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REVIEW:  The Year We Hid Away by Sarina Bowen

REVIEW: The Year We Hid Away by Sarina Bowen

TYWHA

Dear Ms. Bowen:

Jane read your first book in the Ivy Years Series, The Year We Fell Down, and really enjoyed it. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to read it because generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of “issue” books. I like my romance straightforward with the issues coming internally, rather than externally. But why I ever question Jane when she directly says to me, “I’m sure you’ll like these books” is beyond me. So this weekend I opened The Year We Fell Down and gobbled it up in giant bites. Of course, I immediately bought and gorged on book two, The Year We Hid Away, which I think I enjoyed even more that The Year We Fell Down.

Shannon Ellison is fleeing her life. The daughter of a well known former NHL star, and current hockey coach who is now accused of molesting multiple young boys, she wants nothing more than to escape the relentless news reporters and ooglers who chase her family and have made her a prisoner in her own home. She honestly doesn’t know if her dad is guilty. He was a pretty horrible father, always cold and critical. All she wants is to escape her family. She does this by legally changing her name to Scarlet Crowley and fleeing to Harkness College where she hopes no one will recognize her. Her senior year in high school was awful. She became an outcast, despite being a well recruited, extremely talented hockey player. She lost friends, and her position on the squad. Now, she just wants to start over.

She arrives at college, immediately informs the hockey coach that she can’t play for her, and tries to get on with her life. She enrolls in a Stats class and meets Bridger McCauley. He’s gorgeous, a former hockey player and seems really friendly. Bridger also has a secret. Since his dad’s death, his mother has become an addict. The last time he was home, he found drug paraphernalia on the dining room table, and he promptly removed his seven year old sister, Lucy from the home. He’s been hiding her in his dorm room ever since. He has no family in the area and is unwilling to tell his secret to anyone. He knows his best friend Adam’s mom would take Lucy in, but she’s just started college (the first thing she’s really ever done just for herself) and he doesn’t want to impose upon her generosity and kindness. No, he’s determined he’ll care for Lucy. She’s his responsibility. But he knows that if Social Services finds out about his mom or that he has Lucy, they’ll remove her from his care. He’s bound and determined that won’t happen.

Bridger catches Scarlet staring at him in Stats class. They strike up a cautious friendship, with him offering to help her with Stats and her offering to help him through Music Theory. They’re absolutely attracted to each other, but neither can take that next step because of their secrets. But the more time they spend together, the more tempting they become to each other. Once they finally do act on that attraction, they want nothing more than to be with each other, but Bridger really can’t build a life outside of caring for Lucy and Scarlet is terrified of her secret coming out. When Bridger finally confesses to Scarlet what is going on, she’s touched and impressed with his deep and abiding love for his sister and she begins to help them. But she knows the longer she’s with Bridger, the more likely he is to find out her secret. And she knows that if it comes out, she could risk both losing him, and negatively impacting whether he can keep custody of Lucy. But when Scarlet’s father’s attorneys and the States Attorney begin chasing down Scarlet to testify, she knows her secret will come out. Will the fragile relationship she and Bridger have been building be strong enough to withstand the storm?

I’ve been reading New Adult books for a while now, and so many of them are filled with what I’d call “pseudo-angst” or angst that feels manufactured, rather than a genuine plot point that propels the story forward. But both Scarlet and Bridger had true issues. Tough ones that informed their priorities and provide a true tension to their love story. I felt like the story had a few loose threads that I’d have liked to see you build upon, most specifically Scarlet’s love for music, which seemed so big at the beginning of the story and then was somewhat left by the wayside once the action began. But overall, the story is extremely well plotted. The characters both grow and change throughout, and it’s got a really fascinating hook to it. As usual, Jane was right. The Year We Hid Away was right up my alley and definitely one of a few New Adult books that I’ve read recently that truly resonates. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

 

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REVIEW:  The Devil in Midwinter by Elise Forier Edie

REVIEW: The Devil in Midwinter by Elise Forier Edie

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A handsome stranger, a terrifying monster, a boy who burns and burns…

Mattawa, Washington, is usually a sleepy orchard town come December, until a murder, sightings of a fantastic beast, and the arrival of a handsome new vintner in town kindle twenty-year-old reporter Esme Ulloa’s curiosity—and maybe her passion as well. But the more she untangles the mystery, the more the world Esme knows unspools, until she finds herself navigating a place she thought existed only in storybooks, where dreams come alive, monsters walk the earth and magic is real. When tragedy strikes close to home, Esme finds she must strike back, matching wits with an ancient demon in a deadly game, where everything she values stands to be lost, including the love of her life.

Dear Ms. Edie,

Fantasy novels aren’t usually my forte but when I read your submission to our site, what caught my interest was that it’s not about the generic vampire, shifter, were-creature, European-centric characters that populate this genre. No, we’re going to get NA skinwalkers and – better still – Aztec mythology and a Latina heroine here.

Even after reading the excerpt, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this novella. Monsters, fantasy, a handsome guy who can set things on fire and heirloom apples. It’s definitely not the usual paranormal. Finding out just what was going on was half the fun yet also frustrating at times.

This is a novella so words count. Using a compact, quick writing style to get in necessary info works well. The descriptions can neatly nail a situation such as how Esme’s suddenly chaotic life is “like an upended junk drawer.” Or the prose can gently settle around you.

Grief is a little like being in a fresh snowfall. A light, cold curtain falls between you and the rest of the world. Simple things like opening your front door, walking down your front walk are suddenly more difficult. You slide unexpectedly into hurtful places. The earth seems to shift under your feet. You find yourself wanting to stay inside, hunker down. You stare out the window at a place you no longer recognize. It used to be your world, but now it belongs to the white, bleak cold.

However at the halfway point I noted that “I’m grasping part of what the plot is but there’s enough which is hidden that intrigues me. Obviously Esme doesn’t quite get it but delicate clues are dropped along with some wowzers like the mystery man suddenly appearing but then she doesn’t know what we know.” It’s not all mysterious – like the initial funny bits with Esme’s boss Annie and their mutual hotcha reaction to their interview with Colter. And I adore Great Pyrenees so was happy to see Blob, Fluff and Fitzsimmons taking active roles in the story.

But then I’d go back to being frustrated that no one will tell her the truth. Why the secrets if – as they’re hinted at – they’re so important? Only to draw out tension and suspense over the course of the story? Okay so once the whys and wherefores are revealed it kind of makes sense in this world building but it still gets annoying over the course of the story that the people who can help her seemingly won’t.

Suddenly! she “wakes up” by visiting Tia Donna across the river? Suddenly! everything makes sense. Okay let’s go with that. Esme has made mistakes, as Tia Donna points out, which makes her real, makes her human instead of some cardboard superhero. But she also, as Donna points out, gets to be her own hero, her own savior. Xavier can help but it’s Esme who has the power to save herself and must save herself.

The final showdown with evil is enough to make me want to stay away from skinwalker stories for a while. But I do desperately want to learn more of Xilonen and could certainly use the Goddess of Corn’s help with my scraggly roses. Esme and her love might be young but after all they’ve gone through, I think they’re ready and mature enough for their HEA.

I think the strengths here are the writing style, unusual mythos, and a heroine who triumphs by her will and inner strength instead of being merely kick-ass. The main weakness is a frustrating seeming lack of clarity. Overall, glad I read it. It makes me want to taste some of these heirloom apples and read Aztec myths. B

~Jayne

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