Saturday, August 1, 2015

Challenge Check-Up July

Staying steady with all my Challenges!!

July Re-Reads--6 Books
Year in Total: 32

Don't forget to add your link-up! 

July Fantasy Books-5 Books
Year in Total: 23
Look how much better I did!! 

July 'Real' Books-13 Books
Year in Total: 101

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Hate That I Love You So Much

If you've been here before you know how much I love hate-to-love relationships. The angry banter. The angry sex. The angry everything. I've got a bit of a temper myself *cough* so when I get to read about characters screaming at each other and then kissing the shit out of each other my heart grows three sizes. These are my favorite hate-to-love book boyfriends. What are yours?!

Hate to Love
These guys make you crazy with rage...and also lust...and then hopefully love

The Original Sinners by Tiffany Reisz

I'm not sure there is a characters in literature that I've read that I love to hate as much Soren. Well, let me rephrase that, I LOVE him. He has always fascinated me. His professional versus personal life are so at odds with one another that you can't help but want to crack into the soul of this big, blonde giant. Many readers I have come to discover are terrified of him--as they should be, a healthy dose of fear is good--but also 'hate' him. I love him. I love the torture he reigns down on Nora and Kingsley and I can't get enough of it. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THES BOOKS STOP EVERYTHING AND DO IT NOW. *cough* Okay, I'm good. 

Son of Shadows by Juliet Marillier

Oh, Bran. You hardass, you. Bran is not an easy man to like let alone love. He is the quintessential brooder. He is closed-off, brave, the leader of a band of rag tag outlaws. He gives zero fucks. He is exactly the type of book boyfriend I love. The tough cookies. The hidden teddy bears. The ones who hate the world and do whatever they want whenever. He is such an asshole with his uncaring attitude that you can't help but wanna bash him over the head with something and then kiss it to make it better. Him and Liadan are amazing together and I love to hate Bran.

Rome by Jay Crownover

Rome is an asshole. I mean, complete and total douche bag meanie Captain No-Fun. Just out of the Army Rome is pissed at the world and he takes it out on those who love him. Cora does some interesting *ahem* beer therapy on him and it is so deserved. I loved watching his layers peel themselves away to the very tender-hearted man underneath. *sigh*

Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

Y'all. I just cannot tell you how much I love Warner. Because if I had to name any character in the YA world that people hate most I'm pretty sure this man would take the cake...and then share it with me. Warner is...complicated. Manipulative, scheming, conniving, selfish and oh so much more than that. He gives you what he wants you think and we all fall for it perfectly. He doesn't let people see the real him, his true intentions, his true self, but when he does show it...*phew* watch your panties ladies because they are about to disintegrate. Warner's hate to love gauge is on another level and I love all facets of him. Even the mushy ones.

Lover Awakened by JR Ward

While Zsadist is my BAE now, when I first met him in Dark Lover, I legit texted Betty and said, "who the fuck is this psycho? People like him?!" Seriously. My first impression of Z is that of a complete psychopath. Aw, look at that! He and I have our very own hate to love relationship. I clearly don't have to tell you people to back away once again...back up...keeping going...MINE. K, thanks. Zsadist is and always will be my number one because he's just...him. He's that amazing combination of strength and vulnerability. Not realizing all the love he has in him to give and all the love he is capable of receiving. Like I said before, mine. Kindly keep walking, k thanks.

Hot Man of the Month
Matt Reed
Maybe Matt's Miracle by Tammy Faulkner

Oh, my gosh!! I cannot stop thinking about Matt!! Seriously. Book boyfriend HANGOVER!! I want to re-read the book just to get more of Matt and he is SO not my usual type of book boyfriend! While he is big and broad shouldered with longer blonde hair and tattoos and piercings, he is way too good of a person. LOL. Seriously, he is the opposite of hate to love. He is a kind and generous person who loves people. Oh, my god this will so be the type of guy I marry aka my exact opposite. I mean....okay, fine I'll take somebody like Matt any day of the week because bubba bubba. If you haven't read this series you need to!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Perks of Being A Wallflower


Historical Romance
Avon Books
375 // 385 // 368 // 374 // 213
Publication Date
October 26, 2004 // September 27, 2005 // February 28, 2006 // July 25, 2006 // October 14, 2008
Secrets of a Summer Night
"I am coming to believe that there are two kinds of people...those who choose to be masters of their own fate and those who wait in chairs while others dance."

