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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

*This review will contain some spoilers, if you haven’t read Six of Crows.*

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

crooked-kingdom

Synopsis from GoodreadsKaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Feelings: I love Bardugo’s writing and the way she weaves in characters’ back stories with the present action. We’re constantly learning new things about them as the story moves along and it adds so much dimension. Emotionally, this ride was up and down – the drama, the laughs, the tears. This book took me longer to get through for some reason than the first one. I think it just didn’t move in the same way that the first one did. But I read the last 200 pages or so in one sitting, partly because I was determined to finish and partly because I was so IN.

Issues: The only issue I had was that it lost my interest at times. I’m not sure if that’s because I was comparing it to Six of Crows for a while or if it was the actual plot that did me in. There were certain parts of this ride where I was gripped and on the edge of my seat and others where we were just filling in before the next exciting bit.

Characters: I needed more Kaz and Inej. And Nina and Matthias. And Wylan and Jesper. Just a little more of everyone. I understood the limits that they had and it made sense with the world and the story up to that point. Just personally, I need another book to see how those pairings play out, or don’t. (No spoilers. No mourners. No funerals.) It was especially interesting to get more of Wylan’s history and relationship with his father. With all the new back story information, we also saw even more character growth. They found themselves and banded together as a crew and a family.

I really value the diversity of this cast of characters. Not just diverse in skin color or gender, but in their diverse upbringings and experiences. They’re all so different but each member of the crew is equally important. Their differences are what makes them valuable and each has a story to share. This type of storytelling is really beautiful and I feel like everyone can find something or someone to connect to. 

Just like in Six of Crows, there wasn’t a clear hero or even a set villain. No one was perfectly fit for either label and I kind of enjoyed that. It made me question who I could trust, which kept me engaged and wondering. I really respect Bardugo’s choice for Kaz to not develop into some hero who overcomes his past. He remains an anti-hero from beginning to end and while he finds pieces of humanity along the way, he’s still Kaz. 

Some characters from Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy show up in this book, too! I recognized their names, but I couldn’t remember exactly who they were. So I Googled them. Ha! It was cool to see those characters pop up again. Like I said in my review of Six of Crows, you don’t have to have read the Grisha trilogy to understand what’s going on in this book. But it does help a little.

 

Final thoughts: In the end, I did enjoy this book and I’m glad I read it. Some of my predications came true, while others were way off, but that’s what makes reading fun! I recently found out that Bardugo will be releasing short stories that will be from this same Grisha world. These stories will be like old wives tales told and passed down through generations. I can’t wait to see the depth these add to this world!

Pick this up if you liked:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Goodreads rating: 4.64/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Things I Do to Prepare For a New Book in a Series

If I had to choose between only reading standalone books for the rest of my life OR only books in a series…I wouldn’t even have to think about it. My answer will forever and always be: gimme that series! I love watching as characters grow and change over time, go on new or continuing adventures, and meet other characters that impact them along the way. I live for a new book to come out, meeting up with those characters who have become like old friends.

However, I read a lot. And my memory is useless when it comes to the long-term. So I also have to deal with some stress about whether or not I’ll remember what’s going on before a new book comes out.

Here are 5 things I do in order to be ready for a new book in a series.

1. I like to read or watch book reviews for the other novels in the series.

If it hasn’t been too terribly long since I read the previous book, all I need is a little refresher. In these cases, I’ll read some of my favorite blogger’s reviews (or even my own) and a lot of times I’ll even watch videos on YouTube of people sharing their thoughts. Doing this not only helps me remember plot points and character information, but it reminds me of any scandals or crazy things that happened! Reading and watching reviews gets me back into that emotional state I need to be in before the next book comes out.

2. I like to visit my favorite series recap website.

Last year, a friend told me about the website bookseriesrecaps.com and you guys…please check it out (after you finish reading this, of course). They do a great job on this website of reminding readers what happened in previous books, as well as reviewing new ones. Their posts with recaps are titled “What happened in…?” They include a quick, spoiler-free overview and then laundry list everything that happened. These have been especially useful for me when a new book in the Throne of Glass series comes out. So much happens in 1 book!

