A Flicker of Hope in the Night

May 30, 2018

At the end of April, I finished several stellar audiobooks and couldn't decide what to listen to next. As I was scrolling through my Audible account, A Court of Wings and Ruin caught my eye. I decided to embrace my re-read mood! With only a few days before the release of the follow-up novella, I figured there was no way I'd finish all 25 hours in time. Well, I was WRONG. I listened to the whole book in a day and a half and loved every minute of it. And the best part? My notoriously bad memory needed that refresher on how everything ended.

So, I picked up A Court of Frost and Starlight with so much excitement. I'd been looking forward to it from the moment I'd first heard about it, though I was a little sad to learn it wasn't a full-length novel. But I'll never turn down more time with the Inner Circle! I knew it was meant to bridge the time between the end of the ACOTAR trilogy and the start of the upcoming spin-off trilogy. But I had no idea what that might entail!

The focus of the book is on Rhysand, Feyre, and their friends and family as the Winter Solstice approaches. There's a fun, festive atmosphere that pervades the book, even though everyone is still emotionally reeling from the war. If you're looking for holiday shopping and cold weather feels, you've come to the right place! There are hilarious moments involving decorating and centuries-old traditions, but there are also heavy moments of grief and anger. These characters have experienced something traumatic, and each one responds differently.

This book has unexpected friendships and growing distance between people who are clearly MADE FOR EACH OTHER. I loved the camaraderie between most of the characters, and my heart broke over the barriers that still exist between some of them. My poor babies just need to talk it out and let go of their baggage. And I think the reason I loved this book so much is because I'm so invested in these characters. I'm here for whatever's next!

A Court of Frost and Starlight read like an extended epilogue, in my opinion. There isn't a lot of conflict or a big climactic moment, so I'm not shocked to see it's gotten mixed reviews. If you love the series, I think you'll want to read it anyway – and will probably still enjoy it. But if you're growing tired of Rhysand and Feyre, I doubt this will be reignite your love for them since it's primarily wrapping up their story (with one hint about their future).

I'm so glad this book exists because I was so happy reading it, but I wouldn't argue that it's necessary. Nice to have? Absolutely! I loved the series of vignettes, the multiple POVs, and the promise of what's to come. I'm so intrigued about where things are headed! I'm anxious to see how everyone processes their trauma from the war, and I'm already anticipating a lot of pain in the journey to healing. TEARS. In addition to the relational conflicts, you can tell there's unrest brewing in the world of the Night Court. It's going to take a lot of work to move forward!

As soon as I was done reading it, I wanted to start it all over again. And don't even get me started on that teaser for the next book at the very end! MY HEART CANNOT TAKE IT. I'm giving this book my full So Obsessed With It rating because I loved it that much for what it was. It's not perfect (and I'll forever have reservations over the sexual content in this series), but my heart is in it until the end. But I'm in no rush to get there!
Release Date: May 1, 2018; Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 227 pages; Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover & Audiobook

Eight Highly-Rated Books I Didn't Like

May 28, 2018

I was recently inspired by Cristina from Girl in the Pages and shared eight low-rated books I enjoyed. She also talked about highly-rated books she was underwhelmed by, and I couldn't wait to share my own answers! I sorted my Goodreads Read shelf by average rating and looked for books with an average rating of 4.0+ that I'd given 3 stars or less. For me, a 3.5 star rating means I So Liked It and 3 stars means I was So Okay With It. So, I didn't necessarily dislike every book in this post... but I didn't like them either! Here's what I found:

1. IT ENDS WITH US BY COLLEN HOOVER [Average Rating: 4.41 • My Rating: 3] – This was my first book from Hoover, and I had a rocky relationship with it. I read 100 pages, planned to DNF it, and then picked it back up because I wanted to know how it ended. I thought it was gripping and emotional but really uneven, too. I had more issues with it the longer I thought about it. I think this type of book just isn't the right fit for me.

2. ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE BY TAMORA PIERCE [Average Rating: 4.27 • My Rating: 3] – This is the only book on this list that I debated including because I didn't dislike it! It was the definition of "meh" for me. In my review, I talked about the four factors that were probably working against it when I read it and mentioned that I was curious how I'd feel about the rest of the series. Except I realize now that I have no intention of continuing...

3. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN [Average Rating: 4.25 • My Rating: 2] – BLECH. This book was trying too hard on every level, and I felt like I was seeing the man behind the curtain on every page. Green's voice and style overwhelmed every aspect of this book for me, and it is decidedly not to my taste. It felt contrived and manipulative, and I still eyeroll when I think about it. I'm definitely in the minority here, and it happens.

4. THE RUBY CIRCLE BY RICHELLE MEAD [Average Rating: 4.22 • My Rating: 3] – Aw, this book made me really sad! After I got sucked in (lol) to the Vampire Academy series, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved this spin-off series even more. But this was my least favorite in the series, which is a disappointing way to end a six-book series. It felt rushed, cheesy, and boring. I still have (mostly) fond feelings for the series, but I'd never re-read it.

5. THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID [Average Rating: 4.19 • My Rating: 1] – My dislike for this book may have been influenced by my expectations for it. I considered Reid a favorite author, but nothing about this book would have led me to think it came from her if it didn't have her name on the cover. I hated the characters, the heavy-handedness, and how everything unfolded. I'm sad I disliked it so much!

6. THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER [Average Rating: 4.19 • My Rating: 3] – This book wasn't on my radar until I keep seeing it on a ton of "Best of 2016" lists, so I treated myself to it when the Kindle edition went on sale. I immediately liked the Gothic vibe, the setting and Zenter's writing style... but I didn't care at all about the characters and had no emotional investment. And this storyline just doesn't deliver if you're not connected to the people in it.

7. THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN BY KATE MORTON [Average Rating: 4.13 • My Rating: 2] – I know that Kate Morton is a beloved author, so I'm sorry to say that this book put her on my "I don't want to ever read anything else from this author" list. I was enjoying it for a while... until I didn't. I thought it was poorly executed on every level, which I discussed a lot in my original review. And honestly, I think this helped cement my overall dislike of dual timelines.

8. THE SUMMER GARDEN BY PAULLINA SIMONS [Average Rating: 4.12 • My Rating: 1] – This book is complete and utter garbage, and I rebuke all the demonic forces that led to it having an average rating this high! Okay, okay... too strong? But seriously, this was one of the absolute worst series endings I've ever read. I slogged through 752 pages that trashed beloved characters and glorified a completely toxic relationship. I now pretend it doesn't exist.

What highly-rated books did you dislike?
Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Eight Low-Rated Books I Enjoyed

May 25, 2018

I recently saw Cristina from Girl in the Pages do this post and knew I wanted to join in! I hopped over to Goodreads, sorted my "read" shelf by average rating, and looked for books that fit the bill. I stuck with eight, like Cristina, because I wanted to make sure I focused on books I gave a four or five star rating. I planned to define "low average rating" as 3.55 or below – but I went up to 3.64 because it gave me more variety. Here's what I found:

1. BITTERSWEET BY MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE [Average Rating: 3.44 • My Rating: 4] – This book completely shocked me! I found it suspenseful, cinematic, and thought the author really captured the vibe of a Gothic mystery. I was a little surprised by the average rating because I remember being hooked, but I don't read a lot from this genre so perhaps I was more easily impressed. I have no plans to re-read, however, so who knows how I'd feel now.

2. COCOA BEACH BY BEATRIZ WILLIAMS [Average Rating: 3.47 • My Rating: 4] – I'm sad Beatriz Williams qualified for this list. I was definitely surprised that this book's average is so low! This is more of a psychological thriller, and I know that's a departure for Williams. I wouldn't disagree that it's one of her weakest, but I still really enjoyed it overall. The tension just built and built to a conclusion that left me shook, as I told Kelly.

3. SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE BY LAUREN GRAHAM [Average Rating: 3.5 • My Rating: 4.5] – Was my love for this book influenced by my obsession with Gilmore Girls? Maaaaaybe. Did I feel more invested because I could relate to the heroine overanalyzing everything? That's a strong possibility! But for whatever reason, I just really loved this book. I think it was begging for a sequel, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment in the least.

4. THE FIRST HUSBAND BY LAURA DAVE [Average Rating: 3.53 • My Rating: 4] Kelly recently read this book, and I prefaced my recommendation with fact that it's been seven years since I read it. This was my very first book review on the blog, and my taste has changed so much since then. But I have fond memories of it and intend to re-read it soon! I'm hoping that I still enjoy it just as much as I did the first time. We shall see!

5. MYSTIC SUMMER BY HANNAH MCKINNON [Average Rating 3.55 • My Rating: 4] – I thought McKinnon's first book was just okay, but Cassie convinced me to give this release a shot. Thankfully, I enjoyed it a lot more – though I'm not shocked this has a low average rating. I loved the setting! it would be a great companion at the beach or pool, but it was missing a little something (that I can't quite identify) that would have made it a favorite.

6. STANDARD DEVIATION BY KATHERINE HEINY [Average Rating: 3.55 • My Rating: 4.5] – Honestly, I'm not surprised that this book has a low average. It's a more literary than what I'm used to reading and there's almost no plot to speak of, but I just fell in love with the quirky characters, the dry humor and compelling writing. The slow pace was part of its charm for me, but I can totally understand how this book wouldn't work for other readers.

7. ELIGIBLE BY CURTIS SITTENFELD [Average Rating 3.61 • My Rating: 4] – I was curious about this book's average rating and expected it to be on this list. I think this got a lot of publicity when it was released – partly because Sittenfeld is a well-known author and partly because the book is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I thought it was a clever modernization, but there were things about it that won't work for everyone. Austen purists beware!

8. GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR BY LIZA PALMER [Average Rating: 3.64 • My Rating: 5] – This doesn't quite count as a low rating, in my opinion, BUT I still included it because I love the book so much that this average was much lower than I expected. It's the type of book that I'd typically dismiss, if it wasn't for the fact that my love for the author made me pick it up. I loved the storyline, the characters, and the profound lessons they learned along the way.

What low-rated books have you enjoyed?
Have you read any of these yourself? What did you think?

Continuing My Balogh Binge

May 24, 2018

Since I loved Mary Balogh's Westcott and Survivors' Club series, I knew I wanted to read more of her backlist. The Huxtable Quintet caught my eye, and then I happened to find all of them at my local used bookstore for a great price. So, since I was still in the historical romance mood after my March binge, I kicked off April with this series. I thought about including this in my April Quick Lit but that post was already long enough. Still, I've kept my thoughts pretty short and sweet since I found this series lackluster overall.

First Comes Marriage introduces readers to the Huxtable siblings – three sisters and a brother – who find themselves unexpectedly thrust into a position of prominence after life in a country village. I was immediately invested in their journey but didn't particularly love the romance. It was fun to see the heroine butt heads with the hero, but I got tired of hearing about how plain she looked. I So Liked It overall but don't see myself re-reading it.

I continued to Then Comes Seduction and was more invested but also had issues with the hero. He mostly redeemed himself by the end, but it definitely wasn't the best start. I found their conversations really odd, too. Their supposedly witty dialogue came across kinda awkward or forced, and I didn't feel like the heroine had enough personality. The last third was good enough that I almost forgot the meh beginning, so I So Okay With It by the end.

Although I hadn't been looking forward to At Last Comes Love (because that sibling annoyed me the most), I was shocked when she totally stole my heart! This was my second favorite of the series, and I loved how it dealt with society's reaction to scandal. The heroine had a ton of growth, and I loved her first meeting with the hero. The drama at the end was a bit contrived, and the story overall is definitely slow but I'm happy to say I still So Liked It.

