A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Summary:
Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a scfi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next.
Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.
Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.
But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.
A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…

A History of What Comes Next (Take Them to the Stars, #1)

Review:
I want to start off by saying that while I was approved for an eARC of this book (three days before it’s release date), I actually read the finished copy that I got from my local library. So, thank you NetGalley, but technically I didn’t read the ARC. Now, 3.5 stars, that makes me a little sad because Neuvel’s previous series, the Themis Files, is one of my all time favorite series, so you could say that I was very excited for this new release. I don’t want to say that I didn’t like it because that would be a lie. I did like it. I enjoyed reading it. I thought it was interesting. But I didn’t completely love it like I thought I was going to (though I will say I didn’t really even know what it was about until after I picked up my copy from the library).
This story follow Mia and her mother, Sarah, and occasionally some bits and pieces about their ancestors. They are the Kibsu and they have been tasked with helping humanity reach the stars and successfully figure out how to travel through space. Why? I literally have no idea. Are they aliens? Time travelers? Why don’t you tell me because I honestly don’t know. (Edited to add: I’ve reread the synopsis and it says it’s a “first contact” story, so they are definitely aliens.) So, the whole time Sarah is training Mia to take over and start the next generation tasked to reach the stars, there is another alien/time traveler/whatever in play. There is the Tracker that is following them. Neither Mia nor Sarah is completely sure that the Tracker even exists. But if he does, he will kill them both if they let him find them. Some parts of the story are told from his point of view as well. I thought this was an interesting choice because it opened up the story a bit more. It gave us more insight into the history of the Kibsu (which I believe I am correct in assuming that the Tracker is also Kibsu).
Now, I think I just didn’t love this book because a lot of the finer details went right over my head. After reading the authors note at the end, it’s clear that Neuvel put so much thought and research into this book. I don’t often pick up historical fiction and that’s what this was. This is a historical fiction book with a sci-fi twist (a few characters that are aliens). I think it’s the extreme amount of detail that is what put me off the story a bit. There’s so much science that Mia is doing to help different people build rockets. But also, I feel like I was left with all of the same questions that I had while I was learning about Mia and Sarah. I feel like we didn’t really learn anything, aside from what we learned from the Tracker, but that dude murder so many people and I don’t trust him. I also think that so much information has been lost or changed through 100 generations. It’s like a game of telephone.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Once I got past the 100 page mark, I was intrigued enough by the story to keep going. But it was dense in history and science, the writing style was a bit odd and took some getting used to, and while I learned a lot about the history of the space race I feel like I didn’t learn anything about the characters. I believe this is a series so I do plan to continue it, but I think I might see how the audiobooks are done. Anyway, if you’re a space or history nerd, you’ll probably love this.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

Summary:
Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.
The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.
Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.
Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

Review:
Okay, after finishing this 700+ page book, I have so many thoughts and feelings. But I think that I am going to write this review similarly to how I reviewed Kingdom of Ash. I am going to break this up into sections of things I liked and didn’t like. Then maybe a few overall thoughts. I want to start that I read this entire book within 24 hours. Once I started, I just could not put it down. I also want to say that I rated this book 4 stars. The things that I didn’t like are specifically what made me lower my rating. So, lets get into it!

What I Liked:

I loved Nesta. I would 100% die for her. I want her to turn her gaze on me and say terribly mean things. I want to sit with her, Gwyn, and Emerie and read in the House of Wind. I think her character growth was really well done. She’s full of anger and self-loathing, but we get to see her pull herself out of that with some help from the other characters.

The House of Wind was my favorite character. As much as I loved Nesta in this one, the House takes the cake for me. I couldn’t help but smile and feel comforted every time the House did or didn’t listen to Nesta. I also loved the why behind the House’s behavior.  

Gwym and Emerie are two women that, like Nesta, have been through some shit. But they don’t know all the details of Nesta’s past and they show her kindness when Nesta doesn’t feel like she deserves it. Seeing the blossoming friendship of these three was absolutely one of the best aspects of this story.

Along with the above point, I really liked that Nesta wasn’t just absorbed into the Inner Circle. She made her own friends, her own found family, her own inner circle. The love they had for one another was wholesome as fuck and I loved it.

The stairs. I feel like I have to mention the stairs. I don’t know who made 10k stairs to get into the House of Wind but it’s fucking illogical and I hate it. But I also couldn’t help but love what those stairs did for Nesta by the end of the book. They became more than the thing trapping her in the House of Wind. She made those stairs her bitch. She down them again and again, making more progress every time she tried. I think they were an interested outlet for her to not think, or to think, or to work out aggression. A friend said “Nest is the true stairmaster” and she’s damn right.

The worldbuilding was another thing I really enjoyed. We get to learn some new things about The Prison. We go back to the Middle and learn some history about that. We learn history about the creatures that were in power before they Fae. I thought all of this was done well and without just dumping new information on us.

Along with the worldbuilding, I was to specifically mention the Valkyrie. I loved the research that Gwyn was doing and how that research was incorporated into the girls’ training. I loved the idea and the history of the Valkyrie and I hope to see more about this.

Nesta’s backstory was filled in some. In the original trilogy, we learn about Nesta and Elain from Feyre’s perspective. But we don’t really learn much about what things were like before they were poor. With Nesta, we learn more about the Archeron’s mother and how horrible she was. I think this backstory for Nesta was so important to her character and really filled in details of why she behaved the way she has for so long.

I’m torn between liking and being disappointed by the fact that there wasn’t really a huge reconciliation between the three Archeron sisters. I liked that there wasn’t because that sort of forgiveness will take time to heal, time for them to figure out a new sort of relationship for them. But also, I just want everyone to love each other.

I also liked that while Feyre and Rhysand are obviously in this story, I feel like we got enough that the story didn’t feel like it was actually about them. (Aside from one thing that a friend pointed out which I will mention in the things that I didn’t like.) Their involvement in the story was mostly minimal, aside from a bit of pushing the plot forward. But these moments where they’re pushing the plot forward by giving orders and what not make sense because Nesta and Cassian are members of the Night Court, which makes Feyre and Rhysand their rulers. So, they obviously must follow the orders of their rulers.

I think the way that Maas showed Nesta struggling was done beautifully. At times, it was almost painful to read through the parts where Nesta is really struggling. At one point, her and Cassian are hiking through the woods and that scene had me sobbing for her. I think Nesta’s internal struggle was so powerful. Seeing her grow and work through all of those feelings was an honor.

Finally, Nesta and Cassian are the couple of my dreams. Maas really stepped up her game in terms of the sex scenes. I liked that they toyed with one another. I liked that at the same time, they were almost toying with themselves. They both were filled with so much lust for one another that they couldn’t control it. But despite that, they didn’t immediately have sex. The blowjob scene was excellent. There was build up to them finally having sex and I think that was done so well.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I didn’t like Rhysand. It breaks my heart to write that because I loved him with my whole heart in the first three books. But he was a bit reminiscent of Tamlin at times in this book and I really didn’t like it. There were medical concerns that he (and everyone else) kept from Feyre and that really upset me. The whole shield thing honestly just made me feel a little icky. I also think he was so horrible to Nesta for no good reason. He continues to be horrible even after he sees into her mind, experiences her trauma alongside her. I just didn’t like him and that was very upsetting.

The second thing I didn’t like had to do with the ending. Nesta does something to save someone and it was really reminiscent of another one of her characters. I didn’t like it in that book either. I’m trying not to spoil, so, I’ll just say that I didn’t think it was necessary for her to do this specific thing. I think the choice that Nesta made will have repercussions in the coming books and I’m interested to see what they are but mad about it still.

Nesta learned to train and all of that, but I feel like she never really learned about her magic. She’s filled with Silver Fire which means something but I feel like it was only briefly explained and we didn’t really get to delve into it. I sort of understand because Nesta didn’t want to use her magic. But she did lots of things she didn’t want to in this book. I would have liked to see a bit more exploration of her magic.

Now, I mentioned above about Feyre and Rhysand being involved in this book. I want to say that I didn’t like how they were essentially the only reason there was a plot. It makes sense because they’re the rulers. But I feel like it would have been better for Nesta to be doing all of the things she did for herself (after that initial push for her to train with Cassian and work in the library) but instead she only tried to scry again because Feyre and Rhysand needed her to. I feel like they were in control of everything Nesta did and I didn’t like that. The same friend that pointed this out also mentioned that it could be looked at like Nesta was doing this for her family, but at this point, Nesta didn’t give a shit about her family. She didn’t have the same motivations of protecting Elain because she felt like an outsider. So, I didn’t like that Feyre and Rhys were basically the reason that Nesta did most of the things that she did.

I also didn’t like how little we saw of Mor. Morrigan is one of my favorites and she was basically absent from this book with minimal explanation of what she was doing. I’m sure this was on purpose because I believe she’s getting her own book as well. But I need more Mor content in my life.

Overall Thoughts:

