I read (and loved) The Great Gatsby in high school, so when I heard about Sara Benincasa’s Great - a modern day retelling of The Great Gatsby where the characters were teens - I knew I had to read it. While I ended up with some mixed feelings about this book, I thought it was overall a good attempt at retelling a well-known classic.
I loved how Benincasa worked in all the Gatsby characters, but with a twist - Naomi as Nick the narrator, Jacinta as Jay Gatsby, Delilah as Daisy. I thought it was really clever. Naomi lived with her dad during the year, but spent the summers with her mother (a Martha Stewart type) in the Hamptons. She leads a regular life with her dad in Chicago, but in the Hamptons she has to live up to her mother’s standards by dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, and being friends with the ‘right people’. Naomi was against it all at first, and didn’t want to be part of the superficial lifestyle lead by everyone around her, but she slowly got sucked into that world.
I had a soft spot for Jacinta, just as I did for Jay in The Great Gatsby. Despite coming across as very sophisticated and worldly, she had this innocence and naivety about her. She was so desperate for people to like her, and she wanted to please people at any cost. She had a sweet, childlike quality to her that made it hard for me not to like her.
Benincasa did a great job of modernizing a classic. I liked that technology played a big part, showing how it can be a wonderful thing or a person’s downfall. As someone who read and loved The Great Gatsby, I enjoyed watching how things played out, and how Benincasa twisted the original in a creative and compelling way while still holding true to the heart of the story.
Ultimately, Great is one of those books that’s sort of fun and frivolous. I love really dramatic reality TV, and that’s what this book felt like a lot of the time - lots of drama and intrigue, people with more money than brains, broken hearts, broken friendships, lies, and betrayal. Not a whole lot actually happened until toward the end of the book, but it was mostly a fun ride getting there. Retelling such a well-known classic - one that’s had several movie adaptations (the Paul Rudd as Nick version is my personal favourite) - was ambitious, and I think Benincasa did a really good job. As a retelling, it has a lot of appeal, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I weren’t familiar with the original. (less)
From the moment I read the synopsis of The Clockwork Scarab, I knew I had to read this book. Sherlock Holmes’s niece and Bram Stoker’s sister? Steampunk? Count me in! With great elements of historic fiction, steampunk, mystery, humour, and timey-wimey goodness, this book was a lot of fun.
I really liked both Mina and Evaline. Mina was like a teenage girl version of her Uncle Sherlock - highly intelligent, observant, and antisocial. She’d been through a lot in the last few years, and it made her different from other girls her age whose lives basically revolved around social engagements and courting. Evaline was a kickass vampire hunter with super-human speed and strength, but a debilitating weakness at the sight of blood. The girls were very different (yet also very similar) and didn’t like the idea of working together; they each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and they slowly learned that they balance each other out and could work well together if they got over their desire not only to work alone, but also to prove themselves to other people.
Because Mina and Evaline were so different, the dual POV telling worked perfectly. Each girl had a distinct voice, and it was fun to get inside their minds and see their ‘process’, as well as learn firsthand their strengths and weaknesses. The girls were the perfect choice for this investigation - they knew they’d be underestimated and overlooked just because they were women and it was the 1800s, and naturally women couldn’t be useful for anything but looking pretty and attending parties and balls. They used that to their advantage, and were very clever in the schemes they came up with.
I loved the steampunk element of this book, and thought it was really well executed. In an alternate Victorian London where electricity has been outlawed, the city is powered by steam. I was fascinated by the inventions, and I liked how Mina was really into gadgets and was always coming up with ‘cognoggin’ solutions to problems. I felt immersed in the time and place, able to picture it all clearly.
As for the mystery, I was fully engrossed. I liked how the Egyptian mythology was worked in, and thought it was a really unique idea. I’m always fascinated with books about secret societies, and the whole steampunk/Victorian London element made it all the more interesting and mysterious.
Now let’s talk romance. There were three boys in this book - a mysterious and charming thief, an intense and handsome Scotland Yard inspector, and an accidental time traveler from the 21st century. The romances weren’t a main focus of the book, which I appreciated, because the book was more about the girls coming into their own, learning to be partners, and trying to solve the mystery. There was just enough romance to make things interesting, show a different side to each girl, and to make me curious how things will turn out in the next book(s). The (potential) love interests challenged the girls - usually in very amusing ways - and even though I'm a total romance junkie, I liked that there was just a touch of romance and it didn't consume the whole book.
