For the past month, I’ve been a little obsessive over Sarina Bowen’s books. Her simple and sweet romances with relatable characters have just been giving me ALL THE FEELS and after receiving an ARC for her upcoming release, Rookie Move, I cleared my reading schedule so I could binge-read The Ivy Years series. I READ ALL SIX BOOKS IN FIVE DAYS AND IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST READING WEEKS I’VE HAD IN A WHILE!
Now, it’s time for the reviews and I decided that it would be best to knock these reviews out all at once so I can start Rookie Move. Let’s get started!
Synopsis via Goodreads: The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else.
She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.
Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.
Also, he’s taken.
Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.
They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.
But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.
The Year We Fell Down follows our two MCs, Corey Callahan and Adam Hartley. Corey is a freshman who had dreams of playing college hockey, but after an accident during a game, she is left wheelchair bound. Hartley is a hockey player as well, but after pulling a crazy stunt, he is left with a broken leg and has to sit out this season’s game. Stuck in their rooms with not much to do, these two start spending time together and a budding friendship slowly starts to turn into something more.
Corey and Hartley’s story was a great start to this series. This is the first NA book I’ve read where both our MCs are handicapped so that was a new experience for me. Surprisingly enough, I found myself relating to Corey in a many ways. She such a strong female character who doesn’t let being stuck in a wheelchair keep her from doing things she love. But while she is strong, she does have her moments where she feels insecure, wondering whether or not if people treated her a certain way just because she was handicapped. I have to admit though, I am not much of a fan of Hartley in this book. He’s a fun-loving guy, but he frustrated me so because he was taking too long to make up his mind about Corey. I totally understand his reasons for why he stayed with in the relationship he was in, but he was only doing more damage than good by staying in that relationship. But don’t worry, Hartley totally redeems himself by the fourth book and he is now one of my faves!
This is a slow-burning romance, like SLOW, so some patience will be required. But I really enjoyed seeing these two finally get together. My only main issue with this book was that it was really short. I needed a few more chapters with these two, just a few! Overall, The Year We Fell Down was a great start to this series and I started the second book immediately after finishing this book.
Synopsis via Goodreads: She’s hiding something big. He’s hiding someone small.
Scarlet Crowley’s life was torn apart the day father was arrested for unspeakable crimes. Now the shock has worn off, but not the horror.
It’s a safe bet that Scarlet is the only first year at Harkness College who had to sneak past TV news trucks parked on her front lawn just to leave town. But college will be Scarlet’s fresh start. Clutching a shiny new student ID — with a newly minted name on it — she leaves it all behind. Even if it means lying to the boy she’s falling for.
Bridger McCaulley is a varsity hockey star known for being a player both on and off the ice. But a sobering family crisis takes that all away. Protecting his sister means a precarious living arrangement and constant deception. The only bright spot in his week is the few stolen hours he spends with Scarlet.
The two form a tentative relationship based on the understanding that some things must always be held back. But when grim developments threaten them both, going it alone just won’t work anymore. And if they can’t learn to trust one another now, the families who let them down will take everything they’ve struggled to keep.
Unlike The Year We Fell Down, which was light and sweet, The Year We Hid Away was a lot heavier and filled with darker themes. Right from the start, the air is filled with suspense as our MC, Scarlet Crowley, sneaks off to college while her parents are out. Her father is accused of committing an heinous crime and she’s finally ready to escape the media and start her life over at Harkness College. There, she meets Bridger McCaulley who has a few secrets of his own. These two start spending more time together and it’s not too long before sparks fly and these two start falling for each other.
The Year We Hid Away IS MY FAVORITE BOOK IN THIS SERIES! I’m such a fan with books dealing with heavier themes and this one is loaded with them, like parental neglect and drug abuse. Both of our MCs come from unstable homes and I think it’s why they were so drawn to each in the first place. I completely love and adore both Scarlet and Bridger. Scarlet is a damn strong character because she puts up with a lot throughout this book. There were times where I worried for her well-being because her parents don’t do much to protect her in the first place and she really didn’t have anyone to turn to when it came to talking about what was going on at home. Bridger is my FAVE! While in the previous installment Bridger was seen as the party animal, in this book he actually has no choice but to get his shit together so he can provide for his little sister. Seeing Bridger step up to the plate and not only be a big brother, but as well as a parent, was so sweet.
There is a bit of a plot twist toward the ending since throughout this whole book. Scarlet is trying to figure out if her father did in fact commit the crimes he is being accused of. I didn’t see things playing out the way they did and I was shocked. The suspense was intense and I totally wasn’t expect that. Overall, I enjoyed this book, a lot more than the first one and I was just hoping that the books just got better and better as I continued with my binge-read.
Synopsis via Goodreads: A blind date. A nervous sorority girl. A mean-spirited fraternity prank. What could possibly go wrong?
As a sorority pledge, there are commandments that Katie Vickery must live by. One: thou shalt not show up for the party without a date. Two: the guy shall be an athlete, preferably an upperclassman.
Unfortunately, Katie just broke up with her jerkface football player boyfriend. Even worse, her last encounter with him resulted in utter humiliation. She’d rather hide under the bed than attend a party where he’ll be.
Yet staying home would mean letting him win.
Enjoying herself tonight was out of the question. She could only hope to get through the evening without her blind date noticing that he was spending the evening with a crazy person.
Andrew Baschnagel is living proof that nice guys don’t finish first. He’s had his eye on Katie since the moment her long legs waltzed into his art history class. So when her roommate sets Andy up to be Katie’s date, he’d be crazy to say no. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of practice with either girls or parties. Yet.
Blonde Date is a short and sweet novella featuring two secondary characters from The Year We Hid Away. Katie Vickery is in need of date for a sorority party and Scarlet offers to set her up with Andrew Baschnagel, who is also friends with Bridger These two could not be more opposites as Katie tends to run with the popular crowd while Andrew is a bit awkward and shy. But according to the laws of attraction, opposites attract and it’s not too long until sparks fly between these two and one date turns into something more.
I gave this novella five stars because I’m not too picky when it comes to novella’s. It’s a short, simple story and I wasn’t too bother by the insta-lust. I admit, I totally misjudged Katie because I initially thought that she only cared about her social status, but there’s more to her than that. But Andrew is a totally sweetheart! He makes Katie feel comfortable in her own skin and helps to shake off her insecurities. Also, some of the chapters are written in stanzas! I LOVE POETRY, so those chapters were my favorite to read. Not much more to say other than I loved this little book.
Synopsis via Goodreads: What happened in high school stayed in high school. Until now.
Five years ago, Michael Graham betrayed the only person who ever really knew him. Since then, he’s made an art of hiding his sexuality from everyone. Including himself.
So it’s a shock when his past strolls right into the Harkness College locker room, sporting a bag of hockey gear and the same slow smile that had always rendered Graham defenseless. For Graham, there is only one possible reaction: total, debilitating panic. With one loose word, the team’s new left wing could destroy Graham’s life as he knows it.
John Rikker is stuck being the new guy. Again. And it’s worse than usual, because the media has latched onto the story of the only “out” player in Division One hockey. As the satellite trucks line the sidewalk outside the rink, his new teammates are not amused.
And one player in particular looks sick every time he enters the room.
Rikker didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome from Graham. But the guy won’t even meet his eyes. From the looks of it, his former… best friend / boyfriend / whatever isn’t doing so well. He drinks too much and can’t focus during practice.
Either the two loneliest guys on the team will self destruct from all the new pressures in their lives, or they can navigate the pain to find a way back to one another. To say that it won’t be easy is the Understatement of the Year.
M/M romance is my FAVORITE type of romance, so I was very excited to dive into The Understatement of the Year. This installment is told from dual POVs of Michael Graham and John Rikker. These two were the best of friends, with a side of benefits, when they were younger. But after an act of hate lands Rikker in the hospital, his parents send him off to Vermont and Graham never forgives himself for what happened to Rikker. Fast forward, and Graham is a Harkness hockey player and still in the closet. But he’s about to come face to face with his past when Rikker joins the Harkness team. Old feelings return and Graham will have to decide whether or not he is finally ready to step out of the closet.
I honestly don’t know what it is about M/M romances, but I always cry when I read them. Rikker and Graham’s story was no different. I liked the plot for this book as it touches upon an important topic: the stigmatization of gay athletes in sports. Rikker is kicked off his hockey team when his Coach finds out about his sexual orientation and it causes quite the stir in the hockey community. It seriously sucks that this stigma still exists today because one’s sexual orientation does not affect their ability to play a sport. While Rikker takes on this controversy standing tall, Graham fears what people will say about him and refuses to admit that he is gay, even to himself. It was rough watching Graham go back and forth with himself as he comes to accept his own sexuality. There were times where he pissed me off because Rikker did not deserve to be treated that way, but at the same time, I can see that what he was going through was not easy and he eventually made up for his bad behavior in the end.
The things that pisses me off most about this book was that it broke my 5-star streak for M/M books. I couldn’t give this book 5-stars because it ended rather abruptly. It is the only book in this series without an epilogue and I felt like there were some loose ends that needed tying up. DAMN THIS BOOK FOR BREAKING MY STREAK!
Synopsis via Goodreads: The girl who’s had everyone meets the boy who has no one.
For Bella, the sweet-talking, free-loving, hip-checking student manager of the Harkness men’s hockey team, sex is a second language. She’s used to being fluent where others stutter, and the things people say behind her back don’t (often) bother her. So she can’t understand why her smoking hot downstairs neighbor has so much trouble staying friends after their spontaneous night together. She knows better than to worry about it, but there’s something in those espresso eyes that makes her second guess herself.
Rafe is appalled with himself for losing his virginity in a drunken hookup. His strict Catholic upbringing always emphasized loving thy neighbor—but not with a bottle of wine and a box of condoms. The result is an Ivy League bout of awkwardness. But when Bella is leveled by a little bad luck and a downright sinister fraternity stunt, it’s Rafe who is there to pick up the pieces.
Bella doesn’t want Rafe’s help, and she’s through with men. Too bad the undeniable spark that crackles between the two of them just can’t be extinguished.
I was really excited to learn more about Bella because I really loved her upbeat personality in The Understatement of the Year. However, The Shameless Hour was not a hit for me. I felt like it was probably the weakest book in this series, which is such a shame because I was really looking forward to Bella’s story. In this installment we meet Bella and Rafe. They’re nothing more than just dorm neighbors until one night filled with heartbreak that ends with these two hooking up. The awkward tension starts to build between them, but when Bella becomes the victim of a fraternity prank, Rafe helps to put her back together again and slowly these two start falling for each other.
The Shameless Hour had a lot of potential to be a great book, but it was just very basic. Considering what Bella goes through, I was expecting this book to be an emotional one, but I didn’t feel any emotions whatsoever while reading this book. First off, I couldn’t connect with the characters. Quite frankly, I found both of their personalities to be dull, especially Rafe’s. Honestly, he’s a bit of a pushover and he takes a lot of things sitting down and tends to avoid dealing with them until he has no choice. I couldn’t buy the romance either because I didn’t feel the connection between these characters. I thought that they were great as friends and Rafe was a shoulder to lean on when Bella was dealing with being the aftermath of the fraternity stunt, but the romance is rushed at the end. WHERE WAS THE SLOW-BURN?
I did like the fact that this book included diversity, with Rafe being Dominican. I really enjoyed seeing Rafe with his large family and I also liked how his Catholic faith played a role when it came to him making certain decisions. There is also an asexual character, although I wish that would’ve been explored more. Overall, The Shameless Hour was just lacking pretty much everywhere and I was so disappointed with this book.
Synopsis via Goodreads: Freshman Lianne Challice is known to millions of fans as Princess Vindi. But sometimes a silver screen sorceress just wants to hang up her wand, tell her manager to shove it, and become a normal college student. Too bad that’s harder than it looks.
She’s never lived a normal life. She hasn’t been to school since kindergarten. And getting close to anyone is just too risky — the last boy she kissed sold the story to a British tabloid.
But she can’t resist trying to get close to Daniel “DJ” Trevi, the hot, broody guy who spins tunes for hockey games in the arena. Something’s haunting his dark eyes, and she needs to know more.
DJ’s genius is for expressing the mood of the crowd with a ten second song snippet. With just a click and a fade, he can spread hope, pathos or elation among six thousand screaming fans.
Too bad his college career is about to experience the same quick fade-out as one of his songs. He can’t get close to Lianne, and he can’t tell her why. And the fact that she seems to like him at all? Incredible.
Despite the mess that was The Shameless Hour, the final installment in The Ivy Years series manage to redeem this series in the end. In The Fifteenth Minute, we follow our two MCs, Lianne and Daniel. Lianne is famous actress who is looking for some sense of normalcy as she starts her freshman year of college. She spends most of her time locked in her dorm battling dragons and trolls until her roommate, Bella, convinces her to join her for a night of fun. There she meets Daniel, a DJ who knows how to get the crowd going and she develops a crush. But DJ is keeping something from her, something that will either make or break this relationship.
Lianne and Daniel are probably my second favorite couple in this series. I love the development of their relationship and the fact that music brought these two together. Lianne took me by surprise because I wasn’t too sure if I was going to like her or not. She’s a bit standoffish when we first met her in The Shameless Hour, but she has a nerdy side to her which I love. Her internal dialogue was one of the best because it was filled with gaming phrases and I am still saying “achievement unlocked” anytime I finish a task. I also loved Daniel because he’s a DJ and I love a guy with good taste in music. But in all seriousness, I liked the fact that he treated Lianne like an actual person and saw her for being more than just a celebrity.
The plot for this book was a not one that I have read before as in this book, our male MC is being accused of a crime and no one is giving him the benefit of the doubt. At one point, Daniel doesn’t even trust his own self and his own judgement and it is why he pushes Lianne away. It was all about him learning to trust again and this is probably the first time where I’ve read a book where the male MC is the victim and that was interesting to see. I also liked how the romance was woven throughout this story as nothing was rushed and these two took their time to get to know each other. The Fifteenth Minute was a solid ending to a great series and I was so sad when it ended because I didn’t want to say goodbye. I am going to miss these characters SO MUCH!
I would definitely recommend picking up The Ivy Years series for those who are a fan of sport romances without the drama. I would also recommend this series to those who are looking to get their feet wet with the NA genre. This is a great series to start with because the characters are relatable and the writing is smooth and realistic. Now that I’ve completed The Ivy Years series, I am so excited to start the spin-off series, Brooklyn Bruisers. Finally a romance set in my neck of the woods. TIME TO FANGIRL!