I enjoyed this book. I’ve been in a reading slump, so being able to devour this book in one day felt so good. But also, it made my reading slump worse because what the hell do I read after this that can compare? I think many people were disappointed that the plot in this book was minimal, but I actually liked that. I think it was a great way to build up to whatever is going to happen in the next books. I don’t know how I would place this in my order of favorites for the series, but I definitely would die for Nesta. I love her and understand her so much better after this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Summary:
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her parent’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the constant questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Review:
Going into Honey Girl, I was expecting a fun and humorous romance between two women. That’s not what this story is, for those that, like me, thought this was a romance novel. Don’t get me wrong, there is a romantic relationship (that I would die for) in this book, but at its heart, this is a story about the main character feeling lost after her life plan has come to an end. This is a story about lonely creatures wondering what comes next and of feeling lost underneath all of the expectations of others.
Honey Girl follows Grace Porter as she’s trying to find her way into the career field of astronomy. She’s just graduated with her PhD in astronomy and her first interview was so bad that she walked out on the interviewers. Grace is black and a lesbian, so she not only faces the struggle of being a woman in this scientific field, but also those that come with being black and queer. Grace and her two best friends, Ximena and Agnes, take a vacation to Las Vegas to blow off some steam now that Grace has finished her degree. Grace wakes up the next morning with hazy memories of a girl who smells of sea-salt. With a picture, and a quickly written note, and her memories, Grace realizes she got married the night before to someone whose name she can’t even remember. After returning home, she receives rejection after rejection from jobs she’s interviewed for. She feels lost, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. Her whole life she’s had a plan and she’s followed that plan. But what is she supposed to do when there isn’t a plan to follow any longer?
Grace keeps her marriage a secret until one night, she finally confides in her two best friends. Together the three of them listen to Yuki’s radio show about monsters. These monsters reflect humanity and loneliness. Grace works up the nerve to call Yuki, finding herself intrigued by this girl who smells of flowers and tells stories of monsters. With the pressure of her life and expectations from others, Grace escapes Portland and flees to New York, to Yuki.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have to start by talking about the writing. This story was written so beautifully. The words were lyrical, emotion-filled, and a tad whimsical. I highlighted so many lines from this story on my Kindle. There was no way I wasn’t going to get pulled into this story. To believe that these monsters Yuki talks about might just be real. Now, Grace, she’s really struggling but she doesn’t know how to talk about it or what to do about it. I really appreciated that because I honestly feel like that’s where I am currently. I finished my degree in 2020 and I know what I want to do next, but unlike Grace, I don’t know how to stick to the plans I make. I loved seeing Grace and Yuki fall in love. Following them as they got to know one another was an honor. They were both such fascinating characters that I couldn’t help but love them individually and together. I love that they got their happy ending.
There are several different kinds of love shown in this story. The obvious one, romantic love, between Yuki and Grace. But there’s also so many amazing friendships. The platonic love between Grace and her two best friends was a joy to read about. All three of them are imperfect humans, but getting to know these three was hard and wonderful. It reminded me of my relationship with Antonia (love you so much it hurts). There is also the love between siblings. Meera and Raj are Grace’s sister and brother by choice rather than by blood. I loved the three of them interact. But even more, I enjoyed seeing Grace’s relationship with them individually. Meera and Grace work together at Meera’s family’s tea shop. Meera knows what to say, when to say it, and when to say nothing at all. Then there’s Raj, Graces older brother. When they see each other in New York it was so hard to read, but their love for one another was so clear. Only those that love you know exactly what to say to hurt you. Finally, Grace’s parents divorced when she was young. She doesn’t have the best relationship with her mother and her father is a Colonel in the military and raised Grace like she was one of his soldiers. It’s his expectations that she’s trying and failing to live up to. I liked the development of Grace’s relationships with them. There’s progress by the end of the book, but everything isn’t suddenly ‘all better.’ This was realistic and I really liked it.
There are some really tough topics covered in this book, including but not limited to: racism, sexism, mental health, self-harm, and homophobia. I think these topics were discussed and included with thoughtfulness and care. (Though I’m not the authority on that for racism, but this is an own voices story.) I think this story was hard to read at times, but it’s such an important one that I hope many people read and love as much as I do. I think the discussion surrounding therapy was so good and so important. There are several characters that talk about going to therapy and talking to their therapists. It’s always discussed in a positive light and I really appreciated that. There’s even a scene of Grace finding the right therapist (meaning she goes to several before she finds one that is right for her).
Finally, the found families. Both Grace and Yuki have created their own families. We get to meet Grace’s while she’s still in Portland and we continue to see them throughout the story. I loved them almost as much as I loved Grace and Yuki. Once Grace gets to New York, we meet Yuki’s roommates, her found family. They are all hilarious and hardworking people. I loved them too.
Overall, Rogers has created a story that will linger in my mind long after I’ve finished reading it. The writing was nothing short of beautiful. The characters were diverse, well developed, so funny, and a genuine pleasure to read about. This is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, trying to find out what comes next, and I think it’s such an important story that will speak to so many people. I will be recommending this book until the end of time.

Quotes:

“She is in the stars, bold and bright and beautiful. She is strong and unwavering, and not filled with the sour taste of failure and the weight of unknowns.”

““Tonight, I want to talk about the sea,” she says. “Is that okay?” She pauses, as if waiting for someone, anyone, maybe even Grace, to answer. “Good. I want to talk about the sea and its dark depths and foaming, white tides and its swelling, hungry waves. The sea isn’t inherently supernatural, or even scary. But it holds many unknowns.” Her voice quiets. “Sometimes unknowns are the scariest things of all, aren’t they?””

“Here is the thing about the tar, the sludge, the inky black poison. Once it starts its ascent out of your body, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It tastes like volcano ash and fire, and you must taste it, and gag on it, and ultimately, you must spit it out. There comes a time when you cannot swallow it down any longer. Everything that is buried will be unburied. Everything that is pushed down will find its way out. It iis the way of the universe.”

“There is a small, hollow ache, somewhere deep inside her, but she is learning that she is made up of many small, hollow aches. She will continue the process of exploring them, one by one.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai

GoodReads Summary:
Beauty expert and influencer Jia Ahmed has her eye on the prize: conquering the internet today, the entire makeup industry tomorrow, and finally, finally proving herself to her big opinionated family. She has little time for love, and even less time for the men in her private messages—until the day a certain international superstar slides into her DMs, and she falls hard and fast.
There’s just one wrinkle: he has no idea who she is.
The son of a powerful Bollywood family, soap opera star Dev Dixit is used to drama, but a strange woman who accuses him of wooing her online, well, that’s a new one. As much as he’d like to focus on his Hollywood fresh start, he can’t get Jia out of his head. Especially once he starts to suspect who might have used his famous name to catfish her…
When paparazzi blast their private business into the public eye, Dev is happy to engage in some friendly fake dating to calm the gossips and to dazzle her family. But as the whole world swoons over their relationship, Jia can’t help but wonder: Can an online romance-turned-offline-fauxmance ever become love in real life?
First Comes Like (Modern Love, #3)Review:
I was so excited to receive this eARC from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. I loved the first two books in this series and was beyond excited to read Jia’s book. I’m happy to say that I loved this one just as much.
Jia is a beauty influencer. She is feeling like her content is stale and she wants something new. Her dream is to have her own make up line, so that is what she’s working toward. I thought it was really interesting to read about someone that was an influencer. I loved it. I loved how it was shown how hard Jia works, and how much work it really is. But despite all the work she does, her family still doesn’t get it and Jia feels the need to prove herself. I love Jia. I can’t speak to the Muslim representation but I love that this book exists for others to see themselves in. So, Jia has been talking online to Dev Dixit for a while. She manages to get invited to a part that he’s going to be at, so they can finally meet. Except, he has no clue who Jia is.
Dev was a great love interest. He is the guardian of his niece since his brother died and he is trying to cultivate an acting career in America. Dev is just all around a nice guy that is trying to do the right thing for the people in his life. I loved how sweet and thoughtful he was. So, when he learns of what has happened with Jia, he wants to meet with her and make amends. It also helps that he can’t stop thinking about her. (The fact that he watched all of her YouTube videos makes my heart melt.)
I loved their romance. The fake dating trope is such an excellent one. I also thought the book overall did a great job talking about religion and grief, class differences and family differences. I think there were so many good things about this book, but the slow burn, emotional development of Jia and Dev’s relationship was absolutely the best part. While I love a steamy romance, I really loved seeing these two fall in love without any of the usual physical intimacies. They don’t even kiss until after they’re married.
Overall, I cannot get enough of Rai’s books. She made me fall in love with both Jia and Dev (and also all of their family members) while they were falling in love with one another. I adored all the family dynamics, with Jia’s big family and Dev’s grandmother, uncle, and niece. I would love to see the next romance in this series to be one of Jia’s sisters. I think the romance was wonderful and at the same time, it did a great job talking about tough topics like grief. I absolutely recommend this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller

Summary:
Ronan Szepessy promised himself he’d never return to Hudson. The sleepy upstate town was no place for a restless gay photographer. But his father is ill and New York City’s distractions have become too much for him. He hopes that a quick visit will help him recharge.
Ronan reconnects with two friends from high school: Dom, his first love, and Dom’s wife, Attalah. The three former misfits mourn what their town has become—overrun by gentrifiers and corporate interests. With friends and neighbors getting evicted en masse and a mayoral election coming up, Ronan and Attalah craft a plan to rattle the newcomers and expose their true motives. But in doing so, they unleash something far more mysterious and uncontainable.
Review:
Hudson has a rich, proud history and, it turns out, the real estate developers aren’t the only forces threatening its well-being: the spirits undergirding this once-thriving industrial town are enraged. Ronan’s hijinks have overlapped with a bubbling up of hate and violence among friends and neighbors, and everything is spiraling out of control. Ronan must summon the very best of himself to shed his own demons and save the city he once loathed.
The Blade BetweenReview:
Thank you, NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. I requested The Blade Between because a friend of mine was absolutely raving about it. I’m glad that I requested it because I flew through this book. I don’t know that I would say I enjoyed it, but it was definitely an experience.
So, I want to mention first that the writing was incredible. There were so many great lines and fantastic descriptions in this book. I cannot say enough good things about Miller’s writing. He managed to make it a creepy and atmospheric story, but also convinced us to love these very flawed characters. I think there were some really interesting topics covered in a thoughtful way. This story follows Ronan as he returns to his home town of Hudson, a place he has no fond memories of. But his father is dying and it’s time he finally returns. But things escalate and suddenly he’s fighting against the gentrification of a town he grew up hating. I really liked this aspect of the story. Ronan has so many mixed feelings about his hometown, but he still does his damnedest to save it. I also loved all of the antics that Ronan and his friends participate in to ‘save’ the town. I think there were definitely some moments that were a bit extreme, but the author did a really good job showing character motivations that were almost understandable. It wasn’t hard to sympathize with these characters.
I also think the author did a really great job of creating different and interesting characters. Even though the story sort of jumped around with who it was following, I had no issues distinguishing between any of them. They were all unique and interesting. Now, the plot was fascinating. I loved the fantasy elements that were included in the story. The bits about the whales was absolutely creepy but only got creepier with the inclusion of the ghosts that play a role in the story.
Overall, I think this was a horrifying and excellent story. I will absolutely be reading more books by this author. Miller’s writing was exceptional and memorable. I think the characters were easy to love, even when they were doing shitty things. I just couldn’t put this book down. I highly recommend this one for fans of horror or darker fantasy books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Books & Baking – Kiss My Cupcake

Hi, lovelies! I read the cutest book that was filled with cupcakes and I knew I just had to try one of them out. I flipped through the book to find all the options where the cupcakes were actually described from the cupcake to the frosting and I came up with five options. Then I showed my partner the options and he chose the ones that I made. So, here are my cupcakes from Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting.

Book: Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting

Read my full review here!

This is a romance novel that follows Blaire and Ronan, two business owners that are next to one another. They start off as rivals but decide to team up and host events when a bigger threat comes onto their street. It was a funny and fun story about two bars that are very different but both interesting. I enjoyed it. There were fun pranks, delicious sounding cupcakes, creative events, and a romance I could root for.

“You may have started the war, but I’ll be the one taking you down, one sweet treat at a time.”

“But I think I’d rather have someone to miss than never have the opportunity to witness that kind of devotion.”

Baking: Lemon Drop Cupcakes

Find the full recipe here!

I was torn between the death by chocolate cupcakes and the lemon drop, but my husband asked for the lemon drop ones. So, that’s what I attempted.

