New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Chase (Briar U #1): by Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: August 26th, 2018
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

The Off-Campus series is one of my absolute favorite romance series to date with Elle Kennedy’s ability to perfectly mix humor and steam into one heck of a juicy story, so imagine my excitement when I learn that there’s another series set to release that’s in the same world! If I like something enough, of course I’m like every other member of a fandom who begs and pleads and prays to the creator of whatever it is to PLEASE GIVE US MORE, and it’s insanely satisfying when they do, add some extra YAY in there when it’s not terrible and a total cash-grab.

The Briar-U spinoff series definitely feels like the former in that sense when I got to reading this title as soon as I was able to find a hard copy. Even though it’s a new batch of main characters, the same chemistry and the same amount of angst, banter, sexual tension, and love scenes were all present in how the previous characters may have been so memorable for you like they were for me.

If anyone read my review of The Goal (Off-Campus #4), you’ll remember that I was less than thrilled about it. It’s not that I hated it, but it was definitely the weakest of the series, and that’s rather unfortunate considering it was the finisher to the series. My point is that this time around I was way more behind the couple from the get-go; their chemistry was plain as day and I couldn’t get enough of it all! It was a great bounce back from the less-than-stellar previous book for me.

It was a smart decision for the author to bring back some somewhat familiar faces from the previous books too: There was Hunter: the freshman who Dean kind of took under his wing, there was Collin Fitzgerald or “Fitzy,” the quiet, tattooed, game design student, and then there was also Summer, who is Dean’s younger sister. They were all really minor characters before, but now it’s great to see them get the spotlight this time around!

That doesn’t mean there also aren’t plenty of new faces to add to the bunch: there’s Summer’s instant new BFF, Brenna, who also happens to be the coach’s daughter, and Hollis, who’s Hunter and Fitz’s roommate. I think it’s also cool to add that these guys live in the same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker all lived in; it’s a great way to further connect the two series together like that.

For the most part, this book is pretty light in tone, there are some major social issues that are brought to light within the story, but I go more into that later down in the review.

What It’s About:

With the start of a new semester at Briar University, and while some faces have graduated and moved away, there are plenty of new faces to stir up some entertaining drama and romance much like the previous Off-Campus series! Some of the characters are some familiar names; they were underclassmen Hunter and Fitzy who have taken over the very same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker lived in their junior and senior years.

Another returning character is Summer DiLaurentis, Dean’s younger sister, who’s transferred from her previous ivy league university under some mysterious circumstances…but she has nowhere to go. Even as a legacy to join one of the top sororities on campus, they reject her due to her circumstances at her previous school, so she calls in a favor to her brother, and believe it or not, winds up rooming with Hunter, Fitzy, and another teammate named Hollis.

The issue with this set up? The obvious spark that’s between Summer and Fitzy that only grows bigger and bigger as they live under the same roof. He tries to act like there’s nothing going on, but just perhaps the lady doth protest too much…It’s total opposites attract: Fitzy’s an introverted, broody, heavily tattooed, and has Game Design as his major while Summer is kind of a total Elle Woods: Blonde, bubbly, gorgeous, and a Fashion Design major. On paper, it appears like there’s no way they’d be right for each other, but that certainly doesn’t stop the sexual tension to keep rising and rising until someone’s about to explode!

What I Liked:

  1. The Familiar Faces! I really enjoyed seeing some returning characters like Summer, Hunter, and Fitzy; they were really minor characters in the previous series and didn’t get a whole lot of attention, so it was enticing to see them get the spotlight on them this time around. There were also some cameos from some previous Briar University students like Garrett, Hannah, Tucker, and of course Dean and Allie. Happy to see that the couples are all still together and moving forward with the next step of their lives. It was like paying homage to the base this series grew from and you kind of got that jolt of excitement you usually get when you get to have a big reunion with your friends.
  2. The Social Issues Brought Up! Learning disabilities, sexual assault on college campuses, girl-on-girl hatred, judging people based off appearances, and broken families are issues that a lot of us face in our daily lives. These were some serious issues that were brought up in this book that I also think were handled incredibly well and respectfully by the author. It made the story feel a lot more meaningful and relatable because yeah, I definitely have experience with at least one of them myself. These were much more realistic than some of the other issues Elle Kennedy has brought up in her books, so you can tell there’s been some maturing of her writing ability by this point!
  3. The Laughs! Hilarious one-liners, ongoing jokes with certain characters, and the steamy banter all make what I believe make Elle Kennedy an incredibly popular author within the NA Romance genre.
  4. The Love Triangle! I know….weird to say since everyone seems to be completely over this whole trope indefinitely, but I can say I still enjoy it from time to time depending on how it’s handled. There’s some major angst that brews between Summer, Fitzy, and Hunter (who also shows major romantic interest in her). Kind of awkward since they literally all live in the same house together, and of course you know who Summer is going to end up with, so part of me was also torn on how Hunter reacts later on, but I can say it made me wonder how in the heck the two main characters will end up together!
  5. Nerd Culture! Fitzy’s a Game Design major and is also a pretty intelligent guy, he falls pretty far from the stereotypical dumb jock, so of course that means he’s going to have a vast knowledge of video games and technology in general. Someone else pointed it out on Goodreads too, but I had to agree that it seemed like Elle Kennedy really did her research and made all the terms and platforms she mentions feel authentic and genuine. I’m by no means a game nerd in any way so I’m not the most legit source on whether this part was done correctly, but it for sure felt real to me.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Slow-Burn…I mean, the sexual tension was good, don’t get me wrong, but part of me was kind of hoping for more steamy smut scenes than what we actually got in this book. What we did get was some absolutely scorching, off the charts hot stuff, but based off what’s gone down in the books of the previous series, I was just kind of hoping for more.

Conclusion:

It was a total joy to come back into the world of Briar University with all the hockey players and the ladies who rock their skates off, one by one with each new installment! I’m so happy that there’s going to be even more books, because like the Off-Campus series, this new cast of characters seem like an exciting bunch who’ll make you excited to see what will possibly happen next, and also wonder who’ll end up together.

If you loved the previous series, you’re going to adore this one too, and I can also say you’ll even enjoy this book even if you haven’t read them at all. First: I definitely say you SHOULD read them because of how amazing I think they are as a series, and second: The beginning might be a little jarring with the listing of so many names of people—the characters of the previous series—who make a cameo return before the story goes to focus more on the newer batch of the cast. Just want to throw that out there for anyone’s consideration.

Elle Kennedy continues to be a favorite Romance genre author for me with this new spinoff series, I’m really looking forward to the next three books too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Hookup (Midnight and Motor Oil #1): by Kristen Ashley

Publish Date: December 19th, 2017
Number of Pages: 358 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

The going will get tough, and you’ll stick. We’ll fight, and you’ll stick. Our world could rock, Eliza, and there’s one thing I’m certain about, you’ll stick.”

– Kristen Ashley, “The Hookup”

This was an alright book that was a nice change of pace from what I’ve been reading recently. Lately I’ve been trying to overstock on more Fantasy-genre titles, and I think I’ve burned myself out with it trying to memorize all the different names and places and magic systems, so I tend to switch over to the Romance-genre when it all becomes too much. Romance titles are usually lighter and easier to read through, but are also limited by way more consistent tropes and clichés that you see in so many other titles. It’s a balance you just have to accept, but sometimes just going into a new title with the acceptance of knowing they’ll be there is how you’ll really enjoy it more.

This title has been on my “To-Read” shelf on Goodreads for quite some time, but not because someone recommended it to me by someone or I’ve heard really good reviews of it. To be honest, I really liked the design of the cover and at the time I guess I was just in the mood for a small-town setting with two young and attractive people who meet and fall for each other. You’ve gotta admit that has a nice appeal to it! For me, it makes me think of those romantic country love songs that are so popular in the summer. Anyways, one day while I was extremely bored while working at the bookstore, I looked through our database that shows us if any of the other stores have a copy of whatever specific title you’re looking for, and wouldn’t you know it, one store out of state just happened to have a copy come in! Since I’d never seen a copy come into my location in the two years I’ve worked, so I thought why not? I get a 50% off discount anyways.

The Hookup is an alright book to enjoy if you’re like me and you’re looking for some easy, mostly lighthearted romantic beach read that has the small town aesthetics; it’s nothing too special or unique, but still enjoyable nonetheless. I gotta stop thinking I’m going to find the next most innovative, distinct romance title because I just think that in order to count as a romance title, it has to follow a somewhat strict set of guidelines, and that’s where I think the clichés and overly familiar tropes stems from. Just because you see something over and over again doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad, so long as the author makes something unique about it.

The romance was, of course, the main highlight of the story along with the exploration of what the two main characters struggled with in their pasts before they met and how those issues came between them. I really loved the message towards the end of the book where it tells you that while you may have been dealt a shitty hand at life at some point and that there’s no going back from it or receiving any closure for it, sometimes those things can also lead you to what could possibly be the best thing that happens to you. Life throws many curveballs at you, some bigger than others, but it’s always a nice reminder to really enjoy the sweeter moments too, especially when life takes a more tragic turn for the worse.

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

When the new girl in town, Eliza “Izzy” Forrester decides to hit the local drinking hole, she’s not ready to meet the town’s good, solid guy. She’s definitely not prepared to engage in her very first hookup with him.

Then Izzy wakes up the next morning in Johnny Gamble’s bed and good girl Izzy finds she likes being bad for Johnny.

Even so, Izzy feels Johnny holding her at arm’s length. But Johnny makes it clear he wants more and Izzy already knows she wants as much of hot-in-bed, sweet-out-of-it Johnny Gamble.

Floating on air thinking this is going somewhere, Izzy quickly learns why Johnny holds distant.

He’s in love with someone else. Someone who left him and did it leaving him broken. Whoever was up next would be runner up, second best. Knowing the stakes, Izzy will take what she can get from the gentleman that’s Johnny Gamble. And even knowing his heart might never mend, Johnny can’t seem to stay away from Izzy.

Until out of nowhere, his lost love comes back to town. He’s not going back, but Johnny still knows the right thing to do is let Izzy go.

And Izzy knew the stakes, so she makes it easy and slips through his fingers.

But that’s before Johnny realizes Eliza moved to town to escape danger that’s been swirling around her.

And that’s why Johnny decides to wade in.

That and the fact Eliza Forrester makes breakfast with a canary singing on her shoulder and fills out tight dresses in a way Johnny Gamble cannot get out of his head.

What I Liked:

  1. The Two Leads’ Inner Conflicts! Both Johnny and Izzy have some major baggage that threatens to keep them apart: Johnny was ditched three years prior by the love of his life and has been going through the motions ever since, and Izzy is secretly escaping from a psycho-ex. Add to the mix that both come from a childhood where one of their parents was gone, but for different reasons; one being more tragic than the other. I won’t spoil what I mean by that, but it certainly adds to the depth of what these characters have been through in the past, thus making you more emotionally invested that the two help each other and end up together because of it.
  2. The Love Story Between Johnny and Izzy! The story starts the morning after they hooked up for the first time, and from then on the main drive of the story is their relationship and how it changes over time as they get to know each other on a much deeper and intimate level than just FWB’s. It wasn’t insta-love, but there was definitely an immediate attraction from both of them, and I thought their romantic relationship developed rather organically and realistically

We’re allowed to want things and not only earn them and work for them and fight for them, but have someone maybe once in a while give them to us because they love us and they want us to have what we want.”

– Kristen Ashley, “The Hookup”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Where’s the Conflict?… Hate to say it, but the blurb made it sound like there was going to be a lot more drama in this story than there actually was. Yeah, Johnny’s ex makes a surprise reappearance in town after running away three years ago, but that ended up being such a minor part of the whole story and Johnny was hardly even affected by it to be honest. Izzy was way more wigged out about it, but most of the story is just them and how their relationship strengthens, so this may feel like a slower read for most readers. There’s something that happens at the end to add some level of stress and worry, but it’s really quick and over with before you know it.
  2. Leads May be Too Perfect… There’s the cliché character turn named the “Mary Sue” where a character seems so perfect and hardly has any flaws that it’s almost annoying. That’s kind of the case with both Izzy and Johnny here. Izzy is like a straight up Disney Princess and has a plethora of pets that follow her around as she works from sunrise to sundown plus has other characteristics but too many times when you’re in Johnny’s head in his perspective chapters does he look at her and it literally seems like she’s the sun shining all up on everything she touches or stands by. There’s things about Johnny too, but overall it felt like the author put way too much emphasis on making sure her two main characters were absolutely morally and physically spotless despite both having difficult things from their pasts.
  3. Male Lead Gets Angry When She Tries to be Independent… This was a minor thing, but it felt odd whenever Johnny got annoyed at Izzy for doing something heavy lifting and absolutely insisted he always do it for her, like only he was allowed to do what he considered “man’s work.” While it’s sweet that he offers to clean out the barn, mow her large lawn and plenty of things tasks, it’s weird how much it irks him when she still tries to do it too. Like when she sets up a table she had to grab out of the shed, he tells her to watch an infant when he put it away, and there was no room for debate…I don’t know, something about that seemed off to me.
  4. Felt Very Little for the Minor Characters… There are plenty of side characters that also encompass the story and add to the relationship between Izzy and Johnny: there’s an elderly couple who are like Johnny’s parents with the wife being extra spunky and full of southern sass while the husband gives her a hard time but it’s obvious they’re very much still in love, there’s Izzy’s less-than-perfect sister who shows up with her baby unexpectedly and moves in, there’s also Johnny’s brother who shows up so late that I really felt very little for him…these characters just felt very cliché and didn’t really stick out to me; i’ve seen them in countless other romantic books/movies/tv shows before

Conclusion:

Overall, I found The Hookup to be an overall light & easy book; a sweet, small-town romance that can be a comfort read for anyone who’s a fan of the romance genre. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking or obsession worthy, but it was still a joy to read and definitely checks all the marks of what readers are usually looking for when it comes to books like it: two lead characters who have emotional baggage they both need to sort through while helping each other and falling for each other at the same time, an ex who “unexpectedly” shows up and causes drama, an elderly couple with plenty of spunk to remind us all what a long lasting love can look like, side characters who may or may not end up together later on, and of course pets and a baby. The story was equal parts sweet & tender mixed with a little steam and spice with some well written smut for romance readers who like the more descriptive side of the material, but the scenes of heartfelt confessions and admissions will also pull your own heartstrings.

I feel like fans of authors like Colleen Hoover and Christina Lauren will really enjoy this book; they have a similar style of writing with quirky female leads who have some heavy baggage that really gives them some great depth and great character development.

While I did think the story was pretty decent and Johnny and Izzy are easy to get behind and support, I don’t find myself caring enough to read the second part of this series—or duology—just because the side characters didn’t draw me in nearly as much, and most likely the next part will somewhat be centered around a baby of a single mother and I’m sorry, but those kinds of stories don’t interest me.

2021 has been a weird year so far, and I’m also bummed to admit that I think I may be in my first ever major reading slump…books just aren’t hitting me like they used to lately, and it’s been like that for the last month. I just can’t seem to sit down and want to concentrate. So I regret to say that maybe I won’t be posting as many reviews as I normally do, but it could also just be that my seasonal depression is just really hitting me different with everything like COVID and whatever the latest scandal on the news is because the writing for my college story has been on hiatus too…I’m not happy about it, but I’m also trying not to beat myself up about it too much as well. We’ll have to wait and see, but I also have a new iPad and downloaded Procreate to get back into drawing too, so there’s hope!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom #1): by Danielle L. Jensen

Publish Date: August 13th, 2019
Number of Pages: 354 Pages
Publisher: Context Literary Agency LLC
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A princess who’s secretly a trained assassin…

An ACTUAL enemies-to-lovers where one of them tries to kill the other at one point…

A marriage of Convenience…

Twisty political intrigue and espionage…

Lots of exciting action scenes…

Slow burning sexual tension mixed with distrust up the WAZOOOO…

Tropical and lush scenery…

Snarky grandmas…

Um…Yes, LOVE that journey for me!

The Bridge Kingdom was a book that’s been thrown around multiple Facebook groups I follow for Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer Armentrout, and I’ll admit that upon looking into this book that I was definitely curious! I hadn’t heard much about the author nor have I read anything by her—Although I do have a hardcover copy of Dark Shores on my shelf at home to be read soon!—but with how often I saw this title brought up, I knew it’d eventually end up in my hands.

I must say this book surprised me because I was instantly hooked! We have a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-esque scene almost right away in the beginning of the story, and within the first three chapters I’m slightly terrified of our heroine, and emotionally invested in her when a big secret is revealed right away afterwards in explanation of her shocking scene beforehand, and can’t wait to see what else she can do!

The story itself is nothing too groundbreaking or unique or innovative, but my higher rating simply is because of how this story is told. I feel like I’ve read plenty of ‘deadly girl infiltrates enemy kingdom and plans to kill the king after marriage-by-convenience, but falls in love instead,’ but the author just tells it so well; it really draws you in. She also has vivid descriptions of the world as you explore it with one of the main characters, and the pacing keeps you riveted and turning the pages when you convince yourself “Just 1 more chapter…” like 5 chapters ago. The action, plus the agonizingly slow romance building between the two main characters kept my attention, then thankfully making me satisfied when it finally happens (Although, it would’ve been fine to have happened, like, fifty pages ago too, but whatever…) The growth that the main character goes through was also fun to read, both her and her love interest discover the important lesson of how maybe we shouldn’t give in to certain prejudices about people from another culture, but then again, if there’s tension and the threat of war between the two kingdoms, it’s kind of inevitable…but there’s also the idea to consider that you also shouldn’t believe everything someone tells you about a certain group of people either.

Despite how short the book appears, it felt like a really long story; It was like there was a lot more words crammed in on every page than most other published books, so after reading fifty pages it actually felt like I’d read an additional hundred with all the material that fits just in that small chunk of pages.

A fair heads up, not really a warning, but despite this being within the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of typical Fantasy elements: namely, a magic system and mythological creatures. It’s a tropical climate setting with islands that makes me think of exotic destinations like Hawaii, Thailand, or the Caribbean with a lot of snakes that inhabit the land while the sharks make several appearances when the characters travel by boat through the water. Not that I’m trying to knock the worldbuilding because it’s still a fictional land and is still wonderfully done, but let me just say that you shouldn’t go into this book expecting wizards casting spells or any dragons flying around. While these aspects of Fantasy may be lacking, the world is still rife with lots of political intrigue and militaristic strategies being made around a particular landscape phenomenon referred to as “The Bridge” (hence the title of the book/series), and for any of you visual learners, the bridge is like the Chinese Wall that travels for miles and miles, except this time it’s not man-made.

Like I said, this book surprised me by how much I found myself enjoying it, and I even already ordered the sequel because that ending……oofda! I need to read on and get some more answers and just see what will possibly happen next! I loved how the author tied in the very beginning of the book to let you see how much the character has changed throughout the story and how the stakes have changed so drastically. If this is the first book I finish reading in 2021, I can happily say that the new year for books is already looking pretty bright!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

What if you fell in love with the one person you’d sworn to destroy?

Lara has only one thought for her husband on their wedding day: I will bring your kingdom to its knees. A princess trained from childhood to be a lethal spy, Lara knows that the Bridge Kingdom represents both legendary evil – and legendary promise. The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom controls all trade and travel between lands, allowing its ruler to enrich himself and deprive his enemies, including Lara’s homeland. So when she is sent as a bride under the guise of fulfilling a treaty of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture the defenses of the impenetrable Bridge Kingdom.

But as she infiltrates her new home – a lush paradise surrounded by tempest seas – and comes to know her new husband, Aren, Lara begins to question where the true evil resides. Around her, she sees a kingdom fighting for survival, and in Aren, a man fiercely protective of his people. As her mission drives her to deeper understanding of the fight to possess the bridge, Lara finds the simmering attraction between her and Aren impossible to ignore. Her goal nearly within reach, Lara will have to decide her own fate: Will she be the destroyer of a king or the savior of her people?

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters, Especially Lara Veliant! I personally liked them and thought lara especially went through a lot of growth as the story developed. I liked that she was already an established assassin by the time the story takes place, and you aren’t treated to her training and coming into her deadly skills. She gives me some major Aelin Galathynius-Whitethorn vibes with her looks, her attitude, and her physical prowess. I liked Aren too, but not quite as much and didn’t feel like he changed except for his feelings towards Lara. I also feel like he didn’t stand out as much from other male hero/love interests in these types of stories. Sure, he’s brave and noble and caring and charming, but so is every other male character in his position! Hopefully he gets more characterization in the second book.
  2. Good Pacing! There was a lot of action to keep you excited that mixed perfectly with the slower moments where dialogue and character is revealed. I found this surprising since they’re wasn’t an actual villain present for a large chunk of the story; it was more about Lara’s change in attitude and swerving of which side she truly belonged to by the end of the story. I think this also added to why I found this book so easy to want to keep reading, even if I was so familiar with basically all the story’s elements.
  3. They’re Actually Enemies-to-Lovers! A lot of the time people say a romance storyline is this trope when in actuality it really isn’t…I don’t feel like going into examples, but what I liked about this story with the trope is that the two characters actually almost kill each other on several occasions. When they say “enemies,” I want instances where they’re nearly coming to blows, they plot to assassinate the other, and actually have an animosity towards the other…sure, it eventually burns into a passionate love, but they always love and hate have a varied line between them!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Not As Much Romance As I’d Liked… What I mean is that it’s a really really slow slow-burn of a romance, which if I think about it, makes total sense. Lara and Aren are from two different kingdoms and have been raised to believe certain prejudices about each other, so I can say the romance grew rather realistically, but I don’t know…I kind of just wanted some more romance scenes. Maybe there will be a lot more in the next book!
  2. Not Many Fantasy Elements… I mentioned this earlier, but for a book that falls under the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of elements that show up in this story. There’s no magic, there’s no mythological creatures, no charmed/cursed item or relic, and so on…The world is entirely fictional, but that’s about it. The animals are snakes and sharks; I feel like the author could’ve reimagined them as some sort of creature that’s similar, but more on the mythological side.

Conclusion:

The Bridge Kingdom is an adventurous and exciting enemies-to-lovers tale with plenty of distinctive characters, slow burning romance thick with tension and distrust, bloody action and military strategization, and of course beautiful and exotic locations that are used incredibly well into the story: you could say I definitely recommend this title, just maybe…

…no but actually, READ this book!

Specifically, if you loved books like The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, and of course, just about ANYTHING by Sarah J. Maas or Jennifer Armentrout, I know you’ll most likely also enjoy this book as well. It’s got all the same elements that these other authors offer to the genre, and is yet another beautifully told story that will wrap you up and drag you in without a second thought.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Fangirl: by Rainbow Rowell

Publish Date: September 10th, 2013
Number of Pages: 438 Pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre(s): YA Fiction, YA Romance, New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!

I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…

You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.

As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.

Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.

I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!

She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.

‘Cather…’

Back up to his eyes.

‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:

Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

What I Liked:

  1. The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
  2. The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
  3. The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
  4. The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!

Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
  2. Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
  3. Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
  4. The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
  5. The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!

Conclusion:

‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”

– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.

One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!

Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Goal (Off-Campus #4): by Elle Kennedy

Publication Date: September 26th, 2016
Number of Pages: 334 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus the previous books in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

To see my full review of book #1 – The Deal – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2 – The Mistake – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #3 – The Score – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.25 Stars

Footsteps approach the kitchen. Garrett wanders in, wiping sweat off his brow. When he notices Sabrina, he brightens. ‘Oh good. You’re here. Hold on—gotta grab something.’

She turns to me as if to say, Is he talking to me?

He’s already gone, though, his footsteps thumping up the stairs.

At the table, Hannah runs a hand through her hair and gives me a pleading look. ‘Just remember he’s your best friend, okay?’

That doesn’t sound ominous.

When Garrett returns, he’s holding a notepad and a ballpoint pen, which he sets on the table as he sits across from Sabrina. ‘Tuck,’ he says. ‘Sit. This is important.’

I’m so baffled right now. Hannah’s resigned expression doesn’t help in lessening the confusion.

Once I’m seated next to Sabrina, Garrett flips open the notepad, all business. ‘Okay. So let’s go over the names.’

Sabrina raises an eyebrow at me.

I shrug, because I legitimately don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

‘I’ve put together a solid list. I really think you’re going to like these.” But when he glances down at the page, his face falls. ‘Ah crap. We can’t use any of the boy names.’

‘Wait.’ Sabrina holds up a hand, her brow furrowed. ‘You’re picking names for our baby?’

He nods, busy flipping the page.

My baby mama gapes at me.

I shrug again.

‘Just out of curiosity, what were the boy names?’ Grace hedges, clearly fighting a smile.

He cheers up again. ‘Well, the top contender was Garrett.’

I snicker loud enough to rattle Sabrina’s water glass. ‘Uh-huh,’ I say, playing along. ‘And what was the runner-up?’

‘Graham.’

Hannah sighs.

‘But it’s okay. I have some kickass girl names too.’ He taps his pen on the pad, meets our eyes, and utters two syllables. ‘Gigi.’

My jaw drops. ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not naming my daughter Gigi.’

Sabrina is mystified. ‘Why Gigi?’ she asks slowly.

Hannah sighs again.

The name suddenly clicks in my head. Oh for fuck’s sake.

‘G.G.,’ I mutter to Sabrina. ‘As in Garrett Graham.’

She’s silent for a beat. Then she bursts out laughing, triggering giggles from Grace and eventually Hannah, who keeps shaking her head at her boyfriend.

‘What?’ Garrett says defensively. ‘The godfather should have a say in the name. It’s in the rule book.’

‘What rule book?’ Hannah bursts out. ‘You make up the rules as you go along!’

‘So?'”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Goal”

This is merely a taste of the humor that is Elle Kennedy whenever you read a new adult romance by this amazing author! As I’ve said before in plenty of my past reviews of her work, It’s just so incredibly hilarious, heartfelt, steamy, and genuine; I wonder if she literally just sits down in her home and thinks up these scenes so full of banter? Maybe that’s what I need to start doing as a writer in order to even get close to her level and quality of craft.

Here we are at the fourth and final book of this college hockey romance series, and I’m sad to say that despite all the praise I usually give these books and the author in general, The Goal has to be my least favorite book of them all. It’s a damn shame because it’s the end and a book series should never have the final book be the weakest, it leaves such a sour taste in the mouth of the reader.

It’s not that I don’t think the two main characters, Tuck and Sabrina, go through their own growth and change throughout this book, it’s more just that I didn’t feel as connected to them compared to the others like Graham, Hannah, Dean, Allie, and Logan. I just found I wasn’t as interested in them; I like Tuck just fine, but that’s about it, I literally have nothing to add to him as a character…Sabrina was a hard-headed, strong willed female protagonist who is fiercely ambitious and determined to go where she wants to end up, but there just wasn’t really anything to make me care about her as much. This is all of course my opinion, but feel free to take all this criticism with a grain of salt.

While the two main characters are rather subpar for my taste, at least all the others whom I mentioned earlier still make their appearances! It’s always good to see them continue to make wise-cracks and give each other a hard time like an actual group of friends, although Garrett Graham seems much more like a typical airheaded hockey bro when the story doesn’t focus so much on him. Nonetheless, him and all the others are always welcome to make appearances and live inside my head rent free.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

She’s good at achieving her goals…

College senior Sabrina James has her whole future planned out: graduate from college, kick butt in law school, and land a high-paying job at a cutthroat firm. Her path to escaping her shameful past certainly doesn’t include a gorgeous hockey player who believes in love at first sight. One night of sizzling heat and surprising tenderness is all she’s willing to give John Tucker, but sometimes, one night is all it takes for your entire life to change.

But the game just got a whole lot more complicated…

Tucker believes being a team player is as important as being the star. On the ice, he’s fine staying out of the spotlight, but when it comes to becoming a daddy at the age of twenty-two, he refuses to be a bench warmer. It doesn’t hurt that the soon-to-be mother of his child is beautiful, whip-smart, and keeps him on his toes. The problem is, Sabrina’s heart is locked up tight, and the fiery brunette is too stubborn to accept his help. If he wants a life with the woman of his dreams, he’ll have to convince her that some goals can only be made with an assist.

What I Liked:

  1. The Humor! This never disappoints whenever I read an Elle Kennedy novel, I can always count on her to make me laugh out loud at least once every time I open a book of hers, whether she’s written it by herself or if it’s with Sarina Bowen!
  2. The Return of All the Other Characters! It’s always a warm welcome to see characters like Garrett, Hannah, Grace, Logan, Dean, and Allie all make reappearances once again, even as their perspectives are no longer being centralized. It’s also adorable to see them as couples now that they’ve all had their little “happily ever afters” with their previous books.
  3. Plenty of New Characters! There’s a certain amount of new characters introduced by now that are worth being mentioned, most of them are underclassmen teammates like Hunter, Fitzy, and even Dean’s little sister. I guess I can kind of spoil this, but pay attention to these characters because they’ll be getting their own spin-off set of books!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Just Didn’t Connect With the Two Main Characters…Like I said earlier in this review, I just didn’t care as much for Tuck and Sabrina in this book. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just wasn’t as interested in them when compared to the others.
  2. How Was it Tucker Who Got Someone Pregnant?…For some reason, I always considered Tuck to be the smartest of the bunch, so I just find it ironic that he ended up being the one to get a girl pregnant first out of the four guys in that house! I would’ve pegged Logan for sure, or maybe even Dean, but I thought Tuck being the guy to get a bun in the oven first was a little unrealistic to say the least!
  3. Not As Memorable…To be honest, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of stories where, whoops!…someone ends up pregnant, and now the two must quickly learn to readjust everything in each other’s lives to revolve around that notion, plus navigated their now much more complicated relationship. I think babies are absolutely adorable, at least when they’re not crying, but I’m just not as interested in reading stories so heavily involving them so much.

Conclusion:

My goal, once upon a time, was to succeed. I didn’t realize that success wasn’t grades or scholarships or achievements, but the people I was lucky enough to have in my life.”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Goal”

I was disappointed with how much I didn’t care about the two main characters in this final installment of the Off-Campus series by Elle Kennedy, and I say that while literally everything she includes in her stories that I love are all included within this book: the banter, the humor, the friendships, the scorching romance, and I still wasn’t entirely sold on this!

Luckily, the story is actually NOT over entirely, and there’s going to be a spinoff series named the Briar U series that I know will star some of the newer side characters like Hunter, Fitzy, Dean’s younger sister, Summer, and plenty of others! While the original gang’s time is up and they’re all set to graduate, I’m so glad the fun at Briar University is not quite over yet!

I recommend these books to anyone who’s looking for a sweet, humorous, and sexy romance novel that’s light and easy to read through. Anyone who’s a fan of hot college jocks and the sassy female protagonists who put them in their place like the characters in these books will fall in love just like I did.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell