Never Saw You Coming

Never Saw You Coming

First Lines: I was four the first time I accepted Jesus into my heart. I say first time because I did it at least twelve times before I turned sixteen. Better to be absolutely sure, you know?

I know she’s a fairly new author, but I have yet to find an Erin Hahn book I haven’t liked. She’s a fun, unique voice in YA, with her books focusing on music and family and love in ways that I feel like are different that most things on the market. So I was excited to get to this one.

Meg has just learned her entire life has been a lie. At 18, she truly thought she had her life figured out, but with one conversation, her world is thrown off axis. Instead of taking her gap year to work and find herself, she’s now heading to meet what’s left of the family she never knew existed. While there, she meets Micah, the son of a former pastor who ended up in prison. Micah has his own complicated feelings around the church and, with his father’s parole hearing coming up, Micah has to decide if he’s willing to forgive–because he certainly can’t forget. As Meg and Micah grow closer, they’ll have to navigate the complicated process of growing up and cutting ties with childhood beliefs while also discovering what it means to fall in love.

It was…not exactly what I was expecting. But that’s also not necessarily a bad thing.

Hahn’s books so far have been heavy on their musical influences. And I was kind of expecting that to continue. At first, it did. Meg and Micah have musical talents that they lean on to help them through rough patches. But that really didn’t carry on past the beginning of the story too much. And you know, that’s fine. This is a new book with new characters who have different interests.

But wow, was it a left turn when this book turned into a heavily religious-focused book instead. I mean, I kind of got that from the blurb, but it was a lot. However, this isn’t your typical Christian lit or anything. They question. They get angry with the church. They struggle with following their hearts and following the scripture, but more of like, “Is this actually how we’re supposed to live?” And I’m not going to lie, I related a lot to Meg. I had a similar (but much less rigid) upbringing. I’ve been in her shoes and, as someone who felt so alone through that process, it was a bit like finding a piece of myself in Meg. A recognition that I’m not the only one who feels/felt like this. And if I’m out here feeling that, I know there have to be others.

Ok, now let’s actually talk about the story. The characters are adorbs. Meg has learned some serious secrets her mom has been keeping from her and she doesn’t really know who she is anymore. Meg’s courage and her journey to make a new home in Marquette was really cool because the girl is fierce in a really understated here. Micah’s life fell apart six years ago when his pastor father got caught and went to prison. It broke Micah’s faith in…well, a lot of things. Now he’s finally getting to a place where he can feel normal when his father’s parole meeting comes up and all of this crap is thrown back in his face again. So Meg’s fresh face and faith in him is the much needed anchor in the storm to help get him through it. It was cute to see both of them together.

There’s something about Hahn’s writing that just pulls me in. From the second or third chapter, I knew I was into this story and I could feel myself there with the characters. I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes her writing so good, but it’s there.

The only thing I could maybe say that’s slightly negative about this was that I felt like the romance was a bit…I don’t know what to call it. Easy isn’t quite the right word, but predictable isn’t exactly it either. But I definitely felt like we were watching a Hallmark movie version of a relationship. And I say that as someone who really enjoys Hallmark movies, but it was something I noticed.

Anyway, this was a really good read, but it could be off-putting for people who don’t like the way religion is depicted in this book.

Five Feet Apart

Five Feet Apart

First Lines: I trace the outline of my sister’s drawing, lungs molded from a sea of flowers. Petals burst out from every edge of the twin ovals in soft pinks, deep whites, even heather blues, but somehow each one has uniqueness, a vibrancy that feels like it’ll bloom forever.

I know I am pretty late to this party, but I really just…wasn’t interested in something that sounded so much like a TFiOS knockoff. It felt like the story was trying to capitalize on tragedy, just from the synopsis, and I didn’t like that. But the book is crazy popular so, I decided to see if it was actually worth the hype.

Stella likes to be in control of everything–something that’s incredibly hard to do when you have cystic fibrosis that has had her in and out of the hospital most of her life. Really, all she’s in control of is protecting herself from anything that could jeopardize her chances of getting a lung transplant. The only thing Will wants to be in control of is his life. After spending the last few months transferred from hospital to hospital looking for an impossible cure, Will just wants to turn 18 and leave these walls to live what’s left of his life. Will is exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he breathes on her, she quite literally could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart–but as Will and Stella get to know each other, the distance between them starts to feel more like a punishment than safety. Can they steal back just a little bit of that space between them, if it means not breaking their hearts?

Ultimately, I did find similarities to TFiOS. But this was also its own book, its own story.

There are certainly parallels, I won’t deny it. The disease in this book is cystic fibrosis, a disease that I admittedly had heard of but knew nothing about. So this was really enlightening from that angle. Will and Stella are sometimes defined by their disease, which I feel is also the case in TFiOS. And there’s also the…I don’t really know what to call it besides trauma exploitation…of both books, in which case we know we’re getting a tear-jerker reliant upon the fact that these kids are going through something terrible (and will die) and we’re enjoying it. But I also realize that this is reality for many people and a point of both of these books is education and empathy.

However, there are also differences too. I feel like this book is much easier to read and has less of the existential crises from TFiOS. Also, Stella and Will are just…sweet. They’ve had hardships, but this is focused on their connections to each other, not their perceptions of death and all that, even if that topic does come up. It’s just not the focus.

Will is something of a rebel, who doesn’t really care if he lives or dies when we first meet him at the beginning of the book. CF is terminal, so he’s going to die young regardless. Why spend his days in hospitals when he could spend his time seeing the world? Stella is a control freak who has to control not only every bit of her environment, but also those around her, in order to deal with everything happening to her. Will and Stella, upon initial meeting, are sarcastic and a little bitter because of their circumstances. It was nice to see them melt a bit as the story went on.

There are a lot of sweet characters in this. I’m not sure if that’s a sign of really good writing by Lippincott or if it’s a product of the screenplay that (if I read the end notes right) actually came before this novel. But I got really pulled into the story. The challenges the characters go through felt very real and I enjoyed it.

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

First Lines: Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, was a haunted man.

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, I think, and…I didn’t love it. But I liked the diversity it brought and how the characters were interesting. I just didn’t care for the plot of it. So I thought I’d give the author another chance in the follow up that brought back the tortured Viscount Griffin we briefly met in the previous book.

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become the finest bonesetter in London. She’s worked hard for it, even if most people scoff at her for being a woman, a woman of color, a bonesetter in general, or all three. When she meets the enigmatic Thomas, she knows he’s hiding more than he’s sharing, but with each appointment, she finds herself more and more drawn to him. Thomas, Viscount Griffin, has been dogged by rumors that he killed his family for years. More than a decade later, a tip about the killer’s identity leads him to the beautiful bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but something about her makes him feel things he didn’t think he was capable of anymore. Can Hanna not only set bones but also mend hearts?

This was better than the first book. I liked this a lot more.

Hanna is a bonesetter, which is already a strike against her. Factor in that she’s female and Arab and she’s virtually a pariah to anyone outside of her family. I loved how she knew what she wanted to do with her career and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her she couldn’t. She was well trained and that was all that mattered. I also liked Griff, who we met in the last book. He has a tortured past and he’s working on healing from the murders of his parents 14 years ago that he blames himself for. Together, they made for an interesting couple.

The story is a bit of a slow burn. Like, there are initial sparks, but because of their backgrounds, they try to force it down. Then they become friends and try to deny that it’s more than that. It was kind of cute how their friendship formed and how it grew into something more. I liked that it built that way.

I still really like the diversity in this series/story. I liked seeing Hanna’s family and their traditions and culture. It really added something special to the story and to their love.

Cute story. I like that everything in this series seems to be about people defying those around them to do what they want with their lives.

Words in Deep Blue

Words in Deep Blue

First Lines: I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing. It’s been ten months since Cal drowned, but the dreams still escape.

I’ve read one or two books by Cath Crowley before, so I sort of knew how the writing style would be here. The other book(s) I read had a lot of depth and a lot of realism. From the book jacket, I knew this was going to be similar in that way.

Once upon a time, Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie were best friends. They did everything together. But then Rachel’s family moved to the sea and the two fell out, leaving Henry stuck in his life at his family’s used bookstore–never knowing that Rachel left him a note in his favorite book. Now Rachel’s back, reluctantly working with Henry at the bookstore while grieving for her brother. She’s searching for meaning and advice in the words people have left behind in books. But maybe she’ll learn how to live life again, with the help of a friend…

This ended up being mostly what I thought it would be: a sweet story of old friends finding each other again amid some pretty awful tragedies. It’s bittersweet.

Rachel’s brother Cal died about 10 months ago and she’s still far from over it. She can’t feel much else except her grief, which is why she gets sent back to her old hometown, where she’s going to live with her aunt and try to make a fresh start. Henry’s girlfriend Amy has just broken up with him and almost immediately moves on with someone else, while Henry has to watch. Both are heartbroken in their own ways and it’s going to take leaning on each other to start to recover.

What’s kind of cool about this is the bookstore setting. Henry’s family owns a secondhand bookshop that also has a Letters Library in it, where people are encouraged to leave notes in the margins and letters within the pages. It’s a fun little idea, even if the type of book nerd I am really dislikes writing in books. But it’s definitely what helps drive this plot, as the characters frequently leave or find things in the books.

Oh, and the story’s set in Australia. That’s also pretty cool, though I definitely had to consciously think about the seasons being flipped. I think they talk about summer in January and that was startling for a second until I remembered.

The characters have their low points and their high points, but I really just liked that they were able to fail with each other and learn and become better for it. Rachel and Henry are just two young, broken people with the world ahead of them, if only they can see it. It’s sweet with a good message.

Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes

First Lines: Spontaneity is overrated. Movies and television shows would like us to believe that life is better for partygoers who dare to jump into pools with their clothes on. But behind the scenes, it’s all carefully scripted. The water is the right temperature. Lighting and angles are carefully considered. Dialogue is memorized. And that’s why it looks so appealing–because someone carefully planned it all.

I really enjoy Jenn Bennett’s books, but for some reason this one slipped past me. Like, I normally get hold of them pretty soon after they come out. But I didn’t hear anything about this one until it was already out for a year or two. Still, it looked like fun.

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends Lennon and Zorie have become friends-turned-enemies. They have perfected avoiding each other, despite the fact that they live across the street from each other. It also doesn’t help that their families are the modern equivalent of the Capulets and Montagues. But when a group camping trip goes incredibly wrong, Lennon and Zorie are left stranded, alone, in the woods. With no one but each other for company, they are forced to hash out some of their issues while trying to make it to safety. But fighting off the elements and each other makes it less likely they’ll make it to safety in one piece. The longer they stay together, the more the secrets and hidden feelings rise to the surface. But can their rekindled friendship survive in the real world, or only under the magic of twinkling stars?

 I really love Jenn Bennett. This story was cute and real and funny and touching. It was everything I enjoy from her.

Lennon and Zorie used to be best friends, until they tried dating and something went terribly wrong. Now they’re enemies, but Zorie doesn’t actually want to hate Lennon. She just doesn’t know how to be around the guy who broke her heart. Both of them are sweet in their own ways (Lennon has a dark sense of humor but a heart of gold) and they both have their quirks. I loved the quirks the most.

It’s the kind of premise that seems simple–and it is–but that allows the characters to really shine. Zorie’s friend has arranged a glamping trip that Lennon also happens to be invited on, setting off most of the chain of events in this story. When they get stranded, Lennon and Zorie have to spend a lot of time together finding their way home. It’s simple but cute.

And the love story was just adorable. They’re a good pair and you can really see how they fit together. I like it when I find characters who do genuinely fit together, have chemistry. But as usual with Bennett, there are more subplots than just the romance, subplots that feel real and matter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a lot Zorie’s dealing with at the moment, more than just the stuff with Lennon.

Oh, and before I forget, due to some of the content (like how some characters work at an adult toy store) and plain-speaking nature of Lennon, this book probably isn’t “appropriate” for younger tweens and teens. For as much as I enjoyed it, there’s no way I’m recommending it to my students, who are 14. Just throwing that out there.

This was a sweet read and I can’t wait to see more from Bennett.

When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)

When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)

First Lines: In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one’s been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt that one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

As many of you who have been following me know, I have really enjoyed the Bridgerton series. But this book was the one I was probably least looking forward to for the simple reason that I didn’t really know anything about Francesca. She’s just not really in any of the other books, so I didn’t know what to expect.

Michael Stirling, a rake with a long line of heartbroken women in his wake, loves the chase as women flock to him. But never once has he actually fallen for anyone. That changes when he meets Francesca Bridgerton. He falls so hard and so fast at first sight that he knows this is the woman for him. Unfortunately, he’s meeting Francesca as they celebrate her upcoming wedding in thirty-six hours–to his cousin. But now, Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, though she still views Michael as nothing more than her friend and confidante. Michael doesn’t want to express his love for her and ruin things between them…until one night when she innocently steps into his arms and passion takes over between them…

I rather liked this one, which was a little surprising given how little we’ve seen of Francesca so far in the series.

Francesca married at 20, only to become a widow two years later. Broken, she tries to rely on her husband’s cousin-and-best-friend Michael, who also happens to be the new Earl of Kilmartin. However, Michael has been in love with Francesca for years, since the moment he first laid eyes on her. And being around her while grieving for his cousin is too much. He travels to India for a few years, thinking perhaps that when he returns, he’ll be over Francesca. He’s not.

I thought the darkness in this story due to their joint grief and the conflicted feelings they have toward each other really brought something special to this book. It gave it depth and it made them feel more like real people. I liked seeing them struggle and find each other. It meant more because of the struggle.

I also really liked both of them as characters. Francesca has always felt somewhat separate from her family, which she both likes and hates. But she loves them and they support her, of course. She’s strong and independent and she’s got a good sense of humor. Michael is a charmer, able to flirt with anything that moves. But he’s utterly devoted to Francesca and he’s a bit of a hero. They’re good together.

It was a tad confusing at first, but this story takes place at literally the same time as the previous two books. Once I figured that out, I was good, but it did throw me at first.

While this wasn’t my favorite book in this series, it’s probably top 3.