Category: Young Adult

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars

On Thin Ice by Julie Cross

On Thin Ice by Julie CrossOn Thin Ice by Julie Cross
Series: Juniper Falls #3
Published by Entangled: Teen on 26th February 2019
Pages: 340
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three-stars

Brooke Parker never expected to find herself in the tiny town of Juniper Falls, Minnesota. Of course, she also never expected to lose her dad. Or for her mom to lose herself. Brooke feels like she’s losing it…until she finds Juniper Falls hockey. Juniper Falls girls’ hockey, that is.

Jake Hammond, current prince of Juniper Falls, captain of the hockey team, and player with the best chance of scoring it big, is on top of the world. Until one hazing ritual gone wrong lands him injured, sitting on the sidelines, and―shocking even to him―finding himself enjoying his “punishment” as assistant coach for the girls’ team.

As Jake and Brooke grow closer, he finds the quiet new girl is hiding a persona full of life, ideas, and experiences bigger and broader than anything he’s ever known. But to Jake, hockey’s never just been a game. It’s his whole life. And leveraging the game for a shot at their future might be more than he can give.

I’ve not come back to Julie Cross’s Juniper Falls series in a while and to dive back into high school/college sports is still a change from what I’m used to.

Still, ‘On Thin Ice’ is more than what it reads from the blurb and the more I read, the more I realised that the romance is merely part of a larger storyline dealing with the culture of hazing and the coverup for fear of being called a tattle-tale.

I didn’t like Jake’s unwillingness to do the right thing, even after people got hurt (the point is, does an entire batch of freshmen have to die before something happens?) because of upholding stupid, supposed traditions that deem you either a ‘hero’ or a ‘loser’. But Cross does tackle this issue which does get resolved in the end, along with the slow-blossoming romance that gets tucked neatly into the bigger problems facing sports, making ‘On Thin Ice’ essentially, a story that quite warmly champions young adults as examples who finally choose the straight and narrow path.

I’m guessing this will probably appeal to the younger demographic more—in both characters and plot—and I’ll have to say that my rating really, is one given from my adult perspective that tends to get some eye-rolling in, along with the growing inability to connect with this genre of fiction that I so used to love. As a YA story though (more objectively speaking this time), it’s a pretty decent read.

three-stars

The Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison

The Crush Collision by Danielle EllisonThe Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison
Series: Southern Charmed #2
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Haley Howell has had a hopeless crush on her brother’s best friend, Jake Lexington, for as long as she can remember. Too bad to him, she’ll forever be off-limits. But with senior year and acceptance to a college outside their tiny southern town of Culler, South Carolina, comes new confidence. Haley’s ready to get Jake to notice her—whatever it takes.

No one in Culler notices the real Jake anymore—to them, he’s nothing more than the star football player or the kid with the family tragedy. When one mistake lands him in mandatory community service, he’s shocked to find his best friend’s little sister there, too. Jake’s looking for an escape; Haley’s looking for a chance. Together, they’ll find exactly what they need...if only they’re willing to cross that line and risk it all.

To say that I’m reading ‘The Crush Collision’ to get my rare YA fix is partially correct, but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I do like the best friend’s sister/brother kind of trope, which throws in a hint of the forbidden or the unrequited.

‘The Crush Collision’ follows this particular trajectory. Embroiled in his own turmoil, Jake’s grades and social life are suffering and with alcohol as a constant companion, all he can see in front of him is football, his spiralling life…and a girl who’d always been in his orbit but never more than a distant friend. On the other hand, Hayley is determined to let people know that he’s just having a hard time and is misunderstood, then later makes a mountain of a molehill of how Jake should not incidentally be better for her, when she argues that he should do it for himself…and not put it on her for it.

The lady doth protesteth too much, me thinks.

