What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Today I’m sharing some short reviews of a few REALLY excellent books I’ve read in the past month! I have actually been completely floored by the books I’ve read lately – almost all of them have moved me to tears or made me grin like a crazy bookworm or cause me to gush about them to everyone I see, whether they care or not. I can’t believe how many great books I’m including in this post – I hope one or two of them make it on to your list too! Linking up today with Steph & Jana for Show us Your Books.

Lovely WarLovely War by Julie Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book SOOOOOOO much. This book has probably/almost/maybe claimed a spot on my list of favourite books of all time. The audiobook was absolutely incredible with a full-cast narration. The premise of this book doesn’t necessarily sell it at all, but this is a story of two different couples during World War I as told by Aphrodite, the goddess of love when defending herself and her to her husband, Hephaestus, the god of fire. Throughout the story, I sometimes forgot a bit about the gods as narrators but there are other perspectives too: Hades, the god of the underworld, Apollo, the god of music and dance, Ares, the god of war, and others. It sounds a bit strange and fantasy-based but I assure you it works better than I could have imagined and I am blown away by the uniqueness and intimacy of this storytelling. I cannot recommend this book enough and I don’t intend to stop raving about how excellent it is anytime soon, so beware of that πŸ™‚

What You Wish ForWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I’d been waiting not-very-patiently for this book for at least a year and a half when I saw on Katherine Center’s instagram that she was in Galveston doing research for a book starring Duncan from Happiness for Beginners. I already knew right then and there that I would love this book no matter what, but in many ways, reading it still surprised me and surpassed my expectations in ways I was not expecting. I originally expected lightheartedness and silly jokes throughout but there were some highly serious issues tackled in this book in a very realistic and universal way.

Needless to say, I really had no idea what this was about (aside from Duncan) until a few weeks ago when I read the synopsis here on Goodreads and I was quite surprised that Duncan might not be the incredibly easygoing and carefree character that I’d grown to adore in Happiness for Beginners. Why? How? Ahhh!! I knew there’d be a reason for it, and I knew I’d love it anyway, so when I got the ARC in an e-mail from St. Martin’s Press I dropped everything and started it that same day.

This book has some amazing underlying themes of seeking joy instead of sorrow, embracing friendships and relationships and friends becoming your family. There are several health issues that are touched on. I knew (hoped!!!) there would be a tiny mention of Helen and Jake from Happiness for Beginners, and that surpassed all my wildest expectations. I adored the setting including the incredible-sounding school environment. I choked up during several lines of this book and also grinned wider than ever other times. The side characters including all of the other teachers at the school (especially Alice with her math t-shirts!!) and a delightfully inquisitive 3rd grader named Clay were fun and multi-faceted.

Fans of Katherine Center’s books will adore this one, I’m sure. I really, really enjoyed the ending, and of course, the epilogue, but there are lines throughout this that I want to underline and remind myself of daily. Steam-wise and romance wise, this falls closer in line with Happiness for Beginners than Things you Save in a Fire in case anyone is curious about that. This book was inspiring, hopeful, funny, realistic, heart-wrenching, beautiful, and so special. I can’t recommend it enough. πŸ™‚

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was exceptionally difficult to absorb, as it is meant to be, but also exceptionally well written and the narration by the author was wonderfully done. I know it’s been said before about this book, but I truly feel like the eye-opening stories and accounts of Bryan Stevenson’s work and experiences detailed here should be required reading for absolutely everyone.

Where the Forest Meets the StarsWhere the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was utterly fantastic. I’d seen it described as a read-alike to The Snow Child and Harry’s Trees, both of which I really enjoyed, and while I see the comparisons, this book is extremely unique as well. I really enjoyed the characters, my jaw dropped a bit when everything kind of came together and the story was revealed a bit more, and the ending was so nice. This book is full of a myriad of raw emotions and I would also say that there are some trigger warnings which I can mention in a private message to avoid spoilers here. Overall though, well worth the read if you enjoy contemporary fiction that takes awhile to figure out and has lovely imagery and fantastic characters as well as an interesting setting & premise.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was fascinating from the point of view of how and why we develop habits. It is *not* as much a manual for developing better habits and if that is what you are seeking, I would recommend Atomic Habits for a more how-to guide. However, I found the science included in this book super fascinating!!! Keep in mind that my background is in psychology, so I am fascinated in the way the brain works and how people behave, but this was written in a really interesting way with a lot of anecdotes and cases discussed to illustrate particular points. I highly recommend this one on audio but just know that while it is motivating, it is more about the background and effect of habits on lives.

The Garden of Small BeginningsThe Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wow! I really loved this. It took me a little longer to get into than The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, which I loved instantaneously last year, but by the end of this, I was still in love with Abbi Waxman’s writing and characters. This book has some very sad moments due to the main character being a sudden widow as well as a mother of young girls (close in age to mine so I related well to some of her thoughts on these pages). The gardening aspects felt very appropriate to read in spring and some of those chapter snippets were really funny! Overall, Abbi Waxman’s writing is some of the best I’ve enjoyed lately in women’s fiction and I can’t wait to read her other books as well.

Photos of YouPhotos of You by Tammy Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was hesitant to pick this book up despite being sent the ARC in an e-mail because I was worried it would be just a bit too sad and I figured I needed to be in the right headspace to read it. I was right – it is incredibly sad, but it is also immensely hopeful, completely beautiful, and so worth the time. We learn in the first few pages that our beloved main character, 28-yr-old Ava, has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer after being in remission for several years. She has a couple of unbelievably close, fantastic girlfriends and two adoring parents. Many of her short years on earth earth were affected by her cancer. She decides to have a “wedding” in which she is the bride but there is no groom as a bit of a celebration of life and the story takes off from there. These pages are full of love, hopeful message, and poignant thoughts and observations about life. Ava is brave, but she is also sad and bitter about her situation at times. The ending of this book was lovely despite its sadness and I adored every moment with these interesting and fun characters. The setting of the book is also gorgeous and important at times – the descriptions of some of the locations were breathtaking and made me feel like hopping on a plane to New Zealand tomorrow. Fans of Me Before You will love this book. Thank you to Forever and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Reasons to Stay AliveReasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow – this is a book you should read if you or anyone you know has experienced depression. It is not a self-help book but more of a memoir that will likely cause you to feel so seen if you’ve had periods of depression in your life. Matt Haig’s experience that he details and shares in these pages is raw, intense, and so well described compared to all other books I’ve read about depression. Of course, not everyone will feel the same in any way, but I think this book includes enough broad strokes of experience to resonate with anyone, honestly.

I especially loved the parts about how books helped to save him, as well as writing, yoga, running, and his family and partner. So many quotable lines.

This will probably be an emotional book to read if you are in the thick of depression or anxiety at the present, but it might also just be the healing solidarity you need.

In Five YearsIn Five Years by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few bookworm friends that I really trust mentioned that this book was fantastic so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was also warned that they cried and that it was emotional and after devouring this, I can see how it would move someone to those emotions. I felt it myself.

The premise of this book is quite interesting. At the beginning of this relatively short novel, our main character Dannie, who is a major type-A lawyer in Manhattan with her entire life planned to the month, has a strange dream-like experience in which she wakes up leading a very different life than she could ever imagine five years in the future. We go back to the present day and skip around a little bit but it became obvious that something was going to happen to make this book UNABLE to put down and indeed that did happen.

I felt profoundly connected to these characters even though I couldn’t personally relate to them in the same way I often do with characters. I loved the NYC setting. I felt the pain that these fictional characters were going through as well as the decisions they were faced with and the consequences of those decisions. This story included a lot of friendship, love, sadness, joy, hope, unexpected turns, and everything in between. It was an extremely quick read that I did not want to put down.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

If I Never Met YouIf I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started this book, I thought I was going to have to put it down. I felt absolutely heartbroken about the beginning and so frustrated for Laurie but I knew Mhairi McFarlane would make it all okay and I was along for the ride. I’m so glad I stuck with this book because I TOTALLY LOVED IT. I loved the character development, I loved the introduction of new characters and their depths, I was absolutely in love with how British everything was (it’s just so fun!!!). And of course, overall, I loved the ending too and the way things all played out. Was it predictable? Yes…of course…in some ways. Did I still feel very happy and enjoy every word? Yep.

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

New Kid (New Kid, #1)New Kid by Jerry Craft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After my beloved favourite book-recommender Janssen from Everyday Reading recommended this on Instagram or in a blog post (I can’t remember which!), I knew that I had to get my hands on this graphic novel immediately. Then it won the Newbery and I was beyond antsy to read it. This book did not disappoint and graphic-novel lovers should pick this up ASAP. I loved Jordan’s very profound and mature observations of his new school. His parents were wonderful and so human. This book really represents how many of us feel in middle school, but even more so starting at a new private school and starting to fit in and find one’s place. Jordan’s friends were so fun and there were a lot of very humorous and unexpected plot twists in this book.

Themes of embracing diversity and reducing prejudice abound in this book but it is subtle enough to be totally approachable to middle-grade readers. My 8 year old also loved it though I imagine some of it went over her head.

I also read the sixth book in the Ravenels series, Chasing Cassandra (it was SO good and potentially my new favourite), Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, The BFG with the kiddos, Lauren Layne’s newest, Yours in Scandal, which comes out today, and a few other books for Erin’s challenge. I’m currently reading The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, When we Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal, and still slowly making my way through The Poisonwood Bible.

TL;DR: Add Lovely War, What You Wish For (out July 14!), Where the Forest Meets the Stars (on Kindle Unlmited!), and Just Mercy to your list ASAP!!

29 responses to “What I’ve Been Reading Lately”

  1. Great roundup – looks like you found a bunch that you really liked! I thought Lovely War was such a lovely read – so inventive and also touching. And ohhhh I had no idea that Duncan was from an earlier of Katherine Center’s books, because so far I had only read Things You Save in a Fire when I got the e-galley of this newest one… and now I wish I had read Happiness for Beginners first, because then maybe I would have liked it more. But for me this new one was disappointing in comparison to Things You Save in a Fire (which I LOVED) – I think for me it was the slightly different tone, with this offbeat main character. Interesting to see your take though…stopping by from Show Us Your Books πŸ™‚

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    1. Oh, I can absolutely see what you mean about What you Wish For! Totally Different from Things you Save in a Fire for sure. It surprised me in a myriad of ways even though I had anticipated the characters for months. You should definitely still check out Happiness for Beginners sometime – it’s one of my favourites of all time πŸ™‚ So glad to hear that you loved Lovely War too! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book like it!

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  2. I’m so jealous you read the new Katherine Center! She’s a must read for me. I haven’t read Happiness for Beginners yet though! A lot of these are on my tbr list.

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    1. You should definitely read Happiness for Beginners! It is my absolute favourite of hers and will probably never be topped.

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  3. Adding Berry, Haig, & Serle to the TBR! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

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    1. Yay!! Hope you love them!!

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  4. You killed it this month! What a great crop of books. I like how Lovely War sounds but don’t know if I can hang with it so I snagged the excerpt on Netgalley to take it for a spin.

    Love the new title and blog!

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    1. Oh great idea!!! I really loved it – it is one of those YA books that doesn’t feel like they are young people and I really adored the addition of the Greek gods part – it felt very natural to me even though the concept is a bit out there. The writing is superb.

      And thank you!!! πŸ™‚

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  5. shootingstarsmag Avatar
    shootingstarsmag

    Oh wow, you read a lot this month – and so many good titles too. I’m really curious about Lovely War. I’ve read one book by the author and enjoyed it. I also have New Kid that I need to check out soon.

    -Lauren
    http://www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Oh you should definitely check out Lovely War if you enjoyed one of her other books – I have yet to read any others of hers but now I really want to!

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  6. I actually enjoy Katherine Center’s books as a break in between what I normally read, so I’m looking forward to reading this new one.

    Just Mercy sticks with you. It is an outstanding book.

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    1. I think you’ll like this one even though it isn’t quite as light as some of her others!!
      I am looking forward to following along a bit more with Bryan Stevenson’s work after reading that book.

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  7. Fabulous reviews! Thanks for adding to my “must read” list!!!

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    1. Haha – anytime! πŸ™‚

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  8. I have nearly all of these on my TBR, and now I cannot WAIT! Your reviews have me so excited for many of them. What a great reading month you had!

    Karly
    https://www.whatkarlysaid.com

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    1. Yay I really hope you like them. I definitely recommend Lovely War SO much and if you happen to have not read Happiness for Beginners you should read that before What You Wish For πŸ™‚ I can’t remember if you’ve read it yet or not!

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  9. I just requested In Five Years. Funny story: I read a review you posted for it on IG or something (or maybe on Goodreads?) and I read the author’s last name wrong and thought it was a book by one of my favorites Rebecca STEAD. So, turns out, she had a new book out too. So I requested that and now have that ARC πŸ™‚ Might as well try for In Five Years too!

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    1. I saw that Rebecca Stead had a new book coming out! I was declined for it on Netgalley but I look forward to reading it anyway when it comes out! In Five Years was a quick read – and not quite what I was expecting but it kept me on my toes for sure!

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  10. I’m on the very long wait list for that katherine center book. Glad to hear it’s a good read!

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    1. It wasn’t 100% what I expected but I still really loved it!

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  11. People are loving Just Mercy. I saw the movie trailer a few months ago and it looked POWERFUL!

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    1. I can only imagine how amazing the movie is!

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  12. I just LOVE when I stumble into a hot reading streak and pick up great book after great book. Pinning this list!!

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    1. I love it too!! 2020 has been incredible so far and I’m still anticipating some books that I also hope will be good!!!

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  13. Whoa. So many great reads here! I am completely 100% intrigued by your description of the Lovely War. I absolutely love Greek mythology and I am fascinated by how the author entwined the two. Definitely adding it to my TBR. The latest Center book sounds really good too but I … errr … need to read Happiness for Beginners (or any Center book) first. πŸ˜€ Where the Forest Meets the Stars also sounds really interesting as well – adding it to my TBR. And Reasons to Stay Alive, I cannot say enough good things about it. When I read it, I had a really, really difficult time with the beginning. It felt like nails on a chalkboard for me because I was in the midst of a depression relapse and the picture he painted was so accurate that it hurt to read it, which is why I recommend to anyone who either suffers from depression or loves someone who does. I also love him on Twitter too.

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    1. I love Matt Haig on social media too – I follow him on Instagram which is likely linked to his twitter and his posts are SO good. Hope you eventually pick up Happiness for Beginners and like it (or any of her books!). Lovely War is one of the most uniquely written books I’ve ever read and it completely consumed me. I will never forget how it made me feel πŸ™‚

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  14. Yesss I am so looking forward to the latest Katherine Center! I have an e-galley but I’m saving it for a rainy day πŸ™‚

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  15. Where the Forest Meets the Stars is one of my all-time favorites πŸ™‚ Lovely War sounds super intriguing with those narrators! Thanks for sharing a great list

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  16. yay lovely war! lol.
    just mercy is on my list! the power of habit and atomic habits are both on my tbr too. aaaand where the forest meets the stars. and the garden of small beginnings. lol. i’m back and forth on the photos of you but i’m sure i’ll get to it eventually. maybe. lol
    i love love loved if i never met you, as you know πŸ™‚

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