You Didn’t Love Me Then (2021)

by Lily Baines
ASIN/ISBN: B09FPNW43W
Publication: September 28, 2021
Series: Riviera View #1

**I received an e-copy of the book through the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Past and present collide as Luke and Libby accidentally meet again after fifteen years. Separately, they recall the stolen moments that eventually changed the trajectory of their friendship, transforming them from best friends into part of one another’s past. The chance meeting forces Libby to confront feelings she thought were resolved long ago, while Luke finally realizes what he left behind when he left Riviera View.

I can’t entirely explain how much I enjoyed this book, how it tugged at my emotions within the first few pages of Libby and Luke meeting again. (For the record, some parts were even more poignant and heartbreaking the second time around. Yup, I reread it already.) The book made me uncomfortable in a way only second chance romances can. My heart was at war with itself, fighting between my predisposition towards a happy ending but also wanting to prolong Luke’s suffering. It’s a slow burn romance that spoke to me on many levels as the pangs of unrequited love fulfilled their threats, inducing heartache and tears.

I immediately connected with Liberty because of her life experiences. She’s a strong individual who conquered multiple barriers to become the woman she is now. As a social worker, she’s a champion for other people. I admired her and found her completely relatable. She appears at peace with her life, yet, tones of unfulfillment and longing permeate her chapters. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was happy.

Luke, on the other hand, didn’t make my heart flutter as much as he infuriated me; thus derailing some of my excitement over their reunion. It’s not until he sees Libby that he begins to recognize why he’s returned home. In all the time he’s been gone, he’s never thought about her, and he failed to let her know he was back. Luke’s change of heart was too sudden, and I was unconvinced of his feelings (or maybe I refused to be convinced). And yes, I am bitter about it for Libby. This was my main source of discontent with the story, but it wasn’t enough to override how much I enjoyed the book.

Libby and Luke are often in their minds assessing their feelings and the situations they find themselves in rather than talking to each other. Their lack of communication eventually led to a misunderstanding, but it did not frustrate me because it made sense here. They’re no longer close friends, and their history makes it difficult to share their feelings. I was also more forgiving because I was completely immersed in the feelings the story ignited–I was too busy feeling. Liberty’s pain felt like it was my own, and I reveled in Luke’s belated heartache.

There’s also ample opportunity for the story to go astray, especially due to Libby’s and Luke’s line of work, but Baines never falls into this trap. There is no unnecessary angst. Everything that happens has a purpose, moving the story along and setting up encounters between Luke and Libby to help reestablish their connection. I never felt like my feelings were manipulated with unnecessary twists. The focus stays on our central couple and their individual attempts to reconcile their feelings toward each other. I loved how the tension just kept building, finally coming to a head in the third act. It was a third act I liked.

Although this is Luke and Libby’s romance, there are several secondary characters with fleshed-out backstories that contributed to a well-rounded story. Libby’s Aunt Sarah is one character I particularly liked. She doesn’t apologize for being herself and could care less about what people think of her. Some of my favorite moments are those between Libby and Aunt Sarah. Due to their respective situations with love, they understand each other in ways others might not. Their talk of the French Riveria was what ultimately broke me.   

If you’re expecting a fast-paced novel with a couple that races towards the sunset, this isn’t the book. The pace is slow, contemplative even, and filled with inner monologues and unreciprocated feelings that will splay your heart like it did mine. If you’re looking for an emotional friends-to-lovers second chance romance, You Didn’t Love Me Then is the perfect choice.

Within These Wicked Walls (2021)

by Lauren Blackwood
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250787101
Publication: October 19, 2021

**I was provided copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Some books take a few pages for me to settle into and then some books immediately pull me in from the first line. Within These Wicked Walls is very much the latter. Hooked by the descriptive writing, I had to keep reading even though I only intended to take a quick peek at what I was getting myself into. Blackwood’s writing is evocative but the too quickly formed relationships hindered my overall enjoyment of the novel.

Andromeda, or Andi for short, arrives at the Rochester household to rid the house of its curse. Upon her arrival, she can already feel the strength of the manifestations. The house is vastly colder than it should be, and her amulet hums at the immense amount of paranormal activity. Although she learned from one of the most famous debterras and has the necessary experience, Andi has her work cut out for her but is determined to finish it. She also doesn’t have the luxury to give up the job even if she wanted to.

First and foremost, I tend to run away screaming from anything scary, so please understand that my threshold for what is creepy is very low. Blackwood successfully creates an atmospheric read with its gothic tones and just the right amount of creepiness to make my skin crawl, even forcing a few glances behind me from time to time. Thankfully, it was not enough of a deterrent for my curiosity at what might happen next. It also helped immensely that I was reading it during the day. (I know, I know. Total wuss because the book isn’t actually very scary at all. Hahaha…)

While the writing is effective in setting the mood and tone of the novel, the romance was off-putting. It felt more like a product of the book being a retelling rather than organic to the particular story told here. It also happened too quickly for my liking, lacking the development I usually look forward to in books with romances. Andi arrives at the house and suddenly Andi starts feeling things she doesn’t normally feel. Of course, this might also be a product of me being more invested in what Andi is supposed to do at the house, which is far more interesting. On its own, if I could assess the romance separately from the rest of the book, there is a lot to like about it, especially the playful banter. I like Andi’s honesty and how she is more than willing to call Magnus out for his behavior. It’s also part of what draws him to her. However, taking into consideration the whole picture and how the romance suddenly manifests itself, it isn’t exactly welcomed even though I’m a hopeless romantic. It’s difficult to ignore how it interrupts the flow of the book at times. I understand the romance is meant to be a driving force for Andi’s decisions, but I can’t help feeling that something more subtle could have been as or maybe more effective.  Another possibility would be to have no romance at all, which may have been preferable. Much more interesting is Andi’s relationship with her mentor. I would have preferred more interaction between them and an exploration of their tumultuous relationship, although I liked what I did get of it, even if somewhat predictable.

Within These Wicked Walls is a good read, well-paced with a protagonist I liked and both mood and tone set well, but is somewhat hindered by a romance that feels all too sudden and even unnecessary (even though I liked it on its own). Pick up the book if you like unique retellings of classics and if gothic tales are a favorite. If you’ve never read Jane Eyre just like I haven’t, although I’ve skimmed a few of the movie adaptations, it won’t detract from enjoying the novel. 

Fellowship of the Ring Tag

The Lord of the Ring tag was created by Unputdownable Books, and I found it over on Shelves of Starlight.

I love the movies but haven’t read the books except for The Return of the King. I read it because I couldn’t wait for the last movie to come out. Ha… I’ve had the tag saved but all my drafts just kept pushing this tag lower until I nearly forgot about it. I’m excited to finally do this one!!

QUESTIONS

Gandalf – a book that taught you something.

There’s always something I’ve taken away from every book I’ve read. Romance novels have particularly helped me with being more comfortable in my own skin and given me different perspectives on relationships. Love Her or Lose Her, for instance, gives insight into how not all love is shown in the same way. Some individuals show their love their actions as opposed to words, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they love you any less. (My review)

Frodo – a book that left a mark on you.

How about a scar on my heart? The ending was one of many alternatives I suspected. Suspicions are one thing, but to read it, to experience it is another. I was left in shock. (My review)

Legolas – a book you finished in one sitting.

I’m cheating a bit here since this is a novella. At just under 200 pages, it was a fast read. I read a review that said this was a must read, and I have to agree. I enjoyed the novella so much, more so than the couple’s actual novel Happily Ninja After. It ends abruptly, so it’s good to have their book on hand. (Review from Feeding My Addiction Book Reviews)

Gimli – a book that features an unlikely friendship.

After Ellie’s boyfriend breaks up with her, she ends up being grouped with a bunch of boys she doesn’t really know in their home economics class. Soon, working together in the class also spills into friendships outside of the class. This is a cute, light read I enjoyed. (My review)

Merry – a book that pleasantly surprised you.

I will be posting up a review for this soon, but I needed to put it here today. This book was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it so much despite the pain of unrequited love. Baines made me cry. (My review is nearly done; Review from the Lit Buzz)

Pippin – a book that made you laugh.

