Tuesday, February 27, 2018

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills | Totally Frank Approved!

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Date Read: Jan 24 to 26, 2018
First Published: 2016
Young Adult, Contemporary
Sloane isn't expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that's exactly what happens.
Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera's twin brother and the most serious person Sloane's ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins' late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins' lives.
Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.
This is a Frank Approved Book. 

I can't tell you I fell in love with this book the way I did Mills's Foolish Hearts. That book owned me--body and soul--from the very first pages. This one was more slow-burn; it started out rather cool, but slowly heated to the point of boiling. So if you want to know the verdict ahead of time... Yes, I recommend this book. Yes, go get it. Yes, you're not going to regret it.

What I truly find fascinating about Mills is how she manages to write people. Like, I know that sounds stupid. Doesn't every book does it? No, not really. Not like this. Not in the way her characters feel entirely too real, completely three dimensional and full of layers, the way real people do. They're not a caricature or the way someone thinks a person could or should be. They just... are. Complete with imperfect lives, and issues that remain unsolved, and some that stay unexplored. I like that. I like that a lot.

Reading Mills's novels is like being given a momentary peek into these people's lives. It's almost as if they will continue long after me, the same way the did long before me. It's slightly depressing, and yet entirely uplifting.

But who are those enigmatic people? The main is, obviously, Sloane, who tells this story. At first, I felt mostly removed from her. Looking back, I feel like that might have been because she's like that with other people. She is snarky, quiet and very forthcoming. She cares a whole lot, without ever realizing she does. She doesn't know how to do friendships and relationships and yet she somehow manages to stumble into quite a few of them.

By the end of the novel, I was crying when she was crying, feeling crushed when she was, and desperate to give her a hug and promise her everything will be okay.

Now, the theme of this book is FRIENDSHIPS in all caps. And you know, Emma Mills slays friendships the way Buffy slays Vampires, making it look as easy to write as cutting butter.
"Just so you know," I say, "I would straight-up kill for you"
Sloane moves towns. She meets sunshine girl Vera. She meets her strong-and-silent twin brother Gabe. She meets Remy and Aubrey, their best friends, who used to be the golden couple. She meets party planner extraordinaire Frank. And somehow, miraculously, she becomes part of the group. She expands the group. Becomes a central piece of it. Grows to love these people and be loved by them, Even if she doesn't see it.

And that process... that process is everything. It's a slow, steady, flowing river; one day you don't know each other. The next you may be friends. Then you're maybe possibly besties and then... then you are, no questions asked. My heart overflows at this.

Mills writes friendships in a way that is really hard to describe. She makes them awkward and quirky and real. So fucking real.

Everything about this book is real; how life takes time. How sometimes you can be so unsure of everything. How sometimes you can be 100% certain. How sometimes parents fight and have issues 'cause they are not perfect. How dads can lose their muse, and maybe a little bit of themselves with it. How people die... and how people move on. How it's hard to care, but even harder to stop once you've started. How relationships can succeed.. but they can also fail. How a family can be born, but it can also be made. How you can learn to love. How... everything.

It was just all so realistic and complex, and I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it.

However, if you're here to read a romance book, I would suggest picking up Foolish Hearts or a Kasie West novel, because THIS ADVENTURE ENDS doesn't get there for a loooong time. Mostly because, again, this book is about all caps FRIENDSHIP. But you do have a couple or two to root for, and it's definitely fun to see them form organically. And let me assure you right now, we do get kisses. I repeat: we do get kisses. Hang in there.

P.S. I need a book about Frank. That guy is pure, and great, and charming, and electrifying, and absolutely fabulous, and he NEEDS to be the hero of his own book!! Pretty please?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro | Such a FUN Book!

Charlotte Holmes #1
Date Read: Jan 22 to 23, 2018
First Published: 2016
Kindle & Hardcover
Young Adult, Alternate History
The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.
Some books are just god damn, capital letters, FUN.

Of course, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE is a lot of other things, too, but boy did I enjoy reading this one! I knew roughly around the halfway mark that I wanted to own physical copies of this series. That's a really big deal, for me, because I don't often purchase a book I have on kindle unless the book is both gorgeous and great... which, this one sure is (by the way, we're getting a 4th book *does a happy dance*).

Now, before I really begin and for transparency's sake, I love Sherlock and Watson. Not as much the original books themselves, but their various interpretations and reimagining in the media. I have watched the movies, the BBC series, Elementary, etc. The only shows I ever watch consistently are crime dramas with detectives and the likes. Those are my jam, and so are Sherlock and Watson.

So I didn't really need to know much about this book before picking it up. Which is lucky, because looking at the GR page for it just now I realized almost all my friends gave it lukewarm reviews at best. This means I could have totally missed a book I ended up loving.

