Review: A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

 

 

Title: A Midsummer’s Nightmare

Author: Kody Keplinger

Publisher:  Poppy

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Whitley Johnson’s dream summer with her divorce dad has turned into a nightmare. She’s just met his new fiancee and her kids. The fiancee’s son? Whitley’s one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin’ great.

Worse, she totally doesn’t fit in with her dad’s perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn’t even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she’s ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn’t "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn’t her stepbrother…at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.

Filled with authenticity and raw emotion, Whitley is Kody Keplinger’s most compelling character to date: a cynical Holden Caulfield-esque girl you will wholly care about.,

Review:

This is the first book that I have read by Kody Keplinger.  It won’t be the last.   I enjoyed it, but found that the pacing near the end faltered a bit, and I felt that the overall conflict between Whitley and her dad was wrapped up too neatly to be convincing.  Poor Whitley spent most of the book craving any kind of attention from her detached father, any kind of attention at all, after being ignored by him for the entire length of her summer vacation.  Whitley was hard to like at times, but I found her father, a local TV personality, impossible to like, not even  the slightest bit.  Having messed up his first marriage, he pretty much treated his kids as inconveniences, doling out his precious time when it was convenient for him.  I did feel bad for Whitley, because both of her parents failed her, despite her obvious attempts to wring any kind of reaction out of them.  Her mother was far too bitter over the breakup of her marriage to give Whitley the guidance she longed for, and her father was too selfish being a hot-shot to give her the emotional support she so desperately sought.

When we first meet Whitley, she is hung over, just waking up from a night of partying that is appallingly hazy.  She is aghast when she realizes that she slept with a boy she doesn’t even know, and after making him feel like a pile of dog poo when she refuses to give him her number and blows him off, she flees.  Oops!  She’s messed up again!  She’s gotten so drunk she can’t remember what she did the night before, but as she regularly parties like a fiend, she shrugs it off and instead eagerly anticipates spending the summer at her dad’s condo.  She will swim and hang out with him, tossing a few drinks back while they chat and catch up on everything they have missed during the school year.  Poor Whitley, it turns out, is sadly delusional.

When her dad comes to pick her up, he waits until they get to his new house to tell her that he has moved and…wait for it… that he is engaged and will be tying the knot in September.  Right about there I realized why Whitley can’t stand herself.  Even her parents take no interest in her life, and since she doesn’t believe in making friends, she is sadly without any kind of emotional support.  When she meets her soon to be step-mom and step-siblings, she has another rude awakening.  The unknown boy she hooked up with?  He’s going to be her step-brother. Ugh!

I found myself getting  a little impatient with Whitley, because she isn’t a nice person.  She has a chip on her shoulder the size of a whale, and she keeps a wall around herself that even an airplane couldn’t breach.  As the emotional distance between herself and her parents yawned ever wider, she stepped back even farther from the people around her.  Her blind worship of her father grated – it was apparent to everyone but Whitley that he didn’t deserve it.  Both her mother and her father spent as much time ignoring her as possible, for two very different reasons.  Her mom was still not over the failure of her marriage, and could barely keep her act together.  She didn’t have the emotional energy to be there for Whitley.  I understood Whitley’s confusion about her parents.  Neither of them had ever acted like a parent, so no wonder she formed no lasting attachments to anyone other than her brother, who lived on the other side of the country and didn’t have any time for her either.  What a sad situation to be in!

As Whitley’s nightmarish summer slowly passes by, she begins to make emotional connections with Nathan and Bailey, her future step-siblings.  Despite her every effort to avoid getting to know them or like them,  Nathan and Bailey are always there for her, giving her the emotional support that has been lacking in her life.  When she is the victim of cyberbullying, it is Nathan who consoles her.  Though  disapproving of her irresponsible and ill-advised behavior, he never turned his back on her or rejected her.  It was gratifying to follow along with Whitley as she began to mature and take emotional risks.  As she developed friendships  she began to like herself, and with that better opinion of herself, she began to respect herself.  That was when she could honestly evaluate her relationship with her parents, and when she finally recognized that Sylvia, her future step-mom, was also always there for her.  I loved the relationship between Sylvia and Whitley; that was what Whitley needed, and it’s too bad that she didn’t find a caring and compassionate adult until she was about the leave home for college. 

