Thursday, May 22, 2014

Contemporary Summer ARC Mini-Reviews: #scandal, Magnolia, and On the Fence


Title: #scandal
Author: Sarah Ockler
Rating: 2 Stars
Release Date: June 17th, 2014

Frankly speaking, I'd encourage readers to skip #scandal entirely. Seriously. If you haven't read Ockler before, I'd dissuade you from beginning with this novel and if, like me, you're a fan, you're simply better off re-reading one of her previous titles.

#scandal dealt with one too many issues for it to handle with aplomb. When Lucy's best friend, Ellie, is down with the flu and unable to attend prom with her dashingly handsome boyfriend, she forces Lucy to be Cole's date instead. Only, Lucy has had a crush on Cole since before he began dating her best friend and now, at such close proximity with him for an entire night, her feelings rush back, all at once. As luck would have it, however, Cole returns her feelings--a truth he can admit to, as he and Ellie broke up before prom--but before their break-up becomes public, an image of Lucy and Cole kissing goes viral instead.

Now, I don't know if it's because I spend more time on Goodreads than on Facebook, but I felt oddly distanced from this story. Lucy begins the novel already in love with Cole, which left their romance a pile of disappointment as I was unable to become emotionally involved in it. Ellie, from the first page itself, stood out as an odd type of best friend, forcing her friend to accompany her boyfriend as his prom date, and I cannot claim to truly feel the bond of friendship between these two girls. Even more than that, though, #scandal deals with cyber-bullying in a manner I find to be woefully disappointing. Lucy is attempting to clear her name from the scandal she is associated with, all while trying to find out who stole her phone and posted the picture--along with other incriminating ones--online. Thus, the entire problem of cyber-bullying is dealt alongside a heavy dose of gossip and drama, which didn't work for me. Quite simply put, I barely have anything to say about #scandal except for the fact that its characters failed to resonate with me, its plot felt flimsy and underdeveloped, and with the exception of that gorgeous blue background color, I'd prefer to entirely forget about the existence of this novel. Excuse me while I hunt for my copy of Bittersweet to remind myself of what a classic Sarah Ockler story reads like; this innovative approach just didn't do it for me.

Title: Magnolia
Author: Kristi Cook
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Release Date: August 5th, 2014

Magnolia is a delightfully light, quick summer romance. Cook attempts to set up a reverse Romeo & Juliet situation in Magnolia as her romantic leads, Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marden, absolutely detest one another while their families--old, Southern-style households determined to uphold decades-long traditions--are eager to see them together, if only to finally witness their families joined together by more than friendship. But Jemma and Ryder are determined to keep those dreams exactly as they are--dreams. While the two used to be friends, recent events have created a rift between them they aren't keen to breach. Until, that is, a deadly hurricane sweeps through town and Jemma and Ryder find themselves alone, dependent solely on each other for survival. While the hurricane unearths even the ground itself, Jemma and Ryder finally unearth the secrets in their past, realizing that the line between love and hate is far more transparent than it seemed.

Without a doubt, Magnolia is a lovely, tickle-me-pink love story, full of the tension we crave between romantic leads as we witness them--grudgingly--grow to love one another, putting aside their former emotions. Cook writes the focal hurricane scene believably, at least for this Northern girl, building suspense to drive forward the plot line while sustaining the atmosphere of Southern charm she creates within the first few chapters. There are a decent number of story lines running through this tale: Jemma coping with her older sister's sudden brain tumor; dealing with the attentions of Patrick, a cute boy whose DUIs indicate a persona not entirely suited for Jemma; and realizing that she, Jemma, may not want to attend the local universities her parents have picked out for her but may, instead, want to attend film school in New York City. Yet, Cook manages to weave these together for they all contribute to the general confusion Jemma feels during the time, while simultaneously getting to know the boy who she has self-declared her very own Public Enemy #1, Ryder.

I found it easy to slip into Jemma's narration and rather enjoyed it, with the exception of a few scenes where I felt as if her voice distanced the reader rather than included them. Ryder, too, is the complete package of swoon, proving to be far more than the "villain" Jemma paints him out to be from the onset of the story. In fact, I found myself anticipating their interactions, merely because both Jemma and Ryder were mature and self-aware enough to know when to put aside their differences and work together, but they aren't above throwing a jab or two at one another regardless. Their tentative journey to an ultimate relationship, despite balancing their own desires from that of their parents, is more than just a little rewarding. While one particular plot point towards the end of the story forced me to raise my eyebrows in annoyance, for the most part--those personal narrative moments aside--Cook's latest novel certainly surprised me. Don't expect an ocean of depth and you may just close this book with a grin. I know I did.

Title: On the Fence
Author: Kasie West
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: July 1st, 2014

On the Fence is the first Kasie West I've genuinely enjoyed. While her previous contemporary romance had me reeling in disappointment and her debut, Pivot Point, did little to convince me of her writing prowess, this upcoming novel hit all the right notes. 

We've all read or seen or heard, in some form of media or the other, the classic tale of a beautiful young girl raised in a household of men, brought up to be a vivacious tom-boy. Charlie fits that bill perfectly, unable to remember a life before her mother's death. For as long as she has known, all she's ever needed is football, her older brothers, the reassuring presence of her father, and Braden, her best friend and neighbor rolled in one. Until, that is, this summer. While searching for a job to pay off her speeding tickets, Charlie realizes how woe-fully un-feminine she is. And, lo and behold, On the Fence won me over at last. Charlie's narration is deceptively easy to slip into, reading strong and honest, bold and unique, which is quite refreshing. Yet, the vulnerabilities she began to expose as she discovered aspects of her personality she never even knew existed, spoke to me. I completely felt for Charlie; for her mother-less childhood, for the manner in which her family never spoke about her deceased mother, and for the swirling confusion in her heart whenever Braden approached. 

West copes with the family machinations in this novel beautifully, building realistic relationships with believable dialogue. Though it can feel partially stereotypical at times, it isn't wholly so, which makes the necessary distinction. Braden, especially, is such a delightfully complex hero; a buddy to Charlie's brothers, another son to Charlie's father, but merely a friend to her. While he seems to treat her as "one of the guys", the midnight conversations these two share along their shared fence made me fall head-over-heels for their romance. Not only do these two complement one another perfectly, slowing falling--and discovering--their love, but they also accept and understand each other for their true personalities, not the facades they hide behind. On the Fence surprised me with its unexpected depth and, finally having found a Kasie West novel I like, I can only hope the trend persists. If you're looking for a feel-good love story, one filled with a realistic growth arc and strong familial relationships (not to mention a swoon-worthy best friend romance!), On the Fence is your best bet, rain or shine. 

22 comments:

  1. Oh I love the sound of Magnolia! Being a Southerner and a hurricane prepper and seeing the Southern legacies play out repeatedly I would love this book! And I am so glad Kasie West's book is so good. She is a very sweet person and I love that it comes across in her books!!

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  2. What an interesting combination of books and ratings here, Keer!

    I've never read any Ockler... I don't think, though I plan to, but I haven't been that interested in #scandal.

    I have read one other review of Magnolia and it sounds quite good!

    And I wasn't sure about Kasie's books, but now you have me wanting to give OtF a go!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist

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  3. Keertana, you are so amazing at keeping on top of your review copies! I had high hopes for all three of these books over the Summer, so it's a shame that #Scandal didn't work out for you, as I too have adored all her previous novels! But I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Magnolia and On the Fence, more so Magnolia, as I've had my eye on it for a while, but this is the first praising review I have read for it!

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  4. Definitely going to take your advice and steer away from #scandal. I've never liked stories where the BFF falls for and then steals the BFF's boy/girlfriend. You just don't do that. Suck it up. Plenty of other fish in the sea and all that.

    The other two sound like fun reads that I might have to add to my summer reading list!

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  5. We are review twins today with #scandal!

    I have read two out of the three you posted (and have the third in my TBR pile to read soon) and I agree the West book was by far the best read out of them all.

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  6. I'm reviewing On The Fence next, and I'm glad to see it got 4 stars from you! From what I've read thus far, I really like the characters and the setup! I haven't heard of #scandal, and it's a bummer to hear that Ms. Ockler missed with that one - I've read some greats by her! Thanks for sharing, Keertana!

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  7. Too bad on #scandal Keertana, I've been a big fan of Sarah's other books! I'll just plan on skipping this one and scooping up whatever she writes next. Glad to see you enjoyed On the Fence, I just finished that one and really enjoyed it! I just like the way Kasie West writes:)

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  8. Oh I love when we have many mini reviews like that. I only know the last one I confess but I love the cover of Magnolia and the story intrigues me. Thanks for your reviews!

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  9. Is it weird that even though you didn't quite enjoy #scandal, I'm still oddly curious about the book? I think it may have to do with the nosiness in me.

    I'm really looking forward to the other two you've reviewed as well, especially On the Fence.

    Lovely reviews, Maja!

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  10. To be honest Sarah Ockler's newest didn't appeal to me in the least because it sounded like a lot of drama. Sounds like I was right. Pass! Magnolia sounds like a romance I'd enjoy. I have yet to read Kasie's contemporary novels but I think this is up on edelweiss. Maybe I'll go and get it seeing as you enjoyed it so much . I have The Distance Between Us but still haven't got around to reading it. Wonderful reviews, Keertana. :)

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  11. I've been thinking about #Scandal, I just started reading it I'm feeling the same way as you, albeit I'm only 30 pages in. I love how Magnolia sounds and I'm looking forward to read it. I'm glad you enjoyed On the Fence. Wonderful reviews, Keertana (:

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  12. I like the backwards Romeo and Juliet thing for Magnolia; seems interesting.

    That's great you really liked On the Fence, since you weren't in love with the author's other books.

    Man, your mini reviews are like my normal reviews! lol

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  13. Well as this is the second not so good review for #scandal I saw today I'll skip it. I have heard so much about Ockler's writing and I don't want to ruin all that with this book. Sorry it was a disappointment tough :(
    On the other hand On the Fence sounds like something I might read this summer. I like the sound of it and I love beautifully built relationships. Great reviews, Keertana :)

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  14. Love the sound of Magnolia. I just love a book that makes you smile! Plus, On the Fence! Oh another one that is feel-good. Sometimes those just fit the bill. Do think I'll pass on #scandal and read another one of her books. Brilly reviews!!

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  15. I completely second your thoughts about #Scandal. It felt like a huge disappointment in general because I had come to expect so much from Ockler after The Book of Broken Hearts.

    I actually have Magnolia for review and I am so excited to dive in and experience the wonders of the southern setting (and the romance. I'll admit it, I am excited to read about the romance).

    I have been on the fence about On the Fence (I think I am so punny) but your review has me convinced that I need to give this one a shot! I haven't read anything by West before and this might be the place to start? Or perhaps The Distance Between us.

    Lovely reviews, Keertana!!! :)

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

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  16. Ok, Magnolia sounds ADORABLE. love the idea of a 'reverse Romeo & Juliet'.

    So disappointed for you on #Scandal :( I know you've been a big fan of Sarah Ockler in the past and... To be honest, ever just the description of this is disappointing and a little... Peadaestrian? Boo. Wonderfully reviewed, though xx

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  17. #scandal does sound like it has a lot going on. I don't think I would like it, but then again I've never read a novel by Ockler. I've heard good things about her but have never just found myself wanting to buy or check out her books.

    Magnolia sounds really good! Cook is such a nice lady. She follows me on instagram and interacts with me from time to time. She's very nice. I read her novel Haven, but wasn't loving it, but I did like it. I'm really looking forward to checking this one out after your review, Keertana.

    I've yet to read a Kasie West novel, but I've heard mixed reviews. I'll definitely pick up Off the Fence first when I check her out.

    Great reviews, Keertana! Hope your having fun in Washington, D.C.:D

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  18. I haven't read anything by Ockler before, but I will take your advice and start with something else! I haven't been hearing the best things about this book. I only discovered Magnolia yesterday, but I really like the sound of it and think it will probably work for me. And On the Fence is DEFINITELY one I can't wait to read. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Keertana! I've loved all of West's previous titles, so I reckon I will enjoy this one too. Great reviews! :)

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  19. Good to know about #scandal. I actually wasn't a fan of Ockler's The Book of Broken Hearts, so there is a good chance if I give her another try and have another mediocre experience with her books I may be done with her works. I definitely will take your advice and read one of her earlier books next instead!

    This is the first I've heard of Magnolia, but it sounds wonderful! And what you describe as a reverse Rome & Juliet plotline has me intrigued. I will keep this one in mind when I read a fun, light read!
    And yay I'm glad you've finally found a Kasie West book that works for you! Although I have only read Pivot Point so far, I am eager to give more of her works a try. :)

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  20. Heard a lot of up and down about Scandal. I am still curious, thought I did never read any of her other novels. It sounds like this is not her best work.

    I do want to read On the Fence, it looks super cute

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