Sunday, February 28, 2010

DIK Reading Challenge: Perfect Chemistry

Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: YA-Romance
Series: Series Unknown, but a sequel is coming out
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At Fairfield High, everyone knows that south siders and north siders aren’t exactly compatible elements. So when cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are forced to be lab partners, the results are bound to be explosive.

Neither teen is prepared for the most surprising chemical reaction of all – love. Can they break through the stereotypes and misconceptions that threaten to keep them apart?

*Beware. Minor spoilers ahoy.

Every now and then a book comes along that exceeds your expectations and makes you go, “Wow, I really enjoyed that.” For me, Perfect Chemistry was one of those books. I picked it up only intending to read a chapter or two, and finished the whole book in one sitting. I love the characters, the plot, and the writing. Perfect Chemistry was not what I expected. From the reviews and book trailer, I thought this was going to be a romantic comedy. Was it romantic? Yes. Funny? Yes. But Perfect Chemistry is more than just a humorous piece of YA fiction. It had some unexpected depth.

Both Brittany and Alex have some big issues in their lives. Brittany lives in a glass house. Her anxiety-prone, obsessive mother is determined to show the world a good face, no matter what happens. Her emotionally absent dad is no better, spending as much time as possible at work and away from the family. Her older sister has cerebral palsy, another one of the family’s secrets. Most of the tension in Brittany’s family comes from her parents wanting to send the sister to an institution while Brittany feels pressure to become the family’s perfect daughter.

Brittany was a bit of a stereotype. Rich. Beautiful. Head of the poms squad and dating the quarterback. Guys want to bang her and girls want to be her. Despite her sister and the problems with her parents, it was hard to feel too sorry for her. In terms of her social life, she’s the school’s princess. Her character does evolve as she stops keeping everyone at arm’s length and stops worrying about fitting the social mold.

In many ways Brittany’s character is easier for the average teen to relate to than Alex. Parents, siblings, social anxiety and pressure to have sex are universal teen issues. Alex’s problems go beyond that, and I think that also made him a more fleshed out character than Brittany.

I love Alex’s character. He’s poor, Latino, and in a gang. Perfect Chemistry doesn't skirt around the issues the way a lot of books do. When it says Alex is in a gang, Alex is in a gang. I don’t want to get too much into Alex’s gang life as it’s such a major part of the plot, but I like that the issue wasn’t made light of. He may not run major drug deals or shoot people, but he carries a loaded gun most of the time and leads a violent lifestyle. It didn’t feel fake. He may have a heart of gold somewhere deep down, but that doesn’t make him warm and cuddly.

For a YA romance, I found it fairly steamy. Things never get graphic, but a lot of scenes are emotionally charged. Elkeles really brought out the thrills of young love. Everything is in first-person, so readers get a good sense of a character’s thoughts and emotions. I don’t usually like romances in first person since I want to know what both characters are thinking, but the chapters alternate between Brittany and Alex’s point of view, taking care of that problem.

Some people felt Perfect Chemistry was cliché. Yea, it is. The clichés were almost unavoidable. Star-crossed lovers are about as cliché as you can get without moving into archetypes. But the theme is played with enough to feel fresh. The only cliché that got under my skin was that Alex and Brittany’s sister connected after meeting. It just felt like shorthand for “Look! This guy is so much better than your current jack-ass boyfriend.” I didn’t like when the sister was used as a plot device. The ending was cliché too, but after everything they went through I was happy with a warm and fuzzy ending and care-bear epilogue.

Another small thing that did annoy me was the timing of events. Ninety percent of this book takes place between the beginning of the school year and Halloween. That’s maybe ten to twelve weeks for our two love birds to get over their mutual hate, become attracted to each other, decide to break the social mold, and fall in love. The short time span didn’t bother me. It’s a staple of the romance genre that once you've meet “the one” obstacles shall arise and be conquered in short order. However, the remaining ten percent of the book moved in five month spans. I found the change in pace jarring. I would have preferred if the timing of the book was more even, but by the end I was so eager to see what happens that it’s probably good I didn’t have to wait.

To sum up, if you like YA fiction, go read this book! This is one of the few books that has wowed me lately. I’m excited to see there is a sequel, which is about Alex’s younger brother, coming out in a few months. I’ll definitely be reviewing that some time later this year. 5 out of 5!


In My Mailbox

Ok, this isn't breaking my challenge because I did buy these at the beginning of February, way before I decided to go give up book-buying for a few months. It took them so long to get here because of the blizzards. All from, all totally old-school.

This is the book that started the round of book-buying. It was on one of the Smart Bitch's Help a Bitch Out pages. It sounded interesting so I decided to look it up, and of course one thing lead to another...

I was actually really excited to find this book. I was browsing through the seller who had Night Games when I saw this cover and recognized it immediately. I've been looking for it for years- it's one of the first romances I ever read, probably around when I was 13 or 14. I found it on my grandma's bookshelf when I was visiting for a week. Pirates, amnesia, men who don't communicate- classic. I suppose I could have just called her and asked, but it just felt too awkward.

Both the category regencies are throwbacks to the beginning of my romance reading days as well. I used to buy a bunch of Harlequin Historicals at yard sales. I always like having them around for short, light reads.

Thanks everyone for your support of my no-buy challenge. It's daunting to see how many other people have tried and failed, but if I don't make it at least I'll be in good company!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Challenge: 5-month No Buy

After looking at my income to book spending ratio, I've decided to set up a new kind of challenge for myself- I will refrain from buying books for five months.

I would have done six months but there is no way I'm going to the RWA Lit Signing and not buying stuff.

Knowing me, this challenge is probably going to be one of the hardest I do this year. I love buying books almost as much as I love reading them. I love the way they feel, the smell, the un-cracked spine. Retail therapy is a total drug. I buy when I'm stressed, when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when I'm bored.

Because of my spending problem, I now have a very large TBR pile(s), so I'll hardly be without books. I also am going to stop getting stacks and stacks of books from the library, as this does nothing to help decrease said TBR pile. On top of everything I just don't have the time this semester to read as much as I would like. My free time is quickly disappearing, especially since everyone over here is in a crunch because of the blizzard.

But (don't you just love that there's a but), I have decided on a set list of books being published in the next few months which are the exceptions:

March 16
What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss
-I think Wendy reviewed this on her blog recently. The main reason I'm reading it is that my mom (who is a librarian) saw the cover and cracked up, so now I just have to know what happens.

April 27
Lover Mine by J.R. Ward
-Self-explanatory. John Matthew is one of my favorite characters so I'm really psyched for this book to come out. The one bad thing is that it's being released in hard back, which I'm not a big fan of. I'm really obsessive about having all my series in the same format.

May 25 (This is going to be a really good day...)
His at Night by Sherry Thomas
-I've been a huge fan of Sherry Thomas ever since Private Arrangements came out a few years back. She's the only author who is solidly on my auto-buy list.

Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas
-I was just blogging about the Hathaway's a few days ago when the covers were released. After the ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of Tempt Me at Twilight, I'm really for this one.

Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn
-I almost didn't include this book. I don't think JQ's recent novels have been as great as the Bridgertons, and this cover is awful. But I do still enjoy her works, so I'm putting it on my exceptions list.

June 29
Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas
-I'm glad this one is so soon after Married by Morning. Now I don't have to worry about any cliffhangers.

July 6
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley
-I loved The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. I'd list it as one of my favorite romances. So of course I'm glad the next in the series is coming out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Belated Valentine's Day

Happy Belated Valentine's Day!

I meant to post something yesterday (seeing how V-day and romance go together and all...) but ended up distracted by mundane household errands. I have to admit that V-day is one of those holidays that always slips my mind. I'm not in a relationship, so I'm not going to be doing something with my significant other. And I'm not lonely, so I'm not going to spend the day cheering myself up. I'd use it as a day to celebrate romance, but hey, I do that everyday.

All in all, I hope everyone had a good Valentine's Day, whatever you decided to do with it.

Recent Reads:

Title: Never Seduce A Scoundrel
Author: Sabrina Jeffries
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: School for Heriesses (#1)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I can generally rely on Sabrina Jeffries for a fun, light read. Never Seduce a Scoundrel was possibly my favorite- there was some great tension between Amelia and Lucas. Lucas is a bit bullheaded for most of the book, but he comes around before I started to dislike him. The suspense and mystery are fairly predictable, so any interesting conflict is confined to Amelia and Lucas and whether or not their romance can survive the lies around them. I liked the scenes involving "The Scottish Scourge", who later goes on to be hero in another book in the series. Overall it was very enjoyable.

Title: High Heels and Holidays
Author: Kasey Michaels
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense
Series: Maggie Kelly Mystery (#5)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I couldn't get past the first chapter of this. It begins with our heroine, Maggie, writing in her journal about all the things that are going on in her life, mainly her boyfriend who is a fictional romance hero come to life. I think its a cool concept, but I never got past that first chapter to find out. She keeps referring to the journal as "Fred" (at least I think that's what was going on). For quite a while I couldn't figure out who Fred was- was he another character, a figment of her imagination, or was I supposed to be Fred? I might have been able to push myself more and gotten into the book after a chapter or two more, but it seemed like too much effort. This is the fifth in the Maggie Kelly Mystery series, so Maggie and her not-so-fictional boyfriend Alexandre would probably have made a lot more sense if I had started at the beginning.

Title: Gone with the Nerd
Author: Vicki Lewis Thompson
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense
Series: Nerds (#4)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I definitely want to write a full review of this one as soon as I have time. This one had some serious WTF moments, and the characters and plot seemed to be all over the place. There is some strong animal attraction between the two main characters. Longer review to come.

Friday, February 5, 2010

From the Look of Things

1. I am completely snowed in. I'm sure anyone in the MD/DC/VA area is having the same problems right now. It just stopped snowing an hour ago, but there's a predicted storm for Tuesday.

Our power went out last night, so I was incredibly relieved when I woke up this morning and everything was running again, though it flickers a bit. I don't do really well with power outages. I can deal with no light, no computer, no TV, and no hot water, but not all at the same time. I think it's the boredom that comes with being stuck in a dark house. And then the boredom makes me want to eat and sleep. By the time the snow begins to clear out I'm going to look like a squirrell ready for hibernation.

I though I'd add some pictures of my back porch and of the tree limbs weighed down in the snow.

Ironically, the first thing that popped into my head when the blizzard hit was, "I have a library book that's overdue and there is no way I can return it this weekend." I guess that's what I get for having a librarian for a mother :)

2. I feel I might as well add my two cents about the new Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn book covers. I've seen a lot of people posting about it. In both cases, I think the covers are a step down from the previous books in the series.

Lisa Kleypas:

So far the Hathways have some of my favorite covers. In fact, that's how I began reading the series.- back in '07 the blue and gold cover of Mine Till Midnight caught my eye when I was stuck in a long line at CVS. I like the covers for Seduce Me at Sunrise and Tempt Me at Twilight even more.

I love image of the single female reclining. There's a touch of mystery in that you can't see her eyes. To me, those covers are attractive and sensual without being overdone.

The covers of Married by Morning and Love in the Afternoon match each other, but not the other books in the series. This is a pet peeve of mine. I know it doesn't bother a lot of readers, but I hate when things don't match. The titles match, so why can't the covers? On top of that, the covers don't seem as interesting or romantic.

I'm unsure why the publishers decided to make the covers more tame- I doubt the books will be. Both the covers are pleasant, but I find them bland. I can see why Love in the Afternoon has a stack of letters, but the roses on Married by Morning just seem to be garden variety romance symbolism (hehe forgive the pun). They're not nearly as sensual as the earlier book covers.

Also, comparing the step backs, the first three follow the formula of shirtless male/dress falling off. Then these two are shirt falling off/dress on. I don't think that's a big deal. I just wonder why the publishers decided to go that direction.

Julia Quinn:

The cover for What Happens in London is a lot like what the new Hathaway covers look like (minus the step back). While I don't think it's remarkable, I do like it.

So I'm really lost to how the publishers decided on the cover for Ten Things I Love About You (the follow up to What Happens in London).

The cover almost works if you start from the bottom. You've got a lovely flowing white dress, a hint of cleavage, a mysterious letter... a washed out brunette? I feel bad for whoever was the model for that cover- it is not a flattering angle for her face and the expression looks more bored and vacant than intriguing. The face is so jarring it takes any romance there was out of the cover.

Personally, I think Julia Quinn has been screwed over on covers for the past few years. I remember the WTF moment from when I first saw The Lost Duke of Wyndham. I would have hoped publishers learned from the Wyndham/Cavendish covers, but apparently not. In these cases, while cartoonish, I think I prefer the UK versions.