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St.-Martins-Press

REVIEW:  Close to You by Stacia Kane

REVIEW: Close to You by Stacia Kane

Close-to-You

THE HOLIDAYS ARE HELL

Churchwitch Chess Putnam has seen, and banished, her share of ghosts, but not of the Christmas Past variety–the holiday has been illegal since the Church of Real Truth defeated the undead and took control of the world in 1997. Yet when she and her boyfriend, Terrible, make a trip to an abandoned auto junkyard, they find more than the rusted auto parts and spare tires they’d bargained for. They also run across a creepy Miss Havisham-type hell-bent on reuniting with her long-dead husband just in time for Christmas–even if it means taking Chess and Terrible down with her into the City of Eternity…

If Chess and Terrible don’t manage to keep these ghosts in the past, they won’t have a future…

Dear Ms. Kane,

No, I’ve never read any of the books in this series before. I hadn’t even read the other review we’ve posted at DA by Shuzluva a few years ago because frankly dystopia books aren’t my thing. Which makes it all the more bizarre that this little short story caught my attention at netgalley. I think it was the line on the cover “A Downside Ghosts Holiday Story” that did it. Ghosts during the holiday? Sure, why not and maybe that will cut through the usual saccharine sweet Christmas books that start appearing each year about now.

As I said, I knew nothing about this world you’ve created before starting this short story but as Shuzluva mentions, the world building is great. It’s laid out with elegant simplicity yet is succinct enough to fit in the length of this story and still leave room for the actual story. I’m very impressed since a lot of times when I read works this short, with no need for filling in the blanks, I feel cheated – but not here. I am curious, though, as to why Terrible sounds like an ESL pirate hillbilly.

The story quickly moves from background set up to – whoa – seriously creepy old lady to the slam bang finale. I had to think that if I lived in this world and had seen what Chess apparently has that I would have picked up on it sooner that Something Is, not just wrong but, Terribly Wrong. But then there’d be no act 3 which frankly is actually fairly hilarious, in a ghastly ghostly, raising the dead kind of way. The nativity figurine flinging, Christmas tree bashing, holiday village house hurling ending had me laughing my ass off even as Chess and Terrible attempt to keep these determined ghosts in check, stay alive themselves and keep Chess from going into withdrawal.

This usually isn’t my genre of choice but I enjoyed this one enough that I just might check out some more of Chess and Terrible. But it will be a long time before I can hear that Carpenter’s song without picturing this hoarders house from holiday hell. B

~Jayne

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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.

prep-school-taylor

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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