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Young Adult

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 29th July 2017
Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars

Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Young Adult 22nd July 2017
Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. LeeLove in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on August 14th 2017
Pages: 219
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two-stars

The only thing worse than not being able to tell your best friend you’re head over heels in love with him? Having to smile and nod when he enlists your help to ensnare the girl of his dreams.

Braylen didn’t even want to go to Lennon Pryor’s epic graduation-night party, but when Fynn begs her to be his “wingwoman,” she can’t deny him. Talking up her BFF—how he’s magic behind a camera, with a killer sense of humor and eyelashes that frame the most gorgeous blue eyes in the history of forever—is easy. Supporting his efforts to woo someone so completely wrong for him? Not so much.

Fynn knows that grad night is his last shot before leaving for college to find true love. And thanks to Bray, he gets his chance with the beautiful Katy Evans. But over the course of the coolest party of their high school careers, he starts to see that perhaps what he really wants has been in front of him all along. Bray’s been his best friend since kindergarten, though, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend than not at all.

Reading about storms in teacups is how I approach YA stories, because I sort of remember that nothing seemed more important than a crush returning your feelings and the obsession over college choices.

‘Love in the Friend Zone’ all but practically takes place over the course of an evening during a graduation party, as you’re thrust straight into the climax of a story after being given a rushed run down of Braylen’s unrequited feelings and Fynn’s inability to see that she has always been in front of him.

Within this time period, Bray vacillates between wanting the best for Fynn and struggling with her own desires and jealousy, while Fynn remains oblivious which is the status quo for teenage boys as it seems. All this is well and fairly typical—it’s the hormonal teenage years after all—but I probably would have liked this better if the story focused less on Bray’s overwhelming angst and her inability to be convinced that Fynn would ever want her.

Fynn’s sudden realisation that he’d been in love with her all along was somewhat cringeworthy, since it had to take a confession from Bray to get his head out of his own arse.  Granted, I’m not someone who can easily accept sudden switch of the flip type epiphanies particularly when it comes to a party realising he/she had been in love with someone all along because it can, in some cases, get extremely hypocritical.

The events at this particular party did however, got more and more ridiculous, taking a rom-com’s blithe journey to a climax of mistaken identities, stunts and high drama. Expect juvenile jokes, and even more juvenile pranks and a huge load of emotional spikes and valleys…all before Fynn and Bray actually get it together.

If this review is sounding as though there’s some impatience on my part, it’s probably me having a hard time admitting I’m quite much older with different tastes now.

two-stars

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 3rd June 2017
When It’s Real by Erin WattWhen It's Real by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 30th 2017
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley's team decides it's time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he's settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of "normal." Under ordinary circumstances she'd never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn't have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley's team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley's a shallow, self-centered jerk? It's not like they're going to fall for each other in real life…right?

‘When it’s Real’ is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure…and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it’s a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn’t help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

‘When it’s real’ ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it’s probably for the best.

four-stars

Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 24th March 2017
Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid PaulsonWhy I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson
Published by Entangled: Teen on June 6th 2017
Pages: 287
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three-stars

Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her life tidy—academically and socially. But the moment Sterling Lane transfers into her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in Sterling’s pranks and schemes and nearly gets expelled. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. As she exposes his endless school violations, he keeps striking back, framing her for his own infractions. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the troublemaker he absolutely is.
As she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn't entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule—protecting Cole.

This is one of the oddest, most entertaining and weird books I’ve read in a long, long while. There’s the stilted speech of English boarding schools (the kids sound like uptight lawyers-in-training with sticks up their arses) and good ol’ teenage pranks wrapped up in the scheming of Cruel Intentions, the cold malice of mafia movies and the calculative manoeuvrings of some spy shows.

But you know what they say about hate being the other side of the coin of love. At least I think it is, because I couldn’t quite be sure by the time I finished the book when denial and doublespeak hadn’t quite let down yet. Written wholly in Harper’s POV, I couldn’t decide where she was the judgemental, self-righteous, rule-following shrew or whether Sterling was truly the devil’s spawn wrapped up in sheep clothing. And without Sterling’s POV, he never quite appeared more than a shady character whose personality way surpassed his rich-kid stereotype who sort of decided that he could be more serious about his future post-boarding school.

The book really begins with a ‘mortal enemies’ type of situation, where rule-follower (and breaker) Harper is determined to take down the rich, spoiled lazy kid whose schemes actually match hers for deviousness. Attraction only creeps in way, way later and their ‘relationship’ is barely formed when the book finally ends. I had a few good laughs though (the pranks *were* hilarious), despite my bewilderment at the tone, the setup and the characterisation and perhaps, the story’s prominence simply lies in how much it differs from the typical NA/YA books that have sailed by as ships passing in the night.

three-stars

Don’t Speak by Katy Regnery

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fairytale/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th March 2017
Don’t Speak by Katy RegneryDon't Speak by Katy Regnery
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on February 27th 2017
Pages: 318
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four-stars

A fisherman’s daughter.

The governor’s son.

Two very different worlds.

In this modern retelling of The Little Mermaid, a fisherman’s daughter from an Outer Banks island untouched by time, meets the son of North Carolina’s governor at a fancy party where she’s working.

Laire, who wants so much more from life than her little island can offer, is swept away by wealthy, sophisticated Erik, who is, in turn, entranced by her naiveté and charm. The two spend a whirlwind summer together that ends on the knife-point of heartbreak and forces them to go their separate ways.

Years later, when fate leads them back to one another, they will discover the terrifying depth of the secrets they kept from each other, and learn that shattered hearts can only be healed by a love that willfully refuses to die.

Fairytale adaptations have always enraptured me although the quality of retellings have always been varied. And of the numerous adaptations, I’ve almost never read a contemporary retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, which made ‘Don’t speak’ immediately a mesmerising standout because it was so different.

Katy Regnery blends the tropes quite seamlessly in a way that makes it the entire tale believable somehow: two contrasting protagonists, quite literally from different worlds with archetypical wicked-parents, yet with the earthy, intense flavour of young love that slips into hate and pain before the HEA that drops rather suddenly. Yet Regnery’s writing is lofty as well, with the elevated, descriptive purple prose that distances her book from the typical NA read as Erik and Laire are fashioned into stylised characters who fall into instant-love. There’s a lot of naïveté present written into them as well too – whether by choice remains unclear – and perhaps never seen more in Laire, whose constant sobbing and inability to stand up for Erik when it mattered most got on my nerves at times.

It’s the secret-baby issue here, that perhaps downed the reading experience for me and the lagging pace that had me struggling to turn the pages. Even though Erik/Laire were kept apart by circumstances beyond their control, I always felt as though Erik was the one who constantly tried to build bridges as Laire wallowed in her islander thinking…until she was forced out of the Banks. Coincidence, or serendipity, is the only thing that brings them back together and their rushed reunion – and tearful confessions that pledged forever love despite the thorny issues that led to a 6-year separation – precipitates a sudden number of events that leads to the rather rushed ending.

That said though, ‘Don’t Speak’ is undoubtedly a memorably read despite its faults, and pretty much one that left me on the verge of a book hangover.

four-stars

The Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey Frydman

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 9th March 2017
The Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey FrydmanThe Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey Frydman
Published by Entangled Publishing on March 20th 2017
Pages: 221
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two-stars

Audra Madison simply wanted to walk in the shoes of Emily Cavanaugh, a free-spirited teenager who died too young. After all, Audra wasn’t supposed to be here.
Thanks to Emily, Audra has a second chance at life. She’s doing all the things that seemed impossible just two years ago: Go to college. Date. Stargaze in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe get a tattoo. You know, live.
Jake Cavanaugh, a photographer with mysterious, brooding gray eyes, agrees to help chronicle her newfound experiences. She makes him laugh, one of the only people who can these days. As they delve into each other’s pasts – and secrets – the closer they become.
But she’s guarded and feels like she can’t trust anyone, including herself. And he’s struggling with the fact that his beloved sister’s heart beats inside her.

Reading ‘The Heartbeat Hypothesis’ is like hearing a new voice that speaks out for teenage angst that’s fully captured in its powerful, moody glory. But the subjects that Lindsey Frydman deals with here are difficult, heavy and weighed down with the solemnity of death, life and deception.

Here, high school melodrama is eschewed in favour of melancholic episodes, wistful photographing of lonely landscapes and soulful conversations as teenagers live through and attempt to define how cosmic justice (if I could ever find a better term) has played a role in their lives. It’s more than a search for identity now; their questions turn into a search for the reasons for living (deep, angsty stuff) as the beginning chapters made me hold my breath in anticipation of how things would develop between a girl who has been given a new lease of life with the heart of a dead girl and her brother who clearly hadn’t yet sorted out his grief.

Both Jake and Audra are damaged in their own ways and while I liked them to begin with, I think I couldn’t understand the tangent the story took towards the end. I couldn’t understand, least of all, why Audra suddenly poked her nose into Jake’s business when she had no right to, leaving us with a so-called mystery that would never be solved. In fact, by the time I was through the last quarter, nothing seemed to fall into place except that after a string of tragedies, Jake and Audra kind of thought they could still belong to each other. Frydman’s nuanced writing draws out Audra’s emotions perfectly, yet only her motivations and sense of purpose are made clear. On the other hand, Jake himself and his family remained as frustratingly obscure as ever, without any light shed on the events a few years earlier that I’d frankly expected.

Consequently, if I was overwhelmed in the beginning, I finished the story more bewildered than satisfied, wondering if there was some chunk of the book that I’d actually missed.

two-stars

Operation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Young Adult 25th January 2017
Operation Prom Date by Cindi MadsenOperation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen
Series: Tactics in Dating #1
Published by Entangled: Crush on March 13th 2017
Pages: 190
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four-stars

Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.

Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.

The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?

If you ever need a good ol’ teenage movie with that particular kind of drama and a particular kind of angst that assail teens finding their footing in college and adulthood, I’d say ‘Operation Prom Date’ is the best fix for it.

There’s nothing unpredictable about the story but there are also no surprises that threw me off and left me clinging on a cliff’s edge. The friends-to-more trope is tackled here and there really isn’t a waiting time where one party is suddenly hit in the head about how attractive the other person is. Instead, I was struck by how natural Cooper and Kate were as they went from barely knowing each other to liking each other…and how attraction simply came because they talked and did things together, which is more than what I can even say for some of the more ‘adult’ books I’ve read where mature characters regressed in age.

The honest truth is, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. With characters that behaved their age and some storm-in-a-teacup moments, stories like these have that propensity to make me look back with those rose-tinted glasses I thought I’d misplaced long ago.

four-stars
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