Review: Watch Over Me by Mila Gray

! ! ! Butterflies to the max ! ! !

You know a book is good when you hate being pulled out of the story only to return to the real world.

With other romance books, I usually love the romance and hate the couple. But something about this book hit me differently. Especially the first half, thanks to a certain someone…

The male lead, Tristan, had me wrapped around his finger. He did all the little things perfectly: went out of his way to make sure Zoey’s comfortable and safe, always held the door open, matched her pace to walk beside her, and he’s a good listener. It’s even more than that. Every response of his is literally what I want to hear.
In short: someone wrote a novel with my biggest wish-fulfillment in a guy. The kind of guy I dream up in my daily fantasies. Even the tropes were all ones I loved: childhood friends, brother’s best friend, the protecting but respecting type… I was fawning all over Tristan.

I’m pressed against his chest, my head resting just below his chin. I can’t even remember the last time someone held me like this. And then it dawns on me. It was him. Back when I was eleven. My hands are flat against his stomach, and I can feel the topography of muscle beneath his T-shirt. With my ear pressed to his chest, I can hear his heart beating, strong and steady beneath my ear. I can feel the warmth and strength of his arms, and his hands, one on the center of my back and the other on my shoulder, holding me tight, pulling me closer. Over my sobs I can hear him saying, “Shhhh,” and his lips brushing the top of my head, sending a shiver down my spine that I don’t fully understand. It’s not a shiver that ends when it reaches the soles of my feet, but rather it turns and travels all the way back up my spine. Eventually, my breathing starts to calm down, to fall into sync with his, and I become acutely aware of other things, like how good he smells. I breathe in deeper, a great heaving breath that manages to calm me even further. I know I should probably pull away because I’m no longer crying, but I don’t want to. I feel safe in his arms.

My notes are all “I love him,” repeated over and over.

After one chapter, I’m like, where’s the ring? I’m getting married. He’s the dream guy, doing everything right. He’s the whole package. Oh, he’s fictional? Ouch.

“Are you cold?” Tristan asks. I shake my head. “You’re shivering,” he says, and he pulls off his sweater and gives it to me.

This had me like in GTA: BOOM WASTED.

“It’s too big on me, of course, but it’s so warm that I feel cocooned and, for a split second, even safe. It also smells of him, of citrus and something muskier, too, that makes me want to bury my nose in the fabric and breathe in deeply.”

I had to physically hold myself back from screaming. This is why I need to read these kinds of books at night when my facial expressions are hidden in the dark and no one to observe me. I want to like jump with excitement at this book. It’s so good.

It was starting to become dangerous territory. Like, I’ll never be able to look at a man the same and not have him fall flat in comparison to Tristan’s manners at the start of this book.

I even wrote, unfollow me now this is about to take over my day. I was right. I devoured this without even stopping.

I also loved the attention to detail in the writing, like the many phrases on looking at each other across the room or wanting to touch each other casually… This is what makes up a romance, noticing their eyes on you while sneaking a look.

And for once I didn’t even hate the main character. I could feel for Zoey. I understood her wholeheartedly. She’s so used to carrying the world’s problems on her shoulders that when Tristan, this kind, broad-shouldered guy shows up telling her she’s doesn’t have to face everything on her own, I was swooning. The first half of this book, i.e. the thrill of the chase, I would give five stars because it had everything I wanted. Butterflies to the max.

The second half, however, after the thrill of the chase, when the plot focused on everything but the romance is when the book started going a bit off track, for me. This is a romance! Please, don’t let side drama take over the majority of the story. This had so much potential in the second half had the side plot been dropped. Instead, it felt like another mindless episode of NCIS. Not what we’re here for…

Still, I’d recommend this book for the first half without hesitation. One of the best romance couples I’ve read in ages, if not The Best™. That’s saying a lot coming from someone who usually doesn’t like the couple at all in romance books.

R E A D I T:

Review: Educated by Tara Westover

“Why did you fight so hard against made-up monsters, but do nothing about the monsters in your own house?”

UPDATE: Warning – Do not read this book before bedtime because it’ll likely give you nightmares. I just woke from one. The impact of this book won’t go unnoticed on your subconscious.
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I started this book from part two, knowing I wouldn’t be able to bear reading too much about her family and instead focusing on Westover’s journey to education.

Still, my mind is reeling from the minute I closed this book. It reiterates the scariest of questions: How do you help someone who refuses to receive help? Westover’s family legit scare me, even more so knowing they’re somewhere out there. I felt like I was reading a thriller, but it’s worse because it’s real life.

I can’t stop thinking about only one thing: Get Emily out of there and her two kids far away from Shane. Help them! How is the police not breaking down their doors this very minute to save them knowing this book exists??? Why? Like, it felt wrong closing this book and just moving on. This isn’t just a story, this is someone’s real life.

