Running Wild

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Feb. 2022)
Series: Wild #3

I’m honestly quite shocked to say that I loved Running Wild. I feel like the tagline of this book should be “don’t write it off, give it a try”, because even the author felt like she had to convince her readers that they should care and want to read about Marie. That was never the problem for me though. It never really bothered me that Marie was into Jonah, though I know some people were really offended by it. Her and Jonah were good friends and who isn’t disappointed when the friend they were hoping to be ‘end game’ with doesn’t pan out. As Marie uses to defend her actions, I always thought she was “only human”. 

So I wasn’t nervous to read this book out of a fear of not liking Marie, more I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to how much I love the books that came before. I’ve read a few of Tucker’s other books outside this series and I didn’t like any of them. It wasn’t even so much that I didn’t care for them, I actively didn’t like them and it made me question how she can get some of her books so wrong and continue to get this series so right. I have loved everything she has done with this series, it’s honestly like she can’t go wrong. In her bio, Tucker describes herself as writing “captivating stories with an edge”, and I think what I like about these books is that they are NOT that. What makes them captivating to me is the very fact that they do not have an edge at all. In some ways they are even mundane, but it’s that they’re so honest and genuine in their telling and that the mundane is actually incredibly relatable. 

Running Wild is the third book (fourth if you count the novella) in the Simple Wild series. The first two books focus on the love story of Calla and Jonah, which Tucker concludes in the novella. Running Wild is the first book about Jonah’s friend Marie, a side character in the early books. She was in love with Jonah before Calla and is sidelined in the original books. She is heartbroken that she isn’t the one for Jonah, but genuinely happy to see him so happy and tries very hard to set aside her feelings for him. But even though she’s been able to move on from Jonah, she is now 38 years old and mostly sad and afraid that she’s going to miss out on her own great love story. She desperately wants to get married and have children, but she doesn’t want to settle. She wants her own fireworks and passion, but she can’t ignore that her biological clock is still ticking.

Enter Tyler, a competitive musher who has just moved to Alaska to race in the 1000 mile Iditarod dog sled race. Marie and Tyler get off on the wrong foot after a misunderstanding, but quickly realize they were both wrong and begin to question their feelings for one another. The problem is, Tyler is still pining over someone else and is only interested in being friends, while Marie is not willing to go down that road again after Jonah. 

I don’t think I can get into talking about this book without getting into spoilers, but I can assure you it is absolutely worth your time to read. Like the Simple Wild and Wild at Heart, I don’t believe that Running Wild is a romance book at its core. It’s really a book about finding yourself, but also knowing yourself, which I think is just as powerful. At 38, Marie has already discovered a lot about who she is and this book is more about her knowing herself and knowing what she wants. She still questions herself, but it’s also about the maturity to know when to protect your heart and when to chase after something you want. 

So if you don’t want spoilers, I suggest you go read my review of The Simple Wild instead and pick up a copy of this series as fast as possible! Okay, let’s get into it. Spoilers ahead
First off, this book is definitely a slow burn. It didn’t surprise me that much, but I was surprised how little Tyler seemed to feature in it. We meet him quickly and get to know him at the Iditarod competition, and then he somewhat vanishes from the narrative when he offers Marie friendship and she declines him. Instead, we spend a lot of time with Marie’s family and I can tell you, I adored this just as much!

I could maybe see some readers finding this to be a bit boring, but it’s where my comment about the mundane and relatability come into play. Marie’s family dynamic seemed at times so loving and at times so frustrating – exactly like a real family. I loved her parents for their unconditional sacrifices for their children and I was frustrated by her sisters’ shortsightedness and frankly, selfishness. They had all the love and tension of any family – people who love you more than anyone else in the world, but also drive you crazy. We want to support our sisters, but sometimes it also feels like we need to compete with them and complicated relationships can grow between parents and each of their children. Marie’s future is put in an uncomfortable position by her family when they want to sell her business and while you felt bad for her, you could also totally empathize with why her family might ask that of her. 

No one wants to give up their home and business, but it’s also not up to our parents to provide for us forever and despite wanting to give the best to their children, it’s also reasonable to want to cash in on some of your own happiness when you retire. This is something I feel like I haven’t seen portrayed in many books, at least not in the sensitive way that it is in this book. I feel like these types of scenarios in other stories are often motivated by a feeling of resentment of a bad relationship that a character had with their parents. Marie’s predicament isn’t motivated by any of these things, but rather by honest love and respect that this family has for one another and the desire of both Marie and her parents for the other to be happy and taken care of. I thought it was really beautiful and even though it’s not quite resolved, I liked that there was really no easy fix. That’s what made her family so relatable. There’s not always an easy answer or a happily ever after, eventually we often end up having to find a compromise that works for both parties. 

Now let’s talk about Tyler because this story also really worked for me. When I first read the synopsis and read that Tyler wanted to just be friends, I wasn’t really interested in going down that road again. I figured he had an ex that he was trying to get over and I wasn’t really interested in reading a story about someone who comes around to love Marie (I wanted them to just love her). But Tyler’s hang up is that his wife died. In some ways this is even harder because as Marie says, how is she supposed to compete with a ghost? It’s not possible. But in this story, it just kind of worked. Tyler genuinely likes Marie for who she is – there’s never really any discussion about him comparing her to Mila or vice versa. He loved his wife and now unfortunately she is gone, and now he also loves Marie. It’s both complicated and uncomplicated. I felt bad for both him and Marie having to navigate that kind of heartbreak, but also that it’s something that could be worked through with time and respect. 

The only thing that irked me a bit was when he asked her on a date only to basically dump her again the next day after they had sex (unprotected sex – which was also irksome – let’s not pretend people are just willing to knock people up like it’s nothing). I understood that it was hard for him being with someone else and feeling like he was betraying the memory of his family, but at the same time, I wish he’d had the maturity to just ask to take it slow, rather than to cut it off altogether. Especially when he then does another 180 as soon as she starts dating someone else. I didn’t trust that he wouldn’t just keep dicking her around again while he tried to work out his demons. He needed to be in therapy to work on himself before he would be properly ready to be there for Marie. Also, I didn’t love when they had sex in the truck. I was too much, too fast after such a slow burn. I wish they just kissed – but whatever, I guess we’re all adults here and it sounded like it had probably been a few years since either of them had let off some steam.

My only other minor complaint is that I think the plot moved a little too quickly at the end after such a slow pace throughout. I would have liked to take a bit more time building up the relationship before parting ways with these lovely characters. In some ways I hope Tucker writes another book about Marie and Tyler, and in some ways I don’t think we need it. But I didn’t think we needed Wild at Heart either and I ended up loving it. Tucker seems to excel in this setting and I think there’s a lot more we could glean from Marie and Tyler, so it might be worth the investment.

In conclusion, the simplicity of The Simple Wild series is what makes it so special for me. Tucker isn’t afraid to tackle complex human emotions, but she does it in the most relatable settings. I think it demonstrates that we don’t need wild storylines to trigger those complex emotions because it’s complex people that trigger wild emotions in our own normal, mundane, and everyday lives. Fill your life with those kinds of people.

Wild at Heart

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. date: Feb. 2020 (read Mar. 2020)
Series: Wild #2

Okay, I have many feelings about Wild at Heart and it’s time to write them down before I forget! I was super apprehensive when I first heard that Tucker was writing a sequel to The Simple Wild. The Simple Wild was an unexpected favourite read from 2018, so I was kind of excited when I heard about Wild at Heart because I wanted to see what happened to Calla and Jonah and laugh along at all their witty banter again. But I’m also weary of books with sequels that don’t really need them because they’re often pandering to the readers or cheapen the story from the original book. Plus I really didn’t like Tucker’s new book from last year and I was afraid she was a one hit wonder.

But there’s a lot to like about Wild at Heart! I’m don’t think it has quite the same charm as The Simple Wild, but I really liked the direction Tucker decided to go with the story in her sequel. It was easy to predict the trajectory of the story, like I could pretty much guess it without even reading the synopsis, but it ended up being less predictable than I thought and explored a lot of new themes.

So let’s get into it. If you haven’t read The Simple Wild, please don’t bother with this review, just go check out my glowing review for the first book. For readers who have read The Simple Wild, but not Wild at Heart, I’ll try and keep it spoiler free or give you a warning if I’m about to get into major spoilers.

What made Wild at Heart a winner for me was that it really met the requirements of what I’m looking for in a New Adult book. There’s so few good books out there in the New Adult genre and until I read this book, I didn’t realize how much I’m actually looking for relatable fiction about adults who have started their career, but haven’t yet moved into the parenting world. So much literature is either YA or about fully developed families. That’s all totally fine and I’m sure I’ll be thrilled once I enter that next demographic, but right now it was so refreshing to read about a mature couple just trying to make it work and figure out their professional lives. Wild at Heart is free of childish relationship drama and older family drama. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love me a good family drama, but this really delivered something that I haven’t seen in many books.

At the end of The Simple Wild, Jonah shows up in Toronto to ask Calla to move to Anchorage with him. We don’t know what she decides, but it’s a safe assumption that she says yes. Wild at Heart picks up exactly where The Simple Wild left off and we see Calla pack up her life in Toronto to go all in on a life in Alaska with Jonah.

The move is scary, but also exciting, and at the beginning Calla and Jonah strike a wonderful balance of accommodating one another and making compromises to try and make each other happy. As you can imagine though, as time goes on, things become more challenging. Calla struggles to fit in in the Alaskan wild and Jonah stresses about money and doing something where he feels he’s making a meaningful contribution to the world. Neither doubts their love for the other, but they have to acknowledge that the new relationships is not without its struggles.

The first half of the book does have a bit of a meandering plot. It’s not obvious where the story is going and their relationship is still in its honeymoon phase, and so it’s somewhat lacking in tension. However I don’t fault Tucker for this because what I think she does provide is a very accurate portrayal of a relationship between two mature adults. It was wonderful to read about two people thinking about buying their first home together and making decisions about their professional careers. I just bought my first home and it wasn’t until Calla and Jonah started house hunting that I realized I’ve literally never seen this aspect of a relationship portrayed in a book before! It’s so much more common to read about how a couple falls in love, or how a married couple is struggling. There are so few stories dedicated to what happens after the big romantic gesture that brings a couple together. Arguably this is because romantic tension is what sells a story and it’s just not as exciting to read about the “happily ever after”, but it really worked in this book and I found it extremely relatable.

The other thing I liked about this book was Calla and Jonah’s maturity. Sure,they have their moments of weakness, and I kept waiting for them to fall apart, which they inevitably do, but not at all in the way I expected. They’re both afraid of resenting each other and they put a lot of effort into how they communicate with each other. Resentment has always been what has scared me the most about my own relationships. My fear is that if communication breaks down, then resentment builds, and that is what can ultimately kill a relationship. I spend so much time in my own life ensuring that resentment stays out of my relationships, and it was really nice to see that maturity reflected in these characters. I think Tucker had an easy narrative she could have followed in this book and she could have dramatized Calla and Jonah’s relationship more, but I’m glad she didn’t. I think it would have cheapened the story. Instead this was more a book about two people learning to live with each other and deciding if it’s something they can do forever.

I will admit, Tucker is pretty gratuitous with the sex scenes in this book. None of them were as romantic as their first night together in the safety cabin in The Simple Wild and they did start to get a bit repetitive after a while because apparently they’re both just so damn perfect. But if you’re coming to this series as a romance reader, you’ll probably be pretty happy. The book does have a lot of side plots though, which give the story more substance and I really enjoyed meeting all the new characters. I liked both Calla’s relationship with Muriel and with Roy, though I would have loved to see her make some real girl friends earlier in the book, because I think that would have made the transition a lot easier for Calla. I was really hoping for her to strike up a close friendship with Marie because I think that would have been quite radical and progressive, but I think we ended up getting something in the middle.

To conclude, Wild at Heart was a real winner for me. It wasn’t quite a 5 star read, but I’d put it at a solid 4.5 stars. Please bring this energy and insight with you to your next book K.A. Tucker, because Say You Still Love Me was such a miss for me and I really want to love all your books!

Bookish Academy Awards Tag

I love watching and reading people’s lists for this tag every year, so this year I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do the tag myself! It’s basically a list of all the awards at the Academy Awards, but for the books I read in 2018. I’ll be picking my winners from all the books I read in 2018, not just the ones that were published in 2018. So I have a total of 120 books to pick from and you can see my full list here if you’re interested. I’ve done my best to avoid selecting the same book for multiple categories, but in some cases I felt the same book really was the best pick for both awards. Here we go:

Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Winner: Bitty from Check Please!: #Hockey

Reason: He’s a gay hockey player who loves to bake and make people feel good! What’s not to love?!

Runner ups: Prince Cas from Ruined, Radu from Bright We Burn, Cormoran Strike from Lethal White

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress):

Winner: Morrigan Crow from Wundersmith

Reason: She is brave and perseveres though she is alienated at her school. She just wants to be accepted and be a good friend.

Runner ups: Kimberly from Girl in Translation, Felicity from The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Maddy from Code Name Verity

Best Male Sidekick (Best Supporting Actor):

Winner: Axel from The Astonishing Color of After

Reason: He is so sweet and such a good friend! He is always there for Leigh and understands when she needs some personal time.

Runner ups: Mitch from Vicious/Vengeful, all the boys in Fence, Benji from Us Against You

Best Female Sidekick (Best Supporting Actress):

Winner: Kitty from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Reason: She has such a great personality and she loves her sisters. She made me laugh so much and I loved her energy!

Runner ups: Amari from Children of Blood and Bone, Sheilagh Fielding from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Rosa from Rose Under Fire

Best Writer you discovered for the first time (Best Director):

Winner: K.A. Tucker

Reason: I read her newest book, The Simple Wild and fell in love with her writing, characters, and setting!

Runner ups: Alice Oseman (Radio Silence), Emma Hooper (Our Homesick Songs), Courtney Summers (Sadie)

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography):

Winner: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Reason: There are a ton of crazy plot twists and I didn’t see any of them coming! Blew my book club’s mind!

Runner ups: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects):

Winner: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Reason: It is so fast-paced, it just throws you into the action right away and it never stops!

Runner ups: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Best Book Cover (Best Costume Design):

Winner: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Reason: LOOK AT IT! This is my first repeat, but I am just so in love with how beautiful this is and all the colours – I had to pick it!

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Best Audiobook (Best Musical Score):

Winner: Joanne Froggatt in Wuthering Heights

Reason: Froggatt is an accomplished actress and she did a wonderful job with all the accents and drawing me into the story!

Runner ups: Kyla Garcia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Phoebe Robinson in Everything’s Trash, but it’s Okay, Rebekkah Ross in The Nowhere Girls

Most Unique Plot/World (Best Original Screenplay):

Winner: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Reason: I am obsessed with everything about this series. I love the world-building, the plot, and all the characters.

Runner ups: Women Talking by Miriam Toews, The Poppy War by R.F. Huang, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Best Adapted Screenplay):

Winner: Love Simon

Reason: I actually liked this more than the book. The acting, storyline, and soundtrack were all amazing! Technically I didn’t read the book, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, this year, but I did see the movie!

Runner ups: To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han on Netflix

Best Graphic Novel (Best Animated Feature):

Winner: Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Reason: So much wonderful character development in this series! Somehow these authors succeeded in making fencing super interesting!

Runner ups: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Check Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Best Novella or Short Book (Best Short Film):

Winner: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Reason: Unique storytelling that demonstrates women’s ability to find solace, humour, and healing in one another.

Runner ups: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service

Best Historical Fiction (Best Documentary):

Winner: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reason: The writing, the setting, the characters, and the story are all so captivating and richly developed.

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Best Standalone (Best Picture):

Winner: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Reason: The writing is magical and transporting. I loved this mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

Runner ups: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Women Talking by Miriam Toews