible novel, Little Broken Things, and our book club members just loved it (and her!) so very much. If you haven’t joined us for a chat yet, what are you waiting for?

The story starts right out of the gates when Quinn Cruz receives a cryptic text from her sister that says, “I have something for you.” 

What she could never expect is that Nora is bringing her a frightened little girl with no explanation other than to keep her safe in her absence. Quinn has been hoping for a child of her own, but not like this. Strangely, Lucy looks an awful lot like her sister and she must question if Nora’s had a secret child that she’s been hiding from their family all these years.

While she struggles to honor her sister’s wishes, she worries just what Nora could have gotten them into and if they are all now at danger.

Baart is a gifted storyteller and shared, through our discussion, that she was able to flesh out a lot of Lucy’s character through her own adoption of her daughter. The characters are relatable and believable, most effectively in those strained relationships between mothers, sisters, and daughters.

The love is real…and so are the dynamics. 

I am often asked for recommendations on clean novels for readers and I would put this one at the top of the list. If you are a fan of Diane Chamberlain, in particular,  I have a feeling you will love novels from Nicole Baart!

4 out of 5 Stars

When the Lights Go Out When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

I received a copy from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Happy publishing day, Mary Kubica! When the Lights Go Out, hits stores today and I have been hanging on to my review for the big day. Mary joined us on the site, many moons ago, to talk about her first novel and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

Kubica creates an unreliable narrator by blessing our narrator with a bout of insomnia that seems it will never end. Jessie’s mother is dying and she doesn’t want to fall asleep and miss this moment with her mother so she continues to push through her insomnia at any cost. After she passes, the insomnia becomes more advanced and begins to affect her memory and cause hallucinations. She’s unhinged in a way that alarms others, but that doesn’t stop Jessie from exploring her own secret past.

I raced through this book and had many theories on what had happened to Jessie and the mystery that she was trying to solve. It had a very Woman in the Window feel, and I wondered how much was real and how much was all in our narrator’s head.

My guesses were wrong though.

The answers, for me, ended up being disappointing although she did do it in a really great way. Kubica does put together an incredible story though and it is a tribute to her beautiful writing. I am still a huge fan, but I have a feeling that the ending will be a polarizing one.

Dismissing the outcome, this was still a book that I finished in a day and made me excited to see what Kubica will weave up for us next.

3 out of 5 Stars

Monday's Not Coming

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

I’m going on the record and saying that Tiffany D. Jackson is one of the most compelling YA writers right now. Allegedly, was just so fantastic that I wasn’t sure if she could match the strength of that book, but Monday’s Not Coming, was still a beautiful read.  I listened to this one on audiobook and recommend you do too. The narration is fantastic and helps form the voice of this character.

If a wealthy white child didn’t show up for school for weeks and weeks, someone would be checking on the family and the child. It is here where Jackson plants her feet and says, why are we not showing up for the poor black children?

Monday and Claudia are inseparable friends and it is has worried Claudia why her friend had never returned her letters over the summer and then did not show up for school. It is through Claudia’s eyes (and persistence) that she demands the adults around her to look into the disappearance of her friend, Monday. With this persistence though, comes the reexamination of Monday’s life and what disturbing things she may have chose to ignore.

If you are looking for a meaty YA, this is it. Jackson isn’t afraid to talk about teen sexuality, racism, gentrification, and child abuse. I struggled a bit with the timelines, as it jumped from different places in time, and hoped the ending would redeem it. Even with the ending, I think the plot could have been smoothed a lot with just a consistent timeline.

That said, I’m always here for whatever Jackson is dishing up. I love her brashness and her fresh examinations on these big teenage issues.

3 out of 5 Stars

Amy Allen Clark

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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19 Thrillers to Keep You Up All Night

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

19 Thrillers to Keep You Up All Night from MomAdvice.com

If you are anything like me, you can appreciate a deliciously twisty thriller! I will admit, I am a picky thriller reader so today’s post is for thriller readers that do NOT desire a predictable ending, appreciate an unreliable narrator, and love to flip those pages until the wee hours of the morning. I’m sharing 19 of my favorite thrillers with you and can’t wait to hear what YOUR favorites are too.

There are two essentials that have really helped me finish those thrillers a little faster. When listening to thrillers on audiobooks, I swear by these inexpensive earbuds. I get a lot of mine in over my morning chores or even a soak in the tub with a glass of wine! The other essential is either this gadget or one of these trusty lights. Honestly, who needs sleep when there are amazing books to be read?

If you want to expand that stack, I find that this subscription service offers an excellent thriller each month and you can explore our free book club group for recommendations from my favorite bookworms.

Here are my 19 thriller recommendations to keep you up all night (and not one of them is Gone Girl- hahaha!)

The Perfect Mother The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

The May Mothers are a local mom’s group that meet twice a week at the park to share their challenges with new motherhood. The ladies have yet to socialize outside of this though so they decide to meet at a hip bar in town for drinks to get to know each other better and get a break from their babies.

Winnie, a single mother, is reluctant to leave her child for the outing, but is convinced that this will be a good move to get away for a bit and relax. Her child is kidnapped though and Winnie, an extremely private person, finds that her whole life has been opened up for the whole world to see.

Though none of the moms are close, they all go to risky lengths to try to help find her son. Told from alternating perspectives, each mother is carrying a few secrets of her own and as the police begin to uncover them, they began to wonder if one of these ladies just might be involved.

I recommend this one on audiobook since the narration is so great. Although this one starts pretty pedestrian, as far as thrillers go, the smart whodunit twists are clever and well-written!

Are You Sleeping? Are You Sleeping? by Kathleen Barber

Serial fans will LOVE this fantastic debut novel that explores a fictional murder and a podcast that decides to reopen a thirteen-year-old murder case. If you are looking for a fun book to enjoy on audiobook, I HIGHLY recommend it since it reads as part novel and part podcast.

Josie has started a new life in New York and hasn’t even shared her real past with her partner. It is only when her mother dies that she has to confront her demons and one person is determined to leave no stone unturned.  An investigative reporter has decided Josie’s father’s murder is worth exploring in her podcast and her family’s old secrets are exposed, forcing Josie to deal with her past and her estranged twin sister.

I really enjoyed this one and thought the pacing was so great. It also gives you food for thought on our own obsessions with true crime and what that might be like for a family who has become the topic of exploration.

The One

The One by John Marrs

Black Mirror fans may recall an episode of the show where potential mates are matched in a very science-fiction type of way. This thriller explores the concept of DNA matching in a similar fashion, but goes much deeper into the complexities of love and lust that happen when we are told that someone is scientifically matched to you.

There are several amazing stories going on- a straight man who finds out he is matched to a man, a woman who discovers her match has died before she has connected with him, a woman who finds out that her match is terminally ill, the founder of the profiling system and the relationship with her match…Oh, and did I mention, a serial killer who is out on the loose and pursuing a few matches of his own?

I listened to this one on audiobook and the narration is absolutely fantastic. There wasn’t a dud in the stories and I loved, loved, loved the plot twists in this one.

The Kind Worth Killing

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

This is a book of cat and mouse, mouse and cat, cat and cat…Really, the reader just doesn’t know where this one will go and who to trust. The author does a great job of weaving narrators and twisting the plot so that the reader is left guessing up until that final page.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

It is no secret that I am a huge horror movie fan and, Baby Teeth,” was as incredible as any horror flick I’ve seen!

Suzette has a chronic and debilitating illness and knew that if she ever had children that it would be difficult on her body. She knows though that her husband would love to have a child and that is how she finds herself with their daughter, Hanna.

Hanna isn’t like other children though and has not spoken yet, even at seven-years-old. What Suzette had discovered though is that Hanna doesn’t need words to manipulate her father and to pit her against her husband. Hanna has been kicked out of her school for her defiant behavior and Suzette has been given the impossible task of parenting a child that she tries to love, but doesn’t really like.

When Hanna begins to talk to Suzette, it is with an accent and she claims to have been a witch. As Suzette uncovers the disturbing story, that Hanna claims as her own, Suzette doesn’t know if this possession is real or if Hanna is just a remarkably manipulative child.

Stage delivers a book that should be seen on the big screen and it was just as satisfying and fun as I had hoped.

Pretty Girls

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer- do not read if you cannot handle graphic sexual abuse or violence against women!

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

As a lover of horror films and fiction, I can say that this book is the first book that has absolutely terrified me and kept me up at with nightmares at night…and I loved it. Slaughter perfectly crafts each character so well that it is as though you are watching a film. Dark, psychologically twisted, and oh-so-evil, you won’t be able to put it down.

Bird Box

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Malerman succeeds in writing a perfectly gripping and creepy psychological page-turner that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning, just as all good thrillers should!

With the creatures lurking, a woman and her two children try to flee to safety blindfolded along a river. If they see what is lurking, they die a horrific death inflicting pain upon themselves to stop seeing the horrors of what they have seen. Interweaving past (pre-creatures) and present (a post-creature world), you go along on a terrifying ride as Malorie tries to save herself and her children blindfolded, never knowing what is lurking around every turn.

I loved it and I think you will too especially if you love classic Stephen King or if you enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts as much as I did. Be sure to check out our interview with the author to learn more about the inspiration behind this incredible thrill ride!

Night Film

 

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This book was unlike anything I have ever read before and was one of those books that I have to say was super fun and interactive on my iPad because of the mixed media approach towards piecing together this mystery and thriller.

Ashley Cordova, daughter of the famous horror movie producer Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

If you love a good mystery, you will love the interactive nature of this book. The reader gets to surf through web discussions, magazine articles, medical files, news clippings, and photographs to piece together the mystery.

My only critique on this one is that it was about two hundred pages too long and the build-up kind of left me feeling a defeated as to what the mystery was surrounding the death.

I still think it is an absolutely genius use of mixed media and getting to feel like a detective for a week. It was the most fun I have had with a book in a long time, but I do recommend splurging for the digital version to really enjoy those interactive features.

Self-Portrait With Boy Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon

Looking for a thriller with a plot that you probably have never considered?  Self-Portrait With Boy is also one of the most inventive plot concepts that I’ve read in a long time and absolutely captivated me.

This novel is about a struggling photographer who lives in an artist loft where she has been working on a personal photography project taking a daily self-portrait. A little boy, in the apartment above her’s, tragically falls to his death and Lu happens to be taking an image of herself when the tragedy occurs. Upon development, she sees that it is one of the most beautiful images she has ever taken and has to grapple with the decision to let this work be seen.

As the tenants grow closer together following the tragedy, she finds herself entangled in a friendship with the mother and must decide if she is going to share the image of her son with the world.

Adding to the deep moral dilemma, she is barely making ends meet and her father has to undergo a pricey surgery. It isn’t just about the fame, it’s about survival.  This image could help her become known in her field, but at what cost?

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This is the type of book that keeps you on your toes as the plot takes you down many different rabbit trails only to realize it isn’t what you had thought all along. Aren’t those just the best?

Nellie thought she had the perfect marriage with Richard until she didn’t. Down on her luck and struggling financially to keep up, she discovers that Richard is engaged to be married again, really shortly after the end of her own marriage. Nellie becomes obsessed with this woman and talking with her and the reader is left guessing from start to finish just why it is so important that Nellie connect with his new wife.

Everything is not as it is seems, as all good thrillers should be, and this one had surprise after surprise. This dynamic writing duo really pulled together a fantastic 24-hour escape that you won’t be able to put down.

Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

To set this one up,  the author’s marketing team started the hashtag #wtfthatending that you can tweet when you finish and, that, I think sets you up for an unexpected ride. As a seasoned thriller reader, I thought I had it solved and then I didn’t… And then I REALLY didn’t.

It’s impossible to talk about this book without a big reveal so let’s focus on the generic plot points and say that this is a love triangle between a gorgeous wife, her dashing husband, and the slightly frumpy secretary. When the wife decides to pursue a secretive friendship with her husband’s secretary, a game of cat and mouse begins.

Here’s the thing, the reader will never guess the cat or the mouse and I told my husband, bewildered, that I was almost finished with the novel and still clueless where it is going. And then…well, #wtfthatending.

You’ll love it or you’ll hate it and there shall never be a mediocre opinion on it. I sat in the middle for a bit, not sure what to think about it and then decided it was pretty brilliant. I will say, in the end, I appreciate that this wasn’t the same old, same old, BUT a reader must set aside a bit of reality for this genre-bender. If you want to learn more about the story behind the story, head to my interview with Sarah!

You

You by Caroline Kepnes

This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark.

Lucky for you, this is the first in a trilogy so we can look forward to more antics from Joe! Be sure to check out the second book if you are hooked on Joe like I was or just enjoy this first one fully and call it done…if you can.

Be sure to check out our interview with Caroline Kepnes in our Sundays With Writers series to get the scoop behind this guilty pleasure read!

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

I don’t want to give very much away because half of the fun is the discovery of what is actually going on behind these closed doors in this captivating novel. A perfect marriage though is rarely what it seems and Jack & Grace are the perfect example of a marriage that looks beautiful on the outside, but is far different on the inside. From page one, you realize the cat-and-mouse game that Grace is in and the reader is pulled along from the first day that they met, giving you a chance to witness a rather unique marriage in a chilling way.

Please know that this one is DARK so if you prefer to keep your thrillers in the lighter mystery category, you might need to skip this intense read.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

I do love a good thriller and Bonfire is an excellent debut novel from actress, producer, and writer Krysten Ritter.

This follows the story of an environmental lawyer, Abby Williams, who has been assigned a case in her hometown of Barrens, Indiana.  She has been tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the company that supports and has its hand in every pie in town, to discover if any of their business practices have been causing health problems for the town’s residents.

Returning home is never easy and Abby has left behind a lot of secrets of her own and many stories of the bitchy mean girls that seemed to have it out for her. With loads of suspense the past and the present come full circle, as Abby becomes more and more unhinged and unreliable as the book’s narrator.

Fans of dark thrillers will love this gritty suspenseful page-turner. Don’t discredit this writer for her Hollywood creds, it’s definitely worth your time!

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

If you are looking for an absorbing story, you definitely will want to dive into, Watch Me Disappear.

The story centers on a mother who goes on a solo hike in the Desolation Wilderness and vanishes from the trail. Although her body is never found, they conclude that she fell to her death, never returning again to her husband and daughter.

When her daughter begins having visions of her mother, she starts to believe that she is still alive and guiding her to where she is. When she reveals her mother’s secrets to her father, her husband also becomes convinced that there is more to this story.

Prepare for a very twisted and unpredictable plot right up until those final pages. Brown captures her reader in this clever thriller and won’t let go until you have made your way through the entire spider web of mystery.

If you are looking for a fresh book club pick, I would highly recommend this one as it explores the subject of finding and sometimes the losing of our identities as mothers.

The Good Girl The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The book opens with the following words, “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia is unlike her parents in every way, content with her life as an inner-city school teacher. When she finds herself at a bar one night alone, after being stood up by her boyfriend,  she meets a guy. Her plans for a one-night stand quickly turns into the worst mistake of her life.

I don’t want to say anymore because the beauty in this book is those plot twists you never see coming! Once you finish though, be sure to head to my interview with Mary to learn more about her story behind the story!

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

Hattie Hoffman has always spent her life dutifully doing exactly what she is supposed to.  That is why it shocks the town when Hattie is found brutally stabbed to death since no one could ever imagine something like that would happen to someone who is so perfect.

Ah, but things aren’t what they seem and Hattie has a few secrets up her sleeve that include a scandalous relationship that leave the reader guessing just who would have wanted Hattie dead more.

I really enjoyed this one and Mejia carves a few smart twists that I think you will really enjoy. It’s one of those that you just HAVE to finish in a day and if you love Shakespeare, I think you will appreciate this one even more.

I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go will be the psychological thriller you need to pull you out of any reading slump. The book opens with a mother crossing the street with her child. She lets go for just a moment and that child is hit by a car. Shocking already, right?

This hit-and-run case leaves little clues to the killer and the reader follows this grief-stricken survivor as she tries to form a new life in a new town, far from the reminders of the accident. Hold onto your hats though because nothing is as it seems and the reader is taken on plot twists that will leave you gasping. This is, truly, the next Gone Girl, friends, don’t miss it!

Check out my interview with Clare Mackintosh and hear about the case that inspired her book and the life experience that shaped the raw grief of the mother in her story!

In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Leonora, a reclusive writer, receives a surprise invitation from an old friend inviting to her to a weekend away as one last hurrah before she gets married. Set in a glass house in the woods, the four acquaintances share revelations and begin to realize their party is not alone. Forty-eight hours later, Leonora (Nora) awakes in a hospital bed knowing that someone is dead. Nora desperately tries to piece together what happened, forcing her to revisit times in her past that she would rather leave buried.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to thrillers and this one delivers beautifully.  The pacing is perfect and reads like a great whodunit mystery. Enjoy the ride and then get ready to see this one brought to life on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon’s production team.

To learn more about the story behind this book, be sure to read my interview with Ruth Ware!

Not enough picks? Here are a few others I have loved!

 Dead Letters

The Last Time I Lied

Allegedly

The Bullet

The Luckiest Girl Alive

Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in the Window

The Dry

The Good Widow

The Roanoke Girls

What She Knew

19 Thrillers to Keep You Up All Night from MomAdvice.com

 What thrillers kept YOU up ALL NIGHT? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comment section below! Check out what else I’m reading over here!

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