This was my first book by Kayley Loring and solidified her as one my favorite romance authors. I was looking for Christmas books and took a chance on it. It’s hilarious! I couldn’t stop laughing when I first read it. The audiobook narrators are also wonderful. (My Mini Review)

Boromir – a book/series you think ended too soon.

I know I can’t stop shouting about how much I adore this book. The ending was fitting, but I can’t help wanting Milan to write more. I wasn’t ready to leave behind my new favorite kick ass protagonist. (One day I’ll finish my review; Review from The Last Reader)

Sam – a book with memorable side characters who stole the show.

Kayley Loring needs a second showing here because her books always contains a cast of characters who steal the show. While the book focuses on Scarlett and Dylan’s relationship, their family members steal the show through emails and text messages. (My review)

Aragorn – a good book with a bad/average cover.

The cover is unique, not a bad/average cover, and didn’t exactly entice me at the time, but the blurb was really interesting. It turned out to be such a great book! I enjoyed it immensely. (My review)

Gollum – a book that had great potential but disappointed you in the end.

In the Ravenous Dark had all the makings of an excellent book. I was hooked from the beginning but was disappointed when the pace was incredibly fast, jumping from one event to the next, without allowing me to take in everything going on. Additionally, lust and attraction was suddenly love without much development. (My review)

I TAG YOU
if your blog or your name has a “K”
and if the tag is something you’d enjoy doing.

I especially love tags like this one because I get to think of the movie and characters as I connect them with books. I must go watch the movies now. Enjoy! I hope you decide to do the tag. I can’t wait to read your answers!

Music Monday 1.18: It’s raining outside…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

BTS has repeatedly asserted their dominance at an international level and as a long time KPOP fan, I’ve been ecstatic. Lee Sora’s “Song Request” was released in January in 2019 and features Suga, who is also credited for writing and composing.

Here is a link to the lyrics including the romanization, translation, and hangul from ColorCodedLyrics. The song itself makes me nostalgic and exudes feelings of grief and longing, perfect for those gray and cloudy days…like those in fall or winter, right? Lee is listening to the radio to keep her company, requesting songs to help her deal with feelings. Here are books that made me smile and those that made me cry. Anyone else remember waiting for the radio to play your favorite songs?

In case you needed it, here’s a 1-hour loop.

BOOKS THAT MADE ME SMILE

Hey, DJ, play me a song to make me smile
on nights when my heart is sad
there’s a song that will laugh for me

Quirky with lots of Heart
Pippa Grant is hilarious and when I think about books that made me laugh she’s the first author I think of. There’s so much absurdity but they’re so entertaining.
You can also read my mini-review here.

Lots of laughing out loud
I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when I read this. Melody Joo is hilarious. She has a good sense of humor and sticks up for herself but it’s her interactions with her parents that I was continually laughing at. You can also read my review here.

BOOKS THAT MADE ME CRY

“hey, DJ, play me a song to make me cry
on night when my heart is frustrated
there’s a song that will laugh for me”

I can be emotional. The good, the bad, the sad. If it hits me in the chest, I may need tissues. Sleeper is a romance with an HEA but I nearly flatlined when I read this:

“…I could do a million takes and never feel like I got it just right. Because I didn’t get to be her first. Because she wasn’t my first. But if I can be her best and last, I might come close to showing her that it’s the first time that anything I’ve ever done with a woman has ever felt this good and real.

(Mini Review here)

Let’s Talk Bookish: Overused Book Tropes

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Discussions pertain to topics related to reading or books. Share your opinions, and spread the love by visiting other “Let’s Talk Bookish” posts.

Prompts: Connected to my previous topic where we talked about tiresome characters, what are some tiresome tropes? Have you seen enough love triangles? Getting sick of enemies to lovers? What tropes have you had enough of, and can they ever be done well?

Because I often jump between my two favorite genres and there are so many books to choose from, I’m not sure if I’ve ever gotten tired of many tropes. However, I do despise love triangles. They wear me out! I tend to stay away from love triangles mostly because they give me anxiety. It’s a lot easier when there is a clear couple while the other person tries to intervene but isn’t really a consideration at all. Those I can kind of get through. Here are the scenarios I dislike the most.

The set-up: Lead A needs to choose between love interest B and love interest C. B and C love and adore A. How will A choose? A clearly chooses the love interest they prefer, B.

  • The problem with B was that B was an ass to A most of the time whereas C, clearly the better choice and favored by me, gets left behind. Sometimes it can be intertwined with B being the abhorred alpha type I mentioned in the previous prompt. (No books come to mind at the moment, but many Korean dramas have done this to me and I’m still bitter. Second lead syndrome hurts.)

  • Before choosing B, A kept going back and forth between the B and C rather than just leaving it well enough alone until A’s feelings were sorted. (The Inheritance Games was like this for me. I finished the book, but I was not very happy with Avery.)

Can love triangles be done well? Maybe they can, but I’ve tried to stay away as often as possible until The Inheritance Games hooked me. I was not aware there would be one but the book was enjoyable so I powered through.

Whew! I’m glad I got that all out! Thanks for reading my rant.

Are there any tropes you tend to stay away from?

First Lines Fridays 1.17: If someone had…

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If someone had told me yesterday that I’d be spending my Saturday morning in the aisle of a stuffy bookstore searching for ghost stories, I would’ve told them they were nuts. But here I am, staring down an entire row of books with titles like Windy City Mysteries, Chi-Town Haunts, and Second City Ghosts.

I guess I should have expected this.

ScritchScratch_cover


by Lindsay Currie
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728209722
Publication: September 1, 2020

A ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.

Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.

Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late. 

I got this for Christmas last year, and I’m terrified to read it because I don’t do scary very well. I know it’s a middle grade read but everything about it is creepy. The title is creepy. The tagline is creepy. It’s perfect for the holiday though! Have you read it? Is it as creepy as it looks?

Attachment Theory (2021)

by Kayley Loring
ASIN/ISBN: B09HPD7ZDY
Publication: October 7, 2021
Series: The Brodie Brothers #2

Attachment Theory is the second book in Loring’s The Brodie Brothers series. It features the youngest Brodie brother Dylan searching for love. Unfortunately, his past partners–of which there have been many– have all been co-stars. Their relationships have never lasted longer than the length of their joint movies or projects. He keeps looking for that one person he can form a lasting relationship with. Scarlett is a marriage and family therapist. Having been betrayed by her ex, she is reluctant to date actors. A chance encounter with Dylan Brodie, however, left a lasting impression. When they finally meet again, in her office no less, it will take a lot of willpower to refuse his advances and ignore her attraction to him.

Kayley Loring has been strumming my heart and making me laugh for nearly a year. Attachment Theory (2021), while embodying everything I adore about Loring’s novels, surprisingly bears a tinge of sadness that hasn’t been nearly as present in her other novels. Much of it stems from both Dylan’s and Scarlett’s past. Scarlett is still recovering from her ex-husband’s betrayal and seems hesitant to start any relationship, especially with an actor. She blames herself for not being enough for him, but also believes that she has never really been in love. While Scarlett has put a pause on her love life, Dylan’s failed relationships haven’t stopped him from looking for “the one.”

Dylan isn’t the most likeable of Loring’s leads. He’s confident but there was also this arrogance about him that I didn’t really like. However, he displays a deep sense of insecurity along with a less pronounced vulnerability that also made me want to hug him. He’s looking for a relationship that will provide him sustenance, someone for him to love and to be loved in return. Despite having been programmed by his multitude of short-term relationships to believe he may not be enough, he continues to war his heart on his sleeve.

I’m torn about how I feel about this book because instalove isn’t my cup of tea, yet there’s something different about Dylan and Scarlett’s foundation–a woman in a red dress and the man who bends down to tie her shoelaces. It’s terribly romantic because this one moment is burned into each of them, feeding them until they see each other again. I enjoyed the slow burn of the first half as Scarlett struggled with her feelings. Unfortunately, the second half felt rushed just as their relationship was beginning to feel solid. I can’t quite be sure if I believe in their happily ever after because the ending felt so abrupt to me (e.g. more groveling was needed). The three epilogues didn’t make up for it either.