“The lemon drop cupcake is a featured special today if you’d like to give it a try.”
“Hmm. Is it sour?” The like you is clearly intimated, though unspoken.
“It has some pucker power, if that’s what you mean. It’s a good balance of sweet and tart.”

Cupcake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups lemon curd
lemon-cream frosting

Lemon Curd Ingredients
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature

Lemon-Cream Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese frosting, room temperature
1 cup bakers sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup lemon curd
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Cupcake Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees then line muffin tin with paper liners.
Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
With an electric mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add in sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, on medium/low. Add vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
With mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mix, then half of the milk, and all the sour cream. Add the next 1/3 of the flour mix and the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour mix. Mix until just combined.
Divide the batter into the cupcake tin (about 1/3 cup in each). Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Let them completely cool before decorating.

Lemon Curd Instructions
In a small sauce pan, combine sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and eggs. Add the butter and cook over low heat. Stir continuously until the first bubble appears and the curd is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk, about 6 minutes.
Strain lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer if you don’t want lemon zest in the curd. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold.

Frosting Instructions
With an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add the lemon curd and mix until fully incorporated.
In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Then fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Assembly Instructions
Once cupcakes are fully cooled, scoop small hole out of each cupcake (the recipe said to use a melon baller, but I just used a knife to cut a bit of the top out). Fill each hole with a scoop of lemon curd. Frost cupcakes (the recipe says to use a pastry bag with all the fancy tips, but I used a small ziplock bag and cut a small hole in the corner). Refrigerate cupcakes until ready to serve.

And here’s a better picture of my final product. I really liked these. They were, as Blaire said, the perfect combination of sweet and bitter. I think the frosting was absolute perfection and the curd was delicious, but there was something about the actual cupcake was a little bit too bitter. I think I zested a bit too much of the lemon. But I would definitely make these again and I highly recommend you make them too if you think you’ll like them. They were pretty easy to make too. I made these yesterday and they’re already gone, so definitely a hit in my house. Let me know if you try to make these!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon

GoodReads Summary:
Love, romance, second chances, fairy-tale endings…these are the things Annika Dev believes in. Her app, Make Up, has been called the “Google Translate for failing relationships.”
High efficiency break-ups, flashy start-ups, penthouses, fast cars…these are the things Hudson Craft believes in. His app, Break Up, is known as the “Uber for break-ups.” It’s wildly successful—and anathema to Annika’s life philosophy.
Which wouldn’t be a problem if they’d gone their separate ways after that summer fling in Las Vegas, never to see each other again. Unfortunately for Annika, Hudson’s moving not just into her office building, but into the office right next to hers. And he’ll be competing at the prestigious EPIC investment pitch contest: A contest Annika needs to win if she wants to keep Make Up afloat. As if it’s not bad enough seeing his irritatingly perfect face on magazine covers when her own business is failing. As if knowing he stole her idea and twisted it into something vile—and monumentally more successful—didn’t already make her stomach churn.
As the two rival app developers clash again and again—and again—Annika finds herself drawn into Hudson Craft’s fast-paced, high velocity, utterly shallow world. Only, from up close, he doesn’t seem all that shallow. Could it be that everything she thought about Hudson is completely wrong? Could the creator of Break Up teach her what true love’s really about?
Make Up Break UpReview:
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Make Up Break Up was a really fun (and diverse!) romance that was hate to love and an office (sort of) romance.
We follow Annika as she’s trying to get her app, Make Up, off the ground. Her concept is to create an app using an AI that will learn the people using the app to help them resolve relationship problems. It seemed to me almost like a therapist on your phone specifically for couples. I thought this was such a cool concept and I was so sad for Annika and all of the struggles she and June were facing while trying to get this project going. I loved that this was a story about a woman-owned and run company. But I also loved how Annkia’s backstory was a part of her motivation. Her parent’s love story is what inspired her idea and I thought it was beautiful.
Then there’s Hudson, a man that Annika had a short fling with, but also what she sees as her biggest rival. I knew right away that this was going to be a case of miscommunication from Hudson’s behavior. He was clearly interested in her right from when we first met him. I also liked him despite the company he owned. Break Up is an app that people use to break up with others. The person wanting to break up sends someone via the app to break up with their significant other. I thought, like Annika, there was some real potential for this app to be used callously, but I thought there was also the potential for this to be used thoughtfully. It was clear that Hudson didn’t really believe in his project anymore, just the success it was having. I liked that Hudson just seemed like a good dude (example: Annika was drunk and tried to kiss him and he declined because he didn’t want her to regret it later. Because he wanted her to want him when she was sober.)
Overall, this was a fun romance. There was drama and lots of tension. There was strong female women and really nice family aspects too. I liked that Annika’s dad was included and the development of their relationship gave me the feels. I definitely think a lot of people will like this. There weren’t super descriptive sex scenes that I enjoy, but there was still great romance and chemistry between the characters.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Amanda’s Favorite Adult Books of 2020

Hello, lovelies! I’m here with my final age rage favorites list. Today will be my favorite adult books that I read in 2020 (not just 2020 releases). I would recommend these books to anyone. They are a variety of genres, but they’re all excellent books. I will have a few that were on my first list of my 10 favorite reads of 2020, so don’t be surprised if you think you’ve seen these on a list before. Let’s go!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Seven Devils by Laura Lam & Elizabeth May

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

That’s all I’ve got friends. Fifteen of my favorite adult books that I read in 2020. I already can’t wait to reread some of them in 2021. What adult books were your favorite last year?

