Review: Without A Doubt by Lindsay Paige

Without A Doubt Book Cover Without A Doubt
Lindsay Paige

Emerson Montgomery loves his high school sweetheart, Kelly Price. He’d do anything for her, including agreeing to a break where they’ll see other people as he heads off to college. Struggling with the break and guilt over dating other people, Emerson meets Eva, a beautiful, funny, easygoing, and nosey junior.

Eva Harvey chose this particular college with the hopes of fulfilling her own fairytale and falling in love at the same college where her parents met. She does her best to go with the flow and simply see what happens, but Emerson simultaneously causes her to fall in love while making her second guess everything along the way.

There’s some things you know without a doubt. However, Eva causes Emerson to doubt everything he believes about his future while he causes her to doubt what’s right in front of her. Can they find a way to erase all doubts or will it tear them apart in the process?

Review:

(Actual rating: 2.5 stars)

I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

In many ways, Without A Doubt was a pleasant surprise. So far, my experience with New Adult fiction hasn’t been quite as positive as I would like, so I went into the story cautiously optimistic yet bracing myself for the usual pitfalls I run into with the genre. Happily, Without A Doubt ended up side-stepping those pitfalls and standing out as an example of New Adult done well.

Emerson and Eva make an adorable couple. Emerson’s not your cocky, swaggering, impossibly chiseled love interest – he’s just a regular guy, cute and sweet and chill. Eva, too, is likable and pleasant. They’re both good people, practical, hard-working, and down to earth. They do normal things together like baking brownies, hanging out with mutual friends, and watching movies. In short, they’re refreshingly authentic.

There’s no pointless drama in their relationship, which is a pleasant change. They have their disagreements, but they’re mature enough and respect each other enough to open a dialogue and air any potential issues before they burgeon into real problems. As compelling as I find dysfunctional relationships in fiction, it is occasionally nice to see a happy, healthy romance represented. Emerson and Eva are playful and cute and fit together so well. When Emerson says something sweet, it doesn’t seem like a line – it just seems like Emerson:

“Emerson wraps around me and I cuddle closer. ‘How was your day?’
‘Similar to yours.’ His blinks are coming in longer intervals and I know he’s getting closer to falling asleep.
‘How come you never have bad days?’ I ask […].
‘I do,’ he reassures me, never opening his eyes. ‘But then I see you and it all goes away.’”

Another huge win for this book is its approach to sex. Eva and Emerson treat sex as important and meaningful, something to be valued but not rushed into. When they do get physical, the scenes are tasteful and avoid graphic play-by-plays. The sex doesn’t overshadow characterization or plot, and it’s not a constant in the book. Emerson and Eva are flirtatious and sensual, but their relationship isn’t all sex, all the time. There are moments when Eva and Emerson pass up an opportunity to be intimate because they have stuff to do, or are sad, or have somewhere to be. Hooray for realism in books!

Something else that impressed me about Without A Doubt is that school is actually a significant part of the characters’ lives. Several of the New Adult books I’ve read have been set at universities, but you’d never know the characters are students other than a passing reference to a homework assignment or the occasional use of the words “after class.” In Without A Doubt, though, Emerson and Eva are students first and foremost. They spend lots of their time working on assignments, writing papers, and studying for tests, and the events of their personal lives have to be scheduled around their school obligations.

With all these positives I’ve listed, you’re probably wondering why I only gave Without A Doubt 2.5 stars. The problem was that it was just missing that “wow” factor for me. It was a cute, light read…and that’s about it. There’s a fine line between excluding unnecessary drama and still having some level of conflict and tension to keep things interesting. The plot and writing style are very simplistic, and Emerson and Eva’s relationship is just too…easy, I guess? Most of their arguments are over little things that are quickly resolved. The few major conflicts seem kind of far-fetched and are over almost as soon as they’ve begun. The main challenge the couple faces – Emerson’s lingering ties with his ex-girlfriend – doesn’t cause nearly as much trouble as I expected, resulting in a very laid-back, chill kind of book. While that may work for many readers, it wasn’t enough to really draw me in and keep me engaged.

That being said, I’m still very pleased by how authentic and fresh Without A Doubt felt and am hopeful that it signifies a positive direction for a genre I haven’t been too crazy about up to this point. Between Without A Doubt and my recent success with Informant by Ava Archer Payne, I’m starting to think there may be a future for New Adult fiction and me after all!

