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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

It’s been a year since Lottie’s fiancé walked out, leaving her heartbroken. But things start to look up when she lands her dream job at a beautiful Lake District estate, with a handsome groundskeeper for a neighbour.
 
So when Lottie is asked to organise a last minute Christmas wedding at Firholme, she can’t wait to get started. Until she meets the couple, and discovers that Connor, the man who broke her heart, is the groom-to-be.
 
As snow falls on the hills, can Lottie put aside her past to organise the perfect winter wedding? And will there be any festive magic left to bring Lottie the perfect Christmas she deserves?
 
Curl up with this gorgeous story about love and second chances, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson.

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A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I love Phillipa Ashley’s stories and writing style. The plot, the twists were well thought out. I liked the feeling that something was lulling, something in the background, a secret still to be revealed, all while instant gratification reveals were woven throughout the plot.

I think anyone looking for Christmas story to read as the days lead up to the holiday will enjoy this book. Romance, tension, cutesy bits, family bond, fun, this book had it all. It followed a timeline like an advent calendar which I quite enjoyed. Built on relational aspects, it was an endearing look into love and loss, life tragedy with hope and cheer, a feel-good story that was not the typical predictable plot one would expect, and a real Christmas mood setter for me because the scene descriptions were so well-fitted to capturing Christmas spirit and described in a lovely way without being over-the-top..

Had all the elements I love in a book. A lovely Christmas setting, enthusiastic characters with life choices and places they wanted to go, descriptions that weren’t over-embellished, and a deeper life roadblock that was realistic and heart-felt.

Though, toward the end, the characters annoyed me. Some disconnects for me, like the mother-in-law reaction of only hoping they were meant for each other. I admit I wasn’t really hopeful for the happy couple either, not the other couple either I suppose. I wanted to root for them at the beginning, but I just wasn’t feeling it toward the end. The elements of the story were there but I guess there was more focus on the details of the event than working through the feelings that I wanted more of.

Some of the overall situations in the relationships were a bit weird to me. Like certain dilemmas made for detours I was less interested in. It was the feelings that were a bit displaced and lesser developed. I guess all-in-all it was hard for me to grasp the coming to terms of their feelings because a high emotion sequence needed a higher emotional response that I just didn’t see in the end. Time or pacing may have been a big factor, maybe from that aspect it could have lingered more in increased length of time to provide resolutions that would have been a bit more realistic. Started out strong though, but I wanted to see it carried out just as strong.

It was just their circumstances and being stuck inside each other’s feelings rather than finding their own. The characters, and I mean actually majority of the characters, didn’t seem to understand how their hurt was being projected. They all reminded me of that Simpsons episode where the family zaps each other as a form of aversion therapy… unsuccessfully: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFCgz….

“Hey I thought we were making real progress…” Marge Simpson

Marge’s response “Hey I thought we were making real progress…”

A bit patched up, a bit packaged up in a very presentable way; however, all while being a bit oblivious to their own being.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the Christmas magic and the way the cutesy parts were displayed, the dog, the pizza party, the gorgeously decorated venue, all for a very lovely time I spent reading and escaping the year’s exhausting moments.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Romance

Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

As a single mum, care-home caterer Connie has thrown herself into online dating – or she had until one dating disaster too many. Now she’s hesitant…hurt in the past and with her son to consider, she won’t rush into anything. Then one of Connie’s elderly patients sets her up on a date at a beautiful German Christmas market – with the promise she’ll take a mini-bus load of pensioners with her… 

Amongst the twinkling lights and smell of warm gingerbread in the old market square, Connie heads off on her date with a check-list of potential partner must-haves. Baker Henrich ticks all the boxes, proving to be reliable, thoughtful and keen. But when Connie meets Henrich’s rival William, she starts to wonder if ticking boxes is the answer.

Will Connie find the love of her life this Christmas, and if so – who will it be?

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Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a sweet Christmas story. Loved the opening scene with life dynamic, getting right into both the middle of a story yet the beginning of an adventure.

I think anyone looking for a delightful, heart-melting, uplifting, lighthearted, yet meaningful Christmas tale will appreciate this book. It follows characters through relationships and the quirky things about aging, those learning to relish the little victories in life through grief and gain and finding satisfaction and purpose.

The story. With the foreshadowing of tidbits, coming full circle, made for a nice reveal of excitement and hope, the kind of feelings that come with Christmas. I loved the strides the characters made through the conflict.

The writing. I loved how Jo Thomas wrote. The authentic experiences, the setting, the character interactions, all were genuine. Gentle and not over the top, deep enough to bring real life into each character. She wrote appealing to all the senses and I adored the details in the baking scenes, and I especially adored the elderly insight and social activities. Nice way to shape the characters, coaxing them through their celebrations and dilemmas, all while providing entertainment and commentary along the way.

I would have liked a little more conversation of one certain relationship, to have developed a bit more in recognition of reconciliation. And one aspect teetered on less moral ground for my preferences. However I liked the inner monologue which helped to make the teetering situation more palatable for me, especially when the permissiveness and timeline of the situation, from this aspect of single and available both on paper and emotionally finally came to be.

I can’t comment on the recipes as they weren’t contained in the ARC I received. Bummer.

Overall the story was a well thought out plan. It kept my interest. Perfectly packaged but not without some bumps in the relationships, I loved the tension, the anticipation, the wonderings, the joy, the delightful way it all unfolded in this Christmas tale.

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Book Blog Book Reviews Featured Fiction Romance

Spring Tides at Swallowtail Bay (Swallowtail Bay, Book 1) by Katie Ginger

Licking her wounds from her divorce, Stella impulsively buys a gift shop and two holiday lets in glorious Swallowtail Bay, hoping for a fresh start with her King Charles Spaniel Frank.

When the neighbours meet her with a warm welcome, Stella knows she’s found the new home she was looking for. Even gorgeous but grumpy local Miles can’t take the shine off things. But then her ex-husband announces he’s getting married again, and someone in the village starts gossiping about Stella…

Is Stella’s dream over already? Or, with her new friends behind her, can Stella fight back and save her new life – and find the happy ever after she’s been waiting for?

Spring Tides at Swallowtail Bay by Katie Ginger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This was ok, sort of liked it, sort of teetering on my opinion about it. I really wanted to like this one more than I did though. I couldn’t stay focused on it. I think those who like a slow, easy feeling read will enjoy this one more than I did.

I loved the idea of the story, the business, the shops, the bay, the small town, people being friendly, learning about the character circumstances, how they got there, how they were coming to be, the things everyone was doing, the setting.

But getting through loads of descriptors after the first 20-30 pages really bogged down my reading experience.

I felt like I was wading around the surf in JNCO jeans. Almost two pages dedicated to describing the flat was unappealing to me. The overly detailed descriptions didn’t add much depth or interest, rather they became incredibly distracting as I read on.

Just the flat, knowing everything about it being dirty, the layout, the furniture, actually leading to repetition and over-emphasis throughout the book. Then the activities of walking up to meet someone, reaching for a knob, opening doors, closing doors, glancing out windows, putting a cup to their mouth, setting the cup down, using a napkin, picking up a fork, loading the fork with cake, taking a bite, setting the fork down, their every physical move documented with every interaction.

It was just too slow-paced and bulky, cluttered for my style, obstacles to my enjoyment of what I thought was actually a really story so I will look forward to exploring more from that aspect.

I’m interested in checking out the others in the series and seeing what they are like.



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Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas

A heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence.

Can Del find her recipe for happiness? 

Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie. 

Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? After discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?

Perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill.

Escape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summerEscape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summer by Jo Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Such a great book for the perfect reading escape!

I loved this book, all the components. As far as the story goes there were elements of connection, community, and belonging interlaced with real life challenges and celebrations that were relatable on so many levels.

The author brought forth all the emotion in just enough detail where I could easily sink my teeth into without feeling an incompleteness or feeling drained. The book overall was actually happy and uplifting, even though some stories were quite sad and deeply resonating with me. Stories with subplots that read like I was having a conversation with a best friend. Sometimes the main character was like, ok, what are you doing? But it was a story, her story, and life is not perfect and all the elements of her life were brought in full circle.

I was looking forward to wherever the story was going to take me.

As far as the writing goes, I loved the pacing and tone. Just enough moving the story forward, balanced with backstory, revelation, and self-reflection. Overall the amount of events were fast for the length of time they were set in, but it worked as a driving, yet delicate force to include necessary happenings that were realistic enough to be attainable.

1st person present is my least favorite POV to read, but this was done well because every word, every sentence was intentional, purposeful. It was written with such fluidity that it was a joy and pleasure to read.

The subplots with bigger stories flourished with a diverse enough cast of characters where each had distinguished charm all in their own both in the main character’s description and interaction with them, as well as in dialogue.

And simply the setting. The description of the French countryside, encompassing the main character’s house, market, and lifestyle centered around the beautiful scenery and delicious bakes from the star of the show, lavender, really made me feel like I was there enjoying it along with them. I’ve only been to Charles de Gaulle airport mind you, but through this story of imagine, I was among the lavender fields and dining out, the warm sun on my face, with a crisp, chewy lavender macaron and glass of wine, loving every bit it.

Highly recommend for an absolutely lovely summer read and I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Beach Read by Emily Henry

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Beach ReadBeach Read by Emily Henry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A spectacular read! Perfect for the beach, get out of a reading slump, or an escape type of book.

I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Julia Whelan, which I’d highly recommend. Her answering machine voice was just so spot on.

The story itself was lighthearted at times, also uplifting, and with a deeper sentiment, making it a complete and memorable read for me.

I liked the life perspective the author brought out in the characters who celebrated and struggled with feelings of loss, feeling lost, hope, trust, making amends, finding peace, love, and a slew of wavering emotions ranging from hurt and disappointments, as well as wonder and gratitude.

Since it is a book about authors in and of itself, there were some pretty good bits of irony and satyrical takes on the writing process, publishing, and the authorship community. The literary references and sources of writing inspiration were timeless, some, downright hilarious.

As far as the writing goes, I liked the simplicity brought forth with a single timeline and single POV. It wasn’t complicated which was nice and refreshing, one where I could focus on the actual enjoyment of the story. It read like some people I know.

The voices were distinct and the snarky, playful banter was deeply entertaining. A few bits were a little juvenile for the age group and life stage, but they also made it more amusing in a way. The self-reflection was more of a saving-grace for those parts. Yet it was clearly understood why the characters did what they did which made all the difference in connecting and relating to the story and the characters. And to that, it was also an approachable read for most anyone anyway.

All in all, just loved it!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Perfect Cornish Escape (Porthmellow Harbour #3) by Phillipa Ashley

Summer in Cornwall is the perfect time for a fresh start…
Seven years ago, Marina Hudson’s husband was lost at sea. She vowed to love him for the rest of her life – but when kind-hearted Lachlan arrives in Porthmellow, should she deny herself another chance at happiness?

Tiff Trescott was living life to the full as a journalist in London – until her boyfriend’s betrayal brought it all crashing down. Fleeing to her cousin Marina’s cottage, Tiff feels like a fish-out-of-water. And when brooding local Dirk wins a day with her in a charity auction, she’s thrown headfirst into Cornish life.

This summer promises new beginnings for both Tiff and Marina. But are they too good to be true?

A Perfect Cornish Escape by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

The stories in this book were excellent! It read as bright and cheery with unexpected deep sentiment as subjects of loss, grief, PTSD, betrayal, desire, belonging, and ambivalence in navigating life’s way were charted.

As far as writing, I really liked the way the characters were shaped. Guiding me to be drawn in rather quickly and profoundly, embracing and opposing certain characteristics of both the protagonistic and antagonistic qualities of the other, well done.

The incorporation of an inner monologue to help form/validate their actions and ideas was a little bumpy for me at first. It was the ease of reading, something about how much of the dialogue was followed by an underlying explanation for saying/feeling that way much of the time at the beginning. It just felt a little interruptive where instead I wanted the dialogue to be more genuine and more easily identifiable/distinguishable to each voice, to have a better understanding of the characters so it would come as a natural understanding without having it be pointed out in the inner workings of their head as much as it was. But I warmed up to it about 1/3 of the way in. Maybe it was more of a stylistic choice and was less pervasive and bothersome to me as the stories went on.

I also would have liked to have seen a little more involvement from the other friends and families of the characters to confirm character qualities and certain circumstances they found themselves in.

Loved the setting! Beachfront, Cornwall, England, the lifestyle of characters, jobs/businesses, leisure time, homes, all to go with it. It made so much logical sense and added a drawn in, dreamy, escapism-type attribute that complimented the overall themes of the stories and brought magnetic value to the succinct title of the book.

It was such a lovely read as far as plot was concerned. The connectedness and portrayal of relatability and realistic life circumstances, not cheesy, not overdone, nor over simplified. And the similes and metaphors, the pop culture references, I love it when writers take risks and just dive into such stuff.

I will definitely look forward to reading more stories from this author.

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Romance

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.

Charley doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as she starts to delve into the history of Lydia and her French officer, it becomes clear that the Wilde House holds more than just secrets, and Charley discovers the legend might not have been telling the whole story…or the whole truth.

BellewetherBellewether by Susanna Kearsley

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The premise was super interesting.

However I had difficulty staying connected to it. There was a lot of information dumping, some passages overworked, some underworked. A lot of passive voice. I couldn’t make sense of it all unfortunately. DNFd at Charlie, page 32.

I think most of my dissatisfaction was that I really wanted to dive into it but I wasn’t in the mood to figure out and look past what wasn’t working for me. It lacked a bit of direction and flow. Perhaps it was some untimely changing of POVs, the amount of interruptive backstory in between the dialogue, and very dense less interesting informational releases about the characters which made the reading experience feel a bit stagnant for my taste.

I really liked the idea behind the story though and will definitely be looking forward to exploring other stories from this author.

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The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts (Lonely Hearts Bookshop #1) by Annie Darling

A quaint old bookshop, where happy ever after is only a page away…

Once upon a time in a crumbling bookshop, Posy Morland hid in the pages of romantic novels.

So when Bookend’s eccentric owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy, she must put down her books and join the real world. Because Posy hasn’t just inherited an ailing business, but also the attentions of Lavinia’s grandson, Sebastian, AKA The Rudest Man In London™.

Posy has six months to transform Bookends into the shop of her dreams but as Posy and her friends fight to save the bookshop, she’s drawn into a battle of wills with Sebastian, about whom she’s started to have some rather feverish fantasies…

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts (Lonely Hearts Bookshop #1)The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Loved the cover, loved the idea! But I just couldn’t stay in this book.

The lack of progress did it in for me by the 3rd chapter and I didn’t experience the emotion of it.

The storyline did not move along like I thought it would. It seemed way more stretched out than I felt was necessary for such a simple plot. There was a likeness in some of the characters thoughts and actions where they almost became indistinguishable as far as voice goes.

I really wanted to get to know the characters and their quirks and habits but the substance was just not there. Not a whole lot going besides a surrounding theme of opening a bookstore and dizzying relationships that kept getting shallower and shallower by the minute.

The idea was definitely there but the story to take you there was lacking. I was so bummed about it because I really wanted to like it so much more than I actually did.

I would like to try reading another book by this author though.

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Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A seaside town helps one young woman reclaim the light after darkness in an uplifting novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Cottage by the SeaCottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nice beach read with a bit of deep mental and emotional exploration. I ended up converting to the audiobook version which I quite enjoyed.

It featured a classic love story with tension surrounding mental and emotional health conditions and how the characters overcame a lack of acceptance and coping. There were bits of explanation about the coping process itself which was both interesting and somewhat distracting at the same time because it took me in and out of the story, yet was also helpful at getting to the rationale of certain behaviors and thought patterns.

I loved the gardening parts of the story and the tranquil atmosphere that was created surrounding the cottage by the sea theme and the human longing for place and belonging in a relationship and peace.

There seemed to be repeats in the text itself, perhaps an oversight in the editing process. I don’t think they were intentional because they didn’t add anything to the story or help me gain better perspective or emphasis. The love story itself seemed a little juvenile for the ages that were portrayed but I did enjoy it nonetheless.

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Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Debbie Macomber brings us to the Alaskan wilderness for a magical Christmas tale about finding love where it’s least expected.

Alaskan HolidayAlaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such a sweet tale and I enjoyed every bit of it.

It’s exactly the kind of book that puts you in the Christmas holiday mood of coziness, snuggling by the warmth of the fire, sipping hot chocolate. Highly recommend! I listened via audiobook which was great.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Romance

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Loved, loved, loved! I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club. I converted my read to the audiobook version which was excellent.

This book was just all-around well-paced, adorable, fun, and adventurous. Side note- I think I may make a scarecrow for my garden just like the character.

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Someone to Honor (Westcott #6) by Mary Balogh

First appearances deceive in the newest charming and heartwarming Regency romance in the Westcott series from beloved New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh . . .

Abigail Westcott’s dreams for her future were lost when her father died and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she’s grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies.

But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother Harry home from the wars with Napoleon. He’s come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn’t take lightly to being condescended to – secretly because of his own humble beginnings.

If at first these two seem to embody what the other most despises, they will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearance of the once grand lady and once humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

Someone to Honor (Westcott, #6)Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. I did end up purchasing my own audiobook version, which I would highly recommend.

This was a lovely romance story that highlighted family dynamics, courtship, and the coming of age of characters during the time period of the 19th century with a somewhat modern thought. I will say that the beginning did read more like a perpetual prologue, like a never ending overture, taking quite a while to get going. However I did come to appreciate it as it set up the groundwork for me being a first time reader of this series, especially as the later peaking plot arc paid off.

So hang in there early readers, also consider the audiobook version, it made all the difference for me personally. Once I got the audiobook version I ended up quite enjoying listening to the details of the family tree, interpersonal connections, internal conflict, and the direction it was going. It all tied in and became a very solid story.

I would have liked to have seen more integration of 19th century verbiage/slang and perceptive forethought in the writing, but perhaps the lack thereof was intentional, giving it that more modern feel which could prove more likely relatable to today’s reader. This is especially because I did not feel that the circumstances were unique to the time or to how such a character may perceive and respond to such fall out today. As in the bastardization, the fear of abandonment, grief, being a widow, changes in social caste, a less than desirable surname, etc…

All in all, I really liked the expression, the setting, and character traits that were presented. The growth and maturity of the characters were captured quite nicely and I will be looking forward to going back to the start of the series and then continuing on after this book.

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