Book Review: Unrivaled by Alyson Noel

Success can be a vicious game. Unrivaled by Alyson Noel follows three young people participating in a competition to best promote the hottest new clubs in downtown LA. They all hope to win best promoter and use their victories to pursue other ambitions.

None of them could foresee how fiery the race would become.

Aster, Tommy, and Layla are not the only competitors, but they’re clearly putting the most effort. This whole book follows their often desperate attempts to sit well with the boss, Ira Redman. Ira owns the nightclubs, and he’s going to determine who wins this competition…but since it’s unclear what his standards are, the participants pull strategies of near Hunger Games-level riskiness.26116460

Luring celebrities in is an obvious shortcut; by the midpoint, they’re circling like flies around Madison Brooks, impeccable actress and America’s sweetheart. (I kept thinking Taylor Swift.) Since Madison is almost impossible to come by, their second-best choice is her also-famous boyfriend, Ryan Hawthorne. Through him, they each hope to reach her.

But the quest for Madison’s attention soon becomes a dramatic search—because she disappears. Aster, Tommy, and Layla all wind up as suspects.

This all started because they wanted success, money to make their marks in the world.

LA was a town of actors and storytellers, populated by those more comfortable playing an imaginary role than being themselves, and the prize always went to the one who faked it best.

This is not a genre I typically read. I was sent a copy to review, and found myself hooked by writing that pulled me along with the characters. Some of the quotes were truly beautiful, others intense—there’s enough cussing to make scenes properly intense. All the characters, even Madison and Ryan, were sketched perfectly; they felt like real people.

Having been in LA, it was nice to read descriptions of streets; I pictured myself strolling the Walk of Fame, could almost smell big city air. It was like stepping through a window back into California, a place where you never know what you’ll find around the corner.

The character Aster is my only criticism. Most of her choices were too childish, like she was trying to fit into a grown woman’s shoes. Then again, this is an LA version of the Hunger Games; I can forgive her losing sight of reason in the race to beat Layla, who ironically becomes an ally towards the end.

More than the characters, it’s the situation which I found addictive, like a bad tabloid or a reality show you can’t turn off…except this is well-written, a journey into the dark part of fame. By the end of Unrivaled, you’ll ask yourself what you’d do for success—and if it’s worth the losses.

You might even lose yourself in the process.

Interview: Jackie Lea Sommers on her novel, Truest


When I was sent a review copy of Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers, I was immediately captivated by the poetic writing. Not only that, the plot was beautiful–so many sad and joyful feels! It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year so far. You can read my review here.

I’m excited to have spoken with the author, getting the opportunity to ask about Truest, her writing process, and many prominent themes in the novel.

Laurel has a peculiar illness that warps her sense of reality. It’s intriguing and looked difficult to pull off. What does it take to get an illness like that “right?” Was she the most difficult character to handle?

In the novel, Laurel Hart struggles to draw a line between reality and dreaming. You would think that this would be the hardest part to write about, but in reality, it came quite naturally because solipsism syndrome is something that I have personal experience with. In that sense, Laurel is actually the character most like me (or most like past-me). Although my experience with it was a bit different than Laurel’s, there were real similarities between us that I could draw on as I wrote Truest. The most difficult character to handle was probably West, the narrator. Although we share a love of stories and history and are both staunchly loyal to our friends, there are far more ways that she and I are different from one another, so writing from her perspective didn’t always come naturally!

There is a heavy element of being “smothered” by tradition–for example, West’s relationship with her father is eclipsed by his duties as pastor, etc. What would you say to someone struggling to be themselves against the odds of their family and community?

This is a really good question—though a little difficult for me. I am someone who refuses to let her voice be silenced, and in that way, it can be hard for me to relate sometimes to that sort of struggle. I like the Bukowski line “Find what you love and let it kill you,” except that I think that when we find what we love, it also gives us life. That’s how I feel about writing—that it gives me life and that it kills me—and that’s a beautiful mystery. I think a lot of it comes back to the question of who are what are you letting define you? For me, the answer is more intrinsic than other people or even myself.

There are references to the legend of the swan song–that its most beautiful song is the one it sings before it dies. Tell me more about this legend…why did it intrigue you so much?

The “lamentation of swans” came out of nowhere for me. I’ve always found the group names for animals so fascinating, and as I was writing, the lamentation of swans really stood out to me. So I started to research swans, learn as much as I could about them, and thus discovered a handful of interesting things that I sprinkled into the story—some quite obviously (Laurel cast as Odette), some less so (St. Hugh of Lincoln). The idea that the most beautiful song a swan sings is the one before it dies was something that lent itself naturally to what I was writing. I love when that happens. I didn’t have to work to make it fit. It came to me gift-wrapped and ready to be part of the book.

Are there specific books or authors that helped shape this novel?

Yes! The Fault in Our Stars by John Green inspired me to try my hand at writing for teens. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak taught me more about imagery than the entirety of my education. And everything by Melina Marchetta—most specifically, Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca—feeds into all my writing.

Describe your work desk!

I do most of my writing not at my desk! More often, I am writing on the futon in my home library, with my wall of books watching over me.


Review: Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers


Truest left me a twitching pile of emotions on the floor. I can’t believe how powerful every page of it was, making me want to laugh and cry…sometimes at the same time.

Westlin Beck is going through a time of change, during which her eyes are opening; she realizes there’s more to life than her small community. By the end of the book she’s ventured so far from her former routine that there is no turning back. She’s a changed person; we get to laugh with her, cry with her, and face tough choices every step of the way.

