Emily Henry, Happy Place
Harriet has an extremely tight-knit friend group from her college days, and they still reunite for a week every year at a beach house in Maine. Normally this is Harriet’s happy place, but she’s dreading the trip this year because she and her longtime boyfriend, Wyn, broke up five months ago — but didn’t tell anyone else about it. They decide to pretend they’re still dating so as not to ruin the trip, which goes about as well as you’d expect. This is an angsty, emotional book that I found very compelling while I was reading it, but now I’m thinking it might be a little overblown. I did like that Harriet and Wyn’s problems felt realistic and weren’t magically fixed in the end. I also liked the group dynamic and how the various friendships changed over time. Overall, I did like the book, even if I sometimes wanted the main characters to get over themselves.
Lauren Willig, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
Lady Charlotte Lansdowne has been in love with her distant cousin, Robert, since childhood. After spending several years soldiering in India, he has just returned to claim his inheritance as the duke of Dovedale. Sparks fly between them, and Charlotte is thrilled that Robert finally seems to return her love. But he’s currently more focused on righting a wrong from his past, which means getting close to the sinister Sir Francis Medmenham and his Hellfire Club. This book isn’t one of my favorites in the series, though it’s still a pleasant read. Robert tries to do the whole noble sacrifice, “I’m not good enough for you” thing, which I found deeply frustrating. Also, the French spy’s involvement is never really explained, though maybe the next book will provide some answers? Anyway, I’m still liking the series fine, but this installment is not the strongest.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls
Ista, the 40-year-old dowager royina of Chalion, has survived madness, a curse, and the deaths of several loved ones. She wants nothing more to do with the gods after what she’s suffered, yet she’s so impatient with the dullness of her current life that she goes on a pilgrimage just to get out of the house. But unexpected events — including prophetic dreams, demons, capture by enemy soldiers, and two brothers who seem to share a mysterious wound — make clear that the gods aren’t done with Ista just yet. I’m continuing to love this series! Bujold has created a vivid fantasy world with complex theology and geopolitics. The plot takes a little while to get going, but once it does, it really cooks! I also loved following Ista’s spiritual journey as she comes to terms with the gods’ involvement in her life. I’d definitely recommend this book if you enjoy sword and sorcery, but you should read The Curse of Chalion first.