A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals, #2) by Alyssa Cole

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ARC provided to me by the publicist in exchange for an honest review.

#1.) A Princess in Theory ★★★★

“We have a fantastic romance section,” she said. “Do you need recommendations? How do you like your dukes? Grumpy? Tortured? Alpha, beta, or alpha in the streets, beta in the sheets?” “Actually, I meant nonfiction”

Friends, this was nothing short of pure joy to read. Please, if you’re looking for a heartwarming, funny, and expertly crafted romance, please look no further. A Duke by Default follows the main character in A Princess in Theory, Ledi’s, best friend Portia! But this time, Portia is on a journey to change her life and be a different person, and what better way than with a change of scenery and career? And maybe she will cross paths with someone who is much more than meets the eye himself.

Portia Hobbs – Black American woman, who is ready to risk it all, move across the world, and try her luck at being an apprentice for a swordsmith in Scotland, because she is in her late twenties and still hasn’t found the career that is right for her.

“Everyone acts like you’re just supposed to find what you love right away, and if you don’t, just do something you don’t love. And if you do neither of those things you’re being selfish.”

Tavish McKenzie – Biracial (Chilean and Scottish) man, who was left Bodotria Armory and is currently running it with his brother and sister-in-law, even though its becoming harder and harder for him to turn a profit, but hopefully a new apprentice can turn things around.

“Pull out your sword,” she commanded and Tav was certain it was the sexiest thing a woman had ever uttered to him.”

And spoiler, she does. Portia and Tavish’s chemistry is out of this world. These two characters feel so real, and seeing them start out a little rocky, but slowly become friends, and maybe something more, was so beautiful.

But the entire cast of side characters are honestly magnificent as well. Like, I truly am going to say a prayer every single night that Alyssa Cole never stops writing, and that she never stops blessing us with more characters from this world. Seriously, I love them all with my entire being.

Reggie – Portia’s twin sister, famous blogger, brain virus survivor, uses a wheelchair, and is my hero. Seriously, I’m ready for her book with her and her mystery man immediately. Please.

Cheryl – Chinese, owns a freakin’ Doctor Who themed Chinese restaurant named Doctor Hu’s (honestly, goals), and is Tavish’s sister-in-law.

Jamie – Jamaican, Tavish’s brother, and Cheryl’s partner! Also, the most lovable character in this book, seriously. I want him and Cheryl’s background story so badly!

“ . . . it’s just how your brain is wired. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Throughout Portia’s trip she slowly is coming to terms with her having ADHD. ADHD is something that is very personal to me, and the spectrum is actually very large; from hyperactivity (me) to inattention, and everything else in-between. I struggled with putting all my time and energy into something to just stop caring about it shortly after, running in unhealthy and huge amounts, fidgeting constantly, and just feeling restless in general for most of my life, until I realized that maybe my actions weren’t as “normal” as I was lead to believe. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, along with most mental illness, is still hella stigmatized, but seeing Portia slowing coming to the realization that nothing is wrong her, that she was just a little different, that she’s the furthest thing from a failure, and her realizing her self-worth was an honor to read and brought me to tears so many times. Also, this is the third book in a row I’ve read with a main character living their best lives with ADHD, and damn, what a blessing.

“Something in her loosened with relief as the possible diagnosis repeated itself in a loop in her brain. ADHD! ADHD! ADHD! She had a word to use for her behavioral patterns. There were other people who felt the same way she did, maybe.”

We also get to see Portia dealing with the abusive things her parents say, while completely ignoring how their passive-aggressive jabs could hurt their daughter. From comparing her to her sister, to saying horrible things about how they wish the outcome of her sister’s medical emergency should have happened to her, to them just not caring about how Portia wishes to live her life and find something that makes her happy. And not to get too personal, but again, super relatable to me and my life.

“Just because your parents don’t appreciate what you do doesn’t mean it holds less value.”

This book also shines a heavy and bright spotlight on the refugee crisis going on today in Europe. America isn’t the only place that treats immigrants unfairly, and this book really shows how strongly fear tactics can work. People do horrible things in the name of a “border” and this book shows how children will mimic the terrible things their parents say. Oh, and how white people will say terrible things and make terrible jokes to people who they think are white, too. “It’s just a joke, brah!” No, you’re just racist.

Tavish and his loved ones always channel everything back positively and give back to the community and the kids who feel lost and helpless. This book also weighs in on Gentrification and how people will come in and buy a ton of low-income business and residences and then make them a profit while completely forcing the residence to seek other places to live their lives. Seriously, these books pack such a powerful punch.

“Here’s the thing with teasing. It might seem like torture now, sitting there wanting what you can’t have, but when you finally get it? It’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”

But even though this book has important issues, the romance is steamy perfection. Like, the sexual tension in this book starts right out of the gate, and it has the most rewarding payoff. And, I mean, this is a damn story about a girl falling in love with a damn swordsmith! Not only have I never read anything like that before, I’m not sure if I’ve even heard of a sexier premise. Also, this book has Portia and Tavish going to a renfest! Like, one of the saddest parts of me moving across the country is not being able to go to Michigan’s Renaissance Festival! I was living for every scene in this book, seriously.

Plus, this book is downright funny. I never laugh out loud from books, ever. This book and A Princess in Theory left my sides hurting. The banter in this book is perfection. And just in general, Portia and her friends are goals. Complete and utter goals. From unconditional love, to the best and most realistic banter.

Portia: 😘

Ledi: Same thing I do every night: studying viruses and trying to stop them from taking over the world.

Nya: Playing a dating sim to make up for the real date I had earlier. Rognath the Vampire Lord is much better at courtship than Luke, who started the night by calling me Sexual Chocolate and went downhill from there.”

Overall, I loved this story so much. The writing is superb, the characters are to die for, and the messages mean more to me than I have words for. I completely recommend this series with my entire heart and soul. And I am so hyped to read all about Johan and my favorite texter in A Prince on Paper! And thank you so much, Alyssa Cole, for this story that I will keep close to my heart forever.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and content warnings for hurtful parents and their hurtful comments (who think they aren’t being hurtful), people being ignorant and gross to immigrants (always in a negative light and challenged completely), talk of past racist racial profiling from the police, a quick scene with assault, and for a human drugging another human.

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals, #1) by Alyssa Cole

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“One can never read too many fairy tales”

A Princess in Theory was nothing short of an absolute treat to read. I easily fell in love with Alyssa Cole’s writing and her characters. And I completely believe she is a genius with her perfect portrayal of the “far away country prince email spam” trope. This book was funny, heartwarming, important, and completely captivating.

Prince Thabiso – An actual African Prince, and the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, and his parents (the king and queen) are on him about settling down and starting a family. But he has never been able to forget the girl who he was promised to marry one day, who has been missing for most of his life.

Naledi Smith – Ledi has grown up in foster care, barely remembering her family that passed away, but she has overcome it all and has a very promising life in New York. She is also in grad school studying epidemiology, and working nonstop between the lab, different jobs and studying. (Also, give me all the books with STEM girls, please!)

“I know you’re very busy, Ledi. If you can fit me in, I’d be honored to be one of the many things that take up your time.”

And these two amazing characters come together, once Thabiso finally decides to come to New York to find Ledi, who he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about his entire life. I mean, it’s not like she’s answering his emails in the nicest of manners. And the chemistry between these two? Honestly, it’s off any chart.

Not only is this an amazing romance, it has so many important themes. I said above how much I loved that Ledi was part of the STEM field, but this book also talks about the racism and sexism she has to face every single day for just pursuing her dream. Ledi has to constantly convince the white male supervisor in the lab how she is a “team player” while being forced to pick up other white dudes’ slack. I am not sure I’ve ever read this in any book, God forbid a romance book, and I was honestly living for every second of it.

Ledi also has to experience what it is like to grow up apart from a culture she has never known. And she has to think about the power imbalances of her and Thabiso’s different family backgrounds, different wealth and economic situations, and just the difference in power of him knowing more of the story than she knows. And all of it is done expertly.

And this is an ownvoices novel, because the two characters and most all the side characters are black. Seriously, this book has so much good in the pages. On top of an amazing and swoon worthy romance. Oh, and it’s so damn funny, too. Thabiso experiencing New York for the first time had my sides hurting from giggling. Seriously.

“Why is it so hot down here? What is that strange smell? Are those cats frolicking on the tracks? Dear goddess, they’re rats!”

And the sex scenes in this book were the perfect amount of sexy and fade to black, in my opinion. Also, Alyssa Cole puts consent at the forefront of this story, and proves again that there is nothing sexier than well established consent. Also, my pan self wants to date both Ledi and Thabiso, so praise this author and her magical writing.

Overall, I recommend this with my entire heart and soul. This is so intelligently written, expertly crafted, and this story is honestly romantic perfection. And I know I’ve gushed a lot about Ledi and Thabiso throughout this entire review, but I also fell so damn in love with Portia! Ledi and her friendship was so realistic, and I absolutely cannot wait to start her story immediately in A Duke by Default!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and content warnings for loss of a loved one in the past, abandonment, talk of animal death vaguely, and talk of disease epidemics.

The Chase (Briar U, #1) by Elle Kennedy

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ARC provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“I feel like too many girls fail to remember one vital truth: we deserve someone who gives us one hundred percent. Half-assed effort isn’t effort. Half-assed love isn’t love.”

Elle Kennedy and her steamy hockey romances are back. And, like, what a damn blessing. This is the happiest I’ve been reading a book all damn year. These new characters completely won me over. All the cameos from the people we already love were perfection. The banter and jokes literally had my sides hurting from giggling. And, this book actually had some really important topics like ADHD and how learning disabilities can impact you in college, how growing up in the middle of abusive parents can have detrimental effects, how judging people based off their looks is really gross, and how you should always go with your gut feeling, especially when it comes to creepy men in a position of power.

You all, I loved this. The ARC hit my kindle at about 8 PM last night, and I quickly ate dinner and spent the rest of my night completely immersed in this college that I missed so much! And like I said above, we get to see Garret, Logan, Tucker, and Dean, but this is a whole new hockey team, even if a couple of the guys have had minor parts in the original quartet. And The Chase really focuses on:

Colin Fitzgerald – Tatted, video game loving, hockey player. Like, the dream, right? But Fitz is struggling with abuse from his past, and never allowing anyone in. That is, until he meets a girl who he wishes, more than anything, he didn’t want to let in so badly.

“In college, I’ve made more of an effort to be social, but deep down I’m still the guy who wants to remain invisible. Summer is the most visible person I’ve ever met.”

Summer Di Laurentis – Dean’s littler sister has just transferred to Briarwood! She’s pursuing a degree in fashion, but she unapologetically loves it (and herself), regardless of the judgement people want to throw her way. The only problem is, she doesn’t have a place to live since she transferred schools so quickly. But Dean talks to Fitzy, Hollis and Hunter, since they are living in his old house, which totally has room for his baby sister.

And all that good angst ensues.
*clutches pearls forever*
The sexual tension. Lord, help me.

“…He just happens to be THE UNICORN. The tall, sexy, tattooed, hockey-playing unicorn of a man who I might have a teeny-weeny itsy-bitsy crush on. Okay, fine. A big motherfucking crush on.”

But we also get to see a lot of Hunter, which is deserving of a whole other paragraph. Okay, here is the thing about this book; I loved it with my entire heart and soul, and I don’t even have a word combination for how happy it made me while reading, but, if I was Summer, I would have wanted to date Hunter over Fitz. There I said it. I’m terrible. But it’s the truth. It’s honestly the only “negative” thing I can say about this book, and I loved it so much that it’s not really a negative.

The other character that we are newly introduced to is the hockey coach’s daughter, Brenna! And like… Hi, my name is Melanie and I really want to date Brenna. Like, in the bar, with her black bralette? I was swooning, friends. I was like, “there are hockey boys at this table, too?” She deserves the entire world, and I support her (probable) traitorous ways!

Summer was easily my favorite in this book though. Gosh, I feel like 2018 is just the year of me writing too many personal reviews, but Summer just really resonated with me. I know others won’t feel this way, but Summer really meant a lot to me. I’ve been judged because of the way I look forever, and people always form these terrible, awful, superficial, opinions of me, especially at bars and parties. And I get it, people are like, “wow, you have it so rough being (with some people thinking that you’re) pretty” but like, people can be really horrible and nasty. Also, I’m loud, and outgoing, and passionate, just like Summer. And people judge her for that, too, but seeing how she handles it, very realistically, warmed my heart. Seriously, Summer is easily one of my favorite characters of 2018.

“You know who else was viewed as a fluffy sorority girl?” she challenges. “Elle Woods. And you know what she did? She went to law school and showed everyone how smart she was, and then she became a lawyer and everybody loved her, and her slimy ex tried to win her back and she sent him on his way. The end.”

This book also tackles rape culture, especially in colleges, where it is easier to tell the girl she over reacting, than to break the cycle of the abuser. Also, obviously because Summer is comfortable with her sexuality, she was asking for it. And Elle Kennedy always delivers these points in a negative light, showcasing how gross our world can be and how hurtful stereotypes are. And having this be in a book set in college? It’s even more important.

Summer’s ADHD and learning disabilities are also always at the forefront of this story, and I was living for it. Seeing Summer being insecure and embarrassed about needed more help, time, and attention, is something so important and I wish more people could read this book for that alone, honestly. Everyone learns differently, and medication doesn’t always impact lives for the better, and Summer’s voice is so dang important. I just love her and everything about her character. Seriously.

“Loving yourself is hard enough. Silencing the inner critic borders on impossible.”

Yet, this book is light, and fun, and I honestly never laugh at books, but I always get tears in my eyes from laughing at this series. I just feel like the banter is written expertly, and so realistically. And this book is really sexy. Like, there isn’t a ton of sexual content, if I’m being honest, but the build up is perfection. And the few scenes that it does have? Pretty damn hot, I’m not going to lie.

“With any other guy, I’d probably take the bull by the proverbial horns. As in, put my literal hand on his literal penis.”

Oh, and another thing I want to praise this author for was the use of video games and nerd culture in general. I always get apprehensive that I’m going to dislike books that have this element, because they never feel “Authentic” or whatever, but Elle Kennedy did such a damn good job. Even with Twitch and streaming! And oh my gosh, Fitz has a popular MMORPG friend who has a stream, and his name was Morris, and maybe it was just a coincidence, but it makes me feel like Elle knows who Sodapoppin is! And it brought me so much unreasonable joy! But she also talks about the toxic masculinity in the community and how some dudes will think girls like Summer are “faking it” or “not nerdy enough” and all the other gross accusations stereotypes. Seriously, this book is so well done. Also, I’d totally play Fitzy’s game in a heartbeat.