This would have been four stars, possibly even five stars, had the second half been as equally moving as the first. The ending was too sudden and would have fared better with an additional few pages or even a chapter. While fun reads, the three epilogues didn’t make me feel better, because I wanted better closure. Also, I’m looking forward to the audio book. I love the duet narrations. It’s really an ensemble when it comes to the text messages.

Additional highlights:

  • It was refreshing to have characters who had good relationships with their families. Scarlett’s relationship with her parents was a highlight for me. Her banter with her mom was probably my favorite as they traded sayings, her mom’s Chinese ones with her American ones. My mom and I have had similar conversations. We can agree to disagree. Hmm…
  • I love the character cameos. As a fan of her Name in Lights series, it was fun to see the mention of the That’s So Wizard family–Shane and Nico make appearances but, alas, Alex is only name-dropped.
  • I enjoyed the text messages and the emails. They add so much humor to the book and provide insight into the relationships between the characters, especially between the Brodie family.
  • The Garçon commercial. Everyone needs to watch the commercial.

Chances for Serendipity (2021)

by Natalie Chung
ASIN/ISBN: B099X6L8R2
Publication: August 16, 2021

Chances for Serendipity begins with a meet cute. While playing tennis with her best friend Liz, Serendipity (“Sere”) accidentally hits Aiden with a tennis ball. They spend an entire day together teaching kids to play tennis, and it’s not until years later when they meet again. Serendipity means “an occurrence of an event that happens by chance in a happy way.” Playing on the concept, the chapters in-between their first and second meeting is filled with time jumps. Sere lives her life, from helping at the bakery to contemplating college, all the while mildly paying attention to Aiden’s tennis career. While I ultimately enjoyed the book, it took me a while to warm up to it.

Serendipity takes a long time to hit. Because this is a contemporary romance, I was extremely disappointed when it took nearly half of the book for Sere and Aiden to meet again. With each chapter focusing on different moments in Sere’s life, the time jumps made sense with the overall theme. The problem was I kept expecting Aiden would show up any moment, but he didn’t. When they finally see each other again, it moved too quickly for me, and I wasn’t entirely on board. There are cute moments, one or two that made me all fluttery, but the lack of relationship development and interaction in the first half prevented me from being emotionally committed to their potential HFN/HEA ending. However, the last tenth of the book ultimately bumped it up by half a star. I wish the majority of the book had been more like this.

The themes explored are relatable ones, and that’s one of the highlights of the book. Family plays a strong role in both their lives. Sere’s indecisiveness over what she wants to do while also trying to fulfill promises she’s made to her family is apparent throughout the book. It’s difficult when you want to find what’s best for you but it potentially means disappointing those around you.  While the hints are placed throughout as to her decision, I was still left somewhat perplexed because her feelings about her passion always felt subdued to me. Aiden’s predicament is also hinted at in the beginning as his relationship with his father seems to be a tumultuous one.

Overall, I liked the concept of the book and its focus on serendipity. However, the book didn’t always hit the mark for me. As a side note, there is bonus material from Aiden’s point of view if readers sign up for the author’s newsletter. I enjoyed the bonus chapter. If most of the book had been like the ending and the bonus chapter, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a good first novel, and Chung is someone I will look out for in the future.

Music Monday 1.17: Red leaves on…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

So…I have a tendency to listen to things on repeat until I get it out of my system. There’s a vulnerability here to Lee Brice’s “Memory I Don’t Mess With” that I love, which is why this is my most recent song on repeat. And, yeah, I have memories of my own that I also don’t like to mess with. (Hahaha…)

It’s good running into you like this / But, girl, I’m close as I can get /
To a memory I don’t mess with / The girl I was the best with

Yours to Keep (2020) was the book I immediately thought of. This was one of my first books by Layne, and I completely adored it because I liked Olive Dunn and her down-to-earth character. Pro baseball player Carter Ramsey returns to his hometown to recover from an injury, lured to return because of a pact made long ago to his high school sweetheart. What he doesn’t foresee is a different high school classmate, his former science partner Olive, putting a dent in his plans. The more time he and Olive spend together, the more he begins forget the reasons he is home in the first place. I loved Olive because of her confidence in herself. She makes no apologies for who she is, even if other people (used to) think she was a bit peculiar.