Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! I’m changing it up a bit and separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. All of this is to celebrate their distinction and spend a few more days talking about all the wonderful entertainment of 2018.

Day 1. Best of 2018: Novellas

Day 2. Best of 2018: Historical Books

Day 3. Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Day 4. Goodbye 2018 & Looking Ahead

Today is about CONTEMPORARY BOOKS, AKA the category with the most favorites. I read more contemporary stories this year… and there several on this list! Maybe that means I know what I like?! I think so. Like my historical list, most are from this year, but a few were released prior to 2018.

The rules: sometimes I have to make boundaries for myself when it comes to talking about books because we would all be here a long time if were able to ramble on. SO, I’m sticking to my format of last year and choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. In no particular order…

Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac | Review

Laughter. Living. Chemistry.

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano | Review

Culinary dream. Delightful complexity. Relationships.

Blue Columbine by Jennifer Rodewald | Review

Grace. Redemption. Raw emotions.

The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce | Review

Friendship. Dreams. True selflessness.

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig | Review

Epic action. Brotherhood. Sacrifice.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert | Review

Empathy. Call to love. Relevant.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo | Review

Power of words. Choices. Connection.

When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham | Review

Music. Trust. Home.

Things Left Unsaid by Courtney Walsh | Review

Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Homecoming.

Wait for Me by Susan May Warren | Review to come

Adventure. Love worth the risk. Timing.

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson | Review

Heritage. Romance. Worth.

Your turn! What were your favorite contemporary reads of 2018? Have you read any of these?

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Review: “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Amy Matayo

 

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Amy Matayo’s stories always surprise me. Their humor and sarcasm, truth and vulnerability, and relevance always shine through the storytelling. Her latest indie release, Lies We Tell Ourselves, was no different. I could not have predicted the ending, especially the way the last 1/4 of the of story unfolded. And it was perfect — emotionally exhausting in the best way.

About the Book

Presley Waterman is a rescuer: of animals, of businesses, of people. Like the stray cat she’s allergic to, but continues to care for. Like her small-town newspaper, a business that’s been dying a slow death for the better part of a decade. And like Micah. Her best friend and the man she has loved since they were kids, back when no one else cared.   

Lies We Tell OurselvesAs for him… 

Micah Leven loves Presley. She’s the girl who’s always been there to help, the one who knows all the ugly things about him and makes him believe he can be a better man, the one who will never leave because she’s promised over and over.  
But he also loves Mara.  

Mara is his ideal. She’s the dream he conjured up as a boy and never wavered from. She’s beautiful, ambitious, driven, a fellow newscaster at his Atlanta station, and the perfect asset for the life he’s always wanted. Together, they could conquer the world and their respective careers. Even better, with Mara he could prove that he did—in fact—finally amount to something. Maybe then his father would be proud.   

There are just a few things Presley and Micah have both forgotten. One, just because you rescue someone doesn’t mean they’ll love you for it. Two, some dreams disappear when reality wakes you up. Three, the only way to silence lies is to face the truth head-on. 

This is the story of the man torn between two existences, the woman who finally took the choice away from him, and what happens when you stop listening to lies once and for all. 

Even if the biggest liar is you.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

What begins as an intriguing story of two friends quickly grows into a story much deeper and extremely relevant. One of friendship, of the value of relationships, of the ties and loyalties of the heart, and that of lies told and lies believed. These lies are sometimes spoken by the characters but are most often born from untruths spoken over them as children. The statements are internalized and believed until the lies become a part of their identity and define all of their behaviors. Through a series of events, Presley and Micah navigate their relationship they each label as “friendship” when their true feelings are much more romantic in nature.

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Let’s stop for a second and talk about storytelling technique. This book is separated into 3 different parts, each of which is told from the first person POV of 3 characters, one of which was a big surprise! And, moments of memory or flashback were spread throughout the story, telling of important moments of friendship between a young Presley and Micah. These passages are clearly noted and wonderfully add depth of the story, the meaning behind present-day choices and behaviors.

One little thing about this story that really stood out to me was that sometimes recognizing the truth is admitting vulnerability. No one likes to be vulnerable, but that is our nature when we let someone in to see our hearts and our character. This is demonstrated through Micah’s struggle with admitting his motives when it comes to his friendship with Presley. And let me just tell you, Presley’s character has to respond to all of this… and her choice is wonderfully empowering. I loved it!

What a message to readers this story carries: that of WORTH, of the value of people and the power of words.

