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