I wasn’t too sure I could empathise with the minute details and the exhaustive analysis of a teen’s every action to see if this was a demonstration of whether ‘he likes me or he likes me not’, along with peer-pressure and overthinking and the prerequisite teenage angst. Then again, it’s a YA read, and Danielle Ellison does capture the voices right—it’s definitely a switch of gear downwards from the more adult romances that I dive into (I had to do some mental readjustments after all), when all that the protagonists are worried about are how their friends perceive them and their relationship.

three-stars

One Small Thing by Erin Watt

One Small Thing by Erin WattOne Small Thing by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on 26th June 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Beth’s life hasn’t been the same since her sister died. Her parents try to lock her down, believing they can keep her safe by monitoring her every move. When Beth sneaks out to a party one night and meets the new guy in town, Chase, she’s thrilled to make a secret friend. It seems a small thing, just for her.

Only Beth doesn’t know how big her secret really is…

Fresh out of juvie and determined to start his life over, Chase has demons to face and much to atone for, including his part in the night Beth’s sister died. Beth, who has more reason than anyone to despise him, is willing to give him a second chance. A forbidden romance is the last thing either of them planned for senior year, but the more time they spend together, the deeper their feelings get.

Now Beth has a choice to make—follow the rules, or risk tearing everything apart…again.

In some ways, going back to NA/YA can be frustrating no matter the author, only because it’s hard to step back into a teen’s POV when your older self wants nothing but to smack these characters…though not before wondering if your younger self were ever this way. Teenage angst galore is what ‘One Small Thing’ opens with—an act of rebellion that turns into a hookup (the start of a familiar downward spiral) that in turn reveals a whole slew of ugly emotions and self-destructive behaviour with generous helpings of hate, guilt, misery and selfishness.

We’re thrown in the deep end from the start, only because Erin Watt doesn’t shy away from wading into the aftermath of a death that happened 3 years ago…and how people the closest to this tragedy deal with it. Elizabeth Jones, who’s smack in the centre of the hurricane is a difficult one to like, for this reason. Hemmed in by her parents, her subsequent lashing out is understandable but still cringeworthy, since it’s admittedly hard to read about a protagonist who doesn’t know her own mind for a large part of the book, who wavers in doing what she clearly knows she should do and whose self-absorption and naïveté make it hard to be sympathetic to her plight.

But character growth has always been imperative in such books, and Watt certainly offers a ton of it, if you can get past the melodrama that tends to accompany the usual dose of teenage angst. In contrast to the negativity that permeates so much of the book, at some point in time, forgiveness and redemption need to come into the picture and they do, as the lessons are learned from the most unexpected source.

Objectively speaking, the characterisation is well done, even if the story ends on a note that can’t really be classified as a HEA or a HFN. The teens act exactly how I expected them to, amplified with the kind of existential angst they face along with their identity crisis and there’s always the sense of a fresh new start (though somewhat abruptly done in the conclusion) and nothing but a blank slate down the road. Watt’s storytelling is compelling nonetheless, though I wasn’t as moved by this as much as I thought I would be.

three-stars

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

Sometimes it takes a lot more cajoling to get me on the side of NA/YA fiction and I’ll readily admit that much of it has to do with my increasing difficulty in connecting with characters that I probably would have vociferously sympathised with when I was younger but now itch to smack. Needless to say, ‘Starry Eyes’ started out rocky, unbearable almost because of the eye-rolling teenage angst and drama (the type that makes you want to pick up alcohol even if you don’t drink) and I seriously questioned if this was going to be a book that I was going to finish.

But once the teen shenanigans ended, it seemed as though ‘Starry Eyes’ took off, compelling enough in the whole backcountry adventure (aided loads by a cool, knowledgeable protagonist) and the dangers that awaited both Zorie and Lennon that I couldn’t put it down. There’s still the whole vibe of unresolved teenage angst via the stupidity of miscommunication, or rather, the lack thereof, but it’s entwined now with the mistakes of adults and the learning journey—the sort that you apparently take into adulthood—that’s inevitably always built into YA/NA books.

Thankfully though, there’s no heavy moralistic message that raises the hairs on the back of my neck and I could easily sail through the last and rather exciting half of the book as the pieces laid out early in it start to fall horribly into place in a climax and resolution that left me satisfied.

‘Starry Eyes’ isn’t quite what I expected—I’m quite happy to say this now—but it’s a read that I can’t forget, many hours later after finishing it despite the awful start I had.

four-stars

Love Between Enemies by Molly E. Lee

Love Between Enemies by Molly E. LeeLove Between Enemies by Molly E. Lee
Series: Grad Night #2
Published by Entangled: Crush on January 8th 2018
Pages: 221
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three-stars

Zoey Handler is ready to put an end to her decade-long rivalry with Gordon Meyers. They’ve traded top spot between valedictorian and salutatorian for years, but all that’s over now. Right? But after a crazy graduation speech prank gets out of hand, suddenly their rivalry turns into all-out war. Time to make peace with a little friendly payback.

Step one? Make him believe they’re now friends.

Step two? Show him the time of his life at an epic graduation party.

Step three? Don’t fall for his tricks.

Step four? Absolutely, positively, do not kiss him again.

So what if he’s cute? (Okay, hot.) So what if he’s charming? (Heaven help her, tempting.) So what if he apologizes? (That has to be fake.) She knows the real Gordon. And no matter how much her heart begs her to stop, there’s no turning back.

Ah…enemies to lovers. it’s a trope that I can’t ever resist and ‘Love between Enemies’—as formulaic as this trope is—delivered that rivalry in a high-school setting. Throw in a badly mis-timed speech done out of hurt and overreaction and a rather mischievous plot for revenge that has bigger repercussions than initially thought about, and something entirely different and unexpected comes out as the end product.

Molly E. Lee captures the teenage mindset rather well, as Gordon and Zoey battle it out, humiliate each other (whether intentional or not), then realise that they’re better together than against each other during the grad night party where they realise that beyond the rivalry is a chemistry they can’t deny.

There were scenes that made me wonder how much of the rich-girl, entitled bitch Zoey was going to be, which in contrast, made Gordon seem almost like the perfect, articulate, mature 18-year-old that I don’t see too often in fiction. Nonetheless, I definitely appreciated how Lee didn’t go overboard (not too much at least) with the drama that some YA/NA books tend to revolve around. All’s well that ends well in a HFN ending, albeit somewhat sweetly but abruptly, considering that the whole shift from shift from rivalry to something else took place over a mere 2-ish days. But for characters on their way to college, with their lives ahead of them, it’s probably the best we can ask for.

three-stars

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica MurphyPretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy
Published by Entangled: Teen on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Imagine a group of privileged girls—all of whom sort of conform to the rich, aloof, snooty and somewhat mean stereotype—suddenly being swamped by a mysterious but vengeful serial killer who throws their ordered but small world into chaos. In the midst of them is the head cheerleader and a quiet, mysterious boy who find themselves in the centre of the maelstrom as the noose tightens around them while they play amateur detectives.

There aren’t too many of these sort of YA-thriller, high-school-centric books that I’ve read (or the kind of movies that I’ve watched) and it takes an adjustment every time I read a book like ‘Pretty Dead Girls’. Jumping into a YA book can be hard at times, not least because it’s a throwback into the mean, teenage girl mindset—where everything is exaggerated, pulled apart and then reacted to in an over-the-top fashion—but also because it’s one which I have the hardest time connecting with as well.

This is sort of a step outside my usual reading habits, but I still did have a good time in a way as a distant spectator would with teenage shenanigans, alternating between cringing at the sensibilities of the self-absorbed and petty girls (and wondering if I was as bad as them or worse?) and trying to do the whodunnit game that I normally do with the adult mystery-thrillers I sometimes read. If anything, Monica Murphy gets those behavioural traits pat down and pitches the story perfectly for teens, though it’s honestly difficult to like the characters you want to yell at to grow up before you realise they’re acting exactly their ages…and can’t be expected to do anything differently.

However, there are some questions that don’t seem to be satisfactorily answered, where secrets that you think are soul-destroying turn up to be mere storms in tea cups. Still, it was kind of a fun ride, given the unholy glee I felt when these girls had their comeuppance and almost wished the body count got higher just to up the thrill factor for my bloodthirsty and mean soul.

three-stars