I know The Clockwork Scarab is the beginning of a series, but it felt like there were too many loose ends left at the end of the novel. Nothing was really resolved, and while that makes for more interest in the next book, I was left sort of scratching my head and thinking ‘that’s it?’ There were far more questions than answers. Also, while I liked the time travel element, it felt like it was thrown in and never really expanded. I liked Dylan but we didn’t actually learn anything about him, so he sort of felt like he was just there and not really part of the story.
The Clockwork Scarab was an exciting story with great characters, a wonderful setting, and fascinating elements of mystery, steampunk, and time travel. Mina and Evaline were memorable characters, and I can’t wait to see what they get up to next in The Spiritglass Charade. (less)
I want to start out by saying I have so much respect for Jessica Verdi. She’s not afraid to push boundaries and write stories that are bold, brave, and different. When I read her debut novel, My Life After Now, I thought ‘the world needs a book like this’ and I feel the same way after reading The Summer I Wasn’t Me. I can’t wait to see what Ms Verdi comes up with next.
After Lexi’s dad dies, her mother falls apart. Things become worse when she finds out Lexi is gay. Hoping to make her mother happy again, Lexi agrees to go to New Horizons - a camp that teaches young people how to beat the ‘sickness’ of homosexuality. *insert initial ragey-ness here*
The whole idea of ‘de-gayifying’, and homosexuality being something you can 'overcome' made me so angry. I spent a good portion of the book with my mouth hanging open in shock and horror at the things that went on at New Horizons. The teens were told that a trauma in their lives caused them to be gay, and the camp focused on the importance of gender roles - girls wearing pink, boys wearing blue, girls being able to cook and clean, and boys being able to play sports and fix things. The idea of homosexuality being a ‘sin’ is nothing new, but these people took it to a whole new level, and it made me both sick and sad, because even though the book is fiction, places like this do exist, and a lot of churches/religious people do hammer those points home.
I really liked Lexi. She wasn’t afraid to be her own person, and she pretty much knew what she wanted from life. I admired her desire to make her mother happy, even though it would have meant changing who she was, living a lie, and possibly never being truly happy herself. She was mature and selfless for someone so young, and she came across as genuine and believable. Lexi’s group at camp consisted of Carolyn, Matthew, and Daniel. They were all well fleshed out, and each of them had something to teach Lexi. I especially loved Matthew - he was funny and caring and not afraid to be himself.
The romance in this book is so sweet. I love the way the characters bonded and grew a friendship that slowly turned into more. The ‘forbidden love’ aspect worked really well because of the situation the characters were in, and it made their interactions all the sweeter, while sometimes having that sexy exciting feeling of doing something you know you’re not supposed to be doing.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me made me feel so much. I spent quite a bit of the book being angry because of the situation Lexi was in, but it made me connect with her and the story even more. There were moments of humour and sweetness to balance the parts that were rage-inducing, heartbreaking, and sickening. This book is powerful and emotional. It’s a must read whether you’ve struggled with who you are or you’re completely comfortable with yourself. It’s full of beautiful messages about acceptance, friendship, and love. (less)
Side Effects May Vary is an unorthodox love story. If you’re looking for sunshine and roses and a romance that will make you swoon, Side Effects May Vary isn’t it. But if you’re looking for something honest, real, bold, and sometimes even a little uncomfortable, this book may just be for you.
I was oddly fascinated by Alice. She’s the kind of character we normally see as a secondary character - a mean girl. I didn’t like her and she didn’t have many redeeming qualities, but there was part of me that appreciated her for her honesty. She was who she was, and she made no apologies for that. She was mean-spirited, vengeful, selfish, indecisive, and a user. I actually can’t think of many characters I’ve liked less, but she was one of those characters I loved to hate because so much of what she said and thought was so shocking, I wondered what she would think, say, or do next.
Harvey, on the other hand, was absolutely adorable. He was so sweet and caring, and would do anything for Alice…and she knew it. She knew he’d always had feelings for her and she used that to her advantage every chance she got. There were times I wished Harvey would grow a backbone, but a part of me understood how hard it was for him - he was so in love with Alice and had been forever, so it was hard for him to say no to her or do anything that might make her unhappy, especially when she was really sick.
