This article. I’m a sucker for any article featuring colorized historical photos, and this one’s particularly interesting to me: the 1903 Romanov Costume Party. It’s fascinating how the colorization makes the subjects—the Czar and czarina and others—feel more modern. Check out those clothes and jewels!
This baby. Baby #3 is starting to move more and more, and I’m loving the Elaine Benes-style dancing going on in there. Other baby news: we’re finding out the baby’s sex in August; Sam is really excited for a sister (but not a baby brother) and it’s probably best for all parties concerned that Raymond does not understand what’s coming; maternity jorts are the best jorts of any jorts.
These flowers. I know I’ve talked about our flowers before, but in between my last Things I’m Loving post and this one, our zinnias have exploded. While Daniel and I have planted flowers before, it’s never been to this extent, and never on a piece of property that felt really like ours (I'm totally ignoring that we have a mortgage). The colors are beautiful, and I love seeing butterflies and bees stop by for a snack.
This book. I reviewed it here, but in case you missed it, here’s the Amazon link. This m/m romance is truly special. Read it, please!
This recipe. One day you might accept that you will never have the wrist dexterity to flip a pancake successfully. Then you will also remember that there is something called a waffle, and you happen to have a waffle maker. I've been using this recipe except I add a little vanilla, and I've been feeling like a champ.
These tomatoes. No one ever talks about how vigilant you have to be when it comes to picking these fruits. First of all, there’s the ripeness factor. Then there are the animals, which love to take nibbles with their ferocious little teeth, nibbles you don’t always initially see because they’re on the underside of a deceivingly beautiful curve of fruit. It’s a waiting game of epic culinary proportion but oh my are they worth it. I love to eat them sliced and sprinkled with salt, or turned into bruschetta and lovingly dumped on top of French bread.
As always, you can find me on Instagram to see more of what I'm loving/reading.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I hate feeling like I’m not liked, and that self-consciousness often makes me try harder, which makes me resent myself for feeling like I have to try when the little article in the back of Glamour says that by this age I shouldn’t care what people think…
That horror show was just a glimpse into my occasional thought process. I know a lot of women who feel like they need to always be liked—like there’s something wrong with them if they aren’t—and that’s why it’s sometimes such a relief to read a heroine whose number of GAF’s is severely limited.
Freya Stewart de Moray of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling is on a quest. She’s a spy for a group of women known as the Wise Women, ancient protectors of women in Scotland and England. Her current spy job is finding out what leverage they can wield against Lord Randolph, a man championing a revised Witch Act which will target women like the Wise Women.
Freya has no time for bitter enemies, including Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, whom she considers responsible for the tragedies in her family. Or the blasted attraction she feels for him, despite everything. Or for the other ghosts of her past, including her childhood best friend, Messalina. Etc. Etc.
Christopher refers to Freya’s “prickliness,” and that seems as good a word as any other. She’s also brave and smart and (eventually) willing to admit her mistakes, and that growth on both lead’s part was something I loved about this book. It’s about what they can let go of and what they can grab onto, and Hoyt writes their redemption arcs swimmingly.
Also? Hoyt takes passion to another level in her books, and this one is earthy and cheek-flushing in the best of ways. Trust me on this: there’s nothing polite about how she writes sex scenes, even if it is 1760 England at a fancy house party.
Not the Duke’s Darling has the grit and sensuality that I’ve come to associate with Hoyt’s work. It also has the female empowerment that I crave; there’s no way in hell that Freya will settle for anything, and that just might include marriage to Christopher (TBD. Read the book).
This historical has the octopus-like feel of a book setting up the rest of the series: there were a lot of characters & storylines here, but I have high hopes that the mysteries beginning to percolate in my head will be solved soon. Please God.
Not the Duke’s Darling is another really great Hoyt historical, and another reminder that I need to read everything in her catalog.
4 out of 5 stars.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley, but this review is based off a reading of the hard-copy which I purchased for myself. All opinions provided are my own.
Let the record reflect that I would be a horrible detective. I’m overly imaginative but with no built-in set of brakes that prevent me from becoming a rabid conclusion-jumper. Needless to say, I’m not like Birdie Lindberg, teen heroine of Jenn Bennett’s Serious Moonlight and an aspiring detective who’s been exercising said detective muscles since childhood.
