Pre-Release Review: The Thing About Love by Julie James


Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Romance

Release Date: April 18, 2017


I’ve really enjoyed all of Julie James’s books and this was no exception. I was thrilled to get access to an early copy because a well-written romance was just what I needed to break up my other reading, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

In The Thing About Love, FBI agents John Shepherd and Jessica Harlow have to work undercover together despite having a somewhat rocky past. The tension between them is part of what makes this book such a great read. It’s not a traditional romance in the sense that the characters are immediately thrown into a romantic situation by the author. Rather, time is spent developing their history and working on the case they’ve been assigned, and when the romance does come, it feels natural. Nothing in this book felt forced, which is so important in a contemporary romance.

I think what was most important for me was that the characters are believable. Granted, I’m not an FBI special agent and I’ve never done undercover work, but I believed that these characters did, and I believed that they could be a realistic representation of FBI agents. They don’t have crazy names or billions of dollars, but they do have friends and families and struggles, hopes and dreams and disappointments. They’re well-rounded and human, and I love that about them.

I don’t think I can point to anything I didn’t like about this book. I literally had trouble putting it down, and only physical exhaustion made me do it. I gave it four stars because I really loved it, but I hesitate to classify it as a favorite. While it was a great read, in the end, it’s still unlikely to stick with me for a long time because it’s meant to be a light book. What will stick with me, though, is my love of Julie James and all the books she writes.

*ARC from Penguin First to Read


Review: If Not For You by Debbie Macomber


If Not For You by Debbie Macomber

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Romance


Earlier this week, Debbie Macomber released her newest novel, If Not For You. I’ve enjoyed the lightness of some of her books before and in the middle of trying to read heavier literature and An Army at Dawn (a Pulitzer non-fiction winner about World War II), I thought this would be the perfect time to read a lighter romance.

I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t exactly light, though. It wasn’t a steamy romance, of course, but because of a car accident, most of the book takes place in a hospital or rehab center. This isn’t exactly an exciting setting or a great location for a romance, and it wasn’t my favorite aspect of the book.

I did like the characters to a point, though I thought they were both a little too extreme. Beth, the Bible-reading good girl who just has to defy her parents (because for some reason, at age 25, she still needs their permission to live her life?), is too unrealistic to me. Sam, the rough-around-the-edges mechanic who (of course) sweeps her off her feet, despite (or perhaps because of) his unsuitability in Beth’s mother’s plans, has too many issues that pop up that just aren’t necessary. Between the two of them, I thought they created problems where there weren’t any.

Besides this, I didn’t really get the sense that they belonged together. I liked that Sam was attentive and kind, but I didn’t see why they were so hooked on each other. The romance element was lacking for me, or at least, the escapist romance was. I could see how these two might have fallen in love in real life based on their situation, but for a book, it was a little lackluster.

I didn’t not like it, though. It was a quick read and I liked seeing Beth’s growth over time, though she did make a lot of dumb repeat mistakes. I ended up giving this three stars because I didn’t love it, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It didn’t work as much for what I was looking for, but it might be someone else’s cup of tea.

*ARC from Ballantine Books via NetGalley

Review: Spark Joy by Marie Kondo


Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Self-Help


Normally, I don’t really read self-help type books, and I’d rather actually clean my house than read a book about cleaning my house. Still, when I read Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2015, I was inspired to clean more, tidy more, and actually throw away things I wasn’t using. To be clear, I have not under any possible interpretation followed Kondo’s exact methods, and I never followed through on a lot of the organizing I meant to do because other things just came up, and then I forgot. Still, as someone who frequently feels guilty throwing away or donating items for various reasons, I found her method enlightening, and it’s really helped me. I’ve donated many boxes of clothing and household items that I otherwise would have kept around just in case, not to mention furniture, and I also threw away things I obviously didn’t need. I even used some of her philosophy to help when finally cleaning out my childhood bedroom last summer.

When I got a copy of Spark Joy in a PopSugar mystery box last year, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I had already read Kondo’s book, and I thought I didn’t need a refresher. I pretty much knew what to do: keep only things that bring you joy, and get rid of the rest, and organize by category rather than by room (which, for most of us, is easier said than done). This week, though, after coming down with a nasty stomach bug (sorry) and not wanting to read anything I had to focus on too much, I picked it up and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, and I have plans to give/lend this book to others to help in their organizing.

What I liked about this book was that it did serve as a good refresher, but more importantly, it’s illustrated, which is particularly helpful when it comes to folding clothes. I hate folding my clothes, and while I do it, it’s usually fairly haphazard and not neat and tidy at all. I’m hopeful that Kondo’s folding techniques will save me space in my dresser and inspire me to generally be tidier about my clothes storage. The other pictures are cute, but less helpful.

