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

Beach reading

beach_feetFar more complicated, time-consuming and stressful than making sure I have the right clothes, shoes and sunscreen to take on vacation is deciding which books to take. My family vacations at the Outer Banks every summer — and every summer, I struggle with making sure I have the right novels to accompany me on my much-needed break!

Packing books for London last month was simple — in my “freetime,” I knew I wouldn’t really have my eyes open long enough to actually read anything. So I only brought a book, the I’d saved just for the plane ride to England: Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds. And I picked up a few British books on my way home, of course, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!

But this time I don’t have to worry about the heft of my suitcase and whether or not I can pull it single-handedly up and off the Tube. Oh, no — Dad and I are traveling in the SUV with plenty of space for a ridiculous amount of books! And now I have to comb my TBR stack, near collapse, for the best few to bring.

footprints“Beach reads” are, by their nature, light, breezy and often funny novels that can be read and absorbed quickly while, say, sitting out in the blazing hot sunshine with the dull roar of waves crashing behind you. I happen to think it’s a little mean to narrowly classify books as “beach reads” — often meaning they’re a little silly, not really worth thinking about — but there are some books that are just such fun, it’s easy to label them in that category.

Last summer at the beach, I carried the entire Twilight series around with me! I finished Twilight on the car ride down, began New Moon within the first few days and had a hard time setting it down the whole time I was away. Wanting to pace myself a bit, I picked up Elin Hilderbrand’s A Summer Affair at the end of the week, and I definitely enjoyed that.

And now, standing on the precipice of a fresh new vacation and a new opportunity to read like I might never read again, I think I’ve narrowed this year’s selections down . . .

Meg’s Beach Books ’09

along_for_the_rideSarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride

I rushed out on my lunch break today to grab Dessen’s latest novel, which I eagerly blogged about last Wednesday. After I carefully remove the beautiful dust jacket, that baby will be ready to sail along with me! In fact, I’m pushing it up on the top of the stack — I just have to devour that one whole. I’ll break it out as soon as we’re on the road.

Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings

Much like my London adventure, I’ve been saving the fourth installment in McCafferty’s awesome Jessica Darling series for another grand occasion! And I think this is finally it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jessica and Marcus, although reading reviews for the last two books has spoiled (a bit of) the fun for me. That’s okay, though — I have to absorb all of it myself!

penny_pinchers

Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Penny Pinchers Club

Okay, this one is cheating a little bit — because I’ve already started it! But I’m almost finished and can’t bear to leave it behind. It’s a really light, funny story about a woman who believes her husband is planning on divorcing her after she spends 20 years working her way through their savings account with her out-of-control spending — and actually a cheeky look at what we think we “need” in our society, and why. With only 40 pages to go, I’m touting it along on the sand!

Meg Cabot’s Airhead

As one of Cabot’s devout followers, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t started this series yet! I purchased the first novel in anticipation of my last trip, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t have time to read it while away. I’m eager to start!

suite_scarlettMaureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett

Johnson is another author I thought I should have gotten to know a long time ago, but only recently read her European adventure novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes. While I felt that story was just a little too emotionally detached for my tastes, I appreciated the quality of Johnson’s writing and voice! I’m looking forward to reading this one, which seems to have been heralded all over the YA book world.

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 —

Ahem.

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

Book review: ‘Sloppy Firsts’ by Megan McCafferty

sloppy_firstsLong before Stephenie Meyer dreamed up her vampire heart-throb, Edward Cullen, there was Megan McCafferty’s tempting-yet-forbidden Marcus Flutie.” (Nat)

Say no more, Natalie . . . say no more. That’s about all the introduction I needed to grab Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, a chronicle of New Jersey high schooler Jessica Darling’s attempts to make sense of her best friend’s move, back-stabbing and “poseur” friends at Pineville High, finding a way to live up to her parents’ expectations for her life, track & field career and . . .

Yeah. I’m not going to try and oversimplify this one. I’m actually going to cheat and toss you over to the back cover:

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment–from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.

What to say about this one? I’m still buzzing about it . . . mostly because I absolutely loved it. First, Jessica is one seriously awesome female narrator. Twilight’s Bella be damned — we have one outspoken, empowered and marvelously entertaining chick to walk us through life as a “social iconoclast.” And Marcus — or “Krispy Kreme,” as his classmates tag him — is one majorly complicated and mesmorizing character. As Jess becomes more and more obsessed with finding out the motives behind his seemingly drug-induced actions, I found myself gripping onto her elbow, desperately trying to figure out what could have been written in that origami-mouth note Marcus slips her before school lets out.

And when we finally did read the note? Le sigh.

No one in this book is perfect . . . even the seemingly “perfect” bubblegum bimbo friends Bridget, Manda and Sara that Jessica is forced to associate with after Hope leaves town. Jess certainly has her issues — Marcus being one of them, arguably. I just found the progression of their friendship to be very natural, amusing and . . . exciting. I actually felt excited while reading this book. So excited, in fact, that I finished it in two days. I really loved seeing Jessica interact with her mom and dad, and hoped against hope that she would step up to be a good “friend” to her mother after older sister Bethany marries and moves to California. Though Jess doesn’t think she has much in common with the Darlings, readers definitely get a sense that they share more than just their cutesy last name. I like when I realize something about a character even before they seem to . . . and this was true quite a bit.

While some of the cursing got a little out of control and the dialogue felt a bit dated (Sloppy Firsts was published in 2001), I was so thoroughly engrossed in this story that I didn’t even realize it was ending until I went to a turn the page and was greeted with the . . . author’s acknowledgements. What a let down! As I know four books follow McCafferty’s debut novel, I’m not too concerned with how things were left between Marcus and our heroine. I have a feeling life will work in mysterious ways. McCafferty is an outstanding writer who definitely captured all the joy, indecision, anger and heart-pounding fun of high school . . . even if my own experiences weren’t quite so, ah, complicated.

And I know it’s a great book if by that fated final page, I have a massive new literary crush. Step aside, Edward!


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0609807900 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website