Overall, I just love this series. It’s seriously a tier above anything else out in the NA Romance genre. Seriously, Elle Kennedy is truly the queen of the genre at this point! And The Chase is my favorite thing she’s ever written. I can’t wait to read The Risk next year. Especially because Elle has so many things brewing, I can’t wait to see Brenna and (hopefully) a certain rival and I need to personally get to know. Thanks.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and content warnings for sexual content, use of the term “spirit animal” (in 2018, really?), drug use, attempted sexual assault, a weird comment about audiobooks that had me side-eyeing, girls on girl hate (always challenged though), a lot of gross and judgmental comments, a little body shaming towards men in bathing suits and what “looks good” or whatever, a lot of rape culture comments (again, always challenged), and shitty parents.

#1.) The Deal ★★★★
#2.) The Mistake ★★★
#3.) The Score ★★★★
#4.) The Goal


City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2) by Cassandra Clare

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1.) City of Bones ★★★

“You are an arrow shot directly into the heart of the Clave, Jace. You are Valentine’s arrow. Whether you know it or not.”

I recently did a poll on Twitter, asking people if I should continue on with this series, or just throw in the towel and read Lady Midnight. I will say that the majority vote was for me to just skip it all, but so many of my best friends wrote to me and pleaded with me not to. So, here I am, continuing on.

I truly enjoyed City of Bones more than City of Ashes, which, I’m not going to lie, scares me for City of Glass, but I’m going to read it anyway. I just felt like this book has too many Harry Potter parallels. From the use of Fenrir Greyback to help Valentine justify being a bigot, to Valentine’s just general quest to collect horcrux-like items. Even the scene with him and Jace where Jace is screaming “I’m nothing like you!” I just felt like I could really see the Harry Potter fanfic shining through, honestly. And it made for a lot less enjoyable reading experience.

“A pair of werewolves occupied another booth. They were eating raw shanks of lamb and arguing about who would win in a fight: Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books or Magnus Bane.”

But you know what I did like? The Queen of Faerie and her entire underworld quote. You all, I was living for that entire chapter, and twisted as the end became. I was on the edge of my chair reading. Completely falling in love with the imagery. From the morbid dancing, to the fae feast, to the inability to lie yet to twists words like no one else. I was living for it. And I personally love Seelie and Unseelie fae courts, and it was just everything I wanted. If the entire book was set there I would have given it an easy five stars.

So, in my review for City of Bones, I did this little breakdown for each character, and I really enjoyed it! I think I’m going to try to continue on for all of Cassie’s books!

Clary – I still don’t think I dislike her as much as many, but she’s just mediocre if I’m being honest. Not a very interesting main character. And *unpopular opinion* she does Simon dirty.

Jace – Meanwhile, Jace just wants to do Clary, dirtily. Like, I am really trusting you all that what is going on isn’t real, but I can’t believe I didn’t get an answer in book two. I’m still side-eyeing all of you. But especially Jace, because that boy does not care. All the Joe Dirt vibes. Also, just in general, Jace does a lot of shitty things in this book (more on that later).

Simon – I felt like I was on a roller-coaster ride this book with Simon. But, I honestly like him. I am not here for any part of this weird triangle, but Simon is the best point, in my opinion. Also, he got a whole hell of a lot more interesting in this book. And I actually really like the Jewish rep in this book, all because of Simon.

Isabelle – Has a sidepiece fae guard boyfriend and talk about goals. I love her. Easily my favorite character with…

Magnus – My bisexual, Asian love! The star of this series, I swear to God. I legit was tearing up at the end when he used his powers to… take a swim. Lord, help me. What a confirmed angel. I will say though, when they said he was over one-hundred-years-old in this book, I kind of took a step back and paused, since he is starting a relationship with someone who isn’t even eighteen yet. Like, I don’t want to get shit for this, but, like, that feels bad and honestly skeevy. And he might have the body of a younger person, but him and Alec’s mindsets are lightyears apart. And even though I love Magnus on his own, I truly don’t love his relationship with Alec. At least not right now in the story. Which I know is a very unpopular opinion. Please, don’t hate me.

Alec – Annoying green-eyed monster. I’m sorry, friends! I know how much you all love him, but, like, no. I guess he was a bit better in this book, but I just really don’t seem to like him like everyone else.

Max – Izzy and Alec’s little brother, and a totally sweetie. He was mentioned in City of Bones, but I feel like this was the book that I actually got to see his character.

Luke – You all, I love Luke. And the end of this book? When he has accepted his life as it is, just to have Clary’s mom in it. Too pure. Luke is probably my fourth favorite character and is a shining light after seeing all these teenagers doing dumb things constantly.

Maia – I actually really liked the introduction of this new werewolf girl, even though my heart was breaking constantly for her. I don’t know how I feel about Simon’s instant feelings, but I like Maia a lot and can’t wait to read more about her!

