Tag: Love Stories

February 2019 Books to Read (and Skip)

February 14, 2019 Mini Book Reviews 17

February 2019 Books to Read


I was excited about my February reading since there were a number of books I was really looking forward to, but the brightest stars came from unexpected places (i.e. books that were late adds to my TBR list based on glowing recommendations from trusted sources).

I read one 5 star book and a second 4.5 star book…with only one unsuccessful book that I DNF’d quickly. 

I’ll take that for a reading month!

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
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Favorite Book of February 2019

Last Romantics by Tara ConklinThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: The story of the Skinner family – the four Skinner children, their father’s unexpectedly passing in his thirties, their mother’s years long depression (which the children call “the Pause”), and how their lives unfold into adulthood. 

My Thoughts: Finally….my first 5 star book of the year! I almost bypassed this one, but a few of my go-to recommendation sources rated it 5 stars (Mind Joggle, Happiest When Reading, Novel Visits) and it was compared to Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (my review) and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (my review). I thought it was more Commonwealth than The Interestings with shades of My Sunshine Away (my review) in the beginning sections, but for once a big-time comparison proved accurate! The Last Romantics can be called a dysfunctional family novel, but the dysfunction is normal enough to be relatable…the type of dysfunction you see in real life all the time. It’s a novel of sibling dynamics and how parenting decisions/style impacts children in later life. Joe, the lone son among three sisters and the “golden boy” as a child, slides by on looks, charm, athletic ability, and, later in life, his wealthy friends…each sister has her own relationship with Joe and it’s these relationships that drive much of the drama later in the book. My one complaint is that the ending was a bit too tidy…it read a bit like an Epilogue and I felt it was unnecessary. But, that didn’t kill the book for me…I loved every other second of it and it’s one of those character-driven novels I couldn’t put down! PS – I loved the fact that a blog plays a role in story!

The Pause could not go on forever. We knew this. There were dangers. We were children alone, the four of us, without protection or instruction, and while Renee played the part of quasi mother, she buckled under the weight. Unsustainable, I wrote later. Unsupportable, hazardous, perilous, unsafe.

But, Also Read These

American Pop by Snowden WrightAmerican Popby Snowden Wright
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: The story of an American dynasty…the fictional Forster family who started Panola Cola, the world’s largest soda company.

My Thoughts: Though American Pop is fiction, I’m guessing you automatically think of the Coca-Cola family when you hear the premise of this book (especially since the author lives in Atlanta, GA). Wright mentioned in a Publisher’s Weekly interview that he was inspired by Coca-Cola “with a little bit of Dr. Pepper.” One of my complaints about the book was that there was no Author’s Note laying out what was true and what was fiction, which is my favorite parts of books based on real people and events, but Google can help you out with this a bit.

The story kicks off with a glitzy party scene at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and it’s immediately apparent that most Forster family members have skeletons in their closets…making American Pop most definitely a dysfunctional family novel. It was hit and miss for me, but overall more hit than miss. The writing is really fun and glittery, but sometimes veers into “what is he talking about?” territory. I loved that the book was juicy, pulling back the curtain on this prominent family, but he tried to pack a lot into it. There was lots of jumping around between time periods and characters, which made it hard to follow at times, and I wish he’d pared back the scope of the story a bit. But, I loved the spot-on social commentary on the South. It’s not a perfect book…it’s ambitious, but messy. But it’s overall an interesting twist on the dysfunctional family novel with flashes of brilliant writing and commentary.

The Forsters, like most Southern families, typically had one of two intentions when conversing among themselves: to make each other laugh or to make each other bleed.

Otherwise Engaged by Lindsey J. PalmerOtherwise Engagedby Lindsey J. Palmer
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: February 26, 2019)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Skyhorse)

Plot Summary: When Gabe publishes a novel that’s very closely based on his steamy, volatile relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Talia…or the fictional “Dahlia”), his relationship with his new fiancee (Molly) hits some speed bumps.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m not normally big on the rom-com style brain candy books…they can easily venture into cheesy for me. But, there have been two over the past few months I’ve actually liked (How to Walk Away and One Day in December) and I can now add Otherwise Engaged to the list! The beginning is a touch cheesy, but then the story turns a corner. The premise is totally intriguing…Palmer’s juxtaposition of excerpts of Gabe’s book with Molly’s thoughts and commentary as she’s reading it brings all this intrigue to light. And, boy does this book(understandably) get in her head! Gabe’s book shatters the core of who Molly thinks Gabe is and has her constantly analyzing details from his previous relationship and details from her own relationship that appear in the book. Of course, Talia (Gabe’s ex-girlfriend) also re-appears on the scene to stir things up. Palmer takes all this upheaval in Gabe and Molly’s relationship to levels I’d never considered, but that were certainly interesting to ponder (i.e. in general, how do the family and friends of any author feel when details from their actual lives appear in their family member’s / friend’s book?). Great pick if you’re looking for something light, easy, and happy!

So, did Talia steal that little speech from the book? Or did Gabe take it from Talia to insert in his book, attributing it to Dahlia? Or did Gabe put into words something that Talia had felt, and then Talia borrowed Dahlia’s words to describe it back to me? The possibilities spin out like anagrams in my mind, making me dizzy. The more I deliberate, the less of a grip I feel I have on what’s real and true.

Age of LightThe Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Set in 1930’s Paris and inspired by the real-life love affair between former Vogue model and photographer Lee Miller and the artist Man Ray.

My Thoughts: I don’t normally love historical fiction or love stories (and The Age of Light is both), but I loved Scharer’s take on it! Mainly because it’s not just a love story or historical fiction…it could also be called a “badass lady book.” It’s the story of a woman who is defined by the man in her life trying to break out on her own…to be known for her own work. And, I do have an excellent track record with these kinds of historical fiction love stories (ex: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Loving Frank). Scharer immediately immerses you in 1930’s Paris and I was engrossed in the story right from the beginning. Man Ray and Miller have a complicated relationship…he’s her teacher, boss, mentor, lover, and creative partner, but she also teaches him. I appreciated the fight in Lee…her drive to be known for her own work and her gumption at the end of the book. My one complaint is that I always love the Author’s Note in these kinds of books because it usually tells you where the story is historically accurate and where he/she took liberties for the sake of the story…this Author’s Note just contained the usual thank you’s to her team, family, etc. I should also warn you that this one is steamy…if that bothers you. 

The prow of myself, she thinks. Lee doesn’t know – or really care – if she has fully understood what Claude was getting at, but she wants to be how the words made her feel: alone but not lonely, needing no one, living her life with intention.

Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa GrayThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: February 19, 2019)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Berkley Books)

Plot Summary: When Althea and her husband (Proctor) are arrested, Althea’s sisters become caretakers for Althea’s two teenage daughters (Kim and Baby Vi).

My Thoughts: This was a tough book…not emotionally tough to read, but tough because my expectations were so high. I peeked at the first 10 pages or so well before actually reading it and was immediately pulled in by the writing. From that glimpse, I was expecting a 5 star book. And, I did end up liking it, but more lukewarmly than a 5 star book. It’s been compared to The Mothers (my review) and An American Marriage (my review)…but, to me, it felt more like The Mothers in style and the An American Marriage comparison is coming from the fact that Proctor and Althea are in prison. It’s a sad portrait of what prison and betrayal does to a family. It’s a quiet book, which I’m okay with since I did really love the writing, but I was waiting the whole time for it to blow me away…and, it never did. Althea is a tough character. I kept thinking she would be more sympathetic, but it never happened. She’s hard to read and I was confused by her; however, there are other likable characters in this story. I did really like the ending, which was more hopeful than the rest of the book, and I loved hearing in the Author’s Note that Gray pulled some elements of the story from her own life (ex: eating disorders and gay marriage). Overall, this one suffered from my inflated expectations, but I still more or less liked it.

How does time heal the want of time, such crucial time, with someone you miss? You learn to get by with a loss like that, but something is always off.

The DNF’s

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCrackenBowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (February 5, 2019)
DNF at 8%
I just couldn’t get past the language…it felt really old-timey and required more concentration than I felt like devoting.



What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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More Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance

February 5, 2019 Book Lists 42

More Unconventional Love Stories


So…Valentine’s Day is actually one of my least favorite holidays. I feel pressure to participate in the cheesiness even though cheesy feels so uncomfortable to me. Luckily, my husband isn’t really into Valentine’s Day either.

Since it’s almost the big red day, you’re probably seeing lots of lists of “the best romances, etc” around the bookish internet. Here’s what bugs me about traditional “romances.” The predictable (no matter how unrealistic) happy endings, the cheesy dialogue, the equally cheesily written love scenes. Shall I go on? I promise, you won’t find those elements in these unconventional love stories. Most readers probably wouldn’t even call these love stories. But, I do and they’re the kind I prefer.

Last year, I shared a list of 12 unconventional loves stories for people who don’t like traditional romances. As I thought about Valentine’s Day 2019, I realized I had a lot of new books to add to this list. So, I bring you 10 new love stories…a few of the more conventional variety, but most unconventional.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).
Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

10 MORE Love Stories (2019 Additions)

Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan
You’ll start out thinking this is a run-of-the-mill love triangle, but it goes in a direction you probably wouldn’t guess.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (my review)
This love story is more traditional and feels like a rom-com…but, for some reason all that didn’t turn me off!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Based on the real-life affair between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Wright’s married client. Beyond the tempestuous love affair, this is a story about Mamah finding her own identity outside of love.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Another more traditional love story featuring a love triangle, but its intriguing premise kept me interested.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Otherwise Engaged by Lindsey J. Palmer
Yet another more traditional love story with an intriguing premise. Mini review coming next week.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering
A sociopathic love story…and I can’t say this one is happy. It’s more of a cautionary tale.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Age of Lightby Whitney Scharer
Similar to Loving Frank, a novel based on the real-life love affair between former Vogue model Lee Miller and artist Man Ray. It’s out coming out today and I’ll have a mini review for you next week!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Are you wondering why I have a thriller on this list? There’s a bit of a love story mixed in here too…a really messed up one.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
A family drama / love story…involving a Hollywood actress that the world had presumed missing and an American divorcee on the run from his problems.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Where the Crawdads Singby Delia Owens (my review)
A coming of age story, a murder mystery, and a love story wrapped up into one…with some beautiful nature writing thrown in.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance (Original List, 2018)

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)
Some would call this love story horrifying. I definitely did at times. But, it’s also different than anything I’ve ever read and Greenwood makes you question what you thought were your rock solid convictions.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (my review)
What happens to a love story when a husband of only a year and a half goes to prison? Oprah sure wants her book club members to find out!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (my review)
Most people probably wouldn’t consider this sci-fi page turner a love story. But, ultimately, Jason is fighting tooth and nail to be with his wife and child…his idea of home.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (my review)
An illicit affair between a British heir and his neighbor’s maid. It definitely doesn’t have a happy ending, but I finished the book completely satisfied.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (my review)
Two older people (Louis and Addie) stop caring what everyone else thinks and do what they need to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
A love story where the two lovebirds are totally messing with each other and you have no idea who will come out on top.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
This is the kind of love story that many of us had in our youth (especially if you lived in NYC) and look back on with horror. We wish we would’ve been stronger, smarter, and valued ourselves more. It’s raw and most definitely not sweet.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)
A story of friendship, unrequited love, desperation and obsession. This one will make you uncomfortable…I was cringing often.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (my review)
Probably the most F’d up love story you’ll ever read (with a love story you can actually root for buried amid the horror)…starring a supremely dysfunctional family.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Rules of Magicby Alice Hoffman
Love permeates this story about family and magic. Can the Owens children find love? Should they? 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review)
The true love story of this book isn’t the one you think it will be.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

White Fur by Jardine Libaire (my review)
A classic “wrong side of the tracks” love story…told in a raw, gritty, edgy, and uncomfortable way.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

How do you feel about romances? Do you prefer the traditional or unconventional type?

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More Unconventional Love Stories


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Alcohol & Advil: White Fur and Do Not Become Alarmed

June 8, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 12

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style

Welcome back to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s the former.

The Alcohol

White Fur by Jardine LibaireWhite Fur by Jardine Libaire
Fiction (
Released May 30, 2017)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 
Source: Publisher (Hogarth Books)

Plot Summary: Jamey Hyde (a wealthy Yale student from the Upper East Side) and Elise Perez (Hyde’s New Haven neighbor who grew up in Connecticut public housing) embark on a relationship, which Jamey’s family is determined to destroy.

My Thoughts: The premise of this book sounds completely cheesy and I’m normally not a fan of love stories in my reading, but I loved this one! It’s raw, gritty, edgy, and uncomfortable…while also managing to be a study of class in America. And, it features the most gorgeous writing I’ve seen in months! The settings of 1980’s New Haven and New York City certainly account for some of the grittiness, but Libaire’s writing and storytelling takes care of the rest. And, Libaire’s spot-on and perfectly worded social commentary about the wealthy provides a nice change of pace from Jamey and Elise’s dark and intense relationship.

Binkie, the one and only. He can hear her rings clacking on the plastic phone, and he chuckles, envisioning with amusement the bejeweled and suntanned manicured grip his grandmother thinks she has on his balls. And she does.

I don’t normally describe love stories as suspenseful, but this one kicks off with a Prologue that had me dying to know how Jamey and Elise would get from Point A to Point Z. My only complaint is that the actual Point Z didn’t work for me…it didn’t fit well with the rest of the story. Nevertheless, White Fur is one gorgeously written, highly literary, and totally unique (so unique that I can’t think of a single book to compare it to) love story…and is one of my favorite books so far this year!

The Advil

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile MeloyDo Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Fiction (
Released June 6, 2017)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Riverhead)

Plot Summary: While on a holiday cruise through Central America, cousins Liv and Nora’s children (along with two friends) disappear during a shore excursion.

My Thoughts: Following the gorgeous writing of White Fur, I was looking for a purely plot-based book and I found it in Do Not Become Alarmed. Though the plot requires the reader to suspend belief a few times, I flew through this novel.

The bulk of the action takes place in an unnamed Central American country that’s supposed to be “the Switzerland of Central America” and very safe for tourists…based on clues in the novel, it sounds like a fictional Costa Rica. The story is told from the perspectives of the different sets of parents (who have their own dynamics and are experiencing cracks in their relationships with each other as a result of the children’s disappearances) and the missing children. It’s a “shit hits the fan on an International vacation” story in the vein of Siracusa (my review) and would be a perfect vacation read…as long as you’re not traveling with young children through Central America! And, it’s going on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide.

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