Leah’s Top Reads of 2018: Part 1!

HOW is it time for this post already?! I am so not ready for shorter days and negative temperatures. They’re creeping up – and fast. Until then, let’s take a look back on the first half of 2018 and see what books caught my attention!

Final Girls by Riley Sager | July 11, 2017
Unfortunately I didn’t listen to all the buzz (including super high praise from Stephen King) when this one first came out. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the publicist reached out to me with a softcover copy. I’m totally a mood reader and there’s no better time for a murder mystery than a snowy day. Three different attacks, three sole survivors the media branded the Final Girls. When one suddenly commits suicide, the remaining two are brought together, determined to find out exactly why Lisa took her own life – and why she emailed Quincy just before doing so.

Although the twists and turns weren’t completely shocking (to me, someone who doesn’t typically read a lot of mysteries would be more wowed), sinking into this one with a literal blizzard going on outside my window made Final Girls a perfect way to kick off the new year.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig | January 9, 2018
Forbidden romance, secret identities, a murder that occurs as a Shakespeare-inspired ball. The English Wife practically screamed my name! (I’ll be honest, I was initially drawn to it because the main character was named Bayard, Bay for short, and one of my pup’s is named Bay…well imagine my surprise when it’s Bay who gets murdered.) You know a family who rubs shoulders with Vanderbilts and Astors will have a capital s Story, and I was utterly captivated with this one.

In my review back in January I knew then and there it would make a return on my Top Reads list. I’m a total Lauren Willig newbie and was slightly intimidated by her Pink Carnations series. This standalone couldn’t have been a better introduction and before I had even finished the book I was already recommending it to friends! This one is in the running for AT LEAST my top 3 of 2018. It’s that good and just thinking about it makes me want to read it all over again!

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner | February 6, 2018
I fell hard for last year’s A Bridge Across the Ocean, and couldn’t wait for Susan’s follow-up. This 400-page book was a single-sitting read and my first 5-star read of the year. Does anything more really need to be said?

There was a LOT going on within these pages, a good portion of which made me cry. And not pretty little Disney Princess tears. No, I was in full on ugly cry mode. A family moves to Philadelphia to help run an uncle’s funeral business. Just as they unpack, the Spanish Flu touches down and soon there’s not enough room for bodies. The Great War is taking young men by the thousands. A baby is discovered along in a house, its parents having succumbed to the flu. So many layers, so many emotions. As Bright As Heaven definitely isn’t a happy, cheerful read, but oh was it incredible. It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after finishing the final pages.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen | February 20, 2018
Much like with Lauren Willig, Rhys Bowen has an incredibly lengthy series (rather, a few incredibly lengthy series). I did read a Christmas novel last year and enjoyed it enough to where I immediately leapt at the chance to review a standalone. The Tuscan Child features one of my favorite storytelling methods: the dual narrative. A young woman in the 70s returns home to clear out her father’s things after his passing and uncovers some curious items, particularly a letter – written in Italian – and the mention of ‘our boy.’ Did her father have an affair during the war? Does she have a half-brother she never knew about? Her father’s story is also played out, telling of his time in the 40s when his plane is shot down over Italy.

I was wildly impressed with this one and now I seriously want to take that stab of Rhys’s mind-boggling backlist! (Also, foodies, take note! This book is for you.)

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James | March 20, 2018
Bouncing between 2014 and 1950, The Broken Girls tells the story of an old boarding school and a journalist looking for answers to her sister’s murder. There’s an urban legend of a young woman who lost her baby and has been wandering the grounds for centuries. After years of sitting in disrepair, Idlewild Hall has been bought and renovations have begun…revealing a decades-old body stuffed in a well. Clearly this was a book written for me.

While March might not seem like the best time of the year for a spooky, horror novel, I was completely swept away by this one. The girls at the boarding school felt so real, from their friendship to the demons each one battles. The modern day mystery and the sister who wants answers. Fun fact: although I love ghost stories and general spookiness, I’m a huge baby when it comes to reading them alone. I’m a light-on-in-the-middle-of-the-day kind of horror reader, and Matt was out of the state the weekend I spent with this one. …I couldn’t stop reading and read WELL into the night!

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | March 31, 2018
I never got around to reviewing this one and honestly don’t plan on doing so. This one made my Top Reads list for more of a sentimental reason than anything: back in October we lost our sweet Myra. I would always house-sit for my grandparents while they spent Thanksgiving with my uncle and aunt in Denver and uninterrupted reading time means a huge stack of books. Some great books have been read over Thanksgiving and the past few years involved Illuminae (which I admittedly wasn’t a huge fan of) and Gemina (second chances, y’all). That series makes me think of Myra and when Obsidio came out, it was with a heavy heart that I sat down to read. The book itself was fun, if a bit long, but it earns a spot on my list for the memories.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu | March 6, 2018 and Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee | February 27, 2018
I’m lumping these two together (just as I did in my initial review, hence only one link) because they’re essentially the same: fantastic books about phenomenal women. Brazen offers up its bios in a graphic novel format, while Bygone features one full-page illustration for each woman. My absolute favorite part was the selection. Some of the names I had heard of, but SO many were totally new to me; these ladies weren’t your usual “great ladies” picks! Also, both books were 5-star reads for me!

Birdnote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show by Birdnote | March 20, 2018
Another 5-star read! Back in 2016 I shared 4 of my favorite podcasts and have discovered so many more since then (an updated list is in the works!) One of those new discoveries? Birdnote, a daily bird podcast with episodes maxing out around 2 minutes. This book presents 100 of those essays in a teensy bite-sized format – a handful of paragraphs for each one – along with a GORGEOUS illustration. The art alone is worth 5 stars!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell | April 24, 2018
Ellie was the baby of the family, still doted on at 15 with her sweet demeanor and halo of blonde hair. One day she walked out of the house with a stern threat to her older sister to not touch that last piece of lasagna and headed to the library. Only Ellie never made it to the library. A decade later Laurel is finally beginning to move on from her daughter’s disappearance: moved out of the house, separated from her husband. She recently met an absolutely charming man and Floyd seems smitten with her too. Their relationship seems to be too good to be true – and when Laurel meets Floyd’s little girl, she can’t help but instantly think of her own daughter. Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie. Why? How?

Believe the hype. Then She Was Gone was GOOD and it should say something that this thriller left me sobbing. Take it from me, you’re going to want a box of tissue with you for those last pages. So, so good.

The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli | May 8, 2018
One of two school shooting novels I read back-to-back. Both books have stuck with me, especially this one. Heidi wrote one of my favorite reads of 2017 and I couldn’t wait to see where she would go next. The Hidden Side weaves the story of two women, born centuries apart, who are connected by an old diary. In 1776, Mercy Howard learns her beloved Nathan has been arrested and will be executed. Devastated, she vows revenge, and what better way to avenge her fiance’s death than to join the legendary spy ring he had been a part of? In 2016, Natalie Abbott is a popular morning show host. She knows just what to say to heal callers, yet she’s in dire need of some comfort of her own. News of a school shooting is any parent’s nightmare, but then she learns her son is the shooter.

Guilt, anger, confusion, shame, these characters go through it all and I was with them every step of the way. Heidi can write, this is a difficult read, but such a powerful one and after just two novels, I will read anything this woman releases.

Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson | April 1, 1985
One of the only books featured here that wasn’t released this year – and by far the oldest. If you followed me anywhere online in May, you’ve probably heard me mention this one. Or twice. Or a million times. I came across this book years ago and impulse borrowed it from the library. Best decision of the year.

This sweet historical features Lady Elizabeth, 28-years-old and considered far past her prime. That’s perfectly fine with her however, she has no time for men and would much rather devote her time to discovering comets, thank you very much. Girl, same. Then a curmudgeonly cousin inherits the Clanross title and descends upon the estate. Lady Elizabeth’s Comet was lovely and charming and an absolute delight.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson | June 5, 2018
With the exception of the two Middle Grade nonfic picks, YA and kids’ titles are missing from this list! Save the Date is a hulking behemoth of a read – and by the end I admit I was getting a little antsy for it to be over – but I’m thrilled to say I’ve finally read a Morgan Matson novel! And I’m kind of kicking myself for waiting so long!!

A big family comprised of even bigger personalities. A nationally beloved comic strip coming to an end. A wedding where nothing goes right. I was there for every bit of it, from the excellent sibling dynamics to the dry cleaner mix-up that left the groom with a bright purple suit. I had a blast with this one and would love to be a part of this family in real life.

Advertisements

weekly wrap-up 7/15

• We did it. Matt and I finally finished Cheers yesterday! It was a first watch for both of us (I’m a massive Frasier fan and was curious to see where it all started and Matt had only ever watched an episode or two in re-runs) and I’m honestly surprised by 1, how much we loved it and 2, how fast we got through all 11 seasons! We only started earlier in the year! WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?

• Are Saturdays perfect ‘stay-inside-and-watch-movies’ kind of days or what? We didn’t get a chance to see A Quiet Place while it was in theaters so Matt grabbed it from Redbox. Wow. Wow.

• I’m loving my current read, but I’m struggling to actually, you know, read it. I either have been too exhausted or haven’t found the time or, when I have found time, I only manage to sneak in a chapter (if that!) before x, y, z needs done ugh.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? In this week’s What’s Making Me Happy This Week, a spin-off of an old feature, I discussed a Netflix mini-series I loved, shared an adorable farmers market tote, mentioned Stephen King, and more!

FOR REVIEW
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
The Wife Before Us was super buzzy when it came out and I expect this one will be too! Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. A woman signs up for a psychological study, expecting to do nothing more than answer some questions and collect her money as she walks out the door. Then the questions become more invasive, meetings become more frequent. Eventually Dr. Shields dictates how Jessica will act and what she’ll wear. Eventually Jessica’s paranoia causes her to be unsure of what’s real and what isn’t. I haven’t heard too much about this one yet (it comes out next year), but I am definitely here for psychological experiments gone wrong. Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh
Sarah and Eddie instantly hit it off and quickly fell in love. At least, that’s what Sarah thought. When Eddie goes on a long-awaited vacation, Sarah’s not the least bit concerned; she has ever bit of faith he’ll call from the airport just as he promised. Only, Eddie doesn’t call. Soon days turn into weeks and, while Sarah’s friends are convinced Eddie is intentionally avoiding contact, Sarah feels there’s another reason he hasn’t called and she needs an explanation. Thank you, Pamela Dorman Books!

The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller
Nora owns a diner and is perfectly content with her life. She knows what to expect as she rises each day and she wouldn’t change a single thing. Then she receives news that she and her sister have inherited a house and land from the town’s resident cake lady. As a broke aspiring filmmaker, Kit is more than willing to sell the land off to a developer. Nora, however, has been charmed by the farmhouse and the surrounding orchards. The town itself is also divided and the sisters are faced with a decision. A decision that needs to be made – and fast. Thank you, Pamela Dorman books!

With You Always by Rena Olsen
I really enjoyed Rena’s 2016 debut, The Girl Before, and had no idea she was coming out with a new book! Definitely the surprise of my week! Julia is left feeling lost after a painful breakup. When Bryce appears, suddenly Julia’s life seems a little brighter. He soon become her anchor and his strong principles and faith only help to strengthen their blossoming relationship. Then Julia begins to realize their picture-perfect love isn’t so perfect after all…and she needs to find a wait out. This sounds a bit Behind Closed Doors-ish, which I LOVED. Thank you, Putnam!

what’s making me happy this week 7/14

New feature alert! Inspired by an old feature of mine (the saturday six) and What’s Making Us Happy This Week, a segment on Pop Culture Happy Hour where they share anything making them happy from comedy specials to youtube videos, every Saturday I’ll be sharing a few things that’s making ME happy. Feel free to share what made you smile this week!

Lords and Ladles. Oh my gosh, this show. Unfortunately it’s only 6 episodes (total?? so far??) but I watched them all this week. Featuring three chefs, each episode brings them to a different castle/estate in Ireland where they cook an authentic dinner that had been served at one point in history. The amount of food they cook for one meal is unreal, as is the amount of butter!! Hahaha, one dish requires two pounds. It’s also pretty hilarious watching chefs get squeamish over the ingredients: entire pigs’ heads, eyeballs, testicles. I highly recommend checking this out!

• How darling is this support your local farmer tote?

• This is certainly an oldie (2009!) but I thought it was pretty interesting: Stephen King on his 10 longest novels.

• I recently fell into the deep dark hole that is The Jeopardy Fan. From recaps of each show to an entire section just for statistics (including a list of contestants who have given 300 correct responses to games that had no winner to contestants who were invited to return) and a #ThrowBackThursday section, this site is a dream for any Jeopardy fan!!

The Changing Face of Romance Novels.

weekly wrap-up 7/8

• This will be a quick wrap-up: no bookmail this week other than library grabs. Head over to my IG stories to help me decide where to start!

• Was it just me or was this week ten times longer than a normal week? With the holiday I only worked 3 days, yet it felt like Friday would never arrive! Speaking of the 4th of July, did you do anything fun? Cookouts? Fireworks? We did the celebrating last Sunday and ended up spending Wednesday inside – Nacho doesn’t care too much about fireworks, but Bay is not a fan!

• Yesterday was a beautiful day for Cars & Coffee! It was a bit quieter than usual, there was another car event happening in town, but the cars that did show up were fantastic.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I shared my June recap and brought back an updated version of an old feature: what’s making me happy this week!

what’s making me happy this week: 7/7

New feature alert! Inspired by an old feature of mine (the saturday six) and What’s Making Us Happy This Week, a segment on Pop Culture Happy Hour where they share anything making them happy from comedy specials to youtube videos, every Saturday I’ll be sharing a few things that’s making ME happy. Feel free to share what made you smile this week!

My mom adopted a dog! There’s a Pittsburgh shelter where I adopted Baylor and whenever they share photos of their adoptable pets I always share them. WELL! Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, my mom brought home a Jack Russell mix puppy. I got to meet him a few nights ago and he’s as sweet as can be ♥

• According to science, 4 cups of coffee a day is the perfect amount.

• This one pot summer vegetable skillet lasagna is calling my name (and so are these blueberry lemon pancakes)!

• Back in 2016 I shared a few podcasts I loved (I desperately need to make an updated list!). One of those mentioned was You Must Remember This, a podcast that explores the first century of Hollywood. This week it returned for a new season and I couldn’t be more excited! Seriously, this show is the highlight of my Tuesdays! Also, another podcast I love, Science Friday, recently shared their science reading picks for summer + their beach reads. As a nonfic lover, my ears were perked!

• I guess this is more of a what’s making me sad, but if you’ve been following along these past few months, you know Matt and I have been watching Cheers for the first time. This week we reached the final season!!

June 2018 recap


WHAT I…DID

Cars & Coffee is always one of my favorite parts of the month. This bi-weekly event (held in Warrendale, hi local friends, come join us!) features “exotic and performance” cars…basically suped-up sports cars and cars that cost more than my house ha. There are McLarens and Lotuses alongside Subarus and Hondas. Matt takes his car and we always have a good time! I can’t wait to see what July will bring (the next meet-up is this coming Saturday) and I would love to meet new people!

• Usually after Cars & Coffee, Matt and I will go for random drives – one of our favorite things to do. We’ll take randoms turns and back roads, yours truly playing DJ obvs. The photo above is one I took during one of those drives, out of nowhere a family of geese crossed the road in front of us!

• There’s a Loafers Bread Co next to our local Whole Foods and I’ve always been so tempted to stop in (hello, bread). In June we finally went it (in a different location, one close to my work that I had NO idea even existed!! This is going to be bad hahaha). This Panera-esque has delicious sandwiches and soup and, of course, the bread was phenomenal as well! We grabbed a loaf of Struan and totally demolished it in a few days oops.

• Our Netflix binges included Safe (a Harlan Coben-penned British thriller starring Michael C. Hall…yep, Dexter with a British accent) and the second season of GLOW.

• I received my first Sips by box. Before signing up, you complete a profile where you choose your likes and dislikes and tea preferences, then each month you receive a personally curated box specifically for your tastes. So fun!

• June was jam-packed with family time. Not only was it my brother’s birthday and Father’s Day, but summer always seems to have a way of bringing people together. Father’s Day was a blast and I spent the day back in my hometown where I caught frogs with my nieces and my dad, my siblings, my nieces, and I all stood outside to see who would be the first to spot a rainbow after a sudden, five-minute storm.

• The new Jurassic World made me cry and that’s all I’m saying about that!

• When I looked at the books I read in June, I was a little disheartened. But then I realized just how much I did last month and I don’t feel too bad! I read 7 books, all were either print of e-books, no audio this time! Out of the bunch, I enjoyed Save the Date and It Takes Two the most, but Kate Messner’s Breakout was also wonderful and surprisingly thought-provoking!

WHAT I…REVIEWED

MURDER AT THE MANSION BY SHEILA CONNOLLY had my name written all over it: this start to a new cozy mystery series featured a Civil War historian, small town charm, a grand old estate, and a dead body discovered on the grounds. Unfortunately, the main character was so awful and nasty she completely ruined any enjoyment I could have had. Kate’s comments about how it was so cute that her best friend’s biggest problems in life were finding her kids’ lost sports equipment while Kate’s job dealt with multi-million dollar deals with global companies was grating. Her high and mighty attitude constantly had her belittling everyone around her and I was glad to see this one come to an end.

SAVE THE DATE BY MORGAN MATSON had my kicking myself for not having read one of her books before! Though this YA was a teensy bit too long (clocks in around 400 pages), I enjoyed every second with the Grant family! The wedding nightmares – a band who can only play Journey covers, a dry cleaner mix-up leaves the groom with a bright purple suit – the sibling dynamic, the coolest job (the mom is the writer of Grant Central Station, a nationally beloved comic strip that’s getting ready to end its 25-year run), it all came together perfectly. I also loved how romance isn’t a big plot point here. There’s the barest of teases of a romance to come for Charlie, but Save the Date focused on family and I was all about that.

IT TAKES TWO BY JENNY HOLIDAY was such a fun read. When I wasn’t reading this book I was counting down the minutes until I could get back to it. The super fun settings, the swoony romance (complete with banter!), the amazing group of women who define friend goals, I fell hard for this book and can’t wait for the next one to come out!

BRING ME BACK BY B.A. PARIS had me a little hesitant at first. Behind Closed Doors was one of my top reads of 2016 (only beaten out by one other book as my favorite read of the year), but her follow-up, The Breakdown, was terrible. Bring Me Back was TINY…to the point where I honestly thought a good chunk of my copy was missing. While I was completely glued to the page and kept reading, the big reveal was absolutely bonkers.

WHAT I…BLOGGED

MAY 2018 RECAP

JUNE 2018 RELEASES I NEED TO GET MY HANDS ON!

RECENTLY ADDED

GIVEAWAY: BABY TEETH BY ZOJE STAGE

WEEKLY WRAP-UPS
6/3
6/10
6/17
6/24

weekly wrap-up 7/1 + giveaway winners!

• Pittsburgh is potentially reaching triple digits today and we’ve got cook-outs, parades, and fireworks lined up! Our house is literally across the street from where the town does fireworks – when we first bought the house they weren’t…of course it wasn’t until after we moved in and adopted pup #1 that the fireworks rolled in. Neither pup is a big fan, but Bay especially hates them. Last year Nacho was only 4 months old, so I’m curious to see how he’ll react this year! Either way, we’ll be celebrating indoors.

• I can get behind this: Lord Farquaad is a style icon.

• SO many sales this weekend! Am I the only one who won’t bat an eye at dropping $$$ but the second that shipping cost appears I’m like um no thank you?? I recently found an adorable shop on IG – major bonus: they’re local! – and they’re currently running a pretty great sale. Then I was hit with a shipping cost that was nearly the full price of one of my items! Yeah that’s a pass.

• Matt & I binged the second season of GLOW yesterday. ♥ So good.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Jenny Holiday’s It Takes Two is A+ beach read material. Humor, chemistry, a core group of women who seriously define friend goals, this book has it all and when I wasn’t reading, I was counting down the minutes until I could get back to it. The next book in the series comes out in January and once it’s released, you know where to find me!

B.A. Paris is back with her third book, Bring Me Back. Her debut was among my Top Reads of the year (my 2nd favorite book of 2016 actually!), but her follow-up was a massive letdown. I admit I went into this one a bit hesitantly and while the reveal was totally bonkers, I couldn’t stop reading.

GIVEAWAY WINNERS!! It’s time to reveal the winners of my Baby Teeth giveaway! Each lucky lady will receive an ARC! Congratulations to Kimberly M, Robin J, and Ashley S!!

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky
I snagged an e-ARC of this one a few months ago but was thrilled to see a finished copy arrive! I haven’t read anything of hers before, but this one sounds intriguing: Mackenzie took her eyes off the road for only a second, but in that second she lost her daughter and, in the aftermath, her marriage and friends – particularly once the media got wind of her story. Now living in Vermont as Maggie, she hopes to make a new start. She has cats and a dog, new friends, even a successful job, but her newfound privacy quickly shatters when a neighbor boy is accused of hacking a Twitter account. Maggie has done everything possible to lay low and avoid the spotlight…but it seems to have a way of findind her and it’s only a matter of time before her painful past is exposed. Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace by Carola Dunn
This is the 23rd Daisy Dalrymple novel! I have received several of these over the years – a mega-binge just might be in store! April, 1928. Daisy is visited by her cousins and during their stay in London, the top of the Must See list is the Crystal Palace. Once at the palace, however, a the body of a nanny is discovered. To make matters worse, Daisy’s children’s own nanny has gone missing – and is later found unconscious. Things take an interesting turn when a third nanny is introduced into the mix…and this one just might be a murderer. Fun, fun, fun! Thank you, Minotaur!

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
While I never fully connected to the characters in last year’s Beyond the Wild River, the book was so atmospheric and the setting unbelievably detailed that I couldn’t help but be excited for Sarah’s follow-up! Women of the Dunes is set on the Scottish coast and weaves together a tale about a ninth century Viking maiden, a Victorian murder, and a present day archaeologist. Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you, Atria!

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall
This one has received a ton of buzz already to the point where I honestly thought it was already released and now it’s coming out in softcover. Nope! Bouncing between 1949 and the present day, this one explores the lives between two women and the Miss Subways beauty contest. Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!

The Clockmaker’s Daughters by Kate Morton
AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Thank you, Atria!