Happily: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last by Kevin A. Thompson

Publication Date: October 16th, 2018

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

Author, Kevin A. Thompson, is a pastor. As a pastor, Thompson has witnessed many marriages, divorces and deaths in his more than a decade of service. Given his role, this book leans heavily toward holy references, but I loved that he opened each chapter with a bang, quickly grabbing the reader’s attention and drawing you in.

For instance, Chapter 7 lists several Nobel Peace Prize recipients and other historically significant individuals, and, while each person mentioned holds significant prestige, they have something else in common as well – divorce. Thompson’s point isn’t to show that divorce is inevitable and that we are all headed to that ending, but rather to provide reference that success and accomplishments in one’s life do not translate to success in marriage. Just like one works hard in their occupation, one must work as hard, or harder, in their relationship.

As an athlete and “newly” married person one passage that really stood out to me was on page 103:

Ask a coach, “How’s your team?” and they know how to answer. Ask your co-worker, “How are sales?” and they know how to answer…. But ask someone, “How’s your marriage?” and they will fumble and stumble. Why? Because most people never look at marriage as something that can be improved. From the very beginning, they take a passive approach to their relationship, failing to understand its true nature. They treat it as though it’s out of their control. They pretend like marriage just happens.

This is powerful, because people constantly ask, “how are you doing” or “how’s married life” and I just respond with the typically “fine,” but after reading this I have begun to view these questions from the point-of-view of the team coach or class teacher. Is “fine” truly how it is? Or are “sales” behind? Or has your “team” had a string of losses recently? No passionate coach responds to the question “how’s your team” with a halfhearted “fine” that many of us are used to responding with when asked these questions personally.

There were MANY points made throughout Happily that resonated with me. My marriage of only two years is certainly fresh, but whether you’ve been with your spouse months or even decades, the advice within is seemingly sound.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.


Lethal Target (The Line of Duty #2) by Janice Cantore

Publication Date: October 9th, 2018

Rating: 2 ¼ Stars

Tess and Oliver have both suffered traumatic loss. Oliver, the local preacher has maintained his faith through the difficult times, while Tess, the local police chief, has struggled to answer the “why’s” behind her loss for so many years. So, when the local Oregon pot farm starts stirring up trouble she is forced to confront her faith and maintain composure.

The many ongoing story lines, character insertion and varying plot narrations caused this to be a confusing read. While I fought to keep track of the ever-entering characters, the underlying story packed the suspense ripe for a TV-worthy drama. It was more than apparent Janice Cantore brought her impressive police knowledge in this unraveling of a homicide in small town Oregon.

Despite being book #2 of The Line of Duty series, Lethal Target maintains its ability to read as a standalone novel. However, for fans of Tess O’Rourke, The Line of Duty’s female heroine, be sure to check out book #1 Crisis Shot.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Publication Date: September 4th, 2018

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

Lisa, Ava and Marilyn all have secrets, but some secrets are undoubtedly worse than others. So, when each of their secrets start coming out, worlds quickly spiral.

This thrilling read will keep you guessing to the very last page. Heart pounding, twisted and suspenseful, Sarah Pinborough once again delivers. For those who loved Behind Her Eyes, Pinborough pens a more realistic suspense as she intertwines here, now, before and after and the reader is left piecing together a twisted timeline of surprises.

From a self-described, quick to guess the plot, reader, I was more than half way through the book and still trying to untangle all the clues. Pinborough is an author I will continue to come back to as Cross Her Heart not only initiated great conversations, but proved her skill in creating captivating works.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White

Publication Date: September 4th, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Tess, Caroline and Sarah are captured within these pages as their stories are unraveled to create a timeless, romantic drama, filled with love, loss, heartbreak and beauty. Jumping between 1915 and 2013, these three women could not be more different. Tess, a thief, Caroline, a wealthy wife, and Sarah a present-day writer. Despite these differences, their stories on stumbling into love and the heartbreak they each face are important reminders in this ageless historical fiction.

Authors, Williams, Willig & White, have quickly become a female dream team in this, their second book together. This writing team quickly entraps you in this engrossing novel as each chapter and character perspective mesh seamlessly together. Fall in love with the characters this team have created, while learning more about the RMS Lusitania sinking during WWI in this newest historical fiction.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

A Secret to Die For by Lisa Harris

Publication Date: September 18th, 2018

Rating: 3 Star

When Gracie’s house is broken into late one night she assumes her house was chosen at random.  But, when the burglar confronts her looking for “the key” she realizes her paranoid patient may have been right, someone is after them. 

Detective Nate and Psychiatrist Gracie have just enough history to make their relationship engrossing.  The heartbreak they’ve each experienced provides for deep and emotional character connection.  The first three-fourths of A Secret to Die For is incredibly well done, the suspense of the attacks is unwound and the connection between Nate and Gracie is built upon.  However, as the book begins to climax the finale seems to undermine the detailed build up, wrapping too quickly and neatly not to feel “corny.” 

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and Thrive by Jessica N. Turner

Publication Date: September 18th, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Stretched Too Thin is the “self-help” book every female needs!  I don’t care if you are a mother or childless, spouse or single, home owner or living with your parents – Turner offers sage advice, relatable experiences and achievable solutions.  From friendship to self-care, work, parenting and home every page had me nodding my head in agreement and jotting down notes for positive changes to make in my own life.  Anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed or guilty will relate to this book. 

As a working female, or adult in general, I often feel overwhelmed in all that needs to be accomplished and the minimal hours in my day.  I feel frustrated that many of the books I read on overwhelmed feelings offer stories with no solutions or workable advice.  Stretched Too Thin provides relatable experiences and attainable action items to better yourself.  It also provides important reminders that every human needs to hear again and again.  Each chapter wraps up with several pages of prompts and activities to help the reader both become self-aware and resolve the concepts broached in each chapter. 

This is absolutely a book I will be picking up again and again!  For any female, mother, adult or employee, do yourself a favor and read this book.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Candlewick Press: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington & We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

Publication Date: September 11th, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

The Red Ribbon tells the story of the Auschwitz experience, or Birchwood as it is translated to, from the lens of a young child.

The Red Ribbon is based on the actual dress shop within Auschwitz created by the Commander’s wife, for the purpose of using prisoners’ talents to create fashion for herself. Within this story, young heroine Ella becomes quick friends with Rose through their responsibilities at the Birchwood seamstress shop. They band together as they work to keep hope through the tortures and terrors they face at Birchwood. Ella finds a way to connect to a slice of home as she designs and executes dresses for the Birchwood guards and Commander’s wife. While Rose shows Ella compassion, friendship and the importance of storytelling.

As a self-prescribed WWII historical fiction lover, I can say I’ve NEVER read a WWII novel quiet like this. Like, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this novel is told from the point of view of the children. The sadness and heart wrenching horrors of the Nazi’s are present in the innocent, child eyes of those who refuse to lose HOPE. I don’t know of a better young adult concentration camp read. Five bold, bright, perfect stars to this read.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press, in exchange for an honest review.

We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin

Publication Date: January 8th, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

The American Dream is worth fighting for! The empathy within this book provides serves as a call to action.

Author, Susan Kuklin began this book several years ago as she collected stories and more importantly photos of immigrants that arrived or remained illegally in the United States. As this book approached its publication date, and the current United States President began rolling back immigrant protections, Kuklin was forced to pull the photos and change names for privacy and protection of those brave enough to share their story. This story is an unwilling testament to the effects the cancelling of The Dreamer’s Act is having. By cancelling The Dreamer’s Act, we have forced many strong, resilient immigrants back into the shadows.

The strength it took for HUMANS to participate in this book is overshadowed by the author’s need to retract identifying information of these undocumented persons. Their own safety, despite residing and CONTRIBUTING to a first world country (The U.S. of A), is at risk during this current Administration. There are still too many things immigrant CAN’T do, but the potential to achieve keeps driving them as is evidenced time and time again within these pages.

*Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Not the Boss of Us: Putting Overwhelmed in Its Place in a Do-All, Be-All World by Kay Wills Wyma

Publication Date: August 21st, 2018

Rating: 2 ½ Stars

I am a self-described, high functioning ball of stress. Ask my husband, at any one moment I am overwhelmed by dishes, laundry, cleaning, my hair, my clothes, the yard, you name it. Even if everything is done, I will stress about “what’s to come.” I feel like many can relate to this. I fail to turn my brain off, even when I’ve left the office I haven’t really “left” the office. I am constantly thinking of the many things I still need to accomplish tomorrow, or this week, or this month. So, when my prior mentioned husband saw me reading Not the Boss of Us, he was thrilled.

Going into this book, I hoped to not only gain perspective on what causes people to feel overwhelmed, but I also wanted to gain an understanding into how to control stressors. I assumed, given the wide-spread population likely affected by these same experiences, this book would provide fact-based research and solutions. Obviously, this was not the case, but I did walk away with several important reminders and perspectives.

  • Social media invades us with “curated pictures posted on platforms [that] tell a story. Then they do what we can’t seem to stop them from doing: inform us about ourselves in relation to others as well as to our own expectations.”
    • It is easy to begin to struggle under the weight of identifiers as “human nature leads us to think we are the only ones feeling a certain way,” when this is not in fact the case. But, social media plays negatively into these feelings and works to further compound.
  • We overlook the practice of thankfulness. Again, we get caught up in comparing ourselves to others we fail to remind ourselves of all we should be thankful for.
    • This simple practice can be done to improve physical and psychological health, sleep, relationships, self-esteem and much more.

In this same vein I deeply related to the following “bombs” we often come face-to-face with:

  • “Status Bombs” – wreak havoc as we compare and identify against the married/not married, job/no job, baby/no baby, homeowner/renter outcomes we see others experiencing.
  • “Stress Bombs” – evoke fear and a sense of anxiety for instance, the fear of failure, fear of falling behind, fear of being left out.

These reminders were important, they conjured deeper reflection and served to right me on my own path of easing the overwhelming feelings many adults face. But, unfortunately these prompts were often hidden amongst Wyma’s own tangled stories and tangents.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, but all opinions are my own.

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson

Publication Date: September 4th, 2018

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

A beautiful historical romance reminiscent of Monuments Men and The Woman in Gold, telling the tale of tragedies faced during WWII and the lost treasures of those taken by the Nazi’s. Max, Callie, Luzia and Annika each provide narration in this time-slip novel as the reader is transported from present day, in Callie’s bookshop, to the horrors of the German invasion of Austria in 1938, and the persecution of Jews.

Love, loss, family and identity are all conveyed beautifully within this engaging and heart wrenching read. Author, Melanie Dobson, provides a unique take on love in war and the sacrifices families and love ones took to protect one another. While the horrors and representations of WWII were not unfamiliar, the way Dobson portrayed the relationships and so eloquently tied them back to present day, drew the reader further into this story. Hidden Among the Stars even had a few twists you won’t see coming.

As an added caveat, I loved that the story tied to the here and now through a book in Callie’s possession. It played stunningly in making this read come full circle. Very well done.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, but all opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein & November Road by Lou Berney

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

Publication Date: July 10th, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Recently, the New York Times described this book as being “equal parts C-Span and Sex in the City,” and while I’ve been trying to put this review out of my head I can’t honestly think of a more fitting description for this book (I guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks to be NY Times writers). I picked up this book on a whim looking to inject some non-fiction in my recent reading streak and while I often describe myself as an unlucky person, luck was on my side the day I chose to read this one.

Author, Beck Dorey-Stein, begins this memoir as a 20-something D.C. graduate fighting to find a job in a sea of sharks. She effortlessly humors the readers as she describes the HORRID scene that is networking in D.C. Fast forward in her frantic search for jobs as she applies to a Craigslist Stenographer position that lands her in the Obama White House. As if this isn’t cool enough she spends the rest of this read describing her illicit tryst with a fellow staffer, White House travelling experiences and personal encounters with President Obama.

It is no surprise this book quickly climbed the ranks to bestseller. Obama fan or not this was an enthralling read. Although, in full transparency, while this is by no means a “political” read Dorey-Stein does fan-girl A LOT towards Obama & Co.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

November Road by Lou Berney

Publication Date: October 9th, 2018

Rating: 2.45 Stars

Described as being “set against the assassination of JFK,” I was expecting more of a historical fiction within the pages of this book. However, I quickly discovered this was not the premise of November Road, but rather happens to be the period in which this book takes place.

Frank is a “gangster” tasked with parking a stolen car in a Dallas Parking Lot, after the assassination of JFK he quickly realizes his role and begins life on the run from his mob boss, Carlos Marcello. Charlotte is a wife and mother of two. One night, she decides to leave her alcoholic husband and hits the road. Frank and Charlotte cross paths as the story of love in unlikely places unfolds.

Had the stage not been set for a JFK assassination/mob type book I may have been more receptive to the budding romance within. But, the writing felt forced as Berney injected colorful characters in an attempt to continually remind the reader of the mob influence and foundation of Frank’s story. Conversely, despite Charlotte’s emotionally grabbing backstory, she failed to resonate with me and quickly became an unlikeable character creation.

Just be warned as you embark on reading this novel (should you chose to read it) that it is not a JFK assassination conspiracy, but rather an unexpected romance in the midst of escape.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.