Amanda Reads – July 2016

After writing the last post about what I’ve been reading this year, I decided that I enjoyed it.  Very few people in my actual life care what I’m reading, so writing about it is nice.  In any case!  Since I know I won’t be able to keep up with each book to write full-on reviews, I’m going to do this monthly, instead of only twice a year, like I originally stated.  So here we go – July!

July was a busy month for me, reading-wise – we went on a week-long vacation where I did little else.  (It was glorious, in case you were wondering.)

In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

I’m sad that this is how I started my month.  I want to just leave it at that, but I promised reviews!  So here’s a plot summary:

Nora is a writer who has some skeletons in her closet.  Her former friend Clare is aware of some of those skeletons.  Clare invites Nora to her bachelorette party.  Nora is an idiot and goes.  Turns out Clare is marrying Nora’s ex-boyfriend.  There’s a big secret.  Also, someone is dead, Nora is in the hospital recalling the story that she can’t remember the ending to, and I’m bored.

Honestly, I was not impressed.  I loved Gone Girl, and everything I’ve read since then that is supposed to be similar isn’t even close.  This was predictable, and I didn’t feel for Nora’s character at all.  Also, that secret that broke up Nora and her ex-boyfriend all those years ago?  Lame.

Rating:  2 stars

Slammed, by Colleen Hoover

After this one, I was 0/2.  Meh.  Plot summary:

Layken (yes, that is her actual name) moves with her mother and younger brother from Texas to Michigan after her dad passes away.  She meets a lovely boy across the street, they go on one date, and she’s in love.  Buuuuuut, turns out, he’s her teacher.  Wait, haven’t I read this before?

While the emotional attachment I had to the characters in this story was higher than in some other cases (I found myself really liking Will, the teacher/boyfriend in question), I was not all that interested in the plot.  My favorite character was actually Layken’s best friend, Eddie, who has her own sweet love story going on on the side, and I had a very hard time relating to or even appreciating Layken at all.  She was just bleh.  I’m probably being subjective, but after two other student-teacher relationship books before this one (and one after, which you’ll see in a minute or so), I feel like I am able to choose what I like best (that’s Unteachable, by the way – go read it).  Then I learn there’s actually a sequel to this book?  No thanks, hard pass.

Rating:  2 stars

When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker

After the meh factor of the first two books I read in July, this one hit me like a truck.

Luke and Natalie have this beautiful love story.  They met as middle-schoolers until a tragedy in Luke’s past tore them apart, and then they reconnected in college, got married, and had three beautiful children.  Then Natalie got sick with a rare form of cancer, and she dies – the book actually opens with Luke and the kids coming home from her funeral.  So we never meet Natalie, and yet, we totally do.  It turns out that Natalie has secrets – lots of them.  She also has a plan for Luke to help him move on after she’s gone.  It’s one of the saddest and realest books I’ve ever read about grief.

Everyone has gone through periods of grief, but I’ve never seen grief written is such a realistic way.  I loved Luke and his tormented past.  I loved Annie, Natalie’s fiercely loyal best friend who has some skeletons in her own closet.  I loved the kids, who were written in such a perfect way from the perspective of their father.  I really loved this book.  I got completely lost in it.  I’m so glad I got to experience this book after the first two disappointments, because it totally turned my month’s reading around.

Rating: 5 stars

Last Will and Testament, by Dahlia Adler


Lizzie’s parents are dead, and she is forced to try to continue with her college studies while taking care of her younger brothers at the same time.  Her grades aren’t awesome, so she enlists the help of her stuffy Byzantine history TA to get her grades up so she can keep her scholarship.  Turns out the TA (Connor) isn’t so stuffy after all, and he may be a little more into her than he should be.

I’m serious when I’m saying this is the best of the best when it comes to NA.  Dahlia Adler really captures the college experience in this one.  Sure, it’s another teacher-student plot, but it’s different because they know it’s illicit and taboo from the beginning – there’s no surprise! I’m your teacher!  (That’s the part of the plot that I kind of hate.)  And this is a real love – they know they should be apart, but they also realize that neither of them seems to be whole without the other.  And the sex scenes are HOT, but it’s not about that.  It’s about the building of the relationship, and Lizzie’s support from her friends, and Connor’s struggle with his feelings for Lizzie and his responsibilities as her teacher.  I could chat about this one for days.  I LOVED it.

Rating:  5 stars

A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro

How did I get so lucky to read this many amazing books in a row?  Because this one gave me the longest, achiest book hangover I’ve had since Saint Anything.  The sequel comes out in February and I CANNOT WAIT GOOD GRIEF WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT???

Jamie Watson wants to be a writer, just like his famous great-great-grandfather John Watson.  After getting a rugby scholarship, he leaves England to attend a prestigious private boarding school in Connecticut, where he meets Charlotte Holmes, great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes.  When one of their fellow classmates is found murdered and the two of them are framed for the crime, they embark on what their families are good at – solving the case!

This is so well written and researched that I lost sleep thinking about it.  I loved that Jamie and Charlotte have all this history even though they had never met.  I loved that Jamie feels protective of Charlotte, even though she can be positively vile to him.  I love that Charlotte is a woman and is a genius, and written as such.  This is a phenomenal book for anyone who loves both YA and Sherlock Holmes.  If I could recommend only a single book each year, I’d pick this one, by far, even though I loved others, too.

Rating:  6 stars (out of 5, because I just can’t say enough how much I loved it and I’m still a little achy)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

You know your book hangover is bad when you abandon all of your waiting YA and NA to read a piece of literary fiction that is so completely different from what you just finished that it’s almost funny.  That’s how I chose this as my next book to read.  I thought I would regret this type of palate cleanser, but it turns out I really didn’t.

This book is a slice of life in war-torn Chechnya in the early 2000’s.  Ahkmed is the worst doctor in Chechnya, yet he manages to get hired by the lead surgeon at a hospital in the nearest city to his home.  Havaa is the daughter of Ahkmed’s neighbor, who was forcibly disappeared by the Feds.  Sonja is the lead surgeon at the hospital who hires Ahkmed, who has scars on her past just like the rest.  There are more characters, more complicated, beautiful stories, and they’re all intertwined together in the most lovely way.  I read that a lot of people thought it was too slow, that it was boring, all that.  I didn’t.  I thought it was the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read.  It was dense, sure, and I learned a whole bunch about a region I had no prior knowledge of, but it was so worth the read.

Rating:  4 stars

I highly doubt I’ll be able to top this list for August, but we’ll see!  It’s still early yet.

Read on, everyone!


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