West’s outlook changed fairly quickly after meeting Silas. It felt like her world expanded, like only then had she begun to breathe. She grew up a pastor’s daughter, thus carrying the obligation to set an example for everyone in town. I was so proud when she broke away to be her own person.

The writing style constantly took my breath away. Sometimes I’d find one sentence, a simple gem that made me stop, close the book, and try to memorize. References to the legend of the swan song–that the most beautiful song a swan sings is the one before it dies–kept the mood melancholy.

There was always this sensation of waiting for something to break, and when the big break finally happens, we hurt with the characters. I couldn’t pin anyone as a villain–they all had a struggle that made us feel for them. This book is an emotional punch, one of the few contemporaries I’ve read this year that I’d quickly recommend to everyone.

Truest offers insight on life when you’re under pressure. It dares you to do the opposite of what you’re expected for the sake of growth and maturity. It reminds us that we’ll never know how vast the world is if we don’t break out of society’s boxes, and look.


Guest Post: Five Inspiring New York City Stops

cityloveIn May I reviewed an amazing book called City Love which follows the adventures of three girls in New York City. The setting was so vivid that I became curious–which spots in New York City most fascinate the author, Susane Colasanti? She was amazing enough to write this up for me. I’m going to try and visit these places sometime!

The second book in the City Love trilogy will be out in 2016.

Realistic fiction is my thing. I like incorporating details inspired by my own experiences to make my books feel as realistic as possible. City Love takes place in my favorite New York City neighborhood, the West Village. I’m having lots of fun including my fave New York City places and things in this trilogy. Some of these places can be found in So Much Closer and Take Me There, which are also set in the West Village. I thought it would be fun to share some of these places with you!

1. The High Line

When I moved to New York City almost 20 years ago, I heard about these old elevated train tracks. No one used them anymore. They were just sitting there being rusty. But word on the street was that they were going to be renovated into a green space.

I was psyched. That sounded like the coolest idea ever.

And then…nothing happened for a long time. Years passed. I kept hearing rumors about the renovations. No one really knew what was going on. Finally, the High Line opened in June 2009. I was beyond ecstatic. It was everything I imagined and more. You can still see the old train tracks (which I adore – I have a thing for train tracks) with flowers and tall grasses and trees growing all around. It’s such a unique place. The whole park feels like this Zen retreat where you can chill with friends and have an excellent view of the sunset. And find a peaceful oasis in a busy city, a place that transports you to a different world.

2. Crumbs

If you know me, you are well aware that I’m into cupcakes. Whoever invented the cupcake is a freaking genius. Hello, a mini cake with lots of frosting and sprinkles? Sign me up. You are probably also aware that all cupcakes are not created equal. Some are severely lacking. Some are woefully dry. Some look pretty, but have no taste. There are just so many things that can go wrong. When I find a quality cupcake, I’m fiercely loyal for life.

Which brings me to Crumbs.

I did not discover Crumbs at Crumbs. I was actually at my fave café on the Upper West Side, Café Lalo, when I noticed they had some new cupcakes. The cupcakes looked delicious. They had frosting in all different colors with lots of different toppings. I immediately ordered the chocolate cupcake with caramel buttercream frosting and Snickers on top. A transcendental experience ensued. They told me the cupcakes were from Crumbs. Crumbs is now a chain that has since expanded beyond New York–a sweet success story! Especially considering that the entire chain closed for a while. I mourned like I lost a best friend. But then Crumbs made an epic comeback. I busted out a dorky happy dance in the street like the hardcore cupcake fangirl I am. They don’t make the Snickerdoodle cupcake anymore, but there are lots of other delicious flavors. I recommend the Coffee Toffee and the Blueberry Cobbler. And of course the Pina Colada, which happens to be featured in So Much Closer during an extremely tense scene at Crumbs. Which, really, if life is about to smack you with an unexpected life-shattering turn, wouldn’t that be a good time for a cupcake?

3. Perry Street

When I was 15 or 16, we were driving through the West Village. I didn’t get to visit New York that often. But whenever I did, the amazing energy of this place would make me feel alive for days. That’s how I began to understand New York was my true home. And when we drove past Perry Street, I took one look down it as we went by and thought, That’s my street.

The Village is known for its quaint cobblestone walkways and zigzaggy streets. Tourists come to absorb the charm. There are so many gorgeous streets here. But a few of them really stand out. Perry Street is one of them. Carrie Bradshaw’s building in real life is on Perry Street, so there you go. In So Much Closer and City Love, Sadie goes out of her way not only to walk down Perry Street and Charles Street, but to walk down the prettiest sides of them. I completely understand. There are certain streets I won’t walk down because they are not pretty enough. I will go out of my way to cross over to 5th Avenue instead of walking up 6th. And if I’m walking crosstown from the West Village, you can probably find me on West 11th. It’s an energy thing. Sadie knows what I mean.

4. Strawberry Fields

There’s a place in Central Park where Beatles fans go to remember John Lennon. They bring guitars. They sing Beatles songs. They leave flowers and cards for John on a tile mosaic that says Imagine. That place is called Strawberry Fields. Tons of people gather there every single day. Strawberry Fields is located in a little clearing across from the Dakota, where John Lennon lived. It’s an intense place where people from all around the city go to worship at the altar of their musical religion. Take Me There, So Much Closer, and City Love all have scenes that take place at Strawberry Fields. And since I’m doing this thing where I’m bringing back characters from my previous books for my newer ones, you will find characters from Take Me There and So Much Closer in City Love. Strawberry Fields kinds of ties them together and shows how everything is connected. Love is the answer.

5. Water towers

Water towers rule.

That is all.

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