This series came HIGHLY recommended from Alexa and after reading another rec from Alexa by Lisa Kleypas, Sugar Daddy, I was all about reading her historical romance. Oh. My. Gosh. What a fan-fucking-tastic life decision this was. I LOVE this book! The writing is effortless and engages you immediately. And what grabbed my attention immediately wasn't the swoons--weird, I KNOW!--it was the comraderie we are introduced to between Anabelle, Lillian, Daisy, and Evangeline, self-proclaimed Wallflowers. They have all been sitting on the sidelines during this London season and strike up a friendship that is true and selfless. They all seek to help one another get married, starting with the oldest, Anabelle. Their friendships were my favorite part of the whole book and the series. They are brutally honest with one another, push each other to be their best selves, and support each other no matter what. It is endearing beyond words and I couldn't get enough of all the female love going on. 

But let's not forget about the swoons. Simon Hunt is the son of a butcher and not nobility by any means. He has made a fortune being an entrepreneur, which is looked down upon in London society but because he has the right friends and a lot of money he is invited to certain social events. He has pursued and lusted after Anabelle from afar for over 2 years. Anabelle wants nothing to do with him because she needs to marry a peer, somebody of noble blood with a title, in order to save her family and their finances. Their attraction to one another cannot be ignored and Anabelle's reluctantly realizes her feelings for Simon. No spoilers but their dynamic is off the charts hot and Anabelle's ferocity and Simon's love for her sass burrowed its way into my heart and I could not stop reading. Their banter and wit had me laughing out loud and grinning like an idiot. I loved their playfullness and how they could let go of their burdens a little when they were with each other.

Their relationship is not all easy street though. Anabelle has to adjust her lifestyle and expectations that come with not marrying a peer. Simon has to adjust to having married a Lady and meshing together his humble beginning and his pseudo-aristocratic future. Their families couldn't be more different and when they come together...well, that's some of my favorite parts as well. Seeing the walls come down and watching people of different social spheres come to love and respect one another *sigh*. And then some crazy drama happens at the end that had my heart breaking and my eyes tearing up. Love love love. And it's no question that I went straight into It Happened One Autumn...

It Happened One Autumn
"What's the harm in allowing for the possibility? I refuse to believe that we're going to go through life without something magical happening."

It Happened One Autumn being us Lillian and Westcliff's story. Holy. Fucking. Hot. If I was born in the 1800s in London society, I would be close to what Lillian is like. She takes zero shit, finds these English rules stupid beyond words, she is opinionated, fierce, determined not to be pushed aside, and stubborn as a mule. Westcliff is arrogant, emotionless, stubborn, and plays by all rules of social decorum. He believes Lillian to be beyond reproach and a savage. They loathe the sight of one another...ha, yeah right. You know all that 'hate' just fuels the underlying sexual tension that is CLEARLY in abundance between these two. They are hotachacha HOT! Their dynamic is ON. ANOTHER. LEVEL. There are few types of relationships I love more than the hate to love. It is so passionate and raw and is founded in honesty because neither party has a problem telling the other what they really think. I loved seeing Westcliff and Lillian mold to one another and realize how perfect they are together. Westcliff lets his hair down and lets himself feel for Lillian and it was brilliant watching this straight-laced guy have the feels. I think Lillian is such a fantastic character and I loved seeing her story unfold.

More than just her love story I loved getting to know Lillian. She defies the restraints that society has on women and refuses to accept it. She gives her opinion, she knows she is smart, she knows her worth. Knowing I would more than likely be similar to Lillian had I been born in this era, I loved seeing how she gave zero fucks and refused to be demure and docile. She was outspoken with a temper to boot and she loved who she was...and she found Marcus how loved how fiery her tempermant was. Mmmm Marcus...Now we move on to Devil in Winter which is Alexa's favorite book...

Devil in Winter
"My grandmother always told me, 'Never try to turn back on a new road--you don't know what adventures away you.'" 