Birdie’s new job as a night-shift auditor at a fancy hotel presents her with her first big mystery case: the real identity of famed writer Raymond Darke. And the teen who points out this mystery to her? That’s none other than Daniel Aoki, a boy she recently had an embarrassing hook-up with & then avoided (like he was a loquacious former classmate she spotted across the grocery store on a day she wore her least flattering pair of jeans and just felt blah. Anyone else know the feeling?)
Bennett’s YA books sparkle and shine, even as they’re weighted with the subjects that make life challenging: divorce, the break-up of friendship, a bad hook-up, a previous suicide attempt, the death of a loved one. She’s tackled them all at some point or another in the three books of hers I’ve read. Her teenage main characters wrestle with their problems with a sensitivity & poise that’s admirable but doesn’t feel inauthentic or cloying.
What really makes her books special is that her characters are confident enough to be themselves. From their dress to their styling to their passions, they’re quirky, bold, & assured, & it makes me adore them. It also lends every story she tells the feeling of freshness. Case in point? Birdie is an orphaned homeschooled mystery-lover who wears a real flower behind her ear like Billie Holiday; Daniel is a hearing-disabled teen who lives in a commune with his mom & grandparents and loves magic.
Serious Moonlight is another rich, big-hearted novel from Jenn Bennett, so imbued with love for her characters and between her characters that it feels like a hug.
Q: Who is one of your favorite contemporary YA authors? I also highlyyyy recommend Julie Buxbaum.
I won a beautiful hard-copy of this book from a Goodreads contest. Thanks, Goodreads & Gallery Books!
PI Kira Vance sustains no major injuries when someone starts shooting people in the house where she’s working on a case, but her employer-mentor Ollie Novak dies. What had he just found out about the murder case they were working on, and did it get him killed?
Within hours Kira’s hired to discover the answer to those questions. Keeping her safe is Jeremy Owen, a former soldier and current bodyguard of sorts who Kira’s also dangerously attracted to.
So let’s see: so far we have an urgent mystery *ticks fingers*, danger, and a sweeeet romance plot. Everything that I needed to keep me reading Laura Griffin’s Her Deadly Secrets and finish it in one day.
Some of my friends like thrillers but haven’t necessarily made the leap to romantic suspense. Laura Griffin is a great place to start. Like Karen Rose’s romantic suspense books or Kylie Brant’s Mindhunter series, Griffin’s books are smart and gripping, plus they have kissing!
The mystery angle of Her Deadly Secrets is adeptly written, with a cast of main and secondary characters who are both knowledgeable and committed to discovering the answers behind Ollie’s murder. Griffin unravels the whodunit clue by compelling clue, as the exceptionally competent Kira and Jeremy race around the city following leads and trying to avoid getting killed next.
Although I wanted a bit more at the end, the romance plot, too, is satisfying. Griffin builds up the sexual tension between Kira & Jeremy, as mainly Jeremy tries to resist acting on the feelings between them and possibly being taken off Kira’s security. When they finally relent, it’s lovely and passionate, and has an obvious layer of “deep-like-maybe-more” underneath it all, which I am all here for. But Griffin keeps up the suspense here too: will the physical attraction and their feelings be enough to keep them together, even after the case is *hopefully* solved?
Kira and Jeremy are just the latest in a line of Griffin’s heroes and heroines who gave me the heart-eyes, and whom I hope to encounter again, the next time that someone faces danger in a future Griffin book. And I will be reading more, because Griffin writes thoughtful & sexy romantic suspense, and if I haven’t told you that enough, that’s my thing.
Q: do you think you'd like to be a PI? I actually thought to myself yesterday--at the beginning of the book--that I would, but I was reminded by the end why I couldn't/shouldn't.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+, but all opinions provided are my own.
I have zero chill when it comes to Tessa Bailey and/or her books. They’re so, so good. Intense and sexy (nearly fatally so), but also with some kind of buoyancy that prevents them from feeling too dark, no matter what subject she’s tackling.
So please keep my reviewer biases in mind.
But Fix Her Up is her latest offering, and it’s wonderful. Best friend’s little sister / fake romance / tomboy dresses in oversized secondhand clothes and voluntarily gets a makeover for herself and puts herself out there in relationships and work…magic. It works on so many levels, from the first moment when Georgie, said tomboy, throws a carton of old ice cream (yuck!) on our down-and-temporarily-out hero’s back, to the end, when Georgie and hero…you didn’t think I was going to reveal a spoiler, did you?
Our down-and-temporarily-out hero is Travis Ford, who, after a debilitating injury, has been released from his last baseball team and returned to Port Jefferson to wallow in takeout containers and alcohol. Georgie Castle, his best friend’s little sister—and also the woman who has loved Travis since she was a child—is the only one capable of scaling the castle walls (definitely not looking at his naked body), and bringing him back to life by throwing aforementioned old ice cream at his fantastically sculpted back.
Billed as a rom-com, Fix Her Up is definitely funny, especially the opening scene when Georgie really lets things fly. It’s approachable humor, but no less smart for it.
But as funny as it is, the book hit me more on an emotional level. What we have in Fix Her Up is a story about two people who want others to see them differently—as something more than an annoying little sister or a baseball has-been. For people to see them as worth it, and Bailey explores their vulnerabilities beautifully, even as they grow throughout the book.
They’re also two people who have vigorous, athletic, sizzling sex. No one writes a sex scene like Tessa Bailey. This is a fact of life.
If you haven’t read Tessa Bailey, you must. Then you must read another.
TNW arbitrary rating: 5 stars.
Q: Do you watch any sports? I occasionalllllly watch football, but only enough to pester my husband with questions, like what’s happening and I still don’t understand what a down is (not a question, I know), and also to impress people with the random trivia I know about players (which I learn from Ellen and also tasteful pre-game interviews).
When I was around six, I remember watching my mom walk around—probably putting away folded clothes—and I asked her what the word “love” meant. It’s been a long time since that moment, but I still remember the suddenness of it—my feeling, maybe of confusion, maybe a little bit of panic,--that the word meant something even more than what I thought I knew.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s compulsively readable City of Girls is about love, in a nutshell. The different kinds of love and the different ways it’s expressed: the love that we stumble into and seek out, that we chase and run away from, and that we deny ourselves or that’s denied us. Outward love and self-love; friendship and physical love and emotional.
It’s all there in City of Girls, the story of Vivian and New York City and the men, and importantly for this book, the women, she meets along the way.
From the first pages of the novel, I was mesmerized by Vivian’s written response to a woman named Angela; Angela has asked Vivian to answer the question “What was I to her father?” it turns out that the question is pretty complicated. Vivian tells Angela how she came to be in NYC in the early years of the 40s, how she became a costume designer, how she spent her days and nights exploring what made her feel alive, and how it results in a sex scandal that takes her years to recover from.
If this were a Thomas Hardy novel, her story would have probably ended soon after, and in a terribly tragic way. But this isn’t ultimately a story about punishment or castigation, even though Vivian regrets the hurt she caused others and is unflinchingly honest about her mistakes, failings, and moments of self-absorption. It’s a book that’s about love (see above) and growth and connection, about satisfaction, as Vivian says, and happiness, and that’s something that I needed to read.
That I wanted to read, as well. City of Girls is beautifully, compellingly written. Vivian is funny and astute, introspective without being dour, and endlessly interesting. I recognized bits and pieces of myself in her—some things that I like and some things I don’t. And Gilbert evokes a New York—of the 40s through 60s primarily—that I’ve never experienced but that I was fully engrossed in, even as it all felt modern. (Which is part of the point, I think. As Vivian says in her narration, we tend to think that belonging to a younger generation means we’re doing something newer, bolder, that we are modern and by default, the people before us weren’t, and of course that’s a silly delusion/lie we tell ourselves).
City of Girls was not always easy to read, even as it was. Gilbert pulled at my emotions, and at moments, my uncomfortable secondhand emotions were running strong, but the sentences unfurled smoothly, beautifully, wonderfully, and I couldn’t wait to see where Vivian was going to take Angela (me).
Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for this lesson in loving others.
Mary Catherine Starr and I laugh about being moms all the time. Sometimes it’s something our kids have done. Or taking stock of how our bodies have changed. Or just how crazy motherhood is—how it’s possible to feel every feeling there is, whiplash style, and how absolutely impossible it is to prepare for, no matter how much you have prepared for it.
It felt like today was a good time to take stock of my mom life. Samuel is turning four on Saturday. Raymond is 18 months old.* And though it feels like I’ve largely settled into the life of a mom of two—in the same way that one can settle into the life of the wrangler of a lovable but also destructive celebrity or a not-so-highly-trained demolitions expert—each day also brings surprises.
Here are some things that I’ve learned/am learning as the result of being a mom:
Strategize, strategize. Which kid to get in the car-seat first. Which kid you hold and which holds your hand when you walk through a parking lot alone. Which one goes to sleep first / which one will wake up first. How much each kid will eat for dinner. Which parent will prepare each child’s plate. How many snacks to pack for the road. How to give your 1.5-year-old a juice box safely because he will throw a fit if his brother has one and he doesn’t. Do not try to put his juice in a sippy cup. This is offensive.
And going along with this, do not ever assume that your 1.5-year-old is not fully capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. This angers him. But maybe also don’t think that they’re actually capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. It’s a fine line, I get it.
Sometimes it’s worth it to have a little mess if it buys you a few minutes of peace first. Have to pick up some raisins off the floor because it was more important to sit on the couch than to insist that your child sit at the table? So what. Enjoy that couch time.
Having a sibling will put a totally different spin on young toddlerhood. Sam had temper tantrums as a 1.5-year-old, but they weren’t about an older sibling taking his favorite toy of the moment or his snack or turning the cold water off in the bathtub or turning the cold water on. This sibling dynamic has been really interesting to watch. Sometimes Sam and Ray kiss and hug each other. Most of the time they wrestle. Sometimes Ray watches Sam like he’s a benevolent God. Sometimes like he’s a vengeful and unpredictable one.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the youngest child is always the victim. *shakes head no.*
If you have both kids at home by yourself, bathroom time is a bit dangerous. Here’s my advice: put the tv on, select a bathroom closest to the living room, and leave the door open when you have to use the bathroom. Or maybe put the youngest in the crib for a minute. Or maybe just don’t use the bathroom at all.
You will never, ever get the amount of sleep you think you will. Sometimes you’ll get more than you thought. Most of the time you’ll get less. But try to cuddle with your partner as much as you can. It really makes a difference.
And speaking of sleep, wow, but training your child to go to sleep in his bed and stay in his bed is a _____. There were times when it was easier to let Sam sleep in our bed than to fight him into sleeping in his own bed throughout the night. But I say this to stay at home moms in particular: it's so important to set boundaries, and for me, my bed is one of them. We put so much time and work into getting Sam to sleep in his own bed; he is remarkably stubborn. But it totally changed my life when we broke-through.
Do not buy one of anything when you have more than one kid. See one of my latest blog posts about the Thermos FunTainer. Lesson learned.
You will not be 100% happy about being a mom at all times. First of all: for over a year after having Sam, I experienced postpartum anxiety and depression. I had never felt like that before in my life, and it was all that I could think about. I had the worst thoughts about myself and my life and my future. There was no way that I could have imagined that I’d feel like this—happy and hopeful—today, and that’s because of therapy and medication and also the support of my family and friends. You might not have experienced postpartum anxiety and depression or something similar, but the bottom line is that being a mom is hard. It can feel isolating and confusing and frustrating in moments, and that can produce a lot of guilt that’s hard to let go of. But talk to people and give yourself a break. Those perfect moms don’t exist—and if they do, there are only two or three of them and they only exist on Facebook.
Take your kids' questions seriously. Sam has been asking all kinds of interesting questions lately—about the human body, the Loch Ness monster, animal stories from when Daniel and I were growing up—and I love how curious he is and how he holds onto everything we say. This is also a good place to remind you that you shouldn’t say the word camel-toe in front of your children.
You will love the people who love your kids; you will harbor secret/not-so-secret resentment toward anyone who you feel has slighted them. Thank you to everyone who has taken such good care of my boys.
I think that's good on the unsolicited but well-meaning parental advice front, don't you? *Look for a follow-up post in the future: Life with Three Kids, because Daniel and I are adding to our family again in December 2019. We are excited and happy and scared and excited again.
There are some books that feel perfect, that shine with the force and beauty of Cary Grant’s smile, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is one of them. Reduced to its basics, it’s a m/m romance between the FSOTUS (First Son of the United States) and a British prince, but it’s much more than that. It’s one of the most romantic love stories that I’ve ever read, and it’s got a place in my heart and top 100 Books list forever.
Alex Claremont-Diaz has always hated Prince Henry. Henry is stuffy and stilted, fake and boring, at least in Alex’s eyes. He’s a “fairy-tale prince,” and that’s something Alex doesn’t relate to, even though Alex himself “is the golden boy of the United States.”
The antagonism between them erupts at a royal wedding and before they know it, a wedding cake is ruined and they’re forced to pretend that they’re actually friends instead of bitter enemies. Proximity reveals that there are other emotions at play between them, and what follows is fantastically sexy, so sensual, sweet, and exhilarating that I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter.
But, of course, we’re still talking about a m/m romance between a First Son and a British royal in line to the throne, so we know that the HEA will not be easily granted—even if it is absolutely glorious when it arrives.
Part of the difficulty is that Alex has never identified as anything as other than straight; he’s also half-Mexican and First Son of the United States, factors which produce their own pressures, and his mother is running for her second term. And Henry’s always had to hide who he is. He’s gotten little family support, and he can’t conceive of a way for him to be both British prince in line for the throne and a gay man in a publicly committed relationship.
At no point did I forget the many obstacles in the way. But this book is ultimately about hope, optimism, and living an “honest” existence. It’s about choosing something better, whether that’s a presidential candidate or a life where you can be with the person you love, and those things kept shining through, even when the future between Alex and Henry seemed most uncertain.
The things that Alex and Henry notice about each other; the words they write; their first fumbling revelations to the other. It’s all so beautiful, and every word felt real to me, every step they made toward each other felt like a readerly wish I had made had been granted.
Red, White & Royal Blue is so, so special.
Q: What's your favorite royal romance? This one is mine, hands down, forever and ever, kthanksbye. In real life, it's Harry and Meghan.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
You know that line in Friends when Monica says on Richard’s answering machine, “I’m breezy!” Well Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting for Tom Hanks is breezy. It’s adorable and quirky and pretty much effervescent, and I read it in one delightful afternoon.
This book has a really cute love story, but what really hit me with the feels is how everything about their story—and so much of the heroine’s life philosophy—is a tribute to the rom-com. You all, I love a rom-com, and the better it is, the happier I am…but my secret is: it doesn’t even have to be very good for me to really like it.
Waiting for Tom Hanks is a romance. It’s also chock-full of insightful and funny commentary on the rom-com, and most of it, though not all, is provided by our heroine, Annie Cassidy. Rom-coms remind Annie of her best memories with her mother, and the greatest representation of the future love that her mom believed Annie had coming to her is Tom Hanks. The. Tom. Hanks. *sigh.
No one quite understands her thing for Tom Hanks, especially film star Drew Danforth, a Chris Pratt-like hero who has transformed from approachable cute to ripped action star, and who is notorious for the pranks he pulls on red carpets.
This is not a book without substance, but the problems are overcome fairly easily and it reads smoothly. I smiled quite a lot, I think; I also got secondhand embarrassment for Annie, who is smart and ambitious with an admirable sense of humor, and who also gets herself into some awkward situations.
Though I tend to prefer a bit more drama in my reads, Waiting for Tom Hanks made a lovely, funny afternoon for me, offering a heroine and a love story that feels fresh and new, and reminding me of the parts of my rom-com memory that are still powerful enough to give me heart eyes.
Want other romances set in the film industry? Try Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy (reviewed on my blog) and Julie James’s Just the Sexiest Man Alive.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.