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A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand

Laura Florand is one of my favorite romance authors and I’ve been a fan of her books ever since I discovered them in 2013. Her La vie en Roses series features the fictional Rosiers, one of the most prominent families in the perfume industry. I was charmed by the Christmas novella A Rose in Winter and was delighted by the first full-length novel, Once Upon a Rose. I was thrilled when I found out that the second book, A Wish Upon Jasmine, will also be released this year! I’m seriously amazed at how prolific a writer Laura Florand is. I didn’t think we’d get another book in the series until next year, and I thought it would be about Tristan. Looks like Damien shouldered his way in and stole the limelight.

Here’s the book summary:
A Wish Upon JasmineRuthless.
That was what they said about Damien Rosier. Handsome. Wealthy. Powerful. Merciless. No one messed with his family, because to do so they would have to get through him. No one thought he had a heart. Not even the woman he gave his to.

Cynical.
That was what they said about Jasmin Bianchi. A top perfumer of her generation, Jess had achieved commercial success by growing a protective shell over a tender heart. The one time she cracked it open to let Damien in, he crushed it—after a night of unbelievable passion.

Lovers.
That one magical night couldn’t survive the harsh light of dawn. When Jess woke up to discover the man in bed beside her had stolen her company, she fled.

Enemies.
Now she’s come to the south of France with a threat to his family heritage. If he wants to reclaim both it and the woman who walked away from him, he’s going to have to fight as dirty as only Damien can.

But Jess knows how to fight dirty, too. And these days, she has nothing left to lose.

Certainly not her heart.

As much as I loved Laura Florand’s Amour et Florand series, I think I’m starting to love her Provence series just a little bit more. The South of France setting is such a delight to read. I also love the dynamics of the Rosier family, and how difficult it is to grow up with highly competitive and assertive cousins. I think the Rosier men coped by finding a role for themselves within the family structure, and then deciding to stick with those roles. They do their damnedest to live up to what they believe is expected of them. It’s not that they don’t love the roles that they play, it’s just that each role comes with its own set of problems. In Damien’s case, he’s the one who grants people’s wishes. He’s the business guy, in charge of making money for the company so the rest of the family can pursue their dreams. So his cousin Matt can run the Rosier valley, so Tristan can make perfumes, and Raoul and Lucien can travel the world. In order to work in the business world, Damien had to toughen up and be ruthless. But anyone who has such deep roots and family values can never be truly heartless. No one outside his family really sees his vulnerable side, but he lets his guard down the night he and Jess meet.

Jess is a top perfumer known for her commercially successful Spoiled Brat creation. Which is funny because she made that popular perfume as a joke, she never expected it to rise to fame. And now she couldn’t shake the image that she has in the perfume world and everyone expects her to make perfumes that go against what she wants to do. Damien and Jess didn’t even know each other’s last names when they meet so they also had no inkling of the other person’s reputation. That allowed them to be a truer version of themselves than what the rest of the world usually sees. Things go downhill once Jess realizes who Damien really is, and that he’s acquired the fledgling artisan perfume company that she wanted to pour her heart into. Add to that the terrible fact that her father is seriously ill and is about to pass away. It’s understandable that she wasn’t willing to listen to reason when Damien wanted to give an explanation. A passage that resonated with me:

“It would have been like believing in magic, to believe in you,” she said suddenly.

“Yes.” His breath released roughly. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“In the morning. At night, it’s easier to believe in dreams.”

Six months after Damien and Jess spend the night together, they find themselves in Grasse, in a historical perfume shop that has been in Damien’s family for generations and was, surprisingly, inherited by Jess. Can I just say that I love how the Rosier boys’ great aunt Colette meddles in their affairs? I really think she’s pretending to have a less than friendly relationship with the Rosier patriarch but they’re secretly working together to get the guys to settle down. Matchmaking grandparents! Damien is supposed to get the perfume shop back for the family and he also aims to work things out with Jess. As expected, there’s a lot of tension between these two especially since their attraction for each other has been well-established by their one night together. Both of them are flawed characters and it takes a while for them to truly understand the other person but I think it was a beautiful journey. They kept butting heads but I wasn’t worried because I knew they never really mean to hurt the other person.

I loved Damien’s character, how he layers a protective shell over his vulnerability in order to accomplish the things that he has to do for the family. I really liked that Jess is a perfumer because this series is about the perfume industry. I’m glad that we got to see her point of view, ahead of what Tristan’s will be. I could also relate to Jess and her insecurities and doubts, how it’s so difficult for her to accept the possibility of a relationship with Damien because she thinks he’s way out of her league. It highlights how loving and believing in someone takes an enormous leap of faith and a whole lot of trust. Not just that, but also that she had to believe in herself first before she can even be ready to believe in someone else. Jess was the kind of character I wanted to hug and say, “everything will be all right.” So it’s really a good thing that Damien is more than willing to do that, and that he’s backed by a chaotic and wonderful family. I’ve noticed that these Rosier men tend to find women who don’t have big and supportive families like they do, and it’s just lovely to see how they react to being welcomed into the fold.

I was also tickled by the fairy tale theme than ran throughout the story, it was so much fun to pick up the references that peppered the story. A Wish Upon Jasmine is a beautiful read that stayed with me days, even weeks, after I finished reading it. It has a more bittersweet feel to it compared to Once Upon a Rose, which was kind of cute and cuddly, but I enjoyed it just as much. I’m itching to reread Matt and Raoul’s stories now. As always, I can’t wait for the next book.

____________________________________________________

Other reviews:
Girl Meets Books
Ivy Book Bindings

Instagram shot of my copies: Once Upon a Rose and A Wish Upon Jasmine.

Other books in the La vie en Roses series (click on the thumbnails for my reviews):
The Chocolate Rose - new cover No Place Like Home Once Upon a Rose

Books in the Amour et Chocolat series (click on the thumbnails for my reviews):
Kiss the Bride The Chocolate Thief The Chocolate Kiss The Chocolate Touch The Chocolate Heart The Chocolate Temptation


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Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

In my cover reveal post for Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, I quoted a Twitter conversation where I mentioned that I would be thrilled if these two hockey romance authors worked on a collab title. Given how much I enjoyed both the Ivy Years and the Off-Campus series by these authors, I was pretty sure that I’d enjoy Him. I was lucky enough to receive an early review copy of this title and I was so glad it was sent out just as the weekend started. That gave me enough time to read it without worrying about real life getting in the way. As is the usual case lately, it took me a while to write a review so Him has been released since then so feel free to grab a copy of it!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

HimThey don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions — can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend… and a big one to learn about himself.

Warning: contains sexual situations, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition.

I had so much fun reading Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s Him. So much so that the next day, my flatmate asked me what I was reading in the middle of the night because she said she could hear laughter from my room. Yep, some of the scenes in this book really made me laugh and smile along with the characters. It’s hard not to when Wes and Jamie tease the hell out of each other. I really liked that they have a solid friendship that was formed through years of spending summers together in hockey camp. They come from different family backgrounds but they’ve always had hockey to bond over. That friendship get a break after Wes walks away because he mistakenly thinks that he ruined what they had with a careless bet. On the other hand, Jamie didn’t think that incident was a big deal and was more hurt by the silence from Wes more than anything else. After reconnecting at a championship game, Wes decides to join Jamie as a coach in their old hockey camp. Surprisingly, there wasn’t that much angst in their story as these two guys change the status of their relationship from friends into something more. It felt like a natural and realistic transition of friends to lovers, with a nice summery vibe while they’re both having fun coaching a sport they’re both passionate about.

I thought it was nice that Jamie and Wes had such distinct personalities, that were contrasting to a certain extent. Jamie is an easygoing, California surfer type of guy while Wes is more serious and prickly. I think their personalities are reflective of their upbringing. Jamie comes from a big family who supports him in basically everything, which is saying something considering how he makes some pretty big decisions during the duration of this book. Wes comes from a wealthy but cold and uptight family. He makes a point of keeping people at a distance because of this. I felt so bad that Wes doesn’t have a warm and welcoming family but at least he has Jamie in his life. I wish there were more scenes that had Wes interacting with Jamie’s family because they’re awesome. I also really liked Jamie’s friendship with Holly and how understanding she is of his predicament. Even with their career decisions, these two guys were in different places. Wes was totally committed to being the best professional hockey player that he can be, while Jamie was indecisive about playing pro. I really don’t know much about hockey but I liked that these aspects of their stories were fleshed out because it’s something that guys their age think about. Also, these career decisions affected their relationship as well.

Him was an engaging read that had me rooting for Wes and Jamie right from the start. Sexy, funny, sweet and swoon-worthy! To be perfectly honest, M/M sports romance wasn’t something that was at the top of my list of books to read. I tried it because Sarina Bowen wrote The Understatement of the Year in the middle of a series that had earlier M/F books. That was the first M/M book that I read and thus has a special place in my heart given how much I cared for the characters. So yay Sarina for that strategy! Him is only the second M/M romance that I’ve read and it solidified my resolve to read more books like it. If M/M isn’t really your thing, I still recommend giving Him a try. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Elle and Sarina will work on another collab title because I would love to read more from them!

Other reviews:
SmexyBooks
Me and My Books

Him2


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Off-Campus Series: The Deal and The Mistake by Elle Kennedy

I’ve read a few of Elle Kennedy’s super steamy romances before so I was really looking forward to her new adult series. One of my favorite discoveries last year was Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Years books, which had hockey players as MCs and an Ivy League college setting. I was hoping that the Off-Campus series would be just as good as that. And it was! Both The Deal and The Mistake were so much fun to read. Elle Kennedy writes so fast (or I’m just really behind on reviews) because the sequel has been out for a while now and it’s taken me this long to write a review for The Deal. I have been recommending these books to friends both online and in real life though. Several of them have gotten back to me to say that they thoroughly enjoyed these books.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The DealShe’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy…

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice… even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.

…and it’s going to be oh so good.

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.

The Deal is a lighthearted and fun novel to read which also manages to tackle a number of serious issues for the characters. Even though they’re young, both Hannah and Garrett have gone through horrible experiences but what I liked about them was they didn’t let those experiences define them. I liked how thoughtful Elle Kennedy was in handling the traumatic experiences of her characters, balancing all of those with humor. The book was funny because of the banter between the characters, not just the romantic development between the hero and heroine but also how they interacted with their friends. With how different their college interests are, Hannah and Garrett don’t even make sense as friends, let alone a couple, but the process of their getting to know each other felt very natural. Hannah wouldn’t have attended hockey games if she didn’t know Garrett, in the same way that Garrett wouldn’t have been interested in his school’s musical production if Hannah wasn’t involved in it. Hannah didn’t even want anything to do with Garrett, at the start of the book. It was hilarious how he tried to convince her to help him out. He was cocky and arrogant but not in an annoying way. As they spend more time together, they realize that there’s more to the other person than the usual stereotypes. Their transition from (reluctant) tutor and tutee to friends to more than friends felt realistic. And I thought it was nice how their circles of friends also started overlapping because of them. The Deal is really my kind of new adult romance. I wanted to read the sequel as soon as I finished it and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait too long for it to be released.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
The Mistake by Elle KennedyHe’s a player in more ways than one…

College junior John Logan can get any girl he wants. For this hockey star, life is a parade of parties and hook-ups, but behind his killer grins and easygoing charm, he hides growing despair about the dead-end road he’ll be forced to walk after graduation. A sexy encounter with freshman Grace Ivers is just the distraction he needs, but when a thoughtless mistake pushes her away, Logan plans to spend his final year proving to her that he’s worth a second chance.

Now he’s going to need to up his game…

After a less than stellar freshman year, Grace is back at Briar University, older, wiser, and so over the arrogant hockey player she nearly handed her V-card to. She’s not a charity case, and she’s not the quiet butterfly she was when they first hooked up. If Logan expects her to roll over and beg like all his other puck bunnies, he can think again. He wants her back? He’ll have to work for it. This time around, she’ll be the one in the driver’s seat…and she plans on driving him wild.

I read The Mistake as soon as I got my grubby hands on it, meaning when I was very generously given a review copy. I feel like I need to apologize that it took me so long to review this title but most of the time, real life gets in the way of reading and blogging. In The Deal, Logan seemed like a typical playboy jock. But he has his own reasons for enjoying his college years as much as he can. He has a lot to deal with because of his family. I liked how intensely loyal Logan is to those he loves but it was also frustrating how that got in the way of pursuing his dreams. He has never been in a serious relationship, nor has he wanted one, until he sees how things are between Hannah with Garrett. I was wondering why he was acting so weird in the first book and his situation becomes much clearer in this sequel. I really liked Logan as a character and I think he’s a great guy. However, I didn’t like Grace as much. I don’t know why but I just got the feeling that she didn’t have that much personality. In spite of not liking Grace as much as I wanted, I still enjoyed reading The Mistake as a whole because Elle Kennedy writes great romance. I liked how the relationship developed in this one and that there wasn’t any unnecessary drama. Some new adult titles lay the drama on thick but that wasn’t the case in this one. The Mistake was an enjoyable read but I think The Deal is a stronger installment in the series. One thing that The Mistake had which The Deal didn’t was more explanations regarding drafts for pro hockey players. For someone like me who knows next to nothing about hockey, it was interesting to read more about the process.

Looking forward to the next book in this series! I’ve seen Elle Kennedy mention that it will be about Dean.


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Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

I think if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Laura Florand’s writing. I discovered the first two books in her Amour et Chocolat series in March 2013 and I’ve been devouring her books since then. Last year, I even organized a blog event called Amour et Florand to celebrate her books. Once Upon a Rose is one of my highly anticipated releases for 2015 especially since I loved A Rose in Winter, a novella that introduced me to the Rosier family. I loved reading about the Rosiers and their home in Grasse so when Laura offered a review copy of Once Upon a Rose, I jumped at the chance to read it as soon as I can. This happened a few months ago and I just haven’t been able to work on a review for it until now. I’m so behind on reviews!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Once Upon a RoseShe stole his roses.

Fleeing the spotlight, burnt out rock star Layla—“Belle”—Dubois seeks refuge in the south of France. That old, half-forgotten heritage in a valley of roses seems like a good place to soothe a wounded heart. She certainly doesn’t expect the most dangerous threat to her heart to pounce on her as soon as she sets foot on the land.

He wants them back.

Matt didn’t mean to growl at her quite that loudly. But—his roses! She can’t have his roses. Even if she does have all those curls and green eyes and, and, and…what was he growling about again?

Or maybe he just wants her.

When an enemy invades his valley and threatens his home, heart, and livelihood, Matthieu Rosier really knows only one way to defend himself.

It might involve kissing.

While I was in the middle of Once Upon a Rose, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to read it slowly so I can savor the words or to gulp it all down in one go because it was just so good. Laura Florand is amazing at making the scenes leapt out of the page. So much so that you feel like you’ve traveled to Paris or Grasse just by reading her books. I’m always delighted by books that have such a strong sense of place because they let me travel just by reading. I also love how she focuses on the senses – with tastes and textures in her Amour et Chocolat series, and with scents and sounds in Once Upon a Rose. With Matt as the heir apparent for the Rosier perfume business, he knows everything there is to know about the fragrance industry. Layla, a musician struggling with creative burnout, finds solace in the Rosier valley when she unexpectedly inherits a house there. I enjoyed reading about the sweet and tentative romance that blossomed between Matt and Layla, from their hilarious first meeting until the beautiful ending of the book. I loved how careful they are of each other, showing a wariness that developed from past romantic mistakes. Matt is a big marshmallow who tries to hide his soft side by being all growly and grumpy but Layla was able to see through him right away. A snippet that I loved:

“You always do that,” he murmured. “It’s as if you take everything I know, wrap it up in wonder, and hand it back to me like this bright, shiny new present. It’s like my whole life is Christmas when you’re looking at it.”

I loved how present Matt’s cousins are in this story. It’s so much fun to see them tease and annoy the hell out of each other but at the end of the day, they’re always there whenever one of them needs help. I also thought it was endearing how vulnerable Matt is when it comes to his family – how he tries to hide his weaknesses to let them see that he’s a strong leader. And yet his cousins are actually aware of what he’s really like. I just think it’s great that the Rosier guys were involved in Matt and Layla’s romance. While Layla’s family isn’t as big as Matt’s, she does have a strong connection with her mom. It’s always nice when the romance isn’t the sole focus of a book (even if it is a romance novel). It’s much more realistic to see the relationships that MCs have with their families or friends instead of having one person as their entire world. I also really liked the contrast between Matt’s rootedness in the valley vs. Layla’s life as a traveling musician. Matt knows that his rightful place is at the stronghold of their family’s business while Layla has never had a permanent home of her own. It was interesting to see how their different experiences shaped who they are now. Once Upon a Rose is a strong start to the La Vie en Roses series and I can’t wait to read the next book featuring a Rosier hero. It would be so much fun to dive back into this Provencal world filled with the sweet scent of roses. I know this wouldn’t come as a surprise but I’m happy to announce that Once Upon a Rose is now firmly placed in my best of 2015 shelf.

My Instagram shot of my copy: Once Upon a Rose

Other reviews:
By Singing Light
From Cover to Cover
Girl Meets Books
Smexy Books


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Dare Island Series by Virginia Kantra

Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series was one of my favorite discoveries last year. I got the recommendation for this series from one of my favorite contemporary romance authors: Laura Florand. I’ve also seen positive reviews about the Dare Island books from my friend Brandy and that has just made me more curious. I love romances that don’t just focus on the couple but also highlights the important people in their lives. The Fletcher family is a very close-knit family. Growing up as Marine brats, the Fletcher siblings knew they had to support each other – they even had a motto: “back to back to back”. I liked how the stories in the series are so different from each other because of the distinct personalities of the characters. I had a lot of fun reading about the Fletchers and the cozy island where they’ve made their home. I’ve never been to the Outer Banks of North Carolina but it seems like a lovely place based on the descriptions in the books. I like the small town vibe of the island, with everyone sticking their noses into everyone else’s business but people are also willing to help out when the need arises.

Carolina HomeCarolina Home
I grabbed a copy of Carolina Home back when it was a Kindle deal. I was just waiting for the right mood to strike before I dived into it. I was in a contemporary romance kind of mood one night last December so I decided to start reading Carolina Home over dinner. It was very easy to get into and I was immediately absorbed. I read it on my commute back to the flat and stayed up late to finish reading the whole thing. I basically gave up sleep and read the book in one sitting because it’s such an enjoyable read. Matt is firmly settled in Dare Island, taking care of his teenage son and helping out his aging parents. Allison has never really put down roots but she fell in love with the island and wants to see if there’s a chance for her to become a part of this place. Aside from that, Matt grew up in a very supportive, close-knit family while Allison feels the need to keep a distance from her controlling parents. I like the contrast between Matt and Allison and how well they fit together in spite of their differences.

Carolina GirlCarolina Girl
Another great romance set in Dare Island! I loved seeing more of the Fletcher family in this one. I was a bit frustrated with Meg for being so blind about her boyfriend Derek’s faults, how she made up excuses about him and how she kept insisting that they have a good relationship. But overall, that’s just a minor quibble. I liked how driven Meg is, from getting an undergrad degree in Harvard to an MBA in Columbia to climbing up the ranks in the corporate ladder. Meg and Sam have so much history between them even if they haven’t seen each other in years. I really enjoyed seeing them reconnect with each other and also with the island community after being away for so long. It was interesting to read about how they’re both trying to figure out what they should be doing with their lives, career wise. I found their romance sweet and satisfying. By this point, the Dare Island series has hooked me and I happily succumbed to hours of pleasurable reading.

Carolina ManCarolina Man
I have liked the brief glimpses that I’ve seen of both Luke and Kate in the earlier books and I was more than happy to find out how their romance unfolds. Luke’s life suddenly changes when he gains custody of ten-year-old Taylor, a daughter he had no idea about until his high school girlfriend passes away. With family being a strong theme in the Dare Island series, it was no surprise that Luke and Kate’s story is intertwined with Taylor’s. I love how Taylor instantly becomes Luke’s number one priority the moment he finds out about her. I also liked how Kate develops a relationship not just with Luke but also with Taylor. All three – Luke, Kate and Taylor – have been through difficult situations and I wanted things to work out for them. What I appreciated about this book was that even if the characters have carried heavy burdens, the story never gets too dark. There’s a nice balance of grief and sorrow vs. hope and happiness. I think that applies to the other books in the series too.

Carolina BluesCaroline Blues
Caroline Blues is the first book in the series where the main characters aren’t part of the Fletcher family. It’s still set in the same town and both Jack and Lauren know the family well so we still see a lot of them in this installment. Jack and Lauren are new to the island – with Jack just settling in as Chief of Police and Lauren taking a much-needed break to restart her writing. I liked seeing Dare Island from their points of view, which is different from how locals see it. Their romance is a bit tentative, with both of them trying to keep things casual at the start but eventually developing deeper feelings for each other. Similar to the earlier books in the series, Caroline Blues is a heartwarming romance about two flawed characters set in cozy Dare Island.

I gobbled up the whole series in one weekend, that’s how much I enjoyed reading Virginia Kantra’s writing. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Carolina Dreaming, which will be released sometime this year. Recommended for fans of contemporary romance set in small towns, similar to books by Liza Palmer (especially Nowhere But Home) and Sarah Addison Allen.


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Ivy League Series by Diana Peterfreund

Secret Society Girl and seal

Photo taken using Instagram.

I hereby confess, Diana Peterfreund’s Ivy League series is not for me. It pains me to make this confession since this is a new adult series that has been highly recommended by several friends. I wanted to love it as much as they seemed to, but unfortunately, I just couldn’t relate to all the secret society drama. I felt that all the Rose and Grave issues were petty and I wanted the characters to focus on more important things. As a result, I wasn’t invested in the characters as much as I would have liked. When I was reading the first book, I thought Amy’s voice was funny and I was also curious about her love interest but those weren’t enough to sustain my interest. I read the first three books in the series and skimmed the last one just to find out what happened in the end. Even though I didn’t fall in love with the series, I’m glad I finally gave it a try since I’ve been curious about it for a while now. We can’t all like the same books so I would still recommend this to fans of books with a college setting or readers who find secret societies intriguing. Personally, I enjoyed Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Series a lot more.

Reading order for the Ivy League series by Diana Peterfreund:
Secret Society Girl
Under the Rose
Rites of Spring Break
Tap and Gown


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The Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen

I was chatting with my good friend Angie about books recently and she mentioned that the Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen is pretty good. Here’s the tweet where she recommends them:

Since this series has Angie’s stamp of approval, further evidenced by her glowing review of The Year We Hid Away, I read the books as soon as I could.

recommended by Angie

An image created by fellow YAcker Laura

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried ice skating (obviously it’s not common in sunny Manila or Singapore) and what I know of hockey is basically what I’ve seen on the Mighty Ducks movies when I was young. But I think it’s a fun sport, even if I’m not familiar with it, so that’s one aspect of the series that I enjoyed reading about. Another thing that I really liked was the fictional Ivy League college setting of the book. I loved my college years and it makes me happy to read about characters who are at that stage in their lives. So far, the only books that have a college setting that have made a positive impact on me are Easy by Tamarra Webber and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Now I can add Sarina Bowen’s books to that (short) list.

The Year We Fell Down and tea

The Year We Fell Down and TWG’s Grand Wedding tea

The Year We Fell Down

I started The Year We Fell Down late one night and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get into the story. I stayed up late and was able to read a good chunk of it, but had to eventually go to bed and get some sleep because I had work the next day. For a novel that has a main character who was recently in an accident, The Year We Fell Down didn’t have as much angst as I was expecting. I really liked Corey and sympathized with the situation she found herself in – to suddenly have lost the function of her legs is brutal for someone who has always wanted a career in sports. I feel like she handles her issues well in spite of all the difficult adjustments that she has to make in her life. At first, she mostly interacts with her roommate Dana and their neighbor Hartley, but eventually she starts exploring her options and expanding her circle. I really enjoyed reading about how she takes charge of her life. I liked the slow burn romance between Corey and Hartley and how it started with the two of them hanging out as friends. Hartley is a great guy but he has his own problems to deal with and I felt that it took a while for him to work through them. He was being quite dense for a while there. I also felt like the build-up of their relationship was much better than the final few chapters of the book. It’s still an enjoyable read overall but I think the other books in the series are stronger than this installment.