I have been anticipating Devil in Winter since the beginning because Alexa *swoons* for Sebastian St. Vincent and I am definitely a fan. Villainized for good reason in the last book, we see Sebastian as his rock is Evie. Abused and basicaly held captive by her family she needs a way out. What does she do? She creates her own destiny, grabs life by the balls and offers marriage to St. Vincent. She needs a husband, he needs a fortune, and they're both desperate enough to say yes to the other. What occurs after is a lesson in self-discipline. Evie refuses to be another notch in St Vincent's bed post and he wants nothing more than to ravage Evie day and night because, duh this womanizing rake finally has the feels and they are all for Evie. Le sigh.

While fighting their feelings for one another, Evie's father is dying and leaving his gambling club up for grabs basically. Sebastian steps in, like the big and sexy man he is, and works his ass off to make the club respectable enough to make a fortune once again. This is a whole new side to Sebastian that Evie sees and her defenses start to weaken. However, she still refuses to be played a fool so she gives him an ultimatum...and oh is it amazing. I never saw it comign and I'm grinning like an idiot just thinking about it. I. Loved. This. I loved that Evie was emotional but not stupid. She forged her own path with her own rules and didn't let anybody stop her. She is fierce and determined and not one to be underestimated. Her history with her family broke my heart but it didn't break her. She became more determined to force the hand of fate and make her own luck. Sebastian, on the other, found a reason to be selfless. He flourished in the club setting, taking charge, and making things right. They both came into their own so beautifully and it was such a fantastic part of the book.

No spoilers but the conflict that occurs later melted my heart in so many ways. Sebastian and Evie are perfectly suited for one another and seeing Sebastian be protective over somebody other than himself was swoon central. And while Sebastian is quite an amazing contender for the swooniest Wallflower husband, he is still safe from my reaches and firmly in Alexa's hands because my heart still lies with Marcus *heart eyes* let's get to Daisy...

Scandal in Spring
"But she had finally discovered that life could be even more wonderful than a fantasy. And that love could fill the real world with magic." 

The last Wallflower book!! Noooo!! Seriously, y'all I read this whole series in less than a week and would have completed it in like 3 days had it not been for my family visiting and actually going out and playing tourist for 4 days. Anyways. I have been impatiently waiting to see how our final Wallflower would end up with and in a twist of fate, it's somebody she's known for years. Matthew Swift, protege of her father. Daisy could not be less pleased to hear this. She knows him as emotionless, cunning, and a spitting image of her father--not a good thing. BUT when she finally reunites with Matthew he is nothing from what she remembers. Tall, broad, handsome, and charming, this Matthew is a whole new game of Rounders (instead of ballgame--see what I did there?). Secrety in love with Daisy for years, Matthew never thought he'd have the chance to actually be with her but he's also harboring a secret from his past *dun dun dun*. Their relationship is not easy, neither one wants to admit they have feelings for the other and a little bit of hilarity ensues. When the sparks finally start flying and they both get on the same page, holy hell is it hot. I love how Matthew tries to be honorable when really he just wants to rip her clothes off and I love how Daisy fought her feelings until she knew they were true. They two are so smoking hot together that I couldn't help but notice Lisa Kleypas steadily increased the heat with each book. Wowza.

I also loved how everyone around Daisy seemed to think her clueless about the world because she loves to read and is more quiet that boisterious Lillian but Matthew didn't see her that way at all. He saw all her facets of what made her her and he loved her for it. She proves her strength of character even further when the secrets of Matthew's past are revealed. The devotion these two have to one another is on another level. Tears in my eyes while reading on my lunch break. Pathetic.

A Wallflower Christmas
"A well-read woman is a dangerous creature."

Short, quick, and dirty--this Wallfower Christmas/reunion is the perfect visit back to our most beloved friends! We get to meet Lillian and Daisy's brother Rafe and see him fall in love. I loved the banter--duh--that is brought to the table, as well as the absolute deliciousness of how swoony he is. His words (and letters) are so sigh-inducing yet make the room feel hotter. It was short and sweet and I adored meeting their brother and seeing him welcomed into the fold. The check-ins with all Wallflowers and their husbands *hears in eyes* was beautiful and fun and warmed my freaking heart!! It was a great conclusion and long epilogue with the perfect amount of romance and "conflict" of a romance without involving my beloved Wallflowers.

Overall, this series is one to put at the top of yoru TBR pile. The emphasis on female friendship is beautiful and strong and founded in the utmost trust and respect for one another. They complement each other and stand by one another right or wrong and that is really what this series is about for me. While I love the swoon...a lot...I became engaged and kept coming back because of these individual women who society labeled as 'not good enough' and flourished in their lack of sunlight. Their roots were deep and they refused to accept defeat or settle. They are inspiring and intelligent and unique. And their husbands arent' too bad, either. *wink*
VIP/Backstage Pass
If you love stories with strong female frienships, fleshed out characters, and all the swoons...this series is for you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{How-To} Manage Your TBR Like A Boss

I figured out early on that I am an anomaly in the book world in regards to my TBR pile. For those non-bloggers, that is To-Be Read pile for short. Aka what books I have on my list to read. My TBR list is always manageable to me. It is an elite list of books I know I will read and in a mostly timely manner. While many people have TBR lists in the hundreds, mine rarely is over 30ish. No, seriously. Don't judge my list off of my Goodreads list because honestly, I don't use that. I have the books that are on my radar that I want to read up in my head or short lists of review books in my May book. 

This is pretty unheard of and I get a Home Alone face about it pretty often because there are SO many books in the world to read, how can I NOT want to read all of them? I'll tell you why...Life is too short for bad books. I also consider reading a hobby and not something that should overwhelm me. It's why I rarely have more than one or two books on NetGalley and Edelweiss to review because if I request it, it means I REALLY want to read it and I REALLY want to read it now. Same goes for any other book that isn't a review book that I add to my mental TBR. To me, if I have hundreds of books I "want" to read, it's overwhelming and then I'm just reading to get through it and I'm not enjoying it because in the back of my head there's ALL the other books I have listed to read. That's not fun for me but maybe it is for you. I'm not here to judge. I am here by prompting of Hannah and Alexa to give you my criteria on how books make it to my list.

I ask myself these questions before committing to reading...

1. What's it about?
This is an obvious question and for me, a person who reads any and all genres, not always helpful. Because I read a wide variety of books and am open to anything I ask this to--duh--get a general idea of what it's about.

2. What makes this book unique?
This question is more helpful to me than the first one. I've read a hundred dystopian books, what makes this one unique? A new adult contemporary--is there anything about this that makes it stand out against my favorites that makes me want to read it? Like I said, life's too short for bad books so if I'm taking the time to read, it better be worth my time. Another reason my TBR is short. I'm taking the time to read it, I want to have a good sense I'm going to like it. Thus why most of my book ratings are 4 and 5 stars. I know my style while still being open-minded.

3. Who is recommending it to me?
This is a big one to me, too. There are very few people whose recs I will take seriously. That isn't to say YOU have bad taste in reading it's that the people I trust are the people that know me. They know my style, my tastes, my likes, my dislikes, my dirty little mind, and fucked up heart. Everyone brings their subjective response to a book but more often than not my close friends who rec me books will know what I like. And there are plenty of times I read one of their reviews and say, oh will I like this? And they say, well *I* loved it but I don't think you would like it as much as I did. I appreciate that honesty. Those select people know I don't waste my time with books that I might find just okay. 

4. Do I want to drop most things to read RIGHT NOW?
This is the absolute determining factor in whether or not the book makes the list. The preceding questions are helpful and obviously are the sole influence for what the answer to this final question will be. If I'm not immediately excited to read said book, I'm not going to add it. If I can't see myself making this book a priority in the next 2-4 weeks then it's just meh to me and will take up space on my shelves or Kindle. To me, reading should always be exciting! Granted, there are of course books I read that I 2 star or don't like but more often than not I like or love the books I read and it is because of this cut throat system. Ain't nobody got time to read bad books which is also why I have no issue DNF'ing. It doesn't happen often because of 'The System' but it does happen. Why would I waste time trudging through a book and wasting time when the next one could be a new favorite?

