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REVIEW:  Mafia Girl by Deborah Blumenthal

REVIEW: Mafia Girl by Deborah Blumenthal

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Dear Ms. Blumenthal,

I have a soft spot for fictional criminals, especially fictional criminal families. Look at my love of Ally Carter’s Heist Society books and Holly Black’s Curseworker trilogy. Your novel caught my eye right away. I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA novel told from the POV of a don’s daughter.

Gia, as the titular mafia girl, is the only daughter of the local mob boss. Thanks to her family’s money (no matter how ill-gained), she attends one of the most prestigious private schools in the city. Sure, because of her family’s background, she’s not the most popular girl at school but who cares?

Despite her family’s criminal background, she does have a dream. A secret one, known only by one other person: her father. It’s one that’ll take her beyond the mafia life. But then, one day, while skipping school with her BFF, she’s pulled over for drunk driving by the very hot Officer Michael Cross and her life begins to change.

So let’s get the ugly out of the way. This book was a mess. It’s not the most random book I’ve ever read, but that’s hardly a standard. It needed something more to tie all the various subplots together. Maybe it just needed a main plot. Is this the story of a mafia girl trying to go straight and become legit, to help the helpless and those who can’t help themselves? Is this the story of a girl with a scandalous background becoming a media darling? Is it the tale of an underdog running for president of her high school? Or is it the story of a girl who falls in love with the wrong guy? I have no idea. All of these things take place over the course of the book but I have no idea which one was the most important.

Gia is not the most likeable character. I’m fine with that. After all, I like the unlikeable female characters and considering her background, that personality trait is hardly surprising. What I struggled with was how shallow her characterization was. She was a walking stereotype of spoiled, rich girl. Considering what her dream ultimately turned out to be, I would have expected her character to show a more humanitarian side. The only time it really comes out is with the pit bull.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Mafia Girl Gia and Officer Michael. Gia is 17 years old. I’m not sure how old Michael is. I thought him to be in his early to mid-20s. I’m just not okay with this. I know this is maybe splitting hairs. I would have been okay with it if Gia were 18 and there certainly have been similar age differences in new adult novels. But I just could not get around the fact that Gia was underaged and Michael was her arresting officer. Michael is not a college boy. He’s a police officer. It made me feel gross.

What made it worse is that Gia pretty much stalks Michael. I think we’re supposed to read this behavior as cute and empowering because here’s an aggressive young woman going after the guy she wants. But that guy turned down her advances. Yes, he’s attracted to her but she comes from a criminal family and she’s underaged. He wants no part of that. He’s old enough to know that some things are bad for you and that there are lines you shouldn’t cross. I know we’re supposed to see this as a romance against all odds, between people from two different worlds, But I found nothing about this romantic. Not Gia’s refusal to accept Michael’s “no.” Not the way she finds out what bar he hangs out at after work and keeps going there to “run into” him. Not when she tracks down his home address. What do you call this?

The biggest disappointment was that lack of mafia shenanigans. With a hooky title like Mafia Girl, you’d expect there to be. But Gia is conveniently kept in the dark and knows nothing about her father’s shady underworld dealings. Mind you, a good chunk of that is willful ignorance in my opinion and deliberate naivete. Maybe mafia princesses aren’t supposed to know what their fathers do. But if you make a big deal about someone’s criminal family, I expect more firsthand criminal shenanigans to happen. As it was, Gia could have been a privileged socialite out of Gossip Girl.

In the end, my favorite parts were the domestic home life Gia had with her family. The awkward moments she had with her older brother who tries to comfort her in his gruff way. The mother who shows her love through food and cooking. These interactions were familiar and comforting. Even her father’s role as the patriarch who’s done with his daughter’s nonsense. In some ways, I think that made the lack of mafia shenanigans even more disappointing because I felt there was a missed opportunity for a more immediate contrast between Gia’s father the patriarch and Gia’s father the mafia don.

I can almost grasp what Mafia Girl was trying to accomplish. The story of a girl from a criminal family trying to find an identity and life outside of it. But the lack of focus and some unsavory elements just failed to bring it to life. D

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Homecoming (Southern Honor, book 1) by Meredith Daniels

REVIEW: Homecoming (Southern Honor, book 1) by Meredith Daniels

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Home is where his heart is…once he recognizes what’s in his heart.

Southern Honor, Book 1
Broken in body, mind and spirit after a botched mission in Kuwait, elite Special Forces operative Jack Dresden returns to Devotion, Georgia, both dreading and longing to face his past. He left town on the receiving end of a wicked right hook thrown by the only person who ever made him feel he was right where he belonged.

Dillon Bluff was never good at pretending. Coming out right after high school, it hasn’t been easy dealing with the stigma of being gay in a small, Southern town. When he stumbles across Jack in the throes of a panic attack, one touch reignites the smoldering, hidden torch he’s always carried for his former best friend.

Jack knows he’s messed up, and the last thing he wants to do is hurt Dillon again. But Dillon is determined to take control and show Jack’s heart the way back home.

Product Warnings
Contains a sexy, scarred Delta Force hero with the hots for his tattooed photojournalist prone-to-skinny-dipping ex-best friend. Threats of creative rope use and plenty of manly loving may leave the reader craving a cigarette—and a man in uniform.

Dear Ms. Daniels.

REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS.

I think I can imagine what story you wanted to write in this book. I think it was supposed to be a touching story about a badly wounded warrior coming back to his home town and reconnecting with his first love. If written convincingly I can eat up the stories about wounded soldiers coming back, trying to adjust to peaceful life and of course finding love, with a spoon. I want to see as many of them as possible coming back alive – both in fiction and reality and I am always seeking to read a story which deals with it. Unfortunately I cannot say that your story was written convincingly for me. I can see of course that the blurb indicates that this is book 1, and it is possible that the second book will address at least some of the issues that bothered me so much. However I can only review the book which is in front of me now and I cannot even be sure that the second book will have the same characters, because this one ends in the way a stand- alone story could end. Although since Jack’s relationship with his father is not quite resolved at the end of the story, I can at least see that there is some potential for a second book.

Jack left his home town ten years ago and never looked back. He know that he is gay and he broke up with the girl he was dating (who was also a sister of his best friend and that best friend was apparently his real love – as Jack eventually recognized). Jack was also afraid that his parents, especially his father, would not accept him if he came out. So he went and became part of the Delta team (not sure whether he made all these life changes too fast, but that question bothered me the least in light of some other things).

One of his assignments ended very badly (he was tortured for months till he was freed), and he now has a severe case of PTSD. And his father is very ill, so he finally comes home on leave to see his parents and probably patch things up with his best friend. They had had a fight before Jack left town because Dillon was not happy that Jack broke up with Stacie.

I want to talk about Jack’s PTSD before anything else. He was hurt *badly*, and he has plenty of physical scars to show for it as well as a lot of emotional ones. He has nightmares, panic attacks, at some point he tells himself that he should be grateful that he does not have flashbacks. However I am not sure whether I believe Jack when he says it. I mean maybe he does not have the flashbacks in the technical sense (meaning that he does not relieve the specific moments of his torture), but at the same time he sure thinks about it, so I wonder if he is an unreliable narrator in that sense, or he just thinking about his torture in a bit more detached sense. And here comes the best part – apparently after spending some time in the hospital healing his physical damage, Jack has his psych evaluation cleared. I guess that means that after he is back from his leave he can just go back to his regular duties in team Delta whatever those duties would mean – back to the missions, etc? And how did Jack manage to have his psych evaluation cleared with his nightmares and panic attacks going on? Apparently he just “did not tell them everything” – I assume that by them he meant psychologists and/or psychiatrists whom he had to talk to.

I am sorry, what? Now I know nothing about the military, and I am willing to assume that maybe a regular soldier who has go through psych evaluation for whatever reason can fake some things. Because in my mind during the regular evaluation it might be possible that the doctor fails to catch anything out of the ordinary that the soldier is experiencing, since the doctor may have no specific reason to worry and may just let it go if the soldier’s answers are not in depth (or maybe not). But Jack is in the hospital recovering after *months* of horrific torture and I am supposed to believe that a military shrink worth their while would not take extra care to go through things with him in depth? Like maybe a psychiatrist would assume that Jack has a severe case of PTSD and just see whether evaluation would prove him wrong? There are several specific psychological tests which are specifically designed to evaluate people who may have PTSD. Such tests have many questions – often you have to write the answers and while Jack may be able to fake some answers, surely he would slip somewhere? In any event, no matter what takes place I did not buy the scenario of Jack faking psych evaluation at all and it was already a huge problem for me, but unfortunately my problems have not ended with that.

Back to the plot. Jake meets with Dillon and Stacie when he comes home, and eventually he and Dillon acknowledge their feelings and have a passionate reunion. Although maybe passionate reunion is the wrong word since they never acknowledged to each other how they felt ten years ago – so I am not sure what to call it? Jack coming out to Dillon I suppose. And this was my next issue, although this one was more of my issues rather than the book’s issue. Of course it is a common theme in romances to have lovers (or potential lovers) reunited after many years apart, I get that. However for me as a reader it is always a problem, when they spend that many years apart, that they have only had each other on their minds. I guess it is just a matter of degree – I can see how you can remember your high school crush for years, but I do not see how the boy with whom you never even slept would be on your mind when you are having sex with other people. Of course it is on a case by case basis, but I know in this story I could not buy them being ten years apart and not being able to ever move on to other people for real – like being able to fall in love with somebody else. I would say that two – three years is the maximum amount of time I can tolerate before I can start rolling my eyes. I can see how other readers can find it romantic, but I just could not.

After a scene where Jack and Dillon have passionate sex, Jack decides that Dillon is better off without him and sneaks out in the middle of the night. I wanted to ask whether he thought about whether Dillon was better off without him before he decided to have sex with him, because I just do not see a real person acting that way. I do suspect that the writer wanted me to see that this was Jack’s PTSD that made him behave in such erratic, bizarre manner, but then can somebody please tell me why it is never mentioned *not once* mind you that Jack needs a lot of therapy and fast before he is ready to start any relationship? Why does Dillon never suggest it since he is the one who saw the most of Jack’s pain? He needs therapy, maybe years of it and the word is absent from the book?
There is a happy reunion.
I cannot recommend it.
Grade D.

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