The Year We Hid Away

The Year We Hid Away

Oh boy! Bridger and Scarlet sure have some pretty serious problems in their lives and none of it is their fault. Both are caught in difficult situations because of their parents. Bridger and Scarlet are just doing the best that they can and taking things one day at a time. Bridger doesn’t even have room in his life for a relationship and he doesn’t plan to get involved with Scarlet but they just click and become friends anyway. It’s a very realistic college development: how they hang out during lunch, walk to classes together and study together. It’s funny that these two are both hockey players but they don’t even bond over the game because they both have their reasons for not joining the varsity team this season. That’s one thing that I wish we got to see more of, it would have been nice if they got to spend some time together on the ice. I’m glad we got to see more of Bridger than how he was shown in the first book, basically a player who parties hard. There’s really so much more to him than that and it’s amazing how he copes with everything that’s going on with his life. I really liked Scarlet and could understand her need to move away from her parents and get a fresh start in college. Bridger and Scarlet are pretty similar in the sense that they felt like they had to deal with their problems on their own, so I liked seeing them rely on each other as their relationship developed. I was hoping to see more of Hartley and Corey in this installment but Bridger was actively distancing himself from his friends because he didn’t want to burden them with his problems. But that’s a minor issue that I had with the book and I was fully absorbed from start to finish. I was happy with how things worked out towards the end.

Blonde Date and granola

Blonde Date and breakfast (granola with almond milk)

Blonde Date

Blonde Date is different from the rest of the books in the series because it’s a novella that occurs in between books 2 and 3 and has nothing to do with hockey. If you read The Year We Hid Away, you already know how Blonde Date will end. I enjoyed this quick read because it features secondary characters from the second book. Andy was such a nice guy and was a huge help to Bridger so I liked seeing him in the limelight. He really deserved to get a date with a girl he’s been crushing on. It was also nice to see that there was Katie had more depth than was initially depicted in the earlier book. Short and sweet, Blonde Date was a fun read that had its funny moments (e.g. Andy’s internal monologue).

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year
Rikker and Graham! Oh my goodness, these two boys have such a bittersweet romance. So much history between the two of them. And then so much tension when they meet again a few years after they’ve parted ways. I wanted to hug these two and tell them that everything will be all right. I love that Sarina Bowen chose to do something different by bringing in an M/M romance in a series that has earlier M/F novels. I found it fascinating to read two different perspectives in this novel: Rikker who is openly gay vs. Graham who has hidden deep inside the closet. It’s funny that the situations they find themselves in are so different and yet they’re both so isolated and lonely. Rikker struggles with being accepted and recognized as a part of the hockey team and also has to deal with being a transfer student. Graham can’t even figure out whether he’s straight or gay and therefore, can’t really be true to himself, his friends or his family. He tries to numb himself with as much alcohol as he can take the moment Rikker enters the scene because he has no idea what to do. To be honest, there were moments when Graham was being frustratingly difficult but I forgive him because he has reasons for being like that and he really is sweet and loyal in his own way. I was a little nervous while reading their story because I really wanted things to work out for them. They’ve already had enough heartbreak in their lives and they deserve to have some happiness. I liked that the story didn’t just revolve around these two guys but also involved their teammates (Hartley was a steady presence in this one), their friends and their family. I loved Graham’s mom, Rikker’s grandma, their mutual friend Bella and even Rikker’s ex Skippy. It was a pleasure reading about Rikker and Graham and their story stayed with me days after I finished the book. A solid installment in a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

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These books are companion novels and can stand well enough on their own. Some characters overlap but I don’t think one book spoils any of the others. If anything, I wanted the books to be more closely tied together – to see all of the characters hang out and be good friends to each other because they all deserve to have trustworthy friends who will stand up for them. I feel like Sarina Bowen has a knack for writing about characters in messy situations, with more serious problems on top of the usual ones that a regular college student would have. I always root for her characters and I’m more than satisfied with how their problems are resolved. The Ivy Years is a really good series and I’ve been recommending it left and right, definitely one of my favorite discoveries this year. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, I heard it’s going to be about Bella, who was a pretty important character in The Understatement of the Year. Good to know she’ll be getting her own story!

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