10 Messy, Unconventional, Thought-Provoking Romances

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! It’s that time of year again when everyone is cuddling up with their sweetheart, watching romantic movies, and devouring mounds of heart-shaped chocolates. It’s also the time of year when I get to talk about one of my favorite things – bookish romance!

I would categorize my favorite kind of fictional relationship as a tie between “terrible people in love” and “good people in love under terrible circumstances.” Messy, complex, complicated love stories are what I’m all about. If a romance breaks my heart, makes me cringe, or forces me look at love, myself, or the world in a different way, I’m guaranteed to love it.

The following list features 10 of the most thought-provoking, unconventional romances I’ve read to date. There are selfish/manipulative/self-sabotaging couples, lovers facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and relationships that make the people in them question who they are or what they believe in. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Book cover for Every Day by David LevithanBook cover for The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

1) Scarlet and Rhett from Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell – This resilient, self-serving pair will do whatever it takes to survive, resulting in a relationship fraught with mind games, manipulation, and equal parts passion and loathing.

2) A and Rhiannon from Every Day by David Levithan – Relationships are hard under the best of circumstances; imagine how much harder they’d be if one of the people in the relationship woke up as a new person each morning, complete with a new body, new family, and new life. This is the premise of Every Day, which raises questions about gender, identity, and what it means to really love someone.

3) Abel and Anna from The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis – Abel is a drug dealer with a secret. Anna is the curious, naive girl who follows him after school one day and learns more than she bargained for. The relationship that develops between them is partly touching, partly dangerous and begs the question – what will you forgive of the person you love?

Book cover for Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. JamesBook cover for Gone by Michael GrantBook cover for The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar

4) Anastasia and Christian from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James – I’m not ashamed to admit that I not only read Fifty Shades of Grey, but loved it too. Why? Because I was fascinated by the relationship between Christian and Anastasia. They’re two very different people with vastly different needs and values. I was fascinated by watching them try to figure out a way to be together without one or both of them having to compromise who they were.

5) Diana and Caine from the Gone series by Michael Grant – Give it up for villain love! Diana and Caine are some of the “bad guys” in the Gone series, powerful, vicious, and spoiled. Even in their tenderest moments together they’re always keeping an eye out for ways to gain an advantage over one another and use their mutual attraction for their own gain.

6) Margo and Oliver from The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar  Oliver is a genie. Margo is his master. Inevitably, the two fall in love. Sounds awesome, right? Who wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with a cutie who can grant your wishes while making you swoon? The problem is this: genies are magically engineered to please their masters. This means their behavior, sexual orientation, looks, personality, and even gender are malleable, defined by their current master’s will. This causes Margo to question how much of her relationship with Oliver is real and how much is Oliver’s subservience to the magic.

Book cover for Sinner by Maggie StiefvaterBook cover for The Other Me by Suzanne van RooyenBook cover for Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

7) Cole and Isabel from Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater – This is one of my favorite Maggie Stiefvater books, and it’s all because of the relationship between Isabel and Cole. They’re a train wreck as a couple as well as individually. Cole is manic and suicidal. Isabel is cold and self-sabotaging. While reading, you constantly wonder: can two broken, self-destructive people forge a lasting relationship?

8) Treasa and Gabriel from The Other Me by Suzanne van Rooyen – The Other Me is about a damaged boy, the confused girl who falls in love with him – and wants to BE him – and the realization that love doesn’t always show up in the shape you expect it to. The moral of the story? Sometimes you have to fight your own demons before taking on somebody else’s.

9) Maya and Lochan from Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma – Lochan and Maya are everything to one another. They’re partners, confidantes, and each other’s only sanity. The issue? They’re also brother and sister. Only Tabitha Suzuma could write a book about sibling romance and make it sad, captivating, and sympathetic instead of creepy and gross.

Book cover for Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

10. Froi and Quintana from Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta – Froi of the Exiles is about two imperfect people made perfect together. Need I say more?

Do you have any recommendations for great books with unusual romances? Let me know in the comments section below!

Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

It’s finally here – the cover reveal for Heart of the Guardian, the final installment of Desiree Williams’ Heart Song trilogy! As beautiful as the covers of Heart Song and Shifter’s Heart were, Heart of the Guardian is hands down my favorite; in fact, it’s probably one of the most stunning covers I’ve seen this year.  In addition to this great reveal, I’ve also got an excerpt for you from Heart of the Guardian, as well as the chance to win an awesome giveaway courtesy of the author herself. Cheers!

About Heart of the Guardian

The time has come. The war ends now…

Syrina’s inner energy has not been the same since the Guardian Alanna saved her that day in the market. A burning need to help others drives her to seek permission to join the caravan headed to the Rebels camp. Lady Alanna and Prince Jerric have given Syrina and her mother so much, and in return, Syrina wants to spread that kindness to the Guardian’s army in any way she can.

It was supposed to be another easy plan. Until an amber-eyed stranger flipped her life around, throwing her into the strange world of Guardians and Warriors. Now, Syrina faces challenges she’s never even dreamed of as the missing piece in the War on the Lands is found.

New enemies and allies surface in this never ending war. Syrina and the Guardians lock onto the measure of goodness they’ve been given while evil threatens to rip it from their hands.

When the battle hits home, nothing will be the same.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…the big reveal!

Book cover for Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

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Excerpt from Heart of the Guardian

“Do you need your energy back?”

Syrina jumped at how close his voice came. Whipping around, she found Emer a few feet from her. She hadn’t expected him to address her again, or to close the distance between them. She swallowed, unable to look away from those amber eyes. “Excuse me?”

He pointed to the barrier still around him. “You energy? Do you want to pull it back?”

“Oh, um, you can hang on to it, if you’d like. The barrier will continue to move with you, and once you’re finished just stretch your arms past the border. The edges will dissolve and the energy dissipate into the air.”

Syrina opted for a friendly tone, but her response made Emer’s frown deepen—if that were possible. He crossed his arms, watching her until she wanted to squirm.

“What did you do to him?” He pointed his chin toward Janson, who was now in a jovial mood, showing off the wares he’d transported from Aldonnia.

She shrugged a shoulder. Syrina had no idea how she’d done it, so it wasn’t like she could explain it. Not that it would be wise to tell this Rebel anyhow. “Not sure I know what you mean.”

Her heart skipped several beats before a small half-grin pulled at Emer’s mouth. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what he’d look like if he truly smiled.

“You can keep your secrets, Miss Syrina. You’ll find we all have a trove full of them.” He strode past her, saying, “Welcome to the Rebels’ camp.”

Author Bio

Photo of Heart Song author Desiree WilliamsDesiree Williams is a dreamer by day and chocoholic by night. She lives in the beautiful state of Kentucky with her husband and daughter, where she juggles life as a wannabe supermom. Desiree is a lover of food and avoider of dirty dishes. She delights in making people laugh and strives to bring hope and love with her wherever she goes.

You can find out more about Desiree and her books at www.desireewilliamsbooks.blogspot.com.

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Giveaway

This is one giveaway you don’t want to miss – a lucky winner will receive a gorgeous rose gold heart pendant necklace, a $15 Amazon gift card, and Heart Song trilogy bookmarks. For a chance to win, enter the giveaway below. The winner will be announced on Desiree’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter account the morning of August 11.

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Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best Everything Book Cover My Best Everything
Sarah Tomp

You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?

Review:

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

Lulu wants nothing more than to ditch her dead-end hometown in Virginia and escape to a new life at the University of San Diego. She’s just a few months away from making these dreams a reality when her dad drops a bomb: the family doesn’t have money for tuition, and Lulu will have to defer her college plans for at least another semester. Unwilling to delay and get stuck at home for good, Lulu turns to a wild scheme to earn huge amounts of cash in the short time before school starts: making moonshine.

Lulu has the drive to be a moonshiner, but what she lacks is the know-how. To remedy this, she enlists the help of Mason Malone, a former ’shiner with a questionable reputation. As the two work together and money starts to roll in, their relationship evolves from business partners to something more. Moonshining is a perilous venture, though, and it’s not long before it begins to take a toll on Lulu, Mason, and their friends in ways Lulu never expected. Soon Lulu is faced with a choice: how much will she risk to save her future?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide exactly how I feel about My Best Everything. There were parts I absolutely loved and parts that I absolutely hated, which made for a confusing reading experience. What it comes down to, though, is that a week after I finished the book, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Despite all the frustrating parts, I was deeply impressed with Tomp’s portrayal of alcoholism, selfishness, and how people can love each other but not necessarily be good for each other.

What I Liked:

Mason: Mason’s got a troubled past, and not in a sexy bad-boy kind of way. He’s had some serious problems, the kind that could have ended up with him either dead or in jail. Sarah Tomp does a great job of portraying Mason’s struggles, regrets, memories (or lack thereof), and temptations. She makes Mason’s hardships real, and my heart went out to him as he fought to turn his life around, a fight that was made increasingly difficult as Lulu’s scheme dragged him back into the world from which he’d tried to break free.

The suspense: My Best Everything is written as a letter from Lulu to Mason and recounts the events of their summer from her perspective. At the beginning, the circumstances in which the letter is being written are unknown to the reader. Is the letter an explanation? An apology? What happened between Mason and Lulu to make her feel the need to tell him her side of the story? Where is Mason, since Lulu keeps saying things like, “Maybe if you were here…”? All of the questions build anticipation and make you want to keep reading until you find answers.

Because Lulu is relating the story with the benefit of hindsight, she seasons her letter with sentences like, “I heard you. Honest. I’m not sure why it was hard to remember later,” “I was in way over my head. And you were getting pulled under,” and “I also figured that if you – a high school drop-out and ex-waster extraordinaire – knew what to do, I could figure it out, too. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” This foreshadowing feels very dire, warning of things to come that Lulu and Mason have already been through but that the reader can only guess at. It provided great suspense, and I couldn’t wait to find out where the story would lead.

The fascinating world of moonshine: I never knew how interesting the process of making moonshine could be! My Best Everything is chock-full of details about ’shine, and I found myself enthralled by every last one of them. There was so much to learn, from safety precautions – apparently you need to caulk the joints of a still to keep flammable vapors from exploding – to methods for checking the proof of the alcohol once it’s done fermenting. I learned about moonshiner superstitions, that it’s a good idea to dig a pit for a still’s fuel tank to make it less conspicuous, and that harmful methanol needs to be separated out from the moonshine to make it drinkable rather than poisonous. It’s a riveting world!

What I Didn’t Like:

Lulu: If I loved Mason, then I loathe Lulu. In fact, I’d say she’s one of my least favorite narrators, ever. She struck me as an entitled, self-absorbed brat who threw away her principles as soon as things got tough. Ok, so you don’t want to defer college for a semester – that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to pout and act like the universe owes you something. And you definitely don’t need to turn to a life of crime and put the futures and wellbeing of the people you care about in jeopardy.

“I was too miserable to see beyond my own reflection in the window.”

Lulu treats Mason more like a means to an end more than like an actual person, which infuriated me. She falls for him, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s taking advantage of Mason and using him to get what she wants. As she admits at one point in the letter, “To get out of town, I had to drag you through the muck.” Nice, Lulu. Real nice.

The limitations of the perspective: Although the format of My Best Everything provides great suspense, it has its limitations. Because the book is written to Mason and recounts events he’s already lived through, there’s a lot of summarization and not as many specific details as there’d be if the novel were written from a different perspective. There is also less insight into Mason as a character than I would have liked. In a way, the narration acts like one of those stand-up screens that can be used as a room divider; through it, you can see general outlines, but not distinct features.

The ending: The conclusion of this book enraged me. Of all the ways My Best Everything COULD have ended, the way it DID end seemed the least apropos. It was rushed, implausible, and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. Also, some parts seemed far too convenient and easily wrapped up. For example:

[START SPOILER]

After Lulu sacrifices her tuition money to get Mason out of Dale, there are a couple of lines hastily thrown in about how Lulu’s priest happens to hear she needs money and is magically able to get her a scholarship just in the nick of time so she can go to college after all. WHAT?! If it was that easy, then what was the point of this book, which was 100% driven by Lulu’s inability to get money for school?!?! ARRGH!!!

[END SPOILER]

Bottom line, there are parts of My Best Everything that are infuriating, but the parts that are great more than make up for them. It’s a fascinating book and one that’s sure to leave you thinking about it long after it’s over.

YA Wednesdays Book Blitz: Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Book blitz banner for Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny

Welcome to this week’s Swoon Romance YA Wednesday! This week features Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny. Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

About Kissing Frogs

Book cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Popular party girl and high school senior Jessica Scott has a secret: she used to be a nerd — a big one; a goody two-shoes, grade-skipping, all-state spelling bee champ. But she lost the braces, put on some contacts, and applied all her academic genius to studying and imitating the social elite. Now she rules the school from the upper echelon of the high school realm. With her cool new friends and hottest-guy-in-school boyfriend, life’s a beach — and that’s where she’s headed for Spring Break. That is, until her teacher breaks the bad news that she’s failing Biology — and her only chance to make up the grade is to throw away the culminating trip of her hard-earned popularity and join the Conservation Club in Panama to save the Golden Frog.

Unable to let go of her faded college dreams, Jess finds herself in a foreign country with a new social crew, and one handsome face that stands out as a blast from the past, threatening to ruin her queen bee reputation. Travis Henley may have grown up, but he still likes to play childish games and as payment for retrieving Jess’ lost ring from the bottom of a jungle pool, he wants three dates. While Jess does battle with spiders, snakes, wildfires and smart mean girls, she desperately tries to hang on to the last vestiges of her popular existence like the Golden Frog from its webbed toe. But as she starts to care about something more than tanning and texting – a species on the verge of disappearing forever – she may realize the worth of her inner nerd, and the one frog in particular that could be her prince in disguise.

Set in the lush and tropical El Valle de Anton, this modern fairytale re-imagining of “The Frog Prince” is toe-curling contemporary romance with an environmentalist heartbeat, in the tradition of Stephanie Perkins.

Review

Four-star rating
A free copy of this book was provided by Month9Books and Swoon Romance in exchange for an honest review.

Kissing Frogs is like a pina colada on a hot summer day – light, fun, and refreshing. It’s the story of Jess Scott, a nerd-turned-member-of-the-high-school-elite who finds herself sentenced to a Spring Break field trip saving frogs in a foreign country. While all of her friends are getting drunk and tan on a beach in Florida, Jess is spending her time cleaning out aquariums, taking nature walks, and writing a research paper in Panama.

If you’re thinking that a trip to sunny Panama doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a school break, you’re right. In between learning about the endangered species the Conservation Club has been sent to help, Jess and the rest of the kids get to hit the beach, go horseback riding, shop at local markets, and more. It’s actually a pretty cool “punishment,” and it’s not long before Jess begins to realize that the opportunity is one she should take advantage of.

This is one of the great things about Kissing Frogs – the protagonist is smart enough to know a good thing when she sees it. Although she’s upset about missing out on a vacation with her friends, is wary of touching frogs, and initially doesn’t recognize the importance of conversation, Jess tries to make the best of her situation. She’s a smart girl and an overall good person. It’s a nice change from the books where popular characters are either stuck-up, ditzy, or bitchy.

There are a few ways in which Jess is a little cliché – she’s got dyed platinum blond hair, lets her popular boyfriend walk all over her, and is addicted to her phone and makeup – but these things are pretty minor compared to her good qualities. Jess has a great sense of humor, makes an effort to make friends on her trip, and embraces the chance to learn new things.

It’s great watching Jess’ transformation throughout the book. As I already stated, she isn’t a bad person at the beginning of the novel, just a person with a limited view. The trip broadens her awareness of the world and wakes her up to a host of environmental issues. It was so pleasing to see her ditch her apathy and begin to take an active role in making the world a better place.

The conservation theme really differentiates Kissing Frogs from all the other cute, bubbly romances out there. I have to give Alisha Sevigny credit for raising awareness about the plight of endangered species in general and Panama’s Golden Frog in particular. She made me care about the animals and want to make a difference without ever making me feel pressured or guilty.

So far I haven’t mentioned much about the romance in this book. As the synopsis mentions, the love story is loosely based on the fairy tale The Frog Prince, and it’s everything I could have hoped for: sweet, natural, and lighthearted, with little to no drama. Some parts are fairly predictable – for example, there are a couple of occasions when Jess trips and literally falls into Travis’s arms – but the book is so adorable and fun that the predictable parts don’t really matter.

If you’re already planning your summer vacation and are looking for a book to take along to the beach, you can’t go wrong with Kissing Frogs. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, and you’ll certainly want to save some endangered species.

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About Alisha Sevigny

Author photo for April SevignyAlisha Sevigny holds a degree in Sociology and Professional Writing from the University of Victoria, is a film school graduate, former literary agent and current Social Media and Communications Director for an award-winning English school. A shameless romantic, Alisha and her husband have travelled the world together. On a recent trip to Panama with their new daughter, Alisha fell in love with the country, culture, and their national emblem, the Golden Frog. She was inspired to write her first Young Adult novel, Kissing Frogs. Born and raised in Kitimat, British Columbia, Alisha has always had a strong connection to the environment and conservationist spirit. She now lives in Toronto with her family.

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Giveaway

Swoon Romance is sponsoring a great giveaway: one reader will win two previously published Swoon Romance e-books of their choice! To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter below. The contest is open internationally. A winner will be selected on April 8, 2015.

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