 

content: overall a clean read, with some suggestive comments and innuendos, most of which are meant to be sarcastically humorous. I would rate it for teens and up.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Cover Reveal: “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Amy Matayo

I’m happy to be sharing in today’s cover reveal for a BRAND NEW novel from author Amy Matayo: Lies We Tell Ourselves. This is her tenth (!) novel, releasing on September 20th.

Before the COVER fun, let’s talk more about the story:

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Presley Waterman is a rescuer: of animals, of businesses, of people. Like the stray cat she’s allergic to, but continues to care for. Like her small-town newspaper, a business that’s been dying a slow death for the better part of a decade. And like Micah. Her best friend and the man she has loved since they were kids, back when no one else cared.  

As for him…

Micah Leven loves Presley. She’s the girl who’s always been there to help, the one who knows all the ugly things about him and makes him believe he can be a better man, the one who will never leave because she’s promised over and over. 

But he also loves Mara. 

Mara is his ideal. She’s the dream he conjured up as a boy and never wavered from. She’s beautiful, ambitious, driven, a fellow newscaster at his Atlanta station, and the perfect asset for the life he’s always wanted. Together, they could conquer the world and their respective careers. Even better, with Mara he could prove that he did—in fact—finally amount to something. Maybe then his father would be proud.  

There are just a few things Presley and Micah have both forgotten. One, just because you rescue someone doesn’t mean they’ll love you for it. Two, some dreams disappear when reality wakes you up. Three, the only way to silence lies is to face the truth head-on.

This is the story of the man torn between two existences, the woman who finally took the choice away from him, and what happens when you stop listening to lies once and for all.

Even if the biggest liar is you.

 

Coming September 20th

Preorder on Amazon now!

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What do you think about the cover? I think it is gorgeous and just a tiny bit whimsical! It clearly hints at the contemporary story inside. 

Review: “Christmas at Gate 18” Novella by Amy Matayo

You might be saying to yourself “What? Courtney is already talking about Christmas and Christmas novellas???”. Yes. Yes, I am, because Christmas fun starts early and any time is a good time for an Amy Matayo story. This novella happens to be a non-typical Christmas story —- sure, it’s set during Christmas and has the requisite gift exchange, mistletoe, and talk of Christmas traditions, but conventional stops there. As a matter of fact, the gift exchange doesn’t even involve pretty wrappings. 😉

About the Book

Supermodel Rory Gray just wants to go home. After wrapping up a three-day high-fashion photo shoot overseas, she’s exhausted and ready for the holiday. A holiday that involves Hollywood parties, air-kissing the industry elite, and a whole lot of fakeness…but whatever. Once she gets through that torture, she’ll head to her beloved Seattle and the life of anonymity she misses so much. In less than twenty-four hours, she’ll be there. 

Christmas at Gate 18Colt Ross has spent the past six months detaching himself from the Hollywood world he grew up in, and home is the last place he wants to be. But he’s been called back by his overbearing father for reasons he can only imagine. Likely reasons that involve taking over the family corporation or fund raising among Hollywood elite—something Colt has no interest in being part of. Not that he has a choice; when you’re the son of an industry executive, rubbing elbows comes with the territory. In less than twenty-four hours he’ll be home. After all this time away, home no longer appeals to him. Especially not at Christmas. Leave it to his father to ruin a holiday. 

But when a late-season hurricane grounds both of their flights in the Dominican Republic, Rory and Colt find themselves stuck at the airport far longer than anticipated. As weather conditions worsen, they both begin to realize that this Christmas will be spent with strangers packed inside a single airport terminal—specifically at gate 18. 

Rory and Colt are faced with a choice: band together in their misery or make this Christmas one they will never forget. For two people who aren’t real fond of the holiday, this Christmas might turn out to be the best they’ve ever had. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

If you’re looking for Christmas carols and hot apple cider, keep going. This story is not your typical gather-round-the-nativity with family and friends occasion, but it IS about relationships and wanting to know people for who they are and celebrating in unconventional ways. This is not your typical Christmas time story in the BEST way.

FB_IMG_1508799477051.jpgChristmas at Gate 18 has all the elements I’ve come to expect (and appreciate) from an Amy Matayo story: riveting character development, sarcastic and snarky humor, breath-stealing kisses (when they finally happen), and unexpected situations or people. The humor, in particular, is an added bonus. I love how Amy includes hilariously normal things like “Duck, Duck, Goose” or soft drink “suicides” and the need for a toothbrush to set a lighter tone while dealing with serious underlying issues. This story challenges boundaries of all kinds, with the storyline, flirtatious content, and raw hearts of the characters (especially when it comes to preconceptions vs. seeing and appreciating the heart.)

It would be appropriate to say Amy Matayo flirts with traditional boundaries when it comes to mild innuendos and actual boy-girl flirting. While the interaction between Colt and Rory never breaches the boundaries of propriety (except for that one short stay in a questionable motel HA! Trust me, it’s hilarious and sweet at the same time.), it still might challenge the comfort levels of the reader (or, at least it did for me and my normal inspirational-fiction comfort zone).

But, I think this is Amy’s intent in more than one way. To challenge boundaries. To delve deeper into the hearts of the characters with all of their insecurities, bagggage, and derailed dreams. To see beyond the surface (as a rich guy and professional model metaphorically represent all things superficial) and into the heart of who a person is and choosing to care about them, to accept their flaws, making them a better person in turn. This nearly-secular niche between messed up and redeemed characters is Amy’s sweet spot. Christmas at Gate 18 is a must-read if you’re looking for a story that challenges convention and makes you appreciate your own treasured family traditions during the Christmas season.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the opportunity to review a copy of this book. This is my honest review.

First Line Fridays #2: Christmas at Gate 18

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!
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Today I’m featuring the novella Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo because it just released this week! And because I love Christmas. *hums Jingle Bells*

Christmas at Gate 18

The first line:

Rory

Maybe the impending storm is putting me in a worse mood than usual, but there are only so many times a girl can repeat the exact same question in the exact same way to the exact same person without feeling her mind begin to unravel.

 

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

Review, Author Interview, & GIVEAWAY: The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo

Today is a happy day because I get to share my thoughts on author Amy Matayo’s new indie release, The Whys Have It, along with a fabulous interview she took the time to do, AND a GIVEAWAY of a signed copy of this book (US only).

What makes this even more fun, for me, is knowing Amy Matayo is a local author, of sorts. I didn’t know this for a while, but thanks to social media (high-five!), I discovered Amy lives in a city not too far from me in the northwest corner of Arkansas. (Someday I plan to stalk her and meet her in person). Anyway, the setting of this book is also a city I go to at least a few times a year: Springfield, Missouri. I can attest that the feel of the setting Amy portrays is accurate…. from the June heat to the crazy storms, I loved the familiar feel of it.

Now, on to more about The Whys Have It…..

About the Book

“His music holds the heart of America…but his soul holds a terrible secret.” 

The Whys Have ItChart topping pop musician Cory Minor has it all—fame, money, more women at his disposal than time to spend on them. He’s living the life most American men only dream of. Until an ordinary concert in Springfield threatens to destroy everything he’s worked for. 

As he and his band leave the arena for his next show, Cory’s tour bus crashes into two teenage girls, killing one girl instantly and leaving the other barely clinging to life. Lawsuits are threatened, tabloids are talking, and Cory’s idyllic world falls apart. But what no one knows is that this scene is all too familiar. Because this isn’t the first accident Cory has caused. This isn’t the first time he’s destroyed someone else’s life to save his own. 

It’s just the first time he’s had to face it head on. 

Small town girl Samantha Dalton has no one—no mother, no father, and now no sister. She’s lost everything in a world that celebrates excess. So when Cory Minor shows up at her doorstep offering money and apologies, she turns him away too. You can’t lose what you don’t have, and she can’t take another letdown, especially not from someone who has managed to rip away all she had left. Samantha has been fine on her own for years, she’ll be fine now too. 

At least that’s what she tells herself. 

But Cory won’t leave. He’s persistent in the worst possible way. 

Will Cory’s determination to make things right pay off in the end, or will Sam keep pushing him away until there’s nothing left to fight for? How can two people learn to rely on each other when life keeps hurting them both? 

Review

AM - TWHI (8)Life is full of challenges. For Cory and Sam in The Whys Have It, life dealt them unfortunate tragedies and pain. Ironically, each of them chose to react in opposite ways: Sam, to forge ahead, sometimes in bitterness, even at the cost of her own happiness. Cory, to run away, try to dull the pain with vices, and give in to self-loathing. The contrast between these responses is brought to life in the dynamic of their unlikely friendship. They gradually learn from each other, realizing hope is really worth the risk and second chances are possible through forgiveness.

