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Book Reviews

REVIEW:  Switched by Cassie Mae

REVIEW: Switched by Cassie Mae

switched-cassie-mae

Dear Ms. Mae,

I have a soft spot for romances about people in love with the wrong person. Doubly so when it turns out someone else is more suited to them and the story is about them learning that. The premise of your new adult novel sounded like it would deliver. Unfortunately, a trope can’t carry itself.

Kayla has been in love with Talon for as long as she can remember. (I’m not even going to comment on the name.) Too bad Talon’s dating her best friend, Reagan. To complete the love rectangle is Talon’s best friend, Wesley, who has a thing for Reagan.

So what are the third and fourth wheels to do? Try to break up their best friends’ relationship, of course. Because that always ends well.

Normally, I avoid stories about people actively trying to break up other people’s relationships. It’s just not a narrative I like. But I thought it fairly obvious in the book’s cover copy that all would end well. Maybe this was a risk to assume in a new author but surprisingly, I had faith. So wary readers, rest assured. You don’t have that to worry about.

Unfortunately, while the book does follow the trope to its tried and true end, I did not find it satisfying. The plotline was so straightforward and obvious, it actually began to bore me. I realize this is a strange comment to make. Tropes are, by their nature, straightforward and obvious. But the closer a story sticks to a trope, neither subverting nor building upon it, the more the execution has to shine. Switched didn’t shine for me.

Part of it is because I thought the characters lacked layers and nuance. Yes, Kayla is trying to break up the relationship between her best friend and boyfriend so she can steal the boyfriend away. Yes, she knows this is wrong and makes her a terrible person. But… that’s it? That line of thinking needs to go one or two steps further to add that crunchy characterization we all love. Obviously, breaking up your best friend and her boyfriend is bad. That needs no explanation. The story needs to go further to make it interesting. We caught a glimpse of it when Reagan reveals she knew Kayla liked Talon all along but she went after Talon anyway but the narrative shies away from exploring the ramifications of that. Such a bombshell would affect the relationship and it’s disappointing Switched didn’t go there.

I also thought the things Kayla and Wesley did to break up Reagan and Talon were easy. It didn’t even seem like they were trying, in all honesty. I expected serious shenanigans like actual sabotage but that didn’t actually happen. I felt the book was trying for humor in the way the characters were depicted and it didn’t really work for me. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Humor is so subjective and if it doesn’t hit a reader right, the story will fail.

One thing I did like is that the four of them are genuine friends. Even though Talon is a football player, he’s not the stereotypical cocky jerk. He seems like a nice guy who likes his girlfriend’s best friend as a person and not as someone he has to endure because of Reagan.

While Switched lacked the complexity and nuance I like in my books, I can see how its simple and straightforward story can be appealing. I thought the ending was very neat, pat and too easy, but the predictable ending can be comforting. Even so, it’s a C- for me.

My regards,
Jia

P.S. – Random House, could you be any more obvious in whose book covers you’re “inspired” by?

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REVIEW:  Foolish Games by Tracy Solheim

REVIEW: Foolish Games by Tracy Solheim

Foolish Games (Out of Bounds #2) by Tracy Solheim

Dear Ms. Solheim:

Julianne Marchione is a famous bridal gown designer who has a one night stand which results in a surprise pregnancy. Determined to raise the child on her own, she never reconnects with Will Connelly, a pro football player. When her baby  has a life threatening illness requiring a blood transfusion, however, she is compelled to seek Will out.

A bastard himself, Will is furious at Julianne and demands that he not only marry her but that he be given his rightful place as Owen’s father. Julianne agrees because this is the only way she will save her son but refuses to be anything but an in-name only wife. Will and Julianne’s relationship starts off on a bad note and initially does not get better.

Will is initially very cold to Julianne and given that she was going to keep his son from him that was probably deserved.  As the two spend time together in Will’s hometown, a place that he kind of loathes because of how he and his mother were treated when she was a poor young single parent, Will begins to thaw as he begins to see how great of a mother Julianne is to Owen.

Julianne is a … frustrating character at times. Her initial plans to raise her son on her own were somewhat understandable but then she sells her successful bridal business to pay Owen’s medical bills even after Will agreed to cover them (and likely Will’s insurance could help in that regard).  She meekly agrees to Will’s marriage plans because she has no financial resources to fight him BUT her brother is a wealthy senator. It seems like she had other options but I understand she couldn’t choose those because otherwise how would we get Will and Julianne in a house together?

Notwithstanding the setup, I did enjoy the progression of the romance which largely centers around their unabated attraction for each other and their love for Owen. Both are impressed with the other’s devotion to their son and it is really the newborn that brings them together.  I was convinced that they were a good match. Will needed someone like Julianne who was more expressive with her feelings, more willing to take an emotional chance.

Will and Julianne’s burgeoning romance is imperiled by a bounty scandal that involves his former college coach at Yale and now defensive coordinator the NFL. Will would never turn on his former coach because without the coach’s championing, Will would not be in the NFL at all.

As the two fall for each other conflicts arise in the form of Julianne refusing to share the details of a new business with Will and Will’s scandal but there was a point in the book where I wanted to reach through the book and slap Julianne silly for something that she does to Will.  I know it was inadvertent but her lack of discretion as it related to private, secret things that Will told her was infuriating.

As for the secondary characters, I loved Will’s mother and the relationship that the two had. They were devoted to seeing that the other was happy and the tough times that they’d had together only made them a stronger, tighter unit.  But Julianne’s family was frustrating. Perhaps it was to show us that the rich don’t have better families than the poor, but the use of Julianne’s brother both as a villain and a hero came off as contrived and inconsistent. Of all the actors in the story, he was the least believable and the most flat.

I think readers of sports fans would like this book but Julianne’s behavior in the beginning and the end could have cratered the book if not for the positive ending brought about by other characters. Overall though I liked the blend of sports, the relationship between Will and his mother, and the romance between Julianna and Will. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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