She recommends reading her primary work first, but I’m honestly not sure it’s necessary. Yes, there were a lot of inspirational stories about people’s lives being changed through organizing and tidying, but there was also a lot of the spiritual stuff that turned people off. This book goes through the method itself and gives tips on how to accomplish tidying each category without as much of the silly stuff. (Although, I will admit, the silly stuff is one of the things that makes this work for me. It may seem weird to most people to thank your possessions before getting rid of them, but for me and people like me who feel guilty discarding gifts or items we paid a not-insignificant amount of money for, I think it’s helpful.)

I’m inspired to get back to tidying now, and while I almost certainly won’t follow all of her suggestions, I’ll be using many of her ideas to help keep my house tidy and my possessions in check. I’m already eager to start discarding clothing items I’ve only kept around out of guilt that I spent money on them (like the dozen pairs of almost identical skinny jeans I never wear) and things I just flat out don’t need (two dozen pairs of older socks I don’t wear because I bought newer, better ones). I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to at least get through my clothing and paper items before moving on to other projects, and that by the end, I’ll feel good about what I’ve kept and what I haven’t.

If you have any organizing or tidying ambitions, I do recommend reading this. It’s got helpful ideas, and even if you don’t take all of her suggestions and follow her technique to the letter, I think it will inspire you to get started on your “organizing festival.” Plus, it’s just in time for spring cleaning, and who couldn’t stand to toss out at least a few things? I gave this book four stars for its useful tips and for inspiring me to do better.

Review: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran


A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Historical Romance


A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is the fifth book in Meredith Duran’s “Rules for the Reckless” series, though you don’t need to read the whole series to enjoy each book. The basic premise is that an heiress, Jane, is being kept cloistered at her uncle’s home in the countryside so he can make free use of her fortune with no worries about her getting married (to anyone besides his son, that is). Ruthless MP Crispin Burke, a friend of her uncle’s and generally unlikable guy, tries to help her out of her predicament, but soon ends up being attacked and losing five years of his memories. Jane’s and Crispin’s relationship develops from there in an unorthodox way, and they do, of course, live happily ever after. It is, after all, a romance.

Overall, I liked this book. I liked the characters’ initial dislike of each other and that even early on Crispin showed signs of being a decent human underneath it all. Still, I didn’t like how completely his personality changed while he had amnesia. I didn’t like that Jane lied to him for so long, even when there were obvious opportunities to come clean. I also really didn’t like the ending. The castle was a weird thing that just wasn’t believable (and if this was based on something real, my apologies to the author).

I would have preferred to see more interactions between Jane and Crispin before he was attacked, but I can see why that wasn’t the author’s focus. I thought their relationship developed nicely and at a reasonable pace, though I didn’t like that both characters treated Crispin as two different people (before amnesia and now). It was a little strange and I’m not sure it was all that necessary.

Despite its shortcomings, though, I’d recommend this if you enjoy light historical romances. I’ve enjoyed reading Meredith Duran’s novels, even if they do have some shortcomings for me. They’re a great break between heavier reads and this book in particular had enough in it (both romance and subplot) to keep me interested. I gave it three stars.

*ARC from Pocket Books via NetGalley

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue


Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Literary Fiction


Behold the Dreamers is the story of Jende and Neni, two Cameroonian immigrants trying to make their way in New York City with their children in the months and years just before and after the 2008 financial crisis. I’m so glad I had the chance to read this. I really feel that it opened my eyes to some of the struggles immigrants face in trying to remain in the country legally and in trying to make better lives for themselves. That said, I did think it focused a little less on the immigration narrative and the financial crisis than I’d hoped, so I’m giving this book three stars (though I do recommend giving it a read).

Jende is an interesting character. He came to America for a better life, and he’s thrilled when he lands a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Bros. executive, Clark Edwards, and his family. He’s making better money and there’s some level of stability, which allows him to provide for his wife, Neni, and his son, Liomi. He always seems cheerful with this job and is unfailingly loyal to his employer, but there was just something missing for me in his character. Even with his immigration struggles, I just thought he could have fought harder or found a better way to handle things than he did. Plus, by the end, I strongly disliked him and the way he treated his wife, though some of this may be a cultural issue. I don’t like overbearing men generally and hated the way what Neni wanted always seemed to be ignored.

I’d also hoped that, even though this was a story about Jende and Neni, we’d get more of a glimpse into the crisis on Wall Street, and while we do get a little of that, it isn’t much. There was much more of a focus on marriage and interpersonal drama than on either the immigration narrative or the financial crisis. In a way, this probably makes sense, because immigrants have the same concerns as everyone else, but for some reason, I just expected more.

I liked Neni for most of the book, but after she takes some extreme actions to keep her family afloat, I had trouble sympathizing with her, though I was still outraged on her behalf when Jende mistreated her or told her what to do. I wish Neni had made different choices, but again, she might have been constrained by the cultural norms that were so ingrained in her. It’s hard for me to understand this, as I could never stand by and let someone else make huge decisions about my life, but I think it was consistent behavior for her character, for the most part.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, though I felt there was something missing for me. It went quickly and I always wanted to see how things would work out for Jende and Neni (as well as the Edwardses, who definitely had their own share of problems). I gave it three stars because of some unmet expectations, but I do recommend this book. I think it helps give a little insight into the immigration situation for those of us who don’t really have experience with it, and it’s also a good reminder of how alike we all are at a basic level, despite all of our outward differences.

*ARC from Random House via NetGalley

Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Thriller


I’ve wanted to read this new thriller from Ruth Ware since it was first announced. The idea of a murder being committed on a cruise ship is so interesting, and even more so because the main character, Lo, witnesses it. We’re left to question everything she says, and everything everyone else says, not sure who or what to believe. Was there actually a murder, or was this a hallucination from an unreliable narrator who’s had a little too much to drink and not enough sleep? These questions persist right up through the end, and I really enjoyed trying to get to the bottom of what was true and what actually happened.

Thrillers are frequently a little disappointing to me, especially if they’re targeted at people who liked other books (this one wasn’t). Luckily, I didn’t have anything to be disappointed with here. It wasn’t particularly fast-paced, but that didn’t matter. There were enough questions to keep me reading. I didn’t figure out on my own what happened, and there were enough possible answers to speculate on theories. None of my theories turned out to be right, but that’s almost what you hope for when reading a thriller (or, at least, I do).

Lo isn’t a particularly compelling character, and as more comes out through the book, it’s not easy to trust her perception of things. There were some things that she did that struck me as being unnecessary (her treatment of Judah, for one) and some things about her that seemed a little like they were thrown in just to make her seem even less trustworthy. I won’t mention what those are because it could spoil the book.

The other characters (and there are several) all seemed fairly decent and like they could all potentially be guilty of the murder Lo claims happened, but we don’t learn a ton about them. This isn’t a huge problem because of the style of the book, though it was a little weird that so many people with strong personalities and motives for murder might be on the same luxury cruise.

I think Ware did a good job of creating suspense and red herrings throughout the book, and I think I enjoyed it more than In a Dark, Dark Wood (though I did like that, too). I’m not sure I’d list her as a favorite author, but I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future (and according to Goodreads, she’s got a new book coming this summer).

I’d recommend this if you enjoy thrillers and/or unreliable narrators. It’s quick and it’s good, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I gave it four stars.

Currently Reading….

I’ve been slow at posting reviews lately, but that’s in part because I’m reading a lot of different books rather than focusing on one at a time. I’m going to try to buckle down and finish more books, but for now, here’s a list of what I’m currently reading.

518k3i-ncil-_sx324_bo1204203200_ My current audiobook, Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody, which I haven’t made a ton of progress on, but which I hope to get through in the next week or two. I’ve liked Kendrick in movies and am looking forward to hearing more about her.

51o1si8z4sl This is what I’m most focused on right now. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I always prefer reading the book first, anyway, even though I suspect the two are quite different in this case (unless the movie spends a lot of time giving biographical background on the characters).

51zuqtlftdl I’ve been slowly making my way through Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life since early fall, and while I enjoy reading it, I never make it through more than a chapter in one sitting. I’m hoping to change that once I finish my other non-fiction reads, as I do have many, many other books to read and I hate leaving something unfinished.

cover86179-medium This is a NetGalley read that I’m super behind on (though, to be fair, I did get approved for it after the publication date to begin with). It’s about Cameroonian immigrants in New York right around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, and I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. I’m making slow progress on it, in part because I’ve been incredibly busy with life lately and in part because, even though it’s easy to switch between books in my Kindle app, I just never do. I’m hoping to finish this one very soon, though, and I’ll let you know how it is!

51abemwqtzl One of my goals for this year is to catch up on all the Shakespeare I’ve never read (so mostly comedies and romances, with a few of the histories and tragedies thrown in). I’ve been working on Twelfth Night for a while even though it’s a quick play to get through because I’ve just been ignoring it. Hopefully I’ll finish soon (though it’s unlikely I’ll post a review, because what can I add to the discussion about Shakespeare in a short blog post?).

Even with all of these in progress, I think there’s a good chance I’ll end up starting something else (I just got an early copy of Julie James’s The Thing About Love, plus I have a few NetGalley books that are being released this month I’d love to get to sooner rather than later). One of these days, maybe I’ll manage to focus on just one book at a time. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying the variety and focus on enjoying myself while I read, rather than rushing through just to get reviews posted more quickly. Thanks for sticking with me!