Love Story by Jennifer Echols

Love Story
Jennifer Echols
This is a review of an ARC copy I got in a contemporary romance spending spree (won from the author at a charity auction).
 
The Premise: Erin grew up in a wealthy environment. She was raised by her grandmother who wanted Erin to major in business so she could take over the family’s racehorse farm one day. When Erin decides instead to follow her dream of being a writer, she’s summarily cut off. Hunter Allen, the son of the stable hand is given Erin’s inheritance and her tuition, while Erin has to work her way through school. Knowing that Hunter will be going to the same New York university is on Erin’s mind, and so for her first assignment in her honors creative writing class she writes a romance between a horse farm heiress and a stable boy. She’s mortified when Hunter joins her class at the last minute and reads her story.  Then he writes his own story, “responding” to hers.  Thus begins a game where the two begin to communicate to one another through their class assignments.
 
My Thoughts: I loved the premise of the story. It seemed like this was a “boy and girl act like they hate each other but they really like each other” story. What I ended up getting in Love Story was much more complicated than that. I like complexity and depth in my stories, but something here didn’t quite work and I’m having trouble saying what it was. I’m writing this review as I’m sorting through what that missed connection was.
 
First of all, I am not sure if it was my expectations getting in the way, but I found Erin and Hunter’s interactions a little strange from the get go. When Erin’s story is presented to the creative writing class Erin expects Hunter to make fun of her, but instead she can tell that Hunter is angry and hiding it from the class. His reason for this anger? That either she’s making fun of him, an idea he quickly dismisses since she wouldn’t know he was going to be in her class, or that she must have liked him in middle and high school, but still let the kids there call him her “stable boy”.  It wasn’t easy to follow the jump from secret crush to ‘if you liked me you have should have stopped other kids from making fun of me’ (I’m paraphrasing here) and then actually being angry about this, but I held on. Similarly, Erin’s response to that is that if Hunter can come up with only two explanations for her story, then he is oversimplifying her and this is to make things easier for him to steal her entire life. Another wild jump that I found difficult to follow, and again, I accepted it and continued on.
 
So I moved on, but I think these hang-ups that Erin and Hunter had about each other clouded the story quite a bit. On one hand I think that we’re seeing the obstacles between Erin and Hunter and the baggage each has from their past, and this baggage must be overcome for them to be together, but on the other hand, I don’t really know about their past history. When they react to each other, as a reader without the history to draw on and having to infer it based on what’s being said, it’s difficult. I don’t have a clue why Erin didn’t talk to Hunter throughout their school years or why Erin is so convinced that Hunter is stealing her life rather than being angry with her grandmother for giving it to him. So when I read their conversations, there’s several times where I’m not sure if the logic is off or I’m just not following a jump the characters have made because of their past history.
 
I much preferred their relationship when it is not overshadowed by the past. Their tentative relationship that stems from their belonging to the same circle of friends and live in the same dorm is much easier to follow. Everyone else is forming new relationships so when Erin and Hunter aren’t alone, but surrounded by Jørdis, Summer, Manohar, and Brian, things flowed extremely well.  The setting of New York City and dorm life was extremely vivid and believable, and in this setting and restricted to reacting to the present (at least amongst their friends), I liked how things were moving along. Hunter and Erin circle one another within their group of friends, and communicate as if they’re across enemy lines. One of the ways they communicate is through their class assignments and once it becomes known amongst a select few that Hunter and Erin knew each other growing up, their little skirmishes gets an audience that sometimes noses it’s way in.
 
When Hunter and Erin finally seem to hit a truce, I had high hopes. It seemed like these two were finally admitting their feelings for each other to one another and that they were communicating this. Then one last obstacle gets in the way. Suddenly the story that I thought was ending very satisfactorily was going down the tubes. I think that what aggravated me most about this final misunderstanding and how the main couple acted was the believability factor.  I just couldn’t believe how Erin would react the way she did when it jeopardized what she said over and over was her fervent goal. The drama soured the end of the story for me, and it left me with a feeling of disconnect from the relationship. I wish the book continued a little further past the point it stopped so I could move on from the sour taste, but it does not.
 
Overall: I feel like I went on a journey with this book. I started with high expectations, had a bit of a bumpy ride while reading it for various reasons, started to love the ending, then did not love the ending. I wanted to love this story and there are many things I liked about it including excellent sense of place (both in New York City and on the horse farm), and an extremely readable writing style, but in the end there were too many things that left me with my feathers ruffled.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
christina_reads – rocky start, ended up enjoying it
chachic’s book nook – didn’t fall in love with it
the reading date – 3.5 out of 5 stars
La Femme Readers – 4 out of 5 flowers
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Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Forget You
Jennifer Echols

This is one of the books in that slew of Jennifer Echols books I bought, which I managed to read on the plane ride to Denmark last month.

The Premise: Zoey is going through a tough time. Her parents have split up because of her father’s infidelity (he got the twenty-four year-old HR manager of his water park pregnant), and her mom cannot cope with it. When her mother has a nervous breakdown, Zoey’s life is completely upended. Now she has to live with her father and she’s terrified that her friends will find out about her mom.

Then Zoey has a car accident. All she has is a vague recollection of Doug Fox, pulling her out of the wreck, but not much else. Now her football player boyfriend Brandon is acting weird and Doug Fox, the one person in her class who hates her, is acting like something happened between them. Zoey knows she was supposed to go parking with Brandon that night, but she can’t remember a thing.  With little she can control, Zoey pretends that everything is okay while secretly trying to piece together exactly what happened the night of her crash.

Excerpt of Chapter 1 of Forget You

My Thoughts: This is a book where it’s pretty clear from the get go that while Zoey is a good kid, the strain of dealing with her parent’s fighting and her mother’s depression is something she’s having a very hard time dealing with. The story opens up with a prelude: Zoey driving home after finding out at her father’s water park that he got an employee pregnant. Since Zoey helped get most of her swim team get jobs there, they all know too. Unable to talk to anyone about what’s going on, she does something rash, but this time there are no dire consequences. But her rashness here proves to be the beginning of a pattern for Zoey – one in which her her hidden turmoil makes itself known in self-destructive ways.

Fast forward to the present and Zoey gets hit with the blow of her depressed mother’s hospitalization. Zoey has to move in with her furious dad, who wants her to keep her mouth shut about what is going on. The only people outside their family who know are Officer Fox and his younger brother, Doug. Zoey is appalled about this, since Doug’s given Zoey nothing but a hard time ever since his stint in juvie. His dislike doesn’t improve after she got everyone in the swim team a job at the water park except for him.  Rather that confiding in any of her friends, and studiously avoiding Doug, Zoey starts a relationship with uncomplicated jock Brandon. But within a week she’s in an accident, wondering why Brandon is acting strange and guilty, and why Doug is suddenly soft-eyed around her. Zoey can’t remember the night of her accident and she’s afraid to admit she can’t, so she pretends, again, that everything is fine, while secretly scrambling to figure it out.

I really liked Doug’s character in Forget You, because he’s essentially this guy who really tries to looks out for Zoey and has her back even when she doesn’t want it. You have to give the boy points for being pretty much the only person, including her missing-in-action parents and her clueless friends, who seems to spend any time worrying about Zoey. As together as Zoey usually is, no one really knows she needs help except Doug. Now, Zoey doesn’t exactly welcome his interest, mostly because she can’t really remember what happened the night of her accident and doesn’t know why Doug suddenly cares. I’ve read reviews where readers don’t like how Zoey treats Doug, but I found her reactions to him believable. Yes, she hurts him, but with all that she’s dealing with, and with her past history with him, she has reasons to be mistrustful and generally unhappy. She also thinks that she is with Brandon. I liked how their relationship progressed throughout the book despite it being rather rocky.

I feel like Forget You has the same engrossing writing that is in Going Too Far, and there’s a similar intense relationship, but while I thought it was very good, it didn’t blow me away the way Going Too Far did. It’s not that I didn’t like Doug and Zoey as much as I liked John and Meg. I did. I think the problem that kept the book from giving me the same reading high was that the story hinged on believing that Zoey would keep the fact that she can’t remember the night of her accident a secret. I had a problem with holding my disbelief at bay when it seemed like life would have been so much easier for her if she admitted she couldn’t remember, and basically the whole premise falls apart without this. That’s the only fly in the ointment for me. Otherwise I felt that Doug and Zoey were complex, layered individuals, and I liked them as a couple. I particularly liked Doug’s Being There For Zoey persona. Although he did sometimes feel unreal, his crappy relationship with his father, and his missteps with Zoey stopped him from being perfect.

Side note: I also liked that Doug was half-Japanese, although his green eyes gave me serious pause.

Overall: Very good. This book portrays the intense connection of young love and the strain of being a teen going through troubled times very well. The writing is engaging and it’s easy to compulsively flip the pages until you are finished. However, it does have it’s flaws. My biggest one was suspension of disbelief at the idea of a girl hiding the fact that she can’t remember the night leading up to her car crash, which kind of makes the whole premise, and everything after that, unravel. Readers may also have issues with Zoey’s treatment of Doug and her methods of escaping her situation. Your mileage may vary.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Compulsive Reader – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
Giraffe Days – positive
Pirate Penguin’s Reads (mini review w/ Going Too Far) – 4 stars (out of 5)
La Femme Readers – 5 flowers (out of 5)
Steph Su Reads – 2.5 out of 5
Book Fare Delights – 3 out of 5
Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm – 5 (out of 5)
Angieville – “great setup that fell flat”
See Michelle Read – positive
Pop Culture Junkie – 4.5 out of 5
Gossamer Obsessions – B
Lurv a La Mode – 4 scoops (out of 5)
Ticket to Anywhere – positive

Favorite Reads of 2010 and plans for 2011

First, the stats:

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books
  • 2010 – 82 books

As you can see, I still haven’t made my yearly goal to read 100 books, but the number is climbing upwards! The problem is that reviewing books (2006 and 2007 I didn’t review as I do now), cuts into reading time. Oh well, I won’t stop reviewing!

Out of those 82 books, these were my favorites (click on the book to see my review):

Blew me out of the water – Two books this year just had the perfect mix that made me feel like I was in utter love from start to finish. Unless I don’t feel consumed to a semi-obsession, a book won’t get on this list.

 

These books I loved and came close perfect (and wow, I had 9 of these this year. Up from 5 last year)

(Note: The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is the repackaged mass market version of Pemberley by the Sea and Cordelia’s Honor is actually 2-books-in-one – I linked to the first book)

Goals for 2011:

1) Keep working on the TBR but don’t worry so much about how many books I buy. Last year I held back on buying books when I wanted to because I was concerned about the size of my TBR (it was 190, now it’s over 250). I’ve decided not to do that – if the TBR grows, it grows. Instead I think I’ll focus on trying to read more often than I have been (this year I often had rows of days where I read nothing. I’d like to read even a few pages a day as long as I read something)

2) Try to read 100 books – this is a long standing goal, just for a number to aim for. I don’t think it will ever not be a goal!

3) Be better about reading challenges – I sign up for online book clubs and challenges and I pretty much NEVER complete them. I suck at it. I’m going to try to read books for book clubs and challenges early this time. And oh man, I’d love to complete the Everything Austen challenge for once. Both times I joined, I got 4 out of 6 Austen related books/movies read and watched, then ran out of time. In 2011.. oh, I will get 6 out of 6. I WILLLLL!!

4) Stay easy going in this blogging thing. I think that will all the book blogs out there, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and lose perspective. I want to make sure to remember that I do this because it makes me happy.

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Going Too Far
Jennifer Echols

I think that every single reviewer that I tend to agree with has read and liked Going Too Far. I’ve been dying to read it but since my resolution is to keep the TBR down I’ve been holding off on buying books this year. Well I finally caved (and the TBR.. it isn’t shrinking).

The Premise: Meg is a teenage rebel who is bored with her town and looks forward to leaving for college after high school. Just before spring break she gets a little drunk and along with another couple, she and her sort-of boyfriend decide to hang out on the railroad bridge. Years ago a teen couple was killed there, so when Officer John After catches Meg and her friends, they’re in trouble. As part of their community service, the teens are made to ride with the fire truck, ambulance and police all through their spring break. Meg is not thrilled to find out that she got the shift with the cops, and has to ride around with Officer After.  But first impressions aren’t always the right ones, and turns out that Officer After is almost as young (and screwed up) as Meg is and together they push each other to think about what their choosing in their lives.

Excerpt of Chapter 1 of Going Too Far

My Thoughts: You know that feeling you get when you hear that a book is good and then you read reviews and it sounds *perfect* for your tastes? And then you read it and it IS just as good as you thought it would be? Well this book gave me that particular high. I stayed up till 2 am reading this book. I woke up the next day thinking about this book. I think I dreamed about this book. It was just happy-sigh-making and I’m so glad I bought it because if I had borrowed it, I would have had to go out and buy it.

OK, so WHY was this so good? Well. If you read this blog you may sometimes see me say I couldn’t fully get into a romance because there wasn’t enough of an emotional connection. This book has emotional connection. I raise this book above my head and say PLEASE LOOK AT THIS AS AN EXAMPLE OF DOING EMOTIONAL CONNECTION RIGHT! In fact, this book also has the physical connection – and because the emotional connection is there? It is awesome. This is how you do a sex scene people.

But I digress. Emotional connection. This is told from the first person viewpoint of Meg, and as the book starts, you see the first layer that Meg wants the world to see. A blue-haired girl. A rebel. She says what she thinks and does what she wants. She doesn’t make commitments and she doesn’t like her town. And Officer After – he’s a stodgy cop who is obsessed with keeping people off the bridge and following the rules. Meg at first thinks he’s a forty year old and imagines he has a wife and kids. This alone makes the two of them interesting, but what makes the story better is that slowly, Meg and John peel off the layers from each other. John finds out why Meg has blue hair, and is a rebel. Why she doesn’t make commitments. Meg finds out why John wanted to be a cop. And add to that that in the process of the two discovering the layers of the other person, they have to look at themselves. They both push each other to change. And that’s probably why this book is titled Going Too Far. They both cross lines. Things get messy, but it goes somewhere good.

I loved that there were all these clues in discovering Meg and John’s pasts that were kind of out in the open, but only if you understood what they meant do they become significant. And I loved that while John After was responsible and driven about his job, he was also a nineteen year old guy. At times he acted very mature, but then his youth would bleed out. Meg too – she acts her age, but she’s definitely different because she doesn’t really have friends. I enjoyed seeing that as she started to let John in, she learned how to let other people in.

There are so many quotable bits to this book. I have several passages I could bookmark and reread them happily forever. For example:

I sat back in my seat and watched the men inside the store. Where was John’s backup? If I sat here waiting much longer, I would panic. And I couldn’t hear John breathing. It was so quiet in the car, my ears rang.
“Are you scared?” I whispered.
“I’m well trained.”
Yes, he was well trained to enter a robbery in progress with three guns pointed at him. Or well trained to hide that he was scared.
His death-hold on the steering wheel gave him away.
“Do you want me to kiss you for luck?” I asked
His eyes cut to me for a split second, then returned to the store. He waited so long that I thought he wasn’t going to answer. He would ignore my inappropriate question.
Then he said, “Yes.”


Overall:
A fantastic, perfectly written love story. I loved it – easily in my top five favorite books this year if not the favorite. The emotional connection in this one was one of the best I’ve read. Ever.

I’m so glad I don’t have to wait long for her next book, Forget You (it comes out in July)
I think if you like Sarah Dessen (exception: Angie), or Megan McCafferty, you will also like this author.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 9 (Damn near perfection)
Angieville – positive review
Lurv a la Mode – 5 Insanely Huge and Indulgent scoops
Book Crazy – 5 out of 5 stars
Giraffedays – 4 out of 5 stars
My Favourite Reads – Excellent
The Hiding Spot (and extra here) -20 out of 10 stars
Pop Culture Junkie – 5 stars
See Michelle Read – positive review
Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm – 5 stars
Katiebabs – B+