So, to sum it up, A Midsummer’s Nightmare is a quick fun read about a girl who finally finds the family she has been longing for. Whitley is a hard character to like because she has no respect or love for herself, but as her nightmarish summer passes by, she begins to see that change must come from within herself.  Neither of her feuding parents offered her the guidance and stability she craved, but she finally found acceptance from the most unlikely of places.  I love books where the protagonist matures into a relatable character.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

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Review: The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky

 

Title: The Time-Traveling Fashionista

Author: Bianca Turetsky

Publisher: Poppy

ISBN: 978-0316105422

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

What if a beautiful vintage dress could take you back in time?

Louise Lambert has always dreamed of movie starlets and exquisite gowns and longs for the day when she can fill the closet of her normal suburban home with stylish treasures. But when she receives a mysterious invitation to a vintage fashion sale in the mail, her once painfully average life is magically transformed into a time-travel adventure.
Suddenly onboard a luxurious cruise ship a hundred years ago, Louise relishes the glamorous life of this opulent era and slips into a life of secrets, drama, and decadence. . . .

Dreamy and imaginative, The Time-Traveling Fashionista features thirty full-color fashion illustrations to show gorgeous dresses and styles throughout history.

Review:

The Time-Traveling Fashionista is a fun read and a promising start to a new series by debut author Bianca Turetsky.  I love time-travel books, so I was happy to journey along with Louise when she is hurled back in time after trying on a beautiful pink dress in a vintage clothing shop.  When she discovers she has ended up on the Titanic she is less than thrilled, but she becomes determined to save everyone on board by convincing the captain that they are headed for certain doom.  Yeah, that doesn’t work very well, because everyone believes the hype – that the world’s largest passenger ship can’t ever sink.  Instead of looking like a knight in shining armor, Louise only looks like a nutcase, which doesn’t help her cause much.

I liked Louise quite a bit, and immediately starting hoping she could somehow change the disastrous accident that befalls the ship she’s on.  When she is first propelled back in time, she acts like any 12 year old.  She is dazzled by the glitz and wealth suddenly surrounds her, and she kind of spaces out where she is.  It never crosses her mind that she is on the Titanic, and when she does finally get a clue, she is panic-stricken.  She’s made friends, and she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.  Herself included! Her efforts to save the ship and its passengers are courageous,  and make for a suspenseful read.

The historical details of the time period and the Titanic are interesting, and made me curious to learn more.  I hate to admit that about the only  thing I knew about the Titanic before reading the book was that it was a really big ship, it hit an iceberg, and it sank, with much loss of life (and no, I haven’t seen the movie!).  Bianca Turetsky fleshes out the incident, building an engaging read around the real life events. 

The book itself is so pretty!  There are full color illustrations throughout, in addition to splashes of color in the chapter headings.  Illustrations add so much character to a book, and I don’t think publishers realize how much they make a book stand out.  I realize that they are expensive to include, but they make the finished product so much more memorable.  The Time-Traveling Fashionista is gorgeous, offering up visual treats as Louise journeys through the past.

I have only one complaint with the story.  The villain is too one-dimensional, and I didn’t find him to be an interesting opponent.  His interference bogged the story down, and his actions just didn’t seem convincing to me.  There was no compelling reason for why he was trying so hard to stop Louise from trying to save the ship, and it seemed that his only purpose was to cause problems for Louise, without adding depth to the plot.

The Time-Traveling Fashionista is a fun read that will appeal to MG readers, as well as those who enjoy stories with historical settings.  I like the premise that vintage clothing holds the memories of the people who once wore the garments,  and wonder what adventures Louise will have next.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch

 

Title: The Magnolia League

Author: Katie Crouch

Publisher: Poppy

ISBN: 978-0316078498

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When her free-spirited mother dies in a tragic accident, sixteen-year-old Alexandria Lee is forced to leave her West Coast home and move in with a wealthy grandmother she’s never known in Savannah, Georgia. By birth, Alex is a rightful if unwilling member of the Magnolia League-Savannah’s long-standing debutante society. But white gloves and silk gowns are a far cry from the vintage t-shirts and torn jeans shorts she’s used to.

