Review: The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

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Synopsis from GoodReads:

This is a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic). Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy — until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He’s back…and he’s not alone.Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.

First of all, I want to say thanks to Brandie for putting this book on my radar! I never would have picked it up if I didn’t know how much she loved it.

-Almost all of my GoodReads friends that have read this either marked it as 5 stars or 1 star, so I wasn’t really sure what to think going into it. After reading it, I think I understand. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked in by the lovely writing, strongly developed characters, and overwhelming emotion of the story. However, if you start to pick apart some of the little things with it, I can see how quickly that rating might go down. For me, the good outweighed the bad, but of course I still have to point some things out.

-There is a lot of cheating in this book and it was handled so oddly. With little exception it was met with either apathy or almost instant forgiveness. It just didn’t feel very realistic. And cheating in books always brings my enjoyment level down a tad.

-There was also a lot of sex. None if it was graphic, which I appreciated. But, it just felt like a little much. There were passages like, “We made love. And then we made love again. And then we made love again. Oh, and then we made love again….” Like, it just didn’t add anything to the story.

-The story is told in Alix’s first person POV in an omniscient style. (It’s eventually revealed she’s writing all this in a journal.) I didn’t mind this for the most part, but almost every chapter ended in some type of ominous warning about the next chapter which I thought was kind of cheesy. Especially because most of the time, things didn’t really play out as ominously as expected.

-Lack in communication caused pretty much every conflict in the book and that’s kind of one of my pet peeves.

-Ok, I’ll focus on the positive things now. The characters in this book were pretty great. They are real and flawed and relatable. Yes, they all made stupid decisions from time to time, but they all found some redemption, as well, which I really liked. I especially loved Alix’s grandfather, The Judge.

-I really enjoyed the small town, southern setting. It was jut the right amount of descriptive writing for me. And speaking of the writing, it really was quite beautiful, as well as addicting.

-The romance was kind of epic. I loved seeing Alix and Nick grow from childhood to adulthood. I really believed in their love and wanted them to be together. They had a ton of obstacles they had to overcome, most of them of their own making, but it was such a wonderful slow burn to them actually being together. I liked that it wasn’t easy and that they had to work at it. After everything they went through I would’ve been disappointed if their happily ever just simply happened.

Overall, I really did enjoy The Sweet Gum Tree. It was completely addicting and I could hardly put it down. While I did obviously have some issues with it, I thought it was beautiful and emotional and I can’t stop thinking about it. I will definitely be reading it again in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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August 2018 Recap

The McKinley Monument

My August was a pretty good end to the summer. My sister’s family came down from Canada for a week and we had a good time. My niece is 3 now and she’s a lot of fun (but kind of exhausting). At one point in time she turned down ice cream because she “just wants to play with Aunt Steph,” so I felt on the top of my Aunt game. I also got to see my brother’s family and my other baby niece who is one of the sweetest babies I’ve ever come across. We also went to the McKinley museum and monument which I have not been to since I was a kid and was pretty cool! What home town attractions do you have that you forget about?

Twinning with my niece. My sister sells leggings and made these shirts.

I also got to see Karin Slaughter again with Amanda. It was a great time, even if I didn’t get any pictures of her! Here’s one of Amanda and I,  though (I look really stupid, but isn’t it a great picture of Amanda?).

    

Books Read: 12

Adult: 5
YA: 7

Favorite Book I Read This Month:

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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

  Books Reviewed: 5

Catch Him If You Can (Accidentally Yours #2) by Jennifer Shirk – 4/5 Stars

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones – 2/5 Stars

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren – 3.5/5 Stars

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter – 4/5 Stars

Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2) by Lauren Layne – 4/5 Stars

Books Read in 2018 Overall: 104

Funny Fridays:

This is definitely what I need to do!

August 3

You have your priorities, we have ours. #RandomHouseMemes #bookworm #bookstagram #igbooks #igreads #booklove #booknerd #bookpeople #reading

August 10

25 Signs Youre Addicted To Books--great collection of book love one-liners:)

August 17

my best friend knows I do this ALL. THE. TIME.

August 24

Other Posts:

July 2018 Recap

Top 5 Wednesday: Biggest Disappointments of 2018 (So Far)

Reviewing the Unreviewed: August 2018

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

10 Books You Should Read After To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

I remember liking the book ok, but I just absolutely adored the movie! If you have Netflix and haven’t watched this yet, then you really need to change that! I felt like they actually made it a little more innocent than the book was instead of the other way around, which is something that I completely support. Some of the acting wasn’t the best and I definitely understood why this was on Netflix and not a movie theatre, but I was still so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. And can I be the millionth person to comment on how amazing the kid playing Peter Kavinsky is? I may have already re-watched this one a couple of times….

Looking forward to September

TV Trailer for You by Caroline Kepnes Starring Penn Badgley *I couldn’t be more excited!!* – Book It Forward

You premieres on Lifetime on September 9th (though your local listing may be different). You remains one of the most messed up books I have ever read and I am really looking forward to seeing what they do with it on the screen. Here’s hoping Penn Badgley’s Joe can be a better kind of creepy than Dan Humphries…

Review: Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2) by Lauren Layne

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

He’s a Wall Street wolf. She’s been hired to tame him. From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne comes a wildly sexy novel of business and pleasure.

Twenty-eight and filthy rich, Matt Cannon is the youngest broker on Wall Street. He may be a “boy wonder,” but he’s every inch a man. Ask any woman—any night. But when Matt’s latest fling makes scandalous headlines, his clients get anxious, and his bosses at Wolfe Investments level an ultimatum: keep his assets zipped, get a “real” girlfriend, and clean up his act. Only one woman can help Matt with something this hard.

For PR genius Sabrina Cross, the best fixer in Manhattan, playing Matt’s steady is going to be a challenge, even if it’s just for show. They already have an explosive history, she can’t stand the cocky party boy, and worse—she can’t stop thinking about him. So who’ll dare to break her “no touching” rule first? Because when that happens, Matt and Sabrina’s game of let’s pretend will get so hot it could set both their reputations on fire.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Hard Sell will be available September 4, 2018. 

I love Lauren Layne books. They are always the perfect choice to get me out of any reading slump. Hard Sell is the second book in the 21 Wall Street series and I think I enjoyed it even more than the first.

I love both Fake Relationship and Hate-to-Love stories and this book utilized both. In the first book of the series Matt and Sabrina were side characters and I wasn’t really sold on the idea of them being in a relationship, but I did end up really liking them together here. They’ve kind of had this dysfunctional thing for a few years and it was a slow burn to actual love and romance and I was here for it. I thought they were really well suited for each other and I liked how their friendship evolved, along with the romance.

Like all of Layne’s books there were a couple of scenes that were a little more graphic than I like, but other than that I enjoyed pretty much every moment of the book. I like the cast of characters and I am really looking forward to getting a book focusing on Kennedy and Kate. One thing I would’ve liked to have seen a little more, though, is Kate’s job. She’s a “fixer” so I felt like there were endless possibilities for a little extra fun or drama, but there’s really not much done with it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hard Sell. Layne is easily one of my favorite Romance authors and I just love her more with each book I read. I definitely recommend this to Romance fans. While it is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone, as well.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

The #1 internationally bestselling author returns with a new novel in the vein of her New York Times bestsellers Pretty Girlsand The Good Daughter—a story even more electrifying, provocative, and suspenseful than anything she’s written before.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?

Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

I received a copy of this title from the publisher (Thanks William Morrow!). It does not impact my review. 

I always look forward to a new Karin Slaughter book. I used to get a little upset whenever one of her upcoming titles was not a Will Trent book, but I have really enjoyed all of her standalone novels and have learned to appreciate getting something a little different as I wait for more Will. And Pieces of Her was definitely different than anything I’ve read from  Slaughter before. The mystery is not so much a Whodunnit as a Whydunnit. While there are still surprises and suspense, it made the tone of the story different than I expected.

I really liked the use of multiple POVs and timelines. Slaughter utilizes this style so well. It’s one of my favorite things about her writing. I thought the issues were pretty timely, even though one timeline was set 30+ years ago. It shines a light on the corruption of the powerful, as well as the misguided, violent atrocities people commit in the name of social justice. While I liked both of the main characters and timelines, I have to admit I liked the 1980s chapters a little more. While there was maybe a little more action in the present, the real heart of the story happened 30 years before.

She had always believed – vehemently, with great conviction – that the only way to change the world was to destroy it. 

I found the character of Nick fascinating. Horrible, but fascinating. The cult like adoration he managed to manipulate out of people and the  control he was able to hold over them, even when they knew they were being manipulated, was kind of horrifying. Even though they were under his spell (and had an abundance of issues themselves) I really liked Jane and Andrew. In the present chapters, I found Andrea a little hard to understand at times. I am not somebody who should be judging someone for being quiet, but she really took it to extremes. I often wondered if she had some kind of mental disability, but it’s never addressed. However, she was still a sympathetic and interesting character. While the circumstances are different, I really related to the sudden discovery of learning everything you thought you knew about your parent was a lie.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pieces of Her. While it was different than I’ve come to expect from Slaughter, it still had the excellent writing, clever twists, and compelling characters she’s known for. My only struggle with it was how long the chapters were (there are close to 500 pages and there are only 15 chapters, plus an epilogue) which is not my favorite thing, but I’m sure many other won’t be bothered by it. I still definitely recommend this one to mystery/thriller fans and am eagerly anticipating more from Slaughter.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Most men can’t handle Hazel. With the energy of a toddler and the mouth of a sailor, they’re often too timid to recognize her heart of gold. New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (RoomiesBeautiful Bastard) tells the story of two people who are definitely not dating, no matter how often they end up in bed together.

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating will be available September 4, 2018. 

I’ve had some mixed reviews with the Christina Lauren books I’ve read so I’m never really sure what to expect when I pick one up. However, I do know that there will be some addicting writing that will make the book hard to put down and Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating was exactly that.

Hazel. I’m having a hard time deciding on my feelings towards her. Since I have recently been binging old New Girl episodes on Netflix, I’m going to compare her to Season 1 Jess. They really leaned into the whole “adorkable” angle and sometimes she was a little unbearable. In later seasons she was still quirky, but in a more endearing way. In some parts of this book Hazel was kind of aggressively quirky in a Season 1 Jess kind of way. But in others, she was just a little odd and cute. I didn’t find her character all that consistent throughout the story. Even though she often stated that she knew she was a lot to handle and she wasn’t going to change for anybody, I also got the feeling that she felt kind of sorry for herself about it and wished she could? There were times I felt like she was trying to be different for the sake of being different. Then there were other times where she seemed pretty normal. As you can see, I still feel a little conflicted about it. Overall, I think she could be a little unbearable at times, but I mostly enjoyed her.

I was a much bigger fan of Josh. He was so funny and sweet and I just adored him. I liked how protective he was of Hazel. Even though he could come off uptight about a lot of things, he seemed to be the perfect amount of laid back to be able to go with the flow with Hazel. I liked his relationship with his sister and his parents, as well. We get a little bit of information on Korean culture from him, but I would’ve liked a little more.

I’m a fan of the Friends-to-More trope so I shipped Josh and Hazel. However, I wish it would’ve taken a little longer for them to really fall for each other. We get both their POVs which means we find out basically right away that Hazel has always had a thing for Josh and then Josh pretty quickly starts to like her, too. However, they both think they’re wrong for each other and they’re both unsure how the other feels and by getting both POVs it kind of takes away all the tension. It just kind of made me annoyed with both of them. There were still some really cute and romantic scenes, though (and several graphic scenes I could’ve done without, but I’m sure other readers will appreciate).

Overall, I enjoyed Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. It was cute, funny, and I shipped the romance. However, Hazel was kind of hard to take at times and there wasn’t a moment where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next. While the story utilized one of my favorite romantic tropes, Friends-to-More, it also employs one of my least favorites (I’m not going to say which since it’s too spoiler-y) and I have to say that dampened my overall enjoyment a bit. I do definitely recommend this one to Romance fans, though, especially Christina Lauren fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars