Married ladies can have crushes, too

. . . Well — book crushes, that is.

My earliest relationships weren’t with actual boys, friends. I didn’t manage to catch the eye of the cute kid in math class or Peter Brady or even Daniel, the first boy to earn a sappy valentine in second grade.

They were with book characters.

LoveI fell for bookish leading men long before I dared to express my feelings to any real-life ones. Relationships in my favorite novels taught me about relationships in general, especially in those impressionable teen years, and I feel like I’m a better reader — and person — because of it.

Though I am, in fact, a happily married lady, my devotion to my flesh-and-blood husband does not negate the underlying passion I can feel for literary men. We’ve all been there, right? Sometimes you can’t help but fall into a bottomless pit of yearning for some bookish dude who just pushes all the right buttons.

It’s easy to lust after someone two-dimensional. We don’t have to rinse out their dirty coffee cups or throw their crusty socks in the hamper or deal with ambiguous text messages at 2 a.m. It’s fun to pine for an unavailable guy sometimes, right?

And being fictional and all, these men definitely qualify.

Now, it’s very easy for me to become enamored with a leading man in the moment. As in reality, bookish gentlemen are appealing at different times for different reasons. But I’m going to highlight the lasting crushes — the ones that come to mind immediately, even a decade-plus since I was introduced to them.

So grab a fan, ladies. It’s about to get hot in here.

Michael MoscovitzMichael Moscovitz
Of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series

Michael was easily my first major book crush — and for that reason, I find it impossible to deny his allure. First loves, right?

I loved how Michael and Mia’s relationship evolved over time, culminating in the unexpected magic that was Forever Princess . . . a book I’m pretty sure I need to re-read, like, now. The perfect blend of sweet, thoughtful, sexy and smart, Michael was pretty much my ideal dude growing up.

Just mentioning the tenth installment in that series makes me giddy because true story: Meg Cabot actually saw that review and mentioned me on her blog back in 2009. It was my first taste of blogging notoriety, and it tasted delicious. Better than any cupcake.

I’m pretty sure I ran around the house screaming like a lunatic, getting proof that a favorite author had read my little words. I didn’t even know that was possible.

But I digress.

Portrayed by Robert Schwartzman in the 2001 “Princess Diaries” film, Michael was the everyman who loved Mia before she morphed into a sleek royal. He played a musical instrument, didn’t care what others thought, cleaned up real nice. You know, the epitome of awesome to a teen girl.

Loved it. Loved him.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my old brain around the fact that “The Princess Diaries” film I adored came out 13 years ago — and Robert is 31 now. And also a successful musician.

Way to go, Michael.

Garrett as MarcusMarcus Flutie
Of Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series

I’ve documented my eternal love for Marcus before, but it really bears repeating — especially because the flame still burns, friends. It burns.

And anyway, I wrote that post four years ago. I think it’s safe to revisit the topic.

So. McCafferty’s beloved series is like the bolder, sassier, tawdrier big sister to Cabot’s, and some of the more memorable Jess/Marcus scenes are . . . well, they’re rather racy. But in a good way. It’s been a while since I finished the final book, but it’s not the sort of thing you forget.

Though rumors of a Jessica Darling film have floated around for years, nothing has come of it — so I’m left to form my own visual representation of Marcus. Another fan nominated actor Garrett Hedlund . . . and though he lacks Marcus’ signature red dreadlocks, I’m okay with the idea of Marcus growing and changing. And he does eventually cut his hair, so we’re going to rock it.

Also, I could totally see Marcus rocking a manly scarf.

Michael PittHarry Delancy
In Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

Probably the least-known of my top four crushes, Harry is an aspiring magician and rich society boy who falls surprisingly in love with the protagonist in Rice’s historical novel.

I read The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets in 2009 and haven’t really shut up about it since, mostly because it was freakin’ awesome and I’ve had so few people to talk about it with.

So go read it. Then we can talk about it.

Actor Michael Pitt seems like a solid choice for cool, disaffected Harry — a decent guy with an edge who exudes the couldn’t-give-a-care attitude that belies his actual compassion.

I could work with that.

James McAvoyFitzwilliam Darcy
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

. . . We don’t really need an explanation, do we?

I didn’t think so.

There are lots of Darcy portrayals floating around in cinema, and I am now going to totally cheat and possibly enrage Janeites everywhere by doing something completely crazy, because sometimes that’s how I roll:

I’m going to showcase James McAvoy, who portrayed alleged-by-some-but-not-ever-proven paramour Thomas Lefroy in “Becoming Jane,” which happens to be one of my favorite movies ever.

With many Darcy-like characteristics, some claim an ill-fated flirtation with Lefroy was the inspiration for Darcy — and McAvoy is incredibly easy on the eyes, so I’m going to go ahead and splash his mug here.

But because I don’t want y’all to be mad at me, we can also bring in the Firth.


Colin Firth as Darcy

Okay. So we’re good?

literary love

I’m participating in Literary Love this week — a celebration of all things lovely and bookish! Feel free to play along by checking out other links at Estella’s Revenge, Doing Dewey, Love At First Book and From Isi, and check out posts under #LiteraryLove14.

If I had to run away with a book character . . .

. . . Well, I’d have a hard time choosing. But I have a feeling I’d narrow it down somewhere in the vicinity of the one man who stole my heart so completely, I’ve struggled to even wrap my mind around the possibility of ever falling in love with another.

I’m talking, of course, about Marcus Flutie.

sloppy_firstsMegan McCafferty’s unconventional lead in her popular Jessica Darling series — comprised of five books ranging from 2001’s Sloppy Firsts to 2009’s Perfect Fifths — swooped in out of nowhere, gave me (or, okay, Jess) one of his enigmatic little smiles, swung his dreads (he’s a redhead!) around a bit and promptly ran away with my heart.

He’s not the type of male character I usually go for, mind you, though who doesn’t secretly have a soft spot for the bad boy? (It’s okay, admit it: we’re all friends here.) In a typical novel, the boys most likely to capture my attention are the brooding loners (see Eli in Along For The Ride) or the super sexy but, importantly, super intelligent dudes (like Michael in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books or Matt in Robin Brande’s Fat Cat). Also high on my list of “wants” in a hero? Loyalty, devotion, sensitivity, consideration, ability to unabashedly adore the object of their affection. And, of course, extreme good looks.

So . . . actually? I guess Marcus is my type. Because in addition to being wicked smart (he just doesn’t apply himself), he’s witty, unpredictable, sensitive, take-charge, philosophical, broody (God help me, I love broody) and . . . in love. With Jess. Watching the evolution of his feelings for her warms the little cockles of my heart, let me tell you, and I can certainly attest that there’s nothing so irresistable as a man happily, completely in love. Even if it’s not with you.

Provided I could pry Marcus from the stronghold Jessica Darling almost certainly has him under, I’d woo him with my existential thinking, love of literature and ability to belt out a Barry Manilow tune or two. (Or ten. I’d practice well ahead of time, of course.) And as he gazed deep into my milk-chocolate eyes and became entranced by my wild, unruly curly hair, biting wit and ability to talk at length about chick lit and pumpkin spice lattes, I’d drag him downtown and get us on the first train outta here. And then he’d be mine, mine, MINE! (Sorry, Nat. And Emily. Love y’all. And Spence? I’m sorry, too. xoxo)

But if Marcus were just a little too involved with Jessica to succumb to my fawning, eyelash-fluttering and talk about Buddhism, nirvana and cupcakes, I might — might — throw myself at a few of these other bookish gentlemen. Though I’d keep holding out for Marcus, unable to part with his old texts (does Marcus text?), emails (okay, he definitely emails) or throw out the silly, coupley photos of us where he looks devastatingly handsome and I look punch drunk or hungover. Or both. Probably because I’m trying to smooch him.

Just as long as these guys get all that, we could have a reasonably happy if ultimately unfulfilling life together.

Other guys I might consider running away with,
if Marcus Flutie is unavailable or unwilling

Adam from Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen: He’s a postman who looks beyond Josey’s shy demeanor to “see the real her,” is sensitive and sweet and a postman, which is cool. And I’m pretty sure he has a ponytail. Hot.

catching_fireGale from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire: I know I’ll catch some heat from the pro-Peeta folks out there, but Gale is everything I ask for in a literary dude: steadfast, loyal, intelligent, broody (so broody!) and, you know, sexy. That he obviously has deep feelings for Katniss and will not completely pursue them makes him hotter. He knows she has so much to lose.

Matt from Robin Brande’s Fat Cat: As previously mentioned, dude is smart and attractive — a lethal combination — and is further made gorgeous by the fact that he seems completely unaware of how adorable he is. And when he slipped up and hurt Cat, he eventually worked to restore their friendship. And, you know, prove he’s in love with her.

Michael from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series: My Michael Moscovitz love is really a post in and of itself, so I’ll just say: I love him dearly, and almost as much as Marcus, but for entirely different reasons. And stay tuned.

sea_changeLeo from Aimee Friedman’s Sea Change: Dude’s a merman. And he’s into science-y things. And he’s cute. Need I say more?

Jacob from Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful: Broody? Check. Sensitive? Check. Sweet and kind to his little sister? Yes and yes. Okay, Jake, you’re in. Now make it worth my while.

Spencer from Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever: Yes, yes, I know — the man’s name is Spencer, and that’s Boyfriend’s name. But in my defense, I read both novels before I’d even met my Spencer — so it doesn’t count! And Johnson’s Spencer is hard to dislike. Funny but vulnerable, sweet but protective, he’s the perfect brother. And a guy who looks out for his family is hard for me to resist.

Harry from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets: He’s creepy, unpredictable, intelligent, loyal and unconventionally handsome — and every one of his scenes sizzled so much, they just about lit my fingers on fire. I’ll follow him around London anytime.

Jack from Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street and The Girl On Legare Street: In addition to being a writer (awesome), Jack is witty and protective of Melanie — even when she doesn’t want him to be. And he knows his way around with a hammer and nails. In Meg’s world, handiness definitely equals hotness.

Gentlemen, my bags are packed.

‘My thoughts create my world’

IMG_7526Since discovering Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series in the spring, I’ve made absolutely no secret of my complete obsession with the novels. There’s something so serious, tender, and honest about them — I connected with Jessica and Marcus’s love story so much more than any other I’ve ever read! And since it was carried out over the course of five (big) books, it’s a good thing I was totally digging it. (Oh, I so was.)

Of all the wonderful passages and quotable quotes in the books, one really stood out to me above all others: “My thoughts create my world.” The saying first appears — and becomes important — in Charmed Thirds, the third book in the series, when Marcus Flutie gives Jessica her Christmas present.

We made gifts for each other. … Marcus is friends with a silversmith — yes, a silversmith — who taught him how to make a ring out of a quarter. He somehow soldered a message for me in teeny script: ‘My thoughts create my world.’

Jess takes the message to be some sort of commentary on Marcus’s burgeoning Buddhist ideals and lifestyle, and she can’t help but toss the phrase back at him when, shortly thereafter, they get into a huge argument about Marcus leaving town (again) and embarking on a journey of “silent meditation” — meaning no talking to Jess, or anyone. Bewildered and crushed that she’s going to lose him all over again, Jessica says:

I am so sick of your Buddhist wisdom! It’s bumper-sticker wisdom! T-shirt wisdom! My thoughts create my world. I’m so tired of being scrutinized through your goddamn third eye!

The ring is unceremoniously flung back at him, where Marcus safely tucks it away in a pocket. Time passes with Jessica still thinking about that tiny silver ring . . . and Marcus’s message (and desire to be devoted) to her. Memories flood back as she speaks with a mentor several years later.

“You have the eye of a reporter and the heart of a novelist,” he [Mac] said. “But you have much to learn, Ms. Darling. I’ll make sure you don’t throw away your gifts.”

For someone like Mac to believe so deeply in my potential, well, it nearly made me weep with gratitude. Even now, I don’t think he has a clue just how much his words have done for me. …

“What are your thoughts?”

“My thoughts?” I replied, before I even realized what I was saying. “My thoughts create my world.”

Mac sat up in his seat. He scrunched his curls with his hands, perplexed. “Who said that?”

I told him the truth.

“Oh, just someone I used to know,” I said, stroking the naked skin on my middle finger.

And even more time goes by before our heroine and hero are reunited — and the ring is returned to her, kept safely by Marcus the entire time they were apart. When he returns it to Jessica in Fourth Comings, it accompanies something enormous: a proposal.

You chewed on the leather to undo the knot that usually rested on the nape of your neck. You removed the ring from the necklace, took my hand, and put it on the fourth finger of my left hand.

“This always belonged to you.”

. . . All that time, you wore the ring, my ring, around your neck. You wore it in my absence, and then after our reunion. You wore it knowing that it would one day return to its intended, when the moment was just right.

Lately, I’ve been looking for my own “right moment” — a sign that great things are just around the corner and, as John Mayer croons, that “good love is on the way.” A friend recently showed me a gorgeous ring she bought for herself after parting ways with her longtime boyfriend, and I was touched at what it obviously meant to her. It was a sign of strength, a sign that she’s holding her heart close in preparation for giving it to the right person . . . at the right moment.

And I knew I needed my own reminder that I’m doing the same — and that I’m the one controlling my happiness, and the one responsible for my joy.

So I knew just what I needed.

My ring is silver, like Jessica’s, and also bears Marcus Flutie’s immortal words: “My thoughts create my world.” It arrived this morning, custom made by Samantha Bird of Nest In Bloom Design, and I couldn’t possibly love it more! I’ve slipped it onto my own ring finger, where I imagine it will stay for quite some time.

After all, it’s just the sort of mantra I’ve been looking for! Because I’m writing a powerful, moving, life-altering and emotional “coming of age” story, too — my own.


Book review: ‘Perfect Fifths’ by Megan McCafferty

perfect_fifths Please note: Perfect Fifths is the final book in a five-book series. Spoilers will follow!

I know I’ve stumbled across a winning series when I fall just as in love with someone as another character does.

And in the final book of a decade’s worth of pushing, pulling, love and lust, I’m absolutely as in love with Marcus Flutie as Jessica Darling, our winning and caustic protagonist. Perfect Fifths didn’t disappoint me, the oh-so-desperately in love, and though I’m sad to say goodbye to one of my favorite series ever, everything I wanted to be resolved . . . was. Happily.

In the three years since Jess turned down Marcus’s proposal, the two have gone on to live very different lives — apart. Jess travels around the country with a non-profit program she helped develop and implement, and Marcus is set to graduate from Princeton before he goes on to graduate school. As Jess is barreling through Newark Liberty International Airport on her way to a wedding, she has a run-in — literally — with Marcus, her first and only love, and what follows are their conversations, recollections and reconnections over the span of just eighteen hours.

The most obvious twist in Megan McCafferty’s final book in the Jessica Darling series is that Jess is no longer our narrator. Now told in third person, we can get inside the heads of everyone — even Marcus, the eternally confusing, elusive and irresistable “hero” of the series. Getting a glimpse at what he’s been experiencing was really interesting, and I absolutely loved learning about his sweaty-palmed nervousness — even at 26 — around Jessica. Learning what he’s been up to the past three years, particularly concerning his half-hearted attempts at romance, was great. And made me heart him all the more.

Basically, I really felt something while reading this — and that doesn’t happen as often as I wish it would. Every emotion that I imagine I would feel running into my first love was right there, laid bare on the pages — which I turned as quickly as I could, desperate to make sure everything was going to turn out all right. References to early parts of the relationship and inside jokes were so fun to see, and I smiled as much as Jess probably would realizing Marcus remembered. I was also stoked to see one of my favorite lines from the series reappear in the final book, followed by the closure I’d been hoping for:

. . . I might never be able to forgive you for all the girls who came before me, nor myself for all the men who would come after you.

Though I know many in the reading community had decidedly mixed — or negative — takes on this one, I can’t honestly say I was disappointed in any sense. Anyone could see Jessica and Marcus belonged together, and it was all a matter of timing and patience. Marcus’s ability to wait for Jess, even when he wasn’t entirely sure she would come back, was a serious testament to his love for her. And the electricity crackling between the two of them was palpable, making even my heart beat a little faster!

me_mccafferty_booksAnd as I was finishing Perfect Fifths around 2 a.m., we suddenly lost electricity at my house. When my overhead reading lamp clicked off, plunging me into darkness, I barely hesitated before fumbling around to find and turn on my cell phone — and then proceeded to hold the eery blue light up to the pages as I turned them frantically. I had to hit the keypad every thirty seconds or so to keep my only light from being extinguished again, but it didn’t matter. That’s how addictive these books were for me — like the best kind of literary drug. After finishing Fourth Comings, it took my superhuman restraint not to devour this one whole — but I saved it, wanting to savor every moment.

And savor I did. If “my thoughts create my world” (another of my absolute favorite quotes from the series), I’ll continue to think about this one for a long, long time!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0307346528 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘Fourth Comings’ by Megan McCafferty

fourth_comingsFresh out of Columbia and facing the “where-is-my-life-going” question so many 20-somethings must tackle, Jessica Darling is living in New York City after finally reuniting with her best friend, Hope Weaver. Though things are tangled, complicated and tricky as Jess navigates post-grad life and tries (mostly in vain) to find a job, the matter weighing most heavily on her heart is whether or not to accept a very unexpected proposal from — who else? — Marcus Flutie, her first love and on- and off-again boyfriend.

Jess’s journal entries in the week immediately following the proposal make up Fourth Comings, the penultimate book in the Jessica Darling series. And while this installment lacked the action of the first three books, I think it was definitely an important “chapter” in the overall story of not only Marcus and Jess, but Jessica and Hope, Jessica and Marin, Jessica and her parents, etc.

To be honest, I’m a little bit in love with Marcus . . . and the fact that Jessica is so undecided about him — regardless of the fact that I can see where she’s coming from — is frustrating. I just keep wondering how long she’s going to wonder about him, holding him at arm’s length as she overanalyzes every step that could take her closer or farther away from the man she so obviously adores. But the real question here is the same one many must face before they make “the leap”: With far more differences than similarities between them, is love really enough?

But I adore her quote about falling in love that conveniently is eluding me right now — how first we fall so completely and obsessively for another person before the inevitable cool down that brings us into an easy, comfortable give-and-take relationship. Jessica says her problem with Marcus is that she’s always falling for him — falling, and falling, and falling, without ever hitting the bottom. And while she’s continuously sailing through this love affair, Marcus is reinventing himself time and time again, turning into someone completely different as he grapples with all of the changes life brings him.

Another quote I felt so perfectly sums up so many tangled feelings on love? As Jessica explains in her journal to Marcus:

I thought about you if only because I wondered how long it would take me to stop thinking about you. I thought about you, and how I might never be able to forgive you for all the girls who came before me, nor myself for all the men who would come after you.

I love McCafferty’s books so much, it’s hard for me to speak cohesively on what makes them so great. Jess is just such a complicated, annoying, flawed, beautiful and real character — there’s something about her that makes her more of a friend than a two-dimensional creation of Megan McCafferty! And while I would have liked more of the novel to take place in the here-and-now, I still really loved seeing Jessica grow, change and develop. And I loved getting the latest news on folks like Manda, Len, Scotty and Bethany.

Was I satisfied with the ending? No. I felt completely deflated, actually. But I’m looking forward to Perfect Fifths and concluding a series I’ve grown to love so much!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 030734651X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘Charmed Thirds’ by Megan McCafferty

charmed_thirdsAfter finishing Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds, the third installment in the Jessica Darling series, I had a dream that Marcus Flutie and I were traveling on a fast, red train across Europe. Marcus had just gotten into some crazy altercation resulting in a busted lip and black eye — oh, that guy! — and I was tending to his wounds on our way to Germany, or Switzerland, or somewhere mountainous and cold. He wrapped his arms around me, moved his lips close to mine and —


True story.

Yes, I’ve definitely found myself a new literary crush — and these books have definitely gotten into my brain. They’re swiftly moving up to almost-favorite-book-series-ever territory (behind Harry Potter, natch).

From the back cover:

 Jessica Darling’s in college!

Things are looking up for Jessica Darling. She has finally left her New Jersey hometown/hellhole for Columbia University in New York City; she’s more into her boyfriend, Marcus Flutie, than ever (so what if he’s at a Buddhist college in California?); and she’s making new friends who just might qualify as stand-ins for her beloved best friend, Hope.

But Jessica soon realizes that her bliss might not last. She lands an internship at a snarky Brooklyn-based magazine, but will she fit in with the überhip staff (and will she even want to)? As she and Marcus hit the rocks, will she end up falling for her GOPunk, neoconservative RA … or the hot (and married!) Spanish grad student she’s assisting on a summer project … or the oh-so-sensitive emo boy down the hall? Will she even make it through college now that her parents have cut her off financially? And what do the cryptic one-word postcards from Marcus really mean?


Oh, Jessica — it’s a whole new world! Columbia is certainly a far cry from life in Pineville, New Jersey — and what we have on our hands now is an older, more jaded heroine. I know lots of readers have been up in arms about all the changes in Jessica, and I definitely see where they’re coming from. As Jessica leaves high school behind (or does she?), her entire viewpoint shifts.

Charmed Thirds chronicles Jess’s entire college experience — from the early days of freshman year through her anticlimatic December graduation. That’s a pretty serious chunk of time to cover in one novel as McCafferty basically skips from semester break to semester break. But I felt the pacing was appropriate, and I’m not sure I would have wanted to really dwell on all those long academic days in between summer vacations and winter breaks . . . it probably would have ground everything down to a screeching halt.

Jess’s trademark observations in Charmed Thirds lacked much of the spot-on snark of the first two novels, but I can’t say I found her to be a terribly jaded or bitter narrator. I guess at this point, I’ve really gotten to know her — and I don’t hold these “faults” against her. The voice in the novel was just as strong as ever, and I’m more than happy to listen. McCafferty’s writing style is so distinct and commanding — I have no choice but to listen.

I really loved seeing deeper, more meaningful connections between Jessica and her family in this one, and the introduction of niece Marin was really great and adorable. Many of the characters I’ve really liked seemed more fleshed out, too, like Len Levy. His emergence in the story really took me by surprise.

And the drama with Marcus! Oh, there was drama. In a new place with new expectations and really different people, Jessica finds herself inexplicably drawn to a guy who is, basically, her polar opposite — and doesn’t quite know why. She created a mess where there didn’t need to be one, and that was frustrating to watch. But on the same token, I understood her insecurities . . . and could definitely relate to her desire to know if what she had with Marcus was really real, or just “high school” real.

I think it’s really real.

And I have two more books to tear through to find out the answer! But I’m going to pace myself . . . in the fourth book, Jess is starting her first post-college job and battling all of that anxiety. Worried it’ll hit a little too close to home, I’m taking a break from the series and will savor Fourth Comings when the time is right . . . if I can keep myself from reading frantically before then.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1400080436 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘Second Helpings’ by Megan McCafferty

Second Helpings I. Am. Addicted. To. These. Books.

I’m serious. It’s bad. It’s Twilight-level bad — to the point that I’m stopping friends at the bookstore where I worked and shoving a copy into their hands. It’s… embarrassing. And taking over my life.

But I just can’t quit it.

Here’s the nice, tidy description from Amazon — a synopsis much more succinct than anything I could come up with:

Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can’t seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica’s parents won’t get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany’s pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.

With keen intelligence, sardonic wit, and ingenious comedic timing, Megan McCafferty again re-creates the tumultuous world of today’s fast-moving and sophisticated teens. Fans of Sloppy Firsts will be reunited with their favorite characters and also introduced to the fresh new faces that have entered Jess’s life, including the hot creative writing teacher at her summer college prep program and her feisty, tell-it-like-it-is grandmother Gladdie. But most of all, readers will finally have the answers to all of their burgeoning questions, and then some: Will Jessica crack under the pressure of senioritis? Will her unresolved feelings for Marcus wreak havoc on her love life? Will Hope ever come back to Pineville? Fall in love with saucy, irreverent Jessica all over again in this wonderful sequel to a book that critics and readers alike hailed as the best high school novel in years.

We open Second Helpings to discover that in a fit of self-loathing, high school senior Jessica has destroyed the diary which stood as a shrine to her obsession with one Marcus Flutie — the text of Sloppy Firsts. After their non-relationship came to a very abrupt end on New Year’s Eve at the end of the first novel, I wasn’t quite sure where we would find Jess and Marcus at the onset of this installment . . . and we found them nowhere, really. As Jess is away for the summer at a creative writing camp and ardently refusing to think and/or talk about Marcus as anyone other than He Who Shall Not Be Named (whoa, Lord Voldemort?), we run through the summer with Jessica and Call Me Chantelle, Jess’s promiscuous and vapid bunkmate.

Then school starts up again. Jessica is grappling with her classmates taking the SATs, applying to colleges and worrying about AP tests — but she stands apart from all of that, so secure in her own intelligence and abilities that school just seems to be . . . whatever. In any other character, this would really irk me — but we know, as readers, that Jessica isn’t like all the other seniors. So I was willing to accept that fact that we wouldn’t be reading about her studying long hours or panicking about biology tests. She’s the certified Class Braniac, right?

And she’s also the Class Loudmouth — known for her scathing editorials and loud opinions regarding the dense, clueless people with whom she shares a class. When an e-mail begins popping up in the inboxes of Pineville High’s seniors — aptly called Pinevile Low — everyone assumes she’s behind the embarrassing, supposedly secret gossip that’s now become fodder for everyone around her. But she isn’t. Isn’t she?

Add in the fact that Jessica now has her heart set on attending Columbia in New York City — recent site of the 9/11 terrorist attack — and the knowledge that her parents will never, ever want her to attend, especially when she’s been offered scholarships to a bevy of other schools, and Jess is ready to panic.

Oh, yeah. And Marcus Flutie, the semi-reformed (but still nonconformist) bad boy she was thisclose to just flat-out falling into crazed love with is now trying to hook her up with his best friend (and fellow Class Brainiac) Len Levy.

I know, it’s a lot going on. Definitely a lot. But I can tell you that I tore through this book as though I had seconds to live — and I had to make peace with the Marcus-and-Jess situation before it was too late. I was far from disappointed! Megan McCafferty’s books are funny, poignant, realistic and just . . . good. Really, really good. I wasn’t psyched about the conclusion of Sloppy Firsts but I didn’t mention it, knowing that I had Second Helpings right behind it. You could probably end the series right after this novel and feel satisfied, but I love knowing that the saga continues as Jessica goes off to college. Which one, you ask? Well, if you haphazardly check out the synopsises like I did, all will be revealed quite quickly. So don’t do that. I say run to the store, grab books one and two, devour them in a day or two — and shoot back over to tell me what you think.

And then you’ll be like me — running to Borders at 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, sweaty coupon in hand, looking around like a crazed beast for Charmed Thirds, the next installment in this addictive series. I’ll probably just go ahead and get the fourth one the next time I’m out, too. If I’m stuck on a plane next week — and hanging in the balance between Marcus and Jess’s complicated, exhilarating relationship — I’ll be one unhappy Meg.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0609807900 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website