I liked the dual POV and the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ format. I thought it might get confusing but it didn’t. This was actually the perfect story for a dual narrative, since Alice and Harvey were so different. I think the story would have been skewed if it had only been from one perspective.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. Part of me liked it but it was way too abrupt. I kept flipping back and forth on my Kindle, thinking I’d missed a page somehow. I don’t mind open-ended endings, but I would have liked a little more.
Side Effects May Vary is different from any other contemporary YA book I’ve read. While it has all the elements of a great YA contemp - friendship, family relationships, ups and downs, hardships, heartache, humour, romance - it has something different and special that I can’t quite put my finger on. From what I’ve seen so far, people are largely divided on this book, and I can understand why - disliking or even hating a main character can be a pretty big deterrent - but this book has so much heart. It has a lot of life lessons and emotion crammed into its pages, and it shows you that it’s never too late to change, become a better person, or do the right thing. (less)
The Trouble With Kilts is the final book in the Balmorie novella series, and I’m sad to say goodbye to the MacLarens and the Walkers. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their love stories and watching them come full-circle.
Riley and Jamie are both hurting. Riley’s marriage has fallen apart, and Jamie has returned from war with both physical and emotional wounds. Both Riley and Jamie are combative and bitter, but they find peace with each other and help each other heal.
I liked that this story was a bit different from the other two. All the stories were basically insta-love (they’re romance novellas, after all, you kind of expect the romance to happen fast), but this one followed a different formula from the first two, which I appreciated. It wasn’t love at first sight for Riley and Jamie - they barely wanted to be in the same room at first - and I loved watching them warm to each other and slowly realize that they would be perfect for each other.
Like Dev in A Scot Like You, Jamie had a vulnerable side, which I loved. He was this big, strong guy, a hard worker and someone who seemed really tough, so when he showed those cracks in his armour, it melted my heart and made me fall for him even more. I thought he and Riley were a great match for so many reasons.
The Trouble With Kilts is funny, romantic, sexy, and sweet. Getting to see all the MacLarens and all the Walkers happy was really heartwarming. I don’t know how anyone could read this series and not fall in love with these swoony Scots.(less)
I loved Mad About Plaid, the first in the Balmorie novella series, but I loved A Scot Like You even more. There was just something about Kate and Dev, separately and together, that really got to me.
loved Kate’s spunk and her fiery personality. I liked that she wasn’t easily embarrassed, especially since she got herself into some situations that would have made me want to crawl in a hole and never come out. Dev is quiet and solitary; he’s haunted by the things he saw and the things that happened during the war, and now all he wants is some peace and to get on with his life and the new family business. Kate streaks into his life (literally) and is exactly what he needs in so many ways. Dev was incredibly sexy - definitely my idea of a Scottish fantasy - but I loved that he was also vulnerable and willing to open himself up to love even when he originally thought he just wanted to be on his own and have time to heal.
Other things I really enjoyed about A Scot Like You: how the dogs were worked into the story. I learned new things about service dogs, and I liked that Kate was passionate about animals and learned new things about herself when she met Dev and his dog Hildie. I also loved Fran and Hamish (who we met in the first book), a couple who worked at the estate and were like family to the MacLarens. They were funny and sweet and added more depth to the story.
Funny, romantic, sexy, and touching, A Scot Like You is a definite must-read for fans of contemporary romance. (less)
For years I’ve had this fascination with Jack the Ripper. I know I’m not alone in this. So whenever I see a book that has anything to do with Jack the Ripper, I get excited. When I saw the cover for Mayhem, I assumed it dealt with Jack because of the man with the cloak and top hat - classic Jack, right? So I was both surprised and pleased when I learned that it did deal with Jack in a way - the fact that it took place during his reign of terror - but it was actually about the Thames Torso Killer, a madman who committed equally heinous crimes at the same time, but who I’d never heard of before.
I loved the dark, gritty feel to this book. I really felt immersed in the seedy, dirty side of late 1800s London - the poverty, the opium dens, the filth and debauchery. People were terrified and yet intrigued over the fact that not one, but two serial killers - two madmen - were on the loose. If you weren’t a prostitute, you knew you were at least safe from Jack, but the Thames Torso killer didn’t seem to follow any set pattern or go after a ‘type’. There were newspaper articles from the time between some of the chapters, and I thought that was a nice touch. The book was obviously well researched and planned, and it showed.
While I enjoyed the characters, I found it hard to keep up at times with the changing POV. Dr. Bond was the pain POV, but then we also got several other points of view, and while it added to the story in some ways, it also made it a bit confusing. There were times when I forgot who certain characters were because there were so many of them I couldn't remember all their names at first.
For the most part, the book was quite fast-paced and held my interest, while also keeping me guessing. There were times I was so immersed in the story, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough, and if something distracted me I’d practically jump out of my skin. I found the paranormal twist interesting and strangely believable, and thought the author did a great job with the execution.
Any element of horror isn’t usually my first choice in books (I’m a total wuss), but I thoroughly enjoyed Mayhem. It encompassed the best of horror, historic fiction, supernatural, and mystery.
Gruesome and thrilling, Mayhem is a must-read for fans of historic fiction set in 1800s London, and fans of Jack the Ripper and other mysterious serial killers. (less)
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting to love 16 Things I Thought Were True. It sounded really good, and I’ve heard great things about Janet Gurtler’s books, but I thought it would be something cute and fun to break up the feels-heavy books I’ve been reading lately, along with several books that have left me with a ‘meh’ feeling. And while it was cute and fun, it also packed an emotional punch I wasn’t expecting.
Morgan was a very complex character. She was raised by a single mother who smoked and drank too much, she had two older brothers who were clearly her mother’s favourites, and she had no idea who her dad was. Her mother always refused to talk about him or even give Morgan a hint if he was dead or alive…until she had a heart attack and her guilty conscience forced her to tell Morgan who her father was and where she could find him. Meanwhile, Morgan had been completely ostracized at school and work because of a video her ex-best friend posted of Morgan dancing in boys' underwear. She did her best to hide out, lie low, and not draw attention to herself. In her mind, the only friends she needed were the ones she’d made online.
Enter Amy and Adam. I loved these characters - and Morgan - so much. At first I didn’t think I was going to like Amy; she talked non-stop and said every little thing that came to her mind. I thought she would be obnoxious and annoying, but I ended up loving her. Her blunt honesty was refreshing, and she had this innocence about her that made me just want to wrap my arms around her and squeeze her. Adam was one of those boys who was perfectly imperfect. He was a jerk at work because he needed to be, otherwise people wouldn’t respect him as their boss since they were all the same age. But underneath that, he was sweet and caring, and so good to and for Morgan.
The interactions between Morgan, Amy, and Adam were absolutely hilarious. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much while reading a book. Their conversations were ridiculous and realistic and made me wish I were friends with them. The road trip was definitely my favourite part of the book. Even though it wasn’t the main focus of the story, it had all the elements of a great road trip - food, music, laughter, crazy situations, and meaningful moments. And, like any good road trip book, the characters learned a lot - about themselves and about each other.
The life lessons Morgan learned through the course of the book weren’t always easy. Some of them were painful, and many of them changed her life. I wasn’t expecting to form such a strong connection with the characters, but I did. I felt their triumphs and failures. I laughed with them and cried with (and for) them. These characters and their story will stick with me for a really long time.
Quite simply, 16 Things I Thought Were True was amazing. I ran through the gamut of emotions with this book. I laughed as hard as I cried, and I came away with a smile on my face, despite the tears I shed (and there were a lot of them). This book is a must read for fans of contemporary young adult, road trip books, books that have strong messages of friendship and love, and…well, really just anyone. I know I’ll be recommending this one to just about everyone I know. (less)
This is such a cute novella that I think will appeal to all romance lovers, especially those who like a hunky Scot…or three.
Ian MacLaren, the oldest of the MacLaren clan, and an ex-military man, is in the process of getting Balmorie Estate ready for the public as a guest house, and he needs help spreading the word. That’s where Riley Brooks, travel writer, comes in…except Riley is busy trying to save her marriage, so she sends her cousin Lucy in her place.
Lucy is like a walking disaster. From the moment she arrives in Scotland, nothing seems to go right. I really liked Lucy. It was obvious she loved her family and would do anything for them. She’s a bit lost and aimless, looking for her place and purpose in life, and the last thing she expects is to fall in love in Scotland, or find what she’s meant to do with her life.
I loved that Ian was so dedicated to restoring Balmorie. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d love to stay in when I visit Scotland…and I wouldn’t mind meeting a sexy Innkeeper like him! I’ve always had a not-so-secret fantasy of going to Scotland (or Ireland or England) and falling head over heels the way Lucy did, so Mad About Plaid appealed to me in a lot of ways.
If you’re looking for a quick romance that’s both sweet and steamy, I’d definitely recommend Mad About Plaid. (less)