How Do You Measure of a Year? In Books, Of Course!

The last few days while everyone else was sharing their reflections on their year in reading, I was scrambling to complete my Goodreads goal and editing podcast episodes (*cue confetti* *have a nap waiting in the wings*). I don’t like to review a year until I’m in the new year, anyway.

As you’ll see in my stats, my reading for the challenge was heavily weighted one way. While I enjoyed the books I read and look forward to reading more of the same in 2019, I want to make sure I read more of other genres I love this year. I’ll share my new reading goals in a separate post. On the positive side, I upped the number of books I wanted to read in 2018 by 15 books, and I met my goal! Without further ado, here’s my year in books *:

Books read: 65

Library books finished: 3

Read What You Own Books (that I know I owned before 2018): 6

Review/Launch Team Books: 7

Fiction: 58

Non-Fiction: 7

Romance: 54

-Romantic Suspense: 14

-Contemporary Romance: 38

-Historical Romance: 2

Non-Romantic Fiction: 4

Memoir/Autobiography: 6

These stats provide a good snapshot of my year, but for a more accurate picture, I wanted to spotlight some notable books.My affiliate links are included.

First book finished*: The Trophy Husband by Lynne Graham
This was a quick, fun read that reeked of 90’s romance tropes. If you can appreciate it for what it is–trope soup, limited POV, and 90s level of understanding of masculinity/femininity/happily ever after–it’s a fast and funny book.

Last book read: Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

I really ended the year on a high note. I LOVED this book! This book combines many elements of my favorite reads: Zora Neale Hurston; Anthropological/Ethnographical study; a personal story told in the subject’s voice; a snapshot of an interesting time in history, etc. This story is an important one, and I’m thankful it has finally been published and disseminated.

Better Than Expected: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

This book had some pretty harsh reviews, but I like Anne Tyler and retellings of classics are some of my favorite stories, so I decided to give this one a try. If you’re a fan of Taming of the Shrew or Ten Things I Hate About You, you might like this retelling set between academia and daycare.

FOMO Reads of 2018: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

I heard these two books recommended several times on What Should I Read Next. I caved to FOMO and read both, and I’m glad I did! Both of these books lived up to the hype. Eleanor is funny and endearing, and Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir is gripping and reflective in an engaging way. I highly recommend both.

Best Book for Book Lovers: I’d Rather be Reading by Anne Bogel

If you love all things books and reading, you must read this book! Anne beautifully portrays many of the joys and dilemmas of the reading life. This book is a beautiful celebration of all the things I love about literature.

Series I enjoyed this year:

The Precinct Series by Julie Miller

I read many books in this series in 2016, but I read the backlist and became current on this series in 2018. If you love romantic suspense, seeing your favorite characters in several different books, mini-series within a larger series, and heroes/heroines with real world conflicts and complications, then I highly recommend this series.

Mirror Lake Series by Kathryn Springer
This inspirational romance series was wonderful. The characters were realistic and made me root for them. Springer made the town and its inhabitants come alive, and the conflicts were just as realistic. If you’re a fan of inspirational romances set in a small close knit town involving a core group of characters, then give this six book series a try.
Get in My Kindle picks I’ve Read: Butterface by Avery Flynn and I’d Rather be Reading by Anne Bogel (I also listened to the audiobook of Remember God by Annie F. Downs, but I’m not counting this as I plan to read the physical copy)


I’ve read a few of Avery Flynn’s other books, and Butterface had the humor and heart I’ve come to expect from her. If you like hot romantic comedies (and the heat level is pretty high on this one), you might like this first book in The Hartigans series. Book two, Muffin Top, is also out now, and book three, Tomboy, will release February 18, 2019.

The books I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2019:

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
You can read my post on this book here.
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
Read my reasons for looking forward to this The Next Right Thing here.

MY BOOK!!!!!
121418_SS Front CoverI’ve been holding this news in for months! If you’re an email subscriber, you might have heard about this book already, but I wanted to officially announce it to my By Her Shelf readers. The Speaking Season: Poems and Pieces, my first poetry collection, will be releasing this month! If you’re a fan of poetry, this book is a must have for your collection. More details to come soon!

*Note: I don’t track my progress/read status for every book I read through Goodreads. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I don’t want to share what I’m reading. This post was created using my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge statistics. It’s by no means definitive, but it’s mostly accurate.

Review: Cowboys Need Not Apply by Robert Tate Miller

Happy Monday, fellow readers! I’m experiencing a bit of a binge hangover after watching a full season of TV show in one evening (a show gone much too soon, by the way), but I wanted to share another review with you. Entangled Publishing sent me an advance copy of Cowboys Need Not Apply by Robert Tate Miller because I requested it. I couldn’t miss this opportunity. What romance lover wouldn’t want to read the story of a cowboy and a prima ballerina? It was only after I requested it that I realized Cowboys Need Not Apply would unique in another way: it’s written by a man. I haven’t read any Nicholas Sparks or any other big name male romance writers, so I was interested in seeing the spin a guy would put on a romance. You can get your copy of Cowboys Need Not Apply and draw your own conclusions starting today, August 13, 2018.

Title: Cowboys Need Not Apply

Author: Robert Tate Miller

Release Date: August 13, 2018

Review: Rodeo rider Matt “Mad Dog” Walker is on the fast track to being All Around Cowboy, the best bronco rider in the world when one bad ride tears his ACL. The rodeo doc is convinced Matt should retire, or at least sit out the rest of the season, but Matt is too close to achieving his dream of being the best and fulfilling a promise he made to his father before he passed to sit out the Big Ride. Matt’s uncle and manager Harry is convinced he should take the doctor’s advice, but knowing his stubborn nephew, he finds the best rehab facility in the country to give him a shot at a full recovery before his foolhardy ride.

Prima ballerina Jessica Carmichael knows something is wrong as soon as she lands a sauté in a performance. The doctors confirm she’s torn her ACL. All Jessica knows is dancing, and she refuses to miss the Rite of Spring performance where she made her debut at age sixteen. If she’s going to dance again, she has to be able to trust her knee one hundred percent, and the only way she’ll do that is if she works with the best rehabilitation clinic in the country.

When Matt and Jessica both arrive at the clinic, their competitive natures cause them to push one another in therapy to good affect. They came to heal their damaged knees and get back on top of their game, but could these two competitors win at the game of love as well?

Robert Tate Miller has crafted a Cutting Edge-esque romance that’s funny and witty, but most of all heartwarming. Jessica and Matt are both natural born competitors who love what they do. Neither one is ready to walk away from their career, even in the face of such a serious injury. Although the Manhattan born and bred ballerina and the Montana ranch owning rodeo rider live in two different worlds, they share a grit and determination, and a mutual attraction, that makes their burgeoning romance fun to watch. I also enjoyed the supporting characters of Jessica’s sister, Kat, and Matt’s uncle, Harry. They injected much needed realism and sound advice into the headstrong duo.

In addition to a man’s name being on the cover of the book, there were a couple other things that were different about this romance. The hero and heroine didn’t meet until I was about 12% into the book, and they spend a sizeable amount of time away from each other in comparison to other category romance titles. There were also a few points where I felt like the narration turned more clinical and distant than it should have been for the poignancy of the moment the characters (and the reader) were in. Lastly, if I never hear the term “in the footlights” again, I think it will be too soon.

Overall, I enjoyed the crisp, concise language and the way Miller unfolded the story. Miller does a great job of establishing the characters of Jessica and Matt in the readers’ mind and bringing the New York and Montana settings to life.  I loved the banter between Jessica and Matt, and I couldn’t wait to see how the Big Ride and the “big dance” went. I would recommend this opposites attract romance to anyone who loves their romance with witty banter, loveable characters, settings that become characters, and cowboys who can ride a bucking bronco and jeté, plié, and sauté.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Review: Catch Him If You Can by Jennifer Shirk

Happy Tuesday, fellow readers! *Side note: I need a cool name for my readers. What should I call you?*  I’m still recovering from a long weekend of working, but I wanted to share a review with you. Entangled Publishing sent me an advance copy of Catch Him if You Can by Jennifer Shirk because I begged  requested it. I’d read Ms. Shirk before and really enjoyed her writing, and I LOVE a fake fiancé romance, so I had to read this one. You can get your copy of Catch Him if You Can on August 13, 2018. 

Title: Catch Him if You Can

Author: Jennifer Shirk

Release Date: August 13, 2018

Review: Veterinarian Wade Roberts doesn’t want to fall in love again. After losing his wife to cancer, he’s more than content running his veterinary clinic and having occasional relationships with women who know not to expect forever. Someone should tell that to the matchmaking ladies in town who keep sending marriage minded women his way. It’s only gotten worse since his sister’s engagement. Wade needs to do something to dissuade them before he’s buried in baked goods and his clinic becomes the set of the next season of The Bachelor.

Wedding Planner Arden Pearson has her own crisis to deal with. Her business is in big trouble after one of her grooms quit his job and moved to the Bahamas in lieu of marrying his betrothed. When Wade approaches her about pretending to be his girlfriend, she turns him down. However, meeting with a huge potential client who would prefer to have a planner with personal experience planning a wedding, Arden changes her mind. Arden does have experience planning her own wedding–the groom just didn’t show up, much like her recent Bahamas Bolter. Instead of admitting this, she approaches Wade with a deal: she’ll get rid of the matchmakers and marriage minded women overrunning his waiting room if he’ll help her land and keep the contract that could make or break her business. It’s a win win arrangement between old friends. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m a huge fan of the tropes in Catch Him if You Can: fake fiancé and friends to lovers. In Shirk’s capable hands, the tropes feel new and fresh. Usually I fall in love with the hero first. If I can identify with the heroine, I’m all in. In this book, though, I loved Arden from her introduction sassing Wade in the coffeeshop line. She was smart alecky and fun but with emotional depth that made me really root for her. Wade’s character was swoon-worthy. He loves animals, can’t bring himself to tell off the sweet old ladies who keep trying to fix him up, and he honors the commitments he makes, which is why he’s so reticent to make them. He doesn’t take commitment lightly, and that makes him the perfect guy for gun shy Arden, who, deep down, longs for someone who will follow through and commit to doing life with her.

This story got me in all of my feels. It was funny, and sweet, with shades of sadness that made the good stuff even better. The black moments were throw your book frustrating, but I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. This isn’t my first Jennifer Shirk book, and it most definitely won’t be my last. I have to know what happens in the next book to the next heroine. I know Jennifer is going to give her a great happily ever after as well.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a sweet friends to lovers romance with a healthy dose of fake fiancé that features characters you can root for from page one and wouldn’t mind seeing again in the next book. This is the second book in a series, but it is standalone. If you’d like to read them in order, start with Bargaining with the Boss.

Star Rating: 4/5

Review: Amish Country Ambush by Dana R. Lynn

Full disclosure: Dana R. Lynn is one of my oldest writing friends. We were matched together as critique buddies along with Christina Yother sometime after So You Think You Can Write 2013. The first manuscript of hers I critiqued became her first published book, Presumed Guilty, in April of 2015. I’m also a part of her Dream Team, which receives free copies of her releases to review. Despite this, my review is my honest opinion about this work. Enjoy!

Amish Country Ambush LynnPolice dispatcher Elise St. Clair is trying to start over in Lamar Pond after her sister’s murder. She is raising her nephew with the help of a nanny and cleaning lady. On a shift that started as routinely as any other, Elise receives a call that throws her into a panic: the Amish girl who cleans her home calls saying someone has broken into Elise’s home and attacked her nephew’s nanny…and the attacker might still be in the house.

Elise races to her home to find the nanny dead, her nephew and the cleaning lady missing, and herself face to face with her biggest nightmare: her sister’s killer, her murderous brother in law.

Police officer Ryan Parker responds to Elise’s home. He doesn’t know Elise well, but he’s immediately drawn to her plight. He wants to help find the missing child and the young Amish teenager they believe is trying to keep him hidden, but complications abound. The biggest complication is Elise’s claim her brother in law is involved–a brother in law police believe died in a car accident before Elise moved to Lamar Pond.

Ryan and Elise are racing against time and a would be kidnapper to bring Elise’s nephew and his protector back to their families. As they work together to unravel the tangled web of suspects and motives, the alliance between them feels less like a temporary partnership and more like a lifetime proposition. Can Ryan and Elise find the boy, protect the girl, and live to see the love growing between them blossom into forever?

Amish Country Ambush is part of the Amish Country Justice series and like Ms. Lynn’s previous works, is set in the fictional town of Lamar Pond in Pennsylvania. Most of the books thus far have centered around the police force in Lamar Pond, so if you’ve read the previous books, you are somewhat familiar with Ryan Parker. You might have even been waiting to learn more of his story and see him find love. You look forward to seeing characters you remember from previous books and if you’re like me, you hunt for clues as to who the next hero/heroine might be. All of this is wonderful fun for me, but don’t let the fact it’s in a series deter you. This book can be read as a standalone.

I liked this book. Ms. Lynn is skilled at creating and building suspense. The plot is complex and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader flipping the pages to see what else will happen to Elise, Ryan, her nephew and the cleaner. There are a few threads in this book that need to be wrapped up, and Ms. Lynn does this well without showing all the work that has to be involved in the undertaking. Overall, I enjoyed the journey this book took me on.

The element that makes or breaks a book to me, especially a romance, is character. If you don’t fall in love with or become invested in what happens to the characters, the book won’t work. In Ryan Parker, Ms. Lynn created a hero you could hang a story on. Ryan is efficient and capable. He’s also gentle and compassionate. The reader can easily identify with him struggling to stay professional and focused while growing more and more concerned about protecting the woman he’s starting to love. Ryan has an unexpected grit to him; he refuses to give up or back down. He makes a swoon-worthy hero.

In romance, I have to fall in love with the hero and identify with the heroine. I have to be able to place myself in her shoes at any given time. Elise St. Clair is a woman who’s frantic at the disappearance of the nephew she raises like her own son. She wants nothing more than to find him. She’s strong and stubborn, refusing to be shut out of what’s happening or treated like any other victim. While I ended up loving Elise, it took me a while to get there. In the beginning, she was a little too frantic and acted without thinking too many times. It showed the state of mind of a woman in her situation, but it seemed to take her too long to find her feet and decide to work with the police. This stuck with me because she works with the police department as a dispatcher. She has only been there a year or so, keeps to herself, and has trust issues, but I expected her to know be willing to accept help to find her nephew a little quicker. Again, in the end, I grew to like Elise just as much as Ryan, but it was touch and go in the beginning.

I would recommend Amish Country Ambush to anyone who loves their romance with a strong faith and suspense threads, a man in uniform, a self-reliant, stubborn heroine, and a dash of Amish culture.

3 1/2 */ B