4.5 star, YA

Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Series: Love & Gelato #1

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is go back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires her, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.



You ever feel transported to the place your books take you, whether that be some fantastical land that exists entirely in a collective imagination or a place that you can literally touch and feel? Well, Love & Gelato has swept me off my feet to land safely on the grounds of an American Cemetery outside of Florence, Italy. I never wanted to travel more than right now (not a great thing to feel in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions).

There are so many things in my head and heart with this novel. It can be summarized in 3 parts.

Setting and Travel

Italy is a gorgeous place, and I wish I had the chance to visit its Tuscany charm or walk the big cities at my own pace. While this book is solidly a cute romantic story (more on this later), it also does an amazing job taking you to a place you may not have ever gone to in your life. I most certainly googled a bunch of locations and famous sights mentioned throughout, almost feeling that tangible sense like I can close my eyes and pretend I’m tasting gelato on my tongue and hear the sights of a crowded piazza. It shines through that the author has spent time in this beautiful country and know it by more than mere research. There is a deep sense of love and respect for this place that shines through every word describing the next sight Lina takes in.

Continue reading “Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch”
YA

Review: I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

Series: I See London, I See France #1

i see london, i see france -sarah mlynowski I see London, I see France
I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and half weeks traveling through Europe with her childhood best friend, Leela. Their plans include Eiffel-Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers. Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug-of-war.

In this hilarious and unforgettable adventure, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski tells the story of a girl learning to navigate secret romances, thorny relationships, and the London Tube. As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera… wearing only her polka dot underpants.


2.5 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

**I See London, I See France came out July 11, 2017**

Although it may seem like any other fun YA contemporary novel with plenty of European travels, this book had its own moments too. Reminiscent of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss and Gayle Forman’s Just One Day, this funny (yet still somewhat serious) novel would definitely entertain certain fans – especially since the book actually mentions the aforementioned novels within it as stories the protagonist herself read.

I have both good and not as good things to say about this novel. Being the half glass full kinda person I am, let’s start with the more negative stuff, shall we?

I will be honest. I didn’t like Sydney all that much. I guess it’s more a personal thing but I didn’t connect well with her (minus the fact that she had some anxieties – I will return to this later). She probably would be someone’s nice breath-of-fresh-air kinda character as she was very open about relationships and sex life. But there were other little things and attitudes she had that didn’t really make me feel for her.

Then there was her best friend. She’s flaky. Period. She goes from her ex back to Sydney and then back to her ex. She can’t make up her mind. She’s not dependable overall. And she’s possessive of Sydney in a way that she’ll throw a hissy fit if someone else has Sydney’s attention. Talk about a bestie relationship that needs some fixing.

Oh and then there’s the male love interest. Jackson. I didn’t feel a thing for him. He’s a player (ok, been there, done that), but he doesn’t really evolve past this stereotypical personality. He drinks, he pushes his best friend to do things that’re somewhat extreme, and he doesn’t do relationships at all. Sigh, I’m bored already. I feel like I know you and I don’t like you, Jackson.

So basically all the main characters were kinda eh, personality wise. Let’s leave it at that.

BUT, here comes the positive stuff. Mlynoski didn’t keep this story to just the little fluffy contents of some YA contemporaries. Sydney’s mother was agoraphobic. But more specifically, she was afraid to leave home because of panic attacks.

That floored me. Is this what it would like if someone let their anxieties rule over their lives? Being a person prone to anxiety and panic attacks too, I thought that was a really interesting note to include in such a novel. The author handled it well, I think, additionally challenging Sydney to overcome her feelings of responsibility to her family – to the point of it being something that held her back – as well as her own panic attacks that formed during the trip.

I may not love Sydney but that’s one lesson we can all learn from her.

I breathe. I breathe again. Faster. It’s coming. The end. 

No. No, no, no. 

I am lost. I am overwhelmed. But I am not being chased by a lion…

In and out. In and out. Slowly. Slower still. You are going to be fine, I tell myself. Everything is going to be okay…

I am not going to let the panic spiral. I am not going to let the fear win. 

I am strong and I am brave. 

I open my eyes.

Beyond this, I love the different cities they travelled to. It was unfortunately short for some places, but the locations that were explored for a longer time (e.g. London!!) made it worthwhile. I haven’t been back in London in a long while, but the descriptions made me feel like I was exploring that city again and experiencing it through a different set of eyes.

The author’s prose was easy enough to follow along. Very casual and Sydney’s voice wasn’t particularly boring. Would I recommend this? I’m not sure it’s the kind of book for everyone. I’ll say that it has its merits but read at your own discretion.

NOTE: this book is NOT meant for younger teens. The excessiveness of their pot smoking and sex shows along their travels made even me feel quite funny at my age. It’s not quite graphic, per se, but it doesn’t shy away from anything either. Just some forewarning.

Overall Recommendation:

I See London, I See France did well as a travel type of book. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste of Europe. However, it’s far too explicit in more mature themes and it was very hard to connect with pretty much all the characters, love interest and Sydney included. The one upside is how the author addressed mental health and anxiety here, and for that, I gave it a higher rating. Otherwise, this may not be worth your time, even on a relaxing summer day.

Note: all quotes are subject to change when published. 

YA

Review: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #2

the-last-of-august-brittany-cavallaroIn the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie and Charlotte are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**The Last of August comes out February 14, 2017**

Rating: 3.5 stars

You know a story was tumultuous when you flip over that last page and realize you’ve hit the Acknowledgements section. The Last of August actually managed to surprise me in this manner. And that says a lot ’cause I wasn’t feeling it for this book for like, the first 75% of it. Can I just stop for a sec and say “O. M. G…what just happened in the last 10%?

