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Blackmail

REVIEW:  Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor

REVIEW: Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor

Dear Ms. Taylor,

I admit I have a weakness for Gossip Girl-esque novels, even though they are inevitably about rich, white kids. So when I heard that your debut, Prep School Confidential, was a prep school murder mystery with a Gossip Girl flair, I had to give it a try.

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Anne Dowling is the queen bee of her NYC private academy. But when she accidentally burns down part of her school (as you do), she gets shipped off to a Boston-area prep school (as so often happens). It’s awkward being the new girl but Anne couldn’t care less about her new classmates. Instead she finds herself bonding with her new roommate, Isabella — until Isabella goes missing one night and is found dead the next morning.

Concerned for the school’s reputation, the administration effectively puts a hush order on the student body while the murder is under investigation. But the ominous silence holds secrets linked to Isabella’s death, and Anne is determined to unlock them all. Unfortunately, some people would prefer she leave those secrets buried.

I can see why Prep School Confidential evoked the specter of Gossip Girl. There are indeed some mean girl antics. But only some and overall the novel isn’t nearly as over the top. It’s very much a murder mystery with all the hallmarks of the genre: clues, multiple suspects, and red herrings. That said, I’m not sure mystery fans will enjoy this because it’s not very subtle with these elements and lacks that certain finesse I associate with the genre. I realize the target audiences are different, with different sets of expectations, but it’s worth pointing out.

One thing I didn’t quite grasp was why the other students at the prep school were so eager to elevate Anne as their new queen bee. Does that actually ever happen to the new girl? I realize Anne is from the Upper East Side but she herself felt like an outcast at the prep school because her father is “only” a lawyer versus a senator or some other type of dignitary. I just don’t see a tightly knit student body doing this.

Unless, of course, we’re supposed to believe the school is trying to position Anne against the resident wannabe queen bee, Alexis — the daughter of the aforementioned senator. I can see this being the case but I suspect I’m reaching for an explanation. There really isn’t any evidence for this in the narrative. And besides, throwing Anne to the wolves like that? Doesn’t that make her new friends rather terrible?

I was rather unimpressed by the romantic subplot. Anne has two potential love interests: Brent, the boy in her class that every girl wants but can never have and Anthony, Isabella’s twin brother. Despite being the cliché dichotomy of the good boy and the bad boy, I had no problems with the love interests themselves. A rarity, I know. I didn’t even really have an issue with Anne’s wishy-washiness and how she’d swing back and forth between the two. I can buy that.

No, what made the subplot fall apart for me was how it was resolved. One of the potential suitors is neatly eliminated as an option. Too neatly, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong. I dislike love triangles and how pervasive they’ve become in the YA genre. But I don’t like contrivances and the way one love interest was removed from the picture screamed it to me.

Despite these things, I couldn’t help but like Anne. Yes, she’s a privileged screw-up who’s used to charming her way out of trouble. But when that fails, she has to adapt and she does. It’s also hard not to root for someone who wants to see justice done, when it seems like the system has failed.

One thing I would have liked to see more of was more delving into the class differences. Yes, privilege is touched on. Anne easily transferred to an elite prep school after she essentially committed arson, all thanks to her father’s connections. Isabella’s stalker gets off with no problems, all because his father is on the school’s board. But the class differences also play a big role: Anthony’s attitude towards Anne and everyone at her school, and the fact that Isabella attended the prep school on a scholarship and supposedly hated everyone there. There was a lot of potential to delve into this aspect, and that never really happened.

Prep School Confidential is a likeable read that’s a welcome change of pace from all the paranormal and UF fantasy out there. While I personally didn’t think all the elements gelled together well, I can see people being fans of the multiple secrets and revelations laid throughout the novel. It is the first book of a series though, so I will warn that the next book’s mystery is set up in this one, and it’s not the most graceful integration. C+

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Bartering Her Innocence by Trish Morey

REVIEW: Bartering Her Innocence by Trish Morey

Dear Ms. Morey:

This book fits squarely into the Harlequin Presents paradigm. It features a wealthy man ruthlessly using his power and money to effectuate a result that suits him.  The woman abases herself and enjoys it.  Either this is a really terrible version of Harlequin Presents books or I have totally lost my taste for them.  Lately it seems like the heroes have gotten more and more terrible and the heroines have gotten so spineless a new genus of invertebrates will have to be invented.

Bartering Her Innocence by Trish MoreyTina lives with her father in Australia on a sheep farm. She receives a frantic call from her mother, Lily, who has gotten deep into debt due to a Murano glass addiction. No, Lily does not grind it up and snort it; but she does buy so much of it that she mortgages her house, has to let go of all her servants, and treats her one remaining domestic employee shabbily by only occasionally paying a wage because, after all, the domestic gets a roof over her head.

Tina is given a choice of prostituting herself to save her mother’s home or seeing her mother go homeless and her father lose his sheep farm.  Of course, she suggests that her mother sell off the Murano glass to save herself and Tina’s father, but her mother rejects this and Tina does not bring it up again because selling one’s body for your feckless shithead mother is better than selling some pieces of glass, amirite?

The blackmailer is Luca who, after one night with Tina three years ago, sets out on a scheme to bankrupt the mother in order to bring Tina back into his sphere. But he’s not really entertaining an unhealthy obsession, after all, he had forgotten about Tina until her mother came to him for a loan.

She’d walked out on him once. Left the mark of her hand bright on his jaw and walked away, as if she’d been the one on high moral ground. At the time he’d let her go. Waved good riddance. The sex had been good but no woman was worth the angst of chasing her, no matter how good she was in bed.

He’d put her from his mind.

But then her mother had called him, asking for help with the mire of her finances, and he’d remembered the daughter and a night of sex with her that had ended way too prematurely

Doesn’t this all sound ridiculous? If so, it is. What kind of man spends a fortune to have some woman prostitute herself for a month of sex; particularly, when “he’d put her from his mind.” How humiliating must it be for him to have to pay a fortune and threaten ruination of one’s relative in order to sleep with him. I mean, she says she hates him and this delights him because then he can dump her and she can hate him even more. That’s a real line in this book.

“Hatred would make her submission all the more satisfying.
And then he would dump her and she could hate him even more.”

Why does he give two shits about some chick he had a one night stand with and insulted afterward? He decides for her refusal she deserves public humiliation because she slapped him and left him after he told her  ” I was a chip off the old block. … I did my best work on my back!”

Why should I keep reading this? Why should I care? Tina should just tell her two shit head parents to jump in a lake.  And for god’s sake, she’s not innocent. She’s had sex before. She’s even had a one night stand.   Unless by innocent, we mean “never having blackmailed someone into bed.”

For all that she a) hasn’t seen Luka in 3 years 2) the last words he gave her were an insult calling her a whore and 3) that she got pregnant and lost the baby and 4) now he is making her into exactly what he called her three years ago she acts like a “wildcat” and “milks him for all he’s worth” and basically orgasms herself into passing out.

Of course, Luka realizes that the reason he has enacted this blackmail scheme is because he could never forget Tina and Tina has explosive orgasms despite being humiliated because she loves Luka so much.  But alas, their love built on the shoals of blackmail and distrust suffer mishaps along the way as Luka accuses Tina of more terrible things and Tina hangs her head in shame.  At least they are consistent in their characterization. I can fully realize their HEA with Luka constantly berating Tina for sucking the same oxygen as he is and Tina holding her breath whenever he is around to ensure that he truly understands how much she loves him.  D

Best regards,

Jane

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