Posts Tagged ‘feel-good book’

This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.

It began at the library, as many of my forays into young adult literature do (sadly). The Girl Band picked up a copy of a book called Dancing Queen. Yeah, like in ABBA. We looked at each other. “What the heck?” we asked each other. “It’s a free read,” I told her. “If you don’t like it…”

“Return it!” she told me with a laugh.

She’s heard this refrain from me before.

A day later, she brought it to me. “Mom,” she said, “this is more your thing.”

She was right. Dancing Queen, written by Erin Downing, is the story of Olivia – Liv – who comes from Minnesota to spend the summer in London, interning for Music Mix, an operation that seems awfully like Fuse TV or the golden days of MTV. They do a countdown, they do concerts, they are supposedly all things music.

One of the first things Liv does is catch the eye of pop star Josh Cameron, who says he likes Liv because she’s not the usual starlet, but who certainly leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the way he treats our heroine. He’s never referred to by only his first name, only by both names, which is both mystifying and annoying. He also never comes alive as a character.

The story follows Liv as she tries to figure out if she wants to be with Josh Cameron while she decides – or not – to figure out what’s going on with her fellow intern, Colin. There’s the tough boss who reminds one of Miranda Priestly; the Southern belle of a roommate who, of course, has a hidden, softer side; and the other roommate, the one whose parents don’t understand her desire to work for Music Mix after the summer ends. One conversation and poof! It’s all better.

Yes, I know. This is young adult lit. What am I expecting? I don’t know. Maybe something as wonderful as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. As Sarra Manning’s Guitar Girl. Or even on par with my all-time YA Rock Fiction favorite: Fat Kid Rules the World.

In the end, I wouldn’t say this is Rock Fiction nearly as much as it is a fun beach read that, like Last Night at Chateau Marmont, is more about the condition of being a star than it is about being specifically a music star. Dancing Queen is a feel-good book about finding your way and, ultimately, about it being okay to be the boring, normal girl who loves what she does but who is perfectly happy to be outside the inner circles of fame.

Author MJ Kane was kind enough to send me a copy of A Heart Not Easily Broken, even though she insisted it’s not Rock Fiction.

And despite some waffling on my part, she’s right. But it’s close, especially because there’s no way Brian could have any other career.

Let me back up. A Heart Not Easily Broken is the story of Ebony, a black woman who is very driven to succeed in life, and Brian, a white man who is very driven to succeed in life, on his own terms. I like these people. They work hard, they are focused and dedicated.

At first meeting, Ebony makes it clear she’s not interested. Brian’s not her type – he’s not black, he’s not beefy. But he’s … something. And it’s that something that catches her interest that he picks up on. He pursues her, even when she keeps saying no. But he’s cute about it, totally not threatening, and showing up on her front doorstep is truly kismet. How can she resist?

It’s nice to see a couple who are so good for each other – and to each other. And to their friends, family, and coworkers, too. This is wholesome, heartwarming stuff, and it doesn’t shy away from the sexy, either. What a great balance. I like Ms. Kane’s worldview.

But then Brian’s creepy roommate decides to lord his power over Ebony. Because let’s face it: that’s what rape is. It’s not about sex. It’s about power, and Javan may be a player, but there’s a line between a player and disturbed, and he crosses that line with Ebony. And, like every person drunk on his own power, he’s convinced nothing bad will happen to him.

Other reviewers commented that the book didn’t seem real at this point. I disagree. I thought Ebony’s reaction was very real. I could relate to her, to her need to keep things a secret, her fear that this one event would ruin so many lives.

It was when she finally told Brian that I began to have a problem. That’s because he doesn’t believe her, even though he has known Javan for years. I can understand if there was shock and an unwillingness to believe the entire scenario – no one wants to hear something so heinous about a person they have such a long history with, and that the woman they love has had to endure something so life-changing. But once Brian comes around, I bought back in.

The next snag I hit was over Javan’s personal fallout. It was too easy, and the statement that he knew how to manipulate people because he was a psychologist just hit me the wrong way. I don’t doubt there are people who do behave this way, but in Javan’s case, I think his issue is that he’s just a sociopath. The dude has problems, and as with every other character in the book, he’s not all bad. He’s a fleshed-out character, by and large, and his mental issues are well drawn.

So… in the end, this is a great read. The publisher could benefit from a better copy editor; there were too many mistakes to overlook, and not mistakes of the stylistic kind, either. Some misused words, semicolons that had no business being there… it’s a shame when a publisher doesn’t make an author look her best, and MJ Kane is an author worth making look good.

I’m grateful to MJ for sending me a review copy. Rock Fiction it ain’t, but it’s a rockin’ good read.

Want to see what you think? I’ve still got those two copies to give away, thanks to MJ. Leave me a comment and I’ll draw a winner.