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REVIEW:  Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

REVIEW: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill


Dear Ms. Morrill,

When I picked up your novel, I somehow managed to misinterpret the back cover copy. For some reason, I thought the two heroines were twins separated at birth who randomly meet and switch places. No, I have no idea why I had The Parent Trap stuck in my head. I quickly realized my mistake but kept reading anyway. I’m glad I made that choice.

Being Sloane Jacobs is about two girls who share the same name: Sloane Jacobs (surprise). Sloane Emily Jacobs is rich and privileged. She’s the daughter of a U.S. senator. She’s a former figure skater whose mother is pushing her to make a great comeback. By contrast, Sloane Devon Jacobs comes from a working class family that lives in Philadelphia. She loves ice hockey but has a bit of an anger management problem.

Both girls have things wrong with their families. Sloane Emily walked in on her father getting far too friendly, shall we say, with a member of his staff. Her father, of course, is doing everything he can to make sure she keeps what she witnessed a secret. After all, the political landscape thrives on scandal like this. Sloane Devon’s mother is an alcoholic who got sent away to rehab. She feels abandoned and a large of chunk of her anger on the ice stems from the displaced resentment towards her absent mother.

When Sloane Emily is sent to Canada for figure skating camp, she accidentally runs into Sloane Devon, who’s also been sent to the same city for ice hockey camp. A luggage mix-up due to their names gives them a ridiculous idea. Both of them want to pretend to be someone else for a while. Why not switch places?

I won’t lie and say Being Sloane Jacobs is a deep, meaningful book. It’s not. It’s fun and light. I found it very enjoyable, in no small part because both girls are athletes. There’s a charming scene where Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon compare “battle scars” from their physical exploits and it’s details like that, which stick in my head.

While Sloane Devon initially scoffed at figure skating, I like that she realized immediately it’s hardly a cakewalk and is far more than just looking pretty on the ice. There’s a part of me that’s a little disbelieving about her mindset. I mean, I’m not a figure skater. I can barely roller skate. But I can tell that is a hard sport. Not only do you need the grace and flexibility of a ballerina, you need the strength to generate enough speed to jump. Never mind landing without falling. It’s obvious the amount of physicality involved. But I guess I can accept her attitude. Sloane Devon is a tomboyish jock at the start of the book. If she’s used to the rough play of ice hockey, I suppose I can believe she’d think that about “girly” sport like ice skating.

On the other hand, I wish we’d spent more time with Sloane Emily learning the strategies involved in ice hockey and how she learned to play on a team. I imagine going from singles ice skating to a team sport is rather jarring. The novel tries to play it off as Sloane Emily trying to hide her lack of hockey knowledge and just sticking to the basics. But knowing “the basics” doesn’t automatically make you a great team member who knows strategy. Maybe I just don’t know the rules and gameplay of hockey well enough.

Both girls have their own love interests. The romantic subplots were nice enough but I felt that both boys were ciphers. They didn’t feel like fully fleshed out characters, especially when compared to the two heroines. I wasn’t sure I bought that Sloane Emily’s love interest had reformed from his player ways. How do we know that? Because he says so? Sloane Devon’s love interest had a better presented conflict but even so, he came off somewhat flat.

I will say the novel does require a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief. Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon are not twins. They just share the same name. Sloane Emily is the daughter of a prominent senator whose family is always plastered in magazines and newspapers. She used to be a competitive figure skater. It’s hard to believe both girls can just pass for each other with no one noticing for most of the book. Especially when they’re learning new to them sports at the same time. It worked for me but I had to actively not think about this detail.

Maybe my love of female athletes who love sports, or learn to love sports, is clouding my opinion but I liked this novel. I think it’s a good, fast read for anyone wanting fleshed out female lead characters who are both strong and flawed but in different ways, without one “type” being presented as better than the other. That said, the shallowly drawn supporting characters — especially the love interests — really detracted from the book. This is a case where I point to many things I enjoyed but can also say it’s missing that indefinable spark that boosts a novel from good to great. C+

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

REVIEW: Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Dear Ms. Littlefield,

Your name’s been on my radar for a while now. Alas, I’m teetering on burnout when it comes to post-apocalyptic novels so I’ve consistently given your Harlequin Luna series a pass. This is no fault of your own. It’s all on me. But when I saw your new novel, a YA, on NetGalley, I decided to give it a go. Not post-apocalyptic and a standalone? Sign me up.

They say our house is cursed, and maybe it’s true. It’s been in my mom’s family for almost a hundred years. It was a dress and alterations shop until ten years ago, when my mom and dad poured all their money into restorations so we could live in it. As soon as it was finished, they got divorced and we all moved away. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Clare and her mother have just moved back to Winston, the small beach town where she grew up. It’s a big change from San Francisco, but Clare’s looking forward to it. The drama and temperamental personalities at her old arts-focused high school had been wearing her down.

hanging-by-a-threadBut a pall hangs over Winston. Two years ago, a little boy was killed over the July 4 holiday. One year ago, on the anniversary of his death, a popular cheerleader shared his fate. Now, the July 4 holiday approaches once more and anxiety fills the town. Parents want their children home and safe, for fear that a killer might strike again.

As the new girl, Clare wants to fit in and join the in-crowd. She has a good chance, given that her childhood best friend is one of the most popular girls at school. But when Clare finds herself attracted to Jack, a boy who’s definitely not part of the in-crowd, she finds that not only are her chances at popularity jeopardized, but the secrets of what happened the two previous July 4 holidays are about to unravel.

I found Clare to be a refreshing protagonist. In the paranormal YA genre, we’re so used to kick-butt heroines who fit certain descriptors: they fight hard, they’ve got sassy attitudes; they’re wholly independent and need no one. Clare isn’t anything like that. For one, she’s an aspiring fashion designer who likes making her own clothes. Sometimes she makes them from scratch. Other times she raids flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores, and the like for vintage gear that can be made new. She’s extremely talented and I liked that we had a heroine whose identity did not center on a special ability or her supernatural talent.

The women in Clare’s family have the gift of psychometry: they can access memories by touching clothing. An interesting ability to give a family in the sewing business, isn’t it? Even though Clare’s grandmother told her that the gift would go away if she stopped using it, Clare believes that the gift was given to her for a reason. No matter how small, she tries to make use of the things she learns and make wrongs right. Of course, that all changes when one of her thrifting runs yields a jacket that once belonged to the dead cheerleader.

I thought Hanging by a Thread was strongest when it explored the interpersonal relationships between Clare and other female characters: her mother, her grandmother, her best friend Rachel, the other girls who were her future classmates. The portrayals of the family struck me as particularly genuine. Familial relationships are complicated. Clare and her mother love and support each other but as with all things, it’s not 100% approval. Clare’s mother doesn’t want Clare to go to fashion design school, for example. Clare thinks her mother devotes too much time to work and needs to get out more. Clare is embarrassed by her grandmother’s eccentric reputation in town but adores the woman who encouraged her creativity and taught her about her gift. I loved these things.

On the other hand, Clare’s interactions with the male characters didn’t seem so fleshed out and at times lapsed into cliché. Of course the boy Clare rejects would claim that she slept with him and call her a slut. That outcome was pretty much telegraphed the moment Clare met Jack.

I was a little disappointed by the burgeoning romance between Clare and Jack. I liked that it didn’t hijack the narrative since the focus should be on Clare’s ability and investigation into the events of the last two holidays. But at the same time, I didn’t get a good handle on Jack’s character. Why did he go after Clare so hard and fast? Was it purely because she was the new girl and someone different? Someone who didn’t know his connection to the cheerleader who had died?

I thought the first half of the book was strong. It set things up wonderfully. But as I kept reading, I realized there weren’t a lot of pages left. I couldn’t see how the novel could wrap things up in the remaining space. And while the book did wrap things up, I definitely think the book could have used more pages to do the plot justice. Don’t get me wrong. I thought the plot and resolution was fine. But between Clare’s relationship with Jack and her strained friendship with Rachel, the emotional impact was lost.

While the second half of the novel didn’t live up to the first half’s promise, I found Hanging by a Thread to be a nice change of pace from all the other paranormal YA novels out there. I can always use more mysteries and thrillers in my reading life. Overall, I’d give this one a C+. But flawed book or not, it got me interested in your work and I’ll be checking more of your novels from now on.

My regards,