I will try to break down my rather hard decision to rate this book at where I’ve placed it, especially compared to its prequel, A Study in Charlotte.

The Plotline

Unlike the prequel, this book was located in multiple locations in Europe. From London to Berlin to Prague, I rather enjoyed seeing our young descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson take on the “bigger” world and its mysteries, compared to the rather limited school campus-restricted affair we got to see earlier. Brittany Cavallaro did a good job, I think, of setting the scene and really showing us what was going on with art forgeries investigation.

However, what the prequel did WAY better was really rack up the suspense. I didn’t feel that Charlotte and Jamie were in danger most of the time, not like the first one did. Frankly, Holmes and Watson were barely talking sometimes because they were constantly fighting so it’s kinda hard to focus on the actual MYSTERY at hand. Honestly, it felt like some TV drama half the time because the mystery was swept off to the side as we focus on their relational problems.

And I thought this was a SHERLOCK based story.

Anyway, when dangers did seem to creep into the story, it wasn’t as exciting as it could’ve been because I was just SO CONFUSED. The foundation of the mystery was all over the place. Was it mostly the gang looking for the culprit behind the art forgeries? Was it trying to figure out where Charlotte’s uncle Leander disappeared too? Was it figuring out how the Moriartys tied into all of this? (After all, their little truce seem to be over between the Holmes and Moriarty families).

I can’t give you a definitive answer. I’d say it was probably a bit of everything. Which actually sucks for an answer. So it wasn’t very focused and half the time I felt like I was just waiting for the big reveal from Holmes in order to get my AHA moment. I was hoping a lightbulb would just click in my mind when I finally reached the ending. Didn’t quite happen like that.

The Sherlock Holmes-yness in the plot

So, where was the Sherlock factor into all of this? This is a retelling of sorts on the famous detective. And his brilliant descendants – like ALL of them. Boy, must be some heavy genetics they maintained in the family line.

Anyway, this was a tough one for me. If you can’t tell from the above rant, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to even develop the mystery. Holmes went off with her plans with Jamie always trying to catch up with her thoughts process (if that’s even possible). And since we see most everything through his eyes, we’re mostly left in the dark too.

I say mostly because we get the privilege of 2 WHOLE chapters from Charlotte’s POV. Here’s where the most “sherlock-y” it gets in this book. It’s still confusing, don’t get me wrong, ’cause we’re still not given all the details of what’s going on in that mind of hers, but at least it felt more reminiscent of what Sherlock would be saying and doing. It wasn’t solely focused on the romance. And Charlotte can be quite hilarious in an unintentional way.

“Honestly, I was pleased that [the boys] were for the moment gone. Democratic decision-making had failed us so far, as a team (was that what we were?). Things ran more smoothly when I was their benevolent dictator.”


This was probably where the book started going more uphill for me. The middle portion? Solid boredom. Even the beautiful scenery couldn’t shake my funk.

The Romance…

Anyone can see that I’m not a huge lover of the….more-than-platonic-but-not-quite-romantic tensions underlying Holmes and Watson’s relationship. I tolerated it in book 1, and tried not to grit my teeth through it here. Well, let me just say, if you ARE a fan of this “interesting” dynamic between the two, you will be more delighted that Cavallaro explores that side of their relationship more here.

While I am much more satisfied when they’re working alongside each other like best friends who occasionally fight (’cause that’s what friends do – doesn’t have to always be from other tensions causing it), I will say that I DID enjoy her writing prose in those scenes. For a Holmes, showing emotions isn’t easy – or even relevant for the most part – but it made the scene even more poignant because we know it was both Jamie and Charlotte meeting halfway for each other to even get to that point where civil conversation was possible (and some other steamier things).

There’s no love triangle, not even hints of one (much to my disappointment ’cause it would’ve juiced up the constant tension in this book), but maybe it was for the better this way.

I might not be on board for anything beyond platonic for the two (or this stasis point they’ve reached), but I do love how Jamie shapes Charlotte for the better. And Cavallaro describes it beautifully.

“If August was my counterpoint, my mirror, Jamie was the only escape from myself I’d ever found. When I was beside him, I understood who I was. I spoke to him, and I liked the words I said….If August reflected me, Jamie showed me myself made better.”


That ending though….

Without giving too much away, the first thought that popped into my head after it finally settled into my mind that I had indeed reached the last page – no, my ARC had not malfunctioned on me and cut me off from all the important details – was “crap is going down like, NOW.” I did not love this book. It was hard to get through at times, as mentioned above, but now it’s like, I HAVE to read the next one just to satisfy my curiosity at what occurred here. It’s not so much what a traditional cliffhanger may leave us with, but more like you know the big, exciting moments are just around the corner and you don’t want to miss out on the wreckage flying in front of your face (yes, we humans tend to like to stare when bad things happen to OTHER people).

The epilogue was touching in ways that I couldn’t imagine it would affect me in. After all, I was on cruise mode for the majority of this book. Apathy reign supreme. But for the last 10%, I am willing (and maybe even excited) for what may come.

Overall Recommendation:
The Last of August was not mystery heavy, with a plot that was strewn all over the place and had no focus. For lovers of a potential relationship between Charlotte and Jamie, this novel really explores, teases and strips that dynamic apart in a brilliant way, whether or not you’re shipping them. I would’ve loved to see more of Holmes’ special deductions in this one and understand more of what was happening WHILE I was reading it, but the ending explosively threw me a bone that I just cannot let go of. With both heavy pros and cons, this sequel was worth it for fans of book 1, but keep in mind that 80% was confusion and maybe 20% could get your heart pumping.

NOTE: all quotes may be subject to change