3. I like to look back over my notes from the previous books.

I typically only take notes on a book if it’s part of a series, if there are a lot of characters, or if it’s just a long book…or all of the above. I have a journal where I specially write about books or I’ll type into the Notes app on my phone or iPad. Sometimes I’m so into whatever I’m reading that I just speak into my phone and the Notes app types it out for me. That way, I never even have to take my eyes off the book. Ha! I always write down questions I have and predictions for what may be coming, which is helpful when reviewing the last book in a series. It’s like I can get back into my own thinking and pick up where I left off.

4. I like to talk to my reader friends about the series.

In some cases, all I need is a little conversation. I have a few friends who like to read about as much as I do and we’ll gather up to discuss what we remember. Sometimes we’ll read reviews together, but most often one of my friends remembers every little detail and helps me to remember as well. Talking about a series that I love also helps me get hyped for what’s to come and I get even more excited to get my hands on the new book.

5. I like to reread previous books or listen to the audiobooks.

Sometimes, reviewing notes just isn’t enough. I have to dive head first back into the world and walk around with the characters for a while. I do this when it’s been more than a year since I read the last book. If I read the hardback copy the first time around, then for my re-read I’ll switch it up and get the audiobook. Sometimes the narrators help me pick up on things I hadn’t even noticed on the first read.

 

Do you have to do anything before a new book in a series comes out? Are you as manic as me? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Reading! – Caitlyn

May I Have Your Attention, Please? (audiobook) by James Corden

“The difference between doing something and not doing something is doing something.”

attention-please

Synopsis from GoodreadsAs far back as he can remember James Corden has only ever wanted to be in one place: in front of you, doing something to make you cry, shout, scream or giggle uncontrollably; whether it’s entertaining the congregation at his baby sister’s christening at the age of four, clowning around in class, or snogging Sue Barker in front of thousands of people at Sports Relief. May I Have Your Attention Please? Is the story of how it all happened. From his time as one of the founding players of his school’s first ever rugby team to nationwide fame as the loveably loud Smithy in the award-winning Gavin and Stacey, this is a tenderly — and very funnily — told story of what it’s like to try, try and try again and get there in the end.

Feelings: This book was okay. Going into this book, I really didn’t know much about James Corden and unfortunately, I was coming off the high that Trevor Noah’s audiobook had given me. So I may have unfairly compared them, which you just can’t do.

There were some parts that made me laugh out loud and others that brought a smile to my face. At some points, I got distracted and was only half listening, while at other points I just had to turn it off. My response from beginning to end was kind of all over the place. However, I did enjoy the last few chapters when he talked about his experience working with celebrities for charity sketches. Then I immediately looked the sketches up on YouTube.

When he got to his experience with “The History Boys”, I was really interested. I actually didn’t know it started as a play, but I’ve seen the movie many times!

Issues: I was surprised by the amount of negativity and apologies. He apologized to people from his past and he apologized to the reader. This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to books. If you have to apologize for something being boring, either make it more interesting or take it out. When he made this specific apology in the book, I thought…huh…he’s right…that was boring. I guess I was just expecting him to be much lighter, after watching him on The Late Late Show.

I was expecting it to be…funnier? I’m not sure why, I mean…it’s about his life, not a book of jokes. Sometimes it just felt like a timeline, while at other points it was just repeating something that had already been stated. When I just had 3 hours left in the audiobook, I wasn’t nearly as interested as I had been at first.

The way he talked about his work was weird. We’d go from him discussing his role in Fat Friends and being in a stage show, then how he’d be in The History Boys and oh yeah, another film role at the same time. It was just kind of hard to follow because he’d go from talking about one work which would remind him of something else and he’d tell us a story about it. I kept wondering…wait what show are we talking about now?

Narrator: I did enjoy the fact that Corden narrated it, himself. His accent and gusto made it easy to listen to. Plus he does all the different accents for people from other parts of Britain, and as an American…if I’d just been reading it, I wouldn’t have known the differences between voices. As a narrator, I’d give James Corden 4.5 stars.

Final thoughts: If you’re a huge fan of James Corden, then sure…pick this up. If you just like watching his carpool karaoke videos, maybe skip this one. It wasn’t what I was hoping, as a fan of his late night bits.

 

Goodreads rating: 3.86/5

Audible.com rating: 4.4/5

My rating: 3/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton

“I’ve spent so much time in the last few years trying to be perfect…and independent. And in the end, a rough draft and my friends made the difference.”

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Synopsis from GoodreadsYour flight is now boarding! Join Alex Sinclair for a life-changing, trans-Atlantic journey. London Belongs to Me is a coming-of-age story about friendship, following your dreams, and learning when to let go … and when to hang on.

Meet Alex, a recent college graduate from Tallahassee, Florida in love with London, pop culture, and comic cons. It’s not easy being twenty-one-years-old, and Alex has never been the most popular girl. She’s an outsider, a geeky fangirl … with dreams of becoming a playwright in a city she’s loved from afar, but never visited. Fleeing America after a devastating betrayal, she believes London is where she’ll be understood, where she belongs. But Alex’s past of panic attacks and broken relationships is hard to escape. When her demons team up with a jealous rival determined to destroy her new British life, Alex begins to question everything: her life-long dream, her new friends, and whether London is where she truly belongs.

Feelings: I connected with this book on so many levels and have a lot in common with our main character, Alex. The panic attacks, the self doubt, the love of all things theatre and fandoms, a tour guide job, an obsession with London…Alex is me and I am her. I was so happy to see the way Alex and her anxiety were portrayed. It was a comfort to feel like I wasn’t the only one.

One of my favorite things about this story was the sightseeing we get to do vicariously through Alex. We get to travel to a few famous theatres and landmarks throughout the city and she teaches us some new (to Americans) slang. It was a fun adventure!

Issues: The author kept referring to characters by their hair color. This wouldn’t usually bother me, but it happened a LOT. “The blonde one”…”the brunette one”…it just got old. Which is odd, because at other points the writing is crazy descriptive. Almost too descriptive.

It thought it was interesting that there was so much GIRL POWER with Alex’s plays and at the same time, a major beef between Alex and Olivia throughout the book. As a result of this tiff, we saw a lot of struggle for Alex and we watched as she tried to navigate this conflict, leading to some strong character development. However, I wish there’d been some stronger resolution that fit with this empowering-each-other theme in the book.

Characters: I’ve already raved about Alex, but I’ll just also add that she’s a very real character. Sometimes I get annoyed with characters make stupid choices because why couldn’t they have done something else, but it was different with this book. She was so relatable that when she goofed up, I was going…yep…I totally get that. It just worked for me.

This book was SO friendship-centric and I loved every second of it. Lucy and Freddie were a strong cast of the classic “friend group” we find in young and new adult literature. They had so much in common, but were wholly unique at the same time. Each friend had their own specific voice and I loved that they disagreed with each other! They had their own minds and called each other out on their stupidity. Even when the love interest entered the scene, we kept up with the friendship at the heart of the story. I really appreciated that. I do wish they’d been developed a teeny bit more. At times, it felt like they were just there to impact the protagonist, rather than have their own journeys. It was like they went back and forth between being dynamic and static characters, ending up as the latter. But ultimately, I loved their trio friendship and was jealous multiple times.

Uh, yes…I’d like to order one Mark, please. Talk about a swoon-worthy love interest. He was an imperfect character, sure, but again with the realness. The way that he really SAW Alex was refreshing and I liked the way the author handled the friendship dynamic. And then there’s Harry. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a companion novel that focuses on his journey from where this book ends up. I think that character has a lot of potential and I’d like to see it fleshed out. I’m rooting for him. For all of them, really.

Final thoughts: This book isn’t perfect, but it was really fun and I ate it up and it’s the type of story I’ll be forcing my friends to read just so we can discuss it. If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or panic attacks, this book is a refreshing depiction of what it’s like to live with constant worry. You’ll finish the book feeling like you can do anything. What’s not to love about that??

Pick this up if you liked:

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Goodreads rating: 4.02/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4/5

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.

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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