Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis

Top pastry chef Sophie Bernstein and her sommelier fiancé were set to have Chicago’s culinary wedding of the year…until the groom eloped with someone else in a very public debacle, leaving Sophie splashed across the tabloids—fifty grand in debt on her dream wedding and one-hundred percent screwed on her dream life. The icing on the cake was when she lost her job and her home…

Laying low, Sophie moves in with her grandmother, Bubbles. That way, she can keep Bubbles and her sweater-wearing pug company and nurse her broken heart. But when Sophie gets a part-time job at the old-fashioned neighborhood bakery, she finds herself up to her elbows in dough and reluctantly giving a wedding cake customer advice on everything from gift bags to guest accommodations. Before she knows it, she’s an online wedding planner. It’s not mousse and macarons, but it pays the bills. But with the arrival of unexpected personal and professional twists, Sophie wonders if she’s really moving forward—or starting over from scratch… – Goodreads

Every once in a while, I get in the mood for a fluffy chick lit novel. This one came across my bargain page, so I picked up up for a couple of bucks on Kindle.

This book fit the bill — it was quite fluffy and full of food descriptions. In fact, the food got to the point of skimming over it. I had the same issue with The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, so perhaps I should avoid food books!

Sophie is alright. She’s hurt after her ex-fiance broke her heart and hijacked their business. She spent an ungodly amount on her wedding and is in serious debt, so she moves in with her grandma, Bubbles…who I picture as Betty White.

Sophie develops her own Ask Alice type of site for wedding consultation. She makes bank. She whines about making bank. She pays off her debt. She whines more about answering questions. Look, I get it — if you’re not pursuing your passion, it’s not worth it. But have some gratitude, Sophie.

It was hella obvious who she would end up with at the end.

I don’t know. It was a light, fluffy read. But I’ve read plenty of light, fluffy books and walked away feeling impressed and happy. This was not the case — I found myself annoyed. Sophie fell flat as an MC, the love interest was boring, and the grandma was more interesting than anyone else. I simply wasn’t into Sophie’s spiral of self-loathing and angst.

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Cage of Deceit by Jennifer Anne Davis

Sixteen-year-old Allyssa appears to be the ideal princess of Emperion—she’s beautiful, elegant, and refined. She spends her days locked in a suffocating cage, otherwise known as the royal court. But at night, Allyssa uses her secret persona—that of a vigilante—to hunt down criminals and help her people firsthand.

Unfortunately, her nightly escapades will have to wait because the citizens of Emperion may need saving from something much bigger than common criminals. War is encroaching on their kingdom and in order to protect her people, Allyssa may have to sacrifice her heart. Forced to entertain an alliance through marriage with a handsome prince from a neighboring kingdom, she finds herself feeling even more stifled than before. To make matters worse, the prince has stuck his nosy squire, Jarvik, to watch her every move.

Jarvik is infuriating, bossy and unfortunately, the only person she can turn to when she unveils a heinous plot. Together, the unlikely pair will have to work together to stop an enemy that everyone thought was long gone, one with the power to destroy her family and the people of Emperion. Now the cage Allyssa so longed to break free from might just be the one thing she has to fight to keep intact. In order to save her kingdom, she will have to sacrifice her freedom, her heart, and maybe even her life. – Goodreads

I think I’m part of the minority, but I wasn’t head over heels for this book. I know, I know.

I like Allyssa — she was an alright MC. However, in true YA fantasy fashion, Allyssa is doomed to take part in an arranged marriage, which eats up most of the first half of the book. Though I can obviously understand not WANTING to be forced into an arranged marriage, Allyssa’s apprehensions come off as angsty and whiny, to a point where she deliberately puts her own safety (and that of her friend) at stake to go gallavanting into the night. She’s a badass, she can fight — I will give her that.

The “plot twist” is something you can spot from a mile away. It’s apparent from the moment it shows up and the first clue is given. I won’t delve into it anymore, but I was annoyed at how easy it was to figure out.

Also, side note, since I’m on a rant — I understand the name of the book is Cage of Deceit, but holy shit. If I had a dollar for everytime I read the words ‘gilded cage’ or literally just ‘cage’ in a metaphorical context,  I would have enough money to buy many books.

This was a miss for me, but don’t let my pessimism discourage you — Jennifer is a good writer and I will read other work from her in the future. I rated this a 2/5.

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The Other series by Anne Bishop

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow. – Goodreads

This…it’s seriously a contender for my top favorite series of 2017. Sure, it’s only June, but still…I loved this series. I read books 1-4, so this review is for the entire series. It’s a little difficult to cover an entire series, so bear with me.

The books are written in third-person, which allows the reader to get a glimpse into everyone’s emotions and views. This was especially handy because each, er, species of individual views humans (or Others) differently.

My favorite part of the entire series were the characters — everyone, no matter how small, was developed well. Though Meg was extremely annoying with her naive nature and almost juvenile ways, it made sense with her upbringing. Throughout the series you can see Meg grow and become stronger. Simon also changed dramatically throughout the entire series.

The underlying romance plot is light and is almost an afterthought. Without giving too much away, I found myself subconsciously BEGGING the author to make some sparks fly or something. PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE.

Anne Bishop is a great writer — I was completely enveloped in the world she had crafted. If you enjoy fantasy fiction, seriously, do yourself a favor and pick this up.

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United States of Jihad by Peter Bergen

In the wake of the attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, and in Paris, here is a riveting, panoramic look at “homegrown” Islamist terrorism, from 9/11 to the present

Since 9/11, some 300 Americans–born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere–have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. Some have taken the fight abroad: Americans were among those who planned the attacks in Mumbai, and more recently a dozen US citizens have sought to join ISIS. Others have acted entirely on American soil. What motivates them, how are they trained, and what do we sacrifice in our aggressive efforts to track them?

Paced like a detective story, United States of Jihad will tell the entwined stories of the key actors on the American front. Among the perpetrators are Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born radical cleric who became the first American citizen killed by a CIA drone and who mentored the Charlie Hebdo shooters; Samir Khan, whose Inspire webzine has rallied terrorists around the world, including the Tsarnaev brothers; and Omar Hammami, an Alabama native and hip hop fan who became a fixture in al Shabaab’s propaganda videos until fatally displeasing his superiors. Drawing on his extensive network of intelligence contacts, from the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI to the NYPD, Peter Bergen also offers an inside look at the sometimes controversial tactics of the agencies tracking potential terrorists–from infiltrating mosques to massive surveillance; at the bias experienced by innocent observant Muslims at the hands of law enforcement; at the critics and defenders of US policies on terrorism; and more.

Lucid, rigorously researched, and packed with fascinating new details, United States of Jihad is the definitive account of the Americans who have embraced militant Islam both here and abroad.

I’ve been TERRIBLE about reading non-fiction, which is why I decided to get this book. While I was in the Academy, one of our units we studied was Homeland Security — though we discussed international terrorism, we spent a bulk of our time talking about homegrown terrorism.

United States of Jihad was obviously well researched and well-written. It definitely challenged my thinking and made me realize the dangers that lurk on our own soil.

The current boogeyman of the terrorism world is ISIS. ISIS has successfully used social media to spread their propaganda and recruit new members — many of whom they encourage to stay at home to further their agenda.

I’m not quite sure how to give a full, in-depth review of this book without making it sound like CliffNotes — if you’re interested in learning more about terrorism, definitely check out this book. Thank you to Blogging for Books for the opportunity to review this.

Blog Updates and What’s To Come

Book blogging is awesome — but I’m wanting to expand.

The blog name implies that it’s about the life that happens between books, but I’ve never really explored that avenue. Books will still be a focus, but so will recipes and DIY projects. I’m currently househunting and based on my price range, I’m going to be getting a bit of a fixer upper — those projects will be fun to cover, too!

Keep your eyes peeled for a rebrand, new layout and different content. The book reviews will still be there, but with some DIY projects and recipes, too 🙂

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

A luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever. – Goodreads

I’m not quite sure how to feel about this one. Yes, I read it in a short amount of time because I was curious about what would happen next.

I thought the entire story was very…predictable. Though I have to give Lonsdale props for the unique storyline, many of the twists felt extremely convenient and I often found myself rolling my eyes. I obviously can’t provide any examples here, though, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.

The timeline of the book is also confusing. Sometimes months would go by from chapter to chapter, with the entire story spanning about 16-18 months. I don’t mind the span of time, but I think it could have been more clear how much time had passed and less jumpy.

Lastly, before I say some good things — I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters. Aimee fell flat for me, as she was either the grieving widow or magically healed and in love. The only time her personality came through was when she talked about her cafe. Her friends were obviously only in the story as a way to connect her to Ian and push her to go to Mexico. I still don’t know who the F Lana is. Ian is a stage-five clinger. James was way too damn perfect. I just…couldn’t identify with anyone, and thus cared about no one.

The book was paced well, though, and despite it’s flaws, held my interest. This is a good beach read if you’re looking for something light.

I rated it a 2/5 on Goodreads.

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Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? – Goodreads

This book was beautifully written — I couldn’t put it down. I’m a sucker for a fairytale retelling and this one was one of the best I’ve read.

Yeva is beautiful — almost obnoxiously so, as the book kept referring to it (my only qualm with the story). Yeva doesn’t want to settle down and get married — she wants to spend her days outdoors, hunting like her father. When her father goes crazy hunting for a creature in the woods, Yeva decides to track the creature as well.