After that surprise, I was bummed to realize that Seducing an Angel was my least favorite of the series. I was so excited for the brother to find love, but I hated this romance. The heroine made me so mad, even though I understood some of what prompted her behavior. I honestly had no idea how or why the hero fell in love with her! I was just So Okay With It, but I had hopes that the last book would end on a high note.

Thankfully, A Secret Affair was my favorite of the series! It made the unevenness of the previous books and the time I'd invested feel like it was worth it. This story focuses on a cousin of the four siblings, and there was so much mystery surrounding him. The reveal was as great as I'd hoped! And the heroine? My goodness, I loved how she defied what everyone thought about her! I So Enjoyed It and have found myself thinking about it since finishing.

Although it paled in comparison to the other series I've read from Balogh, I don't regret giving this one I try. It's fun to explore an author's backlist, even when it doesn't totally work out. The last book is the only I can see myself re-reading one day and is the only one I'd recommend to other historical romance readers, but the series as a whole could be worth trying if you're a Balogh fan! And now I've got to decide what to pick from her backlist next...

So Quotable
“My happiness has to come from within myself or it is too fragile a thing to be of any use to me and too much of a burden to benefit any of my loved ones.” – First Comes Marriage

“[Love] is a determination to care for the other person no matter what and to allow oneself to be cared for in return. It is a commitment to make the other happy and to be happy oneself. It is not possessive, but neither is it a victim.” – Then Comes Seduction

“But there were certain moments in life that forever defined one as a person – in one's own estimation, anyway. And one's own self esteem, when all was said and done, was of far more importance than the fickle esteem of one's peers.” – At Last Comes Love

“By being kind to her when he had absolutely no reason to be, he had reminded her of her own worth. Of her power over her life.” – Seducing an Angel

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.

What have you been reading lately?

April 2018: Recap + On My Shelves

May 7, 2018

May is one of my very favorite months – and not just because it holds my son's birthday! I have lots of fun things coming up, in my life and on my blog, and the warmer weather is adding to all the positive vibes.

1. Celebrating Easter – I love Easter, but this year's was extra special because my son was old enough to do an egg hunt. He had so much putting them all in his basket, even though they were empty. Haha! Wait til he finds out about the candy next year... And the sweetest part? He wore an adorable hand-me-down outfit from my brother.

2. Cassie Visits Georgia – Cassie and I first met in person at BEA back in 2014, but we really only got to spend half of a day together! It wasn't long enough, and we'd been hoping for another chance to hang out ever since. Well, we finally made it happen  when Cassie came to visit! It was so much fun to show her my area.

3. Getting Crafty – I used to only wear stud earrings, but I fell in love with hoops recently. I didn't have a great place to store them but was obsessed with the look of these hanging jewelry organizers but didn't love the price or size. So, my husband made me my own that fit perfectly around the shelves he'd previously built for my nail polish.

4. Atlanta Botanical Gardens – Nick and I woke up one beautiful Friday and decided to take our son to the zoo... and arrived to discover that everyone else had the same idea. Rather than battle the crowds, we headed off to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. We'd never been before and had the best time. It was gorgeous, and we'll go back!

Read 21 Books | Favorites:
The Virgin's War by Laura Andersen
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
“My happiness has to come from within myself
or it is too fragile a thing to be of any use to me
and too much of a burden to benefit any of my loved ones.”
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

“[Love] is a determination to care for the other person no matter what
and to allow oneself to be cared for in return. It is a commitment to make the other happy
and to be happy oneself. It is not possessive, but neither is it a victim.”
Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh

 “But there were certain moments in life that forever defined one as a person –
in one's own estimation, anyway. And one's own self esteem, when all was said and done,
was of far more importance than the fickle esteem of one's peers.”
At Last Comes Love by Mary Balogh

  “By being kind to her when he had absolutely no reason to be,
he had reminded her of her own worth. Of her power over her life.”
Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh

“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 by Laura Andersen

“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 by Laura Andersen

 “If I've learned one lesson from all that's happened to me,
it's that there is no such thing as the biggest mistake of your existence.
There's no such thing as ruining your life. Life's a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.”
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

 “Because there is no power on earth that could make me abandon our friendship.
There is no deed you could confess so dark that it would make me forsake you.”
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

“Lover? I don't know. I don't know if she loves me. I don't know if I love her.
All I can say is, she's the one I think about. All the time.
She's the voice I want to hear. She's the face I hope to see.”
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

 “The hardest thing is love, with no expiration date, no qualifiers, no safety net.
Love that demands acceptance of all things I cannot change. Love that doesn't follow a plan.”
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
I was one post short of my blogging goal for April, but that's not too shabby for me. I was mostly glad that I finally got around to writing some posts that had been on my "to do" list for months! I kicked off the month with my March 2018 Recap, as usual. I reviewed 9 of the 30 books that I read in March in my March 2018 Quick Lit post. But what about the other 21 books? Well, I ended up writing individual reviews for many of those.

I chatted about Illuminae, Gemina and Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which was a series that I was sad to say goodbye to in March. I envision many more re-reads in my future! Then, I talked about re-reading Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me series and then diving in to the new release, Restore Me. My last review in March was for the Survivor's Club series by Mary Balogh, which I recently binged and loved.

Finally, I shared two baby-related editions of my So Obsessed With feature: 26 things we've been loving with a toddler and 25 picture books we've been reading lately. I'd been meaning to write both of those for months
I'm really behind on Feedly right, but here are two posts I've read and loved:

1. Fug Nation Loves Royal Wedding Swag! by Jessica from Go Fug Yourself – Am I planning on a Harry & Meghan mug? Maaaaaybe. I love William and Kate more, but I adore the fact that this is like The Royal We come to life!

2. Incorporating Your Life into Your Book Blog by Lauren from Bookmark Lit – I don't write a ton of personal discussions, but I do chat about life + non-bookish interests on here. This was a great reminder to do it more often!

Favorite Album: CRAZYTALK by Mat Kearney
 The full album technically came out May 4, but about half of it was available in April.
I can't stop listening! I've been a big fan of Mat for years and love this new direction and sound.

The Greatest Showman (2017) starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya – I couldn't resist renting this because it was so hyped. I generally hate musicals, and unfortunately this one didn't win me over. I'm glad I tried it, but I wasn't a huge fan overall. It was just so cheesy! But Zac and Hugh were adorable.

Their Finest (2016) starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy – I spotted this while randomly browsing at Redbox and couldn't resist Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton! I'm surprised I hadn't heard of it before because it's definitely my kind of movie. I enjoyed it, even though I wish I could change one thing in the plot.

Brooklyn (2015) starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson – I remember seeing the trailer for this movie a few years ago and then all the awards show buzz that followed. I'm not sure why I never watched it before now, but I loved it! Saoirse Ronan is fabulous in the lead, and I enjoyed the secondary characters.

Scandal, Season 7, starring Kerry Washington – Honestly, I couldn't wait for this show to be over. I probably should have stopped watching a season or two ago, but I just wanted to know how it ended. Well, now I do. I don't think it was worth the time I invested in it. Haha! There were so many plot holes, and I eventually hated everyone. 

Just Because: The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie, Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren and The Spring Bride and Marry in Scandal by Anne Gracie

Book Depository: White Night by Ellie Marney and The Proposal, The Arrangement and The Escape by Mary Balogh

Book Outlet #1 + Used Bookstore: Boomerang by Noelle August, Indiscreet, Unforgiven, Irresistible and Heartless by Mary Balogh, The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn, Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren,  To Sir Phillip, With Love, When He Was Wicked, It's In His Kiss, On the Way to the Wedding and  Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn and Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh

Book Outlet #2: Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley, The Christian Parenting Handbook by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, Longing by Mary Balogh, Rebound and Bounce by Noelle August and The Virgin's Daughter and The Virgin's Spy by Lauren Andersen

For My Collections: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Thanks, Mom!) and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Gifted: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Thanks, Alexa!)

For Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne (Not Pictured)
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