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A Fantasy Duology That Finally Fulfilled the Enemies to Lovers Sized Hole in My Heart: The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen Review

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I mentioned a a few posts back in my review of Radiance by Grace Draven that I was working on a review of The Bridge Kingdom duology and here it finally is!

So I desperately want to love books that are marketed as “enemies-to-lovers” but until now I have yet to find any book that fulfills this trope to the extent that I always hope it will. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a book being considered “rivals to lovers” or even simply “we got off on the wrong foot to lovers” but when I say I want enemies to lovers, I mean enemies. I want my characters to be actively plotting how they’re going to kill each other before they finally realize that they actually don’t want to kill each other. Most of the time, enemies-to-lovers boils down to two characters who had some sort of miscommunication and once they finally talk to each other then they’re fine. Personally, I think that this trope fits in best in fantasy settings so when I was watching a video from Riley Marie about another trope I enjoy (video is hyperlinked through her name) and when she suggested The Bridge Kingdom duology I jumped at the chance to read it. And let me tell you, it was everything I was looking for in an enemies-to-lovers book. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on the books, keep reading!

The Bridge Kingdom Review

The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom, #1)
Image: Cover of The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties. The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.

The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara’s homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.

Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.

This book was so much fun to read. I’ll admit that I thought the story was slightly outrageous at times but I’ve never read a fantasy romance before and I think that this might be a new favorite genre for me if I’m lucky enough to find more books like The Bridge Kingdom.

From the very beginning I was entranced by the plot, this book threw us almost straight into the action and while it wasn’t necessarily what I expected I was intrigued to see where the story went. Our main character, Lara, has trained for most of her life alongside a number of her sisters in order to one day potentially be chosen to wed the king of Ithicana, or the Bridge Kingdom. Ithicana is seen as a power hold because the bridge that crosses over it is an essential trade route and Lara has been trained to see this bridge as a way to save her homeland from ruin. For her entire life she has been told by her father and her mentors that Ithicana is a selfish kingdom that only cares about gaining riches for themselves and so when she becomes the daughter that will wed Ithicana’s king, Lara knows she will do anything in her power to destroy the Bridge Kingdom and save her home.

The Bridge Kingdom was a delightfully angsty slow burn romance. At times, I genuinely forgot that this was supposed to be a romance because of the way that Lara had been so thoroughly brainwashed by her father and mentors. There were so many moments where evidence showing her the opposite of what she was taught were right in front of her and yet Lara constantly fought against that. It was frustrating but so realistic to the power that being brainwashed can hold on someone. As I watched Lara and Aren dance around each other waiting for one of them to slip up but also both falling for each other I was delighted with their chemistry and the path the story took.

The angst in this duology is honestly next level. As the story went on I enjoyed reading Lara’s inner battle with her duty to her home kingdom, her personal mission, and her conflicting feelings regarding Aren and Ithicana. Aren trusted Lara long before she trusted him despite the fact that everyone close to him still warned against trusting her so much. Lara wants to take down Ithicana because ultimately she wants freedom and that’s the only way she sees a positive outcome for herself. She wants her home kingdom to be taken care of but after being trapped for so long by her father she wants to be free from it all. Seriously, so. Much. Angst. Basically, if you’re not into characters who are prone to the dramatic, this might not be the book for you!

One other thing that I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed about this duology is the setting. I’m used to reading fantasy books that take place in deciduous or coniferous forest biomes with mountains, etc. There are usually oceans and they do often sail in other books but I liked that this duology had such a large focus on water. Lara grew up in the middle of a desert and Ithicana is a tropical grouping of islands. Ithicana has to deal with a storm season that make water travel incredibly dangerous. On top of the storms the waters are also infested with sharks. The islands also have deadly snakes so honestly just loving the danger in these books.

The Bridge Kingdom hit every single mark in my dream enemies-to-lovers book and I rated it five stars.

You can add The Bridge Kingdom on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in getting your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

The Traitor Queen Review

Heads up but this section will contain spoilers relating to the first book! If you haven’t read the first book feel free to skip down to the end of this post for my sign off and some extra links. Otherwise feel free to sign off here and I’ll talk to you in my next post!

The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom, #2)
Image: Cover of The Traitor Queen by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A queen now in exile as a traitor, Lara has watched Ithicana be conquered by her own father, helpless to do anything to stop the destruction. But when she learns her husband, Aren, has been captured in battle, Lara knows there is only one reason her father is keeping him alive: as bait for his traitorous daughter.

And it is bait she fully intends to take.

Risking her life to the Tempest Seas, Lara returns to Ithicana with a plan not only to free its king, but for liberating the Bridge Kingdom from her father’s clutches using his own weapons: the sisters whose lives she spared. But not only is the palace inescapable, there are more players in the game than Lara ever realized, enemies and allies switching sides in the fight for crowns, kingdoms, and bridges. But her greatest adversary of all might be the very man she’s trying to free – the husband she betrayed.

With everything she loves in jeopardy, Lara must decide who – and what – she is fighting for: her kingdom, her husband, or herself.

Review

I hopped into reading The Traitor Queen immediately upon finishing The Bridge Kingdom. If anything, these are great books to read back to back. The story is fast paced enough that you almost won’t realize that you’ve read about 700 pages by the end of them. The ending of the first book had me needing to find out what happened next so I devoured this book in about half the time it took me to read The Bridge Kingdom.

This book had so much action in it and I really enjoyed seeing how Lara’s sisters fit into the plot. Honestly all of the characters that we were introduced to in this book were integral to the plot and the way everything came together had me in shock more than once.

Now if The Bridge Kingdom was angsty, The Traitor Queen is on another level entirely. I definitely didn’t hate it but holy cow it was taxing to read at times. I just kept waiting for things to fall into place and stop having more things become something disastrously dramatic. Aren became a bit frustrating in this book because he had trusted Lara so readily in the first book and yet became so wishy-washy. I could understand his thoughts from the perspective of hating Lara but I also felt like he was heavily influenced by the people around him and at times it made me question his ability as a king. Obviously it’s important for him to be able to trust his companions but at the same time, he pushed them to trust Lara in the first book and I found it surprising that he took such a firm stance against her despite the fact that she tried to explain to him what happened.

Now Lara was dealing with the consequences of her actions from the first book and I could understand her feelings most of the time but I wished she had been stronger in her beliefs and her dedication to Ithicana. If this had been the case, I think that this book potentially could have been shorter and by the time I reached the actual ending I found myself thinking how much less taxing it would have been if this book were about 50 pages shorter. It seemed like Lara kept ending up in bad situations because she was in that same wishy-washy mindset as Aren and instead of dedicating herself fully to Ithicana from the beginning she kept getting in her own head. And don’t get me wrong, I loved this book, but again I warn you that if you aren’t a fan of angst or drama, this might not be the duology for you!

In the end, I gave this book 4 stars because it was a genuinely fun read. I think the main reason I ended up knocking off a star was because of the length and the heightened dramatics towards the end of the story. This was such a fun duology though and I can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out!

You can add The Traitor Queen on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in picking up this book you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

If you’ve read the first (or both) book(s), what did you think of them? Also, if you have any fantasy romance recommendations feel free to leave a comment!

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. If you want to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: nihilisticactus

On Readerly: sideofadventure

On Goodreads, where you can add me as a friend or follow my reviews. My profile is linked here.

For review requests, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

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Spoiler-Free Review and Spoiler Filled Rave: White Ivy by Susie Yang

*** This post will contain spoilers for White Ivy, readers will be warned at the end of the spoiler free section***

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!

Click the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page!

White Ivy is a spectacular debut novel from Susie Yang following Ivy Lin, a young Chinese girl growing up in the United States as she does whatever it takes to find status in a world in which she feels she never quite fits into. It’s a narrative of an adolescent wrestling with her identity and I was immediately struck by how engrossing this book was.

I grew up reading books that were usually outside of my age range and as soon as I started reading White Ivy it reminded me of some of the adult books I had picked up over my late elementary and middle school years. The writing fit the time period encapsulated in the book perfectly. I think the writing style was one of my main draws for this because it took me back to the early 2000’s and completely sucked me in.

It’s hit or miss how I end up feeling about novels with main characters like Ivy. She’s conniving and selfish and I continuously cycled between hating her and having a smidgen of hope for her. There were moments where I related to her and moments I pitied her and even more where I was in absolute disbelief of who Ivy was becoming as a person. The other characters in this book both infuriated and intrigued me and I was amazed at how easily Ivy molded herself to fit into the situations she was placed into. As her past and present begin to overlap and intermingle the emotional arc I went through had me reading as quickly as I could. Ivy was so filled with disdain for her past and her own family that made drastic choices to fulfill goals that she felt she had to reach. The inner wrestling she had to do made me want to reach through the book pages and shake her.

The plot was slow moving but as I read this in one sitting I felt so many emotions. It burned to read and while I tried to predict where the story arc was going multiple times when I finally did flip to the last page I was speechless. Each of the characters so clearly had their own motivations that even after finishing this book I can’t help but imagine what else might have been revealed if other characters had their own perspectives. Ivy was so biased and so consumed with her own need for success that her neglect towards pieces of her life outside of her romantic relationship was painful. I wanted so much more for Ivy but her ultimate decisions led to a shocking ending that I still can’t stop thinking about. This book was so different from any thriller I’ve read in a long time and while it wasn’t a flashy shocking book, it was uniquely shocking it it’s own way.

If you’re looking for a book that encapsulates a troubled girl who just wants success and in turn will do anything she can to reach her goals, I highly recommend this.

SPOILERS INCLUDED STARTING NOW, EXIT POST IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THOSE 🙂

Okay, wow. This book!!! Like I had mentioned earlier the plot was slow going. I’m not good with literary terms so I don’t know if she’d be considered an unreliable narrator but she was so indecisive that I have to believe that in the end her mind was reeling.

As Ivy developed her relationship with Gideon I was so surprised by how the past came back into her life with her childhood friend. When they started up their affair I honestly was not surprised in the slightest. The more I thought about the way Ivy was living her life, the more I saw the comparison between the path that she took versus the one that her mother took. They both married the “safe” option after the untimely deaths of their more spicy flings (that was the worst way to describe this but I can’t think of anything else to say right now).

Ivy worked so hard to fit this “perfect” version of herself that she began to curate after coming home from China. The years passed by and yet she couldn’t move on from her childhood. The constant disdain for her family was exactly what led to her marriage and future which she resigned herself to after realizing that Gideon was gay. The murder part of the plot was not quite as shocking as it could have been, I knew that Ivy was going to do whatever it took to make sure Gideon didn’t find out about her affair. The realization about Gideon though actually made me gasp.

This book was so good at layering both the issues surrounding being out of place growing up but also the conniving nature of someone who will do anything to be successful. It was an amazing debut and I look forward to reading more by Yang!

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Books Reviews

Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Woah, y’all. I finally finished a book!! It’s been like an entire month and I still have no reading motivation but I did it!! Also my last class of the semester ends in just a few days so fingers crossed I’ll get some reading motivation back once I have a month where I don’t have homework deadlines looming in the background!

So, what book did I read? Well if you didn’t pay attention to the title of this post it was The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

The Luminous Dead

Here’s the synopsis:

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

Caves are one of my biggest fears, the darkness and sickening sense of claustrophobia that come with them send chills down my spine with just a thought. My mom and aunt can’t go a family gathering without talking about the time I said I’d be fine going past the point of no return in a cave tour and then ended up having a breakdown. (Sidenote: I was like 7 at the time and I got my sweatshirt hood caught on a railing so I thought someone was grabbing me, like YOU go through a spooky cave and think someone is grabbing you and come out of the experience unscathed!!!!) So anyways, when I saw this book I knew that if I wanted a horror book that could genuinely terrify me, well this is it.

The writing in this was so good, there was more than one scene in which I was left with goosebumps and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up because I was so spooked. This definitely played into my own fears and I found myself questioning every single thing I read which, to me, adds so much to the horror aspect. I think that if I would have had the attention span to read this in one sitting, I would have, but it ended up taking me about a month and a half to finish this which made it a little bit jarring each time I picked it up again. Despite the gaps between reading, once I did get back into reading it was easy to immerse myself back in the story. I feel like horror is one genre where if I can’t be fully immersed then I’m not going to fully enjoy it so I am happy to report that this is quite an immersive story.

With a cast of two characters I was really interested to see how this would play out and the way the relationship between Gyre and Em would develop from the beginning to the end. My emotions were all over the place and I’m not going to lie when I say that I would greatly enjoy some further addition to this story. There was definitely a conclusion but I feel like there is so much of this world left to explore that I would be down for any sort of epilogue that the author would like to give us. This aspect of the story, with Gyre and Em, was so complex and frustrating and yet I could see so fully the motivations of each character and I loved that. Each was so fully developed and the balance between heartbreaking, tender moments and sheer terror and stress and anger was so well done.

I feel like this book would appeal to those who aren’t normally fans of horror too. It’s thrilling and shocking and left me feeling like I should check over my own shoulder but for horror, I felt it was pretty tame. There isn’t anything overly gory and I feel like it’s more of a psychological horror that just burns nice and slowly until it gets you right at the end.

In the end, I rated it 4 stars because there were parts of this that left me feeling a bit dry. I highly recommend picking this up and I look forward to reading whatever Caitlin Starling comes up with next!

You can pick up your own copy of The Luminous Dead at these links:

Amazon (Affiliate Link) // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

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Books Reviews

Review: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn

Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn is all about grief and healing. Telling the story of a girl named Olivia, three years after the death of her younger brother. A new girl named Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her grandma and mother and Olivia is immediately drawn to them.

While hanging out with Kara, Olivia begins to pull herself out of the hole that her brother’s death left her in. The two of them form an unlikely bond while writing letters to death row inmates and Olivia tries to learn who exactly the Hallas family is.

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I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. It’s all about grief and healing and it felt so personal to look into the lives of the people within this book. At times I felt like it was too much, like I was reading about the lives of real people and I felt almost bad reading it. Although it was really hard to read I ended up reading it all in one sitting while I was doing some work at the library a few weeks ago.

The prose within this was beautiful and I think that Morgyn did a fantastic job writing her first novel. I thought that the different portrayals of grief added a lot of depth and I appreciated that Olivia and her parents all dealt with the loss of her brother in vastly different ways.

The actual Resurrection Girls subplot in which Olivia and Kara wrote letters to death row inmates was very minor, at least in my opinion. I thought it was interesting but it didn’t lend itself to the plot as much as the descriptions of this book make it out to be. I think in general this book is more about healing and relationships than anything else. There is a bit of a romance subplot as well and I thought it was okay. I loved the overall arc of the book and while I wasn’t so invested in the subplots I did enjoy them for the most part.

In terms of characters, Olivia is the only one that felt fully fleshed out. Every once in a while we got into the depths of the other characters but throughout the whole story Olivia is the sole focus. I appreciated the depth we got from her parents towards the end, it felt right, but I would have loved to know more about Kara and Prescott. Prescott had so much potential to be a really great character and in the end, he lacked depth. I talk more about what I wanted from Kara in my spoilery section later in the post.

Due to the dark nature of this book I’m including content warnings here, and then the next section contains spoilers so if you want to skip them, scroll down to the next picture.

 

 

Content warnings for: death of a child, suicide, overdose, addiction, serial killers, death

This next section contains spoilers:

So this book, I assume, is considered magical realism but I honestly think that the whole subplot of the Hallas family having some sort of “curse” could have been done away with… Or this book could’ve been 50-100 pages longer in order to fully develop what was going on with them. I felt that the ending was extremely rushed and it didn’t really add anything to the story. Kara and her family could have just as easily been a normal family with how little I learned about who they really were. It was easy to imply some of the gaps in the story but I wanted more from that storyline. That was really my main issue with the book.

I am also a tad uncomfortable with the part of this book in which Olivia overdosed. Not saying that this was bad, but I will say it felt unrealistic. Like from what I remember they didn’t even place a psychiatric hold on her? They just let her go home with her mom… The same mom that she got these pills she overdosed on from? I’m probably just being nitpicky here but this is an area where I have a ton of personal knowledge and it felt really brushed over and reduced to something really simple. Definitely not saying it was bad, just that this also could have been expanded on and written differently.

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Resurrection Girls was incredibly dark, hypnotic, moving, and deep. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it. I ended up giving it a rating of 4/5 stars and am looking forward to whatever Ava Morgyn comes up with next.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find links to the book here:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

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Books

Review: The Unhoneymooners

I finally picked up a book written by Christina Lauren. They are the writing duo of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (which I did not know for a really long time before finally looking at their Twitter page). The Unhoneymooners is their newest release, it just came out this year, and I decided that I might as well use this as an excuse to delve into the romance genre and these books.The Unhoneymooners follows Ethan and Olive as they take the honeymoon of their siblings (does anyone else get a little uncomfy when people start dating their siblings SO’s siblings? Like how Ethan and Dane are brothers and Olive and Ami are sisters and granted there are things that make it not so bad in the end but I just find it weird? Am I the only one who thinks this?) after everyone at the wedding falls ill. While on this dream honeymoon, the main characters run into a future boss and a former lover and now have to pretend to be blissfully married newlyweds. Olive and Ethan, enemies since the day they met, are now beginning to realize that maybe they don’t hate each other as much as they thought… And so the story unfolds.I rated it 4/5 stars and actually really liked it! But it made me think a lot about romance books and tropes within them that I found really frustrating. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has previously read a Christina Lauren book, anyone who loves a good (not overly smutty) romance, and some good ole witty banter. Now on to the spoiler filled discussion!
I really enjoyed the supportive family, I enjoy reading stories where family is so unlike my own. It warms my heart to read of family that actually genuinely cares about each other. When Olive’s cousin gave her that waitressing job it just made me really happy that she has people there who want to help her succeed and build her up. It gave her the chance to realize that she didn’t want to continue on in her career path and find something new to pursue and I liked that a lot!

In the romance aspect I really enjoyed the joking arguments. I think that it’s so much fun when people can be witty towards each other and fight in a positive way. It makes me smile. There’s a really big difference between this kind of fighting and actual fighting and it’s a really fine line to walk but I think that this did fighting really well… For the funny fights anyways.

I also really liked drunk Ethan! When he told the bellhop (or whoever it was) that he liked Olive I think I melted. My cold and blackened heart thought that that was too cute and it couldn’t handle it. I thought that Ethan and Olive were a very good match and I liked their early relationship, they just fit with each other!

Oh and I felt it on a spiritual level that Olive was a stress baker… This started for me when I was a sophomore in high school and lived in an apartment and could cook for myself for once. I did a lot of baking. Like at one point I was making apple crisp at least once a week. I just didn’t really like that she used this as her excuse for being curvy… The whole thing behind her being “curvy” and then people wondering if this was fat representation or not. Honestly I don’t know I just understand the stress baking aspect.

And with that, now I move on to talking about the things that I didn’t enjoy about this book and as a whole, looking at things that I find a little (a lot) annoying about the romance novels that I’ve read.

I really didn’t enjoy the whole cheating aspect of this book and using excuses for cheating. No one should make excuses for cheating and it frustrated me to no end that everyone was trying to side with Dane at first. Like I could understand why Ethan was siding with him at first (they are brothers in the end) but when the evidence kept stacking up against him I became increasingly frustrated that everyone continued to try and side with Dane over Olive.

They also all decided to wait until the last 100 pages to decide to call out Olive for her personality? I honestly didn’t find her as negative or pessimistic or “woe is me” as the other characters were calling her out for being. She has lived her entire life being unlucky but, to me, still has worked her butt off to do things. She went to school, lives on her own, spends time with her family, had a job… Olive was doing well with herself! I just don’t see her slight lean towards pessimism as being the only thing that has ruined her life. I myself lean towards pessimism so maybe I just related to her way of thinking more than most people would but was she really as negative as they all called her out for being?

Why, too, did they wait until this point to call her out? If it was really that big of an issue, if they really had a problem with it, why wait until they were mad at her for the Dane situation to say that her pessimism was a problem? It just felt like they needed some sort of familial drama to add to the cheating drama so they just threw that in there.

I also think that her faking the relationship was taken too far. She could’ve easily been open with her boss after leaving the spa. It would’ve helped her a lot in the end. Pretending in front of Ethan’s ex made sense, help Ethan heal a little bit after being burned by this girl, but they could’ve told Olive’s boss as soon as they sat down for dinner what the situation was and I feel like he would’ve laughed it off. It was a bit painful to read how his wife was angry at him by the end of the book because of firing Olive. I think it was entirely proper on his part to fire her for lying! It wasn’t a “oh haha how funny” moment, she revealed that she had lied to and deceived him for days without ever having the intention to tell him otherwise. He was completely in the right and to see that this drove a rift between him and his wife made me cringe.

There were also issues that I had with communication and the whole enemies to lovers trope but I think I’m going to save a lot of those thoughts for a post that I’d like to make solely dedicated to those items. They’re things that I have issues with time and time again in romance books and feel like I should dedicate more time at length to the topic and make a dedicated post to those!So overall I was pleasantly surprised with this book. I thought Ethan and Olive were cute and I loved their banter. I enjoyed the ending and seeing Ami happy again after being cheated on. And now I’ve checked out more of Christina Lauren’s books and might do a ranking post of their books like I’m planning on doing with Taylor Jenkins Reid and Sarah Dessen… Will just have to see where my reading plans take me!

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of The Unhoneymooners, you can find it at any of these links 🙂

Amazon Affiliate Link // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository