The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes, #2)

30256105First Lines: It was late December in the south of England, and though it was only three in the afternoon, the sky outside Charlotte Holmes’s bedroom window was as black and full as it would’ve been in the Arctic Circle.

ARC alert!  I’ve actually been working on a couple of ARCs lately, so hopefully you’ll get some of those soon!  Ok, this book doesn’t officially release until February 14, 2017, so you’ve got about a month and a half to think about my review and ponder your choices.  Sound good?  Good.  You’re welcome.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Looking for a break from all the crazy of last semester, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes head to England for some R&R.  But this isn’t the restful and relaxing vacation they were hoping for.  Besides the awkwardness between Jamie and Charlotte as they wrestle with their growing feelings for each other, Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander goes missing.  Perhaps this wouldn’t normally be a mystery that needs a Holmes’s attention, but Leander had been exceedingly cryptic about his latest assignment trying to break up a German forgery ring.  So begins the race to find Uncle Leander before anything bad happens to him.  Danger is afoot, and this European tour may be more dangerous than either of them suspect…

Now, I want to say that I adore the BBC series Sherlock (which premieres season 4 on January 1st!!!).  I thought this would be a good way to jump into that world again, especially since I enjoyed the first book so much.

But I’m of two minds with this book. First of all, I truly do love these characters. Charlotte has a lock on being the Sherlock-type, the brilliant thinker who notices everything and plays games with the situation before literally anyone else knows they’re in the game, while also being a troubled teenage girl. She has issues. I mean, most Sherlocks are recovering addicts of some sort, and Charlotte is not one to be left out. But on top of that, she’s dealing with quite a bit of trauma. I liked that that made her feel more real and accessible, rather than just this sleuthing goddess.

I also really like Jamie. Temperamental and loyal, he’s a great counterpoint to Charlotte. He evens out her edges and forces her to slow down just a little. Now that he’s spent more time with Charlotte, he’s starting to trust her more and he’s beginning to notice more of the little things that she does to solve mysteries. I enjoyed his narration. These two have the most awkward friendship-that-may-not-be-friendship, but it’s also kind of cute?

So anyway, I clearly liked the characters. What I struggled with in this book was the mystery and how it unraveled. The crux of the mystery is a kidnapping, and yet very little of the story actually focuses on this. In fact, they start working on another mystery with the whole “If I can solve this, I can solve that” mentality, but I found it to be confusing and, frankly, a bit boring. I kept waiting chapter after chapter for more advancement in the first mystery and it just didn’t happen and didn’t happen. It tried my patience because I couldn’t figure out what the point of the story was.

And then the reveal. I know that Jamie’s generally confused because he doesn’t share the same brilliant mind the Holmes’s do, but this ending didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It happens very quickly with very little explanation, like it was a last-minute “Oh yeah, I haven’t solved this yet.” I was a bit frustrated by that, since I thought that was the whole point of this book.

That’s not to say that the entire story is junk. There are some comical scenes here; there are some tender and serious scenes that are worth it. And of course, I love the characters. I just thought the mystery could have been handled way better than it was.  And now I feel like I’m completely belittling this book.  I’m not.  It truly was interesting…most of the time.  It just has a few moments where I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2016

Hey guys!  Once again, Tuesday has rolled around and I am especially stoked to be looking back on some of my favorite reads of this year!  (You know, because  I need to know what to reread in 2017, of course!)  While I have put them in order from 10-1, all of these books I give a solid endorsement, so if you need something to read to kick off 2017…try one of these if you haven’t already read them!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Best Reads of 2016

10. The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn, #1) by Renee Ahdieh

When I first looked back at my list of 2016 reads, I couldn’t believe this was actually read during 2016.  It feels like it’s been a lot longer ago than that, but it was February. Anyway, this is a lovely take on 1001 Nights, with a romantic, supernatural, and political twist on it all.  I fell hard for this story.

9. Partials (Partials, #1) by Dan Wells

A friend of mine had been recommending this book for literally years and I finally gave it a chance this year.  And you know what?  I loved it.  A dystopian story of what life is like when half-robot, half-human Partials battle against what’s left of the human race.  It’s fascinating and delightful in the most unexpected ways.

8. Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3) by Sarah J. Maas

I’m thinking right now that this is my favorite Throne of Glass story because it’s the one where everything takes a step back and where Celaena ventures out of her comfort zones.  Of all of the books, this is the one I remember the most vividly, and that’s saying something.  But I love training scenes where strong women prove themselves.  (I think that’s Mulan‘s doing.)

7. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

This beautiful book is one that I think we all need right now.  It’s two stories in one: the story of a Muslim girl and a boy trapped in the World Trade Center as it’s coming down on 9/11 and the story 15 years later of a girl who lost her brother in 9/11 and the Muslim boy she can’t seem to stay away from.  There’s so much here about how we’re all people, no matter our religion or race.  It’s heartbreaking and exactly what we all need to remember right now.

6. The Great Hunt (Eurona Duology, #1) by Wendy Higgins

I read this as an ARC ages ago and I adored it.  In a far off kingdom, a monster is terrorizing the land.  All able-bodied warriors report to the king at his request because, whoever kills the beast will earn his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage.  Sure, it feels patronizing and antiquated, but it plays out way better than you think.  Every character here has their strengths and they come out wonderfully in the story.

5. Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

This was probably the one mystery/suspense book I read this year, but boy was it worth it.  After being missing for a few days and losing her memory, Sam returns home to discover that her best friend is missing/presumed dead at the same time.  Now, she’s trying to piece together what’s happened while also realizing that she doesn’t recognize the girl she used to be at all.  Totally suspenseful and creepy, it also manages to be heartfelt and even a little romantic.

4. Lady Thief (Scarlet, #2) by A.C. Gaughen

No joke, just looking at the title of this book has made me go all gooey inside.  I freaking love Robin Hood stories, but this one takes the cake.  “Will Scarlet” is actually a girl named Scarlet who helps Robin protect his people.  But this particular book just goes so far above and beyond what I had ever expected.  Sure, stories like this usually get dangerous, but I remember reading this and just being in shock as to the severity of certain events and consequences.  This book takes chances and they so paid off.  …I need to buy this series…

3. Ruined by Amy Tinterra

I read this as an ARC ages ago as well, and this was one that my friend (who recommended Partials to me) texted me well after midnight in all caps screaming about it because it was so good.  We have a female assassin out to get revenge on a rival king for the death of her parents and then she goes and becomes utterly fascinated by the king’s son and heir.  It’s beautiful, there’s fighting, and there are secrets galore.  Love love love it.

2. Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

I think I’ve basically made it my job to gush over this book.  I adore it.  A debut novel, I’m excited to see what else this author comes out with.  Ivy’s wealthy family loses everything and moves to the “wrong side of the tracks,” where Ivy still pretends that she’s as wealthy as she was before.  But her neighbor sees through all of this, much to Ivy’s chagrin.  Anyway, I know it sounds cliche and all of that, but it’s not.  It’s a wonderful story about social class and people defying your expectations.  It’s just darling.

1. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas

And here we come to the crux of it, the Goodreads Choice Awards winner that I knew was going to sweep its category.  I want to do a quick disclaimer that even though this book is marketed as YA, it uh…it’s definitely on the more mature end of that.  But this breathtaking, heart-stopping book was one that I immediately reread as soon as I finished it the first time.  So many twists and surprises that I just swoon and melt over.  And gasp and cry over, too.  It’s beautiful, it’s imaginative, it’s sweet and tough and well deserves its title of the best book of 2016.

Happy Holidays!

I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday (whatever you celebrate!).  So to try to include everyone…

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy National Pumpkin Pie Day!  (That’s legit, btw.)

Happy Battle of Trenton Day!  (True story: 240 years ago today, General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning and surprised the Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas morning. Inebriated and stunned, the Hessians quickly surrendered.  This battle became a turning point in the Revolutionary War because it was the first American victory in months.  You’re welcome, history friends.  No one in my family appreciates that I know this, so I’m passing it on to you.)

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under the Tree

Hey guys!  I know I’ve been quiet on here lately.  Between school (we still have finals this week!), the holidays, and my current obsession with reading historical nonfiction (the American Revolution, y’all), reading YA has been a little sparse lately.  But I’ll figure it all out, no worries.  In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little something.  So here’s my top ten!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under the Tree

1. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

I’m starting here because this was actually on my Christmas list this year.  I adored this book when I read it and now I need a copy of it for my bookshelves so I can read it again and again and again and again.

2. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Who didn’t fall in love with Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda this year?  Jeez.  But I would so adore this book.  One of my friends who is a librarian flipped through this at work on day and would not stop telling me how awesome it was.  #jealous

3. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Shusterman is, and I say this in the nicest way, a weirdo.  But seeing as I am also a weirdo with the same kind of interest for books he writes, we’re good.  This book, about a girl who becomes the Grim Reaper, is just perfectly up my alley.

4. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

There’s so much hype over this book that it could be really really awesome (which is what everyone’s saying) or it could just be hype (which is my fear talking).  While I wasn’t really a fan of Everything, Everything, I think this book could be better than that and more to my expectations.  Now I’m not making a lick of sense.

5. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I was not kidding when I said I’m on a historical bend right now.  I have Washington’s biography by Chernow sitting on my shelf right this second, though I haven’t had time to read it yet.  Adding Hamilton’s would just be icing.  #WaitForIt

6. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

This book came out years ago.  It is a collection of essays from a college student who died right around her graduation date, so this was all published posthumously.  But for some reason, it’s just always caught my attention and I just haven’t made time to get it anywhere.

7. Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I think this was in the Uppercase Box this month?  I stopped my subscription for the time being because of the holidays, so I didn’t get this.  Which really kind of sucks because this is one that’s been on my to-read list for a while!  #PaintingTheRosesRed

8. Just about anything from Philippa Gregory

While I haven’t actually read anything by Gregory yet, I’m dying to.  Tudor England is another fascination of mine because of all the power playing going on, the backstabbing and conniving.  Fiction or nonfiction, I want to read it.  #OffWithHerHead

9. East by Edith Pattou

A friend of mine recommended this to me oh, 6 years ago?  She said it was fantastic, basically a fairy tale but without feeling like the ones we know really well.  And I have this at the top of my to-read list, but again, haven’t made time for it.  So maybe if Santa brings it…  #Snow

10. Highland Knits by Interweave Editors

I don’t know if I’ve told you guys this lately or not, but I’ve taken up knitting.  I learned in October and I’ve been making scarves like a fiend ever since.  This book has been fabulous, giving patterns for things that Claire Randall Fraser wears in the Outlander TV show.  I’m legit in love.  However, I currently only have it as a library book and that’s heartbreaking.  #HeySanta

Hunted (Hunted, #1)

30653719First Lines: We always know before the change comes.  When a storm approaches, we feel it in the thickness of the air, the tension in the earth awaiting the blanket of snow.  We feel the moment the wind changes direction.  We sense a shift of power when it is coming.  Tonight there is hunger in the air.

ARC ALERT!  I received a copy of this from Edelweiss (a great website for getting ARCs) and this doesn’t officially release until March 14, 2017.  You’ve got about three months, so mark your calendars.  Now let’s get down to business about this Beauty and the Beast retelling.

Yeva has grown up with aristocrats and high society, but nowhere feels like home so much as the outdoors, where she can hunt and be away from people.  So when Yeva’s father loses everything in a risky business move, it’s bittersweet for her.  Forced out of society, Yeva and her sisters and father take to an old hunting lodge in the middle of the woods where she doesn’t have to make small talk or fend of suitors.  But losing his business may have cost her father his mind.  When her father goes missing, Yeva knows she needs to hunt the cunning beast her father was obsessed with hunting before he disappeared.  As she hunts him back to his valley and deserted castle, she has to wonder who is going to survive, her or the beast?

This is not your Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  This is not Robin McKinley’s Beauty, full of romance even as it seems to be a little darker than Disney.  This is more like Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses.  This is actually quite dark at times and feels more like a parable than a fairy tale.  And I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever.

I loved that this retelling not only pulled in virtually all of the elements that I love so much about the original story (a girl trying to save her father, a cursed beast, character development as they change, etc.), but it also managed to reflect the time in which it was written (i.e. now).  Yeva is not a pushover of a girl, waiting for a prince to come rescue her.  She’s strong both physically and mentally, but also the dystopian feel to the story makes it seem more realistic and dangerous.  It’s a real shift from a lot of other Beauty and the Beast stories.

The story is set in a  land called Rus (which I’m about 90% confident is supposed to be Russia based on names and weather).  The setting really helped make the story that much scarier because of all the snow, the dense forests, the abandoned castles and lodges, and even some of the creatures Yeva runs into.  I’m telling you, Spooner does a really nice job upping the creepy factor in little, innocuous ways that just sneak up on you after a while.

I’ve already mentioned Yeva a little, but I just want to reiterate that she has most of the same characteristics of every Belle/Beauty that I’ve come to love.  She’s clever and persistent, a combination that sometimes makes her come off as arrogant in this book, but for good reason.  The Beast, however, is a bit different.  Yes, he still retains a lot of the same characteristics as well, but this Beast is truly dangerous.  He can be ruthless and divided on what he wants, which makes him dangerous if Yeva pushes him just right.  He’s not a romantic hero, but an animal at times.  You can just feel that he could absolutely tear Yeva to shreds if he so pleased.

Speaking of romance, I hope you aren’t here for a grand love story because this isn’t it.  This is a revenge story, a parable about the dangers of wanting too much, a story of discovering what one truly desires.  You’re not going to see grand gestures of love here, though there are still elements of it.  It’s not completely gone, but it’s way different than you’re expecting.

While I more or less adored nearly this entire book, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the ending.  It wraps up too quickly and, for me, had too many plot holes in the last chapter or two.  I know this is supposed to be the first book in a series, but these didn’t seem like the kind of things that will be mentioned again in a later book.  I needed more of a sense of closure.

Overall, though, I generally found this a treat and I’m really curious to see where the next book in the series goes.

My Life in Itching and Middle School Awkwardness: A Comical Update

I’m about to make you all feel better about your lives.  For real.

So a little background information: As some of you may recall, before Thanksgiving I had an ear infection.  Nothing terrible, but bad enough that I needed to be on some antibiotics to kill it.

The story: Thursday night, I started to feel a little itchy.  Nothing really unusual, seeing as it’s starting to get cold and I just figured my skin was drying out.  That’s pretty typical for me in the winter, so I didn’t pay any attention.

At least, not until Friday afternoon.

By the time lunch rolled around, my skin felt too small for my body, like I was a snake trying to molt its skin.  My chest, throat, and behind my ears were all itchy, so I ruled out having some kind of adverse reaction to detergent, seeing as that really shouldn’t affect my ears or throat.

It got so bad that I said something to my next-door teacher, who is a great friend and a mom, so I figured she’d have some tips.  (Moms know everything, you guys.)  I told her my skin was super itchy and she sympathized.  Then she says this:

“Well, at least you haven’t been on any antibiotics lately.”

Pause.  “But I was.  For my ear infection.”

She pauses.  “When was that?”

“Before Thanksgiving.  But I’ve been off the antibiotic for over a week.”

She gets closer to me, her eyes focused.  “What antibiotic was it?”

I told her amoxicillin and she squeaked.  Apparently, when she was my age, she had a really bad allergic reaction to amoxicillin about a week after she finished taking it as well.  She let it go too long without it getting checked out and she swelled up so badly she had to go to the hospital.  It was there that she discovered she’s allergic to the penicillin in amoxicillin.

I’m not a hypochondriac, but let’s just say there are some eerie similarities between what she was telling me, what I was going through, and freaky similarities between ourselves both in and out of the medical realm.  Luckily, my next class was having a work day to read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, so I quickly Googled what was going on.  All I was getting was that this was a common side effect of the drug and that I should take some Benadryl for the itching.

I am not nor have I ever been allergic to anything, so I didn’t have any Benadryl on hand.  Another teacher told me that the school nurse usually keeps it on hand, so I contacted the nurse and got some Benadryl.

Let’s just say that made for an interesting afternoon.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Benadryl, obviously, or I would have remembered that it was supposed to make me ridiculously tired.  About an hour and a half before the end of the school day, I was thinking about how comfortable my floor looked if I balled up my coat like a pillow.  Kids are asking me questions and my mouth is completely bypassing my brain.  I wasn’t totally zombified, but I definitely felt out of it.

Oh, and did I mention that I was going to be at school all night for our 8th grade semi-formal?

Yeah.  I couldn’t even go home after school to try to sleep it off because I needed to help with decorating and other things to get ready for the dance.  Thankfully, though, once I got moving, the tired feeling wore off.  They even had me climb up a six foot ladder to hang streamers.  (It probably wasn’t the brightest move I’ve ever made, but I didn’t fall!)

I knew I’d be ok staying awake at the dance, so I took another dose of Benadryl when the itching came back.  And truly, the dance was a blast.  The kids looked amazing and they had so much fun.  This is the very first dance they’ve had where they get to go all out and get their hair done, wear suits, etc.  And for a while, I could forget that I was even itchy.

I’m going to give you some truly aww! moments from the night.  Names have been changed:

1. Eli, a boy I refer to as an old soul because he has 100% been born in the wrong decade (he looks adorable in suspenders and a pageboy hat, he KNITS, and he’s the most chivalrous boy you’ll ever meet) brought a corsage for a girl.  The girl wasn’t with him, so when we questioned him who it was for, he asked, “Do I have to tell you?”  We lightened up on him, but we searched for him at the dance until we saw the girl with the corsage on her wrist.  They awkwardly slow danced to one song, but she spent most of her time dancing with a girl she’s great friends with while Eli sat by himself and watched.  Such is middle school.

2. Hannah and Adam are the kind of students who, when I call on them, turn beet red because they’re massively shy.  They stood off to the side together trying to find space on the dance floor to dance.  When they caught teachers looking at them, they blushed and headed for the opposite corner of the dance floor and slow danced together.  It was adorably awkward as they held their hands between them, not even on shoulders or anything.  They only danced slow songs, getting slowly more comfortable with each other until they did properly slow dance together.  Whenever a faster song came on, they went to the photo booth and got their pictures taken.  One picture had them holding a sign that said “Naughty” with an arrow pointing at him and “Nice” pointing at her.  I completely ship this one.  They were adorable.  I squealed.  A lot.  (I’ve had these two as students for two years, so I know they’re cute together.  Their personalities mesh well.)  I know I’ll be making this face come Monday when I see them.

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3. Ethan and Lori are two who beat to their own drums.  (Lori, for example, has blue hair.)  They are both in show choir together and, surprisingly, were horribly awkward dancers.  They just spun in big circles until the show choir director stopped them and taught Ethan the right steps, having Ethan mirror him.  Ethan was a bit too good of a student, even mirroring the director’s hands, which were held out flat in front of him in a stop motion.  The director shook his head and instructed them to place hands on shoulders, etc.  They finally figured it out in the last two lines of the song.  But it was hilarious.

Middle School: it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.  But on this night, being able to end on such a high note more than made up for the itching I had to put up with all day.

What Light

29093326First Lines: “I hate this time of year,” Rachel says.  “I’m sorry, Sierra.  I’m sure I say that a lot, but it’s true.”

I started hearing rumblings about this book a few months ago, mostly because it was Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why.  He hasn’t really written anything since then, so I was interested to read this.  And then when I found out it was a Christmas story?  I loved the idea.

Sierra’s life has always revolved around her family’s Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It’s a beautiful fairy tale place that she feels lucky to live at for eleven months of the year.  And come December, she goes with her family to California to sell their trees.  Sierra loves both places, but it inevitably means missing her friends in each place while she’s away.  Things change when Sierra meets Caleb in California.  Caleb is not the kind of guy Sierra believes is her type; he’s boy who made an enormous mistake years ago and is still trying to atone for it.  Watching him, Sierra is determined to show him forgiveness and redemption.  But as disapproval and suspicions swirl around their new relationship, they need to decide if what they have is worth protecting or if it only lasts as long as the Christmas season.

This book ended up being pretty much what I hoped it would be.  It’s a Christmas story, so that obviously is a huge part of the plot/setting.  But it also has great themes about what it means to forgive and all of those heartwarming feels.

But that doesn’t mean it’s complete fluff.  There’s a lot of logical drama here.  (What I mean by that is that a lot of high school is about fake rumors, etc.  This drama makes sense to me.  Like I would expect these issues to arise.)  There’s tension from her Oregon friends as Sierra settles in California.  But obviously, most of the tension comes from Caleb’s major mistake (and it’s a doozy) and trying to overcome all of that.  It definitely has a serious side.

I really did like the characters.  I thought Sierra was a little bland and generic, but Caleb and the other characters were kind of awesome.  Caleb is the kind of character that reminds me of an abused puppy, so he immediately had my sympathy.  And Sierra’s friend Heather was just so much fun to read about.

If you’re looking for a book this holiday season that deals in a ton of heavy topics, this may not be exactly what you’re looking for.  (Though why you’re looking for a depressing Christmas story is beyond me.)  As a Christmas story, it has some predictable tropes in it.  But I was ok with that.  I wanted those heartwarming moments.

Overall, it’s a sweet read with a heartfelt center.