Top Tuesday: Bookish Discoveries I Made In 2019

Top Ten Tuesday was born of a love of lists and books. Check out the list of upcoming topics at That Artsy Reader Girl

  1. | Bargain used books? Yes! I didn’t know this site existed and I use it to buy used cookbooks and reference books on the cheap.
  2. JessType on Etsy| Gold foil book quotes…love them.
  3.| Alright, more like a rediscovery. I love the lists on this site and usually end up adding at least a few more books to my TBR shelf after opening 10000 tabs.
  4. Blue Light Glasses on Amazon| I primarily read using my Kindle — mostly before bed. I thought the blue light thing sounded hokey, but these have totally cut down on my headaches.
  5. Books on Bustle| Another great site with book lists!

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

39810030.jpgA popular minimalist blogger and author of The More of Less shows you how to methodically turn your home into a place of peace, contentment, and purposeful living.

One of today’s most influential minimalist advocates takes us on a decluttering tour of our own houses and apartments, showing us how to decide what to get rid of and what to keep. He both offers practical guidelines for simplifying our lifestyle at home and addresses underlying issues that contribute to over-accumulation in the first place. The purpose is not just to create a more inviting living space. It’s also to turn our life’s HQ–our home–into a launching pad for a more fulfilling and productive life in the world.  – Goodreads

I’ve always been interested in the minimalist lifestyle — not the decor or architecture, as Joshua Becker points out, but the lifestyle. Living within your means and only having possessions that serve a purpose, instead of hanging onto everything “just in case”.

I saw Becker’s documentary, Minimalism, when it released in 2015. Prior to that, I’d read Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. I even gave Marie Kondo a shot. Though I do not consider myself a minimalist, I do think I have less ‘stuff’ than most. That being said, I wanted another kick in the pants to continue the effort in downsizing and consuming less.

I loved The Minimalist Home. It breaks it down by area — living room/family area, bedrooms, closets, kitchen, office, garage, etc. It simplifies each area and offers suggestions, which I found helpful, such as which duplicates to eliminate. My goal is not to become an extreme minimalist, but to live a life with less consumerism. Plus, I can’t stand clutter.

The only thing I didn’t love were the testimonials. The book was full of them, and while I can see how they may be useful, I didn’t love them and found they detracted from the meat and potatoes of the book.

Overall, if you want an easy guide to downsizing and going down that minimalism road…pick this one up. I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads.

I was provided a copy of The Minimalist Home in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of NetGalley.

Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

44538875.jpgRen Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out. – Goodreads

Is there anything better than a good old fashioned rebellion in a fantasy novel? I think not. Of Silver and Shadow has it all — a tyrannical monarchy, magic, rebels, death, destruction and more.

I’ll admit, the first few chapters were rough to get into. There was a lot of worldbuilding and orientation. The chapters focus on different characters — Ren, a street rat turned rebel; Adley, a vicious (with a sensitive side) King’s Child whose sole job is to protect and torture; and Prince Kellen, the playboy prince who wants nothing to do with his psychotic father and brother. Some chapters also follow Derek, Ren’s love interest and the dude who brought her into the whole rebel mess.

It’s difficult to provide a review without some backstory; essentially, the monarchy wiped out silver wielders (aka people with magic) to retain their power. Ren has magic but she keeps it secret (or the crown would whack her).

Overall, once I understood the setting and story, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. It was a lot to take in on the front end, but once I got through that, I appreciated the complexity of it.

I also liked the characters — they all had some depth, though a little cliche. It’s a hard world, and there is a lot of violence; several of them bordering on sociopathic. There is violence, blood and some sexual themes. The sex isn’t gratuitous and there are no actual sex scenes.

The book is well written and flows well. It was difficult to put down at the end of a chapter, as something new and exciting was constantly happening. I enjoyed seeing the connections between the characters despite them having no clue.

If you enjoy fantasy, don’t skip this one. I rated it a 4/5 on Goodreads.

I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review by NetGalley. Of Silver and Shadow will be released on May 26, 2020; to pre-order a copy, go here. 

Top Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday was born of a love of lists and books. Check out the list of upcoming topics at That Artsy Reader Girl

  1. House of Earth & Blood by Sarah J. Maas| How could I not be excited about this?!
  2. All the Stars and Teeth by Adelyn Grace| High fantasy, a unique magic system…sign me up.
  3. Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon | Hands down the number one historical fiction release I’m most excited about!
  4. The New Husband by DJ Palmer | This one looks twisted and creepy.
  5. Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke| Just received this ARC aaaand I’m pretty excited.

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

44600621In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads.

The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this completely original collection. She shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal singles life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and disgusting) for all. – Goodreads

First things first — I listened to this on Audible. I love when memoirs are read by the author, especially when the author is a comedian. This book was no exception, and I highly recommend checking out the audiobook version if you enjoy listening to audiobooks.

I liked Ali Wong’s Netflix special, but I really like her performances in American Housewife and Always Be My Maybe. This book is a series of letters written to her two daughters and it touches on topics like love, life, studying overseas, food, sex, motherhood, career, etc. It is honest and real, and focuses both on Ali’s victories and insecurities.

I enjoyed the content and stories, as well as the narration. I was not a huge fan of the extreme crude humor — and I’m not someone who gets easily offended. I wasn’t exactly offended, but gratuitous crude humor feels unnecessary and really took away from the good stuff in this book.

4/5 stars on Goodreads.

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

50001299._SX318_SY475_The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.

But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.

When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are. – Goodreads

Where do I start? Simply put, I really enjoyed this book. I’ve always been intrigued by the Oregon Trail (anyone remember the old PC game?!), partly because I grew up on a stretch of it and loved picturing emigrants who may have traveled that route in search of new lands and opportunities. They faced numerous hardships and many people died.

This story is told from two POVs; Naomi, a widow who is travelling with her parents and brothers west, and John, a man in charge of helping the May family with their mules.

The story follows their journey along hundreds of miles of challenges, heartbreak, death, love and triumphs. Though I’m not terribly familiar with the accuracies of the Oregon Trail, I live in Idaho, and it was interesting to come across Native American tribes and words I am familiar with from my area (Shoshoni, Bannock, Fort Hall, Pocatello, etc.) which makes me appreciate the history in my geographical location more.

I appreciated Harmon’s attempt at portraying everyone — white settlers, Native Americans, Mormons — with the utmost respect. While it’s easy to look at someone else’s differences and label them as savage or ruthless, that isn’t how we can adequately learn from other cultures and ways of life.

Overall, I wish the book had been longer; I felt the ending was rushed. I appreciated the slow growth of the characters as they faced tragedy and hardship, while celebrating the joyful moments in between. Overall, this is probably my favorite historical fictional depiction of the Oregon Trail. I rated it a 4/5 on Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Where the Lost Wander on Amazon.

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

39796904.jpgOur love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.
– Goodreads

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a thriller — and let me tell you, I forgot how hard they are to put down! This one was creepy and I felt uncomfortable reading it.

The story is told from the POV of an unnamed man married to a woman named Millicent. Unlike “normal” couples, they murder young women to keep their marriage zesty. Both display a number of unnerving behaviors, such as stalking, infidelity, and, oh, murder.

Millicent’s character comes off as a complete psychopath, which is due to some great character building. From her straight edged red hair to the rigorous schedule she keeps in the home, Millicent’s picture is painted well.

Unnamed man is a little more complex, which makes sense as we’re seeing the world through his eyes — he has some of a conscience, which almost makes him…likeable? I didn’t want to like a murderer, but it was a bizarre way of making him seem more normal than some cold-blooded killer.

The story is fast-paced. My only complaint? I thought it was very predictable. There weren’t any crazy twists or surprises that shocked me, and while I enjoyed this read, I was actually kind of disappointed when I finished it. Without giving up any spoilers, the last 25% of the book had a lot of holes and didn’t make sense to me.

If you’re into thrillers and want something creepy, pick this one up. 3/5 on Goodreads.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

40197454._SY475_Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.
– Read the rest of the summary on Goodreads

I wasn’t head over heels with this book, but it was a great read to get me back into the reading spirit. It’s no secret that I LOVE young adult fantasy — and this one definitely fit the bill for an enjoyable fantasy read.

Reminiscent of a Beauty & the Beast retelling, I enjoyed (most of) the characters (most of the time). Harper is a strong female lead; she’s opinionated, determined and tough. Harper has cerebral palsy, but it doesn’t become the primary focal point of the story — yes, she has it. Yes, it limits her. But she also pushes through those limits and does not let it define her. Rhen is an alright male lead, despite being your stereotypical YA fantasy prince — arrogant on the surface, but sooo much more. I didn’t like him. I liked Gray, his guard, much better. Harper had depth to her character, but I didn’t really see that with Rhen.

The pace of the story seemed slow at times, but utterly fast at others. That being said, I had a difficult time putting it down and wanted to finish it quickly.

I liked the ‘modern’ world crossover with the fantasy world. The worldbuilding was great, and I had an easy time imagining what Emberfall looked like.

Overall, the book was very well-written and an enjoyable read. I rated it 3.5/5 on Goodreads.


Kiesha and I started this blog in 2014 for a number of reasons. One, it was a way to keep track of what we’d read and how we felt about those reads. Two, it was a fun project to work on together. Three, we were both pretty into book blogs at the time. Between the two of us, we have well over 300 reviews and lists on this platform, which is pretty cool. Kiesha decided to stop blogging in 2015 for personal reasons, and I basically fell off the wagon this past year for literally no reason other than I stopped reading.

That’s right. I stopped reading. I read six books this year. Six. Using Goodreads as my measuring stick, here’s the steady decline of my literary consumption:

In 2014, I read 35 books — but I didn’t begin tracking those until July 2014, so I suspect the total is a bit higher.
In 2015, I read 112 books (I was shooting for 150).
In 2016, I read 30 books (shooting for 52).
In 2017, I read 32 books (again, of my 52 goal).
In 2018, I read 14 books (yep, still aiming for one book a week at 52).
And in 2019, a dismal SIX books.

It should be noted that when I say books, I’m talking reading for pleasure, not for required reading for work or otherwise. I also don’t cheat and count cookbooks.

What the hell?! I know exactly what happened, but much of it is my own prioritization of reading. For one, I began a new job in December 2016; after that, my time was limited and honestly, I resorted more to binge watching shows than reading. I began another new position in 2018, which created even more of an issue with that.

For me, blogging is an outlet and a means of holding myself accountable. I was driven to create new content (despite a lack of viewers, which is not why I blog).

I’m not one for resolutions, but here is my intention for 2020 — less television, more books. I’m aiming high this year — 100 books in 2020.

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago. – Goodreads

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic and the Oregon Trail. No clue why. This was on sale, so I snagged it.

Did you read those Dear America books as a kid? I did. I loved them and it was my first venture into historical fiction. Of course, I only liked the historical events I was interested in, but still. This book kind of made me nostalgic for those.

Let me get my least favorite parts out of the way – way too many damn points of view. I could not care less about Grace Butler, who seemed to only serve as a glimpse into Maggie’s future. And the random other characters on the ship (I honestly can’t remember their names) who fell flat for me. It felt like random fluff with no actual substance.

Other than the fluffy additional points-of-view, I enjoyed the book. It was a dramatic view into what the events aboard the Titanic may have looked and felt like for a young woman. There was a little bit of a love story woven in (though nothing crazy) and the story moved at a good pace.

Other than that, I don’t have too much to say about this book — I didn’t *not* like it, but I wasn’t in love with it, either. 3/5 on Goodreads.