Book Review: Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

32470593Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally is a contemporary YA romance about a girl, Maggie, who has been so incredibly focused on becoming an Olympian, that she realizes that she is about to graduate high school and hasn’t even had a boyfriend. She feels self doubt over her looks and the idea of being inexperienced as a negative force in her life, so she decides to change it. After a failed attempt (or, rather, an escaped attempt) at hooking up on a college visit, she propositions her best friend Levi to teach her the ropes of the physical nature of dating. But without the dating. No strings. As they are both focused on swimming, school, and more swimming, they have no room for what they think of as a real relationship. So at first, though Levi needs to think about it, it seems idyllic that they have a built-in strong friendship and could more or less be affectionate with one another without any hurt feelings.

Ultimately what comes of it is fun flirtations, some ground rules, heavy touching, followed by a rush of emotions, heart ache, and a chance at that elusive “real” relationship if they can get their act together. This book is a little steamy in the tension between Maggie and Levi as they progress from kissing to… more than kissing, and then more and more. Emotional tension is strong as well, so bear in mind, they are getting in deeper than just physical attraction. What I found interesting about this book is all of the times that they practice proper consent, which is not often the case in romance fiction. Levi even goes as far to tell Maggie something to the effect of… if you aren’t comfortable telling someone what you want in bed, you shouldn’t be in bed with them. Which is utterly true. So bravo for some well informed consent choices in this book. Hopefully it remained true throughout, but from my recollection, it was on point. (If there were slip ups, it didn’t feel like it was in an unnatural way.)

Another thing people (parents) could be concerned about in this book is that it seems like everyone is having sex. And using it in ways that are not romantic. Like to relieve stress from sports. But those are usually examples, in the book, of relationships that aren’t necessarily healthy. And they know it.

Another concern that I thought may come up, but didn’t, was the issue of single sport athletes, and the proven issues with specializing in a single sport during high school or younger… combine that with parents that are not happy enough with their child’s performance at said sport, and all the contemporary psychological issues that… ya… so that’s not all in the book, that’s just what ran through my mind a few times while reading it. (I read too much non-fiction as well!) But the parent thing, the one where the parent isn’t satisfied with their child’s performance… that definitely IS in the book. Not for the main characters, Maggie and Levi, but it is there. And it is worth having there to show the differences between parental relationships.

Okay, so this has gotten off course a little. Overall, it was a really enjoyable read. There are some good examples of healthy relationships, and not so healthy relationships, and it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. There are also good and bad examples of sportsmanship, and again, it is easy to tell the difference between the two. The bad examples are not glorified.

The main characters are likable, and trust me, reading about swim team made me wonder why I stuck with the ski team for so long. These kids seem to have way more fun. I also liked Maggie’s failed hookup because it showed a poor decision… that happened to turn out okay. It could have gone really wrong. But more often than not, I do hear more bad stories like hers than the BAD date stories with not-so-happy endings. It was nice to avoid that heavier darkness of dating.

So if you are looking for a light romance, and do not mind some steamier (but not super graphic) moments, this book could be for you. This was the first read of Miranda Kenneally’s that I’ve done, and I look forward to checking out some of her other books! Coming Up for Air is scheduled for release on July 1, 2017… just in time to make it a perfect beach read. I’d recommend it for mature teens and up.

Note: Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

30763950A Million Junes has a million heartbeats. Both eerie and beautiful, I love the way that Emily Henry mixes contemporary with magical realism and a bit of paranormal. This book was so… so… everything. While it is inspired by Romeo & Juliet, as well as One Hundred Years of Solitude, I feel it stands well on it’s own without having to read the inspiration materials (though, understandably, it is enhanced by knowing them!) It is not a full re-telling of either, so use the endorsement of those texts lightly.

Blood feuding families, Michigan, and mythology all come together to craft the story of June and Saul. June and Saul–who were born to hate each other. A thing I loved a lot about their relationship is that it is slow moving, building and building until it can be something real and romantic. And at the same time, the likability of relationships like June and her best friend Hannah are so important as well. They are achingly realistic, in a way that teens should be in lit.

I think what really draws the whole story together, however, isn’t even the relationships of the present characters… but the mystery of the origins of the feud. Henry’s writing is like watching someone weave together pieces of a tapestry, the full picture isn’t clear until the last threads are placed. It is especially true here where we do not even know the source of the deep burning hatred of these families at first, and why it is such an incredible risk for June and Saul to even try to know each other.

If you enjoyed The Love that Split the World, you will no doubt be enthralled by A Million Junes. Henry’s tone and storybuilding is a joy to read. Highly recommended for fans of contemporary / magical realism.

Thank you to Penguin’s First to Read for a copy of this galley!

Book Review: The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

31145157.jpgThe Truth About Happily Ever After is a sweet tale about a girl named Alyssa who works as a character cast member at a theme park. But not just any character: Cinderella. And she loves filling the role of Cinderella, hanging out with her fellow park workers, studying fashion merchandising, her sorority, and especially her boyfriend, Jack. We notice almost immediately that things are not going well for her and Jack. They had one special summer together, followed by a school year almost entirely apart, and now that summer is here again, Lysa is hoping for a perfect summer again before they go back to school. They have both changed though, and Lysa and Jack need to figure out what they really mean to each other. And as a bonus, Alyssa also has to figure out if she is imagining a relationship between Harper, a new princess at the park, and Jack.

Alyssa is a very sweet girl, easy to like, if not a bit stereotypical at first. She has a lot of fears to overcome. She is nearly OCD about her calorie intake, calculating how much she can eat or drink and what anything would take to work back off at the gym. This is a touchy subject to me, though I imagine it is more common than one might think with all of the apps available. I think it could be triggering for some teens, but its also possible that they are used to it… it’s not something I see often in books, and it didn’t seem like a super healthy relationship with food and maintaining her princess-like figure. But perhaps this was also reflective of what she was trying to do to keep her relationship together too… overcalculating to the point of being unhealthy.

Her relationships to her sorority sisters also highlighted the distance she felt between them fiscally speaking, which was another concern for me, but something that she was working on in a more healthy manner by making sure she balanced her work and personal and school life, making smart choices with her funds… even if she was perhaps still engaging in an unhealthy relationship with them by not sharing the truth. But mostly, they took over the stereotypical sorority girl once introduced, which allowed Alyssa to have a little more depth.

Though the story was predictable, and Jack was less than desirably written in comparison to love interest #2, Miller, overall I did like the story. Having had friends who have also worked as cast characters, I could see a lot of what they said in their stories reflected in these pages, which perhaps propelled me forward at a quicker pace than I expected. An interesting tale for a one-night sitting. 2.5-3/5 stars.

Note: Thank you to NetGalley and Swoon Reads for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

#MaasMondays: Week 9 – A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

I just finished A Court of Wings & Ruin. I admit it took some time to get through, mostly because of work and life, but I enjoyed every minute of it. As I’m starting to write this post, I don’t know that I have it in me to go through every moment. This took all of the internal, emotional rollercoaster of the last novel and made it an external, unrelenting fight for everyone involved in this ending to the trilogy. I’ll be very interested to see what the second trilogy focuses on now that Feyre and Rhys’s story is complete (according to SJM).

Heading in to the quickish summary, I know I’m going to miss a lot, so I apologize in advance. There was SOOOO much that happened, and the threads of it all are a mess in my head after the last few chapters.

As always, look away, spoilers ahead.

acowar_usQuickish Summary:

Feyre spends six or so weeks at the Spring Court, working with all of her sneakiness to deceive Tamlin, Ianthe and the visitors from Hybern. She basically sets off a series of events that makes Tamlin’s court crumble, plus she kills a couple of Hybern royalty, makes Ianthe smash her own hand to oblivion, and barely escapes north–with Lucien. Jurian, who was also in the Spring Court, disappears. Meanwhile, Feyre and Lucien have lost all magic due to being poisoned with faebane, so Feyre cannot contact Rhysand through the bond… leaving them utterly exposed and vulnerable.

They travel through the Autumn Court, escape from his brothers, travel through the Winter Court… and while on the ice, they are nearly captured by Lucien’s brothers again, but thankfully a flicker of power returns, Rhys relays their location to Az and Cassian, and the Illyrians save the day. Everyone returns to the Night Court, and Rhys is there in a heartbeat to welcome back his mate. And there is much rejoicing.

Meanwhile, Elain is thin and frail and heart broken. Nesta is strong-willed and testy. Cassian is fully healed, including his wings, and Amren is as snippy as usual. Plotting begins, training begins, and also surprise attacks from Hybern including an attempted kidnapping of Nesta (and incidentally, Feyre) in the library in Velaris. Turns out the King of Hybern wants Nesta back for what she took from the Cauldron.

There is an attack on the Summer Court (which is likely my favorite of the battle scenes), and even though Rhys, Feyre and Amren all have the whole blood ruby thing to worry about with bounties on their head, they all travel to Adriata to aid the soldiers and save the day. I think at this point Lucien is off on the continent looking for the sixth mortal queen, Vassa, to seek her aid. After Adriata, Rhys moves up the meeting of the High Lords, and though they are unsure if they will all come, ultimately they all do show up. Including Tamlin, whom they believe is working for Hybern, so no one wants to talk plans around him. Plus he’s being rather rude and snarly.  But he says he is on their side, and shares all the intel he has in offering. It’s a pretty tense affair. And we find out that Nesta can sense the Cauldron as she begins to feel something is wrong…

The wall is shattered. There’s another attack on Adriata in the Summer Court, leading to another grand battle. Followed by an attack around the border of the Autumn/Winter Courts (if I’m remembering that correctly), which has far greater casualties, including a nearly fatal injury to Cassian. Feyre visits the Suriel in the Middle to get some answers, and ends up nearly caught by Ianthe and Hybern soldiers (who kill the Suriel), but she leads them to the Weaver, and hears their screams as she makes her way back to the dying Suriel. She’s unable to save it, and Helion, the High Lord of the Day Court, catches up to Feyre and they go back to the war camp. Based on the Suriel’s information, they summon Amren away from Velaris with the Book and scrying tools for Nesta. Nesta uses the tools and her connection to the Cauldron to find the real Hybern army’s camp, but it goes a little bit wrong when the Cauldron can feel her presence, and Feyre has to enter Nesta’s mind to pull her back.

Everything seems okay aside from the fact that the army is massive, but now they know where it is and can make a plan. Until the Cauldron steals away Elain, calling her to it in the middle of the night, and bringing her back to the Hybern army. Feyre and Azriel go to get Elain back with Feyre disguised as Ianthe, and Az disguised as a shadow (because that’s what he does best.) Jurian makes another appearance, helping to smooth over the appearance of Ianthe/Feyre, and also helps her save a girl that was being tortured in the camp. They are nearly caught in their escape, as Az now has Elain and a random tortured girl to carry, plus Feyre isn’t so great with her wings… Tamlin appears with a mighty roar and starts to fight their pursuers to give them time to escape. They do escape, and so does Tamlin, though we don’t know where he went exactly. He just winnows away once they are outside of the wards of the camp. Az is heavily injured in his wings.

It is utterly exhausting to think about the rest of the book, so suffice it to say, there is a huge HUGE battle where many people die, especially with the Bone Carver, the Weaver and Bryaxis on the playing field, plus Vassa turns up as a firebird with her army, and Drakon and Miryam show up with their army and the Seraphim, but even still Hybern is incredibly strong. They nearly get wiped out by the Cauldron, then by the King and the Cauldron again, the Bone Carver dies, their father reappears with the soldiers (and Vassa) but is killed by the King, Elain stabs the King from behind with Truth-Teller, and Nesta finishes the job by beheading him while Cassian is basically bleeding out on the ground with broken wings.

Amren betrays Feyre, but then doesn’t really betray Feyre, and asks her to release her. Which happens, and Amren is unleashed upon the battlefield, assuring a quick victory. Then the cauldron is split in three, and starts to leak out a void of contents, and so they realize they must remake the Cauldron because it is tied to the existence of the world. So Feyre, who is Made, uses her power and Rhysand’s power to remake the Cauldron. Only, she uses ALL of their power, which kills Rhysand.

She begs the high lords to help, to do what they did for her. It takes some convincing, but all of them step forward, save one at first… Tamlin. She begs Tamlin, offers to give him anything in her desperation. But he says something like “Be happy, Feyre.” as he gives a kernel of his power to Rhysand. Which, I’m sorry Tamlin haters, fully redeems him. Rhysand is restored, having held onto the mating bond tether, even in his brief moments of death, just as Feyre had when she was slain by Amarantha.

And the rest is all tidying up the loose ends, celebration, and love.

From a 700 page book to a few paragraphs, yes, there is a LOT missing, but I think I have the major plot points in place. This is going to be one that I need a re-read on. I remember being mad at Amren’s attitude repeatedly, and then the betrayal came and I wanted to throttle her… but then that turned out to be okay. The Tamlin moments were bittersweet, especially at the meeting of the High Lords, then when he fought to protect her again in the Hybern camp, and his final wishes for her. To just be happy with her mate. This book was just full of pain and anguish and tension. Thankfully there were moments of humor and love where they were needed most. And thankfully Feyre was a strong, if not still a bit naive, High Lady that made as many sacrifices as she could to ensure victory. Whew. Honestly, I was crying at the end in relief.

The couple of this book?

All of them. Well mostly. This book had a lot of ships. Feyre and Rhysand, who are even more in love now, if that is possible. Cassian and Nesta, who have an ongoing tension and building reveal as Nesta makes her feelings rather subtley known, followed by a moment on the battlefield that was absolutely beautiful. Lucien and Elain, who are technically mates, but Elain is having a really hard time… in the end, I think they MIGHT decide to get to know each other. Azriel and Morrigan – well, we learn a lot about them finally, and sorry to all the ship fans here, but it’s not going to happen. I know, it made me sad too, but also happy with the explanation. Amren and Varian – who knew that they had it in them? We also got to meet Kallias (HL of the Winter Court) and his mate Viviane, Drakon and Miryam, and many others.

Aside from Feyre and Rhysand, I would say my favorite pair was definitely Nesta and Cassian. It was the one that I thought was most likely to NOT happen, but as things clicked more and more into place, I was utterly satisfied with their special moments. And Mor– oh Mor. I loved her deepening friendship with Feyre, and her truth. I hope she gets a happy ending in one of the books or novellas to come.

My two current favorite moments:

1 – When Rhys gave his speech to his Inner Circle:

I believe everything happens for a reason. Whether it is decided by the Mother, or the Cauldron, or some sort of tapestry of Fate, I don’t know. I don’t really care. But I am grateful for it, whatever it is. Grateful that it brought you all into my life. If it hadn’t . . . I might have become as awful as that prick we’re going to face today. If I had not met an Illyrian warrior-in-training,” he said to Cassian, “I would not have known the true depths of strength, of resilience, of honor and loyalty.” Cassian’s eyes gleamed bright. Rhys said to Azriel, “If I had not met a shadowsinger, I would not have known that it is the family you make, not the one you are born into, that matters. I would not have known what it is to truly hope, even when the world tells you to despair.” Azriel bowed his head in thanks.

Mor was already crying when Rhys spoke to her. “If I had not met my cousin, I would neer have learned that light can be found in even the darkest of hells. That kindness can thrive even amongst cruelty.” She wiped away her teas as she nodded.

I waited for Amren to offer a retort. But she was only waiting.

Rhys bowed his head to her. “If I had not met a tiny monster who hoards jewels more fiercely than a firedrake . . .” A quite laugh from all of us at that. Rhys smiled softly. “My own power would have consumed me long ago.”

Rhys squeezed my hand as he looked to me at last. “And if I had not met m mate . . .” His words failed him as silver lined his eyes.

He said down the bond, I would have waited five hundred more years for you. A thousand years. And if this was all the time we were allowed to have . . . The wait was worth it.

He wiped away the tears sliding down my face. “I believe that everything happened, exactly the way it had to . . . so I could find you.” He kissed another tear away.

2. Cassian speaking to Nesta, broken and bloodied, and all that followed.

“I have no regrets in my life, but this. That we did not have time. That I did not have time with you, Nesta. I will find you in the next world – the next life. And we will have that time. I promise.”

 

Overall, I thought this book was stunning. It was such a labor of love to read at times as it’s brutality and plotting certainly slowed the pace at times, plus there were so many characters and so many possibilities for failure every step of the way. But it was everything I hoped for, with few exceptions. I likely need to do a full re-read to see what signs there were that were already apparent in the first two books, but it was a satisfying end to the trilogy. Unfortunately I didn’t care that much when the father died, as he was such a minor character, and I felt like he was brought in at a time when it made sense but in a cheap way. And because we didn’t ever really care about him, it was kinda ‘eh’. That still doesn’t keep me from giving it 5 stars though. Loved this book. So much.

 

I think this is our first complete series by SJM, as the next ACOTAR isn’t focused on Rhys and Feyre, so I think this gave me hope that ToG will have a happy ending as well next spring.

I do feel a book hangover swirling around the back of my mind… it’s going to be hard to choose the next book.

Have you finished ACOWAR yet? Did you love it, or did you have something let you down?

Book Review: A Winter’s Love by Madeleine L’Engle

34380824.jpgA Winter’s Love, though previously published, was not a book of Madeleine L’Engle’s that I had heard of before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A Wrinkle in Time has been a classic that I have enjoyed over the years, so I was eager to get started in reading this early work.

The book itself is well written, L’Engle is still young in her style so it has a notably different feel than other works that I have read. The subject matter, however, was incredibly mature and at times difficult as my attention wanted to wander elsewhere, searching for something lighter and reflective. To dismiss it as a mid-life crisis style book, or a marriage-on-the-rocks book, is not well enough for what her writing deserves–yet at the same time, that’s what it felt like to me in this first read. It is a bit haunting, and I will no doubt return to it. Later in life. When it is more likely to resonate.

Overall it was an interesting read, though far from the scope and (young adult) genre of what I was expecting, and I am glad to see that it has been re-released after being out of print for many years. If you enjoy general adult fiction and reading about the struggles of some marriages, this may be the right book for you.

Note:

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:

A lonely woman is torn between the bonds of family and the potential of new love in this moving novel from the author of A Wrinkle in Time.

Caught somewhere between love, hate, and indifference, Emily Bowen’s marriage is hanging on by a thread. After being let go from his job, her husband pulled away from her, and the distance continues to grow during their family’s sabbatical in Switzerland.
 
With their relationship as cold as the wind baying outside, Emily finds unexpected warmth in a man from her past. As she contemplates seizing the connection she’s been craving, Emily must decide if she’s willing to sacrifice the life she’s built for an unseen future.