April 1, 2016

read with us: a book published in 2016

Is it just me, or did March fly by? I can't believe it's time for our March reading challenge check-in, but here we are again! In March, we read books that were published in 2016.
Our books for March were Spark Joy, I Said Yes, Cold Shot, and Like Never Before. Read below for our thoughts, wordy though they may be!

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
Steph says: Guys! I actually finished this one! spark joy by Marie Kondo is a practical companion to the life-changing magic of tidying up. Practical being the key word here.

I read Kondo’s book on tidying over Christmas break, and while I found some of it very insightful, I was generally annoyed at how many anecdotes filled its pages. This follow up book is exactly what I had wished for—a how-to guide complete with diagrams.

The overall thing I like about Kondo’s approach (besides the revolutionary way to fold clothes) is her idea of facing things head on. This especially resonates with me as I am living on my own now. Figuring things out on my own is always slightly terrifying and usually a little daunting. But I have never regretted sitting down and figuring out what I needed to do (hello, retirement fund and life insurance, I took care of you like a boss). The timing of this book and Kondo’s general sentiment of "face your life, take care of your business" is impeccable. I am about to move at the end of the month.  This girl is going to be going through EVERYTHING in the next couple of weeks because it will make moving that much easier.  And the fact that I’m excited about that is shocking. Just ask my sisters. I have never wanted to go through things before, but I am looking forward to it. (I know, who am I?) Becky butts in: This is SOO true. Last Christmas, when Val and I "Kondo'd" my books and movies, Steph thought we were nuts.

While Kondo generally personifies her objects more than I would personally agree with, I think she is spot on when she tells you to treat the things you use with respect. I haven’t done that in the past, but I will now. Only use what you love and need, and treat your items well. Pretty simple for an outlook on life, but true nonetheless. As I read, I constantly thought, “Be faithful with the little things.” While my home may not be grand, it is mine, and I should use it well.  Part of using it well would be to make it functional, welcoming, and a useful tool for the life I want to live.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars (because we rate these…right?) The only reason it’s not a 5 is because Kondo started reminiscing at the end.  It was good, but I wanted a practical book, ya know?

I Said Yes by Emily Maynard Johnson
Val says: I Said Yes, by Emily Maynard Johnson, is an interesting mixture of Reality TV experiences and spiritual memoir.

As a long-time avid Bachelor franchise fan, I was excited to hear that one of my favorite “contestants” had written a book. I watched Emily’s run on Brad Womack’s second-chance season of the Bachelor and liked her immensely. She came off as a sweet southern mama with a tragic back-story (her fiancé was killed in a plane crash; days later she learned she was pregnant). America loved her – so much, in fact, that once her engagement with Brad ended, the producers did everything they could to get her to sign on as the Bachelorette. (Initially she said no, but she eventually relented.)

I was one of many rooting for Emily to “find love” on her second go-round.  Her season of The Bachelorette brought us such reality-TV greats as all-American Christian Sean Lowe, throw-her-against-a-wall-and-kiss-her Arie, and curiously hipster Utahan Jef (yes, that’s how it’s spelled). Having LOVED watching her season, I was excited to read the nitty-gritty details, hoping her book would read much like Sean Lowe’s recent memoir, with its behind-the-scenes insights and backstage views of memorable events.

But that’s not so much how this book is. Emily gives the reader more of a general overview of her time on both shows.  She touches down to highlight a few key events, but for the most part, it’s kind of an unemotional summary of her experiences.  The reality tv fan in me was hoping to really feel with her the emotions she was experiencing at each moment. To get a glimpse of what she was thinking when Arie gave her what may be the best reality TV kiss of all time. (Do yourself a favor and go ahead and youtube this one – it’s there for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnPtO1fHc6M)

She does give some details and insights that the reader wouldn’t know just from watching the shows – like what was going on behind-the-scenes with her and Brad, how quickly that went downhill, etc.  But again, those “insider looks” are short and feel abridged – later on in the book, it’s unclear what even really went wrong with Jef.

I was surprised when I noticed that I was nearing the end of the book and she hadn’t gotten to the story of how she and Tyler (her husband) got together. She didn’t spend much time there, either – it was basically the summary of how they ended up on their first date, and then skipped a year ahead to his proposal (spoiler: she says yes).  Part of me was a little dissatisfied, but I also understand that sometimes there isn’t a grand story involved – you meet the right person, you start dating them, and you know.

I can also understand that it would be hard to write a book that is in large part about past relationships while being respectful to your husband and protective of your marriage.  So I have to cut her some slack there.

One interesting (and unexpected) aspect was how much time she spent on her spiritual life.  It was clear from the beginning that she was going to be interweaving her journey to faith and a relationship with God throughout the book.  By the end, I was convinced that she is a true believer with a sincere faith in Christ.  It was really interesting to see how she addressed some choices she’d made earlier in her life and how she did things differently after the Bachelorette.

I think the real reason I was somewhat disappointed in the book is that it wasn’t what I was expecting, but maybe it wasn’t supposed to be.  The tagline of the book is “My story of heartbreak, redemption, and true love” not “All the juicy details from my time as The Bachelorette” (but I really did want more of those juicy details!).  Ultimately, the book was about Emily’s personal and spiritual growth more than it was about Emily’s relationships.  And that’s great – it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

If you are a fan of the franchise, and especially if you watched Emily on either season, I would definitely recommend this book.  If you are just an ordinary citizen who chooses to forego the trashy reality TV, I would say you could probably skip this one.

Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey
Susan says: This month I read Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey. The book is a satisfying mix of romance, suspense, and murder, featuring an investigation that brings together four college friends to solve a mysterious death.

After leaving a career as a SWAT team sniper, Griffith McCray is a park ranger at Gettysburg. When skeletal remains are discovered that are not from the Civil War years, forensic anthropologist Finley Scott finds evidence that a murder had been committed by an expert sniper. Finley and Griffith both have had some difficult experiences in the past, and as they work on solving this mystery, they learn to trust each other and a fledgling romance begins. Griffith's college friends also become involved in the danger and intrigue as the story unfolds.

I really liked the story as it described the efforts they made to figure out what had happened, and although I expected parts of what was coming, there were some unexpected twists. However, the romance wasn't as appealing as I'd have liked. This was the first book in a series, so presumably there will be time to develop that more. I would also like to read more about Griffith's friends, who will presumably play a part in following books.

Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg
Becky says: All the books I read in March were published in 2016, so I just had to decide which one to use for this challenge! Originally, I was going to write about I Said Yes, but then Val decided to use it (you can see my thoughts here.) I also read Cold Shot this month and loved it a bit more than Susan did. As I glanced through the rest of my March book reviews, I didn't see anything I wanted to spotlight here. And then I remembered a book I've read but haven't reviewed yet: Melissa Tagg's Like Never Before, which officially releases next Tuesday, April 5.

Like Never Before is the story of speechwriter Logan Walker and newspaper editor Amelia Bentley. The novel begins with an oh-so-cute email exchange, where Amelia is trying to get former reporter Logan to return to Maple Valley, Iowa, and write for "her" newspaper. Turns out, Logan actually owns the newspaper--the former publisher left it to Logan in his will. So Logan has to return to Maple Valley to figure out what to do with the paper ... and sparks fly. (Especially in what has to be one of my all-time favorite kissing scenes. I may never look at a janitor's closet the same way!)

Like Never Before isn't just all cute boy-meets-girl, though. Both Logan and Amelia are dealing with past hurts--his wife passed away, leaving him to raise their daughter alone while his career is taking off; she's recovering from a divorce she never wanted and the disappointment of a failed adoption--and are struggling to reclaim their faith.

One thing I loved about the book is that it didn't end up like I thought it would. I mean, yes, Logan and Amelia get together. (I don't think I need to say spoiler alert because--hello!--this is a romance novel.) But where they end up in their lives is so different from what I imagined, and I have to say that I like Tagg's version better than my own!

I highly recommend Like Never Before to anyone who enjoys romance. Also, though this is book two (sort of three--there's also a prequel novella) in Tagg's Walker Family series, you can read this without having first read book one. And if you're a fan of old movies, you'll really enjoy the references in this book!

Join us again next month when we'll be talking about our April books--books we've been meaning to read. (I'm pretty sure Val and Susan have already started on theirs, while I haven't even picked mine out yet!)

Flashback: See what we read in January and February.


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