Review: Hysteria by Megan Miranda

 

 

Title: Hysteria

Author: Megan Miranda

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian. She can’t remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn’t charged. But Mallory still feels Brian’s presence in her life. Is it all in her head? Or is it something more? In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her . . . or anything about her past. But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets. Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead. As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others. In another riveting tale of life and death, Megan Miranda’s masterful storytelling brings readers along for a ride to the edge of sanity and back again.


Review:

Okay, this was a different read for me.  Mallory killed her boyfriend one rainy night during the summer, after he broke into her house.  She isn’t charged because it was ruled to be in self-defense, but Mallory isn’t sure.  She can’t remember what happened that scary, rainy night, and she’s not sure that she wants to.  Unable to sleep without the aid of sleeping pills, she suffers from the emotional trauma that she can’t put behind her.  She feels a dark, heavy presence when she’s alone, and she keeps hearing the ominous boom, boom, boom of Brian’s dying heartbeat.  When her parents send her away to Monroe, the boarding school her dad went to, she doesn’t think things can get any worse.  Boy, was she wrong.

Hysteria is a compelling, character driven story.  There is a steady building of suspense, and you aren’t sure whether Mallory is completely nuts or just suffering from PTSD.  Her escape mechanism when things get too intense for her is to run.  Run as fast and as far away from whatever it is that’s making her uncomfortable.  She runs a lot in this book.  From herself, from her memories, from her classmates.  But mostly she runs from the truth.  What happened that awful night, and why can’t she remember?

I was bewildered at Mallory’s parents’ apparent abandonment.  What the heck?  Their daughter is going through the worst time in her life, and they ship her off to boarding school.  Mallory can barely function because she is so consumed with what she did.  It colors everything in her life, as it should.  She killed someone, and she is being eaten mercilessly by remorse.  What could she have done differently?  Why did she do what she did?  The flashbacks to that night when everything went wrong  are intense and compelling, and kept me wondering how all of the pieces would fit together.  After first I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked Mallory because  she is so emotionally shattered that she comes off as uncaring and indifferent.  As the story unfolds, though, it becomes more and more evident that she is suffering but she has no one to turn to for help.  Her best friend back home isn’t responding to her emails or phone calls, and her parents are emotionally distant.  What Mallory needed was a good shrink, but all she seemed to get was a slick lawyer.  I didn’t get that.  If her parents could afford to ship her off to boarding school, they could have provided her with counseling as well.

Whether or not you enjoy Hysteria will depend on whether or not you like Mallory.  She is one messed up girl, and her coping methods are suspect at best.  Weird things are happening to her, and instead of trying to seek help, she tries to deal with all of her problems by herself.  The few times she reaches out to her parents are rebuffed.  When events become too much for her to handle, the authority figures in her life don’t believe her because of her past.  Mallory irritated at times, but I did come to like her, and I wanted her to find peace from her memories and her nightmares. The pacing is a little slow at times, but I found this a hard book to put down.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Giveaway! Win Also Known As by Robin Benway!

 

About the book:

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She’ll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school’s security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.

Ready for your chance to win a copy of Also Known As by Robin Benway? Just will out the widget below. Earn extra entries for following. US mailing addresses only.

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Review: Smashed by Lisa Luedeke

 

Title:  Smashed

Author:  Lisa Luedeke

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A field hockey star grapples with addiction in this riveting debut that will appeal to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

Stay out of trouble for one more year, and Katie Martin can leave her small town loneliness behind forever. She is a field hockey star on the fast track to a college scholarship, but her relationship with alcohol has always been a little questionable. Then trouble finds her. Alec is the most popular guy in school, and also the biggest bully—with his sights set firmly on Katie. When Alec turns on the charm, Katie thinks she must have been wrong about him.

     Except that she wasn’t. On a rain-soaked, alcohol-drenched night, one impulsive decision leaves Katie indebted to Alec in the worst possible way. This debut novel is a fast-paced and compelling story of addiction, heartbreak, and redemption.

 


Review:

I am not going to lie.  Parts of Smashed left me angry and frustrated.  It’s a hard book to put down, because Katie’s life is such a train wreck.  While I found it engrossing, I am torn about it.  I wanted to like Katie more than I did, but there are many times throughout the narrative that she is unlikable, and hard to relate to. She is struggling with her father’s rejection of her family, and when Alec is nice to her, she ignores her reservations about him and starts falling for him.  With a distant, distracted mother who is never there for her, she craves what Alec is giving her; attention and kindness.  When he shows a darker side, she is frightened, but when he apologizes for his abusive behavior, she forgives him, and puts herself  at risk again.  Katie doesn’t trust adults, and frankly, who can blame her after taking a long, hard look at her parents, so she instead tries to deal with all of her problems by herself.  She doesn’t even confide in her closest friends that she is in over her head with Alec.   Instead, she decides to deal with him herself, but her way of dealing with him can only have one outcome, and it isn’t a pretty one. 

Alec and his friends are the kings of her school, and they have a reputation for being bullies and getting away with crap.  When their paths start crossing during the summer, Katie starts to think that she’s been wrong about him.  He’s attentive and kind, and he’s there to listen as she vents about her family.  Sure, a couple of things don’t add up, and he gets aggressive about a physical relationship, but Katie convinces herself that she’s sending him the wrong signals.  She just wants to be friends.  But the more she pushes him away, the harder he pushes back, until he has her scared and wary of him.  When a drunk driving accident almost kills them both, Katie has to live the consequences of a very bad decision.  In the months that follow, she puts her dream of playing field hockey in college, a scholarship, and even her life in danger. 

I was so upset with some of the choices that Katie made.  There is pressure on her and her teammates to not get caught partying during the season, or they will be kicked off the team.  Instead of drinking publically, Katie starts drinking at home.  Her mother is never there, so it’s not like anyone is going to know or care.  Her mother is more focused on her job and finding a boyfriend to be there for Katie and her younger brother.   Without positive role models, Katie is struggling to find her place and struggling to deal with the challenges she is facing.  I kept wondering if and when her mother would take a step back from her own life and take an interest in her children’s.  I also felt horribly sad that Katie felt so abandoned and alone.  She feels that she has no one, so she starts drinking to forget all of her problems.

I don’t feel that Alec’s personality was developed enough, and I was disappointed at Alec’s lack of depth. I never felt that I got to know him or understand him. He’s just a one-dimensional jerk whose only purpose in the story is to propel Katie down a path of self-destruction. 

If you enjoy contemporary fiction that deal with social issues, I think you will enjoy Smashed.  It is a compelling and hard to put down read, and even though I didn’t always like Katie, I always sympathized with her.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy obtained from my local library

Review: Strobe Edge Vol 1 by Io Sakisaka

 

Title:  Strobe Edge Vol 1

Author: Io Sakisaka

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Being in love can light up your life… A sweet love story that will warm your heart!


Review: 

When I first read the book blurb above, I thought it was pretty lame.  After reading Strobe Edge, though, I think it very accurately and very succinctly describes this high school romance.  Ninako is shy and reserved, and everyone thinks she and her childhood friend, Daiki will eventually get together.  Daiki makes no secret of his feelings, but he has never voiced them, leaving Ninako, who is kind of clueless, thinking that they are just friends.  After circumstances have her and school heartthrob Ren cross paths several times, Ninako discovers how kind and thoughtful he is, and she falls in love with him.

Strobe Edge captures all of the awkwardness and exhilaration of falling in love for the first time.  Ninako falls head over heels for Ren, and who can blame her? He’s gorgeous, and better yet, he is nice.  What a combo!  As her feelings for Ren grow, so does her guilt over them.  She has finally picked up on Daiki’s feelings, and she feels awful about her lack of feelings for him.  She blames herself for leading him on, and though she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, she knows that she has to level with him.  So along with the giddy rush she experiences whenever she sees Ren,  she realizes that her feelings are going to hurt one of her closest friends.

I don’t want to spoil any other plot points, so instead I’ll urge you to give Strobe Edge a try if you enjoy series like High School Debut and Kimi ni Todoke.  This introductory volume will leave you smiling as Ninako slowly begins to blossom, shedding her reservations and allowing herself to come out of her shell.  She knows that her heart will more than likely get broken, but for the time being, she is enjoying how she feels about Ren.  Because she is so sweet, and because she is taking this huge risk, you can’t help but cheer her on.  Will things work out between her and Ren, or is Ninako doomed to heartbreak?  I don’t know, but I can hardly wait to find out!