Amy Matayo’s style is brilliantly complex. She portrays the emotional turmoil of grief, the lingering shadows of regret, and the ache of loss in the most relatable of ways. A light of joy shines through it all for Cory and Sam, though, sometimes in a small moment of camaraderie or friendship, eventually growing into a romance. I liked how their relationship showed what it means to accept another person for who they are, disregarding expectations or what they might deserve because of mistakes.

AM - TWHI (5)I’m beginning to recognize Amy’s signature snarky sense of humor she pours into her novels. At times it’s laugh-out-loud sarcastic, at others it had Sam (and maybe me) blushing from the double entendré of Cory’s unfiltered flirting. 🙂

The Whys Have It cleverly sits on a blurred line between secular and Christian fiction. Just enough portrayal of faith and a belief in a higher purpose combined with just enough grittiness and candor to push me out of my reading “comfort zone”, so to speak. I believe this novel will have a broader appeal because of its relatable style and the way it handles subjects like grief, forgiveness and even romance with a raw honesty. If you’re a fan of contemporary drama/romance, indie Christian ficiton, or even new adult romance, this is one story not to be missed!

Thank you to Relz Author Support Services and the author for a complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

What inspired you to write The Whys Have It?

Seven years ago something happened in my hometown. A local high school girl went to a concert and was killed in a car accident on the way home. The accident didn’t involve the musician, but he did make a statement the next day. His statement stuck with me; the sadness in his tone, the underlying sense of guilt in his words. He wasn’t at fault, but I began to wonder what might have happened if he had been more involved. It’s the way my brain works. I read something–even something small–and my mind begins to spin. Originally I planned to make it more like the actual events. Later I decided to separate the two out of respect. Hopefully I have done that.

What message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

That forgiving yourself is as important as forgiving others. That you can’t outrun your past, but you can stand in place and face your future. That mistakes don’t have to define you; it is possible to start over and make a new ending. And that you are worthy of love, always.

What was most challenging about writing this story?

That I don’t plot. It’s always my biggest obstacle, because almost everything is off the cuff. I wish I were more organized, but I’ve come to terms with it.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Cory, because he’s the guy. The men are always my favorite, because I relate to them the most and they are sooooo much easier.

Just for fun:

Do you have any hobbies?

Well, writing and reading are my number one and two. After that–and to relieve stress–I paint (walls and furniture because I have no artistic talent), and I have a zigsaw for woodworking. And I walk all over my neighborhood every night, which is totally not a hobby but it’s somehow one of mine.

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

I would live next door to Anne of Green Gables and we would be bosom friends. I’m going to Prince Edward Island with my daughter in a couple weeks for this reason. Maybe if I wish hard enough?

What are you currently reading?

FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell

About the Author

AmyMatayoAmy Matayo is an award winning author of The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, Sway, In Tune with Love, A Painted Summer, The End of the World, and The Thirteenth Chance. She graduated with barely passing grades from John Brown University with a degree in Journalism. But don’t feel sorry for her – she’s super proud of that degree and all the ways she hasn’t put it to good use.

She laughs often, cries easily, feels deeply, and loves hard. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and four kids and is working on her next novel.

Connect with Amy

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Giveaway

Now, on to the giveaway fine print! Giveaway is for one (1) signed paperback, U.S addresses only, please. Giveaway is open 1 week until 7/13/17, 11:59 pm. CT.

To enter, comment with a valid email address and answer this question: What is one of your favorite songs?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s TTT topic is all about that growing, towering, To-Be-Read pile, shelf, island, or whatever shape it may be. Mine seems to be ever-increasing with new releases happening ALL THE TIME, lovely reviews from other book bloggers, and recommendations from friends. It’s a delightful problem.

These are the top 10 books on my Spring TBR. More like the top 10 books I’d like to read next. The first 5 will be conquered because they are review copies from generous authors or publishers (Ya’ll are awesome for keeping me in books! Thank you.).

Top 10 Books on my Spring TBR

(Book titles linked to Goodreads)

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Shoes to Fill by Lynne Gentry

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

Long Time Gone by Mary Connealy

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

With Love, Wherever You Are

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

second-impressions


Love at First LaughSecond Impressions
by Pepper Basham (and the rest of the Love at First
Laugh
novella collection)

Close To You

Close To You by Kara Isaac

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Sweet Surrenders

Sweet Surrenders by Rachel Fallin

Edenbrooke

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Sway by Amy Matayo

Sway by Amy Matayo

What is on your Spring TBR?