Because, yes, as I've mentioned before, I loved this one.

A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE is set in a world where Sherlock and Watson weren't characters in a novel, but real life people. Real life people who had kids, and those kids had kids and those kids had kids and... you get the picture. Now, two of those direct descendants meet in a boarding school. And then someone gets murdered, and they're the prime suspects. So... they do what Holmes and Watsons do best. They team up. They investigate. They form a relationship that is as balanced as it is unlikely.

Have I sold you on this yet? Need more? Okay then.

So, our precious mains. First, we've got James (not to be called Jamie!). As appropriate of a Watson, he tells the story. And he's adorable. There, I said it. He wants to be a writer (#relatable, am I right??), he feels like a complete outsider, he's smart--but not obscenely smart and logic-oriented as Holmes. Which makes him the heart of the partnership.

Then we have the titular Charlotte. As the brains. She's cold, rational, and messed up. Jaded and untrusting, but still with a glimmer of hope. Thinks herself the smartest person in the room... mostly because she is. Tries to pretend she doesn't care, when she does. Manipulative, kind of vengeful, but with a working sense of right and wrong that doesn't always scream at her loudly enough to notice. Again; messed up.

These two are far from perfect, but that's what makes it so fun to watch their relationship evolves into friendship (and... maybe more. In fact, hopefully, more, because I ship it like FedEx). I loved how beautifully Cavallaro captured the role Watsons have in the lives of Holmes. They humanize them, become what they measure right and wrong, good and bad against. I'm curious, in this world, what a Holmes with a bad Watson would look like.

Which is why, ultimately, they may make such a great couple. I've seen people put out by this fact; claiming it ruins the original dynamics. But firstly, this is not Sherlock and John. And secondly... I wholeheartedly disagree, for everything I said above and more.

I feel like this interpretation maintains the original power balance (the banter, the quips, the roles each have in the other's life) but adds another layer to it. There is a reason Watson and Sherlock are one of the most shipped pairings in the world, and that reason manifests itself here in all its glory but also becomes 80% most likely to come to fruition.

Like, even though I am not an aggressive shipper, I've always shipped Johnlock in the way I ship Dan & Phil; they're my ultimate brotp, but if they decided to make fangirls' dreams all over the world come true and announce they're together, I wouldn't mind. In fact, I may even squee a little. Perhaps I will tweet about how beautiful life is. Post photos and gifs of them from the years on Tumblr with the hashtags #relationshipgoals and #dreamcometrue.

Hey, I'm just being honest.

Moving on... Aside for the two mains, I loved the contemporary boarding school settings, the character development and the general vibe of the whole book. There is no other character I can describe as "stand out", but it's mostly because these two are scene stealers. They always have been, in any interpretation.

The only part I am lukewarm on is the actual mystery, and I wasn't at first. I actually really liked it when I finished the book, especially since I couldn't figure it out until the very end (although, I did suspect ALL the guilty parties so boo ya!).

BUT the further away I am from it the more I became kind of bummed that this was the first mystery. Like, I feel like we may have needed the first mystery to be... less personal. It had to be because of the setting, but this was too personal. Which made it feel more appropriate for a second book, or even the third one. I'll have to go back to this point after reading the second book; we'll see how the mystery there will fare in comparison.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen | A Beautiful End to a Series *Spoilers*

The Ascendance Trilogy #3
Date Read: Jan 19 to 22, 2018
First Published: 2014
Young Adult, Fantasy
One war. Too many deadly battles. Can a king save his kingdom when his own survival seems unlikely?
War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.
His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?
Okay, so first things first... I love this book and I love this series and I highly highly recommend you get it if you haven't yet! You will fall in love with the main character and his journey, guaranteed!

Speaking of Jaron's journey... Can we take a minute to appreciate what Nielsen has done with this trilogy? Some trilogies suffer from "second book syndrome", where the second book is kind of meh and filler. Not The Ascendence Trilogy. The first book was all about getting Jaron to the crown. The second is all about Jaron assembling his court in preparation for the war. And the third is said war, with Jaron as the proper and respected king of Carthya.

No book is filler, or there just for the sake of prolonging the series. Each book is necessary to Jaron's development and the authentic flow of the story... to making this final book satisfying and gratifying. To making Jaron's final triumph meaningful. And I don't consider this a spoiler because let's face it, did you really think this precarious and precious king would not succeed?

And yes, I am still as in love with Jaron as ever. I love how kind and self-sacrificing he is. How all his actions are motivated by a single-minded desire to help others. I love how despite this he is not perfect; he is hot-headed and stubborn, and proud. And a little dense in certain aspects.

I truly wish more leaders were like Jaron - because he definitely inspires a sense of loyalty and respect from everyone who encounters him; from his armies, his regents, his subjects, his friends and, of course, the readers.

He is a king you would proudly follow into battle.

And that battle... it was brilliantly written, as always. I absolutely adored reading of Jaron's plans, schemes, and tricks, and Nielsen does an amazing job setting those up, allowing us to understand Jaron has something planned, but almost never enough for you to figure out exactly what before it happens.

The one weak point of this novel is one that has been accompanying me since book one and that's the romance. Don't get me wrong--Imogen and Jaron are cute together, no doubt about that. Especially with the kisses at the end (like, that was totes adorable). But since I never quite understood why and when they fell in love in book one, I failed to understand it here, so I left still feeling like something was missing. Feeling like his reaction to her death is too monumental because their love was never properly based for me. Same goes for Tobias and the Princess.

In this regards, my re-read of the first book kind of did a disservice to this series. I feel like had I not done that to refresh my memory, I would have gone forward in the books under the illusion those emotions have been explored better in book one, and therefore feeling more at peace with them. Oh well, not everything about a book can be a win.

I'm extremely sad to be saying goodbye to this world and characters, but here's to hoping Nielsen's other protagonists are as incredible as Jaron was because I will be reading them for sure!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen | Book Review

The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The Ascendance Trilogy #2
Date Read: Jan 13 to 15, 2018
First Published: 2013
Young Adult, Fantasy
The thrilling sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen's blockbuster NEW YORK TIMES bestseller THE FALSE PRINCE -- now in paperback!
A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive?
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King.
It's been a long time coming, but I finally set down and read the book. I've explained what happened with this series and me in my The False Prince review so I won't go into details again, but short recap; IT'S TOTALLY MY FAULT I DIDN'T READ IT SOONER, AND I REGRET IT, OKAY?

Phew, now that we've gotten the deep, shameful regret out of the way, let's talk The Runaway King.

So... the titular king. That's Jaron. I love Jaron. Did I mention before that I love Jaron? I feel like I did, once or twice. But just in case I didn't... I love Jaron. Like, so freaking much. This boy gives me life, okay?

I want to punch all those dumb people who deem him unfit to be king solely based on his actions as a young prince. They think him to be wild and reckless. And, granted, they're not wrong, but that's not all he is. Because all those wild and reckless actions are taken for other people's sakes. Jaron doesn't have a selfish, self-interested bone in his body. Have you ever met a selfless prideful man? It's very rare. All he does... he does for his country. That's his top--and almost only--priority. He has practically erased the word "self-preservation" from his vocabulary, or at the very least made it into a curse, in order to always put his country first.


Except... I'm not. Because this book is all about how Jaron wins over his people and assembles his court. How he changes their perception of him not by using words, but by using actions. And it is so extremely satisfying. My favorite book in The Queen's Thief series (I haven't read the latest yet) is The King of Attolia for exactly that reason.

There is something so gratifying about seeing this smart, precious, clever boy surprise, overpower and generally prove people wrong about him. It's incredibly inspiring to watch all these men and women, young or old, who have sneered in his face before, come to respect, follow and swear their loyalty to him.

Jaron really is a wonderful character. He makes this series, and he makes it great. Nielsen manages to make him a person you, as the reader, would like to follow. You are awed at his smartness. You are shocked by his bravery. You are wowed by his wit and humor, especially in the face of danger. And most of all, you are heartened by all he is willing to do for his people.

He proves himself to be the great leader no one ever thought he could be.

Now, there is only one thing I would like to request. For god's sake, PLEASE STOP HURTING MY BABY!! Just... just let some good things happen to him once in a while, okay?? why is that so much to ask??

For some reason, I have a feeling things are going to get worse before they get better. Which is going to be painful to read of. So... wish me luck. I'm going to need it if I want to finish this series without killing some of the bad guys myself for hurting my precious child, you monsters! 

Speaking of, the villain really sucked in this one. Which, I guess, makes sense. This book really wasn't about that, after all. Still, he kind of felt disposable. And he was. Oh well.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Being Jamie Baker by Kelly Oram | An Old Favorite

Jamie Baker #1
First Published: 2010
Kindle / Paperback
Young Adult, Fantasy
An accident that should end in tragedy instead gives seventeen-year-old Jamie Baker a slew of uncontrollable superhuman abilities. To keep her secret safe Jamie socially exiles herself, earning the title of Rocklin High's resident ice queen. But during a supercharged encounter with star quarterback Ryan Miller she literally kisses anonymity goodbye. Now the annoyingly irresistible Ryan will stop at nothing to melt the heart of the ice queen and find out what makes her so special. Unfortunately, Ryan is not the only person on to her secret. Will Jamie learn to contain her unstable powers before being discovered by the media or turned into a government lab rat? More importantly, can she throw Ryan Miller off her trail before falling in love with him?
You're having a rough week. Life is taking its toll on you. All you want to do is sit and relax, laugh a little, feel warm inside again. Maybe immerse yourself in someone else's life for a short while. Someone else's relationship. God knows you need a good ship to board on this empty pier.

You pick up Being Jamie Baker. And it's everything you've wanted it to be.

I've read this YA fantasy romance three times so far, each time in one sitting. I have forced my cousins to read it and fall in love with it as well. I have recommended it to anyone and everyone who would listen, and some who won't. Because I seriously adore this book. I dare you to read it and tell me you weren't grinning so widely your jaw hurt throughout it. DARE YOU.

So, spoiler alert - you need to get this book. NOW. I'm saying this for your own good.

The best thing about this book is that it makes you desperately wish these characters were real people that you could meet in real life and have real conversations with. And really, isn't that one of the best things a book can do to you?

First, you've got the titular Jamie. Her snark and sarcasm are her main choice of weapon... if you don't consider all the superpowers. Oh, this girl. I love how human she felt to me. I loved how she made me laugh and smile. I loved how she sometimes made the wrong choices or did things I strongly disagreed with. I love how she grew throughout the book. I love HER, okay?

But I am in love with Ryan Miller and their relationship. Like, sometimes you want the book boyfriend all for yourself. And sometimes... sometimes you know you can never compare to their true love, would never fit him as well as she does, and that's okay. That's okay because you're a little bit in love with the both of them, and you love seeing the stars in their eyes when they look at each other and the way they move around and with each other as if they're the other's anchor and sun.

Still, let it be noted that Ryan Miller is at the top of my book boyfriend list, even years later. I fangirl over this guy, okay? it's this bad. Or this good. Depends on who you ask. He is the perfect blend of adorable sweetness, with a shot of cockiness and a dash of condescension. In the best possible ways, I assure you. This guy knows what--and who--he wants. He is not afraid to tell Jamie how she feels and he wills it to become reality just from the sheer, unwavering sureness he presents. And he never gives up. Never. You might as well admit defeat before he starts because this mountain is not budging!

And as you've probably guessed, I adored their romance. It's the kind of romance that makes you sigh, and you don't know if it's because it just fills you with satisfaction or because you want a relationship like that for yourself and goddammit why can't you have this one little thing??

Okay, got sidetracked. Anyways, Ryan and Jamie bring out the best in each other. And the chemistry between them is, shall we say, electrifying. Both figuratively and literally.

And yes, this book is not perfect. The reason Jamie got her superpowers is not quite satisfying. The villain is okay-ish and his plot is so-so. Neither of those things mattered a lick to me, since if you haven't figured yet, Ryan & Jamie gave me life and that's what I was here for, but I feel it's necessary to mention anyway.

So... this book was perfect. For me. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Lumberjanes Vol. 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen | Comic Review

First Published: 2015
Young Adult, Fantasy
At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

Collects Lumberjanes No. 1-4.
When I decided I wanted to read more graphic novels, I knew I had to pick up Lumberjanes. For one, I adore the art style. It's so fun! For another, I really liked the premise, and I heard a lot of great things about it.

Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. My official rating of it is somewhere between 2.5 to 3 stars, and this is probably as far as I'll get with this particular series.

Now, I'm going to warn you. You're going to hear a lot of complaints here and not a lot of good things. That being said, this is not a horrible graphic novel or something like that. There's a ton of hijinks, characters to ship, cool designs, quirky atmosphere and setting. Those are all good things. So don't go thinking I hated this. But I guess my disappointment kind of colors everything, and I do want to say all I have to say. So... take that into consideration.

You see, the main problem I had with this one is that I kept feeling like I opened the tv on an episode from season 2 of the show. This general sense of "I've missed something that happened in the previous episodes" lingered throughout the entire read. I didn't know who these people were and what their relationships were like and where we were, and yet I felt like I was supposed to. 

I kept waiting for this feeling to dissipate, but it never did. Part of it, I think, is due to their reaction to all the monsters around them. They... well, they weren't freaked enough. Have they seen monsters in the past? Are they just a bunch of crazy girls? What is going on??

Another thing that kept bothering me is that this felt kind of like a Gravity Falls ripoff. And... well... Gravity Falls does the whole area with crazy monsters and schemes hiding in plain sight a lot better. Although I should probably clarify that I love Gravity Falls to death.

And then, I felt like there wasn't much struggle in the story. Every setback our heroines encounters got solved almost immediately by one of the Janes. It was... too clean. As a rule, I don't like clean problem-solving in stories. It doesn't feel authentic. And so... neither did Lumberjanes.