I enjoyed Yeva’s character. She was deep, I could connect with her, and I truly cared about her. I also like the Beast’s character — though the “plot twist” was super obvious, I enjoyed his story and how he came to be.

The world was constructed well — I could picture the castle, the woods, the dogs, everything. I enjoyed the magical elements and how the parallel magical world played into the “real” world.

I can’t say too much more without giving it away — if you enjoy fairytale retellings, definitely give this one a shot. I rated it a 5/5 on Goodreads and added it to my favorites shelf.

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Series: The Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet

Catalia “Cat” Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice… Continue reading

Everything You Need You Have by Gerad Kite

29807307Gerad Kite was a therapist for years before realizing all the talk and analysis weren’t making a lasting difference in the lives of his patients. So he quit his practice and looked for a new way to help people feel better. What he discovered is a different approach to finding a secret, peaceful, and permanent place inside yourself that you can access at all times, a path to getting out of your head, to surrender to what is. You’ll see that you already have what you need to be happy and well.
Kite draws on the principles of ancient Chinese philosophy and his extensive experience helping people from all walks of life as a relaxation and acupuncture expert. His ten steps will show you how to tune in to your natural rhythms, view your emotions from a different perspective, and finally experience a state of bliss that you can return to again and again.
The secret to feeling at home in yourself isn’t therapy, meditation, silencing your phone, throwing out your possessions or traveling the world. The answer is already inside you. – Goodreads

It was an interesting read, but I wasn’t completely in love with this read. It was…average at best.

If it’s your first time reading a book on meditation and enlightenment, then it’s a great choice. If you’ve been around the block a few times, it’s nothing new. I do think that Kite does a great job at taking complex ideas of Taoism and ancient Chinese concepts and breaks them down into everyday language, but it was a mess of ideas at times, too.

I do like the overall idea of looking inward for fulfillment and validation — so often we look externally for those feelings and are usually let down.

Overall, it was a quick little read, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I rated it a 3/5. I was given a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Wake Up To The Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopoulos

This is your year of self-discovery, a journey to create a life filled with grace, meaning, zest, peace, and joy. With warmth and wisdom from a lifetime of spiritual seeking, inspirational force Agapi Stassinopoulos guides you through fifty-two weeks of letting go of what doesn t work for you and finding what does. You ll cultivate the building blocks of self-care (meditation, health, making time for yourself) and confront the common roadblocks we all face, like pouring your energy into other people or living in denial. You ll explore your conflict areas, such as relationships, money, self-esteem, anxiety, and your childhood. And you ll learn to trust your creativity, keep your heart open, and connect to the bigger spirit that lives inside you.
Keep this book by your bedside. It is your loving companion. Be creative and have fun with it. Use it as a tool to unlock your goodness, and wake up to the joy of you! – Goodreads

This little book…I love it.

I requested it through Blogging for Books (in exchange for an honest review!) because nothing else even remotely piqued my interest. I figured, hey, I just took my first step into adult coloring which is said to be a form of meditation…maybe I should try legit meditation. So I requested it.

It took forever to appear on my doorstep, and I actually thought I’d provided the wrong address. But, in the nature of things, it came at the perfect time.

Disclaimer: this is a very spiritual book, and I’m about to throw down some spiritual stuff in this review. Usually my reviews are just about this book, but this is going to get personal.

I believe that the universe/God/whatever you want to call it sends the right message at the right time. Life is full of trials and triumphs, but sometimes those trials — those moments where your faith is tested — can be incredibly difficult.

This book showed up on my doorstep in a moment of self-doubt. Now, the book features 52 chapters — each one has a different theme or message and a guided meditation to ruminate on that message. Rather than go through in order, I decided to flip to a random one. “29. Find Your Confidence and Be Bold” was my chapter that I randomly landed on, and holy shit did I need to read it. It was literally a chapter on embarking on a new journey — whether it be a new project, relationship or -ahem- job, it talked about self-doubt, self-criticism, and using opportunities to grow, test your limits, and move forward. After skimming through the other chapters, it couldn’t have been more perfect in that moment.

Fast forward a few days, the morning of my snowy PT test. My anxiety was through the god damn roof. In the words of Eminem, “Success is my only option, failure’s not” because if you fail the test, you’re booted out. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. While waiting for my ride (my two-wheel drive car has zero chill in the snow), I flipped to another random chapter. This one (“19. The Art of Letting Go”) was about breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let go of anxiety. I breathed and I let go, and when they told us we would be doing the test indoors…well, it was awesome. I know I could have also gotten through it had we done it outside, too.

The chapters are two to four pages long and are quick, easy reads. The idea is to do one a week and ruminate on it that week. My only gripe is how long the actual guided meditations are — I found it extremely difficult to remember a page of guided meditation without reading it (because the idea is to meditate). I think they could have definitely been shorter. It’s a great addition to the nightstand, that’s for sure!

I rated this one a 4/5.