Review | Depth of Field, Chantel Guertin

20344869At the end of the first Pippa Green novel, Pippa had just won admission to the prestigious two week Tisch Photography Camp. Depth of Field picks up pretty much where the last left off, and some of the threads left hanging in the first book are resolved here.

The Tisch Photography Camp is Pippa’s dream come true, mostly because it’s in the same school her father graduated from. Unfortunately, while her boyfriend Dylan and best friend Dace were originally going to come to New York with her, both had to back out at the last minute. Instead of the fun NYC trip she’d planned, Pippa was stuck with the annoying Ben Baxter, who used her work to cheat his way into the programme.

Part of it may that I’m just too old for this kind of drama, but the entire time Pippa complained about her boyfriend and best friend being out of reach for the two week camp, all I could think of is that it’s just two weeks. You can survive two weeks — grow up.

Depth of Field is better than the first book — we learn a bit more about Pippa’s relationship with her father, and why photography is so important to her. The photography projects in this book were also more interesting, and I especially love the group of students who did a pigeon’s eye view series of the city. I wish the photography angle had been explored more. For an experience that had been such a dream for Pippa, we learn a lot more about her life outside the camp than about photography lessons she’d learned.

The book is written well, and a quick entertaining read. I only wish the story had been a little less predictable. For example, Pippa gets to know Ben a bit better in this book, and realizes he’s much more complex than she’d originally thought. Personally, I think his reason still doesn’t excuse his actions in the first book, and I much prefer Dylan’s witty flirtation to Ben’s complete 180 into a sensitive guy. But Dylan isn’t answering Pippa’s calls, and Ben’s turning out to be a tortured soul, so you do the math. With Pippa so adamant that Ben would ruin her Tisch experience and with Ben so bafflingly nice to her from the beginning, it seemed pretty obvious where this was headed. And normally, I may not mind, except Pippa’s cluelessness throughout just got annoying.

Beyond Ben, Pippa’s also dealing with David, her Tisch mentor and a renowned photographer with unexpected ties to her parents’ past. The truth is a bit of a surprise, though to be honest, he seemed so sleazy that I was expecting something much more sinister — a sign, clearly, that I need to stop reading/watching all those creepy psychological thrillers.

To Pippa’s disappointment, one of the most important things she learns from her mentor is that he’s unprofessional and a flake. This leads to one of the most unbelievable twists in the series yet, which, I’m sorry to say, is pure wish fulfillment. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s impossible that such a thing would happen, but it’s highly unlikely and sets Pippa up as a special snowflake type of heroine.

This is unfortunate, because when it comes to realism, Guertin is amazing at capturing depth of emotion. When Pippa wears a Tisch sweatshirt in memory of her father for her first day at Camp, for example, or when she has a breakthrough for her final Tisch project — these are all beautifully written moments, and they ground the story. Even when Pippa has a series of misadventures in various projects for Camp, it’s fun to read, and the reader can relate to the feeling of being out of your depth in a big city. And while I didn’t like the predictability of Ben’s storyline, there’s a moment when he pursues his own reasons for going to New York, and it’s sad, and I wish more had been done with it.

With both the books in the series, there’s a lot going on and a lot of real emotion being explored, and yet there’s always at least one big scene that feels completely false and takes me right out of Pippa’s world. The photography aspect is great, and I think girls who dream of becoming professional photographers themselves will enjoy reading about Pippa Greene. The ending of this book sets up for a sequel, and I’d be curious to see where Guertin takes Pippa’s story next.

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Thank you to ECW Press for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Drake Equation, Heather Walsh

18440294The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh is an entertaining romance between an environmental activist and a PR professional at an SUV manufacturer. The best part of the story is the dialogue — the characters were clearly attracted to each other from the beginning, and the supposed tension between their opposing views only seemed to provide basis for flirtation rather than cause any actual conflict.

Much of the romance focused on lively debates between the characters, though often the “winning” argument was obvious from the beginning. Emily’s arguments against SUVs found little resistance from Robert, who mostly seemed confused at the vehemence of her position than passionately opposed to it himself. Robert’s work at the SUV manufacturer seemed clearly more a job than a cause, and ultimately, his main argument boiled down to SUV owners being insecure and therefore worthy of sympathy. Another argument on affirmative action offered a bit more meat for debate, and one side eventually backed down at an unexpected point from the other. Still, these discussions were interesting food for thought, and the characters had the chemistry to keep the sizzle going.

The big conflict in their romance ended up being Robert’s workaholic tendencies, which unfortunately wasn’t developed as much as their talking points on SUVs were. As such, when it was his work habits that ended up creating the big crisis in their relationship, it seemed to come from nowhere, and there never felt any real danger that this issue would cause lasting damage.

A couple other things that bothered me. In the beginning of their flirtation, Robert called Emily “girl” and “honey”, which Emily protested at as being offensive, and Robert said it wasn’t, because there was no malicious intent behind these terms. It wasn’t a problem for these characters, because Emily was only pretending to be offended, but I definitely object to the idea of offensiveness being measured by intent rather than by response. It didn’t help that, at least in the beginning, Robert struck me as being condescending and Emily as being a walking stereotype. The characters do develop and become more complex as the story progresses, but I was annoyed with both of them at first.

Also, I was taken aback when Emily’s friend Carson referred to himself as a “fag.” It wasn’t in the context of a homophobic attack; in fact, it was a complete throwaway line, and that was what bothered me most about it. (Referring to the success of his stint in a dunking tank at a fundraiser, he says, “I know all those meatheads just wanted to dunk the fag.”) Given the often pejorative use of the term in the real world, I found it offensive and was surprised that Carson would use it on himself so casually. It seemed more thoughtlessness than a deliberate gesture on the part of the author, who likely just wanted a casual way to let us know that Carson is gay, but it’s this very thoughtlessness about it that bothered me.

Overall though it’s a fun read, with great chemistry and entertaining banter between the leads.

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Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | The Two Sisters of Borneo (Ava Lee, Book 6), Ian Hamilton

17731888In the sixth instalment of the Ava Lee series, Ava and her business partners May Ling Wong and Amanda Yee discover that their investment in a furniture company based in Borneo has gone sour. The sisters who own the company have lost a considerable amount of money in a bad deal with a Dutch client, and Ava travels to Borneo to recoup the loss. Financial crimes call to mind images of men and women in suits analyzing numbers on a computer screen, but in typical Ian Hamilton fashion, this investigation leads Ava into dealings with a gang of local thugs and the need to call upon Uncle’s muscle.

This is probably my favourite among all the Ava Lee stories — it’s certainly the most emotional. I’ve always loved the mentor/protegee relationship between Ava and Uncle and in this book, Uncle has been battling cancer for several months now, and concern over his health is paramount on Ava’s mind even as she continues to investigate the case. Uncle’s health is clearly in an unstoppable decline throughout the book, and even though he’s still alive, there’s already a clear passing of the torch, and Ava must deal with the thought of a future without Uncle’s guidance.

The mystery itself is filled with unexpected twists and turns. Some aspects of the case fell flat, such as a senseless kidnapping that seemed added just to include some action, and a deus ex machina move involving a mysterious figure that made sense given the context of the story but still felt too convenient. The big reveal was a surprise, and added some emotional heft to the mystery.

My one big complaint, not just with this book but with the series as a whole, is the overemphasis on brand names and descriptions, particularly of luxury goods. We often hear that Ava is wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt (or a Giordano shirt, depending on the occasion) and how she never drinks anything but Starbucks Via. Unless the character is Miranda Priestley from Devil Wears Prada or Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club, I really don’t care what they wear for every single scene in the book. To give you an idea — I read this book a few weeks ago, and yet I can still remember exactly what brands she likes. It’s annoying, and all I can hope is that the author is somehow being compensated for the product placement.

Still, this is definitely one of, if not the, best in the Ava Lee series. Uncle’s illness adds an emotional heft that is at times more compelling than the mystery itself, yet that also adds a sense of urgency to the case, as Ava rushes to complete it as quickly as possible so that she can go back to Uncle. It’s a must read for fans of the series.

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Thank you to House of Anansi for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.