The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

india-orchid

Synopsis from GoodreadsAnthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Feelings:  One thing I really appreciated about this book were the cultural spotlights. She gave us a base – the British expectations and values – something most of us have a loose understanding of. Then as the story developed, she layered in the traditions and cultural norms of India. She compared the two worlds and showed how they impacted each other.

The author somehow managed to teach me about a culture I didn’t know much about, draw me in with a murder mystery, and keep me hoping for our two protagonists. There was a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t think it was too much. I believe it was well balanced.

With murder mysteries, my main concern is usually that I’ll have it all figured out long before the final pages. With this story, I had some guesses, but I never could have predicted exactly how it would play out.

Issues: The ending felt a little too rushed for me. We spent so much time building up to who the murderer was and their motivations, then the truth comes out pretty quickly and it’s over. The epilogue helped the story to feel like it had a satisfying ending. Without it, I really wouldn’t have been thrilled.

While there’s a lot going on in this story, there were a few times where I felt like…nothing…was going on. About a third of the way through, I started to lose interest. Then I just resolved to finish reading it and finished the other two thirds in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down! I think it was because we’d met our protagonists, a change in scenery had occurred, and then someone was murdered. I hadn’t really dug my heels into it yet; it didn’t feel like there was anything solid to hold onto. But then the story picks up and it sucked me in! So stay with it.

Characters: I thought the two main characters, Anthony and Sophia, were really sweet. I was worried that the tension would drag on too long, but it ended up being just right. They complimented each other well and I loved the way they understood one another. Because of the way the author paced the story, we got to know our main characters in doses. There wasn’t a major introductory information dump. In fact, for a while I had some questions, but the author had answered them all by the end. I like that because it forces me to pay better attention and look for specific things.

The minor characters added some value to the plot and gave us some more cultural insights. They included a wide range of individuals from different backgrounds and levels of society, which added some depth to the overall story.

Final thoughts: The setting was beautiful and totally jumped off the pages, the romance was clean and sweet, and the mystery wasn’t too predictable. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and felt like I was reading some classic Austen, from time to time. This book was a great change of pace from what I’ve been reading lately and I’d recommend it to my historical fiction and mystery loving friends!

Pick this up if you liked:

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

Goodreads rating: 4.67/5

My rating: 4/5

*This book will be out August 1 of this year. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Romances I Hate to Love, or Love to Hate

I love a good romance story. I mean…who doesn’t? Give me a rom-come or a love-filled period drama any day of the week and I’m a very happy camper. Sometimes though, I come across stories that I love, but hate at the same time. And there are always different reasons for this response. It could be that I dislike one of the people in the relationship, but I like the other one. It could be that it was an instalove connection, which annoys me. It could even be the writing style throwing me off, yet I keep trudging onwards. And yet…keep them coming!

These are 5 romance stories that I hate to love, or love to hate.

glass-sword-2

Mare & Cal

I read this second book in the series mostly because I wanted to see how their relationship would play out. Would they recover from the plot twist in Red Queen? Would it drive a wedge between them? I got so frustrated with them throughout Glass Sword, but I just HAD to know how they end up. I didn’t love this book, as you can read about in my review of it. But I really like Cal, and I think he can do better than Mare. You know it too, Cal!

crooked-kingdom

Kaz & Inej

They’re not even a straight up couple and I hate that I love them. They’re so right for each other, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense that they can’t just commit and be together. They’ve both got ridiculous amounts of baggage that prevent them from being what I want them to be (insert flirtations of Nina & Matthias as an example). I’m so conflicted by their relationship, or lack thereof. I need a third book, Bardugo!

phoenix

Harry & Ginny

That’s right! I said it! I’ve never been a fan of the Harry-Ginny combo. Actually, I’ve just never really been a fan of Ginny. I didn’t expect it to last, to be honest, while I was reading the books. Then the movie came out and I thought the chemistry between the two actors was off a little, so that just solidified my opinion. Harry literally could have ended up with whoever he wanted. (Cue “Choooo Chaaannggg” from A Very Potter Musical.) Then the “Cursed Child” script was released and I’m still sticking to my guns, here. And yet…I love Harry Potter and his whole world. So even if a book came out that was all about their life together, I’d read it. Because Potter.

