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REVIEW:  The Dare by Hannah Jayne

REVIEW: The Dare by Hannah Jayne

the-dare-jayne

Dear Ms. Jayne,

I’m fond of YA thrillers. I think it’s because I grew up on Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike. In fact, I still think of the earlier Christopher Pike books with nostalgia (Remember Me!) even though I’m not so keen on his later work. The Dare is a throwback to those old-school YA thrillers, WTF moments and all.

Brynna, the protagonist of The Dare, is a recovering hot mess. There’s no other way to put it. One night, Brynna dared her best friend, Erica, to jump into the ocean. Because Erica balked at the prospect, she agreed to jump in with her. Unfortunately, only Brynna came back and Erica’s body was never found.

Unable to deal with the guilt of losing her best friend because of her dare and the ensuing rumors, Bryn turned to drugs and alcohol and plunged into a destructive downward spiral. After a stint in rehab, her family moved so she could have a fresh start in a new place and new high school. Bryn immediately finds a new group of friends and settles into her new life, but then she starts receiving threatening messages that suggest Erica might not be dead after all.

Wow, this novel was strongly reminiscent of Lois Duncan’s thrillers. I was really reminded of I Know What You Did Last Summer. The only difference, of course, is that Bryn didn’t kill Erica. It was just an accident. She didn’t hit someone with her car and she didn’t actually try to conceal what happened. The only deception that occurred was her reticence about revealing her past to her newfound friends and that’s reasonable. No one, teenager or adult, wants to unload something major on people they just met.

I’ve of two minds about Bryn’s newfound friends. I like the fact that she wasn’t bullied for being the new girl. On the other hand, it seems awfully convenient that the cool kids adopt her into their crowd at first sight. I guess we’re supposed to accept this good fortune as whimsy but I had a hard time buying it. It was just so easy. Bryn barely said hello and suddenly she’s assimilated into their group.

I think part of my dissatisfaction comes from the fact that the relationships were barely delved into. They followed familiar patterns. The leader of the group adopts her but there’s nothing going on there because he’s gay. The hot guy of the group likes her and another girl in the group isn’t too happy about this because she has feelings for him. That said, I think these kinds of relationships are fine in fiction. Are they original? No. But they’re familiar to readers, and I get that. Unfortunately, that also means they need to be executed well and not used as lazy shorthand. I felt The Dare does more of the latter than the former.

Having grown up on all those old school YA thrillers, I thought the culprit was pretty obvious. There’s a pattern to these things. Maybe other readers don’t feel the same. I do question some of the red herrings, particularly those tossed in at the end. (Such as: What’s a couple of roofies between friends? Really? This is what we choose to go with?)

It’s because of those red herrings and crisis moments towards the end, when Bryn finds herself isolated, that I find the resolution so hard to believe. It falls flat. Mostly because if you don’t make me believe in the strength of those friendships, and show those relationships breaking under a stalker’s outside influence, why would I believe things will be sunshine and roses at the end? Instead of being believable, I found the ending — and especially the final line — to be eyeroll-inducing.

The Dare is a throwback to those old school YA thrillers where someone was after the protagonist, stalking them, endangering their life and ruining their reputation. I think 14-year-old me would have liked this book but the me-of-now wants a little more depth in character relationships for me to care. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

REVIEW: Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

Paris-Letters

A love story in the vein of Almost French and Lunch in Paris, Paris Letters is a joyful romp through the City of Light, and an inspiring look at what can happen when we dare to create the life we want.

“How much money does it take to change your life?”

Unfulfilled at her job and unsuccessful in the dating department, Janice MacLeod doodled this question at her desk. Then she decided to make it a challenge. Over the next few months, with a little math and a lot of determination, she saved up enough to buy two years of freedom in Europe.

But she had only been in Paris for a few days when she met a handsome butcher (with a striking resemblance to Daniel Craig)—and never went home again.

A Valentine to love, art and new beginnings, Paris Letters is for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving it all behind (or finding a Daniel Craig look-alike of her own).

I wasn’t sure just what to expect when I read the blurb for this book. A self help, a romance or a Paris travelogue? All of the above? But it did sound interesting and like a nice getaway from reality so I requested it from netgalley and got started.

Upon starting it I was reminded that the longest journeys begin with small steps. Janice has to set out what her life was like to begin with and why she wanted a change. After several soul sucking years in marketing – Americans, you can thank her and her colleagues for much of the junk mail you get every day – she began to reimage her life. But how to change? Keeping a journal and a blog to be accountable got her going and helped free her from what was keeping her from dreaming.

Once she had a goal in mind, it was hard work and a process of sliming her life and her belongings down to what would fit in one suitcase while saving every penny towards her goal of being able to say “take this job and shove it.” While I’m not ready to ditch everything I own, I found myself pondering what I could cut back on or down in my own life to get me closer to my goals.

With her job behind her, she began living her dream of traveling through Europe with the first stop in Paris. Egged on by a new friend, she ventured out of her shell to strike up a casual friendship with a handsome guy while discovering the joys and drawbacks of living in Paris. Ah, yes, it’s not all wonderful and should I ever visit the City of Light I’ll be a bit more prepared to dodge the pickpockets as I see the sights.

A bit more traveling behind her, Janice decides to return to her handsome guy and, as he invites her to, “see how it goes.” Before, she was just visiting but now she’s settling in and actually living in the city of her dreams with a guy who sounds almost too good to be true. Parisianophiles and romantics will probably enjoy this part best as through Janice’s letters to friends and subscribers, as well as her writings, we can discover the delights she finds there.

The decision to raise her living expenses by sending out subscription letters – her illustrated “Paris Letters” – is a dandy way to earn funds and one I would have never thought of. But it’s genius and a wonderful use of her creative writing and artistic talents. It’s also lovely to watch her burgeoning relationship with the delicious Christophe who picks the perfect time and place to propose to her.

Their struggles to get all their relevant paperwork together – first for Janice’s changed visa and then for their marriage is like watching a red tape bureaucratic horror movie. But as she says, someone’s got to provide a reason for all those government jobs and they did – finally – get all the appropriate stamps and translations to make everyone happy. I also learned that there are a lot of “Highlander” fans in France.

What I took away from reading “Paris Letters” is not really anything dramatically new. Follow your heart and dare to live your dreams but prepare for them first and yes, that means you must have enough money on hand so you don’t starve. Even if this just means cutting the cable TV cord – something I recently did myself – or if it entails dusting off your passport and heading to parts unknown, think about it, plan it and then do it. And if you choose Paris to go to, there are some great recommendations here to get you started. B-

~Jayne

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