Grade:  wavering between a B+ and an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Georgetown Academy Book One by Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz

Title: Georgetown Academy Book One

Authors:  Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

It’s the beginning of a new political administration. That might not mean much at most high schools, but at Georgetown Academy, Washington D.C.’s most elite prep school, January 20th means new alliances, new flings, and new places to party.

While freshmen—nicknamed “interns” for their willingness to jump into bed with anyone higher on the D.C. totem pole—navigate the not-so-friendly halls of GA searching for Algebra and Bio classes, the school’s lifers have other things on their minds.

For self-proclaimed D.C. royalty Brinley Madison (of those Madisons), the first day of school is all about establishing the social hierarchy and playing the part of perfect political wife to her boyfriend, the outgoing Vice President’s son. Too bad he has a wandering eye that puts Bill Clinton’s to shame. Can she keep him, and her own secret vice, in check?

Ellie Walker, Brinley’s best friend, floats through the halls on the arm of golden boy Hunter McKnight (the JFK of GA). But when her ex-boyfriend, Gabe, returns to town and her Senator mother’s political nemesis is reelected, Ellie’s life starts to snowball out of control.

Shy, quiet Evan Hartnett is more into books than beer, and her closet is full of t-shirts and jeans instead of Jason Wu and Jimmy Choo. No one’s ever really noticed her—but she’s been noticing them. When her star rises as an intern at D.C.’s most-watched political news show, she soon finds the two worlds colliding in ways that make her question what’s secret and what’s fair game.

New girl Taryn Reyes is all laid-back, California cool; with a father who’s in line to be the first Hispanic president, she’s ready to dive into the D.C. scene with an open mind. But when her fellow students turn out to be more interested in spreading rumors than making friends, she realizes that forging a drama-free path might be a lot harder than she thinks.

With so many new friends and former flames in the mix, things are bound to get a little heated. And while diplomatic immunity might keep the cops away, there’s not much it can do about the press.

In a town where one teenage misstep can turn into a national scandal, the students at Georgetown Academy will have to be on their best behavior—or, at least, they’ll have to make the world believe that they are.

Because there’s only one rule: whatever you do, don’t get caught.


Review:

When I was approached to review Georgetown Academy, I was excited to dive into the book.  Coliloquy, the publisher, is defining itself as a cutting edge digital publisher, and they are actively attempting to engage more reader interaction.  From their website:

Coliloquy is a next-generation digital publisher, leveraging advances in technology to enable groundbreaking new types of books, new revenue models, and new forms of author-reader engagement.”

Now, I love the idea of this, but after reading the first installment of the Georgetown Academy series, I wasn’t impressed with the reader interaction.  There is one point in the story where the reader can choose one of the characters and follow her POV for a short sequence of events.  I found this more tedious than ground-breaking  because I had to reread the same scene four times to get all of the girls’ perspectives.  This just slowed the pace of the story for me.  What would I like to see in future releases?  Maps of key places, including the school, illustrated character bios, even emails and text messages sent by the protagonists.  How about adding some audio, too, and including voice mails, etc?  That would be so cool, and to me, that would more fully engage my attention.

Despite my quibble with the interactive features, I did enjoy this introduction to the Georgetown Academy series. I had a good sense of how each of the characters ticked, and felt that I was able to get into their heads as they each dealt with all of the drama tossed their way.  And each of them is drowning in drama!  If you like books with lots of angst, lots of social pressure, and intense interpersonal relationships, this is the series for you.  Once I settled into the story, I was very engaged in the lives and trials of Evan, Taryn, Ellie, and Brinley.  Better yet, I liked some more than others, and found that they each had a unique personality.  Dealing with their parents’ successes and setbacks, boyfriend troubles, and the press kept each of them on the edge.  These teens are in  a larger than life setting, and not all of them are as well equipped to deal with the stress.

Because Georgetown Academy Book One is so short, I found the initial character introductions the slowest aspect of the story.  Just when I felt that I had a handle on the protagonists, the story shuddered to an abrupt ending.  Was I invested in the story?  You bet!  I immediately wanted to start reading Book Two!  So be aware that the beginning of the book drags a bit, but then, as the mishaps and gossip start piling up, GA is difficult to put down. 

Grade:  Wavering between a B and a B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Jessica Koosed Etting & Alyssa Embree Schwartz, Authors of Georgetown Academy and Giveaway!

Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz dropped by the virtual offices to chat about their Georgetown Academy series.  Please give them a warm welcome!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about your Georgetown Academy series?

[Jessica and Alyssa] Georgetown Academy follows the lives of four girls at a private prep-school in D.C. where all the most powerful politicians send their children, much like the school that Malia Obama currently attends. As a senator’s daughter and sophomore, Ellie Walker knows it’s a world where one innocent teenage misstep can turn into national scandal faster than you can say CNN and where everyone tries to abide by the most important rule of politics…whatever you do, don’t get caught.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jessica and Alyssa] We have a few friends who grew up in D.C. and went to prep schools similar to Georgetown Academy. Their high school experiences were so unique and interesting (and their stories are ridiculously entertaining) that we both realized it would make a really fun world for a YA series.

Coming up with the characters is one of our favorite parts of the process and for Georgetown Academy, we wanted four very different main girls with very different agendas. We used elements of ourselves, our friends and definitely some famous political families to ultimately create Ellie, Brinley, Taryn and Evan. And the boys were even easier to come up with. They are all versions of guys we wish we had dated in high school!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Evan?

[Jessica and Alyssa] Fair, Ambitious, (major) Worrywart

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Brinley had a theme song, what would it be?

[Jessica and Alyssa] Ummmm…Heartless by Kanye West? Kidding! Though Brinley can come off a little mean and scary to those she’s not friends with, we think her tenacity is what defines her best…so we’d have to go with Fighter by Christina Aguilera.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Ellie won’t leave the house without.

[Jessica and Alyssa] Her iPhone so she can get her Google News Alerts every time a story about her Senator mother hits the web. Or in case Gabe secretly texts her.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Gabe’s bedroom?

[Jessica and Alyssa] A hairbrush, an issue of Us Magazine, a Polo shirt.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Taryn’s greatest regret?

[Jessica and Alyssa] With Taryn’s boho lifestyle, she tries to live life regret-free and focus on the now (something her mother’s private yoga instructor, Chandini, often reiterates). She doesn’t necessarily have regrets about moving from L.A. to D.C., but she definitely underestimated how different it would be. It’s been a struggle for her, but she’s learning how to adapt to her new surroundings without compromising who she is. She’s not going to stop rocking her faux fur and leopard print just because no one else at Georgetown Academy does.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences for the series?

[Jessica and Alyssa] As far as YA authors go, Ann M. Martin and Francine Pascal have always been huge inspirations for us. They created these contemporary, fun worlds we were both addicted to when we were younger. We still remember everything about all the members of the Babysitters Club and every detail about Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Another author who delves into the Georgetown Academy arena is Curtis Sittenfeld. We loved Prep and American Wife so she’s definitely an influence, as well.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jessica and Alyssa] Skype (we live across the country from each other), coffee and Twitter for when we want to procrastinate.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jessica and Alyssa] The Likeness by Tana French. She creates such a rich, interesting world in this book…and the mystery kept us guessing until the end.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jessica and Alyssa] Kristy’s Great Idea, the first book in The Babysitters Club series. Despite growing up in different states and not knowing each other yet, we were both obsessed with this book series when we were younger and it was actually one of the things that brought us together as friends years later!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Alyssa] Explore D.C. with my husband (we moved here a few months ago and are loving it), read, watch everything on TV from MSNBC to Pretty Little Liars.

[Jessica] My all-time favorite thing to do when I get any time to myself is curl up and read. Bonus points if it’s rainy and I have a cup of hot cocoa in my hand. Unfortunately in L.A., that’s pretty rare! I also adore traveling, am addicted to more reality television series than I’m willing to admit and love hanging out with my family and friends.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jessica and Alyssa] We’re all over social media! Come find us!

Our Twitter: @GTownAcademy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgetownAcademy

Website (and home to our blog): http://georgetownacademyseries.com/

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

Thanks to Coliloquy, I have 2 digital copies of Georgetown Academy Book 1 to giveaway!  Just will out the widget for your chance to win! Extra entries for following.

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Didn’t win? You can purchase Georgetown Academy from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the link below.

About the book:

It’s the beginning of a new political administration. That might not mean much at most high schools, but at Georgetown Academy, Washington D.C.’s most elite prep school, January 20th means new alliances, new flings, and new places to party.

While freshmen—nicknamed “interns” for their willingness to jump into bed with anyone higher on the D.C. totem pole—navigate the not-so-friendly halls of GA searching for Algebra and Bio classes, the school’s lifers have other things on their minds.

For self-proclaimed D.C. royalty Brinley Madison (of those Madisons), the first day of school is all about establishing the social hierarchy and playing the part of perfect political wife to her boyfriend, the outgoing Vice President’s son. Too bad he has a wandering eye that puts Bill Clinton’s to shame. Can she keep him, and her own secret vice, in check?

Ellie Walker, Brinley’s best friend, floats through the halls on the arm of golden boy Hunter McKnight (the JFK of GA). But when her ex-boyfriend, Gabe, returns to town and her Senator mother’s political nemesis is reelected, Ellie’s life starts to snowball out of control.

Shy, quiet Evan Hartnett is more into books than beer, and her closet is full of t-shirts and jeans instead of Jason Wu and Jimmy Choo. No one’s ever really noticed her—but she’s been noticing them. When her star rises as an intern at D.C.’s most-watched political news show, she soon finds the two worlds colliding in ways that make her question what’s secret and what’s fair game.

New girl Taryn Reyes is all laid-back, California cool; with a father who’s in line to be the first Hispanic president, she’s ready to dive into the D.C. scene with an open mind. But when her fellow students turn out to be more interested in spreading rumors than making friends, she realizes that forging a drama-free path might be a lot harder than she thinks.

With so many new friends and former flames in the mix, things are bound to get a little heated. And while diplomatic immunity might keep the cops away, there’s not much it can do about the press.

In a town where one teenage misstep can turn into a national scandal, the students at Georgetown Academy will have to be on their best behavior—or, at least, they’ll have to make the world believe that they are.

Because there’s only one rule: whatever you do, don’t get caught.

Review: Falling Out of Place by M G Higgins

 

Title:  Falling Out of Place

Author:  M G Higgins

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Gabby Herrera is not like her perfect sister, Celia–straight-A student, obedient, responsible. Her parents don’t get it. They don’t get er C-average report card. Her love for basketball.
"The three of them think anything is possible if you just try hard enough. Well, I’ve tried. It’s not possible."
She can’t be who she is unless she is just like them. And if she’s not like them, she’s not a real person. She’s a broken person. A broken Herrera. And that is unacceptable.


Review:

Falling Out of Place was an unsolicited review copy, and when I pulled it out of the envelope, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I have had a few issues with other Saddleback publications, and while I have found them all compulsively readable, I wasn’t always impressed with the quality of writing or the presentation values.  I started reading this book because it was short, it looked like a fast read, and I wasn’t really in the mood for anything else.  I am so glad that I did start it, because by the third chapter, I could not put it down.  This story hit all the right spots for me, and I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting.

Gabby is an angry young woman.  Her sisters are perfect compared to her, and her parents keep ragging on her to get better grades and work harder in school.  Gabby hates school.  What she loves is basketball, and when she’s on the court, she hustles and gives her all.  After a series of personal meltdowns, she is forbidden from playing by her father, forced to get a job after school, and she’s grounded for what seems like life.  As her life continues to spiral out of control, Gabby finds herself engaging in reckless, dangerous behavior.  She is compelled to do the wrong thing, to make the wrong decisions, by the demons that are haunting her.  One by one her friends abandon her, leaving her even more angry and isolated.  When her Uncle Mike dies,  everything comes to a screeching halt.  He was the only one who understood her, and now that he’s gone, Gabby hates herself even more.  Will anything save her from herself and the rage that threatens to consume her?

When I finished this book, I had one word to say – wow.  I had such a hard time liking Gabby, because she is so unlikable.  It wasn’t surprising that she was left friendless; she excelled at pushing everyone who cared for her as far away as possible.  Her temper is out of control, and after a few too many flare ups, nobody wanted to be near her.  What if she came unglued on them?  Her unhappiness and self-loathing grew, page after agonizing page.  Gabby sucked at everything except destroying her life and all of the relationships that meant anything to her, and it was very painful to read along as she self-destructed.

