Monday, August 6, 2018

July 2018 Reads // Netgalley Picks

I know that next week is book week... but this post was feeling rather long, and I wanted to get it out into the world! :)

Another month buried in paint, garden compost, cleaners, and flooring debacles. As with the past few months.. I spent much of my non-working time with my nose in a book. I read 8 books this month, and while I am pleased with that, I am more so pleased with the number of genres I read this month!

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley*

3.5 - 4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy historical fiction that jumps back and forth in time.

When Charley moves to Long Island to take care of her niece and her deceased brother's home, she takes a job at a historic home to turn it into a museum. As she works within the home, they uncover the hidden history of the people who lived there. Among the people who lived in the home Lydia and a detained French officer Jean-Philippe. As Charley uncovers the past, the story is told through the past and the present, and mysteries will be uncovered.

The dedication is incredibly thoughtful and important. This was my first Kearsley novel, I loved the alternating time periods, and the bits of mystery woven in with the historical fiction. I loved how elements would carry from one time period to the next: draft deserters, important locations, specific cultures, and even just little things like a storm blowing in. I thought that the story was overall pretty satisfying, but a little bit slow. It felt a bit anticlimactic for me, though I didn't dislike the ending. I liked learning more about the French and Indian War, and life during that time period. I liked the teeny hints of supernatural activity. Overall I would recommend if you enjoy historical fiction that jumps back and forth in time.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson*

5 Stars - I highly recommend if you enjoy pseudo-fantasy adventure books. This doesn't have a ton of fantasy elements in it, but doesn't take place in the real world.

When Jase Ballenger's father dies, he is now the leader of their unofficial kingdom of outlaws. His father always wanted recognition from the queen that their kingdom was a real one... and now Jase takes it upon himself to get the queen to visit them. Kazi is one of the queen's most trusted guards, and a legendary street thief. When she is sent to investigate Jase's lands, things quickly spiral out of control. Jase and Kazi are taken by a labor hunter, and chained at together at the ankle. They must escape, and find a way back to their old lives before their reputations are damaged. As they have to work together to escape, they begin to understand a bit more of each other's worlds. However, understanding doesn't erase crime, or orders from the queen.

I really enjoyed this fast paced novel! This story of two people from different worlds is filled with political intrigue, secrecy, action, and understanding. I felt like the world this novel is set in mirrors so many issues the real world is facing right now: immigration, prejudice, poverty, and trust. I loved seeing those things built into this story and explored in a different world. I wouldn't call this fantasy. but it is not quite set in the real world either. So even if you don't like fantasy, this one won't feel too fantastical for you. I loved the characters, they were complicated and a lot of fun. Jase and Kazi were great main characters, but I loved Kazi's relationship with her girlfriends too. They were so tough and brave. I also really loved Jases's family. With books like this I often find a weak spot... there isn't enough plot, or the romance is predictable, or something seems underdeveloped.... that is not the case with this one. It was extremely solid, start to finish. Highly recommend if you enjoy pseudo-fantasy adventure books. I will admit I am not sure what the last chapter meant... and I can't wait to find out in the next book!

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker*

4 Stars - I highly recommend if you enjoy contemporary women's fiction that centers upon family drama, adventure, and a bit of romance.

Calla's mother married an Alaskan "sky cowboy" but couldn't live her life in the remote Alaskan Bush. She packed up her baby, and left her husband hoping he would follow. Calla has grown up with her mother and step-father in Toronto, with very little contact with her father. When she gets a call from Alaska telling her that her father has cancer, Calla flies across the country to reconnect with him. Along the way she meets a surly young pilot named Jonah, who is her father's right-hand-man. He clearly loves Alaska, and thinks that Calla is a stuck up city girl. Along the way Calla and Jonah will have to work together on the charter plane company, and taking care of her father as his health quickly deteriorates. But will they make the same mistake that Calla's parents made years ago?

This book was a really satisfying mix of adventure, family dynamics and found family dynamics, romance, humor, and bittersweet moments. While this book is romantic it has a lot more to it than just romance. Though it took a while to get to the Alaska plot, I loved it fully once we got there. I definitely recommend if you like a well rounded contemporary novel with some romance in it. The chemistry was really great, and I loved all of the side characters and the way of life in the Alaskan Bush. I also liked that this isn't the kind of romantic relationship where the characters can't communicate. Finally. I absolutely died laughing during the part where he falls asleep on a muscle relaxer. SO FUNNY.

The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu by Katja Pantzar

3.5 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy books that explore happiness in other cultures.

This book follows the author's journey from life in North America filled with depression, fatigue, etc. to a life of wellness in Finland due to the concept of Sisu. Sisu roughly translates to fortitude through struggle or grit. It encourages you to get up and do the thing that is hard because it is rewarding and healthful to you. Throughout the book Patnzar explores her own experience, as well as the experience of Finns she knows. A big portion of this book are spent exploring the topics of winter swimming, year-round cycling, saunas, and time in nature.

Overall, I found this book to be enjoyable, encouraging, and soothing to read. I liked the concept of Sisu and found it to be quite similar to being goal-oriented. I feel that that part of my personality has become lazy and a little lost in anxiety in recent years, so reading this book definitely gave me some encouragement there. I like the reminder that it feels good and is better for you to do the hard thing, to do something that isn't always fun. That building healthy habits into your life and day make a big impact. I loved reading about the author's experience treating her depression and the fatigue that comes with it with winter swimming, sauna, and year-round cycling. There isn't anything in this book that is entirely earth-shattering, but most of it is posed in a way that is very un-American, and therefore helpful I think. It certainly led to me taking a few moments at the end of most showers with frigid water in an attempt to reap the benefits of winter swimming. I would recommend this book if you enjoy these types of books.

Trust by Casey Daim*

3 Stars? -  I'm not sure I can recommend this one....

I *might* recommend this book if you enjoy over the top NA books, and don't mind incredibly explicit scenes. I requested this one because the plot sounded really different from other romance I have read... however, it ended up being a little too much for me. There was a lot going on with the drama, action, and sex scenes. Overall, I enjoyed this, but felt like nothing was surprising because everything was inserted into the plot for shock value. Maybe just not my kind of book.

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren*

5 Stars - I highly recommend if you enjoy contemporary romance, quirky characters, and lot of heart.

Hazel is loud, unapologetic, eccentric, and wholly herself. Because her "Hazelness" often causes her to embarrass herself, she knows she is "undateable" to Josh, her college crush. When they meet again years later, not much has changed, but Hazel makes it her mission to become his best friend. As they explore their friendship they begin going on a series of wacky double blind dates, in the hopes of setting each other up. As time goes on, it will be harder to ignore the person they both want to be on the date with, each other.

This is my favorite Christina Lauren book to date. I absolutely loved Hazel and Josh. Their friendship and later chemistry was so good. I loved that they were quirky, I loved their friend and family dynamics. Hazel reminded me a lot of Jess from New Girl, but mixed with someone a lot more forthcoming about sex and frequent cursing. As the book went on she felt more like her own character. I am so glad that this book features a POC as one of the main characters, and appreciated the depth that it added to this novel. I particularly loved Josh's family dynamics and how his heritage shaped his character. As always with their books I laughed out loud so many times, but I also was fairly emotional about the story line, which is rare for me with a romance. I loved the epilogue. Though I could have done with the skipped part before the epilogue as well. I loved the whole thing. Highly recommend. *publishes September 4th*

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy a more realistic take on a romance novel.

When Alexa and Drew get stuck in a hotel elevator together, he talks her into attending his ex's wedding with him that weekend. What starts out as a no-strings-attached, pretend dating weekend, quickly turns into something more. Starting a long distance fling, dealing with busy career lives, issues of race, and communication cause trouble for the two of them. Will they be able to make it work? Or was their relationship better left to the pretend weekend?

Overall I really enjoyed this book. I loved Drew and Alexa's meet cute in the elevator and I loved their banter. I found this book to be a much more realistic portrayal of romance than many romance books. Because of that it felt a bit less exciting, there wasn't a ton of anticipation... but I did really enjoy seeing their journey as the book went on. I liked that this book features diversity in it's characters as well. I liked that race and privilege were discussed some in this book. It wasn't a huge focus, but I really appreciated that it wasn't ignored. I also liked that body image was mentioned from time to time and that wasn't an issue in their romantic relationship. I really didn't like Drew very much... haha, but I did like his bromance with his friend Carlos. (Guillory's next book is about Carlos and I can't wait to read it!) Probably my favorite bit of the book was when it mentions that feeling of homecoming that you get after a hard day, knowing someone is there for you. It's so so realistic, and very under used in romantic fiction. I highly recommend if you're looking for a realistic romance novel.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang


Stella Lane is a thirty year old math and economics expert, with more money than she knows what to do with. When her parents express interest in having grandchildren, she wants nothing more than to please them. However, Stella is not good at dating or anything that comes with it. It doesn't help that Asperger's makes her feel easily overstimulated and like she is bad at social interactions. She decides that the best way to go about it is to hire an expert and learn how to check all of the boxes in her sexual lesson plan. Michael Phan is an escort who has slept with hundreds of women, but he's never met anyone like Stella. His mother is sick, and he needs the money, so Stella's offer is much too tempting to pass up. As their lessons progress, it becomes harder to ignore the real feelings bubbling under the surface.

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I am pretty darn stingy with my 5 star reviews... but this one deserved it, hands down. A few reasons why before I go into full gush... 1) this is an own voices novel with a neurodiverse main character, 2) the characters in this book are also racially diverse, 3) the side characters (mostly family members) are so freaking adorable and colorful, 4) it is sexy as hell. I love, love, love everything about this book. The premise (gender swapped Pretty Woman) is adorable, alluring, and refreshed completely in this novel. Stella is such a fascinating character. She's really strong, independent, and shows character growth (but like Kristin mentioned in her review, isn't "fixed" by falling in love, AMEN!). Michael is .. le swoon. You guys... His character has SO MANY LAYERS. So many! I loved him. His relationship with his family made me grin, and laugh, and tear up. I absolutely loved loved loved any bit of the book with his mom, grandma, many sisters, or his cousin. Yet again, this is another book with a good bromance Michael and Quang. Yas. I also loved seeing bits of his family's Vietnamese culture. It was so interesting. I liked so much that this book is not *all* sexy, but when it is sexy... it's REALLY SEXY. The only teeeny thing I didn't love was the epilogue. I could have gone for something different there, but it was like 3 pages long... so really not a huge deal. There is so much more going on here, so much character development... so many heartfelt moments... so many quirky bits of dialogue... I just... can't even. I will read ANYTHING Helen Hoang writes. Cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot wait for her next book!!!!!!

I am working on Erin's 9.0 Challenge, but also trying to read a lot of Netgalley picks and other ARCs before they publish. 

Linking up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books next week. :) 

What have you been reading? What do you hope to read this month?! 

Let's be friends on Goodreads!



* Asterisks denote titles that I was given advance access to by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. These reviews are my own opinion, and based on the edition of the book I was given at the time. Thank you Netgalley

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