The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler 
Pages: 368 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak. 

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one. 

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life. 

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them ....

My Summary: Elyse was born to sing. 

Along with her twin, Elyse has been singing since she was a little kid, enchanting all those who hear her songs. That is, until the accident. 

With no voice and no chance of ever speaking again - let alone singing - Elyse cuts herself off from her family and everything she knows, getting as far away from her old life as possible. When the opportunity to move to Oregon presents itself, Elyse accepts without thinking twice.

But getting away from the ocean is impossible; Elyse has salt water in her veins. So when Christian Kane offers her a position as his first mate in a race to save the Cove, Elyse accepts despite her fear. 

Winning the race could mean saving her aunt's house, her business, and her home. Losing the race? Losing the race means losing everything.  

My Thoughts: I always have such high expectations whenever Sarah Ockler releases a new book, and every single time she manages to surpass them. 

No, let me rephrase that: she tramples them into the dirt.

I have never read a Sarah Ockler book that I didn't love, and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is no exception. Elyse's story was heartbreaking, and her journey to find her voice was a joy to experience. 

Every single one of Ockler's characters was complex and multidimensional. I loved little Sebastian and his dream of becoming a mermaid; Christian and his love for his brother; Lemon and her willingness to offer Elyse a home where she could bring herself back from the brink and begin to heal. Each one has their own special place in my heart.

The Little Mermaid has always been my favourite fairy tale, so it probably goes without saying that I loved every moment of this book. Elyse's connection to the ocean is such a huge part of her that it was heartbreaking to see her struggle to stay away from it. 

I loved that this novel touched on so many topics. Elyse accepting and learning to deal with her disability was such a huge part of the novel, as well as Christian learning to fight back against his father. Alongside this was Noah's father's sexism and Elyse's resentment toward her sister, and Ockler managed to address each without ever sounding preachy or overbearing. 

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys contemporary lit, romance, and new adult romance. 

Eight Hundred Grapes

Author: Laura Dave 
Pages: 260 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancĂ© is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

My Summary: Georgia's childhood was idyllic. Growing up in a beautiful corner of  California known for its vineyards and elite winemakers, Georgia was no stranger to the natural beauty of her home. Home was where she knew she was safe, protected by her two older brothers and her loving parents. 

So when everything in Georgia's life begins to fall apart, she doesn't think twice before driving the eight hours to her family home. In fact, she doesn't even stop to take off the wedding dress.

But when she arrives, Georgia realizes that her life may not be the only thing falling to pieces - her parents' marriage, her brothers' relationships with one another, and the failing family vineyard take her mind off her own problems and restore her to her roots. Can she keep it all together and fix everything wrong in her family life, or are the last remaining pieces of her childhood - the vineyard and her unchanging family - destined to be lost forever? 

My Thoughts: A book about wine? Uh, need I say more?

I've never read a novel of Laura Dave's, but after Eight Hundred Grapes I know I'll be picking up every single one. Dave's writing was wondrous, and Georgia's voice was like that of an old friend - comforting and warm. I loved the way the story was told in alternating chapters of past and present - it really allowed for each new tidbit of information to sink in, and for the reader to understand every aspect of each character's story. 

I loved that the family aspect was such a big part of the novel, and that Georgia's personality was so visibly shaped by her family life. What do you do when what you built your entire life on - the knowledge that your parents loved each other beyond reason - turns out to not be as true as you once believed? Georgia's reaction to her family breaking up was understandable and heartbreaking: Dave managed to articulate the way that no matter how old we are, we will always feel five years old when it comes to our parents. 

And I know I said it before, but I really loved the Dave's writing. Her way with words had me reading the same passage over and over again, marveling at the beauty of the sentences and the way the words fit together. One word: synchronization

Final Thoughts: I definitely recommend this novel to fans of contemporary romance as well as those looking for an intelligent summer read. If you haven't already, check it out!

The Fill-In Boyfriend

Author: Kasie West 
Pages: 352 
Publisher: HarperTeen 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley. 

The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. 

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

My Summary: Gia couldn't wait to go to prom. Besides the fact that she was going to get to dress up and dance all night, Gia would finally get the opportunity to introduce her boyfriend Bradley to her three best friends and her frenemy. So when Bradley arrives at prom only to dump Gia and take off before anyone actually sees him, she knows she's royally screwed.

Thinking on her feet, Gia manages to convince a total stranger to pretend to be her boyfriend for the night. Taking pity on her, the guy agrees, convincing everyone he's Bradley and madly in love with Gia. At the end of the night he disappears without even a name, leaving Gia to wonder who exactly her knight in shining armour really was. 

She searches high and low, finally managing to dig up her rescuer's name. And when she confronts him, he asks her to return the favour: pretend to be his girlfriend for the night to make his ex jealous. 

Gia agrees, but soon life begins to imitate art, and she finds herself falling for him.

The lies start to catch up with her, and as Gia struggles to hold everything together, her fill-in boyfriend shows her there's more to life than putting on a happy face and pretending everything is alright.

My Thoughts: This was one of those contemporary YA romances that feels like a big warm hug. I read this novel all in one sitting and loved every minute, cheering for Gia and Hayden the entire time. 

Gia grows a lot over the course of the novel, going from someone who worried about highschool petty drama to someone who wanted to mature and change. She recognizes her shortcomings as a friend and a person and works to fix them, even if she isn't quite forgiven by all those she seeks forgiveness from. Hayden was a great character, and his sister Bec was probably my favourite overall. The two main characters had a lot of chemistry, and the entire fake-boyfriend situation added an element of humour to the romance, keeping it from feeling too serious. 

The writing was perfect, and the plot flowed wonderfully. I never felt like things were lagging, or that the pace was inappropriate. Kasie West definitely knows how to keep me hooked,

And look at that cover! So glad I have a copy of my own to swoon over. 

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone looking for a cute contemporary romance or just a great summer read. 

Thor's Serpents

Author: K. Armstrong & M. Marr 
Pages: 368 
Publisher: Little, Brown 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Thirteen-year-olds Matt, Laurie, and Fen have beaten near-impossible odds to assemble their fellow descendants of the Norse Gods and complete epic quests. Their biggest challenge lies ahead: battling the fierce monsters working to bring about the apocalypse. 

But when they learn that Matt must fight the Midgard Serpent alone and Fen and Laurie are pulled in other directions, the friends realize they can't take every step of this journey together. Matt, Laurie, and Fen will each have to fight their own battles to survive, to be true to themselves, and to one another - with nothing less than the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

It's always so incredibly difficult to review the last novel in a series, so I like to keep them short and sweet so as to avoid any accidental spoilers. Here goes!

I loved the group dynamic in this installment. In the previous two novels, the Champions were just meeting one another and figuring out who they were. In Thor's Serpents, the Champions are forced to make the choice once and for all: will they trust each other and stand together, or fight alone? 

As usual, the writing was brilliant. The plot was expertly woven and the characters were amazingly realistic. Armstrong and Marr definitely know their way around the mind of a teen - even those with superpowers and godly ancestors. The Champions' insecurities and doubts shine through, turning them from your stock imagine superhero into real life kids with real life issues, Laurie asks a really interesting question in this novel, and it really made me think: how do you go back to your normal life after living through something so catastrophic? Do you just smile and pretend it never happened, or do you let it affect everything you do?

You can really see the growth of the characters throughout this installment, and the way they've come into their own through the series. As usual, Fen made me want to wrap a blanket around him and protect him from the world. Matt too. Both boys were polar opposites, but they were both examples of what can happen when you don't have a family you can rely on totally.

Final Thoughts: If you haven't read this series yet, you are seriously missing out. I recommend this trilogy to fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and other mythological series. 

Side Effects May Vary

Author: Julie Murphy 
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, who she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission. 

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she's said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she caused irreparable damage to the people around her—and to the one person who matters most?

My Summary: Alice knew her life wasn't exactly perfect before she got cancer, but it was pretty damn close. She had everything she could have ever wanted, and she knew exactly how to get where she wanted to go.

But when they found the cancer, her whole life fell apart. With death snapping at her heels, Alice decides to right some wrongs and get back at those who have hurt her and the people she cares about. She recruits her best friend Harvey to help get the job done, and soon the list is complete. 

As Alice nears the end of her fight with cancer, it appears that she has nothing left to do. She's ready to go, knowing that she made the world a better place before she left it.

Until she receives what should be the best news of her life: she's in remission, and her cancer is gone.

She's going to live. And unfortunately for Alice, living means facing up to the things she did and said when she thought she had nothing to lose. 

My Thoughts: I've seen a lot of mixed reviews about this novel, so I'm going to start with my overall impression of the novel and work my way into specifics. Personally, I enjoyed the novel. It was a solid contemporary read with good characterization - the characters were realistic and dynamic - and great writing that kept me hooked. I was up well into the night reading, hoping for a happy ending for Alice and Harvey.

I feel like most people have a common issue with the novel: Alice herself. Alice was one of those characters that you wish the best for, but every time they make a horrible decision you can't help but shake your head. Alice's treatment of Harvey in particular made me cringe more than a few times, and my heart went out to the poor guy. However this was not enough to make me dislike the novel as adamantly as some other readers. We're so used to reading novels where we connect with the main character and wish all the best for them, but to me that was more Harvey than anything. I felt as if Alice was meant to be disliked, and that - as she notes herself - the only redeeming qualities Alice had were qualities she displayed when Harvey was around. 

And that's okay, I think. Some characters are just like that. But even the most frustrating characters deserve their happily ever after, right?

I really enjoyed the writing style and the way the author built Alice and Harvey's lives throughout the novel using flashbacks. Alice's voice was clear and sharp and kept me on my toes, crossing my fingers that everything would work out all right in the end. The plot flowed smoothly and the timing was well-executed, but I found myself connecting more to Harvey than to Alice herself - Alice had a mean streak that went a little far at times, but the novel was enjoyable nonetheless.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys edgier contemporary romance.