Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recently Added to My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme 

*Clicking the book cover will take you to the GoodReads synopsis

Fuel the Fire - Krista & Becca Ritchie
Nowhere But Here - Katie McGarry
Just a Little Kiss - Renita Pizzitola

Pocketful of Sand - M. Leighton
Fisher's Light - Tara Sivec
What If - Rebecca Donovan

The Last Time We Say Goodbye - Cynthia Hand
After You - Jojo Moyes

Falling Into You - Jasinda Wilder
Falling Kingdoms - Morgan Rhodes

What have you recently added to your TBR? 
I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Book Haul: 01

So this book haul (or at least part of it) came about in an interesting way. To start with, I'll tell you about The Car Show Remuneration Act. It came about  a year or so ago. My husband is a "car guy" and he takes part in a lot of car shows - mostly local but sometimes not so local. Even for local shows he's gone pretty much all day. I'm fine with it. He's doing something he enjoys and I have some alone time to do as I please. But my husband decided he needed to do something to "make it up to me." And so was born The Car Show Remuneration Act. There are various levels but what it boils down to is that if he goes to a car show I get a book. :) Ranging from a Kindle version to a trade paperback to a hardcover and (the big one) two hardcovers. All dependent upon whether he gets a trophy, if I go with him, etc. He has quite the formula worked out! So two books from this haul are from recent car shows where he won trophies. Lucky for me he has an awesome car that gets a lot of attention... and a lot of love at the car shows!

The other three books came in a slightly different way. For weeks I've been saying I was going to clean out closet. Needed to be done, but... it was just one of those things I hadn't got around to yet. Last weekend I mentioned it (again) and my husband upped the ante by telling me for every 10 items of clothing I got rid of he'd buy me one book. Color me motivated! Thirty-four items later and my book haul was shaping up!

Beautiful Redemption by Jamie McGuire
I've read Beautiful Disaster, Walking Disaster and A Beautiful Wedding but have yet to start the Maddox Brothers series. I had issues with the Beautiful series , namely melodrama! Plus, Travis obviously had anger and jealousy issues and Abby - could she have been any more hot-cold with Travis? She put the poor guy through the emotional wringer. But I still found myself sucked it. And I enjoyed it enough to want to continue with the Maddox Brothers. I already have Beautiful Oblivion so Beautiful Redemption was next on the list.

Five Ways to Fall by K.A. Tucker
Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker was one of the best books I read last year. It was one of those that take you completely by surprise and are so much more than you were expecting. I'm looking forward to continuing on with the companion novels.

Reckless by S.C. Stephens
Another case of me gathering a entire series/trilogy before I've even read the first book. Reckless is the third book in an ongoing series. 

The Return by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Do I even need to give a reason for this one? I mean, it's Jennifer L. Armentrout, people! :) I adore her writing and will read everything she publishes. The Return is the first book in the Titan series, which is a spin-off from the completed Covenant series. (But can we just talk about the cover for a minute? Ugh, it's hideous! The original was so much better. I can't imagine why they changed it.)

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin
The final book in the remarkable Tales of the City series. It all started 37 years ago and ends here. These characters feel like old friends and I'll be so sad to say goodbye.

So what was the last book you bought? Tell me in the comments... I'd love to hear!

Sweet by Tammara Webber: Teaser #1

Pre-order on Amazon

I am *so* excited for this one! I've read both Easy and Breakable by 
Tammara Webber and was blown away by her amazing storytelling. 
Easy is from Jacqueline's POV and Breakable is from Lucas's, but Breakable 
is not just a retelling of the events from the first book. It's very much 
Lucas's story - his background and experiences before he met Jacqueline. 
I highly recommend both!

Less than a month to go until Sweet is released. The countdown is on!

Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Find at: GoodReads | Amazon

I have a feeling of deja vu or maybe it's more like What the heck happened to one of my favorite authors? Last month it was Saving Grace by Jane Green (who up until recently was an auto-buy author for me). And now Lisa Jewell, as well? What happened to the charm from Thirtynothing and Vince & Joy and 31 Dream Street? Even The Making of Us and The Truth About Melody Browne, while dealing with dealing with more serious subject matter, retained the same warm, likability factor that I have always enjoyed from Jewell. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found here.