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting

Summary:
Blaire Calloway has planned every Instagram-worthy moment of her cupcake and cocktails shop launch down to the tiniest detail. What she didn’t plan on? Ronan Knight and his old-school sports bar next door opening on the very same day. He may be super swoony, but Blaire hasn’t spent years obsessing over buttercream and bourbon to have him ruin her chance at success.
From axe throwing (his place) to frosting contests (hers), Blaire and Ronan are constantly trying to one-up each other in a battle to win new customers. But with every clash, there’s also an undeniable chemistry. When an even bigger threat to their business comes to town, they’re forced to call a temporary time-out on their own war and work together. And the more time Blaire spends getting to know the real Ronan, the more she wonders if it’s possible to have her cupcake and eat it too.
Review:Kiss My Cupcake
Kiss My Cupcake
is a romance novel full of sweetness. Buttercream & Booze is Blaire’s dream come true, but now she has to make sure it’s a success. So, when construction starts next door at The Knight Cap, Blaire can’t help but be annoyed. She goes to confront whoever is causing her brand-new glasses to fall off their shelves and smash. This is the start of their rivalry. The pranks and antics of glitter bombs and fake poop ensue. But when a bigger competitor comes along that will affect both of their businesses, they band together to host events and attract new customers. I really loved this part of the story. I liked their rivalry; it was fun and lighthearted even if Blaire took it a little too seriously sometimes. Their relationship developed into more in a way that I really liked. I was easily invested in their romance. I liked their businesses too. Ronan is running his grandfather’s bar, The Knight Cap, and adding some new things like ax throwing and brewing his own beers. I thought the history of the bar was really sweet. I liked that it was a part of his family and that Ronan had a history with it too. I also liked the concept of Buttercream and Booze. Cupcakes and fancy drinks are absolutely something I’d like to do. I would totally show up for one of Blaire’s trivia night.
I think a lot of people will really like this one, but I did have some issues with it. The first is Blaire’s attitude. She has a really complicated family. They’re wealthy because of their own high-end restaurants. But Blaire wants to do her own thing and she wants to do it without their help (because their help usually comes with strings). But she talks about how she’s done all of this on her own, except that she hasn’t. She found her passion for baking while she was schooling in France, a trip funded by her parents. So, while yes, Buttercream and Booze is something she’s doing all on her own, her life and education were all funded by her parents so I wouldn’t really consider her to be ‘doing this all on her own.’ Also, she always has the option to ask her parents for their help or to go work for them. She’s pretty privileged and I don’t think she really acknowledged that. I also want to mention that she’s pretty judgmental. When she first met Ronan, he’s wearing a plaid shirt and she makes a comment about how he’s a ‘flannel-wearing hipster.’ She was quick to judge and sometimes harsh with those judgments.
Overall, I was able to look past the things I didn’t like about Blaire and enjoy the story. She definitely wasn’t my favorite female lead and I ended up enjoying the story well enough. It was sweet and entertaining.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:
A hacktivist and a cat café owner decode the friend zone in this romantic comedy from the author of Undercover Bromance.
Alexis Carlisle and her cat café, ToeBeans, have shot to fame after she came forward as a victim of a celebrity chef’s sexual harassment. When a new customer approaches to confide in her, the last thing Alexis expects is for the woman to claim they’re sisters. Unsure what to do, Alexis turns to the only man she trusts—her best friend, Noah Logan.
Computer genius Noah left his rebellious teenage hacker past behind to become a computer security expert. Now he only uses his old skills for the right cause. But Noah’s got a secret: He’s madly in love with Alexis. When she asks for his help, he wonders if the timing will ever be right to confess his crush.
Noah’s pals in The Bromance Book Club are more than willing to share their beloved “manuals” to help him go from bud to boyfriend. But he must decide if telling the truth is worth risking the best friendship he’s ever had.
Review:Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club, #3)
Crazy Stupid Bromance
is the newest book in the Bromance Bookclub series. I love the concept of this series, where men figure out how to be better to the women they have feelings for by reading and learning from romance novels they read together and discuss. I think this book had a good combination of the romance between Alexis and Noah, and the bromance bookclub gang. I liked that the book club was there for Noah when he knew he’d made a mistake and they helped him figure out what to do next.
Alexis is a character we met in previous books. She’s one of the people that we learned in the last book was sexually harassed by a celebrity chef she used to work for. She spoke out about this harassment along with a few other women. She’s cultivated her car café into a safe space for other women that have been assaulted or harassed. She organized things like yoga classes and such to help others after she learned things that helped her. I liked that this was a part of the story. It wasn’t the whole story, not overtaking anything, but it was there. It wasn’t brushed aside or just mentioned once. It was a part of Alexis, so it was a part of the story.
As for the mysterious sister, and the father that Alexis never met that needs an organ donation, I don’t know how I felt about this. I liked that it was something close to the author’s heart (there’s an author’s note about her reasoning for choosing to write about organ donation). But it felt out of place in a romance novel.
Overall, I still am not totally sure how I felt about this book and that’s very clear in this review. I really liked Noah and Alexis together. Their friends to lovers romance was sweet and I really enjoyed seeing them take that step past friends. I read this book quickly and enjoyed it while I was reading it. I think most that like the friends to lovers trope will enjoy this one.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Summary:
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. SchwabReview:
There are some books I just don’t know that I’ll be able to succinctly write my thoughts and feelings about and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of those books. I’m going to do my best, but I’m sorry in advance if this review is mostly nonsense.
Addie LaRue makes a deal with a dark god (or a demon, honestly, I don’t know what the heck Luc is really.) But the deal isn’t what she thought it would be, so the story starts around 300 years later in 2014. Addie cannot be remembered. I think this part of the story was fascinating. The rules of how this worked were given to us slowly over time and I really felt for Addie. She’s lonely, but as we read more, we learn about her history with Luc (the dark god) when the story flashes back to the past. Their relationship is a complicated one and it was absolutely fascinating. But one day, Addie walks into a bookstore and the employee at the counter, Henry, does something odd. He remembers her. The story takes off from here.
Addie was a likable character. It’s easy to feel for her when she’s a young girl in 1714, she wants for so much, and is being offered the small life of being a wife and mother, things she’s never wanted. So, she prays to the gods after dark. Luc answers and grants her wish to be free. Except being ‘free’ has a cost. No one can remember her. Following Addie as she discovers the limits of her ‘freedom’ was heart wrenching but also fascinating. I really loved the contrast of Addie’s life in the past as she’s learning how to survive her new life, to Addie’s life in the present where she’s figured out how to survive. She’s definitely a morally grey character, in the sense of she’s going to do what she needs to survive. Whether that means she steals food and other things to keep her sanity, so be it. I liked Addie. She knew what she wanted from life and she made it happen. When things didn’t go as planned, she made the best she could with what she had. She’s a stubborn woman that didn’t just give up when things got hard, despite Luc offering her many outs.
Henry, the bookseller, was an interesting character too. His connections to Addie and why he can remember her was really well done. I didn’t guess it, but I had many theories until the truth was revealed. I think Henry was a likable character too. He just wants to be enough for the people in his life, but he never is. He struggles with addiction and I thought that was well written. I think Henry was a little bland, but generally a nice guy. But when the competition is a dark god, it’s a tough comparison.
Then there’s Luc. The dark god, or maybe a demon, who knows. He was such a compelling character. We learn more and more about him when the story flashed back to Addie’s past. At first, we’re led to believe that he’s given Addie this ‘gift’ and left on her own. But we see the two develop a relationship. I loved seeing Addie challenge him and their banter was excellent.
Overall, I really loved this book. It was a slow paced, character focused story, so not one that everyone will love. It was a quiet story, but thought provoking with complex characters. The writing was stunning and the magic (if that’s what it’s called) was explained well enough for me to be satisfied. I definitely think this is going to be a book that not everyone loves, but I loved it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Awakening by Nora Roberts