“I half-wondered if I should return to the bathroom and climb through the mirror, then send out the other girl, the one who was sixteen. She could handle this, I thought. She would not be afraid, like I was. She would not be hurt, like I was. She was a thing of stone, with no fleshy tenderness.”

This is the scene that impacted me the most: when Tara was looking at her reflection in her old bathroom mirror about to face the hardest moment in her life. Her strength at that moment gave me strength.

“And here I was still, and here was the mirror. The same face, repeated in the same three panels. Except it wasn’t. This face was older, and floating above a soft cashmere sweater. But Dr. Kerry was right: it wasn’t the clothes that made this face, this woman, different. It was something behind her eyes, something in the set of her jaw—a hope or belief or conviction—that a life is not a thing unalterable. I don’t have a word for what it was I saw, but I suppose it was something like faith.”

Her ability to face Shawn with no one around her to support her emotionally shocked me. Sure, there were witnesses around, yet there was no support. If she can face him in an effort to give voice to her thoughts on his wrongdoings, I’ll always think back on this moment and draw strength from it.
If she can face that, my own fears pale in comparison. She showed me that there is no limit to what she can face. Still, it’s impossible taking that first step. It brought back to mind this quote I repeat in my mind from Watch Over Me:

“I need you to be brave,” he said. “I need you to face her, even though it hurts.”

It’s so tiring and exhausting being on edge around the people you should feel the most at home with.

The more I sat with the book these past days, the more certain passages kept resurfacing. Like:

“I am doing this with or without you. But without you, I will probably lose.”

Or:

“The wedding was in September. I arrived at the church full of anxious energy, as though I’d been sent through time from some disastrous future to this moment, when my actions still had weight and my thoughts, consequences. I didn’t know what I’d been sent to do, so I wrung my hands and chewed my cheeks, waiting for the crucial moment.”

Experiencing this feeling of seeing your present already from the future is terrifying. You have no idea how to save the future.

Whew. I had no idea I’d ever encounter a book to put into words what I’ve been avoiding. I’m still stuck in this phase:

“I tried to forget that night. For the first time in fifteen years, I closed my journal and put it away. Journaling is contemplative, and I didn’t want to contemplate anything.”

This isn’t something to be read lightly. You’ll leave it with a changed perspective on your own interactions and thoughts.

“But the memory of her saying it is gone: it is as if I wrote in order to forget.”

I feel like the movie version of this would hit as hard as Wild did. I really hope it gets opted for a movie adaptation.

Review: What Language Do I Dream In? by Elena Lappin

The title of this piqued my Freudian interest. I love dreams and I love languages. What Language Do I Dream In? is something I always ask myself. Having moved countries at a young age, I could see myself in these pages. The many countries and languages and immigrations this book follows made for quite the premise.

I love reading about the Russian-Jewish experience because it’s so rare to see in American fiction or nonfiction. The specificity of reading about Soviet jews and the feeling of being seen it grants never fails to amaze me. It’s like that feeling you get inside when encountering someone in real life who shares the same roots, like “good to see us.” This is what this book felt like, for me.
Like, it’s reading about the same stories I was told as a child of grandmothers spending years in evacuation.

“When my grandmother and my mother were evacuated to Bashkiria during the war, my grandmother worked in a factory seven kilometers away from where they lived. In winter, as she walked home every evening along an empty road in complete darkness, she saw wolves’ eyes following her from very close by. The wolves were hungry. My grandmother was petrified. But she had no choice, and just kept walking. This is how her generation faced everything in life: by doing what they had to do, despite the ever-present fear.”

I love that last line.

“Having lost our homes, we are jealous of the steadfastness of the homes of others. We need to latch on to their roots and connect with stories that will never be ours.”

This is why I’m so obsessed with nostalgia and looking for things that resemble the past.

Also, capturing the loss of a language while learning a new one. I loved seeing this brought to the page. Especially when she has her own child and notices how easily the language slips away from her. What a moment.

“It was like having a secret language for just the two of us.”

Oh, and the Russian-Jewish humor is so hard to find in other books because it’s so specific to the language. Case in point:

“I emailed him a photo of a similar gun I had found on the internet and asked if he thought they were the same make and period. He shot back in Czech, without missing a beat: ‘I wish I had your problems!’”

The only other author I’ve experienced this feeling with is David Bezmozgis. So I would love any book recommendations if you have them…

The only thing I do wish from this book: To have spent more time inside Elena’s head as each of these progressions in her life happened. I wanted more insight into what she was thinking when she met her future husband or when she had her kids. She has lived quite the life. Quite the rare life. So I wanted more insight into her thoughts. Like, in hindsight, was there some moment of foreshadowing now that she can look on things back? I wanted more of that. One of those moments where you wish you could write the author to talk in detail…

This is the funny thing about reading memoirs, you can actually go check on the people mentioned in it online and feel like you know them. Lurking online like a distant family member, but in reality, you’re just a curious reader…