Great by Sara BenincasaGreat by Sara Benincasa
Published by Harper Teen, HarperCollins on April 8, 2014
Pages: 263
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa's darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.

Part of me wishes I had spent the money I blew on this book on some US Weekly or OK! gossip mags instead.

I never understood what was so great about The Great Gatsby. I read and analysed it my junior year of high-school just like everyone else, and I read it with great expectations because of the  reputation that proceeded it. The story just never hit the mark for me, even when I reread it a couple of years ago. I went into Great with a neutral mindset.

If you LOVED The Great Gatsby because of the time period it was set in, you will dislike this book. If you just plain hated TGG and thought it was boring, you might love this book. It could go either way, really. So let me give prospective readers of Great a piece of advice; don’t read this book expecting it to be a clever retelling or something profound. Just go with it and maybe have fun drawing parallels or figuring out which character represents who from The Great Gatsby.

The setting and situations reminded me of the vacuous/plotting/back-stabbing kind of people featured in the television show Revenge, also set in The Hamptons, but not nearly as entertaining.

The characters in Great never quite filled the shoes of Nick, Daisy or Jay Gatsby. I can’t even remember the character’s names, to be honest, but I do remember that our narrator had the most god-awful mother that took up too much space in this story in my opinion. Every time the narrator started talking about or engaging with her mother, I almost gave up on the book.

The pacing of Great seemed laborious and LONG-ASS chapters almost sent this book to an early grave for me. In fact, I almost let this book die 137 pages in, but pushed on for the sake of reviewing it.

 Nobody should have to wait until page 138 of a 263 paged book before it starts to get good. The first 137 pages earned themselves a solid 1, maaaaybe 1.5 stars from me. But the momentum, intrigue and writing seemed to pick up soon after, ultimately pushing  me to give Great a 2.5 star rating.

If I go into any detail about the plot, it would include spoilers. If you’ve read the classic that Great is based on, then you know enough to make an educated guess early on in the book as to what spin the author puts on this American tale.

This book kind of reminded me of a stand-up comic who goes through a tortuous amount of awkward, shotty material in front of an audience before hitting her stride. And by then, what little kernels of good material the comic does have, it doesn’t make up for the latter.

Have you read Great? How did you feel about the book?

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie WestThe Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Published by Harper Teen, HarperCollins on July 2, 2013
Pages: 312
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed From A Friend
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Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she's beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

There’s nothing like meeting the man of your dreams…. at a doll store.

Caymen Meyers lives above and works in a porcelain-doll store owned by her mother, tucked away in quiet, wealthy town. In RL we all know that anyone that lives and works with creepy dolls would be possessed or psychotic, but this is fiction so Caymen is a smart, down-to-earth, functional young lady. She has an extremely dry and sarcastic sense of humor. I connected with that trait and found Caymen to be an immensely entertaining character.  Caymen has never known her father and her and her mother have been struggling to make ends meet. Their seriously niche business isn’t bringing in enough to pay the bills every month but it’s definitely bringing in the boys.

 

creepy ass dolls
Creepy-ass dolls. I could have gone scarier but didn’t for my sake.

 

Cue the Meet-Cute.

The story starts out with a handsome rich guy named Xander Spence wandering into Dolls and More with his ear glued to his cell phone.  I found this to be humorous and Caymen did as well. I mean sure, it might sound sexist, but put a guy in the middle of a doll store by himself and it looks funny. Tangents aside, this is where the magic begins.

After their unique first meeting, what unfolds between Caymen and Xander is warm and sweet like Godiva chocolate melted down for hot cocoa….plus marsh mellows. I really, really, really enjoyed the time spent in the novel between Caymen and Xander getting to know each other. It brought back the kind of butterflies that you only get when you’re in high-school and are in the delicious purgatory of ”not sure if you’re just friends or something more.”  The romantic tension that builds between these two from supposedly different worlds was spot on. The author gives us enough back story to make the reader care about the two main characters but I wish it would have went a little deeper on Xander’s side. I will admit that there were a couple of times that I found Caymen’s thought process on the annoying side but thankfully the author resolves those issues in the story.

I have a peeve about character names that sound pretentious or weird for the sake of wanting to be ”original”. I thought I was going to have that issue with this book but to my relief, I didn’t. I warmed up to the characters immediately and we get a story behind Xander’s name that makes it all better. I do not recall hearing what Caymen’s namesake was but I just rolled with it because the author addresses Caymen’s name with some jokes and funny dialogue.

I was able to get a clear image of the town the story was set in and all the places the characters spent time in. This book was like watching a Nicholas Sparks movie….but better….and not as sad. I would recommend this book to any fan of contemporary romance done in a very easy-going way. Witty dialogue,  great build up, and a really sweet connection left me wanting more from Caymen and Xander’s story after the novel ended.

This book was a nice pallet cleanser as my friend Kristen would say. It’s light, smart, and sweet. A great in-between if you are in a reading rut or have been reading heavier books. This book explores the stereotypical thoughts we may have about people that are different than us-people that come from a different social class- thus exploring the distance between not just Caymen and Xander, but Caymen and her family as well. I could definitely see myself reading this book again just for the fun of it.

 

I hope this isn’t what Caymen has to come home to after a night out with her friends…

Hi, Caymen. Mamma has me now.
Hi, Caymen. Mamma has me now.
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