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Beauty and the Book

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Four Past Midnight
Stephen King
A Million Little Pieces
James Frey
Breathing Water: A Bangkok Thriller - Timothy Hallinan Overall, this book is well done. I enjoy the characters. Poke is a genuinely good guy who uses his skills to help children and the people he cares for. I love Miaow and the elusive "superman" makes an appearance which made me happy. This book pretty much covers every aspect of the dark side of Thailand. Politics, cops (good and bad), the extremely rich and extremely poor and follows Poke as he navigates his way though the mess that has been created for him. The only problem I had was keeping all of the "bad guy" characters straight. It got confusing in the end when everyone was flipping and I had a hard time remembering who was in cahoots with who. This is an easy, fast paced novel that I would recommend if you are interested in finding justice for the corrupt.

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Copout - Bart Cline This book is a little on the sci-fi side but it is done very well. Every chapter jumps between the present (which I believe is set in the future) and Donovan's dreams. I really enjoyed the way the dream sequences were done because they mimicked parts of his life but they took place in the plots/settings of some of Don's favorite movies. The characters in Don's real life continually made appearances in his dreams which was very believable. The author also showed that dreams are a way of our mind working out problems subconsciously which I thought was very cool and a nod to my good ole' profession of psychology.

I enjoyed the main story and seeing Don's trial and tribulations play out in his dreams, but I had a very hard time with the ending. I felt like it just stopped and the author gave up. Some people would interpret this as "the reader choosing the ending they want" but I don't feel like it even got that far. There was no wrap up, the story just ended. It didn't even have enough info for the reader to choose a viable ending.

I enjoyed the format of this book the most because it felt like a lot of short stories. The main character was enjoyable and easy to relate to. There were some issues with mistakes and copy editing but they didn't detract from the story. I'd say overall, reading this book was a positive experience and I'm glad I gave this author another chance.

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The Troop - Nick Cutter Disgusting. Gross. Revolting. Nauseating. Sickening. Phenomenal writing. Those are the words that come to my mind when I think of this book. I've never read anything by Cutter before, but prior to saying anything else about this book, let me give credit where credit is due. Cutter is an exceptional writer. It is only because of this that I felt the first five feelings of this review. Cutter is able to describe in such detail, that you can feel your skin crawling and it actually makes you sick to your stomach to read. And hungry! (Have to read the book to get that reference.)

When I read the summary for this book on Netgalley, I focused on the words Lord of the Flies and Stephen King. Two things I'm a fan of, so I requested it. I probably should have focused more on The Ruins part of the summary because I was not prepared for the graphic detail and goriness that was waiting for me in the pages of this book. I love horror movies and books but I'm the person who prefers the psychological thrillers to the gore. Give me Paranormal Activity over Saw any day of the week! That being said, this was not the book for me. It was too gory. Too gory by a long shot. There were points when I almost couldn't pick it back up because it so was physically painful for me to read. I think this is a personal thing and does not describe the book as a whole. If you are into the gore, and have a strong stomach, I would recommend this book to you in an instant. The character development and the writing is top notch. If you are not one who enjoys disgustingly vivid descriptions, stay away.

Now, onto the actual substance of the book. This story focuses on a troop of adolescents and I thought the characterizations were very well done. It seemed like the boys were all very different from each other but the author addressed a lot of the personality traits that people start to see emerge in adolescence. The cool thing about this story was that these traits started to emerge rapidly due to the stressors surrounding them. Some of the boys succumbed to the evil that was already living inside of them, some succumbed to the psychological strain that was imposed on them, and some succumbed to the evil that was done to them by others. They all had their weaknesses and strengths and the author did a good job of exposing them. I also really enjoyed the format which consisted of flashbacks, news stories, reports, interviews, and present happenings. Cutter gave a nod to King's horror novel Carrie and the format of that story and this one parallels that a lot. I rated this book a 2/5 because while it was painful to get through and I would never read it again, I think the writing, characterization, and story line were well done which earns it more than a 1.

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Arcadia - Lauren Groff This is another one of those uncle hand-me-downs that I got over the summer and this book came out of left field and smacked me in the face. I loved it! I started this book without even reading the summary and was amazed when I found myself genuinely connecting with characters and the story. A story about a bunch of hippies! I’m as un-hippie as it gets. The closest I’ve ever come to hippie-dom was wearing a tie dye shirt I made when I was little. (That thing was ugly but no one ever mentions how hard tie dying can be when you’re a kid and when you finally create one, you rock that baby. Brown colors or not.) I could never live on a commune. I support the idea of everyone working for their share but know that, as proven by this book, it rarely actually works out that way. So why did I enjoy this book so much?

Well, for one, Bit. Little Bit of a hippie. I loved the way this story was told through his eyes and at every age, the viewpoint seemed so genuine. It felt as though a 5 year old was really describing the way a commune works in his own special, albeit distorted, ways. It felt as though a 14 year old was really pouring his heart while going through one of the most upsetting and life changing points of his life and puberty at the same time. I was able to see how the commune genuinely affect Bit in his 30s and then the struggle between his love for Arcadia and his life in the city in his 40s. I also felt that Bit was just a genuine person all around. He was caring and loving and it came back to bite him in the ass sometimes which I thought was honest. Being caring and loving are great traits that can get you very far in life, but they can also get you burned easily if you don't look out. Bit got burned/abandoned by the "love of his life" which got him stuck in a rut for awhile. As the story progressed, we saw him crawl out of his rut, overcome more sadness and hurt, and begin to find his place in a world that began in Arcadia and moves on to city living.

The author did a phenomenal job of creating Acardia and helping the reader (even an anti-hippie reader) connect with the community and understand the reason this place existed in the first place. She helped us see impact of mental illness and addictions through various lenses which allowed the reader to truly understand how family members view these diseases. She also pointed out the flaws in this type of living if people who aren't like Bit, Hannah, Astrid, and Abe are involved. She did it in a loving way that people can understand without completely destroying the abstract concept of a "successful hippie commune." As I said, the hippie life is not for me but this book gave me a glimpse into why people choose this life and what it would take to make it work; as well as how easily utopia can be destroyed. Check it out!

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A Death in China

A Death in China - Carl Hiaasen, William D. Montalbano This book was originally published in 1984, so it is really old school Hiaasen. My uncle passed this along to me in a huge stack of books containing various genres and authors. He finds gems now and then so I'm giving all of them a try. I knew nothing about this book other than good ole Carl wrote it, which is enough for me. (Sidenote: it turns out, this is book three in a series but I was unaware of that until I just looked the summary up on goodreads. That should tell you that this book easily stands alone.) Usually, I'm a huge Carl Hiaasen fan and I can tell his writing apart from different authors. The scenes tend to be set in FL, there is a lot of humor and wit in the writing, and there is some sort of crime solving going on. This book was set in China with zero humor. Should have known something was fishy from the start and I blame that Montalbano fellow.

Overall, I was unimpressed with this book. It was just ok. The plot and writing were adequate but I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters other than David Wang. There were no usual Hiaasen-isms that I was looking forward to which was a big disappointment, but I'm going to chalk that up to the use of a co-author and his lack of writing maturity in 1984. I knew very little about Chinese politics coming into this book and it was very interesting to see them through the eyes of an American, various Chinese, and some Americans who work at the embassy in Peking. Other than that, I don't have a lot to say. I wasn't necessarily bored with this book but it was definitely not a page turner. Just ok.

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Midnight Bayou - Nora Roberts I tend to be a Nora Roberts fan to begin with. No, she's not deep and mysterious and full of symbolism. But if you want a good love story and a quick read with some substance, she's a go-to. And with Midnight Bayou, girl did not disappoint!

I listened to this book on CD which is rare for me but I'm so happy I did. The narrators had great accents and it really made this book come alive for me. There is no chance I would have been able to imagine a good Cajun accent in my head and actually hearing the voices (not Declan style ;)) speak like the characters transported me to the Bayou as well as the early 1900's.

Rather than a specific character, this story focuses on Manet Hall. I love old plantation houses and love hearing the stories behind them so this book was right up my alley. I really enjoyed the flashbacks to the beginning of the century and the seamless way two love stories were told. At times, it got a little out there with ghosts and re-incarnation stuff but I really enjoyed the overall story line.

You know I'm going to assess the characters and I obviously have to begin with Dec. Nora is known for her leading men and she completely understands what makes women tick when it comes to a main character in novels. Declan was right on par! He was strong, stubborn, rich, and in love. Haha, it sounds ridiculous but he is a guy who any girl could easily fall for. Angelina did not see him coming but even her strong-willed, no nonsense self couldn't deny him. The love story is sweet and believable. The characters are well developed and charming; who wouldn't fall instantly in love with Miss Odette? And the slight ghost story to the plot just adds to it. I would definitely recommend this for a fun read! (and listen to it on "tape" if possible. Did I just age myself or what?!?)
Wanderlove - Bart Cline Unfortunately, this book was not for me!

Don't get me wrong, I loved the idea of back packing through Europe and I really enjoyed reading about the different towns that Colleen visited. It took me back to my time in Europe and my experiences which are always fun to reminisce about. I also enjoyed the view of Berlin right after the fall of the wall. I haven't read many stories set in that time period so that was new for me. Unfortunately, that's where my good feelings stopped. Even though I enjoyed the different places she went, I felt like the descriptions of the town were general and just information rather than really describing them and helping the reader picture what that town is really like. Even when I've actually been there it was hard to imagine! I also felt that a lot of the book was filler and not needed. There were random conversations that didn't make sense and didn't add anything to story.

I could even forgive all of that and still enjoy the story but what really ruined this book for me were the characters. In general, I need to connect with the characters to really enjoy a story so this book didn't have much of a chance with me. I can connect with the characters because I hate them, because I can relate to them, because they are inspiring or impressive, just about anything, but if I don't connect in some way, I'm not going to enjoy the book. I really couldn't connect with Colleen. I didn't like her much either. I thought she was a very naive traveler which makes for a very dangerous vacation. I thought she made stupid decisions that led to bad outcomes that could have easily been avoided. I couldn't connect with Florian because I knew NOTHING about him. I couldn't connect with Alsion because I thought her drug addiction was more convenient for the story line than actually thought out. I just didn't like them and couldn't find redeeming qualities.

I also hated the fact that this was a "love story." I may have missed the part where either Colleen or Flo exhibited any kind of romantic feelings or relationship prior to "falling in love." It didn't seem legitimate and definitely didn't warrant a life changing year long journey to reconnect. I felt like something was missing.

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Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein How do I review this book without spoilers? I will try my very best but I may slip up and reveal more than you want so if you are cautious of that, just take my word for it AND READ THIS BOOK!!! Also, this review is chock-full of quotes because the writing was phenomenal and I'll never be able to describe all of my feelings like Ms. Wein can. Here we go:

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."

First and foremost, this is a love story. A love story between two best friends. Anyone with a best friend knows exactly what I'm talking about. You may not see the friendship coming, you may not have predicted it, but somehow, someway, it develops and you eventually realize that you are soul mates.

"I don't believe it for a minute- that we wouldn't have become friends somehow-- that an unexploded bomb wouldn't have gone off and blown us both into the same crater, or that God himself wouldn't have come along and knocked our heads together in a flash of green sunlight. But it wouldn't have been likely."

That's the case for Verity and Maddie. They were thrown together during a crisis in WWII and forged an unbreakable bond. From the beginning, each girl admires the other and is impressed by the specific skills that the other does not have. Maddie flies planes (she's a girl who flies planes in WWII!!!) and Verity can speak multiple languages (among other things.) While reading this story I found myself connecting to these two characters in a magical way that can happen in books but does not happen enough. Verity is feisty, snarky, sarcastic, and obviously brilliant. I love it! She's also Scottish to core which reminds me of my beloved Outlander series. One of my favorite quotes from the books that sums Verity up is :

"You know- the stupid man's big mistake was calling me ENGLISH. It made my fury wholly convincing. A whore-maybe I'll consider that in desperation; filthy, it goes without saying; but whatever else the hell I am, I AM NOT ENGLISH."

Se what I mean? That girl is fiesty! Maddie is more subdued but it is obvious that she is equally as brilliant and independent and is all about some girl power. She is cool and calculated but has more power and skill than she gives herself credit for. This quote describes part of Maddie for me:

"Maddie quickly pulled down the blackout curtains over her bright and vulnerable soul and went off to sort the tire."

Who wouldn't like these two?!?

CNV is unique because it provides the reader with the female "soldier" perspective of WWII. There are countless books of male soldiers and of females who stayed at home to care for the kids. There are even books based around children in the war. It's easy to forget that there were strong, important women with imperative roles in the war and this novel reminds us of that. I also loved the twist in part two of the book when the story changed perspectives. What an awesome way to let us see how sneaky and intelligent Verity is! It gives us an honest view of what actually happened as well as some of the things that Verity may not have known.

And the underlying theme of Peter Pan? Be still my beating heart. I've always had a connection with Peter Pan and remember the movie and my all time favorite, the televised play with Mary Martin (if you haven't seen it, watch it! Or at least make your kids watch it!). While reading this book I laughed, I cried, I had goosebumps, and I easily found myself picturing the 1940s as if I was there with Verity and Maddie. I will never be able to express in words the feelings this book gave me but I would encourage you to find out for yourself. With that, I leave you with the most emotion-provoking line of the whole novel for me:

"The window is always open."

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Salem Falls - Jodi Picoult This is actually a tough review for me. I enjoyed the book because I was interested in where the story would go and which characters would be redeemed (or condemned) but I have an overall icky feeling when I think back to it. You may or may not be able to tell from the summary that part of this book is about rape. And multiple rapes at that. I'm going to go ahead and warn you that this book has some heavy stuff in it and the following review will as well, so if you aren't up for that, come back tomorrow :)

To be honest, I didn't know where this book was going. I didn't know who to believe!!! As a therapist, I always want to believe the victim but I also know that victims are humans and human lie. Lying was a big part of this story and it provided a glimpse into how a little lie can explode and ruin someones life. Don't get me wrong, I don't think lying about being a rape victim is a little lie. I think that is disgusting and that it makes it harder for real victims to get the help they need. But part of me hopes that the girls in this book weren't entirely malicious and the stories that eventually got out of control, maybe started out as little lies without the intent of ruining people lives. Maybe. Putting all of my feelings about the content of this book into words is hard and I don't want to stand on a soapbox but this book hit home for me because I see things like this almost every day.

Now, on to the characters. I don't think I really liked any characters in this book. The teenage girls were spiteful, vindictive, and immature. I know that is true to some girls who are that age but not all of them and I would have liked at least one redeeming character. On the other hand, maybe the author was making a point that all of us are flawed. In that case, good point but I still want an enjoyable character. I did enjoy learning about Jack's past and the different phases of his life that created who he became. But once again, it focused on how flawed he was and the mistakes he made that likely hurt a lot of people. As I'm writing this review, I keep thinking, maybe that's what Jodi Picoult wanted. For the reader to think, "ugh, this guy did horrible things but he's not a horrible person." Like I said, if that's the case, more power to you for getting deep and symbolic on us but I just wasn't feeling it. I know people are flawed. I know people make mistakes and sometimes deserve a second chance. I don't need to read a book about rape and wiccans to know that.

Then the ending. Was that really necessary? My note for the end of the book was "WTF?!?! And I knew it!" Once again, my profession provides me with experience to be able to see things differently. It helps me understand Gilly and to an extent, and why she did what she did, but it doesn't make it ok. This ending makes everything not ok. The majority of the book I thought Gilly was a brat, and she was, but I could at least understand her by the end of the book so part of me appreciates the author's story. Still don't know if parts of it were necessary. And I would have liked a better developed relationship between Addie and Jack. I didn't like them together and I thought their attraction wasn't well developed. This review took on a life of it's own so I'm going to end it now. And I've gone back and forth between a 3 and a 4 (may be surprising after this review but I did find myself wanting to read more) and I've finally settled on a 3. Anyone else read this book?

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Summer and the City - Candace Bushnell I’m a part of what they call the “Sex and the cCty” generation. I grew up admiring the life that Carrie et al. had in New York City, but fully understanding that it was not where my life was going. This allowed me to live vicariously through these girls as a teenager who couldn’t even spell Manolo Blahnik. Few people know that this series was originally a book. Even fewer people have read this book. This is a good thing because it was one of the worst books I have ever read and made New Yorkers seem pretentious and annoying. Utterly gross and unappealing. At some point though, Candace Bushnell had the bright idea to create a series revolving around Carrie as a teenager which, would allow avid SATC series watchers to understand her background more. (This series does not hold a candle to the original.)

I read the first book and it was sweet and entertaining but didn’t do much for me. As part of a reading challenge, I picked up the second in the series to see if Candace could redeem herself from the horror that was Sex and the City. Believe it or not, she did! I enjoyed this book. It was a fun look into Carrie’s first real steps into the city and the crazy life that ensues. But it is also sweet and innocent. Carrie is starting to really discover herself, her love for The City, and her place in this world. At times, her innocence is off-putting, until you remember what it was like to be 18 and when you were on your own for the first time and the hard lessons you had to learn. Then comes the endearing part. It is fun to follow Carrie as she discovers the fabulous Samantha and the buttoned up, liberal Miranda. This book gives us a look into the girls before they were The Girls. If you ask me, skip Sex and the City (actually, avoid at all costs. It will ruin part of your love for the series.) and give Summer and the City a chance. It will provide you with more of the story now that the series is over and the movies are subpar.

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The Fault in Our Stars - John Green Okay.

I have to admit it took me a few days to process this book because otherwise, this entire review would just be me gushing about how you should read this book. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely read this book! But I can finally form some sort of review around my gushing. This book was beautiful! The relationships, the characters, the story, I loved it all.

Where to begin? Oh, I know! Augustus Waters. Good ole Gus is probably 10 years younger than me but I may or may not have a crush on him. What a cool kid! He has a unique view of the world that only his illness could give him and instead of becoming angry and beaten, he reframes everything into very cool metaphors. Plus, he sees all that is amazing in Hazel Grace. Now, Hazel. This girl is snarky, and sarcastic, and cynical, but she is genuine and funny and honest. I have a girl crush on her! She has a realistic view of her illness but she has not let it keep her from looking for the good in people and life. The love story between these two is beautiful. Gus likes Hazel for her personality and her brains and her sarcasm but he also recognizes that she is beautiful. He helps Hazel see that she is beautiful despite her illness. The witty repertoire they have is endearing and entertaining. John Green did a great job of creating a young adult romance without the insta-love crap and makes it cool to have a personality and individuality as a teenager again. I love it!

Yes, this book is sad, and yes, I cried but it is so much more than that. THis is a coming of age novel with two teens who were told at a very young age that they may not make it to the point where they had to “come of age.” This is a love story in the best way that makes you fall in love with both people and understand the attraction between them. If you don’t read any other novels reviewed on this blog, do me a favor, and please read this one. Thank me later.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling This is the first book I read for the Bout of Books read-a-thon and unfortunately it was just meh as Tanya over at Mom's Small Victories put it. When I listed this book as one of my goals, Tanya commented on the post and I couldn't agree more. I think Mindy is funny but I wasn't laughing out loud at any parts. I think she is very relateable and someone that I would want to be friends with but I was looking for funnier stories. Or something. My favorite chapters were the "Best Friends and Responsibilities" and "Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great." Once again, I think both of these chapters were very relateable and I agreed on a lot of her points. I think Mindy has great advice for the people who don't peak in high school (I thank God every day I didn't peak in high school) and is a good example of how far hard work and a sense of humor can get you. I'm not a huge The Office fan so maybe I missed some of the humor but I think memoirs like this tend to be disappointing in general for me. Everyone loved Bossypants while I was just "meh." I thought it was funny but I don't know what all of the hype is about. Overall, I love that women like Mindy and Tina make it cool to be the funny girl and if reading their books supports that, I'm all for it!
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The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book is FANTASTICAL! If nothing else, this books creates a world of fantasy and charm and magic that is just awe inspiring. The attention to detail and the writing was phenomenal. For example:

When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. They people nearest the gates take a few steps back....

Le Cirque des Reves

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questionably at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on the mother's sleeve, begging to know what it says.

"The Circus of Dream," comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.

Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outwards, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.

Seriously! Tell me you did not get the chills reading that!? That's before the first chapter even begins! The writing continues in this fashion and the amount of detail is astounding. Usually, I can get overwhelmed with extreme details but the author was describing something so unique and interesting (and so thoroughly) that I could picture it in my head and even imagine the whiffs of caramel in the air. So, we can agree, the writing was very well done.

Where I begin to lose my love for this story is the actual love story! The two main characters don't even have a significant interaction until around page 200. Granted, the story built up their pasts and how they are essentially destined for each other but there was no real build up to their relationship. The only thing that redeemed this love story for me was towards the very end when the previous competitor explained their relationship with their challenger. That seemed to present the idea that they were destined for one another and it was more significant than a normal relationship.

"I chose [Marco] too well." The man in the grey suit leans into the table, as though he might whisper his words conspiratorially, but the tenor of his voice does not change. "That was the mistake, you realize. They were too well matched. Too taken with each other to be competitive. And now they can never be separated. Pity."

I still wish there was more of a love story and the lack thereof made this book move very, very slowly for me. Despite the level of writing, I found myself not being very interested in what happened next. I enjoyed the ending but felt it took a long time to get there.

On a different note, I wish I would have paid more attention to the time frames at the beginning of each chapter. This book jumps around a lot and I could follow it for the most part but if I read it again, I would pay attention to the specific months and dates. I just got bored and skimmed over them which I think hindered part of my experience.

So, what can you take away from this review? The writing is awesome and creates a whole world inside your head that makes you sad because the night circus does not actually exist, even though it feels as though it does. The love story is lacking. Dates are important. Capiche?
Fools Rush In - Janice  Thompson My favorite part of this book were the characters! I loved the Neeleys and thought both Bubba and DJ were dreamy. That may be because I have a soft spot for southern men but I also think it is a nod to the author's character development. I could imagine meeting the Neeleys in my town and them fitting in perfectly while the Rossis made me think of any traditional, big, Italian family I know. I also think the author did a good job of keeping these families loyal to their traditions and upbringings but open to other people's way of life as well. I'm not sure if it is realistic but it made for a nice setting.

I loved the two extremely different cultures that were described in this book. You wouldn't think that "off the boat" Italians and deep rooted Southerners would come together but somehow, in this novel, they manage to. Simpatico! I found the initial clash of cultures to be very funny and create a lot of comedic scenes. One of my favorites was when Rosa met Bubba for the first time which resulted in an overbearing Italian trying to communicate with a overly polite Southerner. It was awkward to say the least but very well done and believable. The author also did a good job of identifying food as the main staple of each culture which gave them a place to connect.

That being said, I had a few issues with this book. Namely, Bella. Initially, I connected with her and understood her dedication to her culture, her religion, and her family and respected her for that. But as the novel progressed, she started to irk me. First of all, how is it possible that she was raised in Texas (11-30 or so, that qualifies as raised) and has not adopted a single Texan tradition. It's called assimilation and it's unavoidable. Just look at her parents' generation! They were able to find their place in America after coming from Italy and still maintain their traditions. With Bella, it was as if she wasn't interested in learning a new culture and scoffed at it for 20 years until she met her first dreamy cowboy (and how is that possible, Texas is full of dreamy cowboys?!?) She also was very insecure which can be endearing to a point but she just became obnoxious.

One other character that I didn't connect with was Sophia. She just popped in and out of the story at weird times and don't even get me started on her joke of a story line (I won't spoil it) that she just "dropped" at the end of the story. That was a little bit of a cop out and would probably have been better not being mentioned at all.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first half of the book but the end became a little redundant and predictable which made it hard for me to enjoy. I LOVED sister Twila's beauty secrets at the end though. Cute idea!
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