saga

Marko & Alana

I’ve been reading the Saga volumes for the last year or so and I have to say, Marko and Alana have an incredibly frustrating relationship. As far fetched as their bond seems, there’s also a crazy dose of reality mixed in. Yes, they’re in another world, but they’re dealing with a lot of the same relationship drama that we see everyday all around us. Maybe not escaping from our warring planets, but raising a family together, meeting each other’s families, being separated from each other, and more. I like this story and the way I’m kept on my toes, but sometimes it’s hard to face the truths these two characters deal with.

bridget

Bridget & Mark & Bridget & Daniel

I really enjoyed this book and I love the 3 movies. There’s so much in these stories that I can relate to, and then other things that I have no connection with and make me laugh out loud…or just generally enjoy my own life a little bit more. I went back and forth between whether I preferred Mark or Daniel for Bridget. While I now that in the end, Daniel wasn’t the right pick for her (not including the spoilers from the new movie), I still don’t love her with Mark. But I do love Colin Firth. So I’ll keep coming back to these stories, anyway.

What romances do you hate that you love? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I Read Because of Hype

I’m one of those readers who runs on recommendations. I’m always looking for the latest craze or hype-inducing storyline. I want to know what I’m talking about when I join the conversation, so I always fall prey to hype. These are 5 books that I read because of all the conversations they started amongst the blogosphere and Goodreads threads.

anna and the french kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

SO MANY people told me to read this book. I was skeptical because I hadn’t really gotten into the contemporary scene at that point. But I finally decided to dive in on a sick day and I’m so glad that I did. Since I finished reading about Anna and Etienne, I’ve read the next two books in this companion story trio and I loved them. This book is the reason I reach for a contemporary romance. Plus that cover art. *Swoon*

throne

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I love high fantasy. I’m always interested in new worlds and innovative magic systems. I’d heard a lot of people talk about this series after the sequel came out, but the cover threw me off. It seemed weird, I’ll be honest. But I watched a spoiler-free review of the first book and the vlogger was SO into it. I love fangirling, so I wanted what she was having. And now? I freaking love this series. I always pre-order the new books long in advance and anxiously await their arrival, even clearing my schedule for them. These stories consume me. There are so many characters and so much world building that I’m too invested to stop now.

outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Everyone and their cat’s mom has talked about this series. I’m all about historical fiction and time travel, plus romance and Scotland…hubba hubba. But then, the romance also made me hesitated. I’m not one of those people who just LOVES blush inducing love scenes, call me crazy. Once the TV show started airing, I wanted to be part of the conversation, so I picked up the first book. I actually read it as I watched the episodes, which was pretty interesting. Then I watched the second season of the show and haven’t read the book. I AM glad that I read it. I thought the writing was powerful and the world was engaging. I would like to continue the series, but I haven’t settled on whether it’ll be print or TV, or both.

wrath

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I read a few blog posts and watched some booktube videos of readers raving about this story, so I picked it up. I sat down and read it cover to cover in one sitting. Not necessarily because it was a work of genius, but because it hooked me in and I had the time. Since then, the sequel has been released and I have yet to read it. I don’t really remember what happened in the first book, probably because I read it TOO quickly. I don’t know that I’ll pick up the second book any time soon. I already have it on my Kindle, staring at me, longing to be given a chance. Maybe the hype sucked me in TOO much the first time around.

all the light

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Again I say, I love me some historical fiction. Last year, I was on a major WWII kick and read book after book about that time period. I was also teaching The Diary of Anne Frank along with a WWII unit, so I was thirsty for more information. Everyone kept telling me that I should read this book, but the page count was daunting. Once I finally decided to give it a chance, I flew through it. The characters lept off the page and I was so emotionally invested in their fictional little lives. I love this book. It’ll forever be one of my favorites.