Imogen – This character just pissed me off mostly, but I feel like I should mention her mostly because of the last name “Herondale” and how I know you all go buck-wild over a person named Will Herondale that I haven’t met yet! But, it was probably pointless of me to bring this character up.

Valentine – The Voldemort vibes were abundant in this one. But he also felt like a mustache twirling and finger tapping villain, too. And he’s obviously playing all these kids.

Okay, everything else in my review is going to be kind of spoilery. Nothing major, and no huge plot points or anything, but just things that really bothered me and I kind of want to talk about. And, they are all about Jace.

First off, Jace outs Alec and it was so gross and made me so uncomfortable. In front of Clary and Simon, while Luke and Maia are also in the house. And the whole scene is painted like Jace is doing “good” by “not caring” and “wanting Alec to be honest with him” when Alec is obviously unhappy and very uncomfortable. And then after, he expected Magnus to “step up” and confirm that he was seeing Alec. Like, all of Chapter Twelve was disgusting, and it was all because of Jace.

Trigger and content warnings for abuse, bullying, murder, death, abduction, captivity, outing someone, and incestuous things (that is probably going to end up not being incest, but it still told in a way where it looks like incest).

“The greatest fear in Jonathan’s life is the love he feels for his sister.”

Okay, I’m just going to say it. Jace is totally, 100%, without question, okay with fucking Clary while he thinks she is his sister. Now, I’m hoping, and praying, and really thinking that this fandom, and all my friends, wouldn’t want me to read this series if they knew incest was truly in it. But, this book had me shook. Jace legitimately does not care. He even says at one point that no one has to know and that they can just keep it a secret. Like, Lord, clean my eyes, please. I can only imagine what all you where thinking, reading this for the first time, being little kids.

The last thing I guess doesn’t really have much to do with Jace, but actually Valentine. Why did he have to specifically choose the blood sacrifice victims that he did? I mean, the spell legit only called for the blood of children of the four houses (warlock, werewolf, vampire, and fae), why did he have to keep going after two of the most important and watched over ones? He could have legit got any random one off the streets and been a thousand times more successful.

Overall, I didn’t love this one, and I know I sound kind of negative in the paragraphs above, but I did have fun while reading this. I mostly liked every scene without Jace being problematic, and I read it in under twenty-four hours! Yet, I do like this world! And I think that the whole topic of “downworlders” and how people can believe that others have “not as pure blood” is something that I think is still damn important to be talking about in 2018. I will for sure continue on with City of Glass, and hopefully I will enjoy it more!

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Down the TBR Hole #5

Down the TBR Hole was originally created by Lost in a Story! The point of it is to help cull your reading lists down, or maybe push higher anticipated releases up on your TBR! And maybe you all can help me along the way, and tell me if you’ve loved or hated any of these!

How it works:
➽ Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
➽ Order on ascending date added.
➽ Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
➽ Read the synopses of the books
➽ Decide: keep it or should it go?

Oh my gosh, there are some hyped books on this list for this this week! I seriously cannot wait to see what you all have to say! These are all so dang beloved! Again, please oh please convince me to bump these up or bump these off my TBR!

The Six Books:

Inda (Inda #1) by Sherwood Smith
Get ready for me to use the word “beloved” a lot while talking about these six books, but this book is so beloved among my friends and even my family. I can’t believe I haven’t got to it yet, but I am so excited!
Verdict: Keep ✅

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
I honest to God do not know why this is on my TBR, because I have to read so many of this books predecessors first! Like, at first I thought maybe I had gotten in signed, and I was just logging it on Goodreads, but nope, this is just randomly on here! I do hope to read this someday, but in the meantime, I am cleaning my TBR off and can read it when I do catch up with this world!
Verdict: Deleting (for now) ❌

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
*hides forever* I know, fam, I know. This is beyond beloved; this is some of my friends’ favorite book of all time. I have a beautiful edition of this too, so I don’t know what’s keeping me from reading it besides a 200+ TBR!
Verdict: Keep ✅

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers
Man, I just know I’m getting judged this week. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY MONTH, BE NICE TO ME! I know I will eventually read this, and I know I will love it. I actually don’t own this, and the UK covers are only 100 times better, so maybe that’s what’s keeping me from reading this. *ringing the shame bell, regardless*
Verdict: Keep ✅

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The books keep getting more hyped, and I’m getting more embarrassed. I know I need to read this, and I also know I’m probably going to love this. But, you all should shame me more and tell me to read this immediately if you love it, too!
Verdict: Keep ✅

An Ember in the Ashes (Ember Quartet #1) by Sabaa Tahir
*Cries forever* Too many books, too little time, friends. Okay? OKAY! This is another one that is so very beloved by so very many. Also, I hear there is an angsty love triangle in this, and you all know that is my cup of tea. I really don’t have an excuse for this either! I’m sorry, okay?
Verdict: Keep ✅

Okay, friends, I’m off to go have a good cry because I want to read all of these and I’m feeling a little too much shame right now! Also, I put all of these on my TBR in 2015! I am such a damn slacker, I swear! But these are the next oldest six books I have on my TBR! Let me know if you love, hate, and/or recommend me to read or trash any of these books! Thank you all so much, and I hope you all are having the happiest of reading! 💛✨

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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

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ARC provided by Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.

Is it bad etiquette to start a review with a quote by another author? Because while reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tarryn Fisher’s quote in one of my favorite books of all-time, Mud Vein, “What’s the difference?” I asked him. “Between the love of your life, and your soulmate?” “One is a choice, and one is not.” And I know I haven’t been on this Earth for that long, but that quote is the one of the truest things I’ve ever read in literature. And it really encompasses the theme of The Simple Wild. And sometimes, when you’re lucky enough, and are able to do everything in your power, you are able to have them both.

Let me also start this review off by saying that I feel like this book was very catered to my personal tastes, and I’ll go into that more in the review, but The Simple Wild is currently my favorite romance of 2018. The writing, the setting, the messages, the romance? It was all perfect in my eyes. This was also my first KA Tucker book, but I promise that it won’t be my last.

“What hold does Alaska have on them? What makes this place worth giving everything else up?”

The Simple Wild centers around a twenty-six-year-old named Calla, who has lived twenty-four years in Toronto with her mother. And both Calla and her mother, Susan, have spent most of those years wishing that the man they left in a very remote part of Alaska would come back for them. Calla’s father took over his father’s aviation business, that delivers supplies, food, and medical treatment all over the native towns around this rural part of Alaska. But they’ve both moved on; Susan married an amazing new man, Simon, and Calla just gave up the hope that her father would ever be more than distant heartache. That is, until a woman calls Calla and urges her to finally meet her father, after all these years, before it’s too late and she is never given the chance again. Calla, with the help and support of a few amazing people, decides to fly out and stay for a while in the remote village in Alaska that her father has always chosen over her and her mother.

“I’d always ask him to fly out to visit me. I mean, he had all these planes to choose from, so why couldn’t he just hop in one of them and come?”

KA Tucker says that Bangor is a made-up place in Alaska, but oh my gosh did I fall in love with this fictional community. And Calla gets to meet the people who have been her father’s family for his entire life. And I’ll never make excuses for a parent not wanting to be a bigger part of their child’s life, but I actually felt so much empathy for Calla’s dad, Wren, too. After twenty-four year, he has never given up the love he has for Susan. And even though Calla’s romance is the focus of this book, Wren’s really got to me. Like, this book is easily the book that made me cry the most in 2018. Without question. Happy tears, sad tears, I never want this book to end tears.

And you all know this is a romance book, so obviously Wren had to take a hot, thirty-one-year-old, pilot under his wing. And Calla and him start out with such an enemies to lovers plotline as soon as he picks her up to fly her to her father. And he obviously lives next-door to her father. And their paths are forced to cross constantly throughout Calla’s visit while she gets to finally know her father. And you all, I was weak for it. Also, this has the “trapped in the cabin in the woods” trope and I was screaming with heart eyes.

“Just don’t make the same mistake I did and fall in love with one of those pilots.”

Good Lord, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Jonah is honestly the type of guy that I personally like and am attracted to. And I feel kind of gross saying it, because he’s very much a “manly man” but not in a toxic masculine way, but in a “let me chop wood and put it on the fire we have going so I can cook for you” type way. I don’t know. I’m such a hot mess over this book. But I’m just saying that I’ve read 110 books this year, and Jonah is the only fictional dude character that I would personally let get it. Goodbye.

But there is so much to love about Calla, too! Not only does she have empathy, and the courage to let a man who she has felt abandoned by her entire life in, but she’s also sure of herself and her worth. Also, she and her best friend run a lifestyle blog, and I loved every mention of it. From adding hyperlinks last minute, to finding deals every holiday season, to trying your hardest to take the perfect picture for Instagram. Like, it was all so relatable and it truly was the cherry on this already amazing sundae. And I feel like in general, I personally just had a lot of similarities to Calla. Also, just because I’m apparently an open book in this review, my dad is the same age as Wren. So, all the extra feels.

And the overall message of this book is so important and so beautiful. We have to let people live the life that they want to live. We don’t have to agree, but we can always be supportive and try to be empathetic. I try not to talk about my personal life too much, but a lot of you know that cancer is something that I’ve chosen to center my life around, and it’s so important to let the person that is diagnosed choose what is best for them. And, this book is just so heartbreakingly beautiful. Because that’s really all life is; choice after choice after choice. And each and every single one completely alters our life’s path. But controlling our feelings is something entirely different. And the connections we choose to make, too early or too late, is everything.

“You should have called him. He should have called you. Your mom should never have left. Wren should have left Alaska for you. Who the hell knows what’s right, and what it would have led to, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t change any of that.”

This book also shines a spotlight on found families and platonic love, too. This book really is just all about the different kinds of love in the world, really. The love between family, between friends, and between communities. I feel so sappy, but this book just really blew me and my expectations away.

And even though this book was close to perfect in my eyes, it did have two elements that I didn’t enjoy. The first being just the general talk about beauty and what it means to be society’s standard of beauty. Calla gets a lot of shit from Jonah about the way she looks, and that’s something that has happened to me my entire life. And I get it from both sides of the spectrum: From dudes quizzing me with basic biology 101 questions because they can’t believe the degree I have, to my ex giving me shit because I can’t just roll out of bed and feel comfortable going places around town with them. We want girls to look a certain way, but we also want to make them feel bad for putting the time into looking that way. I don’t know. I’m getting so off topic but basically, I’m saying people have treated me the way Jonah treated Calla’s beauty in this book, and I don’t like it. And good Lord, did I hate the nickname “Barbie” so much. But I was living for Jonah constantly being proven wrong on his assumptions and prejudices. Girls are beautiful with no makeup or with a full face of makeup, one doesn’t erase the other. The only thing that matters is what the girl feels comfortable with, and what makes them happy. Also, make up can be really expensive, so show some damn respect.

My only other complaint is Calla’s mother, Susan, and her treatment of Simon. Susan does a lot of hurtful things in this book. And Simon is like the best character in all of literature, so it feels extra bad. Like, who paints someone’s bookshelves when they aren’t home? Like, I don’t know. I really liked Wren, but I honestly disliked Susan, which I feel like will be an unpopular opinion, but it’s honestly how I felt. Also, Simon deserves the entire galaxy and all the stars within it!

Overall, I just loved this. The setting was absolutely perfect and so very atmospheric. I loved the romance more than any word combination I could come up with. I loved the message of living your life to the fullest, and the theme of found families always being better than family of origin. I just loved The Simple Wild and I believe with my whole heart that it will make my best of 2018 list come this December. And again, this book felt very personal to me, but I recommend it to everyone with my entire soul. And, friends, don’t waste your life on wishes; if you want something – go for it, always. Life is short, but it’s never too late to go after your dreams and fight for something you love. Love can be so messy and so complicated, but it’s always worth it.

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Trigger and content warnings for abandonment, terminal disease, talk of cancer, some weird comments about body and weight that made me a little uncomfortable, and loss of a loved one.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“I fell in love with the forest. And the forest loved me back. And so we traded hearts. Mine is here, larger and stronger than it could have been in the small cavern of my body”

I’ve read over one-hundred books so far in 2018, and Strange Grace is easily my absolute favorite. And I anticipate that it will be my favorite book of 2018 come December 31st, too. What a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Literally perfection. A true gift to the literary world. Friends, if you’re looking for a spooky book, with a dark fairy-tale vibe, that heavily talks about society’s gender expectations, while being a love letter to gender fluidity, with the most heartwarming polyamorous relationship, look no further than this masterpiece.

“The old god and the youngest Grace witch. The story says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all?”

In Three Graces, no harm comes to anyone. Babies are born safe, and parents deliver in less pain. Crops are perfect and produce an abundance. Animals never get sick. People heal from cuts overnight and broken bones in a few days. This village is magical, and the community is able to thrive without fear, except for one thing. That one thing? Oh, the devil in the forest that surrounds the village.

Long ago, there were three witches. And the youngest one fell in love with the devil in the village and chose to give him her heart. And together, they made a deal. Every seventh year, when the slaughter moon comes, and the red from the Bone Tree releases, the best boy from the village will run into the forest, willing to sacrifice his life to protect his village for another seven years.

Except this year, the forest is requesting another boy, even though the village should be safe for another three years. The village has to come together and decide what to do. Should they sacrifice their newest best boy, in hopes that the devil that dwells in the forest will accept the offering?

“He was bold and powerful, beautiful and dangerous, but he loved the first Grace witch, and it was from that love the bargain blossomed. This valley is made on love, little bird. Find love. Seek it, always. That is where our power resides.”

We get to follow three characters, who all are tied to the sacrifices by just being born. We get to watch them deal with the safety of their village being removed, and we get to see how each reacts. And they are willing to rise up, they are ready to fight, but they are also so very willing to sacrifice.

Mairwen – White, half witch (from her mother), half saint (from her father that was sacrificed while her mother was pregnant), but wholly called to the forest. The youngest witch, and maybe the most powerful. And shares her heart with two people, and one best friend, that make up her entire universe.

“She is a piece of the wild forest: tangled vines of hair; beautiful dress torn and heavy at the hem with mud and water; insistent, dangerous eyes; lips parted; cheeks flushed. An ax loose in one hand like she’s the vengeful spirit in a terrible story.”

Arthur – White, was raised as a girl, because his mother couldn’t bear the thought of him being sacrificed, but the secret came out. And Arthur has felt trapped between the two worlds ever since, while wishing people could understand that there is more than just two genders. Yet, Arthur feels the need to prove themself as the best boy in the village, not just for the rest of the men to see, but to save the true best boy.

“Nobody can change who he is except for himself, not any saint ritual, not an ignorant, terrified town, not a night spent in the forest, not a dress or a kiss”

Rhun – Black, and the boy that completes this beautiful triad. Good, pure, kind, caring, and truly, above all else, the best boy in the village. But his goodness made it so that he was always literally raised for the slaughter.

“If love can protect anybody, it will protect Rhun Sayer.”

And these three have completely captured my soul and I’ve never shipped or loved a fictional relationship more. This story is a masterpiece, the discussions are life changing, and the writing feels like it comes from some sort of higher-power and/or magical deity. I promise you all, this story is now embedded in my very DNA. If you could only pick up one book that I recommend in 2018, please have it be Strange Grace.

Gender roles and the constructs that every society places on them is a constant theme in this book. Arthur’s character is so wonderful, and even though it was painful at times, was such a breath of fresh air to read about. We get to see Arthur feel ostracized from “girl things” but also never being able to fit in with the “boy things”, and we get to see Arthur realize how toxic that way of thinking truly is.

“What hurt him was the rule change. Being forced out of girlhood into boyhood, as if it were only an either/ or, as if to make any other choice was unnatural.”

And in general, the sexual representation is amazing. Like, everyone in this book is queer. Mairwen states attraction to different/no genders, obviously Rhun and Arthur are attracted to different/no genders, Arthur is (in my opinion) non-binary, Mairwen’s mom has a woman partner; this book has a whole lot of gay. And you all know how much the polyamorous rep meant to me, and how much I was living for it, while turning every page of this book. And I’m just going to pretend like they are all pansexual and go to sleep with a smile on my face each night. Thanks.

“It’s fear. Not of the devil, but fear of change. Fear of doing anything different that might cause a ripple and bring it all down. Fear of a little boy in a dress, because he didn’t fit into the structure of town, the rules. There was never anything wrong with Arthur.”

And this entire book is a love letter to found families everywhere. Mairwen, Rhun, and Arthur have created something so beautiful and their friendship is honestly goals. Unconditional love is always at the forefront of their relationship and of this story. And this entire book feels like a bright light that celebrates that the family you create and choose will always be superior than the once you are born into without any saying. Also, I haven’t talked about her yet, but Haf, Mairwen’s other best friend, is the sweetest soul in the book. I loved her. I’m happy the town believe in their misogynistic hearts that they had to sacrifice only their best boys, instead of their best human, because Haf is truly the best character in Three Graces. Like, I would totally sacrifice myself for her, Mairween, Rhun, and Arthur. Like, I’m walking into the forest now, because I love them all so much. Bye.

“I love you,” […] “Both of you, and all of you. Hold on to my heart and I’ll be fine.”

And I honestly feel like, somehow, this forest crept into my home and crept into me. This was so spooky and so atmospheric, but I couldn’t put it down. No matter how scary or how dark it got; I was so completely addicted. Some of these passages left me feeling like I was on my own alter, deep in the forest, chest open, ribs cracked, leaving my heart bared for all to see. Yeah, that good. I don’t have words.

I truly believe that sometimes you just completely connect with an author’s writing and it will wholeheartedly teleport you into that story. I read the anthology Three Sides of a Heart , and I fell so completely hard for Tessa Gratton’s writing. I always pick a favorite short story in anthologies, but normally it’s a hard choice, yet Tessa made that anthology’s pick so easy. And then I fell in love with another short story by her in All Out, and I knew I had to read a full-length book from this author. And friends, it was like picking a book up for the first and time and realize that power that books can hold. Tessa’s writing is on another tier all by itself, and I am still, days later, left in awe of it. If you like lyrical writing, with captivating stories that are completely transportive, you need to give Strange Grace a read. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

But this being said, I went into Strange Grace only expecting good writing and nothing more. But I can’t believe I found probably the best book of 2018. And this might be the best written book I’ve ever read in my entire life. I honestly had goosebumps while read at least 75% of this book. And even though this is a dark and spooky read, those goosebumps where completely from Tessa Gratton’s writing completely piercing my soul.

“You can break it all, or remake it.”

Overall, I recommend this with my heart and soul. Not only is this probably going to be my favorite book of 2018, it also has the best polyamorous relationship I’ve read ever. I’m not sure my heart has ever beat so fast, broken so painfully, or warmed so much, for any fictional relationship. The woods, the writing, the spell this book placed on me, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experience. Please, friend, pick this book up. Not only is it going to make the perfect autumnal read, it just feels like the book of my heart. Thank you so much, Tessa, for this once in a lifetime book that I’ll cherish forever.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for animal death, bullying, trauma, grief, murder, torture, human sacrifice, abandonment, and just in general, this is a spooky book that I would for sure classify as horror. Please use caution, friends.

Buddy read with Candance at Literary Dust, Lilly at Lair of Books, & Julie at Pages and Pens! ❤