Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri

Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri
Series: Portia Adams Adventures #1
Published: March 25th, 2014
Publisher: Fierce Ink Press
254 pages (ebook)
Genre: Young Adult Historic Fiction/Mystery
Acquired this book: Bought
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}
There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street

Set against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting — and somewhat mysterious — heritage.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia puzzles over why she was left in the care of the extravagant Mrs. Jones but doesn’t have long to dwell on it before she is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her new guardian. Once there Portia discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first involving stolen jewelry, the second a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.

If you regularly visit my blog, read my reviews, or follow me on social media, you’ll know I love all things Sherlock. I’ll read any book with a Sherlockian premise, and luckily I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve read, including Angela Misri's debut, Jewel of the Thames.

What makes Jewel of the Thames so wonderfully different is that it’s not a retelling of the original Holmes stories. 19-year-old Portia discovers she’s inherited the famed 221 Baker Street, so she moves from Toronto to London to live there. Her mother’s death has left her on her own except for a mysterious new guardian who seems intent on keeping Portia’s heritage a secret.

Portia is an interesting combination of Watson and Holmes - clever, intuitive, and observant - so she fits in well in their former home and office. I enjoyed the unique premise in a familiar setting, and thought the period - 1930s London - was a nice touch. Portia has to fight to be taken seriously a lot of the time, between her age and her gender, and I liked that she stood her ground and used her intelligence to overcome problems. The mysteries she helped solve were all interesting, as was the on-going mystery of Portia’s extended family and why she had inherited 221 Baker Street.

I could easily see Jewel of the Thames as a period drama on the BBC. The mysteries are well thought out, the plot and characters were interesting, and there's a lot of potential for further stories and character growth. Between that and the fantastic twist at the end, I'm eager to read the next book, Thrice Burned.

Have you read Jewel of the Thames? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Do you enjoy Sherlockian stories?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Chasing Spring by RS Grey

Chasing Spring by RS Grey
Series: Standalone
Published: February 1st, 2016
Publisher: Self-published
304 pages (eARC)
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Acquired this book: From the author in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Amazon Canada}

I thought I’d left Blackwater, Texas behind for good. I didn’t belong in the small town, but my dad wouldn’t listen. He dragged me back home in his beat-up truck and dropped a bomb along the way: Chase Matthews was moving in with us. He was the golden boy of my high school, my former best friend, and the last person I wanted sleeping across the hall. His presence was too great a reminder of the ghosts I was trying to forget.

I didn’t ask for a hero. I don’t want to be saved.
To me, Lilah Calloway meant late nights sneakin’ out, moonlit hair, and sparklers in July. She was my best friend until the day she left and I’d assumed Blackwater had seen the last of her. Then, like a tempest, she rolled back into town for the final half of senior year. The chopped hair and dark devil-may-care attitude warned most people away, but I knew if I fought hard enough, I could find the lost girl.

I didn’t want to be her hero. Some girls don’t need to be saved.

RS Grey has been on my radar for awhile now, and while I’ve owned a copy of With This Heart for several months, Chasing Spring was actually the first book of hers I’ve read. Between the beautiful cover and the synopsis, I was intrigued, and I’m glad I’ve finally read one of her books. It won’t be my last!

I liked the way the story was told alternately between Lilah and Chase, and then going back in time, first to when Lilah’s mom was a little girl, and then years later when she was a troubled addict who abandoned her family and made a mess of her life. It was a unique way to give back story and also give insight into Lilah and Chase as they are today at seventeen.

I’m not sure what it was, but there was something that prevented me from truly connecting to this story or its characters. As I was reading, I kept thinking ‘I should be feeling more here - my heart should be breaking, I should be tearing up’, etc., but I never really went past surface emotion while reading. I liked Lilah and Chase, but didn’t connect to them, and found it hard to root for them. There was a part of my heart/brain that knew they should be together - they had shared history, they knew each other well, they’d been through a lot together - but I don’t think there was enough of them together on-page for me to fall for them as a couple. They were barely friends when Lilah came back, then they were, then they couldn’t be together, but then they were anyway, and through it all, we rarely actually saw them together.

Chasing Spring is a story about family, friendship, redemption, and overcoming your demons. While it fell a bit flat for me, I seem to be in the minority, so as always I recommend checking it out for yourself if it seems like something you’d like. I enjoyed Grey’s writing, and will be reading more of her books soon.

Have you read Chasing Spring? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Have you read any of RS's other books?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin
Series: Standalone
Published: January 26th, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
314 pages (ARC)
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Acquired this book: From the publisher in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

The Year We Fell Apart is an incredible debut from Emily Martin. It’s honest, realistic, and emotional. I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of books lately that cement my love of contemporary young adult, and this is another example of contemporary YA done right.

One of the things I liked most about The Year We Fell Apart was that it didn’t shy away from real issues. It was an honest portrayal of the messy, complicated relationships people often have in their teens. Friendship isn’t always easy, romantic relationships aren’t always easy, family life isn’t always easy, and the author dealt with all of those relationships in a way that was full of emotion and truth, while still managing to make me grin and laugh. Harper was flawed - she made mistakes, she did and said things she regretted - but she owned that and she learned from it. Her struggles were very authentic, and I enjoyed watching her growth. 

I also liked the contrast of new friendship and old friendship - the friends who know everything about you, good and bad, and the people you’re just getting to know, who see things about you that surprise you, and are more supportive than you expect. I appreciated that despite being really close friends, Harper and Cory never had romantic feelings for each other. It’s so rare to see platonic boy-girl friendships in books, and I loved that. Mackenzie and Gwen were great additions to the story and while Harper was wary of befriending them, they ended up surprising her in a lot of ways and showing her things about herself - and friendship - she didn’t expect. As for Harper and Declan, they’d known each other forever, had been good friends, then a couple, and then basically nothing to each other. I enjoyed watching them reform a tentative friendship and get to know each other as the people they are now, and then slowly develop the romantic relationship they had before everything went wrong, only stronger.

The Year We Fell Apart is a beautiful, realistic coming-of-age story about friendship, life, and love. Harper gets second chances in many areas of her life, and she makes the best of them. I can’t wait to see more from Emily Martin in the future.

Have you read The Year We Fell Apart? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Do you have a favourite flawed character? How about a favourite second-chance romance?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Favourites Giveaway Hop

 The Favourites Giveaway Hop is hosted by Stuck in Books 

Welcome to my stop on the Favourites Giveaway Hop! 

For this giveaway, I chose a bunch of random favourites, so hopefully there'll be something to interest most people. Most of these books are new adult, but there are a couple women’s fiction and young adult, too.

One person will win two ebooks from the following list. 

Open internationally, as long as the winner can accept Kindle ebooks

Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St John Brown

Upside Down by Lia Riley

What If by AJ Pine

Unexpected by Lilly Avalon

Game. Set. Match. by Jennifer Iacopelli

The Turning Point by Marie Meyer

Kismetology by Jaimie Admans
The Distance From A to Z by Natalie Blitt

Path of Angels: Michael by Patricia Josephine

I See London by Chanel Cleeton

Make it Count by Megan Erickson

Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons

Be sure to check out the other stops on the giveaway hop!

Thoughts and Daydreams #2: Blogging & Reading Slumps

Thoughts and Daydreams is a monthly feature hosted by yours truly and Jessica from Thoughts at One in the Morning. Every month, we'll discuss a reading- or writing-related topic. 
~Check out January's post about getting back to reading and blogging basics.~

Welcome to the second Thoughts and Daydreams discussion post! This month, Jess and I are talking about blogging and reading slumps. I think we've probably all experienced one or both at some point, and let's face it: they suck.  There are several reasons they happen, but there are also ways to beat them.

Why do slumps happen?
  • Being busy or stressed in real life. Sometimes you're just so busy you don't have time to read or blog and it slides down your list of priorities.
  • Similarly, other interests might take over. You might get invested (read: obsessed) in a new TV show, or interested in a new hobby, or the weather might be so nice you'd rather be outside enjoying it. 
  • Reading hangover. Sometimes you read a book that's so amazing, everything else seems like crap in comparison and it's hard to get interested in other books.
  • On the flip side of that, sometimes reading a crappy book can cause a slump. If I've read a particularly meh book or a few meh books in a row, I find my reading slowing down and maybe even going into a full-blown slump.
  • Feeling overwhelmed. A lot of us take on way too much - too many review books, too many blitzes and blog tours and events and challenges. It can get to a point where it feels daunting and affects your blogging or reading.

How can you beat a slump?
  • Do something else you enjoy. If you don't feel like reading, try rewatching a few favourite movies or TV shows. Colour. Grab your camera and take some pictures. Write something non-blog-related. Talk to other members of the community and rekindle your love of reading or blogging, or talk about your other interests, fandoms, etc.
  • Read a book simply for pleasure. If you're overwhelmed with review books, pick a book off your shelf that you've been wanting to read for ages. And if you really want to take the stress off, maybe you decide not to review that particular book. It can be just for you.
  • Get organized. If part of the reason for a blogging slump is because you're stressed, find ways to de-stress. Make a monthly blogging calendar. Schedule posts ahead. Cut back on memes or blitzes. Don't request or accept as many ARCs. Basically, cut yourself some slack. You don't need to blog seven days a week or even every weekday. Find a schedule that works for you.
  • Take a hiatus. If you're in a blogging or reading slump and nothing is working, take a hiatus. You can simply disappear for awhile, but I'd suggest writing a post for your blog saying you need a break and will  back in a week, two weeks, a month, or however long it takes. I've seen a lot of bloggers take blog breaks, but mention that they'll still be around on Twitter, Instagram, etc., so if you don't want to lose touch with people, be sure to share your links so people can find you elsewhere. Most of all: don't feel guilty. Everyone needs a break from time to time.

What usually causes a reading or blogging slump for you? How long was your longest slump? What are your best suggestions for breaking out of slumps?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Abyss Surrounds Us #1
Published: February 8th, 2016
Publisher: Flux
288 pages (eARC)
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Acquired this book: Via NetGalley in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she's not about to stop.

Pirates and sea monsters and kickass girls OH MY! The Abyss Surrounds Us was my first read of 2016; it’s rare to start the year with a book that’s so amazing and sets such a high standard you’re afraid all other books will pale in comparison, but that’s what this book has done. It’s been a long time since I read something that captured my complete attention the way The Abyss Surrounds Us did. The story played out like a movie in my mind with every detail sharp and real and larger than life.

This book is full of great characters. I was surprised how quickly and easily I was sucked into the story and then I realized it was Cas’s voice. There’s just something about her, and I spent the entire book feeling like I was hanging on her every word and action. She’s strong, smart, passionate, and funny, and she felt so real. She started out seeming like a regular girl - mind you, a regular girl who risks her life every day dealing with sea monsters - and then morphs into this badass girl living among ruthless pirates and doing whatever it takes to survive, even when it means crossing into a grey moral area. The other characters in the book were equally real; I was immediately intrigued by Swift and terrified by Santa Elena. Every character served a purpose.

The romance wasn’t as much a part of the story as I’d expected/hoped, but it was done so perfectly I didn’t mind. Cas’s sexuality was another part of this story that made it unique: she was gay, but there was no coming out, it wasn’t an issue or an obstacle, it was just part of who she was, and I loved that so, so much. Don’t get me wrong, I will always support coming out stories, but I’ve been desperate for books where a character is gay and out and their orientation isn’t part of the story’s conflict. Cas and Swift’s relationship was complicated for so many reasons, but they had sizzling chemistry, and there were moments that were sweet and funny and achingly beautiful. I loved the push and push, the will-they-won’t-they, the tentative alliance, then friendship, then budding feelings.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is a pretty damn near perfect debut from Emily Skrutskie. It’s original, compelling, and had me gripping my ereader in a white-knuckled grasp through at least half the book. I can’t wait to see what happens in the second book!

Have you read The Abyss Surrounds Us? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Do you read science fiction? Have a favourite book about pirates or sea monsters?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Monthly Recap: January 2016

Happy February, my lovelies! January alternately flew and dragged for me. Here's a recap of the month:

~ In Real Life ~

I kicked off 2016 with my mum and youngest nephew. We had a little party at home with lots of snacks and movies, and we watched the ball drop in Time's Square at midnight. Right after midnight, someone set off fireworks nearby, so we watched those from the window, which was fun. It was a great night - one I'll definitely remember for a long time.

As for the rest of the month...not so great. It's been a rollercoaster for a lot of reasons, none of which I'll go into, but let's just say I wished multiple times for a reset button on the year. Hopefully February will be better!

~ On the blog ~
  • I started the year by taking a look back on 2015, in which I shared three big things I learned last year, plus shared my hopes for 2016.
  • I started a new monthly feature with my friend Jessica from  Thoughts at One in the Morning called Thoughts and Daydreams. Our first topic was Getting Back to Basics, and we talked about simplifying things in regards to reading and blogging. Be sure to watch for our second post on February 5th!

  • On the last Monday of the month, I started participating in Lovin' Los Libros's weekly meme, The Monday Musts. The idea is to share a must-read book, a must-listen song/artist/album, and something that's a must see - TV show, movie, picture, blog, etc.

~ Books Read in January ~
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
  • Summerfall by Claire Legrand
  • The Turning Point by Marie Meyer
  • The Distance From A to Z by Natalie Blitt
  • Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri
  • Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
  • From Bad to Wurst by Maddy Hunter
  • Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul
  • Complementary and Acute by Ella Lyons
  • The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin
  • Chasing Spring by RS Grey

~ Favourite Books of January ~
January was a fantastic reading month for me - I enjoyed everything I read, which is incredibly rare, especially considering the number of books I read. Out of all of them, The Abyss Surrounds Us and Emmy & Oliver were my top favourites.

How was your January? Any highlights? What was the best book you read? Do you have a favourite blog post (feel free to link me to it in the comments so I can check it out)?
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