Fiction, Historical Fiction, Memoir

December Reading Wrap Up, Monthly Favorites, 2023 Recommendations

OK! The new year is upon us! Time for some wrap ups, favorites, and recommendations for the new year!

Let’s start off with the books I read in December. It was fun to read winter and holiday-themed books. I’ve never done that before. But I’m open to anything that gets me out of my comfort zone a bit. It seems like that is when I discover authors who become favorites. Melanie Jacobson and Jane Porter were two great author discoveries in December. Jennifer Peel and Becky Monson continued their streak of fun books. Denise Hunter is quickly rising to the top of my list of authors whose works I want to revisit. And Brigid Kemmerer…I could read her books over and over again. They are that good. Ratings are based on the Goodreads 5-Star rating system.

Next, I’m posting my 2022 favorites by month. This was a tough one! There were many months when I read several that stayed with me. In the end, though, I thought about which ones really got under my skin. They are the ones I find myself constantly recommending. They made me laugh or cry. They opened up a whole new arena of thought. They are, in my opinion, extra special. These are the final 12. The Ogress and the Orphans is middle grade (ages 8-12.) What I Carry, Letters to the Lost, and Call It What You Want are considered Young Adult. (16+)

Lastly, I’m posting fifteen recommendations. I’ve seen lots of people in my online book groups asking for book recommendations for the new year. Believe me, I have MANY more than just fifteen that are worth suggesting, but in the interest of time, space, and not picking the same ones as everyone else, here they are. All of them are stand-alones (not part of a series.) All of them are fiction or historical fiction with the exception of Deaf Utopia, which everyone should read. Everyone.

I hope to post some more favorites by topic and genre in the near future. I’ve discovered some incredible books and amazingly talented authors in 2022, many of whom I’ve had the honor of communicating with through different means. One who even recruited me to join his beta reading team. (More on that in the future.) 😉

As always, these are my recommendations based on my taste, experience, filters, and tolerances. Be sure to do your own research about adult scenes, language, and age-appropriate content.

Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

Call It What You Want, by Brigid Kemmerer

Another fantastic read by Brigid Kemmerer. My goodness, I love how this woman writes!

No one wants to be defined by their mistakes. Especially as a teenager. Especially when the mistakes aren’t even his. But that is exactly what happened to Rob Lachlan, Jr. Why? Because after swindling half the townspeople (teachers, the librarian, and parents of Rob Jr.’s friends,) Robert Lachlan Sr. put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger, and failed his objective. Now he is a mumbling, drooling shell of a man who takes his meals through a tube. Meanwhile, Rob Jr.–once a high school alpha male and lacrosse champion–is the new face of a crime that left families in ruins. A crime he didn’t commit. A crime that, by proxy, took away his social status and made him an outcast. Life is pretty much in the toilet right now.

No one wants to be defined by their choices either. Unfortunately, overachiever Maegan made a bad one. Really, really bad. Tired of playing second fiddle to her golden older sister, Maegan cheated on her SATs, which caused a ripple effect to all the other test takers that day. Thank you for playing, Maegan. Here’s your new outcast badge.

But what makes these teens stand out? They are smart. Very, very smart. Not always socially smart, but definitely book smart, which is the hallmark of Brigid Kemmerer’s Young Adult characters. So when two very smart (and lonely) outcasts are rejected by everyone else to partner up for an Honors Calculus project, they have no choice but to work together.

And thus begins the story of two basically good teenagers who just want to reclaim some normality in their lives. But it’s a journey, one that involves testing boundaries of friendship, rules, and one’s own morals.

I’m leaving out a lot, but I will say that the one word that comes to mind when I read a book by Kemmerer is “brave.” This is brave writing. It’s layered. It alternates points of view, showing us the emotions and motives of both main characters. And what characters they are–brave writing calls for brave characters. Rob and Maegan have rock solid cores, refusing to let circumstances and choices beat them down, despite the detours along the way.

This is a terrific book. I highly recommend it. It’s marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I would say it is more for mature and older teens.

9.5/10 Stars

FYI: This is a book with multiple cover designs.
Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction

Scrooge and the Girls Next Door, by Melanie Jacobson

I’ve discovered a handful of new authors lately whose books I really enjoy. You’re going to start seeing more of them on this blog. One of them is Melanie Jacobson, known for her clean romances that mix humor and heart.

Scrooge and the Girls Next Door is a book I expected to read and forget–yes, I judged a book by its cover, don’t repeat my mistake–and instead, I was treated to a book that made me both laugh out loud and clutch my chest with emotion. Any book that has me feeling all the feels deserves a shout-out on this blog.

While using the “enemies to friends” plot line, this delightful story explores how the Christmas season can be difficult for some people, the importance of community, and how a generous spirit can melt a frosty attitude. It all begins when single mom, Paige Redmond, buys her first home–a raggedy fixer upper–and moves in with her daughter, Evie, next door to stodgy college professor, Henry Hill. While they navigate their differences and often disagree, there is a lot of self-exploration and reevaluation. Sometimes it takes the right person or people to motivate change. There is also a secondary “found family” story line that is very sweet. A reminder that the word “family” can have many interpretations.

I’ve read several Christmas-themed books this month and I have to say that this is my favorite. The characters have depth and feel realistic. The romance is slow and not corny or forced. Both main characters take turns sharing their points of view, which gives a fun and interesting perspective.

This book is available for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription and is a great way to relax during the busy holiday season. I recommend it!

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

So Long, Chester Wheeler, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Available tomorrow! December 6, 2022

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde continues to impress me with her unique pairing of old and young characters! This time, however, the younger of the two is also the wiser. A lot wiser.

If you’ve seen the film As Good As it Gets, with Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear, you have the ideal casting for the cantankerous Chester Wheeler and his gay neighbor/caretaker, Lewis Madigan.

Chester Wheeler has no social filter and he’s dying. He’s managed to run off every possible person to attend to his needs. Lewis is a twenty-four year old software developer who just lost everything stable in his life. He needs a job and he’s desperate. (It would take someone desperate to put up with Chester.) Fortunately for Lewis, he’s employed by Chester’s daughter, Ellie, who is supportive of any means Lewis uses to get Chester to cooperate. Or yield. Or surrender. Semantics.

As we get to know Chester–despite his terrible moods, passive aggression, and name calling–a profound truth surfaces: Hurt people…hurt people. Does that make his behavior OK? Absolutely not. But knowing the why helps, just as it does in any difficult relationship. And Lewis is great with Chester–he’s patient without allowing himself to be victimized.

When Chester presents Lewis with a dying wish, the real adventure begins. It’s one that brings self-discovery, closure, and hope. This book is the definition of character-driven and you really do care for both of these men, one at the end of his life and one whose life is just beginning. It’s a grand story from start to finish.

9/10 Stars

Christian Fiction, Fiction

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

Clara Kip, a 79 year old widow with a recent cancer diagnosis, is going into hospice. Aidyn Kelley, a 24 year old journalist doomed to work on minor stories, is hoping to have her dreams and potential realized. Two women in different stages of life. Two women with different kinds of journeys ahead whose lives will briefly intersect, affecting them both.

In the oddest of ways, Aidyn’s editor reprimands her for a mishap by assigning her to write Clara Kip’s obituary. An obituary for a woman who hasn’t died, but has certainly lived, although not at all like she initially planned. Over just a few meetings, the women come to mean a great deal to each other. Questions are answered, lessons are learned, heartfelt philosophies are shared. Most importantly–just love and be kind.

Never let it be said that anyone leads a boring life. That is the crux of this book: everyone has a story. Everyone also has gifts to share with others, whether it be finding the right words, companionship, or thinking outside the box.

Also never let it be said that one must be a certain age to have wisdom. Aidyn, although young, has plenty. She and Mrs. Kip make a terrific team, despite their brief time together.

I happened upon this book by accident yesterday (available to borrow on Hoopla) and flew through it, continually uplifted with every visit. Though not a Christmas story, it has a Christian aspect, with themes that feel very appropriate this time of year. I recommend reading it during the holiday rush when you need a quiet moment of heartfelt refreshment.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Autobiography, Christian Fiction, Fiction, Magical Realism, Series & Collections

November Reads 2022

I read ten books in November. Not bad! I did reviews on the ones that had the most impact on me, but here’s a quick summary.

Best Memoir (which is also nominated for a Goodreads award): Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry. Both fascinating and heart-breaking. Just be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.

Best Romantic Comedy: Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center. This comes out in July 2023, but keep it on your TBR (to be read) list. It’s a winner! A journey of self-discovery and growth while facing challenges and falling in love.

Best Magical Realism: The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden. Word is out on this wonderful story of second chances and glimpses into the future. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to who has read it, has loved it!

Best Book Duo: All That Really Matters and All That It Takes by Nicole Deese. Even though I rated them differently, they’re both excellent and worth your time. Clean, Christian fiction, full of flawed but decent people who learn the value of faith, embracing differences, and serving others.

In my opinion, these are the best of the bunch. Rachel Linden and Nicole Deese are new authors for me, but I definitely want to read more of their books. Hopefully something catches your eye!

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

All That Really Matters, by Nicole Deese

Social media influencer, Molly McKenzie, is on top of the world. Her channel has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, she lives a fairy-tale lifestyle, and her talent manager boyfriend has just lined up a new opportunity to expand her reach even further. It’s truly the chance of a lifetime.

There’s just one thing she has to do. Since the makeover show she’s auditioning for is going to nominate underprivileged youth, the producers want her to have some real-life experience working with them. When Molly’s minister brother, Miles, connects her with The Bridge youth program, designed to help kids transition out of foster care, everything seems to be clicking into place.

Of course, Life is full of variables and unknowns, which grow exponentially when we allow more people into our circle. Those unknowns also happen when we allow someone in who is different. No one knows this better than Silas Whittaker, the youth program’s director. He and Molly appear to be opposites in every way. Add twenty two young people who have experienced more than their fair share of physical and emotional trauma and the unknowns multiply.

The good thing is that everyone, including those twenty two residents, has an end goal. The goals vary, as do their range in selflessness, but they keep everyone motivated. And, as time goes by, and Molly and Silas find some common ground and work to set aside their prejudices, they find that faith in God and in each other can go a long way.

This is a story about growth. Growth, change, and, especially grace–the grace we hope to receive and the grace we need to extend. If you can look past Molly’s initial superficial exterior, you will be happily surprised at the miracles–big and small–that happen in everyone’s lives.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Women's Fiction

Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center

Available July 11, 2023!

I had a nice surprise a couple of days ago! I’m still expecting a hardback copy of Hello Stranger to arrive in the mail next month, but I didn’t expect to be gifted an advanced digital copy too!

I stayed up half the night finishing this book. I think it’s Katherine Center’s most brilliant novel yet. It’s also super frustrating. Why? Because (1) it deals with the condition called “face blindness,” which is extremely hard to understand, and (2) it addresses the consequences of face blindness, mainly “confirmation bias,” which means that if you think something is true, you are selective about the available facts to convince yourself of that truth. (Think of those perpetual hot button topics like politics and religion, the ultimate examples.)

A teeny tiny percentage of people will ever experience face blindness. BUT 100% of us yield to confirmation bias. We do it constantly. And THIS is the brilliant part. Katherine Center does to the reader what face blindness does to her main character, Sadie—essentially creating a puzzle, purposefully leaving out information, forcing us to use our confirmation bias crutch (without realizing we’re doing it,) then offering those missing puzzle pieces we didn’t know we needed in her best ending EVER of any of her books. (I’m playing my CB card here and calling it a fact.) 😁

I’ve done so much thinking about HELLO STRANGER since finishing it early this morning. It is a book you really have to read twice—once without all the puzzle pieces and then again with the complete picture. And yes, I’m leaving out a plot summary on purpose because making these discoveries is part of the experience. Just know that if you still want to punch the wall after reading half of it, keep going! It’s SO worth it.

And don’t worry! Along the way you’re still wittily treated to Sadie’s journey of self-discovery, an annoyingly cute neighbor, a dashing vet, an adorable dog, a looming work deadline, an evil stepsister, and the karmic satisfaction of being helpful and compassionate despite immense challenges.

9/10 Stars

***I felt a little lost when I began this book because the concept of face blindness is so foreign to me. So I did some research and came across this article by Sadie Dingfelder called My Life With Face Blindness. Sadie and Sadie. Coincidence? Nope. It turns out that journalist Sadie was an information source and the inspiration for the name of Katherine Center’s character. Isn’t life funny that way?

Fantasy, Fiction, Magical Realism, Women's Fiction

The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden

Oh, those pesky “what-ifs” that we all carry around! “What if I chose that career?” “What if I married that person?” “What if I lived in that place?” “What if I had done/not done that particular thing?”

If only there was a way to know how things would’ve turned out if we’d taken a different path. And if there was a way…would you try it?

Lolly Blanchard is one month away from turning thirty three. She helps her father run their failing family diner in Seattle. It’s been ten years since her mother’s death. Her younger sister, Daphne, is sprouting wings to find her own way. But most of all, Lolly carries the memory of her time with Rory Shaw, the boy who got away. Now, as she reevaluates her life, Lolly comes to the frustrating realization that she has not accomplished anything she wanted to do. So many hopes. So many dreams.

If only.

This is a purposefully short review because I don’t want to get near anything that resembles a spoiler. I will just say that this lovely story touches on regrets and questions which enter every person’s life at some point. No matter how content and grateful we are, we still wonder. Unless…

What a wonderful, unique, redemptive book! I definitely want to read more by this author.

9.5/10 Stars

Cover Reveal, Fiction, Women's Fiction

Hello Stranger Cover Reveal!

Katherine Center, who you know I just love, has revealed the cover and plot summary for her next book! HELLO STRANGER is available for preorder now!

You can also follow Katherine on Facebook and sign up for her newsletter at

Check out her other books too!

  • THE BODYGUARD (my other favorite)
  • THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE (my backup favorite)
  • HOW TO WALK AWAY (yes, love this one too)

Her books bring so much joy!

Fiction, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

September Reads!

Since it is unlikely that I will finish another book by tomorrow, here are the books I read this month! Any of the ones with 4 or 5 stars are worth your time. Some quick thoughts:

Thank You For Listening: This unique book, written by a woman who narrates audio books, is about people who narrate audio books! The main characters are great, a lot of their communication is through emails and texts, and the big reveal is very sweet. (Some steaminess.)

Rich Blood: This is a legal thriller with twists and turns aplenty! Jason Rich is a billboard-ambulance-chasing lawyer who must now defend his sister accused of murdering her husband. It keeps you guessing until the very end. I definitely want to read more by this author!

That Fine Line/Double or Nothing: These Cindy Steel books are fantastic, with a lot more going on than the covers would lead you to believe. They are clean romances with tons of hilarity, heart, and homespun characters that you will love. They are the first and second of a four-book series that I plan to continue. Extremely enjoyable!

A Pumpkin and a Patch/How to Get Over Your Ex in Ninety Days: Jennifer Peel is another author I was thrilled to discover this month! Her characters are smart, sensitive, and constantly learning from their mistakes. These clean romances are winners! Highly recommended!

The Deep End/Guaranteed to Bleed/Clouds in My Coffee: These are the first three books in a multi-book cozy mystery series. They are very entertaining, set in the 1970s among the Kansas City country club elite. Money might buy some nice things, but it can’t stop some people from being murdered…*cue sinister laugh* I plan to continue with this clever series!

The Bodyguard/What You Wish For/How to Walk Away: Books by Katherine Center, need I say more? You know I absolutely adore this woman. Hubby and I listened to all three of these in September, sometimes for hours. And guess what? We’re having a tough time finding other audio books we enjoy as much.

I hope you find something you love from this list! Happy Reading!!

One more thing,” as Detective Colombo would say… The “Most Messed Up Book Award” for September goes to Verity, by Colleen Hoover. If you’ve read anything by the popular and divisive “CoHo” then I can tell you that Verity is not within her “normal” style. Some people love it, some people despise it. I just wanted to vacuum that story out of my brain. It. Is. Twisted. And I know I’m not alone in that opinion. You’ve been warned!

Fiction, Young Adult

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer

Twenty days! It’s been twenty days since my last review. I guess I lost my mojo for a few weeks, despite reading some great books. I knew it would take one very special story to get the words flowing again, and this is it.

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer. I’m still experiencing a book hangover, having finished reading it at 6:30am. It is marketed as a YA (Young Adult) book, but the underlining theme is for everyone.

Incorrect assumptions.

We’ve all done it. I can think of some very specific times when I assumed something about someone based on their weight, or education level, or tattoos, or job, or just a less-than-put-together appearance.

And guess what? I was wrong. Very wrong. Extremely wrong.

And did I learn my lesson? Nope. It’s part of being human. Part of being flawed humans. Which brings me to this magnificent book that anyone reading this review should find and devour.

Some “trigger warnings.” (I really hate that phrase.) It does deal with losing a parent, losing a sibling, divorce, suicidal tendencies, and child abuse. But it is so redemptive and all of those subjects are handled with such tender care that I still say, no matter what your personal history may be–read it.

Our two main characters: Juliet Young is mourning her mother, Zoe, a famous war photographer. Her grief is all-consuming. She stops by the cemetery every morning on the way to school. Her mother was gone a lot on assignment, leaving Juliet to idealize her and get into the habit of writing her letters. She still does this, leaving letters behind on her mother’s grave. They are her last link. She’s lost interest in everything else.

Declan Murphy is mourning his entire life. Everything he knew is gone and, while it was far from perfect, it was a lot better than the way things are now. So much so that, in a moment of despair he downed some Jack Daniels, got into his dad’s truck, and plowed it into a building. Now he’s performing community service by mowing grass at the local cemetery…where, on a newer grave, he finds a letter from a girl to her mother.

I will say no more about the plot except to entreat you once again, to read this book. Symbolically, the idea of photography and snapshots figure prominently in the theme of assumptions we make. Are we defined by a moment? Do we do that to others? Do we do it to ourselves?

Like any great story, Letters to the Lost has many layers. As many layers as the reader is willing to uncover. I hope you do.

10/10 Stars

Some libraries use an alternate book cover, so it could look like this. Don’t make assumptions about this design. (See what I did there?) This book is a treasure.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism, Romance, Short Stories

Five Goodreads Reviews

In an effort to not get too far behind, I’m going to do some copy/pasting from Goodreads.

The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is the Young Adult novel, You’ve Reached Sam. It is about a teenage boy who is killed in a car accident and, when his girlfriend calls his number just to hear his voicemail message…he answers. That’s right. He answers. It’s as tender and goosebump-inducing as it sounds. I loved it.

Available January 17, 2023
Available April 11, 2023
ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

August Reads & September Faves

Here are the books I read and/or listened to in August! I rated them throughout the month so I could share them with you. Some will still be reviewed on this site (mainly You’ve Reached Sam, which touched me deeply.) If a book has 4 or 5 stars, I really enjoyed it. If it has 3 stars it means it’s good, but flawed. Anything with 2 or 1 star…you’ve been warned! All of these are just my opinion, of course.

Lastly, here are two advanced copies I read a while ago that I enjoyed very much. Both are coming out in September:

Right now I’m rereading Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard because my husband and I plan to listen to the audio book this week. Next I’ll be doing a buddy read of The Art of Racing in the Rain with one of the ladies in my online book club. There’s always something to read!


Two Gems to Add to Your TBR:

TBR= “To Be Read” list

After suffering through a couple of books that could only be described as, well, duds, I finally found two winners. What do they have in common? They are both emotional, with fantastic main and supporting characters. They are both bravely written. What do I mean by that? I mean that they are books you don’t want to skim. You want to savor them. You want to marinate in their phrasing and uniqueness. In fact, you will find yourself playing them out in your mind like the movie adaptations they both should be (with the guarantee they wouldn’t get ruined.)

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, by Annie Lyons, could be seen as a female version of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, but that is where the similarities end. Unlike Ove, Eudora has never been married. She’s dedicated herself to the care of her mother and sister. Life doesn’t have much meaning beyond her self-imposed duty and a promise to her father long ago. Now she has a choice to make: endure modern society with its fast-paced ways, rudeness, and digital detachment? Or speed up the inevitable? While Eudora explores whether or not she still has a purpose, we journey back in time and learn more about her earlier years. They were far from easy. Yet, patience, endurance, and serving others can often boomerang back to us when we least expect it. I highly recommend this brilliant book about Eudora Honeysett’s brilliant life! 9.5/10 Stars

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, by Julietta Henderson is that Norman, age twelve, really isn’t that funny. But he is smart, polite, kind, and very good to his single mum, Sadie. He is content to be the straight man to the real firecracker, his best friend, Jax. Jax is a force of nature. He’s the one with the ideas, the bravado, and the goals. After all, how many kids would name their future stand-up routine “Sausages and Gravitas?” Only Jax. Except for one problem. Jax is dead. His death pulls the rug out from under Norman and mum, Sadie, needs to find a way to breathe life back into her darling son. With a little help from a willing, unexpected accomplice, it just might be possible. What happens next is the road trip of a lifetime in this book that will grab you by the heart and not let go until the very end. This is brave writing. I loved it. 9.5/10 Stars