The House We Grew Up In is the story of the Bird family. Or, more accurately, the utter breakdown and dissolution of the Bird family. The book spans more than 20 years with a shifting timeline as details and truths are ever so slowly revealed. Layer upon layer is pulled away as the reader learns more about the past while also seeing the destruction of the character's present-day lives. For me, there was no connection with any of these sad and damaged people. The aftermath of a tragic event had ripple effects that continued to lap at their lives for years and years. Each had their own way of coping or, more accurately, not coping and it was this that took the family further and further apart from one another until the gulfs between them all seemed too wide to ever cross.

Not only did I not have any connection to any of the characters, but none were particularly likeable. I have no problem with unlikeable characters but it's difficult to truly invest in the story when you cannot elicit any true empathy for anyone. Each of them made horrible choices and bad decision after bad decision which made much of their drama feel self-created.

The House We Grew Up In deals with themes of grief and guilt and forgiveness and acceptance. A family saga that shows that family ties do not always bind but sometimes fray and fall apart. While this was an interesting look at family dynamics, ultimately it was just too dark for me and I found myself wishing for Jewell's lighter, less heavy handed tone that I have loved in the past.

Review: Kill Devil Hills by Sarah Darlington

I am *so* glad I read Kill Devil Hills! I was in the mood for a quick new adult/contemporary romance and this was a perfect pick.

Georgie has just returned home from a four month stay at a recovery facility after a suicide attempt. And she's still not sure if she regrets her actions.

Maybe holding everything in is part of the reason 
you feel so much pain. 

Noah cannot forget the night he found Georgie near death on the bathroom floor. The experience took her from his best friend's younger sister to someone he can't sop thinking about and has a fierce need to protect.

Maybe she'd always been this fucking adorable, and I'd just been 
the jackass who never bothered to notice. 

What I loved most about Kill Devil Hills is that both Georgie and Noah were such truly likable characters. Yes, they both had issues, but there was no melodrama. And Noah may have had the outward appearance of a bad boy, but there was no bad attitude to go with it. He was sweet and compassionate and protective and loving. Go ahead and swoon... I did.

"Of course I want you like that. But I'm trying to be a gentleman."

"Maybe I don't want you to be a gentleman," she whispered, 
so low I almost missed it." 

While the relationship did develop quickly, it still felt completely realistic. I loved that while there was some hesitation it wasn't long and drawn out. There was no angst here, just two people who found exactly what they needed in each other. Each accepted the other completely and built each other up. I loved that they each made such a positive impact on the others life.

He'd fought for me. 
We barely knew each other and he'd fought for me. 

Georgie didn't return home to a perfect life. She was still dealing with loss and grief and I liked how the author showed that Georgie continued to work on her mental well-being, using what she'd learned at the recovery facility. She also had a best friend and a boyfriend who had never once contacted her during her four month absence. She was forced to face the fact that neither relationship was what it once was or what she even wanted. This was very much a new beginning for Georgie.

Noah had spent so long living by his self-imposed rules of maintaining control and not letting anyone get too close. His past had shaped how was living today but with Georgie he found himself not only able to open up to her, but wanting to let down his walls and share his life with her. I loved that Noah was not the typical angry at the world bad boy, but instead was actually a sensitive man who had done his best to overcome his difficult childhood. I found myself wishing for a little more insight into his childhood/background. Vague references were made early on and he did finally share a little more information, but I still would have liked more.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the secondary characters. None felt cliched or cookie cutter and that was refreshing. I'm already looking forward to reading more about Ellie in the next Kill Devil Hills novel.

There were a few instance when the dialogue didn't quite ring true for me. But overall I loved the ease of the narrative and the way it flowed. And the dual POV was perfect. Being privy to Noah's thoughts as well as Georgie's was priceless.

My only complaint: at just barely 200 pages I was left wanting more of Georgie and Noah and their story.

Review: Reckless by Priscilla West

Reckless was my first novel by Priscilla West so I was not familiar with her writing and did not know what to expect. Perhaps that is why for the first chapter or two I was wondering if Reckless was meant to be a parody. Several scenes were portrayed as over-the-top dramatic and clich├ęs abounded, enough so that I questioned the intent of the novel. A few examples:

- Jax's sexual charisma/magnetism is so extreme that no woman is immune. Women faint. One woman apparently climaxed from the sound of his voice alone. (Color me impressed!)

- As Jax walks through an audience, crazed female fans each grab a sleeve of his shirt which, naturally, rips down the middle leaving him bare chested, and seemingly unaware. (Didn't this happen often in 80's music videos?)

- Jax is literally run out of town by a mob of angry husbands/boyfriends. (Insert much eye rolling here.)

For these reasons and others I was unsure exactly how Reckless was to be taken. As tongue in cheek humor or realistic? Once I adjusted to the writing style I was able to go with the narrative more.

Riley is an accountant but is hardly the straight laced prototype. She has a wild side which is how she meets Jax, lead singer of The Hitchcocks. They have a competitive relationship from the very start. Both are stubborn and prone to play mind games rather than be forthright. When Riley ends up on tour with the band for two weeks to oversee the band's budget and spending she is determined to keep their relationship professional... but where would the fun be in that?

It was interesting to see Jax and Riley's relationship develop and watch as their personal lives began to infuse with their work relationship. Both had troubled pasts (one more so than another) and I enjoyed learning more of their back stories. Considering Riley was only with the band for two weeks, the relationship seemed to progress at lightning speed and I was surprised at some of Riley's assumptions about a relationship that was so new and supposedly temporary. Additionally, Reckless ends on a pretty significant cliffhanger.

Fans of rock star romances will likely enjoy Jax and Riley's story but it's doubtful I will continue on with the series.

*ARC provided by NetGalley and Blackbird Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Originally read/reviewed February 2015

This is one of those reviews that I am hesitant to write because despite my best efforts there is nothing I can say that will do this remarkable story justice.

The Nightingale is a historical fiction novel that takes place during World War II in Nazi-Occupied France. Vianne is a young wife and mother living a quiet life in the town of Carriveau. Her younger sister Isabelle has been expelled from her latest boarding school and is eager to make her way to Paris to reunite with her emotionally distant and seemingly uncaring father. As the Nazi's invade France and the war shapes their lives in unimaginable ways, both women are faced with great challenges and impossible choices.

Isabelle started off an impetuous, reckless young woman. Still a teenager and full of passion and ideals without any understanding of the implications of her actions. The change and growth in her over the course of the book was astounding. She did not lose her passion or her ideals, nor did she ever stop taking risks, but living under the constant strain of discovery turned Isabelle from flighty to steely in determination to do her part.

Vianne is content with her life in Carriveau but when her husband is sent to fight the Germans invading France, she suddenly has only herself to rely upon. Through food shortages and harsh winters and a Nazi officer living in her home, Vianne has no choice but to find the strength to protect her family any way she can.

Both sisters are faced with unthinkable choices and hardship. Whether for the greater good or for daily survival, each is forced to sacrifice. Both live daily with fear, danger and the uncertainty of the future. My heart broke again and again for these women, for their circumstances, for their hardships and losses. I was sickened by the atrocities committed by the Nazi's, the brutality of the concentration camps, but also in awe of the courage and bravery shown by ordinary people who had so much to lose but took action anyway.

"For us [women] it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

Unlike many other novels about WW II, The Nightingale focuses on women. Their contributions and the impact on their lives. It tells the story of their courage, their bravery, their sacrifice. Women who joined the Resistance, women who hid Jewish friends or helped them escape, women who did without so their children (and the children of others) would not have to, women who endured unspeakable horrors and yet found the strength to stay alive. Just stay alive.

The Nightingale was a slow read for me. This is not a book to fly through. There was a slow progression of the story in the beginning. And I was reading even slower at the end because the events were so heart wrenching I was only able to read a few pages at a time before setting the book down in order to collect myself and try to keep the tears at bay. But even that was impossible. I was reduced to gasping, hiccupping sobs more than once in the last 30-40 pages. And it wasn't even possible to step back and tell myself it was just a story. Because it *did* happen. Maybe not to a woman named Vianne or a woman called Isabelle. Maybe not in the exact same way. But these events and these stories played out time and time again, in many different, horrific ways over the course of WW II.

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

The Nightingale is powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking. It took me on a difficult journey, one I don't regret, and will stay with me for a long time to come.

Wounds heal. Love Lasts. We remain.

Review: Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

Originally read/reviewed October 2014

I am notoriously stingy with my 5 star ratings. Those are reserved for books that truly moved me, that become instant all-time favorites, that are certain to remain with me for a long time to come. I've read two such books this year: Maybe Someday and Ugly Love. It's no coincidence that both are by the incredibly talented Colleen Hoover.

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Tate is an ER nurse who works while also pursuing her Master's degree. She moves in with her brother temporarily and meets his friend and fellow airline pilot Miles. There's an instant attraction but Miles is solemn and aloof.

He's everywhere.

Everything is Miles.

That's how it is when a person develops an attraction toward someone. He's nowhere, then suddenly he's everywhere, whether you want him to be or not.

Miles has a past that left him emotionally crippled. He hasn't had a relationship in six years and plans to keep it that way. He is determined to continue life completely closed off to the possibility of love or making himself vulnerable to another woman.

"Love isn't always pretty, Tate. Sometimes you spend all your time hoping it'll eventually be something different. Something better. Then, before you know it, you're back to square one, and lost lost your heart somewhere along the way."

Tate and Miles tell their stories in dual perspective - Tate in present time and Miles from six years previously. I was a little thrown by this initially but quickly fell into the pattern and began to anticipate each timeline, each point of view. Through Tate's perspective we watch as her "no strings attached" relationship with Miles becomes more and more difficult to navigate. He set only two rules at the beginning: "Don't ask about my past. And never expect a future." Despite those warnings, Tate finds herself falling for Miles and looking for signs that his resolve is weakening and that he may feel the same. The chapters from Miles's perspective are equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. A young man falling in love. The circumstances surrounding this new relationship. And the devastating aftermath. The was a growing feeling of unease and impending heartache with every chapter in Miles's story. The more that was revealed about his past, the more it explained his utter conviction that he could not love again. Oh, how I ached for Miles.

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I love the way Colleen is able to evoke so much feeling and emotion with even the smallest of actions. On the drive to San Diego when Miles touches Tate's ankle, at her parent's house when his fingers skim the back of her leg... such small acts but in Colleen's deft hands those scenes are heart-stopping in their power to convey the longing between Miles and Tate. 

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Colleen Hoover combines the best of everything. A writing style that flows so smoothly it's a joy to read, characters who are completely believable and flawed and interesting and never cookie cutter, and story lines that feel so true to life, so plausible, and so utterly heartbreaking. Characters dealing with situations where there are no easy answers. All of these elements combine to create an emotional and impactful reading experience.

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Ugly Love is the perfect example of why I read. To feel. To Enjoy. For those moments when I connect and feel so deeply for another. For the times when I forget these are fictional characters and feel their pain as if it were my own. For the moments when I experience the utter joy when it all comes together. Getting to experience this is why I am a reader. And Ugly Love delivered.

Ugly Love is Unforgettable.

Review: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

Originally read/reviewed May 2014

"My heart made its choice, and it chose you."

Get ready for gushing. Because there's no way to rein in my feelings for this remarkable story. I've had several Colleen Hoover novels on my bookshelf for many months (Hopeless, Losing Hope, Finding Cinderella, and Maybe Someday) and all I can think after finishing this one is: what took me so long?

Maybe Someday is a novel without a lot of external conflict. There's no evil government to overthrow, no innocent victim that needs saving at the eleventh hour, not even a lot of overwrought family drama. Instead, the conflict is almost solely internal. Two people who find themselves in an impossible situation and are riddled with guilt and confusion over feelings that, despite their best intentions, can't be ignored.

Hoover has a way of developing characters and situations that are so real, so emotional and so utterly believable. My heart ached for Sydney and Ridge (and Maggie). Some parts were just so painful and made my heart so heavy that I'd have to stop, take a breath, and remind myself that I was reading fiction. The growing love and connection between Sydney and Ridge was simply beautiful to witness. And even as they struggled against it I couldn't help but be drawn in and wish fervently for their 'maybe someday.'

Sydney was a main character that I liked right away. She was strong, she stood up for herself, she was kind and craved independence. And she the way she handled the situation she found herself in was admirable. She showed maturity and respect and selflessness.

Ridge was a character I couldn't help but fall for. I have a thing for guys with a protective nature and the way this manifested in his relationship with Maggie had me hooked. He was so sweet, so kind and compassionate. Truly one of those guys with a heart of gold. And he certainly never imagined himself susceptible to the position he found himself in. Despite his internal struggle when lines started to blur, I found him to be incredibly loyal.

The way Sydney and Ridge connected through music was amazing and I loved watching their relationship develop through texts, messages, even pranks. Their honesty and openness with one another was beautiful.

One of things that impressed me most was that Hoover never allowed the story to become sappy or overly sentimental. And yet she still managed to evoke so many emotions! At different times I found my heart fluttering, pounding, melting, and breaking. Unlike so many tales, there is no bad guy in this triangle and that made it all the more heart wrenching. No matter what, someone ends up hurt.

I am incredibly stingy with my 5 star ratings. Those are reserved for books that had a great impact on me for various reasons. I've had maybe 30-40 of those in 35+ years of avid reading. So I definitely don't go around giving 5 stars to every good book I read. It has to be something truly special. And Maybe Someday definitely is something truly special.

Not only will Maybe Someday be one of my favorites of 2014 but it is a favorite - period. I'm still savoring this amazing story and will remember it for a long, long time to come.

Review: The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

Originally read/reviewed July 2012

Pardon me if I gush, but I absolutely loved this book! I think I've read everything from Lisa Jewell, starting way back at Ralph's Party, but this one takes the cake. I was completely drawn in, completely invested in Melody and her search for the truth about her background. The slow but consistent unraveling of her memories and the secrets of her childhood was fascinating and heartbreaking. The long forgotten cast of characters (Ken, Grace, Matty, Emily, etc), the decisions that were made (for good or for bad... mostly bad), the twists of fate (too often cruel)... Melody's story was fascinating and I could hardly bear to put it down. I kept marveling at the resilience of one little girl. How much more could Life throw at her and just how much more could she adapt? The reunions with the figures from the past were so poignant and so filled with "what might have been." My heart ached for Melody. And I'll admit the last couple pages had me in tears. Kudos, Lisa Jewell, for creating this story and these characters! This goes directly to the keeper shelf!

Review: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Originally read/reviewed in September 2013

Having just finished The Bronze Horseman this afternoon, I am feeling utterly shattered and unsure I can write a coherent review, but want to write while everything is still fresh.

I don't often resort to hyperbole, but I can honestly say this has instantly become my favorite book ever. I was moved beyond measure, drawn into the lives of the characters, and emotionally invested as with no other book. Roughly two hours after finishing the book I am still sitting here slightly shell shocked and with an aching heart for Tatiana and Alexander as if they truly existed and their story was, in fact, real.

The Bronze Horseman had much going for it before I ever opened the cover. Russian history? Check. An epic love story? Check. A gripping story with characters that leap from the page? Check, check. Paullina Simons tells a tale that starts slowly, building a relationship between Tatiana and Alexander that is seemingly impossible with every odd stacked against them. But despite it all, their love flourishes and then ignites amidst the horror and destruction of WW II and the siege of Leningrad.

Tatiana + Alexander = the greatest hero and heroine I've encountered. Theirs truly is an epic love story. The intensity of their love... the sacrifices they made for one another... it is beyond compare. The obstacles they endured, the hardships, the separations, the secrets and deceptions... it broke my heart time and time again.

The character growth in Tatiana is appropriate and amazing. From a shy and naive 17 year old girl to a young woman who has seen and endured more than most will in a lifetime. Yet through it all, her strength, optimism, stubborn nature, and her intense and selfless love for Alexander sees her through.

And Alexander... this man, oh this man. He is a young man but one who has already experienced much and grown up early. The burdens he bears, the responsibilities he takes on, the weight on his shoulders, often seemed crushing. But he did it all willingly and never complained. His every thought, every action, was for the safety and protection of Tatiana. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a more honorable character than Alexander Belov. His love for Tania is pure and unselfish and passionate.

Simply put, I loved everything about this book. And at 894 pages I was nowhere near ready for it to end. This is one that will stay with me and, while I would love to reach over and pick up the next book in this incredible saga, I think I may need a day or two to recuperate and pull myself back together.

The Bronze Horseman is exquisite and heart-wrenching and sweet and tragic and joyful and devastating and achingly beautiful.

Sadly, I'm left knowing nothing I write, no amount of breathless gushing, will do this book justice. But, on the plus side, having finished this extraordinary novel today, my birthday, I feel as though I've been given a remarkable gift that I will not forget.