Now as a disclaimer, I need to mention the downside and the obvious question of, if you're so hesitant to add books to your TBR aren't you missing out on books to take a chance on? The answer is simple and it's yes, maybe. Of course, we are all going to miss out on books we would love and obsess over because they are just unknown to us. They sit quietly on the shelves of libraries waiting to be opened and loved but due to circumstances we just never get to them or even hear about them. That's the risk we all take and there are books that I would not have added or passed the test of question 4 had it not been for the people I refer to in question 3. I would never have read Daughter of the Forest had it not been for Hannah's pushing. I would have never discovered the joys of historical romance had it not been for Alexa. I would have missed out on all the amazing that is The Vampire Academy had Betty not shoved it down my throat. And I would never have had my torrid love affair with all things Karina Halle had Stephanie not turned me on to her. And I definitely wouldn't have become inspired and obsessed with Girl Before A Mirror had Cass and Ellice not threatened me bodily harm.

What do we think? Are you cut throat with your TBR choices? Do you have a list a mile long? Do you like this? What are your thoughts?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Love Transcends Language // Racing The Sun Blog Tour

"Fear that I'll never find someone to love who will love me in return, 
that I'll never really grow up."
--Karina Halle, Racing the Sun

Genre: NA Contemporary
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 336
Publication Date: July 28th, 2015
Source: eARC provided by publisher via NetGalley
Previous Books in Series: Love, in English & Where Sea Meets Sky
Goodreads Description

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Where Sea Meets Sky comes a new adult novel about a young woman who becomes a nanny in Capri and falls for her charges’ bad-boy brother.

It’s time for twenty-four-year-old Amber MacLean to face the music. After a frivolous six months of backpacking through New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, she finds herself broke on the Mediterranean without enough money for a plane ticket home to California. There are worse places to be stuck than the gorgeous coastline of southern Italy, but the only job she manages to secure involves teaching English to two of the brattiest children she’s ever met.

It doesn’t help that the children are under the care of their brooding older brother, Italian ex-motorcycle racer Desiderio Larosa. Darkly handsome and oh-so-mysterious, Derio tests Amber’s patience and will at every turn—not to mention her hormones.

But when her position as teacher turns into one as full-time nanny at the crumbling old villa, Amber finds herself growing closer to the enigmatic recluse and soon has to choose between the safety of her life back in the States and the uncertainty of Derio’s closely guarded heart.

*sigh* I love these books. I'm not even sure I can verbalize the feelings I get when I read these books. You can totally tell that Karina Halle used to be a travel writer because her stories have always instantly transported me to whatever locale she chooses to write her breathtaking love stories. This book takes us to Capri, Italy on the Amalfi Coast, and yes I already looked up plane tickets as well as added it to my top ten travel destinations and we all know Kelly's Top Ten Travel destinations is not an easy list to make. This point leads me to my first 'Belle.'

The Writing
As I said above, the writing of Karina Halle is visualization at its best. I can see Capri in my mind, the water, the houses, the scenery, all of it. It is one of those reading experiences that when I pause and look up I get pissed I'm not at a cafe drinking a shot of espresso. Real talk. I love that feeling when a story completely transports you and this one definitely did. Further than that, the felt the characters' plight. Amber's thoughts and feelings felt to real and her actions so on point with everything we know about her. One of the things I love about Karina's characters are that they are consistent. Everything we learn about our characters and their thoughts and values are consistent when the conflict arises. I hate when somebody acts out of character in the height of the conflict that makes no sense toe everything we know about them. The very real conflict that her characters face feel so organic not only to the story but to real life. I can see her stories, as amazing as they are, being acted out in real life. I just love how she writes her characters and her stories so real.

The Characters
Speaking of the characters, they are in a league of their own. Amber and Derio are two complex characters who find strength in one another. They have a great hate-to-love situation going on and, of course, I loved it. Derio has a past of so many different kinds of pain and loss and he is adrift. He is closed-off, private, and 100% standoffish. Amber...well she takes zero shit. And that's also 100% of her charm. She's not abrasive or rude, she's just very tell it like it is. She doesn't lie, she is honest about her abilities, to the most part, about being able to take on the role of teaching Derio's younger brother and sister English. In addition to taking zero shit, she is still vulnerable and strong. She takes her job seriously and wants to help these two kids who she can see are in pain from losing their parents. Obviously, I also loved Amber's sense of adventure what with her traveling solo for 6 months. My kind of girl.

The Romance
With Derio's very private nature, almost that of a recluse, combined with his superb ability to insult people just by looking at them, it is not easy for Amber to find her niche in this household. However, circumstances obviously continue to bring them together and Derio makes a few efforts to make sure Amber has fun. More than a few disasters occur but through these, Derio and Amber realize their feelings towards one another...eventually. The tension between these two is as thick as the heat during this summer in Capri. We work for every nice gesture and heated glance, and the payoff is huge. Their chemistry is electric and I did not want to put this book down at any time. I had plans to see a movie and I legit thought of these characters during the movie. When can I get back to reading? What are Derio and Amber going to do next? I was this invested.

The Conflict
As with almost all of Karina's stories, the conflict feels natural and instrumental to the story. Amber and Derio's situation is not an easy one. She is a foreigner and he is guardian to two young children. Many things can get in their way, but the climax of the conflict brought on the feels  you guys. Tears. Chest hurting. It hurt so good. I could totally empathize with Amber's predicament and feelings and pain. I loooooooved how the story came to a close and everything that led up to it. Cue the happy tears. But for real, I love that her stories make me root for not only the characters and their happiness, but the conflict that brings it along. We cannot coast and blindly accept things the way they are if they are not working for us. Communication needs to occur and when both partners needs cannot be met, something's gotta give. I love the kissing but I also love the give.

The Story
This book was such an amazing reading experience that I know I will be re-reading it in my future. I'm slightly biased because it took place in Italy but I loved the setting. I loved the characters. I loved the story. It all came together in such a beautiful tale of falling in love while abroad and...well, I also might be biased on that, too. Can I just live a Karina Halle book out in real life, please? Pretty please?

If you love travel, realistic characterizations, and love itself...this book's for you.
Don't forget to enter the giveaway!!
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Friday, July 24, 2015

A Tale As Old As Time {Round 2}

Genre: YA Fantasy, Re-Telling
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 342
Publication Date: January 28th, 2014
Source: Borrowed from library
Previous Books in Series: Cruel Beauty Review
Goodreads Description

"One Secret. Multiple Casualties.”

Everything Melody Callahan has ever been told about her past is a lie. Her father lied. Her husband lied. But like all secrets…they come out. Not only is her mother, Aviela, alive but she won’t stop until she tears down everything Liam and Melody have spent the past year building.

With a new target on their back and the media now focused on their family as the Presidential election approaches, Liam and Melody must fight on two battlefronts. Melody is torn between being in love with Liam and wanting to kill him for lying to her. Being in love and showing love are two different things in her world. Liam wants to do anything to protect his family even if that means hurting the people he loves.

Family is everything… but what happens when they’re out for your blood? Everything they have been through is nothing compared to what is coming...

***Warning: This book contains adult language and subject matter including graphic violence and explict sex that may be disturbing for some readers. This book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.***
WHEN I First Read
October 2013

WHAT I Remember
A mostly badass heroine. A lack of emotional connection. Wonky pacing. A really great ending.

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read
Because I'm a stubborn mule and refuse to accept a Beauty and the Beast re-telling I don't love. I read it the first time on the bus while I was in Europe so I was hoping it was a victim of circumstance and reading it again would give me a different experience
HOW I Felt After Re-Reading
I liked it so much more! It's not my favorite re-telling by any means and I still had some issues with it but I wanted a more emotional understanding of the characters and that's what I got. Nyx and Ignifex have a fire that can't be doused and I really loved the fact that I could enjoy it this time. I still find the pacing a little off and the writing to be extremely pretentious if I'm being honest but it was still lovely. It gives us a great visual of the world but it was more than a little verbose unnecessarily more times than not.
WOULD You Re-Read Again?
Probably not. I'm glad that I don't have a 2 star rating in my head anymore about this but this isn't my favorite re-telling or a favorite book and I wanted to see if re-reading would change my opinion. It did and this is a win for the challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pass the Bourbon

"Much later, when everything had changed
and he was living a life he couldn't have imagined on any level,
he would come to recognize...that this moment...
was when he began to heal."
--JR Ward, The Bourbon Kings

Genre: Adult Contemporary
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 420
Publication Date: July 28th, 2015
Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
Previous Books in Series: First in series
Goodreads Description

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal....

For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.

For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.

As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.
The Story
I won't lie, I was nervous to start this. Why, when it's by one of my favorite authors was I nervous? Well, because there is always that fear that said author might write something I don't click with. And no lie, the synopsis did not particularly intrigue me. So thank God her name is on the front of this because I never would have picked this up otherwise and I would have missed out on and amazing piece of fiction.

What was amazing about it? The thing I most feared. The South is not a particular place I like to travel to while reading. Don't ask me why, we all have our things, this one isn't mine. But I soon found myself to enraptured by this world of wealth and family secrets, Derby and hundred thousand dollar luncheons, betrayals and family sacrificial lambs. The depths this family goes to to hurt one another is beyond anything I could understand. But it is delicious drama nonetheless. I really thought the drama and underhanded evil of some characters would make me irrationally angry and annoyed but it didn't. I loved that Ward made me care about these characters and their lives without begin crazy about it. I was entertained without being mad...that's a hard line to walk and it was great.

The story focuses on the Baldwine aka Bradford family. They distill--is that the correct word?--the greatest bourbon there is. The father is an asshole, the mother completely medicated, the eldest son wanting nothing to do with the family, another son that is estranged, Lane who is our focus has been gone for two years, and Gin is the youngest and only daughter and is 50 shades of dysfunctional. Then there's Lizzie, who used to be in love with Lane so when Lane comes's kind of the catalyst for all that happens after...and it also happens to be the weekend of the Kentucky Derby aka the biggest holiday all year for these people, including the second coming of Christ. Seriously.

The Characters
Speaking of the family, the characters are as deliciously fucked up as the drama they create. The Baldwine family is a mess but I love them. Lane, the absentee son for the past two years, returns and brings with him a whole lotta drama. He's in love with Lizzie, needs to do something before that can be resumed, and inadvertently uncovers some family secrets. I loved Lane's vulnerability. That's what stuck out the most for me. He is a strong man, has convictions, loves his family as much as he is able to, but his heart lies with Lizzie and his journey back to her is anything but prideful. He lays out his cards and I love him for his honesty amidst all the garbage he's been dealt...albeit self-inflicted for the most part but still.

Lizzie is the woman he loves, also the head horticulturist on the Bradford estate. So she's considered 'the help' and liaisons with the family is just not done. This is where my eye-rolling came in because c'mon people, it's 2015. I don't doubt these Southern snobs actually exist and think this way but I don't have to like or agree with it so I'm moving on. I liked Lizzie. I didn't love her. I understood where she was coming from and I liked her gumption. Yes, I actually went there and used that word. It felt appropriate. She is a strong and independent and while she takes zero shit, she is not stupid. She knows her heart and her head and she works on acting somewhere in the middle of the two. This, I loved about her.

Edward, the eldest brother...oh, be still my heart. I'm saying this now before y'all can get grabby hands that this one is mine so everybody back off. He is estranged from his family and running a horse breeding farm on his own. He is...broken and you need to read to find out why. He is sad and lonely and doesn't want this tortured existence he finds himself in. He wants out, he does everything he can to remain miserable and as out of it as possible. My heart aches for him in so many ways and I want to jump in this book and take care of him. Anybody that knows me and reads this will immediately know this is one I want, the story I need, the man I want to see get his happy more than one way *wink wink*. But seriously, the part he plays at a major point in the story I was fist-pumping so hard because YAY! You're doing something, Edward! Keep it going!! (Love you!!!!!!)

Gin is the youngest daughter and hot damn does she get herself into messes. She has a history with the family lawyer and good friend of Lane that neither want to admit to true feelings. A LOT of drama happens to her and, as with Lane, is mostly self-inflicted but it doesn't make me feel any less sad for her or root for her any less. She struggles. She makes terrible decisions. But she tries. She tries to make it better and when that doesn't go her way she does the best job she can for self-preservation. I feel like most people will really not warm to Gin at all and not like her but I really enjoyed her character. I feel awful for some of the things she has to go through but I'm hoping they are remedied in future books. *fingers crossed*

The World
As I said above, the South is not a world I usually like to go to nor is the world of the 1% of uber rich, however this was fascinating. I loved reading about this antiquated pseudo-caste system of butlers and cooks and maids and gardeners. It is so far removed from everything I know and what I usually read that I couldn't help but be completely enthralled by it. I absolutely cannot wait to read the next installment and I'm actually irrationally angry of how long I'll have to wait because...this family has a lot of unanswered questions to answer and a lot of unsolved resolutions. 
Backstage Pass
If you love the South, the Derby, and all things dysfunctional in families...this book's for you. 
One more thing! The lovely people at Berkley are letting me giveaway a copy of the book!
Now you have no excuse not to read! 

