Title: Ink is Thicker Than Water
Author: Amy Spalding
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: December 3rd, 2013
Amy Spalding tore down any preconceived notions I may have had about the content of her novels with her debut, The Reece Malcolm List, which stunned me with its honest voice, unexpected depth, and realistic portrayal of family. With Ink is Thicker Than Water, Spalding weaves an even more complex family dynamic with yet another narrator whose voice is spot-on. It isn't nearly as much fun as her debut is, full of its musical cast, but its messages are just as - if not more - important.
Kellie Brooks has never had a nuclear family or, for that matter, a normal life. Sarah, her older sister who has both beauty and brains, is adopted and her hippie mother and step-dad own a tattoo parlor. When Sarah turns eighteen, however, Kellie's "normal" begins to change. Not only is her sister meeting with her biological parents, discovering just how crazy her adopted family really is, but Kellie's best friend has abandoned her for a popular crowd and her father's disappointment weighs her down like lead. Moreover, Kellie is experiencing her own kind of change, complete with a college boyfriend and a new spot as a writer for the school newspaper. As Kellie navigates the turbulent waters that is her life, she'll soon realize that "normal" isn't what society dictates, but rather what you make of it yourself.
Ink is Thicker Than Water is a messy story, often with too many story arcs, but Spalding gives each ample attention. Whether it be Kellie's complicated relationship with Oliver, which is realistically drawn with these two setting boundaries and finding the courage to discuss their relationship or Kellie's relationship with her sister as the two must re-learn how to become a family when both are undergoing drastic changes in their lives, Spalding keeps her characters flawed, but her resolutions realistic. Moreover, I particularly love that Kellie discovers that it is okay to change. As a junior newly joining the school newspaper, previously underachiever Kellie finds that she harbors passions and ambitions and actual dreams for the future and, moreover, that she no longer wants to be the girl she always was; she wants to be someone different. For me, witnessing Kellie, alongside her sister and mother slowly uncover new truths about themselves and the lives they lead was a shockingly well-written growth arc. Additionally, a family with tattooists and adopted siblings isn't common, but Spalding writes them in such a friendly, relate-able manner that it is impossible not to see them as the new "normal" as well. With her sophomore novel, Spalding re-defines what it is to be normal, such an integral theme as teenagers rarely think their lives are going as planned or are as normal as they should be. With Spalding's story being pushed out into the void, however, there is no doubt in my mind that this is one tale that will connect with every reader, regardless of age and, moreover, regardless of family.
Title: Love the One You're With (Love, Sex, & Stiletto, #2)
Author: Lauren Layne
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: December 9th, 2013
I've been trying to figure out what exactly it is that makes Lauren Layne's novels work so well for me. I do think her romantic plot lines are a little too familiar, and yet, aren't all of them? For me, what puts Layne on par with other contemporary romance writers I've enjoyed, such as Julie James, is the fact that she writes about women who are finding their way in life, either by re-creating themselves or putting themselves out there in new and terrifying settings. Grace, in Love the One You're With, is turning over a new leaf after she finds her boyfriend of nine years cheating on her. But, as Grace swiftly realizes, molding herself into a new version - Grace 2.0 - who is strong and sassy instead of kind and meek, is not as easy as it seems. What I love about Love the One You're With is the fact that Grace discovers, over the course of the novel, that who she is isn't defined by mere adjectives; she isn't just Grace 1.0 or Grace 2.0, she's really everything in-between too. For me, the fact that Layne writes strong, independent women who don't live their lives in boxes or around the schedules of men make her books feminist, enlightening, and simply kick-ass.
One of my favorite aspects of this novel, however, was the fact that Grace was forced to deal with a new inclusion into her friend circle. It has always been Julie, Grace, and Riley, the three ladies and their romance articles, but on a short leave from work, Emma joins their group and the confusion this throws into Grace's life is perfectly depicted. For perhaps the first time, Grace realizes that even the friend circles she assumed her molded in place can change - and do change even as these women change throughout their lives. It is a surprisingly realistic portrayal of friendship - tight, loyal, but messy too.
When it comes to the romance, though, what draws me in the most is the fact that these are wealthy, successful women with ambitions which levels out the playing field so that there is no economic dependence whatsoever. Moreover, the healthiness of these relationships shines through in their mutual respect for one another. Jake and Grace hold each other in high regard, which propels them to start off with friendship before taking their relationship any farther. It makes for tantalizing tension, but the pay-off is worth it (though perhaps the cheesy ending isn't). Ultimately, however, while I adore the romances Layne writes, all contemporary adult novels begin to blend together after awhile. Nearly all the characters are similar, as are their romances, which makes the notable differences Layne inserts into her stories all the more integral. Needless to say, I cannot wait to read whatever Layne up her sleeve next!