Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!

Spoiler Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #5)

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“Empire of Storms” by Sarah J. Maas

3 1/2-4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?”

So, I have mixed feelings toward “Empire of Storms.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that Sarah J. Maas’s fifth “Throne of Glass” novel was very well-written and had an engaging cast of characters, but I think my problem with it was the fact that I felt like I had read “Empire of Storms” before; the plot and main romance between Aelin and Rowan did not strike a chord with me because I had already seen and experience a painfully similar romance in “A Court of Mist and Fury.” Beyond the nearly verbatim lines and predictability of Aelin and Rowan’s romance, though, I also found the plot of “Empire of Storms” to be repetitive of what us readers have already read by this author, and it was frustrating to me that the supposedly suspenseful moments ended up being fairly anticlimactic. I wanted to be on the edge of my seat, but I felt like I had already read “Empire of Storms,” just under a different title, and that sometimes killed the momentum of my reading experience. If it hadn’t been for Dorian, and Elide and Lorcan, I probably would have skipped half of this book. But let me tell you, Elide and Lorcan were completely worth reading this novel.

I was completely enraptured by the dynamic that existed between Elide and Lorcan and the relationship that slowly bloomed between them in “Empire of Storms.” I adored Elide as a character because she was one of the few human characters in this book; she had no powers, no special abilities beyond her own courage and cunning, and that made her such a compelling character when compared to the “perfectly” gifted Fae and their robotic queen, Aelin. Elide was a wonderful character to read about, and I adored the chapters that were written from her perspective because she had such a dynamic voice and moving past. Elide and Lorcan probably only got about two hundred pages of screen time out of this seven hundred page novel, if even that, but every moment, every word between the two of them was impacting. If anyone were to ask, I’d say Elide was the queen of this book (Manon also, but we’ll get to here in a minute), not Aelin. And Lorcan wasn’t hurting matters, either…

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Just yes, yes to everything about this character and his relationship with Elide. Lorcan was a real tool in the previous “Throne of Glass” books, and I had had zero affection or interest in the coldhearted Fae when Sarah J. Maas first introduced him, but the first chapter of “Empire of Storms” completely changed how I perceived this character. I had forgotten how good Sarah J. Maas can be at introducing new characters and shaping them into dynamic, key-players in her series, so at first I was taken aback by how interesting and layered I found Lorcan’s character to be from the very first chapter of this book. It was nice to find a character who completely captured my attention, and after his and Elide’s entrance into “Empire of Storms, ” I was wholly invested in them as characters, as well as in their romance.

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One of the things that I loved most about Elide and Lorcan’s sections of this book was how the tension just crackled between them. It has been a while since Sarah J. Maas has written a good relationship with that kind of ever present tension that is not angsty, but it is always there, keeping you on the edge of your seat. “Heir of Fire” was a great book, second only to my beloved “Throne of Glass,” but even in that book I did not feel the same kind of tension between Rowan and Celaena/Aelin. Dorian (be still my heart) also had a romance in that book with Sorcha, and although I shipped their relationship to the ends of the earth and back while it melted my heart into a puddle of feels, theirs was a romance built on friendship and partnership, as well as blossoming affection. Dorian and Sorcha were beautiful and perfect together, but they did not have the same tension between them that Elide and Lorcan had in “Empire of Storms,” which was due to their differing circumstances. Elide and Lorcan’s sections in this book were always weighty and interesting, and the two characters and their reluctant partnership made for an insanely dynamic story. I was honestly on the edge of my seat while reading from Elide and Lorcan’s perspectives, not just because of the amazing tension and character development that they experience, but also because of everything that was at stake for both of them. Elide and Lorcan’s story was unrivaled by anything else in this book, and I honestly wish that “Empire of Storms” had just been about the two of them and their journey, rather than having six additional characters thrown into the mix. Despite my desire to read a book about just Elide and Lorcan’s journey, I still loved seeing Dorian and getting to know Manon.

My heart hurt this entire book for the wonderful but forsaken Dorian Havillard. He has been the best and most consistent character throughout this entire series, and he has been the one to keep me coming back for more torture and torment with this series. Dorian was and is my everything, and that was why it was so heartbreaking to read about how his character changed in “Empire of Storms.” Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed every moment I got with him, but I feel like Sarah has tormented and abused this character too much to not give him more page time. Dorian deserved more time in this book, and so did his fans, to rediscover the recognizable but altered boy with the sapphire blue eyes. I understand that his experiences at the end of “Heir of Fire” and through all of “Queen of Shadows” justifiably broke him, but I wanted to get to know the new, haunted King Dorian for longer than Sarah J. Maas allowed me to. I have loved Dorian as a character since the first chapter of “Throne of Glass,” and I continued to love him in this book, but I was not a fan of how Sarah J. Maas approached his shift in character. I was also very frustrated by how carelessly Sarah threw together the romance between Dorian and Manon.

After the end of “Queen of Shadows,” I was rooting for Manon and Dorian to get together, especially since Manon was the only person who believed that Dorian was still alive despite the awful things that Erawan had done to him; Manon’s also pretty epic, so it was kind of a given that I would want them to be together eventually. I was still really rooting for their relationship throughout this book, but I did not fall in love with them as a couple because Sarah J. Maas never gave them enough time! I was pretty frustrated with the lack of development in their relationship, and I felt thoroughly disappointed with how little effort Sarah seemed to put into writing the romance between these two characters. All that happened between Dorian and Manon was that she saved him a couple of times from and dying and he saved her multiple times from being killed, and then suddenly they were a couple.

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It was a bit disappointing to be anticipating these two amazing characters getting to know one another, and to help each other heal from their broken pasts, only to get a few minuscule conversations that barely even developed a connection between them. The romance of Dorian and Manon felt vague and carelessly thrown together, when what they deserved was some epic development like Lorcan and Elide received. I still loved Dorian and Manon, but there were just some things that Sarah J. Maas did that really frustrated me, and I am pretty disappointed and heartbroken over the lack of respect with which she treated Dorian, Manon, and their romance. I am also pretty angry at what this lack of development means, but we’ll get there a little bit later.

Besides Manon, Dorian, Elide, and Lorcan, there were about four or five other characters who played a central role in “Empire of Storms,” but since a blogger only has so much time to analyze a dozen characters before they drive their readers to boredom or irritation, I will just finish up talking about Aelin and Rowan.

I had really liked Celaena as a character for the first three books. I thought that she was entertaining, intelligent, clever, and caring character when she wanted to show her heart, and I enjoyed the fact that Celaena was a flawed person. She did not always have the answers or solutions to every problem, nor did she always make the right calls during certain situations, but that was a part of her draw as a heroine; she failed many times, but she never stopped getting back up and dusting herself off. Celaena was a well-developed and interesting leading lady, if a bit overpowering at times, yet it has felt like the heroine of this series has been missing since “Queen of Shadows.”

I know that Celaena was just a name that Aelin chose to hide her true identity, but I found it frustrating that the dynamic and flawed Celaena suddenly disappeared after Aelin decided to use her given name again. The experiences and trials that Celaena had gone through, her flawed personality and decision making skills, were suddenly non-existent when she donned her royal name, which just seems silly to me because our experiences and memories make us who we are. Why did Aelin suddenly have everything figured out when Celaena did not? The swagger and charm of Celaena seemed to disappear with Aelin’s rise to power, and now I find everything Aelin-related to be very anticlimactic because I know as a reader that she already has the perfect plan up her sleeve, and that she’s going to make it out on the other side smelling like a rose. Even her romance was too good to be true with Rowan.

Personally, I had really liked Rowan in “Heir of Fire.” Dorian shall forever hold my heart, but it was really nice to have a sexy adult male as a lead character. Rowan had presence in every scene that he was in during Heir of Fire,” and I am going to be honest, I enjoyed the fact that he did not take crap from Celaena and occasionally (but only when justified) put her in her place. I was even rooting for their relationship after finishing the third “Throne of Glass” book, but when “Queen of Shadows” came out, their romance just did not seem as good as it was in “Heir of Fire.” I also felt like Rowan got less time to shine than he deserved in the fourth book because of Aelin overwhelming the show with her queenlyness. Because of the previous book, I was not particularly excited for a lot Rowan time in “Empire of Storms,” so I was quite surprised when I found myself liking this character again.

At first, I felt like I was greeted with a watered down version of the Rowan that I had liked in “Heir of Fire,” especially when he was around Aelin, but as this book went on, I kind of started to like Rowan again. He and Dorian had this epic bro-cation, and it was interesting reading how much the two of them had in common, other than Celaena/Aelin, with their first loves being murdered and losing their way a bit. Rowan all by himself was great in this book; he was a strong and decisive character, but it was the romance between him and Aelin that really felt kind of lame.

“Where have I have seen this romance before?” That was the question I kept asking myself every time Aelin and Rowan had a moment together, and the answer was always the same: I had already seen it in “A Court of Mist and Fury.” For all of you who adore the romances between Feyre and Rhysand and Aelin and Rowan, I am truly happy for you. I think my problem with these two romances, though, is how identical both of them are. Both Feyre and Aelin went through a couple of boys before they got to there current romantic interests, and now they are perfectly matched to their perfect life-long mate, and they are all going to live happily ever after (for all eternity) because their all freaking Faeries! Oh, yes, and let me throw a spoiler for the end in for you! Aelin ended up offering herself to her foe and was taken captive by enemy forces at the very end, and Rowan vows to not rest until he finds and saves her. Sound familiar?

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* sighs * Please, Sarah, I beg of you to throw in something that is not exactly like your other series, or something that is at least a tiny bit less predictable! I’m sorry to all of you who adore the romances in Sarah’s two series, but I just don’t feel any sort of attachment to either couple.

In the end, I enjoyed “Empire of Storms,” but I did not love it nor did I feel held in suspense by its ending. I have a strong sense of what is going to happen in the final book, and everything that Sarah J. Maas wrote in “Empire of Storms” has led me to the conclusion that she is going to kill off Dorian in the sixth “Throne of Glass” book. Aelin will get her happily ever after, Elide and Lorcan will probably survive, (or he’ll redeem himself by dying *sobs*), and Dorian will sacrifice himself in order to make the lock that can save everyone he loves. * sobs harder * It just doesn’t seem fair that this amazing, beautiful character will get the short end of the stick by being the emotional martyr of the series. Someone important but expendable (in the the author’s eyes) always gets sacrificed in the end of a series, and Dorian has the emotional connection to bring tears to the audience. He is also technically expendable because he does not have a solidified romantic relationship with anyone (maybe the romance that Sarah ended up giving him was vague and haphazardly thrown together for a reason!). My heart and soul have dreaded this truth for about four books now, and I feel like Sarah is just that cruel of a writer that she would kill off this wonderfully written character in order to preserve her beloved Aelin.

Due to my dread of impending events, I honestly do not know if I can read the last book. Dorian was my reason for continuing on with this series, and I kind of just want to ignore any ending where he does not get his own happy ending.

Besides my whole Dorian theory and Aelin’s predictably happy ending, I did enjoy reading “Empire of Storms.” Elide and Lorcan were the heart of this book because they were such amazingly dynamic characters with an insanely gripping story, and I am anxious to see where Sarah takes them (if I can somehow pick up the last book). Dorian was still absolutely fantastic, and I’ve enjoyed watching him come into his own over the course of this series; he has always been dedicated and invested in protecting his friends and people, and he did what was necessary in this book to get business done. I do hope that Sarah J. Maas develops his and Manon’s relationship more, because there was a lot of potential for the two of them together. I think that my only major problem with this book (besides the whole Dorian thing, and the plot holes that I don’t have the energy to discuss right now) was that Aelin felt kind of worthless toward the plot. I felt like this massive book would have kept moving without her presence, and I might have liked it more if there had been King Rowan and not Queen Aelin as the star of this series. I also found things involving Aelin to be very predictable, which killed the suspense of this book for me. We all know that Aelin will survive and rise again, so there’s nothing to be anxious about concerning her character and her relationship with Rowan. Despite this book’s predictability, it was a fast read, and I did find myself enjoying most of it. “Empire of Storms” couldn’t beat the first three books of this series in quality or original plotline, but it was still interesting and enjoyable to read.

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Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

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“Love and Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Summer in Tuscany, Italy would be an adventure of a lifetime to most people, but Lina is not one of them. The magic of Italy is lost on Lina because her visit to the beautiful country is only to fulfill her mother’s dying wish for her to get to know her father.

Nothing is ideal or appealing about her trip to Italy, but when Lina is given her mother’s old journal, she discovers what a magical time her mother had had in the romantic country. Reading through her mother’s journal leads Lina on a whirlwind adventure to uncovering the beauty, art, and secrets that her own mother experienced over a decade ago. Each entry of the journal takes her somewhere new, and soon Lina finds herself lost to the magic of the Italian countryside, despite the pain and sorrow that had painted her life for the last year. But as she follows the trail her mother left for in the journal, Lina finds out earth shattering truths about the woman whose every secret she thought she knew, and she wonders how her mother could have kept those kinds of secrets from her. As the mystery of her mother’s past in Italy unfolds, Lina discovers the true reason behind why her mother had loved Italy despite leaving it, and through uncovering her mother’s past, Lina might just find her way forward.

Have I ever told you that I’m a fiend when it comes to anything Italian? I find nearly everything about that country to be charming and interesting, so whenever an opportunity arises to read a book that takes place in the beautiful country, I am ready to dive right in! I have yet to experience a true Italian vacation, but for now reading about the stunning landscape and charming people and culture will have to do until I can experience it for myself.

I adored “Love and Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch because it felt like I got to visit Tuscany and like I had the opportunity to explore the stunning city of Florence. Jenna Evans Welch’s descriptions of the Italian countryside were amazing and made the story and region of Italy it took place in come alive, and this book felt like the closest alternative to an Italian summer to actually traveling there myself. Let’s just say it was magical imagining the beauty of the rolling hills and stunning landscape that Lina, the main character, got to wake up to each morning.

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Oh, yeah, and did I mention Florence yet? I might have swooned over the descriptive writing that Jenna used when telling her readers about the beautiful and historic city of Florence. Jenna Evans Welch painted such a stunningly clear Florence for me that I could see and feel the city all around me, and I loved how this book truly gave me the travel bug, especially when she described the Duomo.

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It felt like I got a tiny history and architecture lesson from reading “Love and Gelato,” which I absolutely adored, and after reading this book, I want to experience the city of Florence and all of Tuscany for myself!

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“Love and Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch is the best contemporary book that I have read for travel; it felt like I got a private tour of Italy while also reading a heartwarming story about a girl healing from loss and discovering who she is. Alright, enough about the amazing travel aspects of “Love and Gelato,” because there was so much more to Jenna’s book than just stunning scenery!

I have been on a YA contemporary reading craze lately. After having read quite a few heavy/serious fantasy novels, I felt this need to find as many sweet, summery reads as I could, and “Love and Gelato” was the first one that I got my hands on, thanks to my sister loaning her copy to me. Needless to say, I loved this book so much, from its beautiful descriptions, heartwarming story, and sweet summertime feeling, that I bought myself a copy!

YA contemporary is usually not my preferred genre, but some truly fantastic authors have persuaded me to give it a chance, and books within this the contemporary genre have slowly found their way onto my bookshelf. I love fairly serious and thought-provoking books or characters that are impacting and linger long after I have put them down, but sometimes I just need a little sweetness in life that gives me a safe escape from my troubles, and “Love and Gelato” was exactly that. This book was the perfectly light and heartwarming journey that a summer afternoon requires, but it was also more, and I feel like I am shorting Jenna Evans Welch by saying that it was just a fluffy summer read. “Love and Gelato” was sweetness itself, but it also had an unexpected depth to it at times that was the result of Jenna having her protagonist dealing with the loss of her mother. “Love and Gelato” made me feel happy and lighthearted with the beauty of the Italian countryside, but there were also moments when it made my heart ache and tears come to my eyes, especially during the last twenty or thirty pages. I really appreciated the ease in which Jenna Evans Welch pulled me into the story that she was telling, and by how she caused me as a reader to feel emotionally connect to her characters.

Lina was a likeable contemporary protagonist, and my heart hurt for her and the loss that she was dealing with because of her mother’s passing. The way that Jenna Evans Welch wrote this book and her main character made me enjoy Lina’s journey, and I liked the fact that Lina did not pull the universe-is-against-me card; I don’t personally like the fact that she was traipsing around a foreign all alone for a few days without any knowledge of the language or culture, but I never got annoyed with Lina, either. I got why she did not want to be in Italy, and Jenna Evans Welch handled the situation of loss well within her contemporary novel.

There was, unfortunately, insta-love between Lina and a young man who she meets in Italy, and that was truly the only thing that I rolled my eyes at while reading “Love and Gelato.” That and the fact that Lina did not know what gelato was.

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Fortunately, though, the insta-love and the severely lacking knowledge of delicious food did not ruin the story of “Love and Gelato “for me. Lina’s journey was cute and heartwarming, if a little quick for my taste, and I just wish that this book had taken place over a longer period of time, because personal growth comes with time. Lina’s story was sweet, but it only took a few days in Italy for her to discover who she was and to come to the point where she could begin to heal from the loss of her mother. It was still a great and heartwarming coming of age story, but I just wish it hadn’t happened so fast for this book’s protagonist, especially since I wanted to see Lina get to know Howard more.

Howard, Lina’s long-lost father and the reason she came to Italy, was such a good, charming, and endearing character. I wish that there had more of him because he brought so much to this book. Jenna Evans Welch did such an amazing job writing Howard, and his character honestly brought tears to my eyes while reading the end of this book. Lots of tears. Multiple times.

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Howard’s story was so interesting as well as sad, and I loved how much he cared for Lina and wanted to get to know her. I’ve definitely come to the point in my life where I fall for the adult characters and am on their side instead of the rebellious teenager’s. And let me tell you, the other side looks pretty good. 😉

Overall, “Love and Gelato” was a sweet, heartwarming summer read. I enjoyed reading Jenna’s amazing descriptions of Tuscany and learning about the city of Florence, and I hope to someday have a stamp in my passport that says,”Italy,” on it. Welch’s writing style in “Love and Gelato” was easy to read while being extremely impacting, and I enjoyed the whole experience of reading this book, from its characters to its stunning setting. If you want to read a good story or just catch the travel bug, you have to read “Love and Gelato”!

Les Petits Bonheurs #16…

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So, it is officially summer! It has been summer for about two weeks now, but with a busy schedule it has taken me a bit of time to absorb the fact that I no longer have to study most of my days away. I have a fair amount of free-time now that I am starting to settle down into my new routine, which makes me hopeful that I can finish some of my long-in-coming reviews of books that I read in March, April, and May. *sighs* I am more than a little behind, but I am excited that I will eventually get caught up, even if I am wee bit behind other bloggers.

This summer has definitely inspired me to revise my reviewing process since I’m not the fastest writer/editor, so we’ll see what comes of that, and I’m very excited to start checking things off of my reading list! Before my summer commenced, I had this strange desire to just reread all of the books on my shelf that I love and to give ones that I did not particularly care for a second chance, despite the fact that there are quite a few new books that I should get caught up on. So, my summer reading list is actually a blast to the past/nostalgia list, with quite a few contemporary novels on it, which is not usually my preferred genre. This summer just seems like the right time to drown in fluffy contemporary novels and some of the greatest hits that I own.

All that being said, I am honestly not sure how many new reviews I will be doing this summer. I think that I might rewrite some of my old reviews if my perspective changes toward the books after their next reading, but I am still hoping to write a few new reviews in addition to having a couple of random posts that are befitting of the summer season. I honestly don’t know what’s coming down the blogger road, but I’m kind of excited that it’s unplanned, and I hope you don’t mind the off-roading experience that’s up ahead.

See How They Run by Ally Carter (Embassy Row #2)

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“See How They Run” by Ally Carter

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Grace Blakely discovered that the Scared Man of her nightmares, the man she had believed to be her mother’s murderer, is innocent, and that her mother was actually a part of something important enough for someone to want her dead. Grace’s already upended world is shaken once again when she’s told a great secret that has been kept for centuries, revealed only to a select few in all of Adria.

Still reeling from what she has been told about the true history of Adria and her mother’s past, tragedy strikes Embassy Row. When someone closely connected to the Blakely family is found dead on one of Adria’s beaches, Grace and her friends have to uncover the truth behind what happened to the victim before one of their own is accused of being the murderer. Soon they discover that the victim’s death is closely connected to the untold story of Adria, and Grace begins to realize that her fate and the fates of friends depend upon her uncovering the truth buried beneath the ancient city. She just hopes that she can expose it before her time and luck runs out in Embassy Row.

Wow, I had a lot of fun while reading this book! Ally Carter is one of my favorite authors because of her clever writing and fast-paced plots, and whenever I pick up a book written by her, I know that I will enjoy reading it. In January of last year, Ally Carter had released the first book in her new “Embassy Row” series, and I had enjoyed it a lot, but it did not capture my heart quite like the “Gallagher Girls” and the “Heist Society” books had. I could appreciate that “All Fall Down” was a fast, enjoyable read, but I was not in love with the characters of this new series and that kept it from becoming an instant favorite for me. With Ally Carter, though, I always know to just sit back and wait, because each successive book in her series gets better and better, and I am quite happy to announce that “See How They Run” was not an exception to the rule.

“See How They Run” was instantly more interesting and enjoyable to read than the first book, and now that I knew Grace a little bit more, I could really get into the story and mystery that Ally wrote in this book. When I read “All Fall Down” in January of last year, I had liked reading it, but I had found it to be a bit more predictable and some of the suspense was taken away because of that. With “See How They Run,” however, I did not know what Ally Carter would do next and was just along for the very fun ride that it took me on.

Grace was a harder perspective to read at times because of her darker, more negative outlook on life. Obviously she had valid reasons to feel the way she did, but her point of view did not make for the most lighthearted or funny reading experience like the “Heist Society” and the “Gallagher Girls” had been. Ally Carter has an amazing sense of humor that comes across in her writing really well, but the “Embassy Row” books have been quite serious compared to the other books due to Grace’s fairly constant stream of negative thoughts. Although Grace’s was not the most reviving or refreshing of perspectives to read from, I still enjoyed “See How They Run,” and after the first half of it, Grace definitely curbed some of her internal pessimism. Once I reached that point in this book, I found myself caring a lot about Ally’s beaten down heroine, and I wanted to see her forgive herself and get a fresh start.

One of the many reasons why I love Ally Carter’s writing so much is that her books and series always become more and more layered as they continue. “See How They Run” was so much more intriguing than “All Fall Down,” and I loved that I learned more about the history Adria and the secret circle that Grace had been invited into. All of those new additions to the plot and background of Adria created an extremely interesting dynamic between the main and secondary characters in this book, which only added to the fun of it! Besides the added mystery of “See How They Run,” and that I had grown accustomed to Grace’s slighter dark perspective, I loved that Ally Carter had Alexei play a much larger role in her second “Embassy Row” book.

As great as the other characters in this book were, Alexei Volkov was by far my favorite!

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Alexei reminded me a bit of Zach Goode from Ally’s “Gallagher Girls” series (in the best possible way!) while still feeling like a new, fresh male character, and I really enjoyed getting to know him better in “See How They Run.” Alexei was introduced in “All Fall Down,” but he did not play a huge role in the story other than occasionally making an appearance, which I was okay with at the time. I had really liked Noah, Grace’s friend, in the first book because he was in it the most and was the comedic aspect of it, but then Alexei effortlessly stole the show in “See How They Run,” and I just fell in love with this character and wanted him to be in every scene possible. I loved getting to know Alexei a little bit more in this book, and the secrets was keeping created some extra suspense. Alexei was a really interesting and mysterious character, and I ended up massively enjoying the second “Embassy Row” book because he played such an important role in it. Another reason why I liked “See How They Run” was because of the tension that existed between Alexei and Grace.

I wouldn’t say that there was an actual romance in “See How They Run,” but it was obvious that there was something between Grace and Alexei that went beyond just having known each other for years. I seriously loved seeing Alexei and Grace together, the history they had with one another, and I thought that they were, or would be, really good together. Alexei was Grace’s pillar at times in this book, and I think that Grace made him a little bit softer, kinder. Yeah, I am definitely shipping the two of them, and I am excited to see where Ally Carter will take them in the next “Embassy Row” book.

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Besides Alexei being amazing and Grace making my heart hurt, I really enjoyed the other characters that Ally Carter wrote. Ally has a knack for creating fabulous secondary characters, and I loved the dynamic all of her characters in “See How They Run” produced. I felt a little nostalgic at times reading this book because I missed some of the characters from Ally’s other series, but I thought that all of the characters in the “Embassy Row” series were still great, and they were already growing on me while I was reading the second book.

As good as “All Fall Down” may have been, “See How They Run” was a much better book! The mystery was so much fun and did not seem predictable, and all of Ally Carter’s characters and their adventures were even better in this book! I thought that the mystery Ally Carter wrote into “See How They Run” was interesting and it kept me reading quickly, and I definitely did not expect that kind of ending! It was getting down to the last few pages and the mystery Grace and her friends had been working on was still unsolved, and then, on the last three pages, the big reveal came. It was one of those endings that you reread two or three times and end up thinking about how long the wait for the next book is going to be.

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I was mildly stunned at first, and then it set in that there would be no more Alexei until the next book came out!

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Overall, I really enjoyed “See How They Run”! It was a fun and fast-paced read, and I loved getting to know all of Ally’s new characters better. I just wish that I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book to come out…*sits here and waits*

Fangirl Friday #3…The Man from U.N.C.L.E

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I know that it’s not a book, but I just couldn’t resist posting about “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” after my sister and I saw it this morning. Let me tell you, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, second only to “Cinderella,” and I absolutely loved it! I mean, this movie literally had everything going for it with its fantastic retro-feeling filming, a fabulous car chase scene in the beginning,

5bb806a39e669c3490558285152e64abgreat 1960’s style music that was placed perfectly in scenes (especially in this one),

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Armie Hammer on a motorcycle pulling a Steve McQueen move, *swoons*

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Henry Cavill playing a suave spy with moves like this,

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and amazing comedic timing during even action sequences and mildly morbid moments. 7d31deca497b3be7065e25883f73bf56

I have no words for how fabulous “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was/is, and you just need to go and experience it for yourself! Go forth and watch it!!

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Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #2)

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“Crown of Midnight” by Sarah J. Maas

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

After winning the position of royal assassin, Celaena Sadothien is assigned tasks by the King of Adarlan and she must carry them out if she wishes to win her freedom and keep her head. Being the king’s lackey was a part of the deal to obtain her freedom, but it was a promise Celaena never intended to keep. With extreme caution and skill, Celaena has be able to deceive the King of Adarlan for the last few months into thinking that she has been doing his bidding when she has actually been undermining his authority. The more time passes, though, the harder it is for Celaena to keep the ruse up, and it is only a matter of time before she will make a mistake large enough for the king to notice.

Added to Celaena’s list of worries is how her desperate need for secrecy is straining her friendships with Nehemia and Dorian, and at times, Chaol. If she is found out, Celaena and anyone who knows her secret, will pay the price with their lives, and so distance might be the only form protection she can offer them. But when forces within the glass castle beckon Celaena to uncover their secrets, she discovers that there is far more at stake than her own life and freedom, and she will need her friends if she is ever going to fix what has been broken.

Time is short and with the King of Adarlan’s power rapidly expanding, Celaena and her friends within Rifthold are racing against the clock before everything comes crashing down around them. As Nehemia is working her angle at court, and Dorian makes a terrifying discover about himself, Celaena uncovers truths that could shake all of Erilea to its core. Can Celaena figure out who she can trust with such sacred and powerful knowledge, or will she place her fate into the hands of someone who could destroy them all?

“Crown of Midnight” was a very well-written book with an even more intricate plot than “Throne of Glass,” and I liked seeing more of Sarah J. Maas’s world beyond the castle in Rifthold. The second book in this series was good, but sadly it didn’t reach out to me quite as much as the first had.

Celaena remained a cool heroine, and despite the hard spot she was placed in as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she figured out how to not be his lap dog, and I also thought that her and Nehemia’s friendship was interesting. Both females were trying to, in their own way, undermine the King of Adarlan’s authority, and they were so brave for not choosing to sit back and wait for someone else to do what was right. Another thing that I thought was interesting in “Crown of Midnight” was how all of Celaena’s relationships were massively tested by circumstances in it, and I liked watching Celaena’s reactions to certain situations from an already informed perspective. After “Crown of Midnight” came out in 2013, my sister told me about most of what happened in this book (same with “Heir of Fire”), and so I went in carefully watching for any subtleties that I might have missed if the book had been new to me. One of the things that I really noticed within “Crown of Midnight” was how Celaena’s and Dorian’s relationship fell apart and then morphed into something new.

You all know how much I LOVED Dorian Havilliard in “Throne of Glass,” and that didn’t change after reading “Crown of Midnight.” Dorian was still an amazing and glorious character in this book, but his and Celaena’s deteriorating friendship in the first half of “Crown of Midnight” broke my heart. I knew they wouldn’t end up together as a couple once I had finished “Throne of Glass” even though they were quite nearly perfect for one another, but even with that knowledge, it was still torturous having to watch Celaena reject and push him aside so efficiently. Dorian was angry and hurt, so he distanced himself from her a bit, but he was never cruel or unkind towards her despite the fact she had torn his heart apart, and he always left the door of friendship open to Celaena.

“Crown of Midnight” was full of rejection and betrayal for Dorian from all of those he cared (namely Chaol and Celaena, but also his father), but he really stepped up his game in every way possible in it. I loved Dorian in “Crown of Midnight” so much because he never changed into something that he wasn’t, he just grew as a person, and I liked that Sarah J. Maas began to make an even more important character in her series. Dorian went through a lot in this book from loosing Celaena, Chaol betraying him in a way, to discovering a huge secret about himself. Depsite all that he went through in “Crown of Midnight,” Dorian stayed true and even became stronger as an individual. Personally, one of the most satisfying things in this book was when Celaena, by the end of it, realized that Dorian was her truest friend and that she would fight to protect him, and he for her, if it came to that.

unnamedIt was so awesome to have Celaena acknowledge the fact that Dorian had always been by her side, on her side; I knew it, but it was still great to see her finally admit it to herself. I desperately wanted Dorian and Celaena to be together, but I was at least grateful that these characters had a really strong connection and relationship, even if it wasn’t the kind that I had originally hoped for.

I feel like most of the characters in “Crown of Midnight” experience some sort of change or growth, all except Chaol who, once again, irritated me. I think one of my biggest issues with Chaol was that he felt pointless, and if he were to be removed from the series entirely, it would have no effect on the plot. I mean, while Celaena was out getting business done, Nehemia was doing her own stuff at court trying to save her people, and Dorian was discovering quite a few new things about himself, dealing with his evil father, and trying to keep the people of Erilea from getting massacred, Chaol was doing nothing of great use or anything of importance. So, yeah, compared to everyone else in this book, Chaol was pretty useless, and the only thing he actually did that helped the plot of this series along was keep a HUGE secret from Celaena. *slow claps* Bravo, Chaol, bravo.

Although the amount of Chaol and his and Celaena’s romance made me not like “Crown of Midnight” as much as “Throne of Glass,” I still enjoyed reading it. I loved seeing Dorian grow as a person, and I liked learning more about Erilea beyond the borders of Adarlan. I didn’t feel quite as engaged in reading this book (not just because of Chaol/Celaena), but I think that the direction Sarah J. Maas took with Celaena and her relationships with other characters in “Crown of Midnight” was very interesting, and I am curious to see where she plans to take them in future books. Very well done, just didn’t leave quite the mark on me that “Throne of Glass” had.