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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:  12 Rounds by Lauren Hammond

REVIEW: 12 Rounds by Lauren Hammond

Dear Ms. Hammond:

This is a book that has problems. There are three different POVs written in three different tenses. Despite the blurb stating that it has been re edited for grammatical errors and minor inconsistencies, there are still several grammatical errors and typos. And really strange ones like up for lip or won’t for want.

12 Rounds Lauren HammondBut I really enjoyed the story despite these flaws because I believed in the authenticity of the characters and their conflict. The book had a lot of raw visceral appeal and with a little editing, I think it could be a knock out (if I can use a pun here).

The heroine, Hadlee Flax, is nearly raped one day and she is saved by the hero, only she doesn’t know it because she was knocked unconscious and can really only remember his voice – a gravely accented one. She is slow to recover. What’s interesting is that a number of reviewers felt Hadlee was weak but in some sense (and I can’t tell whether this is intentional) she is actually the stronger of the two main protagonists. Hadlee recognizes she feels weak and impotent. She is having difficult coping with her assault. But she is seeing a therapist and she is trying to overcome her deficiencies. I never saw Hadlee as weak, only recovering. In fact, by admitting her feelings of weakness, I felt she owned it.

The hero, Sean Reilly, is not physically weak. In some ways he is the polar opposite of Hadlee. He is a middleweight boxing champion from Cleveland but his mother died at the age of 17. He was alone, with little money and his sister to take care of and thus vulnerable to predators. He is recruited by “Uncle Connie” the head of the Irish mafia in Cleveland and now, years later, he’s balls deep in the mafia. He wants to get out but he doesn’t feel like he can. Once you swear an oath of loyalty to the brotherhood, you owe it until you die. Sean learned that lesson at a young age when his father was killed by Uncle Connie.

The contrast between Sean and Hadlee is fascinating. While Hadlee is physically weak and emotionally suffering, she actually has more power over her own life and her own outcomes than Sean. Sean might be physically strong, but he is nearly powerless in some ways for all his money, fame, and connections. Because this is the first in a series, we don’t see these issues fully developed but I’m hopeful.

The two protagonists meet again when the Hadlee takes self defense classes at the gym where Sean trains. Their connection is immediate and electric, although she thinks he hates her and he just is frightened by her presence. Eventually they get together, although the build up is slow.

Sean is frank and crude, but his POV was really well done. I loved the boxing aspect of it and the mafia connection provides a fairly intense element of suspense. Hadlee is afraid but, as I said earlier, recovering. Each character is distinct. And these two fit in a special way. I don’t think you can take Sean and match him up with any one else and the same can be said for Hadlee. The two do not have sex in this story but it still came off steamy and full of sexual tension.

This is the first in a series. I don’t know how many books there are and it ends in a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is about the hero’s mafia connection and not about the romance. For some reason I feel vaguely confident that the author isn’t going to screw me over even though I’ve never read her before. Because of the editing issues, I can’t really give this a full throated endorsement but I really liked it. I’m glad I gave it a try and I am looking forward to the next one. C+

Best regards,

Jane

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