Monday, December 2, 2013

Mini-Reviews: One & Only by Viv Daniels and Through the Smoke by Brenda Novak

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.


  1. First off, I have to say that I do believe your mini reviews are actually more thorough than my real reviews. They're amazing, Keertana! I'm SO excited to see you enjoyed ONE & ONLY, too. I've avoided most of the NA genre because I felt like it settled on a platform of lust and sex, but this one sounds a lot more fulfilling. I'd definitely read more NA if they were all like that!

  2. One & Only sounds fantastic Keertana, you had me sold at the mention of a drama and angst free relationship. That's the one thing I dread when picking up an NA novel - the over the top emotional drama. I've read a few lately that have been different though, so I'm hoping we'll see that trend continue as the genre grows and expands. I'm definitely adding One & Only to my list, thanks so much for the wonderful review!

  3. Oy! It seems that there have been several NA novels with surprising depth lately. I think we should start a petition. Authors shouldn't do this, it's messing with my worldview. ;)
    All jokes aside, though, I'm glad to see this genre restored and revived in a way.

    Through the Smoke also sounds wonderful, with these two characters with different backgrounds and the slow build-up. I am very, very curious. Also, I'm a romance junkie these days.

  4. YES YES YES "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." I was incredibly worried to pick this book up, because I hate cheating and reading about one character being in a relationship that drags out, is always a turnoff. But Daniels managed to tackle the situation realistically without unnecessary drama. And as you said, I just LOVE Dylan and Tess together. Their connection is so palpable. I GET it - why they wanted to be together so much, where sometimes I don't. GREAT review, and thanks for reading this one b/c it's these thoughts that made me confident I'd like it too.

    THROUGH SMOKE - I've also read this one, and while I liked it, I struggled with the classic comparisons. Still the romance was fun, and overall the book was indulgent and enjoyable.

  5. I have to admit that between the two, I would probably get Through the Smoke. I do like guilty pleasure reading and I need one about now. :)

  6. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed both books Keertana. Out of the two I think One & Only would be my sort of book, I was kind of put off, when I read half-sister, but I'm glad to see that Daniels dealt with this relationship really well. Great reviews once again! :)

  7. It's great to hear about NA making strides to create relatable relationships between characters; whether the ties between them are familial, friendly, or romantic, it's clear, strong characterization will only support these different types of relationships in an authentic way. I now have a growing list of NA titles to check out because of this change. These include: Fangirl, Unteachable, and now, One & Only. This is totally new to me, because I've been turned off by NA for a while now. So, like you Keertana, if NA continues to go in the direction of character depth, I can totally get behind it 100%. Through the Smoke also sounds pretty great. I've been wanting to reach for a historical with a slow-burning romance in it. Now, I have an option! Wonderful reviews, hun!

    1. Marlene, Fangirl is wonderful - such an authentic representation of college life! - and Unteachable is perhaps the only student-teacher forbidden romance I've enjoyed. It's also unapologetic in its portrayal of its characters, which makes it one of the better feminist reads I've come across as well. I hope you enjoy all these New Adult finds!(:

  8. WOW. Just WOW. I've been avoiding NA books lately since the last few I read were all too similar, superficial with romance and sex scenes being the sole focus. I'm so glad there's FINALLY an NA book that not only focuses on romance, but also develops the relationships with friends and family! I also like how this offers an insight into characters applying for internships and interactions with professors.

    Oohh I LOVE historical fiction! I definitely need to read more books featuring strong protagonists :)

    Lovely reviews Keertana!<3

  9. Both books sound really good and I've been wanting to check out the authors :) Great reviews!

  10. I'm thinking that One & Only should be my gateway into NA books. I adored Peterfreund's Killer Unicorns duology and am eager to read more of her books. I'm not entirely sold on how NA only seems to be contemporary, but seeing such a positive review from you means I really should (and most likely will) give this one a shot. :)
    And you're right - certainly no harm in enjoying some fluffier reads for fun. I'm going to try out Milan's historical romances first I think, but if they go well then I'll foray deeper into this genre, I'm sure.

  11. Both of these sound really good, Keertana. I have to admit I'm really nervous about the romance in One & Only because of Dylan being involved with her half-sister! Nooooo!!!

    I've read a few historical romances and really enjoyed them. I'm definitely going to check this out.

    Great mini reviews! :)

  12. I recently DEVOURED One & Only after hearing such rave reviews--pretty sure I read it in one day. I loved it for all the reasons you mentioned--it's such a fresh take on the same old, same old that many NA books have resorted to. And the thing is I love the concept of NA--college setting, trekking out without the parentals to hold you back, more mature, grown-up romance-- so it's is great when you come across a NA that GETS IT RIGHT. I'm with you--I sincerely hope this is the direction all NA will eventually head. And I can't wait to read Hannah's book next:)


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