Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Played (Hooked #2) by Liz Fichera

Played Cover Entertaining combination of coming-of-age and romance in this multicultural YA novel

Played (Hooked #2)

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 352 pages
Source: Vine
Reviewed By:Kate McMurry

***WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the first book in this series, Hooked. Do not read this review if you have not yet read Hooked.***

This is the sequel to the young-adult novel, Hooked, by Liz Fichera. In the first book, the heroine is a Native American teenager, Fredericka "Fred" Oday, who lives on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona and is an extremely talented golfer. The hero is Ryan Berenger, a rich, handsome, and popular golfer who spends most of the book in fierce competition with Fred for ascendance on their high school's golf team. By the end of the book, they are in a committed romantic relationship.

In Played, the heroine is Riley Berenger, Ryan's younger sister, who has a hopeless crush on a popular boy at school, and Sam Tracy, a Native American teenager who has a hopeless crush on Fred Oday.

Sam is a big, quiet guy who keeps a low profile at school. The only teens he hangs out with at school are fellow Native Americans from the reservation until the night he goes on a school camping trip and unexpectedly saves Riley's life. Much to Sam's dismay, the pampered, white princess is determined to pay him back in a manner that is as morally questionable as it is irresistible: She promises to break up the relationship between her brother Ryan and Sam's heart's desire, Fred, so that Fred will then naturally (according to Riley) turn to Sam.

Though the premise of the novel sounds as if its inevitable execution would be as a classic, romantic comedy-of-errors, instead the tone is a combination of light drama with moments of dark drama toward the last quarter of the book. Personally, perhaps because I greatly enjoy comedy, I think the heroine would have been more sympathetic if the author had played this plot for laughs. However, fans of teen coming-of-age novels will empathize with Riley's struggles to find a consistent moral compass where her altruistic impulses to help one person (in this case Sam) do not require harming others to bring them about. Riley also learns the hard way to exercise better judgment in protecting herself from harm at the hands of her peers.

Though the publisher has chosen to market this book with emphasis on its romantic elements, and we do get the point of view of both the heroine and the hero, the relationship between Riley and Sam is not at all romantic through most of the book, because during a large part of the novel, they are interested in other people. That is not intended as a criticism, rather a description of the type of plot(s) this novel contains.

As in Hooked, in this sequel, the author did an excellent job weaving in fascinating scenes with Sam and his Native American friends and family, giving the reader a glimpse into life on the reservation. Those were the parts of the book I enjoyed most, and Sam is a particularly sympathetic hero.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 3

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Writing: 4

Coming-of-Age Plot: 3

Family Drama Plot: 4

Social Drama Plot: 4

Romantic Plot: 4

Overall: 4

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: An Unlikely Match by Barbara Dunlop

An Unlikely Match Cover An adorable, New Adult, contemporary, romantic comedy

An Unlikely Match by Barbara Dunlop

Reading Level: New Adult Romance
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Pages: 165 pages
Source: Author Request
Reviewed By:Kate McMurry

A group of 70-something friends who live in a Florida retirement community are determined to help their grandchildren, grandnephews and grandnieces find their ideal mates by using a matchmaking computer program designed by their most brilliant co-conspirator, a former NASA scientist named Sam.

The first match that the program produces consists of 27-year-old Morgan Holbrook, the grandson of JW, a retired general, and 22-year-old Amelia Camden, the grandniece of Hannah, a bubbly, charming woman who has been a beauty all her life.

Amelia has just graduated from an Arizona university with a BA in fine arts and a C average. Rather than plodding away at her studies, Amelia focused on her extracurricular activities, participating in theater, cheerleading and an active social life. Her post-graduation plans are to move to LA and try out for parts as an actress while working as a cocktail waitress to support herself. Much like her Aunt Hannah, Amelia is beautiful, upbeat and fun to be with.

Morgan has a genius IQ. He attended Berkeley and earned a PhD in astrophysics, making him the proverbial "rocket scientist." In spite of being a "nerd," he is quite athletic, regularly engaging in mountain biking and martial arts, in which he has a black belt.

In order to get the two of them together, the coterie of senior matchmakers arrange to have Amelia and Morgan living, each rent free, in condos in the same building in Pasadena, California, and Sam uses his influence to get Morgan a job as an assistant professor at Caltech to anchor him in the same geographic location as Amelia.

In spite of the fact that these two, on the surface, are polar opposites, from the moment they meet, a strong, mutual attraction flares between them and continues to grow as they get to know each other, though neither of them suspects how the other feels.

This is the first book in a cute, romantic-comedy series. The author has written many bestselling Harlequin contemporary romances, but this series is self-published. I would personally classify "An Unlikely Match" as "New Adult" (NA), though the author does not seem to be marketing this series as such, because the protagonists are in their twenties and just starting out in life.

Looking at the book in that light, it is a terrific, and much needed, addition to that recently created subgenre of contemporary romance. NA has been flooded with angsty, college-based romantic dramas overflowing (ad nauseum) with bacchanalian booze parties, detailed, frantic sex scenes, and endlessly tattooed protagonists. I adore "geek" heroes, and Morgan is one of the best I've encountered in any romance novel, whether, YA, NA or adult. He's mature, responsible, and an outstanding example of a "metrosexual" male who is quite sexy without being alpha-dog domineering, as so many NA and adult, contemporary-romance heroes are.

This is a very funny book, with many laugh-out-loud moments, but it is also deeply emotional where it counts, in the progression of the growing love between Morgan and Amelia. I was really impressed with the way that both the hero and heroine, over the course of the novel, transcend their external, socially generated personas to discover that, deep inside, they have far more in common than they could ever have initially imagined. They both share some of the most important qualities that make for success in a committed, romantic relationship, including responsibility, emotional sensitivity, being good listeners who are truly interested in each other, and a willingness to help each other achieve their most important life goals.

This book is written in the point of view of both the hero and heroine, and initially in the point of view of Morgan's grandfather as we get a peek into the benevolent and humorous motivation behind the merry band of matchmakers who are the linking premise of this series. I am not always a fan of that kind of setup for a romance series, which has been done by Harlequin many times over the years. However, I found this particular, quirky set of seniors extremely likeable and a great deal of fun.

I highly recommend this book to fans of romantic comedy, and if you enjoy this book, you might also want to try another wonderful NA romantic comedy, Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5