Review: 180 Seconds by Jessica Park

When I picked up ‘180 Seconds’ it had been a while since I’d read a contemporary, so I’d completely forgotten what t expect plot wise. It was obvious reading this book that Jessica Park had collected a few viral news stories and decided they would make unique backstories for her characters, which was quirky but didn’t build to one cohesive story.

We follow Allison during her second year of college where she takes part in a social experiment to keep eye contact with a boy, Esben, for 180 seconds and something magical happens and they end up having this deep connection.

This wouldn’t been the perfect opportunity for some Hilary Duff Cinderella Story realness, but no. The pair find each other and start a relationship quickly after this event. Conveniently, Allison doesn’t have any social media accounts so she has no idea that Esben is a famous personality online who does a lot of these social experiments, so she’s in the limelight unexpectedly. This is a novel idea in itself, and I would’ve been trash for this story if it had been just this, but instead it tried to cram in too much.

Allison was in the care system for 16 years of her life, and her anxiety and distress about this is eclipsed by the love story. There are a few lucid passages where Allison works through her feelings, but it really wasn’t the central focus I was hoping it could be. On the other hand, I think the line where Esben stresses she could get through tough situations with him (the love interest), she just ‘doesn’t have to’ was a powerful way of explaining that having a significant other to lean on in times of need isn’t a crime.

Then there was Esben’s sister Kerry was was gang raped at a house party, and I’m sure we’ve all ready horrifying news stories about the sickening reality of this kind of event, but again, it became something that was just there rather than something that was explored. There’s some dialogue about how ‘Kerry didn’t make them rape her, they were always rapists’ that did something to get rid of victim’s guilt, but it was a throw away conversation that felt more perfunctory than having any impact in the way the character’s thought. ‘180 Seconds’ had some really important conversations they just could have been the basis of an entire book not five pages of another.

The only time I had any emotional reaction was with the Steffi storyline, which I won’t go into because of spoilers, but the scene at the end really did have me tearing up even though I’d previously not cared about the characters, so that’s a real testament to how well that scene was written. It was emotional, gritty and really packed a punch. Could the whole book have been like this?

So, I had a couple of problems with ‘180 Seconds’ – maybe more than a couple. Don’t even get me started on the contrived text message fiasco at the end of the book. Sometimes a scene really doesn’t need more conflict. It had some really excellent idea gems, but they hadn’t been left to grow into their true beauteous form. (Weird metaphor, but we’re going with it.) Unfortunately, this was a contemporary that could’ve benefit from dropping one of the balls, so I can only give it 2 stars.

Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

From the first few chapters I thought I was going to fall in love with this book. There was intrigue, beautiful writing, and a really interesting cast of characters. It’s the story of Otis, whose best friend and next door neighbour, Meg, moved away suddenly after an unforeseen incident. Otis is left devastated and in mourning for his little brother, and the girl he used to love. In the three years Meg is gone, Otis takes up swimming, coached by Dara the Scandinavian swimming goddess who lost an arm and had to give up her Olympic dreams.

I liked Otis’ voice…until he started describing every girl’s breasts whenever he met them. The male gaze is disgusting, and those moments made me realise why I often steer clear of hetero male protagonists. Otherwise, Otis fits in with the heroes in the writing of John Green, Robyn Snyder, and Jeff Zentner.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason I didn’t click with Phantom Limbs . I felt like the emotional tone was one note. It was the same level of sadness, trepidation and guilt the whole way through. There weren’t enough, I don’t know, light hearted, happy moments to encourage me to keep reading. The whole thing was a bit depressing, if I’m honest. There’s supposed to be this slow build up to reveal the exact details of Mason’s death and why Meg moved away but I’d vaguely put things together way before they were confirmed, so I’d lost the hook of the story.

As for character development, I was frustrated with both Meg and Otis as they were both consumed by the past. Obviously coming together again stirred up old emotions, but it didn’t feel like they were good for one another. Meg brought out Otis’ jealous, self-conscious side and it was difficult to read about characters who regressed instead.

Phantom Limbs is pretty romance heavy, even though Meg has a boyfriend already. Those kind of blurred moral lines always make me feel a bit uncomfortable but it added to the general teen angst Otis was feeling, and that was the only change of pace in the story, but the trivial glimpses into his hometown life didn’t always match well with the nostalgic tone. It’s like Otis couldn’t progress with two feelings at once.

I also can’t help but mention the LGBT+ aspect of the story. I’m not sure what Dara identifies as, even though Otis and Meg (who’d only met her a couple of times throughout the story) were OBSESSED with trying to label her as a lesbian. You know what, guys? It doesn’t matter. (Louder now for the ones at the back) IT DOESN’T MATTER. Why the heck these two were talking about Dara’s sexuality behind her back in their own free time, I couldn’t tell you. And don’t get me started on Meg’s ‘I knew she was a lesbian!’ at the end. Like, well done? Do you want a prize? I would kindly like to ask for this trope to die in 2018.

Dara as a whole was a very interesting sub-plot. It did what all great sub plots are meant to do, distract you from the main plot at convenient times but still be interlinked enough that it doesn’t seem obvious that that’s what’s happening. Still, at times I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be Otis’ or Dara’s story. And I have to admit, that at some points, I hoped it was the latter. Is it wrong to say that I probably cared about Dara the most over all? I’m not sure how, but I had a much stronger emotional connection to her. Dara and Otis had both lost a part of themselves, but from reading this books, I’ve realised I’d much prefer to read about the lesbian amputee sticking it to the man.

I didn’t particularly like what the ending suggested, but I still can’t bring myself to give it less than three stars because the opening showed so much promise. If you liked any of the comp authors I mentioned earlier, then I’d definitely give this one a go.

Review: The Sound by Sarah Alderson

15740944The Sound by Sarah Alderson
Genre: Mystery, Contemporary, Romance
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 310
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★★
Where to Find: Goodreads | Amazon

I am so glad I picked this book up, because I’d heard absolutely nothing about it and just happened to spot it in the library. However, it’s also the kind of book that my conscience said ‘you shouldn’t be enjoying this as much as you are.’ I had some definite problems, but this book had everything, which almost made up for them.

Ren is an English girl who dreams of becoming a music journalist, she decides to take a summer out to nanny for a family in Nantucket, where she falls into a group of a preppy teenagers that warn her against Jesse Miller. So what does she do? She ignores them. I liked Ren as a character by the end of the novel, because she stuck up for her true friends and was ready to fight for justice, but she also lacked some common sense. As for her relationship with Jesse, it was very reminiscent of a Becca Fitzpatrick novel – actually extremely similar to the relationship in Black IceIf you like Fitzpatrick’s writing, or the novels by Katy McGarry (very similar to Pushing The Limits as well!) I would definitely recommend The Sound!

If you’ve read my reviews on the books mentioned you will know that I really didn’t like Black Ice, and essentially The Sound is Black Ice, but it’s so much more engaging! The murder mystery and the truth about Jesse’s past isn’t really revealed until the last portion of the novel, and I was completely blown away by how thrilling the tense scenes were. The slow build up to the mystery really helped to make this book much more enjoyable. In the beginning I forgot that there was even supposed to be a murder mystery, I wouldn’t have known at all from the first 200 pages if I hadn’t read the blurb, but it was so well laid out that I didn’t see any of the plot twists coming.

As much as enjoyed the majority of this novel, I still had some issues. Here’s a list!

Problem Number 1: Girl on girl hate. Why? The word ‘slut’ and ‘skank’ appears every other page. It might be used jovially at times, but derogatory terms should not be used in jest, in any situation. As we all know, “If you call each other sluts and whores, it makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.’ There was also a lot of insensitive comments on body types and whether or not those girls deserved their relationships. No, no, don’t like that either. I probably would’ve increased the star rating had this not been completely distracting to the storyline.

Problem Number 2: The book justifies its ‘girl falls for ‘bad boy” plot line with other bad ‘girl falls for ‘bad boy” books. Twilight is referenced a bunch of times, and the characters are self-aware of their ridiculousness so justify their actions with something along the lines of ‘well, at least this isn’t Twilight.

Problem Number 3: Lack of common sense. There are literal murderers on an island who seem to only be targeting foreign nannies and Ren does’t immediately book the first flight back to England. What?

Problem Number 4: Kissing. All of the ‘preppy boys’ would kiss Ren on the cheek, and although it does foreshadow the reveal later on, it seemed so silly at the time. Almost every time Jeremy saw her he’d go straight for a kiss on the cheek. When you don’t know someone you don’t just kiss them on the second chance encounter, surely?

In conclusion, although I’m only giving The Sound three stars it’s also made it to my favourites shelf. It was fun and lighthearted whilst also being incredibly serious and tense. I’d recommend it to anyone who is willing to look over the problems list – but still acknowledge that there are obvious faults – and just wants to read something where they can get totally carried away with the story.