Summary:
In the realm of Talamh, a teenage warrior named Keegan emerges from a lake holding a sword—representing both power and the terrifying responsibility to protect the Fey. In another realm known as Philadelphia, a young woman has just discovered she possesses a treasure of her own…
When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.
This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…
The Awakening (The Dragon Heart Legacy, #1)Review:
The Awakening is Roberts newest trilogy and I was not disappointed. I’m going to keep this review short because no one is surprised that I loved this book.
I think it’s been really interesting to see Roberts delve more into fantasy books. She has quite a few series that have a bit of light fantasy in them, but this series has a whole new world within it. I think the world was very interesting and vividly written.
Breen Kelly was kind of an annoying character, but as we learn more about her childhood, her annoying behaviors are more understandable. She grew up with a mother that belittled her most of her life, left her feeling like she shouldn’t or couldn’t try new things that she might love. She works a job she doesn’t love to pay her bills. But when she finds out her mother has been keeping money that Breen’s father sent for Breen, her life changes. I think Breen had some growth. It was great to see her try new things and realize that she might actually good at these things. The only thing I didn’t like about this aspect of the story is the process of getting a book published. Breen starts writing a novel while she’s vacationing in Ireland. And by summer’s end she’s finished her novel, queried and found and agent, and gotten a book deal. This is so incredibly unrealistic that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was full of adventure and magic with a hint of romance. I liked that we got to see Breen learning the magic and training with swords. I think the new world she discovered was fascinating. I am definitely excited for the next book in the series.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

GoodReads Summary:
A darkly enchanting reimagining of Gothic fantasy, in which a spirited young woman discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico.
Mexican GothicReview:
Mexican Gothic is a dark and atmospheric story that centers around family. Noemi is sent to the Mexican countryside to make sure her cousin Catalina is okay. Noemi’s father received a distressing letter from Catalina, who moved to the countryside to live with her new husband on his family’s estate. Her father sends Noemi to High Place to see Catalina for herself and make sure her cousin is alright. I really liked Noemi. She definitely doesn’t want to say once she sees High Place, but she does what’s right for her cousin. She seeks answers, but doesn’t even know if she’s asking the right questions. I liked that she was persistent and didn’t let this weird ass family push her around, much.
This story is creepy as soon as Noemi gets to High Place. The property and house are neglected and the family members are also creepy. Catalina’s husband, Virgil is immediately unlikable. He’s brash and scary, at times. I immediately didn’t like Virgil and didn’t understand why Catalina married him. I couldn’t help but be as worried about Catalina as Noemi was. Every time Noemi sat with Catalina, there were more questions than answers. That was a theme with this book. There were so many questions, which was a great way to build suspense and lead up to the big reveal. Moreno-Garcia did an excellent job of leaving the reader wondering what the hell was actually going on.
Overall, this was a creepy as hell story that I absolutely devoured. The writing was stunning and descriptive, painting a vivid and horrifying picture. The setting was atmospheric and perfectly spooky. I loved Noemi and Catalina. I hated Virgil and most of his family. I highly recommend this book and I will absolutely be reading more books by this author.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

GoodReads Summary:
A Betrayal…
Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.
A Choice…
Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.
A Secret…
But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.
A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash, #2)Review:
Is this a new favorite series of mine? Yes. Was Armentrout already a favorite author of mine? Yes. So, was this totally a surprise? No, not really.
I’m not going to go too deep into a summary like I do in some reviews because this is the second book in a series and I don’t want to spoil anything. So, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire follows Poppy and Casteel as Poppy has had the world she knows completely upended. She’s learned things about the kingdom she grew up in that are horrifying and change everything for her. That’s about all you’re getting because most of the details of this are spoilers for book one.
Poppy is my queen. I love her with my whole heart. She’s been hurt many times. In her childhood, she witnessed her parents killed. She learned to fight so that she would never be defenseless again. This was a huge asset in this book because she proves again and again that she’s not someone to be fucked with. I want to reread this book again just to count how many times she stabbed Casteel or threatened to stab him. I thought it was really interesting that Poppy escaped the confinement of being the Maiden only to find herself confined once again in a completely different situation. I loved the development of her new confinement. She proved herself a useful ally and I loved seeing Poppy finally take her life into her own hands. Seeing her finally get to make choices for herself and what she wanted made me so happy.
Now, Casteel. I love him. I understand why Poppy is so mad at him, but I love him. I think it was really interesting that Armentrout used the secret keeping trope (which I usually hate) to create a huge conflict between Poppy and Casteel and then have them work through the lies and the deceptions. I was fascinated seeing Poppy figure out how to trust Casteel again after the lies he told her. I loved how determined Casteel was. He wanted Poppy. He wanted to save his brother. He wanted to save his kingdom. But his plans all change when he actually meets Poppy. He figures out a potential way to get all of the things that he wants. And I think that really spoke to who Casteel is as a person and a leader. I just love him with my whole heart.
Overall, I’m obsessed with this series. I think the world building is so well done and Armentrout has built a world that I’m infatuated with. I think this history of the world and how that history has been changed in the minds of the people is so interesting. I think the Gods are also very interesting. The fact that they’re all ‘sleeping’ is so intriguing and I cannot deal with how this story ended. I also have to mention there are a handful of steamy sex scenes and they were exactly what I wanted them to be. I think it was all around an excellent book and as I said in my review for the first book, if you like fantasy romance you will love this.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Well Played by Jen DeLuca

GoodReads Summary:
Stacey is jolted when her friends Simon and Emily get engaged. She knew she was putting her life on hold when she stayed in Willow Creek to care for her sick mother, but it’s been years now, and even though Stacey loves spending her summers pouring drinks and flirting with patrons at the local Renaissance Faire, she wants more out of life. Stacey vows to have her life figured out by the time her friends get hitched at Faire next summer. Maybe she’ll even find The One.
When Stacey imagined “The One,” it never occurred to her that her summertime Faire fling, Dex MacLean, might fit the bill. While Dex is easy on the eyes onstage with his band The Dueling Kilts, Stacey has never felt an emotional connection with him. So when she receives a tender email from the typically monosyllabic hunk, she’s not sure what to make of it.
Faire returns to Willow Creek, and Stacey comes face-to-face with the man with whom she’s exchanged hundreds of online messages over the past nine months. To Stacey’s shock, it isn’t Dex—she’s been falling in love with a man she barely knows.
Well Played (Well Met, #2)Review:
I went into this book with pretty low expectations because when it was first released (not too long ago) all I saw were negative reviews. This was upsetting because I adored the first book in this series, but I knew I was going to read it anyway. I’m actually glad I went into the book this way because I think it made me enjoy it even more. I really liked Well Played.
The story follows Stacey who has lived in Willow Creek for her whole life, except for a short period of time for college. She always planned to leave and live somewhere else. She had goals and dreams. She even had a plan and a job lined up, but then her mother got sick. Stacey returned home to help care for her mother. Even though her mother is doing much better, Stacey is still scared that something will happen if she leaves again. But that doesn’t stop her from wanting more than Willow Creek. She is happiest during Faire season. For the past few summers, she’s had a fling with Dex, one of the members of The Dueling Kilts (a band that comes to the Faire every summer). After Simon and Emily get engaged, Stacey can’t help but feel lonely, like she wants more. The theme of this book is really just Stacey wanting more from her life, more than Willow Creek, more in her love life, just more. So, we follow her as she tries to find that more.
I didn’t love the catfishing aspect of the story, but I think it was better that the reader knew Stacey wasn’t really emailing and texting with Dex. I think it would have been more upsetting if the reader had been surprised alongside Stacey. I also think it was super obvious who it was that Stacey was really talking to and, again, I liked this. I think it was a good way to get the reader invested because we knew who it was that she was really falling for. It gave the reader a chance to get invested in their relationship, even though there were secrets. I usually don’t like the secret keeping trope, but I didn’t mind it so much in this book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am so excited to read the third book (Mitch!!) when it comes out. I enjoyed the ups and downs of Stacey’s romance. I liked how her friendship with Emily, Simon, and Mitch were included. I liked that we got to see the family dynamics with her parents. I also absolutely loved the sex scenes. They were super good. I basically liked everything about this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.