Hot British Boyfriend

Hot British Boyfriend

First Lines: By the end of tonight, I will be Andy Keating’s girlfriend.

Let’s be real here: most of us girls at some point or another have at least momentarily thought about how cool it would be to have a hot British boyfriend. (Especially those of us who grew up in the Harry Potter era…LOTS of fodder there.) The title and the blurb really got me on this one, though the cover is really cute too…and I don’t even like this cartoon trend.

Ellie Nichols is mortified. After literally throwing herself at a guy and getting turned down (and going viral online for her fail) she does the only reasonable thing: she flees the country. Ok, she joins her high school’s study abroad program and goes to England. While most of her classmates are there for the honors courses and college applications, Ellie wants to rebuild her image and self-confidence. So what’s better than a hot British boyfriend? Enter Will, a gorgeous Brit who shows Ellie more than a little interest. The only problem? Ellie doesn’t actually have that much in common with Will, a problem she rectifies by enlisting the help of classmate Dev, who seems to know about all the things Will enjoys. But as Ellie travels Europe and learns more about herself, she has to wonder…is the perfect boyfriend actually the perfect guy for her?

This was cute. It’s obviously fluff right from the beginning, but that was kind of what I was looking for: something adorable and funny and not something I’d have to think too hard about.

We’re introduced to Ellie, who has just made a fool of herself in front of nearly her entire school by literally throwing herself at a boy who didn’t actually like her. Mortified, she feels her only option is to join the study abroad trip to England that leaves soon. Ellie just wants to go to see England and experience the culture, not really for the “study” part of study abroad. Ellie does come across a little materialistic or shallow in the beginning, but that’s not who she is. I actually really liked her by the end of the story.

The setting of England was definitely fun, watching the characters explore different places and hearing the different slang. It was just fun. They also travel to a couple other places throughout Europe and it was just kind of cool to see those locales.

The love story was interesting in its own way as well. It might not have been the greatest thing I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t bad either. You see this friendship growing between Dev and Ellie for a while, even as Ellie falls for Will. I thought the story did a good job of balancing all these elements.

It’s cute. It’s not a complicated story and yeah, it’s probably more than a little predictable, but it’s a good summer beach read.

S.T.A.G.S. (S.T.A.G.S., #1) S.T.A.G.S. eBook: Bennett, M. A.: Kindle Store

First Lines: I think I might be a murderer. Although, as I didn’t mean to kill, I suppose it was manslaughter, so technically I would be a “manslaughterer,” although I don’t think that’s a word.

You know, one of my favorite places to find super cheap books is Dollar Tree. True story. My local dollar stores usually don’t have a great selection of books, but sometimes you get lucky. I found this book there I think over a year ago. The cover and the jacket got my attention. Besides, it was only a dollar. Even if it sucked, I wasn’t out much.

Greer has recently transferred to St. Aidan the Great School–S.T.A.G.S.–as a scholarship student. She’s pretty excited. This is one of the most prestigious schools around. But Greer quickly finds out that things that are “new” are to be avoided–and that includes her. At best, she’s ignored. At worst, she’s mocked by the school’s perfect prefects known as Medievals. So Greer is shocked when she’s invited to a weekend retreat at the home of the Medievals’ leader, Henry de Warlencourt. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it whoever goes has a chance of becoming a Medieval themselves. But despite all the fancy clothes and the decadent food and lavish setting, there are predators lurking who are out for blood…

Initially, the premise reminded me of “The Most Dangerous Game,” the short story I read in high school. It left an impression, obviously, if I’m still thinking of it almost 15 years later.

I wasn’t sure I liked this at first. It reminded me a lot of something like One of Us Is Lying because there was clearly something going on that we weren’t always in on, but mixed with like Mean Girls. I don’t normally like things where people are being horrible just because they can.

But after a while, things started working.

While I feel like it’s never really clear why the Medievals rule the school or why their influence is so intense, once they leave STAGS and go to Longcross, it fits a lot better. You’ve got a bunch of powerful kids alone on an estate spending a weekend doing all sorts of blood sports. The danger is what makes it fun (to read).

Greer doesn’t hide things from us. Right from the beginning, we know someone dies. She starts every chapter as though she’s looking back on what happened, so we get clues that way. And honestly, I liked that a lot. It drew me in. What it took away from the “mystery” of the moment, it gained in suspense because we know what’s coming, but we don’t know how or why. That made the story that much more fun. It’s a distinction I think most YA mystery-ish novels are missing. Sometimes this way is more interesting.

The plot unfolds kind of slowly, which at the very beginning in Part I makes it a little bit of a drag, but it becomes better as the story goes on. The plot may move slowly (the majority of the story takes place over 3-4 days), but that allows the characters to shine. You get to see more of their personalities, their flaws, and the overall weirdness of the present situation. It really sinks in with the details.

But the big payoff is definitely the end. I’d say the last 50-75 pages or so, the twists get bigger and the surprises keep coming, up to the very last page. That was a lot of fun as a reader. I rather enjoyed that.

I’m not sure what genre to categorize this book as, but I don’t really think it matters. It’s the kind of book that simmers danger cloaked behind fancy clothes and lush landscapes. It’s a fun ride. 

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1) Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper (1 ...First Lines: I placed my thumb and forefinger on the icy flesh, spreading it taut above the breastbone as Uncle had showed me.

This has been high on my to-read list for a long time, but I actually had a hard time getting my hands on it.  It wasn’t until this isolation that I found it on my library’s ebook website and tried it.

Aubrey Rose was born into a world of wealth: fine teas, beautiful dresses, and all the privilege afforded to a girl in the 1880s.  Unfortunately, even that “privilege” is fairly limited and Audrey Rose dreams of bigger things.  She has a secret life working with her uncle on forensic medicine.  She can autopsy a body better than most male medical students her age.  When her work on a few gruesome murders leads her into an investigation of a serial murderer, Audrey searches for answers.  And she may not like what she finds.

You know, it probably wasn’t my brightest idea to read this while the entire world is in a panic, but that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t good.

I’m this on-again-off-again Ripper buff, so I was curious to see what this did with the mystery. Because obviously, it had to solve it even though there wasn’t a solution in real life. And it was…interesting. Some details of the murders were changed to make the plot work, but for the most part it was pretty accurate. (Although it does perpetuate the notion that all those women were prostitutes when they weren’t. Most of them were homeless, jobless, and alcoholics.)

ANYWAY. Our heroine, Audrey Rose, is an interesting lead. She’s fascinated by forensic science and anatomy, which makes her a freak in her social circles. But she’s also a girl who enjoys pretty dresses and cute boys. It was actually really cool to see those seeming opposites in a single character because it reminds us of the stereotypes we see in our heads and how they can be inaccurate. Her sometimes-colleague-sometimes-enemy Thomas is the same way. So those twists on what I immediately imagined were welcome.

The story is obviously dark and gruesome. There are some pretty disgusting details of autopsies, murder scenes, and death. I do much better with these things in books than in movies (because I can’t see them!), but admittedly there were a few times I was like, “Ok, you can back off the details now.” Weak stomachs beware.

I thought the mystery itself and the way things unfolded was really interesting. I was reading the book for large chunks of time because I kept wanting to see what kind of trouble Audrey Rose got into next and how things happened next. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the series continues.

Shadow on the Crown (The Emma of Normandy Trilogy, #1)

Image result for shadow on the crownFirst Lines: She made a circuit of the clearing among the oaks, three times round and three times back, whispering spells of protection.  There had been a portent that night: a curtain of red light had shimmered and danced across the midnight sky like scarlet silk flung against the stars.

Ok, I want to start with a small disclaimer her that this isn’t technically YA.  However, for a long time, I thought it was because our protagonist is a teenager the whole time.  So…yeah.  And based on the fact that this is a based-on-real-history historical fiction wherein an actual 15-year-old girl finds herself Queen of England, well, I thought it deserved some mention.

The year is 1002 and 15-year-old Emma of Normandy has been sent to marry the much older King Aethelred of England.  It’s not the future she envisioned for herself, but Emma knows her duty to her family.  But from the moment Emma arrives, she realizes this is going to be harder than she ever imagined.  She doesn’t meet her husband until the actual wedding, and the man immediately distrusts her.  Her new stepsons resent her.  Rivals are fighting to push Emma away from the king.  Determined to stand her ground and show her worth, Emma slowly wins over the English people and begins forging alliances with powerful advisers.  Even then, though, it may not be enough.  For Emma is falling in love with someone who is not her husband and the constant threat of Vikings could destroy the country before he has a chance to do anything.

I’m a big fan of historical fictions and, I’m finding, especially learning about the time before the Norman Invasion and the reign of William the Conqueror. This was perfect for that.

Emma is only 15 when she’s sent across the water to England to marry King Aethelred, a man about 20 years her senior. Whip-smart and clever, Emma may be out of her depth in terms of power and understanding the culture (temporarily), but she’s clever enough to figure it out quickly on her own. That was a lot of fun to read.

The history and the fiction are expertly combined. Accounts from actual contemporary sources are used throughout the story to introduce the next part and it’s so cool to see how Bracewell put her own spin on it. There’s always far more to history than meets the eye, and I loved that she tried to go beyond the obvious while still staying true to source by giving people other motives.

I also enjoyed how this story really has four narrators to really give a full view of what was going on and why. There’s Emma, Aethelred, Athelstan (Aethelred’s eldest son), and Elgiva (Emma’s rival for political power).  Three of these four are teenagers.  It was really cool to see how they all were woven together to create a bigger picture. It was well done.

It was easy to fall into this story and not difficult at all to keep with it. I read this very quickly.

All Is Fair

Image result for all is fair dee garretsonFirst Lines: I should have heard the creaking of the floorboards outside the old silver pantry, but I was too busy pretending to be a Romanian prince disguised as the school’s gardener.

So this book caught my attention when I went to the library.  I’d never heard of it before, but it was set during World War I, which I almost never see.  It would be accurate to say I was interested.

Lady Mina dreams of adventure, especially as World War I is being waged around her.  Instead, she’s stuck at boarding school trying to learn to be a proper lady.  So when Mina receives a telegram written in code, she knows she can’t let this adventure pass her by.  She turns home to Hallington Manor, where she’s met by her old friend Lord Andrew Graham and the dashing American, Lucas Miller.  The three of them must work together to do something that may just turn the tide of the war.  And they must work quickly–or the war could lead to something much worse.

This was ok. Not that there was anything overtly wrong with it, but like…it could have been better.

First of all, the mystery. Or “mystery” as I like to call it. Because really, there isn’t much of a mystery at all, for all it’s billed as having one. Sure, Mina is going all Scooby Doo on this, but that’s also essentially as deep as the mystery goes. Mina sees some clues, comments on them, and everyone involved is a little too over-the-top. Like everyone goes out of their way to explain away something with an obviously fabricated lie. Or the clues just happen to nearly fall into Mina’s lap. It was kind of ridiculous.  The synopsis makes it out to be some grand, large thing, but it’s really not as amazing as all that.

For all of that, I liked Mina and Lucas. Mina’s stubborn and clever and eager to help the war effort to feel like she’s doing something. Lucas is happy-go-lucky most of the time, which is interesting given the fact that he’s a soldier, but it gives him a sense of humor. Most of the other characters in this story were superficial compared to these two, which was ok and not ok. Everyone else was pretty much a stereotype. Actually, even Mina and Lucas were kind of stereotypes, now that I think about it.

I liked the history aspect of things, so that was good. But I thought the ending was rather abrupt and wasn’t exactly satisfying. So while it may have hit some high notes along the way, it was kind of a let down by the end.

This could have been a lot more interesting, given how much promise I thought it had at the beginning.

The Dead Queens Club

Image result for the dead queens clubFirst Lines: Henry calls me at 12:01 the night before homecoming.  Or technically–and assuming the alarm clock I knock off my nightstand once a day is even in the right time zone–the morning of homecoming.  “Cleveland.  I need you.  Put some pants on.”

I got this book from Edelweiss a long time ago, but there was always something about it that made me just keep pushing it aside.  Not really sure why.  Maybe the cover?  But I’m a die hard Tudor enthusiast, so a modernization of Henry VIII and his six wives in high school?  I was going to read it eventually.

It sounds like it should be a joke: a future ambassador, an ambitious Francophile, a totally bland Girl Scout, a new arrival from Cleveland, a cheer captain, and a newspaper editor all date the same guy.  But this is life in small-town Lancaster, Indiana.  And 17-year-old Annie Marck, known to her friends as “Cleves” as she is from Cleveland, feels like life in this new town is basically the next hit soap opera.  Even as the new kid, Cleves is popular.  Her best friend is Henry, the star quarterback of the football team.  And yeah, Cleves may have dated Henry for a short time, but she was able to walk away from that relationship.  Unlike some of Henry’s other girlfriends…

Simply put, I think this is history meets Mean Girls. Fast paced backstabbing, snark, and challenging the accepted roles of girls in society. It’s actually way more feminist than it sounds.

Annie Marck, known to her friends as “Cleves” because she’s from Cleveland, is probably the most sarcastic character I have ever read.  I’m not even kidding in the slightest.  I mean, there was a snarky comment on literally every page. I actually started counting that. She is on point most of the time.  It flips from being bitingly funny to outrageously funny to just observationally funny.  (My spell check is telling me I have just made a new word.)

I will admit that the book gets boring at times. When you’re reading all that drama, all that sass, it starts to get monotonous. Especially the drama, which I’m not always the biggest fan of. (It accelerates the pace of the actual history, which spanned over 30 years.) That accelerated timeline makes things a little iffy at moments, but Cleves does a nice job of showing just how bananas it all is.  And I truly never thought I’d say sarcasm gets boring because I love sarcasm but…geez, at a rate of 1+ jokes per page, you eventually get tired.

The history is spot on, though. I loved discovering each little bit. I loved how there were always little digs here and there, little tidbits of actually history shining through. The personalities of the girls, the comments about their families being insane, etc. Even the inclusion of Parker Rochford (historically, Jane Rochford, wife of George Boleyn) was unexpected but absolutely delightful because she plays such a huge role behind the scenes in history and this book. It’s cleverly done and oh so thorough.

I also adored how this was set in the Midwest and a lot of the comments about Indiana and Ohio are ridiculously true.  (One, about what we in the Midwest think of as “hills” as compared to other states, has stuck with me.  It was something like, “It was a rounded rising, which we call a hill in Indiana.  Go away, Colorado.  No one asked you.”) The Midwest does not get enough recognition as a great place to set books because we have just as many crazies as everywhere else.

In the end, I really ended up liking and appreciating what this book was doing. But it was a bit of a struggle to get to that point. It did bother me at times that some of the events read really creepy or sexist in this day and age, but again, Cleves calls it out when she sees it. She makes that conversation happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that I got a little wigged out at some of the behaviors of characters in a way I haven’t when it was just history.

And maybe that’s the whole point.  New perspectives.