Alex is the first in decades to question the Magnolia League’s intentions, yet even she becomes entangled in their seductive world. The members enjoy youth, beauty and power…but at what cost? As Alex discovers a pact between the Magnolias and the Buzzards, a legendary hoodoo family, she discovers secrets-some deadly-hidden beneath the glossy Southern veneer.

New York Times bestselling author Katie Crouch’s poignant and humorous voice shines in this enchanting and mysterious story about girls growing up in a magical Southern city.

Review:

When I started reading The Magnolia League, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was drawn to the book because of the cover, and the Savannah setting seemed interesting.  Toss in some black magic and a clique of women from old money with powerful ambitions, and I was eager to dive into this one.  It turned out to be an enthralling read, and I finished it in less than a day.  I couldn’t put it down, and I even wanted to skip my much anticipated visit to Red Lobster for their Lobster Fest.  If you know anything about me, you know that the only thing I like better than a good book is a good meal, so that’s saying a lot!

Alex is reeling from her mother’s death and when her grandmother sends for her, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the old woman.  She has been raised in a commune, and the thought of leaving the only home she has ever known, as well as her boyfriend, Reggie, has her fighting to stay right where she is.  She isn’t given much choice, however, and she finds herself in Savannah, a hot and humid prison compared to the cool ocean breezes and freedom of Rain Catcher Farm.  To make things worse, her grandmother expects her to behavior like a Southern lady, and to stop being so embarrassing.  Her grandmother is a member of the Magnolia League, a debutante society that wields enormous power over their community.  All of the women in the Magnolia League are beautiful and wealthy, and Alex slowly learns that they are also keeping dark secrets as well.  Their prosperity and social standing are due to a pact made with the Buzzards, a family that practices black magic.  Stay on their good side and you thrive, but get on their bad side and suddenly life becomes very, very dangerous.

I loved Alex. She is naïve and so different from her grandmother and the others in the Magnolia League that she might as well be an alien.  She is also flawed, and as she learns more about the magic that keeps her grandmother and her cronies in power, she begins to give in to the enticing pull of the spells.  Her transformation from idealistic crusader of social issues to society belle is convincing due to the gradual shift in her acceptance of hoodoo.  She slowly goes from resisting her grandmother’s expectations and demands, to indifferent acquiescence, to active participation as she is seduced by the powerful charms of the charismatic Buzzard family.  

The conflict between Alex and her grandmother also kept me involved in the story.  Miss Lee is a crafty woman, and you know that she is willing to do anything to keep the power of the Magnolia League relevant in her community.  She’s been in power for a long time, and she likes it that way.  She isn’t willing to give it up, or to let anyone else know the secret that she and her cronies are hiding.  There is too much at stake, and she will sacrifice anything to keep the status quo.  She is a pretty scary old lady!  Alex knows that there is something strange going on, and though she is hopelessly clueless for too long, she does slowly begin asking more questions, and begins to demand some answers.   This was the most frustrating aspect of the story for me; Alex is a smart girl, she has good instincts, but she is too passive for a majority of the book.

I do have to deduct a few points for the ending.  Or non-ending, I should say.  The book closes with a major cliffhanger; nothing is wrapped up, and instead, events are pushed into motion that I wanted at least a few answers for.  The last few chapters are a flurry of activity, revealing more questions, more intrigue, and more danger that just trails off with the last page.  As a reader, I expect at least a little closure – there isn’t any to be found here, and that was very frustrating.  You can bet that I will be reading book two, though, but I disappointed with myself for falling for this over-used publishing ploy.

Grade: B+ (Slight deduction for cliffhanger ending)

Review copy provided by Book It Forward Tours