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Adventures in the Great Wide Somwhere // Inca Trail Day 3 & 4

Day 3
Day 3 is what is considered the long day and the day of the 'Gringo Killers' aka stairs so steep the gringos aka white people aka non-Peruvian people puts undo stress on all their joints trekking down these steps. The beginning of the day was rough. We traverse another peak, this only slightly lower than 14,000 ft but still very high. Again, the elevation kicking my ass and I wanted to die from being out of breath. And while the incline is a total bitch and I'm out of breath constantly, going down is a whole other beast. It's not as tiring but it's nerve-wracking. It was raining. I forgot that part. It started raining profusely about halfway up the peak and misery takes on a new name. Combine steep stairs, uneven rocks, and bueno. (FYI--that's Spanish for 'no good' heh heh).

After a large portion of steep stairs the trek evens out and it is a completely enjoyable and even-tempered part of the hike. I wasn't exhausted, the only shitty thing is that it was rainy and foggy as hell so the views were obstructed. Oh, well. It can always be worse...but it was pretty bad. Stopping for lunch was the highlight of the day. It was warmer, because the rain made it freezing, and we were told lunch was going to have a special surprise and I legit said, 'OMG, is it a cake?' and lo and behold at 11,000 feet elevation our chef made a fucking cake. I almost weeped with joy. Anybody that knows me knows how much I love cake. Close to as much as I love my Mom and Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast...shit is serious. We also had soup which was hot and delicious, copious amounts of hot chocolate and tea...I'm only going into detail about the food because the weather and cold was so miserable it made an impression. So, the rest of the day is still going downhill so we had to be careful and we walked around some beautiful ruins overrun with grass and so much greenery, it was gorgeous...see pics...seriously. Words cannot express how AMAZING these ruins were. Add in the fog and it upped the creep factor and it was perfection!

Our third night is devoted to giving thanks to our amazing porters. We tip and offer any other items we might not use the rest of the trip, small flashlights, toiletries, etc. they are grateful for anything. They also dance and sing and it is so fun! It's a really beautiful little ceremony. The hike may only be 4 days but the struggle is real. You're all tired and dirty and wet and sore (well not really because, Inca magic) and emotions are high, at least for me, and you realize that the people you went through this with may have started out as strangers but you all struggled at times together. I'm an emo sap but I really loved the people I did this with and will always remember them. We tried to get to bed early because *shudder* the final day is a 330 am wake up I did not type that wrong...330 am...ugh

Day 4 (!!!!!!)
Day 4 is the final day!! We reach Machu Piccu in a few short hours! I woke up, while tired and cranky, legit like a kid on Christmas morning. I was SO excited to get the final day started! So we wake up, quick breakfast, and its off to wait in line at the entrance to final leg of the trip. Why are we waiting in line? Because today's hike is a legit trail on the side of a mountain and if you fall, you're dead. They used to not close it off and people would try to hike this portion to be at the Sun Gate for sunrise but it is so dangerous in the dark that people they closed it off and only open it up once the sun has risen. The fun part about this is you go up actual gringo killers. The stairs are so steep it's almost rock climbing a wall. So fun. Seriously.

After about an hour we get to the Sun Gate and hello, lovely, you sure are beautiful. The view from above Machu Piccu at the Sun Gate is one of a kind. We were blessed with a beautifully sunny day and it was incredible. Picture taking here is a must and go crazy but be polite. I had an encounter with a very rude French couple...and people dare say Americans are rude...fuck right idea where they would get that impression...*cough*

After the Sun Gate it is all downhill and to say some of us were actually running towards Machu Piccu is not a lie. I was SO incredibly excited I couldn't go fast enough! Machu Piccu is gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but honestly, if you hike to Machu Piccu and don't just take the train, I feel like the MP is juuuust slightly anticlimactic because the hell you have endured for 4 days and getting to the peaks of 2 mountains, MP didn't give me as much of a high as getting to the top. But maybe it's just me. We spent a few hours at MP and I will talk about my next post! Stay tuned!