Thursday, August 1, 2013

REVIEW: THE BREATHING SERIES BY REBECCA DONOVAN

Court, I'm not gonna lie, I was a little scared to begin this series because I'd heard that it was an emotional roller coaster and I wasn't sure if I could do it. Here I am 3 books and 3 days later and I'm sitting in a complete daze trying to process these books. I'm honestly a little bit of a wreck. My brain is whirring and stumbling upon scenes from the books and my heart is bouncing between contentment and heartache and everywhere in between.

Same here, girl. I read book 1 back around December of last year, and had book 2...but I was so rocked after book 1 I had to go on to happier things for a while. It is so intense...and when talking to Rebecca Donovan at RT to describe the series to my mom she said "I held nothing back." Truer words have never been spoken!


Also..longest blog post to date? Probably...sorry...but we had a lot to say! 


Book 1: A Reason to Breathe: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

"No one tried to get involved with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?"

In the affluent town of Weslyn, Connecticut, where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She’s more concerned with feigning perfection—pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises, not wanting anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. Without expecting it, she finds love. It challenges her to recognize her own worth―at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide.

One girl’s story of life-changing love, unspeakable cruelty, and her precarious grasp of hope: Reason to Breathe is the first installment of the acclaimed Breathing Series.


The physical and psychological abuse inflicted on Emma completely horrified me. I've stated on numerous occasions that I'm not a cryer...I'm not opposed to it and I don't judge others for it, I just don't do it very often...so you can imagine how emotional this book must've been if I almost choked up before I was even halfway through it. I don't know how Emma did it but not only did she survive the horror, outside of her home, she thrived. She was able to shove every distressing notion out of her mind and excel in every sport she played and every subject she studied. She created a space in which she was comfortable numb (thank you, Pink Floyd) until Evan came along and pushed her buttons.

I have decided that it is my ultimate goal to find something that will make you cry! Or my mission of sorts....sorry, not sorry! There are almost no words to describe how beautiful this story is, even though some of it is so difficult to read and get through. It is the ultimate true representation of abuse that I have read, probably ever. I was terrified for her, and felt so many emotions right along with her. Epic emotional read.

The friendship and burgeoning love that grew between Emma and Evan was both frightening and fragile and sweet. She resisted trying to add one more complication or feeling to her life but Evan managed to burrow past all of her walls and attach himself to her. She tried to hide and protect him from the abuse she withstood and then when he figured it out she still denied the extent of the nightmare of Carol. Evan, to his credit, kept trying to charm her and protect her and love her. As much as she pushed him away, he kept coming back. He's either the best guy in the world or a complete glutton for punishment. Obviously the best guy ever. I loved the way Rebecca Donovan created their relationship; it felt so natural and right. I was also freaked out at every moment because I just KNEW Carol was going to catch them and do something horrible when she found out.


She takes so many risks to be with him...and I was so scared too that it was all going to blow up in their faces. Which it does...and I'm sure many of you wonder why they don't tell people what they know. Read to find out...I get it....doesn't mean I like it! Her selflessness was ultimately her downfall, but she is a compelling character.

At some point in the reading, I texted Courtney to say how bad I felt for Sara. She must've felt so guilty because she couldn't say anything about what was going on and she kept seeing her friend walk out of her house with new hurts. I cannot imagine the despair she must've felt trying to keep those secrets. 


That was a main focus for me too! I obviously need to reevaluate my role as a friend! Because she is seriously the best friend that I've ever encountered. She is there for her always...and wants to do what is right...but doesn't know how.

I could pour over every single detail in this book--the truly evil abuse, the sister-like bond of Sara and Emma, the non-date dates of Emma and Evan, Drew, the heartache of Emma, the lovely parents of Sara and Evan--but I could never really replicate them and so you should just go read the book instead. 


Final thought? Be prepared for a gut punch at the end. Luckily books 2 and 3 are out so you can jump right in to the next one. GUT PUNCH! HAVE THE NEXT ONE BOUGHT...TRUST US!


Shelley: 5 Stars

Courtney: 5 Stars


Obviously in a series such as this, it is difficult even to read the blurb without getting some mild spoilers....so PLEASE beware of spoilers ahead. We try not to reveal too much...but stop here just in case if you haven't read book 1...then come back when you have!  :)


Book 2: Barely Breathing | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

"I've spent most of my life trying to make it to a future that still hasn't happened, or avoid a past that won't let me go. I don't remember when I've ever just stopped to live in the present, to hold on to the seconds I'm in."

Emma Thomas’s struggle with an abusive home life came to a heart-pounding conclusion in the final chapters of Reason to Breathe, the first installment of The Breathing Series— Rebecca’s Donovan’s bestselling romantic-thriller (USA Today). Now her secret life has been exposed, and her tormentor can’t hurt her anymore. Yet some are still haunted by that night. The bruises may have faded, but scars and fears, remain. How will she reclaim her life when she's barely breathing?


It had been a while since I read Reason to Breathe, but picking back up with the second installment was effortless. Things change, but one thing I will never be able to relate to is how she has to find a way to overcome the trauma that has been her life and shaped the kind of person that she now is. She is slowly getting back to normal and has moved in with Rachel to finish out her senior year of high school...

While the first book, for me, kept me on my toes to see what that evil bitch Carol was going to do next, book two just pummeled me emotionally. Poor Emma is just so broken. You'd think now that Carol is out of the picture, Emma could breathe more freely but she's completely haunted by damage inflicted. She tries so hard to put up a good front but all she ends up doing is pushing the people who are best for her (i.e. Sara and Evan and their families) away and inviting in others with questionable motives (i.e. Rachel and Jonathan). 

I found that Emma was in survival mode for so long and keeping everything bottled up to protect herself and be the perfect person for those around her, that she obviously has issues with confiding in people. This one read so, so fast. I too was questioning motives of people and wanting to reach inside this book and help Emma. I started my inner monologue here that I can't believe that Sara's parents didn't insist that she continue going to therapy. I don't care if she didn't feel that it helped....she would've gotten there eventually...maybe....ahh! 

I repeatedly text Courtney, for this book, and told her that I felt like I was watching 2 trains speeding towards each other on the same track and I knew the wreck was going to end in catastrophe. Analise, Jonathan, Rachel, Stuart, and sometimes even Emma/Sara/Evan were all playing a part in the impending doom and I felt simultaneously sickened and compelled to read it as it all come to a horrifying and bloody crash at the end.


Perfect analogy. No one...no one knew how to help her, and the hits just kept on coming. She was still omitting things and that was so not good. It was hard to deal with, but things moved so fast and I could not put it down! 

I'm sure you're thinking...damn...are there any good moments??!!! There are! Obviously it was great to see Emma have the freedom of choice to come and go as she pleased. She and Sara and Evan had some really great days and funny times....but, honestly, I had a constant nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that just knew, KNEW, that bad times were coming and, well, they always were. The good times just didn't stand a chance against the bad times in this book. I guess what I'm trying to tell you here is when you finish book 2 and your agony subsides a little, you'll jump into book 3 (even if it's 2 AM ...ahem..that's what I did).


SOOOO....what she said! We do try now and again not be redundant! BUT this story still had a tremendous amount of emotional issues...and some great moments...new experiences and joy...and not nearly as horrifying as book 1, but still intense and important issues.

Shelley: 5 Stars 

Courtney: 5 Stars

Book 3: Out of Breath | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

Emma leaves Weslyn and everyone in it behind to attend Stanford University, just as she always intended. A shell of her former self, she is not the same girl. She is broken, and the only way that she’ll be whole again is through forgiveness. Emma must find a way to forgive herself and recognize her own worth before she can receive the love she deserves. This final installment will have readers holding their breath until the very last page.


By the time I started book 3, at 2 FREAKING am because I just HAD to know what the hell was going on, I texted Courtney and told her that I was going to try to emotionally distance myself from book 3 because I didn't think I could handle any more. I think I said I was just going to enjoy the ride. Did you hear her hysterical laughter...because I'm pretty sure I did.

I did laugh, hard, when I got that the next morning. And you will too when you get this far. I on the other hand got really whiney..which in text form is just pitiful. I was scared. I wasn't ready. But...since we push each other off the cliff, Shel helped me just dive in blindfolded! 

I'm happy to say that I DID enjoy the ride. Maybe it was because I knew that the end was coming. Maybe it's because our friends on Facebook were kind enough to hold my hand through the reading? Maybe I'd just grown to accept that these characters were going to do some pretty messed up things to each other? Who knows? 


Okay, pause. The online bookish community is amazing. They are fantastic and one little comment turned around the apprehensive feelings that we were going through. And yes, I think by book 3 we were conditioned to expect the unexpected....right? 

This book startled me when it started with Evan's perspective. I know some people don't like dual POV's but I was glad to know what was going on in that head of his. This book begins almost 2 years later and both Emma and Evan are still in love with each other, still incredibly hurt, and both denying that either exists. We get little snippets of what their lives have been like but really the focus is on their present suffering. 


I'm a big fan of well-written dual POV...so I was ecstatic to finally get some insight into Evan. He was always great before, and I was glad to see that he did have some normal emotions going on in his head even if he had a lot of self control in when he expressed them. I was shocked by the time jump though! I was like "NO, that is too much time!" It was hard...and I thought that it was beautiful to really have to get to know these people again in a more new adult setting.

Emma has successfully shut out anyone or anything that evokes emotion. She's a shell of a human being until one of her roommates finally pushes her enough to go out on New Years. This kick starts a whole new level of living and/or destruction for Emma, by Emma. She finds herself seeking numbness or solace in people or acts that range from mild to dangerous. Why, Emma, why? Well duh. She's carrying baggage so heavy that it's crippling her. Her guilt, anger, sorrow, grief, fear, and hurt have completely blinded her to how life could and should be for her.


She seriously tried so hard not to be a certain way, and it was hard to watch her do exactly the things that she detested. The friendship with Cole was a breathe of fresh air through all of that...and her brutal honesty with him, even if it was about nominal things was finally a move in the right direction.

When Emma gets one particularly devastating piece of news Evan and Sara become fully entrenched in the narrative and her life. She is barely hanging on by a thread ...and she has the scissors in her hand ...and many times it seems like she's going to cut that thread. Finally, we see her begin to let go of the vestiges of her self-inflicted wounds and some that were placed upon her. It takes her a while to get there and it takes Evan and Sara tag teaming her to begin to snap her out of her typical shut down response mode. Thank god for them. 


Sara and Evan were so mature for their years, and even when they felt like they were drowning in not knowing what to do for her...they helped her even when she was so awful and that was incredible in itself.

And, thank you Rebecca Donovan for making your characters finally be truthful and honest and fess up to their flaws and fears and hopes. Thank you for forcing them to be brave and vulnerable enough to see if there is anything left for them to love and move forward with. This part of their journey was healing. Even if they walked away from each other, it soothed me to know that they were going to put everything out there and know everything before they walked away.Also, thank you for putting some lighthearted moments in here. I was so emotionally shredded by the end of book 2...having some fun times gave me some breathing room.


The last 25% of book 3 was hands down the most enlightening, finally, and by far my absolute favorite parts...because there was finally joy and acceptance and truth. Here was the parts where I stayed up until the wee hours in the morning to finish this book! 

I loved that not only did we get some closure with Emma and Evan, we also get interesting stories with Sara, Evan's parents, and even a little more of Emma's story. By the end, I felt satisfied...happy, even  actually, when I think of the entirety of the series I think of it as bittersweet. My heart aches for some of the things these characters went through but I felt content at where they ended...without giving too much away. Ditto. I saw some pretty unhappy people on goodreads...shame on them for the record...but I was not disappointed in this book in the least because for real...how much shit can one teenager go through before it is too much? There had to be a changing of the tides, and I thought it was perfection. 


Let me just finish with Rebecca Donovan's writing: It's phenomenal. She creates scenes that are beautifully detailed without bogging you down with too much detail, the dialogue was perfect, the tension and hurt and sorrow and grief and love--I felt it ALL because of her words, her talent, and her carefully crafted sentences. Everything plot point seemed perfectly placed. I'm not sure, yet, what my cure for this GINORMOUS book hangover is...but I'm okay with it lingering a little longer. This series is a definite must read. !!!!! She is a beautiful writer, and I cannot wait to see where her career goes from here! Being sucked into a book, and feeling every emotion the characters go through is hard to do...especially for a series...and each one just got better and better and the voices of each character remained the same. I couldn't ask for a better conclusion. 


Shelley 5 stars....entire series...5 x infinity stars

Courtney: 5 Stars...so how many stars is that for this series....30?! 



1 comment:

  1. It's great to read your comments on this series. The people on Goodreads were sooooo negative about the 3rd book. Sure, I too was ready to slap Emma many times but she was as messy as real people can be. Unlike the Goodreads reviewers, I found it totally plausible that Emma ended up turning to alcohol after having such an aversion to it in high school. People change A LOT from HS to college and many children of alcoholics or abused children have a very clear sense when they're young of what they will not do but with age and real life hardships find themselves falling into familiar patterns. Emma was such a clear victim in the first book that I think it was hard for people to like her once she became her own worst enemy. I enjoyed getting to know Evan's friends and unlike others I didn't find those scenes to be wasted filler.

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