4 Stars / Contemporary / Review / Young Adult

Review: Dear Ava by Ilsa Madden-Mills

The rich and popular Sharks rule at prestigious, ivy-covered Camden Prep. Once upon a time, I wanted to be part of their world—until one of them destroyed me.

The last thing I expected was an anonymous love letter from one of them.

Please. I hate every one of those rich jerks for what they did to me. The question is, which Shark is my secret admirer: Knox, the scarred quarterback and their leader, Dane, his twin brother, or Chance, the ex who dumped me…

Dear Ava,

Your eyes are the color of the Caribbean Sea.

That’s stupid.

What I really mean is, you look at me and I feel something REAL.

It’s been ten months since you were here, but I can’t forget you.

I’ve missed seeing you walk down the hall.

I’ve missed you cheering at my football games.

I’ve missed the smell of your hair.

The truth is, I wanted you back then—but you had him.

And then everything fell apart that night.

Don’t hate me because I’m a Shark.

I just want to make you mine.


Title:Dear Ava
Author:Ilsa Madden-Mills
Genre(s):Contemporary, Young Adult
Trope(s):Enemies to Lovers
Secret Admirer
Bully Romance
Point of View:
Release Date:3rd February, 2020
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Packs an emotional punch

I am a huge fan of Ilsa Madden-Mills and her writing. She writes with a seemingly effortless style that is unbelievably absorbing. Before you know it, you’re in the story and with her characters and unlikely to come up for air until the bitter end.

Having said that, I would say that this book isn’t for everyone. It’s the most angsty book of Ms Madden-Mills and touches heavily on the subject of sexual assault/rape and somewhat less so on the subjects of mental health problems, bullying, suicide, drug-abuse and child abuse. But unless those are your particular triggers, please don’t let that put you off this book.

Ava is our main character – the charity-case, scholarship girl at the rich school. And she’s just returned to her school after a break of almost a year. Now a pariah due to a devastating incident the previous year, the story follows Ava as she struggles with her past life, her new life and all while uncovering her feelings for the head of the Sharks, Knox.

Knox has problems of his own what with his brother, his best-friend, his parents…and that’s on top of his determination to find out what really happened to Ava last year. Ava – the girl that he shouldn’t want but can’t seem to stop himself.

“[Madden-Mills] writes with a seemingly effortless style that is unbelievably absorbing.”

Both Ava and Knox are really likeable characters – both very interesting and complex, and hugely relatable. They both have vulnerabilities that are, at times, heart wrenching, but neither ever come across as self-pitying or ‘woe is me’. Of course I’m going to side with Ava and think that Knox acted like an ass at times – okay, a lot of the time – but as we get to know him as Ava does, you understand him a little more with each page.

There’s a nice amount of heat with our couple – who definitely have an amazing chemistry and tension. Ilsa Madden-Mills definitely has that knack of giving you butterflies in your stomach and they are all but fluttering whenever Ava and Knox get into their angry flirting. And when they have sex. And when they’re texting. All the time, really!

As I mentioned, the book does deal with, and touch on, some heavy subject matter. However, there is no huge detail or gratuitousness associated with any of it. The fact that it still manages to give you such an emotional punch is really quite amazing, if slightly uncomfortable in places. But such subjects probably always should be.

I love Ilsa Madden-Mills and her writing – she’s one of the reasons why I got into young adult / new adult romances and why I’ve grown to love them so much. I really enjoyed this story, too, although it was maybe a little bit too angsty to become a firm favourite of mine. If you enjoy Ms Madden-Mills’ work, are a fan of angsty romance or young adult romance then I would recommend this story to you. You will likely get as lost in it as I did. 4 stars from me.

Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today best-selling author Ilsa Madden-Mills is best known for her contemporary romances ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.

Seven of her ten novels have placed in the Amazon US Store Top Six Best-seller List: Dirty English hit #1; Fake Fiancée and I Dare You hit #2; I Bet You, Filthy English, and Very Bad Things all placed #6 in the Amazon US Store. The Last Guy, her collaboration with Tia Louise, hit #4.

A former high school English teacher, she adores all things Pride and Prejudice, and of course, Mr. Darcy is her ultimate hero.

She’s addicted to frothy coffee beverages, cheesy magnets, and any book featuring unicorns and sword-wielding females. Feel free to stalk her online.

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“What do you want?” Knox says with as sneer as I ease in the football locker room. Cold eyes flick over my cheer skirt then move up and land on the hollow of my throat. It’s not cool enough at night for our sweater uniform so tonight my top is the red and white V-cut vest with CP embroidered on my chest.

“Where’s Chance?”

He whips off his sweat-covered jersey along with the pads underneath. “I don’t keep tabs on my best friend for you. Get out—before I scare you.”

He’s scaring me already.

But I can’t stop looking at him.

His shoulders are broad and wide, his chest lightly dusted with sparse golden hair, tan from the sun, rippling with powerful muscles, leading down to a tapered and trim waist. He has a visible six-pack, and my gaze lingers briefly on a small tattoo on his hip, but I can’t tell what it is. He isn’t brawny or beefy-looking like one might expect from a guy blessed with his athletic prowess, but sculpted and molded and—

Dropping my gaze, I stare at the floor. I shouldn’t be ogling him. Chance is my maybe-boyfriend.

I hear male laughter from one of the rooms that branch off from the locker room, maybe the showers, and I deflate, guessing that’s where Chance is. 

Glancing up, I intend to ask him to tell Chance I came by to congratulate him on his two touchdowns, but my voice is frozen. Knox has unlaced his grass-stained pants and is shucking them off. His legs are heavily muscled and taut, unlike the leaner build of Chance. His underwear are white and tight, cupping his hard ass, the outline of his crotch—

“Like what you see, charity case? You can look, but you can’t touch.”

Anger soars, replacing my embarrassment. I know I’m just the scholarship girl at Camden, but why does he have to constantly remind me? 

“Don’t worry about me touching anything. I don’t like ugly.” The words tumble out before I can stop them. I meant his superior attitude, not his face, but I see the moment when he freezes and takes it the wrong way. 

He touches his face, tracing his scar while his jaw pops. “Get the hell out. Only players allowed in here.” 

I pivot and go for the door, forcing myself not to run. “Asshole,” I mutter.

His laughter follows me.

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