What books has hype made you read? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

*This review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read Illuminae.*

“And blood and tears and screams did not matter anymore, because at least they are together.”

gemina

Synopsis from GoodreadsMoving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed. The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminaecontinues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and theHypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands. But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Feelings: I really like Illuminae. I read it a second time to prepare for this book and loved it even more. I was wondering how Gemina would accomplish the same things without it just being a repeat and was pleasantly surprised. There were new types of documents for us to read and dig through and a new cast of characters to get to know. Kaufman and Kristoff once again do an incredible job of allowing readers to understand characters without just reading paragraph after paragraph of description. We know who these people are, we feel what they feel, and can (sometimes) anticipate their actions.

Issues: We went from a zombie-making killer virus to drug-inducing slugs. Not quite as thrilling and creepy! The Phobos virus in Illuminae was legit nightmareish. I couldn’t really picture these worm things with 4 heads. And they just didn’t have the same scary tone.

While I find the formatting of these books to be really engaging and thrilling, Gemina felt a little more detached. We had more scenes from an outsider’s perspective (the camera records) rather than really living the story with our main characters.

The ending. It felt somewhat similar to Illuminae in the sense that what we thought had happened…didn’t. Without spoiling anything, in this book…things happened then it wasn’t true…like 5 times in a row.

Characters: What was so compelling about Illuminae was the way we were able to connect with Kady and Ezra. We were in their heads, understood their motivations, and were constantly in fear for their lives. In Gemina, it’s similar, but not quite as intense. I like Nik from the beginning. He’s charming and witty. And honest. Very, very honest. Hanna was a good character. I didn’t find her to be absolutely amazing and I was sad when things didn’t go her way, but not devastated. Finally, Ella. I liked that she was so different from the other characters in the sense that she was physically limited while Hanna and Nik were out there kicking butt. She added a different dynamic, in the way that AIDAN did in the first book. (Not comparing them…just saying they were both 3rd wheel POV characters.) Overall, interesting people to go on this journey with.

Final thoughts: I love a good plot twist. If you do, too, then you should absolutely pick up this series. They’re both thrilling and complex and make you want to go to space like…yesterday. Even with the issues I had, they weren’t enough to make me not enjoy this book from cover to cover.

Pick this up if you liked:

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Goodreads rating: 4.62/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Clockwork Angel (audiobook) by Cassandra Clare, narrated by Jennifer Ehle

*This review contains spoilers if you haven’t read The Mortal Instruments series!

“In a way, we are not here just because we have nowhere else; we need nowhere else, because we have the Institute, and those who are in it are our family.”

clock-angel

Synopsis from GoodreadsIn a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Timesbestselling Mortal Instruments series. The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters; including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them.

Feelings: It’s been a couple of years since I read the Infernal Devices trilogy. I’m all up in this Shadowhunter world! I’ve read everything that Cassandra Clare has published and will continue to do so. I wanted to listen to the audiobooks this time around just to shake it up a little. I saw who the narrators were and was instantly excited. This first book is read by Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet in the classic Pride and Prejudice BBC Drama.

One of the main reasons I love this book is because of the Victorian time period. The rules and social norms are so different from not only the Mortal Instruments series, but other urban fantasy stories as well. We see Tessa struggling with the way Shadowhunters interact with each other and diving into this whole new culture and it’s really fascinating to see it through her eyes.

Issues: Once again in YA, we have that whole “character is instantly accepting of change” trope. Tessa finds out she’s a shapeshifter and that all of the Shadowhunter world exists and she’s cool with it. She’s got a million questions, sure. But she’s accepting very quickly. I get it…she can’t go back so she might as well move forward. And she has the Codex to help her get situated. But still.

Will confuses the crap out of me. Can I say that? It’s like HE doesn’t even know what kind of character he’s going to be. Is he going to be the guy that changes because of a girl? Is he going to be the kind of douche bag guy who refuses to budge at ALL because of a girl? Is he an arrogant jerk? Is he just pretending? There’s zero predictability and no chance of connecting to him.

Characters: I love seeing favorite characters in this new time context. When Magnus says he has a thing for black hair and blue eyes…I got so excited. Alec is coming, Magnus! Just you wait! It’s fun to see him before he meets up with the gang in The Mortal Instruments series. In this book, we also see different familiar families: Lightwoods, Herondales, Penhallows, Carstairs, and more.

It didn’t take long for me to be reminded of how much I dislike Will Herondale. I know a lot of people think he’s the ultimate literary dream boat, but I totally disagree. He’s incredibly arrogant and proud. Yes, he’s exactly the same as Jace. Later on, after some serious character development, I can start to see how he could be somewhat likable – once his somewhat caring nature comes out – but ultimately…no. Not a fan. See “Issues” above.

Jem is totally different. Yes, he’s Will’s best friend, but I enjoy his scenes so much more than Will’s. He’s a truly kind soul and he’s probably one of my favorite characters in the Shadowhunter world. I’m excited to read about him more in the new Dark Artifices series. He’s a lot like Alec, in my opinion. Not that their personalities are the same, but they’re the best friend to the Herondale hero and are underestimated by those around them. And I end up liking them far more than said hero.

I really like Tessa. She’s strong and self assured. I like the way she acclimates to the other cast of characters and we see her fitting in. She really sees people. (Not to be confused with the previous “Issue” I mentioned.) She had a place to belong and feel special, which I loved seeing for her, as you get the feeling she’s not used to that. Tessa isn’t a damsel in distress, even considering the context of her time period.

Narrator: Jennifer Ehle’s narrating was ok…then she got to the exciting stuff. The way she called out and yelled…bothered me. I didn’t buy it, you know? She tried out a few different accents for the many characters, but it lacked consistency. She’d float in and out of accents and voices, which was a bit confusing. It ultimately made it so that I would then go back and forth between listening to the audiobook and reading it on my Kindle. (I’d give the audiobook narrator 3 stars, separate from rating the book and storyline itself.)

Final thoughts: This book wasn’t as good the second time around because I knew there were plot twists coming, even if I couldn’t remember exactly what they were. I am looking forward to continuing on with the audiobooks to see if I can remember what’s ahead! Ultimately, though, I love the Shadowhunter world. Always will. And I really do love this setting and this different cast of characters. If you like historical fiction and paranormal fantasy, I’d recommend giving this world a try (even if you didn’t love The Mortal Instruments series).

Pick this up if you liked:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Goodreads rating: 4.33/5

Audible.com rating: 4.3/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

November 2016 Wrap Up

My goal on Goodreads was to read 75 books this year and I reached it this month! When the month started, I still had a ways to go. Then I heard about the app comiXology and read a bunch of graphic novels and comics. Now I’m all set! I got into quite a kick! They upped my wrap up numbers for the month because they’re just so easy and quick to read.

This is what I was able to read in November…I read 4 books, finished 1 audiobook, and read 10 graphic novels and comic books, for a grand total of: 15!

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

  • Hamilton fans. American Revolution. Daughter of a president.
  • My rating: 5 stars

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

  • Great picture of history. Strong writing. Eye opening.
  • My rating: 3.5 stars

Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala

  • Had potential. Interesting art. Quick read.
  • My rating: 2 stars

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

  • New to me. Chinese history. Mystical.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

  • Companion to Boxers. Captivating. Tragic.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

  • Alice in Wonderland prequel. Anti-hero. Made me hungry.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Lumberjanes, Vol.1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen

  • So sassy. Fun cast. Second read.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (audiobook) by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

  • Better than the movie. Remember Cedric.
  • My rating: 5 stars

Red Sonja, Vol. 1: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone

  • Warrior in a bikini. Comic book. Pretty ok.
  • My rating: 3.5 stars

Saga, Volumes 2-6 by Brian K. Vaughan

  • Kindle book sale. For adults. Wild storyline.
  • My rating(s): Vol. 1-4 & 6: 4 stars, Vol. 5: 3 stars

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

  • For fans of the show. Eye opening. Really interesting.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

What books did you read this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

“It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.”

heartless

Synopsis from GoodreadsCatherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen. At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Feelings: The thing about prequels and retellings is that you know where they’re going to end up. You kind of like Cath until you remember that she’s going to end up as the bad guy in Alice’s story. I thought Meyer did a great job of weaving in some references to Alice’s world here and there. We met some familiar characters, as well as some magical items with a twist.

Issues: I didn’t understand Jack’s role in the story. He was a super childish dude who clearly (but maybe not?) hated Cath. Was it love-hate? Or just straight up hate? I don’t know and he really doesn’t serve a purpose. It seemed like he would a couple of times, but then nothing would come of it. Not a big issue for me, since he’s a nobody character…but I just felt like something was important about him and I was wrong.

The dream magic wasn’t ever explained. Cath would wake up from dreams with lemon trees and roses growing around her bed…why? Was it because the Sisters were speaking to her about her fate in her dreams? Not really sure.

Finally, the pacing was a bit slow. I read it really quickly and it was easy to follow, but it was just a slow moving story from time to time. But then the ending felt rushed and one scene in particular felt like it came out of nowhere. It made me feel a little disjointed.

Characters: Catherine is an imperfect character. We knew where she was headed since this story serves as a prequel. We knew that she wouldn’t be a Cinderella kind of character, always cheerful and full of optimism. She’s even a bit judgmental and selfish from time to time, which makes it so that her turn towards evil isn’t completely out of left field. If she was Snow White-y or Cinderella-y, it wouldn’t make sense and it’d be hard to buy in to. But that’s just not the case here. She was actually pretty relatable for a while, big dreams and a drive to see them through, yet there was a series of obstacles in her way. I think Meyer made a strong creative choice with the story’s ending. It all makes sense and we can see how she got from Point A to Queen of Hearts.

Oh, Jest. What a love interest. Was this classic YA insta love? Meh. Sort of. It wasn’t like the “I just met him and his eyes are amazing and I want to marry him” kind of insta love, more like insta strong feelings. They did go back and forth one too many times for my taste, but then again…it was a pretty complicated situation.

The minor characters in this story were an interesting cast. You have Mary Ann, Cath’s partner in crime. They seem like sisters for the majority of the book, even though one serves the other. Then you have Cath’s parents, with the classic pushy gentry mom and the generic laid back pushover dad. There’s the king; the kind but stupid king. Where are everyone’s back bones? Where’s the courage and the guts? This book has an entire kingdom of people with their blinders on, in need of a leader. Enter the Queen of Hearts, ready or not, I guess.

Comparisons: I know a lot of people want to know how this book compares to The Lunar Chronicles, but really…there’s no comparison. Cinder and her friends get a lot more page time, a lot more room for character development and possibility. This book is a standalone, so what’s done is done. If you’re a fan of TLC, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like this story, especially if what you enjoyed most was the science fiction element. That’s just not a thing in this book. Meyer’s writing shines through, though, just like it did in TLC. Plus, the tones of the two stories are totally different. So that’s my two cents when it comes to comparing.

Final thoughts: If you’re not a huge fan of Wonderland like me, don’t be put off by this story. I really enjoyed it, even though I never could connect with Alice or Through the Looking Glass. Too much whimsy loses me, but Meyer does a great job of balancing the story that already exists and taking creative license. Overall, I liked this book. I wasn’t just super crazy about it, but I generally enjoyed it. My advice: don’t read it on an empty stomach. There’s talk of baked goods on every page.

Pick this up if you liked:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Goodreads rating: 4.14/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.3/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn