When a Loss Becomes a Win

May 21, 2018

I've never really been a sports fan, but March Madness is practically a holiday for Kelly. To each their own, right? Well, in an attempt to bring me into the cult, Kelly suggested a little wager. She persuaded me to fill out a bracket with the promise that whichever one of us got the most winners correct would get a prize. What reward could tempt my sports-hating heart? A planner accessory of the winner's choice, courtesy of the loser. I decided to add a little bookishness to the bet and suggested that the winner would also be able to chose any book for the loser to read – with a deadline, of course. I ended up losing (BY ONE GAME!) but had fun checking scores and following some of the tournament's best stories.

Throughout the month, Kelly and I discussed what book might we might choose if we won. So, I wasn't surprised when she delivered the news: I'd be reading The Tudor Legacy Trilogy by Laura Andersen. It's an alternate history trilogy that imagines what would have happened if Queen Elizabeth I had married and had a daughter. It's a companion to the Boleyn Trilogy, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago after Kelly recommended them. She's been begging me to read this Tudor series ever since, but she knew that I wasn't super motivated to do it. The Boleyn books were fun, but I had gotten a little tired of the angst by the end.

She was smart to use my loss as an opportunity to make me pick up this series because I honestly don't know when I would have gotten around to it. And oh my goodness, I would have been missing out! She swore up and down that these would be a better fit for me, and I should have trusted her. She nailed it with this recommendation! I'm so glad our silly wager "forced" me to give this series a chance because it's a new favorite for me. Let me tell you why!

The series starts with The Virgin's Daughter, which introduces the main characters for the series. Elizabeth's daughter, Annabel, is one of them – as are the four adult children of Dominic and Minuette Courteney. The parents were introduced in the Boleyn books, but you don't have to read that series to appreciate and enjoy this one. However, I am glad I had their backstory! Elizabeth knows that her daughter could become a political pawn, and she's aware of a growing threat from people who resent her Protestant rule. In order to uncover who is behind the possible treason, she enlists the help of her childhood friends and their children. And so begins this series...

The Virgin's Daughter is slightly different than the other two books because it primarily focuses on Lucette, Dom and Minuette's eldest daughter. She has a head for puzzles and is sent to France in the hopes that she can help unravel a mystery brewing there. I'll be honest – this book is my least favorite in the series. I won't spoil anything, but I wasn't crazy about the romance and found the mystery a little too predictable. 

However, Andersen brought the time period to life, and it was evident that she'd really researched history. She might be inventing an alternate version of it, but you can see how much it's grounded in fact about life during Elizabeth's reign. My favorite aspect was getting to see the Courteney family interact. The characters intrigued me from the very beginning! And I could see where Andersen was laying the foundation for the conflict that was to come, which I appreciated. I So Liked It, but it didn't wow me. Thankfully, I dove right into the second book – and that's when the series stole my heart!

The Virgin's Spy is centered around Stephen, Dom and Minuette's eldest son and heir. The constant comparisons to his father have left Stephen yearning to prove himself, and so he accepts a position in Ireland. I know almost nothing about Ireland during that time period, but I was immediately swept up in the story. And though Stephen is at the heart of the book, I loved how deftly Andersen switched between the various characters and their storylines. The conflict and relationship dynamics that were established in the first book begin to come to fruition in this one, and it made for a gripping read.

I thought it was a more fast-paced story and couldn't put it down! It might be due to the fact that I was more invested in Stephen and in the twins, Pippa and Kit, than I ever was in Lucette. I don't know why I just never connected with her! Regardless, I loved the friendships, the hints of romance, the complexity of the tension in the dual roles of mother/daughter and Queen/Princess that is explored more in this book. The political intrigue was definitely exciting in this book, but it's the characters that made it a favorite.

One of the reasons that I love historical fiction is the way it brings the past to life. Instead of reading that a rebellion happened in so-and-so years and resulted in such-and-such political appointment, I get to experience the desperation and the hope as if I was there. I get to see a man at war with duty and reality, a mother bent on revenge, a young woman of cunning intellect but limited authority who makes the most of every opportunity presented to her. Dull facts are transformed into fictional people who feel real in my mind. Andersen took a time period that I'm only mildly interested in and made it come to life! I So Loved It and picked up the last book, praying it wouldn't let me down.

I'll be honest: I was so nervous to start The Virgin's War. I'd been shocked by the depth of my love for the second book, and I thought there was no way the third could top it. However, I texted Kelly before I started telling her, "If ______ ends up with ______, I'll give this book 5 stars just for fulfilling all my shipping dreams!" She responded with 5 gold star emojis. Haha! But guess what? This book truly earned a full five-star rating for me – and not just because my romantic dreams came true. I read this late into the night, and experienced every possible emotion. I laughed, swooned, raged and legit cried over the twists and turns. I marveled at how invested I was in these characters... and how much I already wanted to re-read.

I don't want to say anything about the plot because I think it's best if you discover it for yourself, but I will note that Andersen builds upon the foundation she laid in the first two books and delivers a stunning and satisfying story of love, honor, power and duty. From the deep bond of friendship to the complexity of family, this book stole my heart. There are so many things I loved about this series, but my character-development-loving heart has to focus on that aspect. I just love these people, and they AREN'T EVEN REAL!

I'm somewhat interested in this time period, but Andersen made me love it. I raced through the story because the high stakes and deeply divided forces made for fascinating reading. I loved that Andersen really depicted the fact that England was struggling on multiple fronts with threats and tension in Ireland, France, Spain and within their own borders. Power comes with a price, and that was evident in this series. Honestly, I might joke that I'd like to be a Queen but I don't have the stomach for this level of political maneuvering. I was stressed just reading about it!

But, in case you can't tell, I was so happy when I finished The Virgin's War and realized that I could firmly declare that I was So Obsessed With It. That's how a loss truly becomes a win! I've chatted before about how I'm sometimes hesitant to read books that people have recommended, even when it's someone I trust  – like Kelly! But this experience was a reminder that I need to keep an open mind because I never know when a book will surprise me. And I hope this loooong review/ramble will convince YOU to give these books a shot. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction or in search of some character to ship, there's so much waiting for you in these pages!

So Quotable
“I don't know if I'm brave enough for this–”
“Then I shall be brave enough for both of us.” – The Virgin's Daughter

“No one in this world, man or woman, always gets everything the way they want. A wise person takes to circumstance with an open mind.” – The Virgin's Spy

“The only way to have a life without pain, my darling girl, is to also have a life without love. And that is no life at all. ” – The Virgin's War

Royal Wedding Fever? 15 Ways to Treat Yourself!

May 19, 2018

I've been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember, and that's led to a bit of an obsession with the British Royal Family. Whether it's reading news coverage or watching cheesy Lifetime movies, I just can't resist a royal romance! I have such great memories of watching William and Kate's wedding with my roommates. It was my senior year of college, and my own wedding was just a few months later. It's hard to believe that was seven years ago! Since Prince Harry is marrying Meghan Markle today at Windsor Castle, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a little gift guide. If you've got a royal wedding fever, you might as well treat yourself:

1. Royal Bingo ($25)
I don't really like playing games, but it would be hard to resist this fun twist on a traditional one! All the European royal families are represented, plus you can learn more about each person in the accompanying booklet.

2. Royal Wedding Tea Towel: Flags & Flowers ($16)
Tea towels are apparently a traditional way to commemorate special occasions in Britain, which I find absolutely charming. I'm obsessed with the design on this one and totally want to order it for myself – if only I had a use for it!

3. Milly Green Royal Wedding Mug ($20)
There are so many fun mug options available online, but I had to go with this fine bone china one with watercolor illustrations. The wedding symbols are adorable, and the other side has "H.R.H. Harry & Meghan" + 2018 on it.

4. OPI "Dating a Royal Blue" Nail Lacquer ($9)
I was going to go with a more "bridal" nail color, but I couldn't resist including this royal blue when I saw the name. Enjoy painting your nails this bright color and celebrate the fact that the royal family can't veto it on you.

5. Prince Harry & Meghan Markle: The Wedding Album ($25)
There are already a number of Harry and Meghan biographies (as individuals and as a couple) published, but I'd be more inclined to pre-order this book that will, I assume, feature tons of photographs of their wedding.

6. Fortnum & Mason Wedding Breakfast Tea ($16)
It's basically a given that you've got to toast to the new couple with a delicious cup of tea, right? Fortnum & Mason have been supplying tea to the royal houses for more than 300 years, so they're the obvious choice here.

7. Harrods Glitter London Cosmetic Bag ($25)
Harry and Meghan are getting married at Windsor Castle, but who can resist a little London glam in their life? There are lots of wedding-inspired tote bags available, but I think this cosmetic bag is a more playful choice.

8. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan ($9) 
If you only buy one royals-inspired book, make it this one! It's inspired by William and Kate, but the heroine is an American. It's one of my all-time favorites and will definitely help you keep the wedding fever alive. 

You can get a Funko Pop for six different members of the British Royal Family, but I think Queen Elizabeth II is the clear winner! I mean, do you see that accompanying corgi?! They'll both spice up your shelf and keep you in line!

You can stream this show on Netflix, but I had to include it. If you want to learn more about Queen Elizabeth II, here's your introduction. (Or you could watch The Prince and Me for "Prince falls for a commoner" feels.)

I was going to pick some Union Jack socks, but then I died laughing when I found this Kate Middleton-inspired pair. I love this cheeky play on words! If Queen Elizabeth II is more your style, they've got you covered

While I can't imagine hanging anything Harry & Meghan related in my home, I do think this is super cute! I love the nod to When Harry Met Sally and the movie poster vibes, especially since Meghan is an actress.

13. Buckingham Palace Puzzle ($12)
If you don't live in a palace, why not build one on the closest table? I'd love to pop across the pond for a quick visit, but I could console myself with this puzzle... and take a selfie in front without fighting the crowds. Haha!

14. Princess Diana, Kate & Meghan T-Shirt ($23)
As with mugs, there are so many t-shirt options available online. This is the first that caught my eye, and I'm definitely partial to this color. This shirt was a very close second, however, and I love the lettering on it.

15. USA and United Kingdom Flag Pin ($4)
This flag pin is very significant to the couple in The Royal We (and was in my gift guide inspired by that book), so it seemed fitting to include it on this list, too. And now I want to re-read that book for the third time...

Did you watch the royal wedding?
Are you obsessed with the royals? Let's discuss!

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #4

May 18, 2018

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. I love this kind of content so much that I started highlighting my loves and lusts with seasonal So Obsessed With posts. I haven't shared one in a while, but I've got the summer edition coming soon! But I forgot that I'd intended to share "mini editions," too. So, here are five things I'm so obsessed with lately:

Along for the Ride

May 17, 2018

Back in March, I found myself craving some historical romance. Anne Gracie immediately came to mind, and I just so happened to have her Devil Riders series on my shelves. After loving her Merridew Sisters and Chance Sisters series, I had high hopes for these older releases. But I was a little nervous because I saw that they weren't quite as highly rated as some of her other books. Well, I had nothing to fear! 

I don't know if it was my mood or that I just had lower expectations going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed this series. Unlike the other books I've read from her, this series is centered on four men who became friends during the Napoleonic War (plus a fifth man who is a family relation) and have since returned home. I'll keep my thoughts brief, but here's the gist of it: I think Gracie is so underrated, and this series was a total gem! That's the main thing you need to know. Now, if you'd like a few more thoughts on each book, keep reading:

The series starts with The Stolen Princess, which features a princess and her son on the run in disguise. They're from a fictional country, and I liked that Gracie didn't use a place – though it added a tiny bit of "fairy tale" feeling to the story. The hero is the estranged younger son of an earl, and I loved the way he wanted to protect the heroine. He was too overbearing for me, but the heroine did call him out! The secondary characters stole the show, however, and got me excited for the rest of the series. It wasn't my favorite of the bunch, but I So Liked It overall.

His Captive Lady was my favorite of the series, and I can still remember entires scenes from it weeks later. With my terribly bookish memory, that's saying something! The hero is the illegitimate son of an earl, and he's got so many mental and emotional scars from his upbringing. My heart broke for him, and I loved that he fell in love with someone who was the opposite of what he wanted for himself. Her backstory made me cry, and I was so invested in their relationship. I couldn't put this book down, and I'm already anxious to re-read it. I So Loved It, obviously.

I'd been looking forward to To Catch a Bride because the hero was one of my favorites, and then I was surprised by the change in setting. A large portion of it takes place in Egypt, and I found that part very slow. Everything changed once the characters got on a ship headed back to England, and the last half redeemed the more boring beginning for me. I did like the spirit of adventure that pervaded the story, and it was interesting to see a change in location. The romance made me swoon enough that I can say I So Enjoyed It, but it had to grow on me.

When I picked up The Accidental Wedding, I was surprised to see that the hero wasn't the fourth friend/solider. Instead, it was a sibling of two of the other heroes... and I honestly had to get over a bit of disappointment because I wasn't interested in him. He got better with time, but he's the reason this one was my least favorite in the series. The heroine was a sweetheart, and I got frustrated by the way he was treating her. I'm getting annoyed again thinking about it. I So Liked It because the heroine and her siblings were precious, but this guy didn't deserve her.

Oh man, what a great way to end this series! Bride by Mistake is basically tied with the second book as my favorite in the series, and I loved almost everything about it. This one is primarily set in Spain, and I adored the description of the setting. The premise of the story had me immediately invested, and Gracie delivered on all the emotions. I loved this couple, and it was fun to see them butt heads. This heroine was the perfect match for the hero, and I swooned (and laughed! and cried!) multiple times. I So Loved It and am so glad I finished this series on a high note.

Objectively, I think I can see why this series isn't as popular as some of Gracie's others. But I was a huge fan – and it just cemented my love for her writing and characters! I flew through all my five books and immediately convinced Kelly to read them all, too. Thankfully, she can second my recommendation if you need another push to give them a try. They aren't perfect, but they were just right for my mood. If you're a historical romance fan, give them a shot!

Quick Lit: April 2018

May 14, 2018

I read 21 books in April, and I'm chatting about 12 of them (+ two pre-April reads) in today's post. You may remember that I read 30 books in March. I chatted about many of them in my March Quick Lit and then reviewed several individually in April: Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi, and the Survivors' Club series by Mary Balogh. I've just got one series review to write and then I'll be caught up on March!

As for April, I've got reviews forthcoming for two more series: Mary Balogh's Huxtable quintet and Laura Andersen's Tudor Legacy trilogy. I binged both and the latter was a new favorite! I also fell in love with My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, but I plan to do something special to push that book on more people. So, stay tuned!

HOW TO WALK AWAY BY KATHERINE CENTER* | I adored Center's Happiness for Beginners, so I was eagerly anticipating this new novel! I didn't know much about this story before starting (and won't spoil it), but I was surprised by the direction it took. My mom often reminds me that you can't change what happens in life but can control how you react to it. This book exemplified that idea! Despite the heavy story, Center managed to infuse it with a lot of humor (without downplaying the tragedy). I loved the family relationships, the heroine's mindset, and the loveably gruff romantic interest. It felt a bit predictable, but it was engaging and I So Enjoyed It.  

AGAIN THE MAGIC BY LISA KLEYPAS | When Kelly told me about this prequel to the Wallflowers series, I knew I had to check it out for myself. Marcus was my favorite hero, so I was dying to know more about his sisters and their love stories! While the book was immediately engaging and my heart broke for the couple when they're initially torn apart, I hated the hero's quest for revenge and the heroine's inability to be honest with him. I couldn't really get into the romance because I wanted to scream, "GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY!" It was a promising story, but I had issues with it the longer I thought about it. I'm So Okay With It but wouldn't re-read it because the angst drove me crazy.

SCARLET, LADY THIEF AND LION HEART BY A.C. GAUGHEN | After tearing through audio re-reads of two series last month, I decided to continue the trend with this favorite that I read back in 2015. I was immediately sucked back into the story, and I loved narrator Helen Stern's performance of Scarlet's dialect. This is an example of what I hope for in a re-read – it was just as emotionally impactful as my first read, and I enjoyed it overall just as much as the first time. The second is still my favorite (by far) and the ending of the third is weak, but I was satisfied overall. If you're interested in a Robin Hood retelling that's an emotional roller coaster, this series fits the bill! I So Loved It.

DATING YOU / HATING YOU BY CHRISTINA LAUREN | After falling in love with Roomies, I wanted to try something else from this duo. I reached for this one and quickly devoured it! Carter and Evie immediately hit it off when they first meet... and then they end up competing for the same job. My favorite thing about the book was the way it explored sexism in the workplace. I couldn't wait for the awful boss to get his comeuppance! But I was also pleased with the hilarious pranks, the hate-to-love vibes, the friendships and the way everything concluded. It occasionally felt a bit slow, but I So Liked It and would recommend it to anyone looking for a romance with workplace drama.

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS BY CHRISTINA LAUREN | I couldn't wait to get my hands on this duo's first women's fiction release, and I had high hopes that it would be a favorite. Things got off to a great start  – I was sucked in to their writing, invested in the characters and a big fan of the Now/Then dual timeline. But as the book built to the "big reveal" of what tore the couple apart more than a decade ago, I had my suspicions on what it would be and was disappointed when I was right. It felt emotionally manipulative, and I strongly disliked the timing of the reveal. I think I'd say that I So Liked It overall, but that's with reservations because I truly did have issues with the plot.

WHITE NIGHT BY ELLIE MARNEY | I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book because I loved Marney's Every series and No Limits. Although the summary didn't appeal to me, I trusted this author enough to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I wasn't the right reader for this story. I still appreciated the writing style, but I had issues with the believability of the characters and the predictability of the plot. I'm not sure if it's because stories involving cults don't appeal to me or just the fact this particular cult focused on sustainability (a topic I have zero interest in), but I would have DNFed this book early on if it was written by anyone else. It pains me to say that I was So Over It.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? BY SOPHIE KINSELLA | After finishing two disappointing books in a row, I wanted to read something that I knew would make me happy. And, unsurprisingly, Sophie Kinsella came to mind. I may have read this one years ago, but I definitely didn't remember anything in it. I loved the opening so much – and the rest of the book lived up to the hilarious beginning! The heroine was so lovable, and I totally sympathized with her horror when she realized the stranger who heard all her secrets is actually her company's CEO. So many hilarious and awkward moments ensue! I So Enjoyed It and can see myself re-reading it any time I need a little cheering up.

THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS BY SOPHIE KINSELLA | I decided to just binge Kinsella's standalones, which was a good life choice! Her books require a bit of suspension of disbelief and a willingness to accept some zany situations, but that doesn't really bother me. This one is probably my least favorite of her books that I just read, and it's partly because it's hard to reconcile someone who is (mostly) brilliant at work being so incompetent in their personal life. I know it can be realistic, but it made it hard for me to fully connect with this heroine. There are definitely funny moments, but they were just a little too over-the-top for me. But the book was still cute overall, and I So Liked It.

REMEMBER ME? BY SOPHIE KINSELLA | This book – about a women who wakes up and has no memory of the last three years of her life – felt like a funnier and less dramatic version of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. I think Alice had more depth, but this is what I'd reach for if I wanted to laugh, even as I panicked imagining being in a similar situation. I love how Kinsella uses this story to highlight how "having it all" doesn't necessarily mean you're happy. I couldn't put it down because I was dying to know how the heroine got to this point, and the reveal didn't disappoint. And this romance worked for me, even though we mostly learned about it in retrospect. I So Enjoyed It.

I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER BY SOPHIE KINSELLA | I was pretty sure that I'd read the previous Kinsella books at some point in the past, but I knew I hadn't read this before. And I'm so glad my binge (and Kelly's recommendation) prompted me to pick it up! I think it might be my favorite of the bunch. I loved the heroine, and I was dying over my feels at the ending. I think I sent Kelly a few all caps texts because I couldn't keep my swoons to myself! I thought the book looked long before I started it, but it never felt that way while I was reading. I kept telling myself I'd stop after just one more chapter, but I never did. I So Enjoyed It and re-reading might bump it up to Loved.

A TREACHEROUS CURSE BY DEANNA RAYBOURN | I loved the first book in this series but struggled with the second. I knew this one would determine whether or not I'd continue the series, and I'm happy to report that it far exceeded my expectations! I listened to the audio and immediately remembered why I'm a fan of this narrator. But I soon realized that I was hooked on the mystery, too, and didn't want to stop listening! After my issues with the second book, that was such a relief. I loved the developments between Stoker and Veronica and cannot wait to get my hands on the fourth book. This was such a great addition to the series, and I So Loved It. NOW GIMME MORE.

A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN BY SARAH J. MAAS | After finished my previous audio, I couldn't decide what I wanted to listen to next. I'd planned on starting something new to me, but I kept thinking about this book. I decided to embrace the re-read! It's 25 hours long and I started only a few days before the release of A Court of Frost and Starlight, so I assumed there was no way I'd finish in time. WRONG. I listened to this entire book in a day and a half, and I was so sad when it was over. I loved the story even more the second time, and I honestly think this might be my favorite in the series. Maybe? I don't know – it's too hard to choose! But I'm obviously So Obsessed With 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.

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