ARC Review: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Title: Starry Eyes
Author: Jenn Bennett
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: April 3rd 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.
      But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.
      What could go wrong?
      With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.
      And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?”

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Jenn Bennett’s Starry Eyes suffers from an interesting synopsis that never quite gets delivered on page. Zorie and Lennon were once best friends, but now regard each other with nothing less than scorn. Though the synopsis boasts of a turbulent relationship between their families, the reality is less dramatic. Zorie’s mother has always been friendly with Lennon’s moms. The major point of contention between the two families is Zorie’s father. His bitterness about the failure of his career and his own bigotry toward Lennon’s moms are what fuels the tension between the two families. At times, the novel felt too long and the conflict between Zorie and Lennon felt too short-lived that the initial animosity at the beginning felt rather pointless.

I liked that Zorie, a devoted planner, learns to appreciate spontaneity, that she learns that there is value in the unexpected. Her relationship with her mother is my favorite in the novel. Joy is patient and understanding with Zorie. She never ridicules her daughter for bad decisions, but is always there to help her through her problems. Joy makes a striking contrast to Zorie’s father, Dan, and much of the time, I wondered what he really brought to the table in their marriage and Zorie’s upbringing. So much of the novel hinges on Zorie’s father’s destructive behavior without giving the character anything else to work with. As a result, Zorie’s father falls very flat. The revelations surrounding his character and the consequences with regard to his relationship with his daughter did not have a strong impact on me as a reader because I never could value him as an important influence in Zorie’s life.

One of my major issues with the novel is the hostility between the main character and her love interest. Part of the build-up is revealing what went wrong between former best friends, Zorie and Lennon. Though the two do their best to avoid one another, it seemed obvious from the beginning that this wasn’t something that Zorie felt strongly about. I expected a relationship with more tension, but after only a couple of bantering scenes, the two were already quickly on their way to reconciliation. My problem with this whole dynamic is when everything is put on the table, I could not help but shake my head because a little communication could have saved both characters from a lot of heartache. Strangely enough, I was more interested in finding out more about their friendship than their thwarted romance. It’s an aspect that is forced to take a backseat, but one I was more invested in.

Starry Eyes will probably appeal to those who enjoy second-chance romances and Bennett’s previous novel Alex, Approximately, but left me wanting more overall.

3/5

★★★

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The Friday 56: Alex, Approximately

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“Balls,” Grace mumbles. “I don’t remember how to run the ticketing program!”

“You’ll do it in your sleep, Gracie,” he assures her. For a second, he almost seems nice, and not the same boy who humiliated me in front of the entire staff. A mirage, I tell myself.

If you like novels that play with the You’ve Got Mail trope (maybe in this case The Shop Around the Corner), Jenn Bennett’s Alex, Approximately is right up your alley and a perfect read for the summer. You can read my full review here. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

From the Goodreads Synopsis:

      “Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.
      Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.
      And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

Sign-ups for the Summer 2017 Comment Challenge for August are now open! If you’d like to challenge yourself and make a new blogging friend, consider joining us. We’ll be pairing bloggers and encouraging them to comment on each other’s blogs all month long. Signups close July 26th. Click the image to the left for all the details!

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Title: Alex, Approximately
Author: Jenn Bennett
Series: N/A
Pages: 391
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: April 4th 2017

      “Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.
      Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.
      And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.”

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“My cheeks catch fire. I want to melt into a puddle and slide under the tacky orange carpet. I can’t look at him now, much less come up with a witty response. My mind has flipped on the autopilot switch and blanked out, and all I’m aware of is the sound of my own pulse throbbing in my ears.”

Jenn Bennett’s Alex, Approximately is the terrific summer read with a fun, beach setting and adorable first love story at its center. Bailey Rydell hates conflict. She’s more likely to retreat into herself than face any of her problems head on. The mounting tension between her mom and stepfather is almost too much to handle, but instead of sticking it out, she hops on a plane and travels across the country to move in with her father in California. This new town means new possibilities. It also means that Bailey might just get to meet her online crush, “Alex” with whom she shares a passion for old movies. Bailey doesn’t expect Porter Roth to ruin all her summer plans. Their chemistry is undeniable, but Bailey’s tendency to evade uncomfortable situations might derail their relationship.

I loved that even though this contemporary focuses on Bailey falling in love for the first time, it also gave the protagonist an important character arc that revolved around her alone. A traumatic past experience has caused Bailey to retreat into herself and as a result, she isn’t always good at forming new relationships. She’s used to compartmentalizing and this tendency to keep parts of her life separate makes it hard for her to open up to new people. Her online relationship with Alex that mostly revolves around their love of old Hollywood classics is only one facet to who she is and although I would have like to have seen more of this relationship, I think it was important to give Bailey’s real life relationship with Porter more of the spotlight. It is through this relationship that Bailey is forced to confront her propensity to bail when things get tough and though it’s a slow process, she does end up understanding that running away is the worst possible way to deal with her problems.

Porter was a really sweet love interest for Bailey. At first he does come across as a real jerk and though I don’t think this was really necessary, it thankfully doesn’t last long because it would have been really hard to root for this relationship if Porter had continually antagonized Bailey. I appreciated that Bailey wasn’t the only one hesitant about their relationship. Porter’s last serious relationship didn’t end well. These trust issues made him more relatable when he could have very easily been a cliché love interest. Several of his interpersonal relationships play vital roles in the story which gave him added depth.

The book does have some shortcomings. If you read the synopsis, the main plot twist isn’t meant to be concealed from the reader. I went into the novel knowing important information the characters didn’t. I thought the author would play with the idea of mistaken identity more, so was kind of disappointed that the identity of Bailey’s online friend really wasn’t much of a factor until the very end of the book. I also found it really hard to wrap my brain around Bailey’s mom’s complete absence. There is absolutely no contact between the two of them during the entire duration of the novel and although we’ve given a semi-convincing reason as to why at the end, I still found it hard to believe. I feel that this relationship was a missed opportunity. Part of the reason behind Bailey’s attitude toward conflict stems from what she’s learned from her mother, so it would have been interesting to actually explore this relationship rather than be told about it.

Bennett does a wonderful job of capturing those new, exciting feelings that come with your first serious relationship. I also appreciated that the author allows her characters to make mistakes and learn from these experiences. If you’re looking for a summer read that will have you swooning and agonizing over the ending Alex, Approximately is the one for you.

4/5

★★★★