Gabby is a complete train wreck, and after her Uncle Mike dies, things only get worse.  She starts hanging out with people who encourage her to do the wrong thing.  She drinks at work, at home, and at school.  She parties like a pro, but only ends up feeling even more miserable.  With all of the stupid stuff she did, I am surprised she was able to survive from one drinking binge to the next.  This girl was hurting so badly, yet nobody in her family was willing to see her misery.  There wasn’t anybody for her to turn to for help, and that was heartbreaking.  When she finally does go too far, it’s almost too late for her.

I’m not usually drawn to stories with suicidal teens because I find them depressing and difficult to read, but this book is told with so much heart that I couldn’t put it down.  It’s a fast, powerful read with so much emotion stuffed into its short length.  The ending is upbeat, probably too upbeat and not realistic, but I liked it.  Gabby was in complete freefall, when finally, miraculously, she was able to grab onto some hope and finally start to like herself again. 

Grade:  A-/B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Playing at Love by Ophelia London

 

 

Title: Playing at Love

Author:  Ophelia London

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Show choir teacher Tess Johansson loves three things: music, her job, and sharing that passion with her students. But when a school budget crisis forces funding to be pulled from either the sports or music programs, she finds herself going head to head with Jack, the gorgeous new football coach who broke her heart fifteen years ago.

Jack Marshall wants two things: to be closer to his young daughter and to make his mark as a football coach. Taking the new job, with the promise that he’d have time to build a solid team, gave him both. But now he must win the season with a group of boys who aren’t anywhere near ready or he’ll lose everything he’s worked so hard for. Being pitted against Tess, the summer love he never forgot, is like being fourth and long with only seconds on the clock.

On opposing sides of a fierce battle and with everything at stake, Tess and Jack find themselves torn between doing what it takes to win and doing what it takes to be together.


Review:

When I saw this new Bliss title, I jumped at the chance to read it.  It has my favorite trope – you guessed it – second chances at love.  I just can’t resist that one, so as I settled into my seat for the flight back from OKC, I started gobbling up this book.  It is a sweet romance, with rapid pacing and fun characters. 

Tess loves her job as the show choir teacher at Franklin High.  She loves mentoring her students and pushing them to be the best they can be.  When her job is threatened due to budget cuts, she is on the defensive.  The only way to save her show choir is to take first place at Regionals, and even then, she has to hope that the new football coach, Jack, meets with failure.  If Jack can’t win 4 out of 6 games with the beleaguered football team, his new position will be going down the toilet.  Their rivalry is fueled by Jack’s betrayal when they were teenagers.  As the entire town starts to choose sides, Jack and Tess must decide what’s most important – winning or  falling in love.

I liked Tess, and felt that I got to know her and what made her tick.  She’s appalled to face a ghost from her past, and infuriated when Jack’s football team threatens the survival of her show choir program.  She loves her job, and she needs a paycheck to help keep her parents’ home out of foreclosure.  When Jack comes waltzing back into her life after breaking her heart all those years ago, Tess doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.  She still hasn’t gotten over his betrayal.  She can’t trust men, and something always drives her away from a serious, steady relationship. 

Jack has always regretted what he did that summer, all those years ago.  Now he has a chance to make up for it, but Tess won’t give him the time of day.  He’s beyond dismayed to learn that his new dream job may go up in smoke, and he can’t believe that his team has to compete with the show choir for survival.  The added conflict to their relationship kept me engaged in the story.  Since one of the programs has to go, I kept wondering how either protagonist would accept defeat.  As the competition began to divide the school, and eventually, the community, both Jack and Tess began to see the damage that was being done as pranks between supporters began to get out of hand.  I enjoyed reading along as they tried to come up with a mutually agreeable solution to the mess they found themselves in.  As their October deadline approached, they each began to question what was really important in their lives.  As they worked through this dilemma, it seemed that their relationship would take one step forward and two back, but I never felt that the pacing suffered, regardless of all of the new road bumps they encountered.

Playing at Love keeps a flirty tone throughout. I didn’t feel that Tess and Jack’s past was explored enough, but the story kept me entertained through a mechanical delay, a late flight crew, and a layover at DFW.  My one nitpick – I felt that it lacked depth, and the ending was wrapped up too quickly, and too conveniently.  Still, there is a good time to be had by all, and I believe that Jack and Tess won’t squander their second chance at a happy ever after.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher