April 23, 2018

My Mary Balogh Binge

It was only a little over a year ago that I read my first historical romance novel, but I've certainly made up for it in the time since. I devoured almost all of Anne Gracie's backlist, and then I let my friends recommend some other books/series for me to try. But I have a recent favorite author that I found all on my own: Mary Balogh. It started when I fell in love with the covers for her Westcott series. The series explores how a family responds to a devastating secret that's unearthed in the wake of their patriarch's death. I liked the first book, but the second sold me on the series – and the third book sold me author. I knew I was going to have to scope out her backlist! 

Balogh is a prolific writer, so I had a lot of options. But something about the Survivors' Club series appealed to me, so I started there. The series focuses on a group of six men and one woman who are all wounded (some physically, all mentally/emotionally) during the Napoleonic Wars and end up recovering together. The experience bonds them together, and they meet up for a few weeks every year to maintain their friendship. I loved the premise and was excited to see if it lived up to my expectations! When I finished the seventh (and last) book less than a week after I started the first, I knew I wanted to write about my series binge in a longer-than-normal post.

Before I begin, here's one random thing worth noting: I'm using the UK covers for the first three books in the series, which are also the editions I bought for myself, because the US covers are awful. I honestly never would have picked up this series if it wasn't for Balogh's name on them. Just imagine me saying "I KNOW, RIGHT?!" to your horrified face when you first see them. And now, let's proceed!

The first book in the series, The Proposal, was actually my least favorite. I liked Lord Tretham and Lady Muir individually, but I was never invested in their relationship together. Their instant attraction was fine, but then they were supposedly experiencing deep feelings for one another quickly. And I just didn't buy it. Their conversations were awkward, and their actions were puzzling. A lackluster romance was made worse by the slow pace and boring plot. I was So Okay With It overall, but if this was my first read from this author, I wouldn't have continued the series. (And honestly, I'd probably tell people to skip this book when starting the series.)

Thankfully, I knew Balogh was capable of more and was impressed by one thing about the book: the introduction of this group of survivors and the friendship they formed. Though it might not be historically accurate, I loved the book's focus on mental and emotional health. These individuals have been through something traumatic, and I loved the importance given to recovery and healing. Because of my investment in the group as a whole, I continued on to the second book...

As soon as I started The Arrangement, I knew I was in for a treat. Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, was blinded during the war, and he's allowed his family to treat him as an invalid in the years since. He's handsome, intelligent and has a great sense of humor – if only he could reclaim his independence. Miss Sophia Fry is small, plain and shy, but she's got so much hiding beneath the surface. I loved almost everything about this book, and I know that's largely due to the fact that the characters stole my heart. I adored how Vincent helped Sophia find her confidence and how she empowered him to do things for himself.

I was immediately invested in their relationship, and that's partly because I love the marriage of convenience trope. And it was just so well done here! Both characters are such sweethearts, and watching them grow so much together? FEELS. Balogh's books tend to be very character driven, which is one reason I love them when I'm connected to the characters (and find them boring if I'm not). In this case, I though the plot moved along nicely and hit all the right emotional notes. I So Loved It.

Then, it was time for The Escape. After the death of her husband, Samantha McKay flees to Wales to claim a house she's inherited and flee her oppressive in laws. Although they aren't exactly friends, Sir Benedict Harper offers to escort her so that she isn't traveling alone. It's not entirely proper, but he doesn't know what else to do. I loved the road trip aspect of the story – and couldn't wait to see what Samantha would find in Wales. It didn't disappoint! 

Benedict's legs were badly injured in the war, and it's miracle that he's able to use them at all. Additionally, they're both dealing with deep emotional scars from their pasts. I really appreciated that the book didn't imply that they could just magically heal one another through love. I loved seeing them work through things on their own and embrace a new and unexpected vision for their future. My only quibble is that it takes them just a bit too long to admit their feelings for one another, but that's pretty minor. This story is slow and there isn't a lot going on action-wise, but it just worked for me. Overall, I So Enjoyed It and was excited to continue on to the next book.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Only Enchanting. Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, is an incredibly cynical and guarded man. He's not your average historical romance hero, at least from what I've read so far, because he has this air of flippant disregard. But oh, there's so much he's hiding behind that façade! His brain was damaged in the war, and he now stutters and suffers from memory loss. Agnes Keeping is a widow who has no desire for passion and strong emotion. After seeing how love wrecked her family, she only ever wanted a marriage that was safe and sensible. Of course, Flavian seems to be the exact opposite of that...

Though their feelings for one another seemed a little too instant for me, they were earned by the end of the book. I enjoyed the slow reveal of what happened in Flavian's past, especially since it involved a villain that I loved being able to hate. Also, the characters get married about halfway through the book, and it was nice that so much of the story dealt with what comes next. A wedding doesn't make everything "happily ever after," and it was refreshing to explore that fact. I So Enjoyed It!

I'll be honest and admit that I read the summary for Only a Promise and couldn't remember the hero, even though I'd just finished the first four books in the series. Ralph Stockwood was overshadowed by the more dynamic Survivors, and I never came to fully love him. The heroine, however, was incredible! After two Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead believes she's destined for spinsterhood. But Ralph needs a wife, so Chloe does the unthinkable: she proposes.

I'm a sucker for marriages of convenience, so I was hooked on the premise. Ralph is depressed, grieving the loss of his best friends during the war and feeling responsible for their deaths. His grief sometimes felt self-indulgent and made him cold and distant with the heroine, so I wasn't quite as invested in the romance. He grew on me by the end, but I think it's just because Chloe loved him. She was the highlight of the book for me! I wanted all the good things for her sweet self, and she's the main reason I'd say I So Enjoyed It (since I did debate a Liked It rating).

I'd been eagerly awaiting Only a Kiss because the heroine is the only female Survivor. Imogen, Lady Barclay, witnessed the death of her husband during the war and has remained mostly secluded in their home in Cornwall. When the new Earl, Percival Hayes, comes to visit his estate, he's in for a rude awakening. Expecting a ruined heap, he's shocked to discover it's inhabited by three women – and a large variety of stray animals.

When the hero was first introduced, I couldn't imagine how he made sense with the heroine. He's bored with his life and seems to have no real sense of purpose. But don't worry... that all changes. Imogen and Percival take an instant dislike to one another, and I will forever be a sucker for hate-to-love romances. And y'all this one totally delivered on the feels for me. I cried so much at one point and have already re-read a few scenes over again because I just wasn't ready to move on.  And that's why I think I'd give this book my So Obsessed With It rating – because it's been a few weeks and I'm still thinking about this couple. Plus, it's rare that I cry in books so it got extra points for that, too! I thoroughly enjoyed the series overall, but this is the book I'm most likely to return to in the future.

Before I knew it, I was picking up the final book in the series. I was the least excited for Only Beloved, but it's partly because it involves an older couple. And I know that I'm a terrible person for feeling that way, so you don't need to tell me. The Duke of Stanbrook is the man responsible for the Survivors Club because it was his home that brought everyone together. He didn't fight in the war, though he did lose his son during it, so he always felt like an outsider in the group for me. But I was excited when I realized that the heroine was Agnes' sister, Dora, from Only Enchanting. I couldn't wait for her to find love!

Although I liked it a little more than The Proposal, this was definitely one of the weakest books in the series for me. I can appreciate how the desire for a companion in life would motivate the Duke to seek out a wife, but it made the romance more boring for me. There are some Gothic, sinister vibes to the story, too, which I didn't love either. And I got frustrated by the lack of honest communication! The ending was sweet because it brought everyone back together, which I loved, so that at least helped the series close on a high note for me. I think I So Liked It, but I'd probably only re-read the epilogue.

And just like that, I finished this seven-book series! I don't think Balogh will appeal to every historical romance reader, but her style definitely works for me. I love the air of quiet domesticity, the way there's rarely anything super dramatic or outlandish happening in the plots, and how the characters' internal struggles drive much of what happens. It does make them somewhat slower reads from a pacing standpoint, but it doesn't bother me when I'm invested in the characters. They are romances, but it's easy for me to just skip over the sex scenes because they don't dominate the story. There's so much character development in these books, and the emotion is so earned by the end! SWOON.

What should I read next in my Balogh binge?

April 18, 2018

"I will not shatter, not again..."

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi was released back in 2011, not long before I created my blog. For a while, it felt like I was seeing it everywhere I turned! I sampled it at the bookstore one day but put it down after a few pages. I just couldn't handle the strikethroughs. And honestly, I hated the original cover.

A year later, the cover redesign caught my eye and made me want to give the series another try. The first few chapters were still iffy for me, but I soon found my groove and flew through the rest of the book. I fell in love with Mafi's characters and writing, which I talked about in my review

My love for the series grew with Unravel Me, and prompted me to write letters to the characters and author in lieu of a review. Looking back, I have to laugh at how much I got wrong after that first read! My feelings have changed so much.

And when Ignite Me came out, it absolutely shocked me. I re-read the series before that book and started noticing hints of things that I'd missed the first time around. I was thankful for the experience because it gave me new insight into the characters and a deeper appreciation for what the conclusion accomplished. It also sparked my longest-ever review because I had so many thoughts on the concept of perception

When I heard Mafi was returning to the series with a new three-book arc, I wasn't really sure how I felt about it. I knew I wanted to read the new book, Restore Me, to decide for myself... but I planned to go in with low expectations. Four years had passed since I'd last read the series, so I knew I wanted to re-read them all first. I blew through them in a few days, and I honestly don't know if I would have liked them as much if I was reading them for the first time right now! Y'all, there is a lot of emotional angst in these pages, and it can be a little exhausting. I still I loved them, but I did realize that this isn't a series I see myself returning to again and again.

Starting Restore Me was a nerve-wracking moment! I hadn't read anything about the plot beforehand, so I had no idea when it was set in relation to the end of Ignite Me. When I realized that it picked up just sixteen days after the events of the previous book, I was shocked. It felt a bit surreal – as if the series had been frozen in time, despite the four years of real life that had happened since it first concluded. But the world was never the focus of the series and has always remained vague, so I was immediately sucked back in to the emotional dilemmas and conflicts between characters.

I won't spoil anything for this book, but I am going to proceed assuming you know what happened prior to this one. As I already mentioned, Restore Me opens sixteen days after Juliette becomes Supreme Commander of Sector 45. Nothing has really happened since that fateful day, though everyone is waiting to see how the other sectors will react to the news (especially in light of Juliette's powers and her age). A big portion of this book is focused on the reality of leading versus the fantasy that Juliette imagined. As I'm sure you can imagine, she's a bit unprepared.

The book flips between Juliette and Warner's point of view. I loved Warner's perspective in Destroy Me, so I was excited to get inside his head more. And honestly, it turned out to be my favorite part of the book! He's such a fascinating character, and I loved the complexity of his emotions. We start to see some of his past in these pages – and the fact that there's a whole lot these two don't know about each other yet. It's hard falling in love, fighting evil and facing up to the fact that you don't know the first thing about foreign relations.

As with all the previous books in the series, the relationships and emotions are the most memorable aspects of the book. So, in that essence, this felt like a natural extension of the story that started years ago. At the same time, the world and the plot are still a bit thin. This book seemed to be laying the foundation for the next two books, so it took a long time before it really felt like anything was happening. I'd love to better understand a few things from the ending, which was action packed but vague on the details. I'm sure everything will be explained in time.

Overall, I was really happy with this story. I loved checking back in with these characters, and it was easy to get swept up in Mafi's emotional torment. I don't think the additional books needed to be written, but I'm still going to follow along to see what happens next. Before it existed, I liked to imagine Warner and Juliette confidently taking on the world after the end of Ignite Me. Honestly, this is not that story... but I have hope that they'll get there by the end of this new trilogy. And if not? Well, I can always pretend they don't exist.

So Quotable
“Who says you can’t be cute and kick ass at the same time?” Kenji winks at me. “I do it every day.”
Release Date: March 2018 | Publisher: HarperCollins; HarperTeen
Pages: 448 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover

April 13, 2018

“Live a life worth dying for.”

What can I say about this series that hasn't already been said?! Illuminae was incredibly hyped when it was released, but I wasn't interested in reading it because science fiction isn't my favorite genre. But I finally gave in to my curiosity last year and tried it when the audiobook went on sale. Y'all, I'm obsessed! I've already reviewed Illuminae and Gemina, so I won't spend too much time talking about them.

But I've got to reiterate that love for just a second because I just finished re-reading them both, only nine months after my first read. You know I think a story is excellent if I read it twice in a year! From the format of the physical book to the production of the audio, it's an immersive experience that is unlike anything else I've read! I couldn't wait to get my hands on the last book, though I dreaded the mayhem that I knew would ensue in their fight for justice. That's what prompted me to re-listen to the audios, even though they were still pretty fresh in my mind. I couldn't resist any opportunity to spend more with these characters. And honestly, the second time was even better!

Once I was done with my re-read, I was ready for Obsidio. Well, I was mentally ready... emotionally, not so much. As with the first two books, I listened to the audio but frequently referenced my physical copy so that I could look at the charts, drawings, and other things that make these books so unique. Y'all, these audiobooks are not to be missed! I love the full cast and can say with certainty that the audio added so much to my reading experience. I won't spoil anything about the story, but it lived up to all of my expectations. I really liked the new characters introduced and adored seeing everyone interact together. I love these talented, quick-thinking teenagers and their fight to be heard and remembered!

Obsidio introduces readers to a new couple with an interesting past, and I enjoyed getting to know them. I was slightly less invested in them than in the past couples, but I think that's partly because this book focuses more on the group as a whole. They just didn't standout in comparison! However, I loved that Asha (the new heroine) is just a regular person doing what she can. She isn't a talented hacker like Kady or a brilliant strategist like Hanna. To quote the book:
“But Asha Grant isn't a hacker wizard like her cousin. She's not a kung fu expert. She's not particularly brilliant at anything. She's a ----ing pharmacy intern, chum. Just a regular person like you. An ordinary person caught up in a really ----- situation. So I think, out of every person in these files, that makes her the bravest.”
Additionally, I liked that some of the conflict in this book involved the teens not being taken seriously by adult authority figures. It was interesting to see how they were underestimated and ignored – despite how they'd proven themselves in the first two books. They're fighting for justice, but they also have to fight to be heard. To prove that their voices and opinions matter. It's frustrating to see them ignored and belitted... but man, it's so amazing when they prove their worth.

You wouldn't think a space war would leave time for romance, but you would be wrong. There's some majorly swoonworthy moments in here! I loved that the romantic declarations felt earned. The high-stakes conflict made everything feel more emotionally significant. When you know life can end at any moment, you know you can't waste a moment of it. There were several times I skipped backwards on my audio so that I could re-listen to a particularly poignant moment or conversation. FEELS.

My only issue with the series worth mentioning? There's a significant amount of cursing, thought it's muted out in the audio and censored in the physical copy (your mind will probably fill in the blanks). However, the Lord's name is frequently taken in vain, something that's particularly noticeable on audio. It absolutely bothered me, so just be forewarned. 

I love this little band of badasses. And I'm honestly in awe of the way Kaufman and Kristoff take three different relationships (basically six protagonists) and three different conflicts and weave them into an overarching fight for justice that's cohesive, gripping and dynamic. Overall, the conclusion was so satisfying! As expected, it was an emotional rollercoaster. I'm still not sure I've recovered! I predict many re-reads of this series in my future, and I can't wait to find new things to love each and every time. If you've been hesitant based on the hype or the genre, I hope my experience will convince you to give these books a shot! I have a feeling they'll surprise you.

So Quotable
“I was thinking,” he murmurs. “There'a billion different versions of you out there, in a trillion different universes. And I still can't get over how lucky I am that, out of all those versions, you're the one that's mine.”
Released: October 2015; October 2016; March 2018 | Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 608 pages; 659 pages; 615 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover/Audiobook

April 6, 2018

Quick Lit: March 2018

I read 30 books in March – a record for me! I was on a major reading binge and didn't want to do anything else in the evenings. And that's the reason I barely posted anything on the blog in March, though I did manage to review Still Me by Jojo Moyes. If you're looking for more recommendations, check out the Quick Lit linkup hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.

I'm reviewing 9 of the 30 books in today's post, but I've got different plans for the others. In addition to the books below, I re-read Illumine and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff before moving on to Obsidio, which I'll have a full-length review for soon. I also re-read Shatter Me, Unravel Me, Unite Me and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi before flying through Restore Me. I wanted to talk about my experience re-reading that series + my thoughts on the newest, so that's coming soon (I hope haha!). Then, I devoured the Devil Riders series by Anne Gracie and Survivors' Club series by Mary Balogh – and decided to do something special for both. The last book I read was Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas, and I actually just forgot to add that to this post so I'll just include it in my next Quick Lit update. Okay, whew! 

THE DUKE AND I BY JULIA QUINN | At the beginning of the month, I found myself in the mood for some historical romance and decided to give the Bridgerton series a shot. It has a number of elements that sounded right up my alley, including a fake courtship that turns into something more, but it just didn't quite work for me. I hated the revenge element, and I was frustrated with the hero -- even though I knew I ought to feel more sympathetic. Then, the heroine does something infuriating and unacceptable... Although I liked the family and the humor, I was just So Okay With It overall. I was invested in the couple at all! And now I can't decide if I'll continue this series, but I am curious.

PRINCE IN DISGUISE BY STEPHANIE KATE STROHM | I love this cover and the summary definitely had my name written all over it, so I couldn't resist buying it when the Kindle edition went on sale. I was soon swept up in this delightful story! It combined so many fun things: Scottish castles, reality TV, pop culture references, complicated family dynamics and a sweet romance. It's a little cheesy/fluffy, but that didn't bother me. I laughed so much while I was reading, highlighted so many quotes and embraced the feeling of wish fulfillment that I got while reading. Teenage me would have eaten this story up -- and the adult me So Enjoyed It! Sometimes a cute, escapist read is just what you need.

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, THE CROWN OF EMBERS AND THE BITTER KINGDOM BY RAE CARSON | I didn't listen to any audiobooks in January or February, but I knew I needed to get back in the habit. I finally decided on a re-read of the Girl of Fire and Thorns series – which I'd read and loved back in 2013 but had never revisited. I was immediately drawn in my Jennifer Ikeda's narration, and I'd happily recommend the audiobooks for that aspect alone! But, thankfully, the characters make the story worth reading, too. I enjoyed Elisa's personal growth, swooned over the romance, gasped over the twists and turns in her journey and cheered over its resolution. I So Loved It

ROOMIES BY CHRISTINA LAUREN | As soon as I started this book, I found myself unable to stop until I'd finished reading it. I gravitate towards marriage of convenience stories in historical romance, so it's no surprise that I loved this modern twist! The characters were charming, the NYC setting was perfect, the banter was adorable, and the romance was swoony. What more can you ask for?! It read like a rom com, which was exactly what I needed at the time. Plus, I loved reading about characters in their 20s going through (mostly) relatable things. I found a few things a bit crude (that's my Southern side showing, I suppose) but that's just a disclaimer rather than a complaint. I So Enjoyed It

MARRY IN HASTE AND MARRY IN SCANDAL* BY ANNE GRACIE | I just recently read and reviewed Marry in Haste, but I decided to re-read it before Marry in Scandal to refresh my memory because I've read so many other historical romances since then. And sometimes they start to blend together! I don't have anything new to say about it aside from the fact that I So Loved It just as much the second time. Cal and Emm have such a sweet story, and I was glad I re-familiarized myself with the family history. And when I read the summary for the second book and realized the hero was Cal's friend? That made me all the more excited to find out what would happen next! I do love Gracie's rakes.

I was excited for sweet Lily to fall in love and reform the rake, but the biggest surprise of the book was the way she stands up for herself! Her brother, sister and niece have such strong personalities that for me she always faded into the background when they were around. She certainly displays her strengths in this book! I loved that she saved herself from a dangerous situation, helped the hero find peace with his past, and began to find her identity outside of her learning disability. I was a bit less in love with the hero -- but that's just because it took him a long time to let down his emotional walls. I wanted a bit more relationship development between them, too, but I still So Enjoyed It overall.

DEVIL IN SPRING BY LISA KLEYPAS | I enjoyed the Wallflowers series last year but wasn't sure I'd read more from Kleypas. Her stories are just a bit too sexy for me personally, which means I end up skimming/skipping parts, but I do love her characters. So, I've been torn. But when I found out that the third book in the Ravenels series involved the child of a Wallflower, I couldn't resist! Gabriel and Pandora are so dang adorable, and I was so invested in their relationship! I liked the unconventional heroine, the witty dialogue and the Wallflowers references and cameos. I don't think I'll read the other books in the series, but this one definitely ranks as a So Enjoyed It

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

What have you been reading lately?

April 5, 2018

March 2018: Recap + On My Shelves

I'm so excited for spring's return, though I haaaate all the pollen that's currently making it hard to enjoy being outside. But at least sunny days and warmer temps are finally here... if you're in the south, at least.

1. March Madness Wager – I never watch March Madness, but Kelly is legit obsessed. She convinced me to fill out a bracket, and we wagered on the perfect prize: the winner got to pick a planner product for the loser to gift them and got to "make" the loser read a book of their choice. And... I lost. Haha! But only by one game, so I didn't embarrass myself.

2. Puzzles & Playtime – It was a pretty quiet month around here. It was (mostly) too cold to be outside much, and Nick was traveling a decent amount. That meant lots of one-on-one time with my little boy! Whether we were putting together puzzles or riding the carousel at the mall (his latest love), we made precious memories. I love being his mom!

3. New Happy Planner Goodies – I've mentioned before that I've fallen in love with Happy Planners, and the obsession shows no signs of fading. I bought an undated Memory Planner and 2018-2019 Daily Planner + five new stickers books in March. Yes, I have a problem. I really do need to write a post about how I use my planners. Hopefully soon...

4. Adventuring in Athens – I wish I'd taken more photos from this day, but oh well. Nick and I both graduated from UGA (in Athens), and we live close enough that we occasionally go for a fun, nostalgic day trip. We went on a beautiful day and enjoyed walking downtown, reminiscing and eating at one of our favorite places there. 

Read 30 Books | Favorites:
Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi
Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Honorable Mentions:
Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Roomies by Christina Lauren
“She was a master of that prized Southern tradition of an insult so subtle you’d almost miss it.”
Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

“Perhaps that’s what happens when you meet someone you really quite like,” Jamie said thoughtfully.
“You both feel a bit as though you’ve tricked the other person into liking you.”
Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

 “When one had once suffered a great hurt, there was always a weakness afterward,
a vulnerability where there had been wholeness and strength before - and innocence.”
The Proposal by Mary Balogh

 “One should love from a position of wholeness.
One should have a firm and rich sense of self no matter what.
For there is always pain—it cannot be avoided in this life, more’s the pity.
But pain should not destroy the person who feels it.”
The Escape by Mary Balogh

 “We can never benefit today from the wisdom we will have gained tomorrow.”
Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

 “The trouble with running away is that you must always take yourself with you.”
Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

 “We are made up of everything we have ever been, Percy.
It is the joy and the pain of our individuality. There are no two of us the same.”
Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh

“I was thinking," he murmurs. "There'a billion different versions of you out there,
in a trillion different universes. And I still can't get over how lucky I am that,
out of all those versions, you're the one that's mine.”
Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

“Good God, she really did walk in circles.
A pang of tenderness centered in Gabriel’s chest like an ache.
He wanted all her circles to lead back to him.”
Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
I didn't meet my blogging goals in March; instead, I spent almost all of my free time reading! I finished 30 books during the month, and I think that's a record for me. I just couldn't stop! I neglected my blog because I was too busy reading. Oh well! There's always April, right? I do love a good reading binge, and this month's was epic.

So, I only posted four times in March. The first was the last day of my UK Recap Fit for a Queen event, which I counted as a February post in my February 2018 Recap. Then, I got my February 2018 Quick Lit posted in a timely manner. Take a look at that if you're interested in mini reviews of what I read that month! And finally, I shared a full-length review for Still Me by Jojo Moyes, a book I had no intention of reading until Kelly convinced me to give it a try.
1. Behind the Screen: A Book Blogger Tag by Lauren from Bookmark Lit – I love how often Lauren introduces me to new bookish tags! I haven't done any in ages but saved this one because I think it would be fun to fill out. 

2. 10 Audiobooks So Good You'll Want to... by Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy – I didn't save this one for the post itself but rather for all the recommendations mentioned in the 157 comments. I need to add some to my Audible wishlist!

3. 20+ Fun Activities for Kids While They Listen to Audiobooks by Janssen from Everyday Reading – My son isn't at this stage yet, but I hadn't thought about him eventually listening to a book while doing an activity. Saved for the future! 

Favorite Album: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
I've been eagerly awaiting this album, and it hasn't disappointed!
It came out at the end of the month, so it will be on repeat all April, too.

Favorite Song #1: "Chasing Fire" by Lauv
This was a Spotify recommendation for me, and I'm so glad.
I like a few other Lauv songs but always forget to look for new releases from him!

Favorite Song #2: "Good Kisser" by Lake Street Dive
I saw someone recommend this song in an Instagram story,
and now I'm obsessed! I can't stop listening.

Queer Eye, Season 1, starring Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski & Jonathan Van Ness –  I saw everyone talking about this show online, and I couldn't resist the hype. And oh man, it's so deserved! I don't watch a lot of reality TV, but this is exactly the kind I love to binge. It's funny, heartwarming and totally made me tear up a few times. I can't wait for the second season, and I've already pushed it on friends. Bonus? It was filmed in Georgia.

Felicity, Season 1, starring Keri Russell, Scott Speedman and Scott Foley – I almost didn't include this since it's a rewatch and I haven't quite finished the first season (since I keep picking up books instead of turning on the TV). But it still counts! I watched this show for the first time when I was in college, which was probably 10 years after the show aired. I've been so obsessed with it ever since! And I'm #TeamBen, OBVIOUSLY, forever and always.

Pre-Ordered: Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi and Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gift Card: Hand Lettering 101 & 201 by ChalkFullofLove and Hand Lettering for Relaxation by Amy Latta

Audible Credits/Sale: The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson, The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson and Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

NetGalley (Berkeley): Someone to Care by Mary Balogh and Marry in Scandal by Anne Gracie

NetGalley (Macmillan): The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo and Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez

Edelweiss (HarperCollins): My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

March 16, 2018

The "Me" Lou Needed to Be

 Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Release Date: January 29, 2018
Publisher: Penguin Random House; Pamela Dorman
Pages: 390 pages
Source & Format:
Series: Me Before You #3
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life. 

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Thoughts on Still Me
I read Me Before You not long after it was released — one of the first books that I requested and read for review! It became an all-time favorite for me, and I've always loved that I knew about the book before it became a bestseller. Despite its sadness, I loved that the ending allowed me to imagine all good things for Louisa Clark.

When After You came out, I was skeptical. I didn't think the first book needed a sequel, but I was also convinced that Moyes had good reason for continuing Lou's journey. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that way when I finished it. I found myself describing the book as boring, contrived, and depressing — which shocked me! Afterward, I imagined that Louisa Clark's story ended with Me Before You and that the events of the second book were just a bad dream.

When the third book was announced,  I honestly thought that Moyes was just milking the characters for money at that point. I knew exactly what I was going to do with Still Me: pretend it didn't exist. And then... While we were abroad, Kelly was reading it. And y'all, watching her cry happy tears in Waterstones and listening to her persuasive argument in favor of it made me curious enough to order a copy as soon as I got home. No one is more surprised than me about what I’m about to say next: I LOVED IT!

Still Me was an emotional end to Lou’s story, and it may even change my mind on the second book. After You will never be a favorite for me, but I think I can appreciate it more now that it exists within this three-book arc. While I still think that the story could have ended with the first book, I'm glad that the third book exists to provide closure for these characters.

In Me Before You, Will challenges Lou to make the most of her life because you only get one. And I think what made After You such a difficult read was seeing that not much had changed in Lou's life. It was realistic -- she was, after all, grieving. And major life change doesn't happen overnight! But man, it was rough to see her struggling.

What I immediately enjoyed about Still Me was the change in tone! Lou has moved to New York for a new job, and her earnest optimism is back in full force. It was a breath of fresh air! Throughout the course of the book, you get to watch her navigate a challenging workplace, settle in to an entirely new place and embrace a long-distance relationship with Ambulance Sam. So, her life isn't without its detours and dead-ends. But her confidence in herself and the courage she shows by taking chances made it such a delight to read!

There's such a great story of personal growth in these pages, and I can now see how the second book needed to exist to propel Louisa to this place in her life. Do I wish she could have jumped right over the rough patch in the middle? Absolutely. But I think I can appreciate that season more now that I've read the third book! It brought everything full circle, redeemed some of my least favorite aspects of After You and was the perfect emotional resolution.

I didn't enjoy everything about this story (a few aspects were just a bit too reminiscent to Me Before You). but I truly loved it overall. I haven't talked very much about what actually happens in the book because I think that's best left for you to discover. But I'm happy to say that Louisa Clark is back and better than ever! I look forward to re-reading all three books in the future now that I know that the ending delivers the heartfelt, hopeful future that Lou deserved.

So Quotable
“I had a choice. I was Louisa Clark from New York or Louisa Clark from Stortfold. Or there might be a whole other Louisa I hadn’t yet met. The key was making sure that anyone you allowed to walk beside you didn’t get to decide which you were, and pin you down like a butterfly in a case. The key was to know that you could always somehow find a way to reinvent yourself again.”

March 8, 2018

Quick Lit: February 2018

I read 12 books in February, and I'm reviewing six of those in today's post! If you're looking for more book recommendations, check out the Quick Lit linkup that's hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.

In February, I talked about my favorite reads from January -- the Rose Trilogy by Jennifer Donnelly. And once I got home from my trip to the UK, I reviewed the books I read abroad. That accounts for three of the February reads that aren't included in today's post. My full review of Still Me by Jojo Moyes is coming soon, and I'll review  Making Up by Lucy Parker and How to Walk Away by Katherine Center a little closer to their release dates. So, let's chat about the other six!

IF YOU ONLY KNEW BY JAMIE IVEY | Ivey is the creator and host of The Happy Hour Podcast, but I actually heard about this book on The Popcast. I didn't know anything about the author prior to reading this book, but I can't resist a good memoir! In If You Only Knew, Ivey tells every part of her story -- including the messy parts that fear and shame have always told her to hide. While I thought the writing left a lot to be desired, I absolutely loved Ivey's vulnerability and message. She brings every part of her story back to the gospel -- focusing on the freedom she's found in Christ and the way God has redeemed every part of her story. I So Enjoyed It because there is so much truth in these pages.

SURPRISE ME BY SOPHIE KINSELLA* | After loving Kinsella's My Not So Perfect Life, I couldn't wait to dive into her newest release! I'm not sure if my expectations were too high, but I ended up being a bit disappointed with Surprise Me. The premise didn't really appeal to me, but I expected Kinsella to infuse it with her trademark humor and relatable characters. Unfortunately, that wasn't really the case. The first half felt very long, and I eyerolled a lot at the over-the-top hijinks. The second half was better, and I loved the theme at the heart of the story, but the tone was much more serious. It was so disjointed -- like two books combined into one, unsuccessfully. I was So Okay With It.

PRETTY FACE BY LUCY PARKER | After I finished reading Act Like It, I couldn't wait to get home and buy the second book in the series! And y'all, that was an excellent life choice. I loved the first just a tiny bit more because it's one of my favorite tropes, but this book definitely solidified Parker as one of my new favorite authors. I'm obsessed with Parker's writing, snarky sense of humor, and slow-burn romances. Best of all, she proved once again that she can introduce just the right amount of drama and resolve it in a really satisfying way. I loved Luc and Lily, swooned over their romance and didn't mind the age difference one bit. Plus, the theater setting was just so fascinating! I So Loved It.

FAKING FRIENDS BY JANE FALLON | I picked this up when I spotted it on sale at a bookstore in Oxford, and I decided to purchase it because the part I sampled was so promising. I was immediately intrigued! When the heroine finds out that her fiancé is having an affair -- with her BFF! -- she decides to get revenge. And for the first half of the book, I was entertained! And then... things took a turn with the addition of a new POV. Y'all, I hated the second half on every level. I kept forgetting the heroine and her friend were 40 years old because they acted so juvenile. The friendship was toxic, the story was tedious and the character were completely unlikeable. I'm So Over It. Ugh!

ONE PLUS ONE BY JOJO MOYES | After my previous read was a dud, I decided to re-read an old favorite to cleanse my palate. Kelly chose One Plus One from my stack of options, and I was so glad she did! I  loved it so much the first time I read it, but I'd never revisited it. And that was four years ago! As soon as I started, I couldn't put it down. I adore these characters and was so emotionally invested in their journey. And who can resist a good road trip story?! I laughed out loud and cried a little, too. I'm not usually a fan of multiple narrators, but it's used to great effect here. The only thing I'd change? The fact that it ended! I wanted more time with these characters because I'm So Obsessed With It

HAPPINESS FOR HUMANS BY P.Z. REIZIN | I was drawn to this book every time Kelly and I saw it on our trip, but I just couldn't justify buying a hardcover that I knew nothing about. Then, Kelly found a copy for £3 at a tiny used bookstore and surprised me with it! This is a story about what happens when Artificial Intelligence becomes just a bit too smart... and possibly develops emotional intelligence, too. This romantic comedy was such a fun read! However, it made me sideeye all the technologial devices in my house. The writing was fun, made me laugh and didn't overwhelm me with the slight sci fi angle. I think it could have been shortened a bit, but I definitely So Enjoyed It. And I love this UK cover!

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

What have you been reading lately?
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