Publisher: Skyscape

180 Seconds by Jessica Park

180 Seconds by Jessica Park180 Seconds by Jessica Park
Published by Skyscape on April 25th 2017
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Some people live their entire lives without changing their perspective. For Allison Dennis, all it takes is 180 seconds…

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

Jessica Park isn’t a new author to at all, but having loved ‘Flat-Out Love’ and the way it dealt with personality quirks, death and tragedy, I dove into ‘189 Seconds’ wondering if I was going to get the same kind of student-angst and the identity crisis that still assail young adults that we got in her ‘Flat Out’ series.

In some way, ‘180 Seconds’ is similar, as it puts the emotional effects of being shoved from foster home to foster home and the cycle of hope/rejection in the spotlight, where a popular social media ‘influencer’ so to speak and one social experiment have the power to change how an introverted, aloof and antisocial girl might see the world.

To make a world a happier place because he can (the number of followers can’t hurt either) is not a worldview that I’ve ever held, so to read about Esben’s optimistic worldview is jarring to say the least. That social, outgoing nature of his, as Jessica Park writes, is both intimidating and infectious, though it is not all roses and sunshine that drive him only to see humanity in all its good.

But oh, to have that kind of dewey-eyed, collegiate enthusiasm that Esben Baylor has because my practical, cynical self protests that 180 seconds can change the world, at least, some people’s entire outlook on things. It was almost a given that I was fairly incredulous when the social experiment conducted with Allison ended up with a mad kiss (throwing of a table and chair included, in a passionate fit) after 3 full minutes worth of raging, smouldering looks tossed between 2 people.

There’s also a dreamy, movie-quality to how things play out as it skirts the edge of melodrama. Even as the story rushes to its inevitable climax and Allison runs from a crushing blow, Park circles back to the power of Esben’s and Allison’s initial 180 seconds, and the amount of love that has resulted from it. Can it really change a life? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, Park’s continual reaffirmation of the good in people is what makes ‘180 Seconds’ a feel-good read, because in this NA world, optimism and love (in spite of tragedy) still win.

three-stars

Cheater’s Regret by Rachel Van Dyken

Cheater’s Regret by Rachel Van DykenCheater's Regret by Rachel Van Dyken
Series: Curious Liaisons #2
Published by Skyscape on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

Austin Rogers’s dreams of domestic bliss involved watching Netflix and eating hot dogs with the love of her life. But then he cheated on her. And dumped her—as if the whole thing was her fault. To maintain her pride and restore her sanity, she decides to get revenge. It feels immensely satisfying to plot her ex’s downfall—but so does kissing him.

Thatch Holloway, a plastic surgeon straight out of residency, knows he ruined the best thing that ever happened to him. But not all cheaters are created equal. He got himself into this messed-up situation—true—but he has his reasons for what happened, and he’d do it all again to protect Austin.

He’s not over her. And she’s not over him.

Austin wants closure, but since Thatch refuses to give it to her, she takes matters into her own hands. She needs to write a human-interest piece for her MBA, so she demands the full plastic-surgery experience. Sparks fly as they’re forced to work together. But Thatch isn’t afraid to play dirty in return. And he’s still hiding something—something that has the power to destroy not only Austin but their second chance at finding forever…

Thatch has smooched someone else, on purpose (and for a reason that we won’t know until the end) in order to end a relationship that wrecks him both in a good and bad way. Make no mistake –
it’s a cowardly act that has him trying every which way to remedy but fails, until things do come to a head. That in a nutshell, is the start of the drama and admittedly, it’s not that often an author would go so boldly into the murky waters of writing about the aftermath.

The brazen title drew me to this story, I’ll say from the start. It’s self-explanatory, bold and quite the blatant announcement that it crosses no-go territory for many readers. But I genuinely wanted to know how Rachel Van Dyken was going to go through this premise when the story takes place after Thatch Holloway treats Austin Rogers like garbage in trying to do everything to drive her away.

But curiosity did get the better of me and despite years of having known that Van Dyken isn’t quite the author for me personally, I wanted to see how the story would unfold before I started calling it ‘Reader’s Regret’ in my mind. In some ways, I’ve been testing my own limits in wanting to know what would be good enough a reason that would justify such an asinine decision to cheat instead of orchestrating a straight-out breakup?

The direction of the story took a turn I couldn’t entirely be enthusiastic about. As friends of their respective best friends, Austin and Thatch can’t avoid each other and what starts off as a (rather juvenile) revenge ploy turns into Austin ‘shadowing’ Thatch for her final assignment in graduate school, as both of them start the push-pull/hot-cold attraction thing once again. And as much as I thought Austin had a right to be furious, I simply wanted her to hold her head up high and date others in the wake of the heartbreak, but instead got someone who was as needy and desperate for the man who cheated on her, hung up so much on him that she became the very kind of woman she already proclaimed she hated. The pages of her own self-recrimination just couldn’t cancel out her glutton-for-punishment desperation that had me rolling my eyes and wishing she hadn’t shed her dignity along with her clothes in the needy bid to get back with a man who is trying to push her away when he couldn’t even give her the courtesy of coming clean.

The long, drawn-out deception was what made me give up on the story in the end though; that Thatch could not be honest enough to put himself out there was the sort of character growth I think I needed to see when all he seemed to be doing thus far was to perpetuate the same cheating cycle he caught his parents in. Distracting Austin from the truth with sex didn’t improve my impression of him at all, particularly when he had so many opportunities to begin everything on a clean slate but didn’t. That it all eventually caught up with him was unsurprising, though it was by this time my sympathies had officially run as dry as a well for every character in the book.

I wish that ‘Cheater’s Regret’ had been a better read, given the really bold and eye-catching premise it begins with. But having been disappointed in too many stories that went awry like this, I think I’m going to stay far away once more from these sort of books while I desperate grab for my favourites right now to wash my own regret away.

one-star