Title: One & Only (Canton, #1)
Author: Viv Daniels (a.k.a. Diana Peterfreund)
Rating: 4 Stars
One & Only is a surprising read, primarily because it’s a New Adult novel with a modicum of depth, complexity, and true worth. Forget the mindless, steamy novels you’ve known and imagine – just for a moment – a novel about an intelligent young woman, a bioengineering major, whose main goal in life is to never follow in the footsteps of her parents. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After all, which teenager, fresh off to college, doesn’t set off with the hopes to distinguish themselves from the people who have brought them up? Moreover, which teenager wants to repeat the same mistakes of their parents? In her debut, Daniels writes a story that is one-part family, one-part friendship, one-part college, and only two-part romance. If that isn’t a formula for success, I don’t know what is.
Of course, from the surface, One & Only is a love story. Tess, the illegitimate daughter of a millionaire, has lived with her single-mother all her life, abiding by the rules her father lay down for her and even attending the state college he commanded she study in lest she meet her half-sister in the prestigious Canton College she desires to attend. Thus, when Tess earns a scholarship to a summer program in Cornell the summer before her freshman year, she whisks herself away to a summer of scientific immersion. It is there that she meets Dylan – cute, intelligent, and ever-so-slightly nerdy – and sparks fly. But Tess knows better than to start a long-distance relationship and after that summer, she never meets Dylan again. Until, that is, she transfers into Canton after two years. Only, this time, while Tess is determined to make her relationship work with Dylan, he isn’t as available as he was two summers ago. And this time, he’s dating her half-sister, Hannah.
What makes One & Only such a spectacular novel, aside from the fact that the messy romantic relationship is dealt with in a tasteful manner with little to no angst or drama, is the fact that the relationships drawn up throughout the story are authentic and realistic to this age group. Tess must not only balance school work and a job, but she struggles under the burden of her secret as an illegitimate child. Yet, her relationship with her mother is strong and sure, one filled with affection despite the fact that Tess refuses to follow down her mother’s footsteps and become “the other woman” in any relationship. Additionally, I enjoyed Tess’s blooming friendships with the sisters she waitressed with and the competitive biomedical students she found herself competing with. What I found interesting was the fact that both these groups of friends were part of very different friend circles, but Daniels still allows Tess to befriend them both, sharing different experiences with each. Just the portrayal of friendships in college is rare to find in New Adult novels, but the different types of friendships, the multiple bonds and their respective strengths is even harder to find, which is why I applaud Daniels for their inclusion.
Ultimately, One & Only offers originality into the field of New Adult. Tess takes advantage of her relationships with her professors to find working internships, the economic struggles she faces are outlined but never judged, there is absolutely zero slut-shaming, and the inner growth Tess undergoes is universally relatable. Moreover, the icing on the cake is the fact that her romance with Dylan is both sweet and steamy. Dylan respects Tess’s boundaries, encourages her ambitions, and fosters her intelligence. In every sense of the term, they are a couple formed and bonded on equal footing, which is such a relief to see. I sincerely hope this is a signal that alpha males are fading into the background of long-forgotten nightmares. If New Adult is headed in this direction, I can only wait and watch anxiously for more.
Title: Through the Smoke
Author: Brenda Novak
Rating: 4 Stars
Brenda Novak’s Through the Smoke is the first historical romance novel I’ve read in awhile now. After a string of misses, I have refused to touch this genre with a ten-foot long pole, but this book wormed its way onto my radar and stubbornly kept re-appearing. Eventually, I couldn’t resist. After all, with dozens of readers labeling this just as gothic as Jane Eyre and just as romantic as Pride & Prejudice, how could I resist?
Needless to say, Through the Smoke delivered – enormously so. For one, the romance is tortuous and rewarding, a slow build-up of admiration, understanding, and desire. Although Truman and Rachel are from different worlds – one wealthy, the other poor – they manage to make their romance work through the hurdles they face. Truman is an Earl, suspected of murdering his cheating wife in the fire that consumed her, but In reality, he remembers nothing. Thus, when the bookseller’s daughter, Rachel, claims to have information about the murder, Truman seizes the opportunity to interrogate her. Truman’s entrance into her life forces Rachel into a world of worker politics, similar to that in North & South, and introduces her to a love she could have never imagined.
Although Through the Smoke does contain a handful of historical romance tropes, consummating in a villain who is more black-and-white than gray, the setting of this story is vividly imagined and the mystery all the more so intriguing. Both Rachel and Truman are complicated characters, carrying messy pasts and even more doubtful futures, but their forbidden romance settles itself into your heart artfully. What I appreciated most about this novel was the fact that Rachel’s existence did not revolve around Truman and, instead, she proves herself a strong and capable protagonist, fiercely independent and determined for an equal relationship. Granted, Through the Smoke isn’t all that thought-provoking, but it is the perfect guilty-pleasure read to curl up with for a few hours – no harm in that.