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REVIEW:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

REVIEW: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

IHEA

Dear Ms. Perkins:

Charming. Adorable. Sweet. Dramatic. Compelling. Each word can be used to describe your latest release, Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Isla Martin is high. She’s sitting in her favorite cafe in New York City, Kismet, spacing out when the object of all of her lust filled fantasies walks through the door — Joshua Wasserstein. She must be high, because what happens next is so completely out of character for her. She blurts out Josh’s name, calling him over to her table. She flirts, is coquettish, and in the end someone helpless. You see, Isla really is high. She’s had her wisdom teeth removed and is taking Vicodin, which explains her sudden gregariousness.

She’s spent her entire high school career lusting after Josh from afar. Josh is also a rising senior, is known to be a troublemaker, and is also the son of a prominent NY Senator. She’s spent the last three years watching Josh fall in love with someone else, break up with her and come back to school. The night they meet in Kismet, Josh walks her home and she doesn’t see him again. She’s mortified over her behavior and is dreading seeing him again when they return to their Parisian boarding school.

When Isla returns to school, she’s delighted to find that she’s actually in the dorm room that Josh had the year before. This is great for her for a number of reasons. First, it’s easily accessible, which means that her best friend, Kurt, who has a very high functioning form of autism can easily get to her room, and even more importantly in Isla’s mind, she’s sleeping in the same bed that Josh slept in. Josh routinely disappears from school, and is somewhat at loose ends. He is almost exclusively focused on his art, and doesn’t really want anything to do with being a student, which lands him in detention and on the radar of the faculty on a regular basis. This doesn’t stop Isla from loving him from afar. And when she finally has the opportunity, she apologizes for her behavior that night at Kismet. She and Josh strike up a friendship, occasionally going places together or sharing a meal. And still Isla pines from afar. When they finally admit their attraction and begin to fall in love, Isla finds herself doing things that are out of character. She is studying less, spending less time with Kurt, and making choices that she’s not sure her parents would approve of. When she opts to sneak away from Paris with Josh for the weekend, she’s scandalized by doing something illicit, yet so delighted to have Josh all to herself. Of course, they get caught, and the consequences are dire. Josh is expelled and sent back to America, while Isla pines for him from school. Will their relationship be able to handle long distance and the vigor of Josh’s father’s campaign and Isla’s determination to finish school?

This book is ridiculously sweet. It captures all of the things about teen love that I remember fondly: loving from afar, the intensity of teenage love affairs, the passion of the anger, the drama. Isla is a wonderfully complex character, with smarts and insecurities and charm. Josh is a dreamboat of a boy, full of rebellion and art and moods. They have a wonderful chemistry and their relationship doesn’t shoot off like a gun, it’s a charming slow build that captures all of the things I remember with affection about being a teenager (and living with one now). On top of that, beloved past characters return, and the secondary characters, like Isla’s sisters and Kurt are vividly drawn. Plus, Paris is lovingly described, evoking the mystery and amour in every word. I’m as besotted by this book as I was with Anna and the French Kiss, the first in the series. I can’t possibly recommend it enough. Final grade: A.

Kind regards,

Kati

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW:  The Devil in Denim by Melanie Scott

REVIEW: The Devil in Denim by Melanie Scott

DevilinDenimDear Ms. Scott,

Maggie Jameson loves baseball and in particular, she loves the New York Saints.  Her dad, Tom, owns the team and Maggie grew up in and around the game, the players and Deacon Field, the Saints’ home ground.  The press long ago dubbed her “Saint Maggie” and she has always been a PR boon for a team which generally struggles on field.  Saints fans are the most devoted because they had to be – their record was pretty dismal.  Maggie has dreamed of taking over from her dad as CEO one day and has recently completed her academic education, gaining  a degree “crammed full of economics and psychology” as well as a master’s in sports management.  She anticipates working with her dad for a while and then taking over.

Unfortunately, on her return from her end of school European holiday, she is blindsided by the news that Tom plans to sell the Saints to a consortium consisting of three best friends and Saints fans, Alex Winters, Malachi Coulter and Lucas Angelo. Alex, not Maggie, will be the next Saints CEO.

The story has a somewhat unusual start. The three friends are playing baseball during college when there is a bombing at the stadium. Alex and Lucas are seriously injured when all three assist in the rescue of those trapped in the rubble.  The inference is that Alex’s injury meant he couldn’t play anymore.  No much more is made of this major, life-changing event in the book and much to my surprise, it doesn’t form part of the legend of Alex Winters’ success.  Even more surprising since Maggie did a case study about Alex at college, she doesn’t know anything about it until quite late in the book.   Perhaps the bombing will form a bigger part of the storyline in Lucas’s or Mal’s book but it felt a little disjointed to me here.

Not surprisingly, Maggie regards Alex as the enemy from the beginning and the book gets it’s title from her moniker for him “the devil” and the fact that he prefers jeans.  A search indicates that the word “devil” is used in the book some 46 times.  For me, that was about 30 times too many.  I got the motif of saint (aka angel)/devil but I felt a little bashed over the head with it.

The sale isn’t a done deal until the other team owners vote to approve it apparently (I have no idea how baseball works but I assume you did your homework here), so it is important PR for “Saint Maggie” to openly support the deal.  Alex asks Maggie to come and work for him at the Saints, at least for a few months until after the sale has gone through and after the next season starts.  If she doesn’t like it, he will give her a glowing reference and wish her all the best for her future, no harm, no foul.  For Maggie it is the least-worst option so she accepts. Even though I’ve tagged it “enemies to lovers” I’m not entirely sure that is a correct description – Alex never regards Maggie as an enemy – the animus is all one-sided.

Regardless, Alex and Maggie are immediately attracted to each other but, apart from the tension between them because Alex has the job Maggie always wanted and thought she had been promised, having sex with your boss is very often a Very. Bad. Idea.  They resist for a while but eventually, their chemistry is too much.  It has been aided by the fact that Alex, Lucas and Mal include her in their decision making process and incorporate her ideas and strategies into their plans.  She feels like she’s a part of the management team and not just a figurehead or prop.  She comes to admire Alex’s business acumen even more than she did when she’d used him as a case study and she gradually comes to accept that the sale of the Saints is something which will happen irrespective of what she wants.  The Saints need a cash injection and Tom can’t do that without risking his other businesses and personal finances.

I found the first part of the book a little uneven but the second half was much stronger.  This coincided roughly with Alex and Maggie commencing a physical relationship (am I really that shallow?  Maybe.) but it was also where the dialogue between the two started to crackle off the page and I had a real sense of connection between them.

I liked that when they started to entertain the idea of a fling/relationship, they talk about the pros and cons (well, mostly the cons).

“It’s just…” Her gut churned. She didn’t even know how to explain what she was thinking.

“Yes?” he prompted.

“It’s just that I’ve got all the downside here. If this goes wrong.”

“How?”

“You’re my boss. If this gets out, I’ll be the one who’s sleeping with her new boss, desperate to hang on to her job. You’ll still be the rich guy who scores the hot chicks. I’ll be the loser. And if we break up then … I’ll be the loser who was dumb enough to sleep with her boss to try and hold on to her job and lost them both.”

“I’m not going to fire you if we stop sleeping together.”

“No. Maybe not. But it’s not going to be pretty. I don’t take this … lightly.”

Alex acknowledges that the career downsides are all hers, but he gained points with me after he said this:

“Maggie, you’re not the only one with downside here. If I screw this up then I’ll lose you.”

Good answer Alex.

If they resist their attraction there’s no romance and that’s what the book is all about. Of course they’re going to give in.  But I appreciated that they thought about it and made plans to be able to work together if things between them personally went sour. That seemed smart to me.

I also liked that Alex was very clear about consent and what actually constituted a yes.

“If you come upstairs, you know I reserve the right to send you home with nothing more than a drink, right?”

“Maggie, any guy who doesn’t know that is a grade one asshole. I know you don’t always like me that much but I’d like to think I’m not a douche. If Scotch is all I get then so be it.”

Later in the book, their personal relationship is threatened by professional conflicts and it was here that I thought Tom’s earlier assessment (about Maggie not being ready for the CEO position) was proven.  I thought her reaction lacked maturity and was laden with unrealistic expectations.  Fortunately, this was not a long section of the book.  I thought Alex’s conduct was professional, appropriate and pretty generous in the circumstances.

Maggie did get a chance to make up for things though and I appreciated very much the girl power of the rescue.

The book had rather an abrupt end.  I was eyeing the page count wondering how things could be resolved with so few pages left.  It does have a happy ending, but I’d describe it more as happy for now rather than HEA.  Which, in the context of the book was entirely appropriate.

The baseball in The Devil in Denim is more about administration/corporate side of things rather than the actual game.  The story takes place in the off season but I felt like it had a good flavour of the sport. I really, really liked that the other female characters in the novel were not just there to be future heroines for Mal or Lucas.  Maggie’s best friends are in solid relationships with Saints players.  I have no idea who the next heroine will be.  I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

I ended up enjoying the book more than I initially thought I would after a somewhat choppy start and I plan to continue the series – the next one, I believe, is Lucas’s story.  Grade: B-

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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