Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: Hooked by Liz Fichera

*Many thanks to Harlequin and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this awesome book.

My mom played golf in her teens. I also played golf--on the Nintendo with my grandpa when I was a kid. I know, you wouldn't think that would be enough to draw someone to a book. But it did. The moment I read the summary for Hooked I knew I had to read it. And as much as I was interested in the romance, the cultural differences, and whether these two would get together, my family's connections to golf--sketchy as mine might actually be--did tip the scales in Hooked's favor.

So, yeah... This review is sorta dedicated to mom, grandpa and Mario Golf. *laughs*

But enough clowning around. You aren't here to listen to me talk about Mario Golf and grilled cheese sandwiches. On with the review!

(Summary from GoodReads)
When Native American Fredricka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.

But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...


The first thing that stands out for me about Hooked's plot, now that I'm done reading the book, is that it actually *has* one. Yes, I know that sounds a little snarky, which kinda sucks since I don't actually mean it that way. Something that I have learned to accept about contemporary fiction, as opposed to more speculative (fantasy, paranormal, science fiction) genres, is that things can kinda float by and that it's considered normal. Personally? I like books with an actual plot (or perhaps a goal is the word I want, since all fiction has some form of plot, even if it's not completely structured.), so this worked really well for me.

There are some very distinct arcs going on in Hooked: Fred's struggles on the golf team, her growing relationship (or hopes of one) with Ryan, the escalating hatred toward her from Seth. And then we have Ryan's struggle to become his own person, his sense of feeling he's never good enough for his parents and the fact that he's falling for the girl who got (I'm not going to sake took--Fred didn't decide anyone was getting cut.) his friend's spot on the golf team. 

The pacing, thanks to short chapters and distinctly voiced dual narrative and this lovely "actual" plot, was extremely tight and well done. I sat down with this on a Saturday night and didn't turn off my kindle until Sunday morning. After reading the whole book, the sample for Liz's next book, and then wishing *both* were coming out immediately so I could read more, I'm confident my position regarding Hooked is clear. Yes, it is that good. 

I also really liked the references to both golf and Native American culture, and that Liz was not afraid to use things people might not automatically know. I feel she struck a good balance, giving enough information that the reader might learn something as they read, while not doing this to a point where there were six footnotes on a page, which would likely have messed with pacing and immersion. 

I liked Fred immediately. She isn't your super tough powerhouse of a girl. She isn't uber popular or mass-despised. She's a regular teen girl with problems, hopes, dreams and anything else you'd expect. She just happens to love (and excel) at golf, has a bit of trouble going on at home, and lives on the "Rez" (reservation). I think that Liz did a fantastic job with Fred. The things that make her unique and distinct stand out, but they don't overshadow her in any way. With the issues and specificly focused interest, there was danger Fred (especially with the wacky-for-a-girl name) could have been a charicature and I was thrilled to see that did *not* happen. 

Ryan, who in many ways might seem the more "accessible" of the two leads, isn't the sort of character where one can connect the dots and be done, either. I love the fact that we don't just see him grow and change in a straight line. As with most real growth, he took steps forward and backwards, he made mistakes, sometimes twice when the answer would not seem obvious to him (even if it was to the reader...). That can be a real challenge in fiction... We know "that girl" is right or wrong going in a lot of the time and then there can be this temptation to want to be angry at characters for not "getting" it, where we forget that without their ignorance (which is actually us having a sense of dramatic irony, technically.) we wouldn't have a story. What made Ryan's struggles fascinating was that they made him feel like a real guy, as opposed to a character, because of how they were presented. 

Seth drove me up the wall, but I will say that he did surprise me and his maliciousness went way further then I ever suspected it would. He is one scary guy, people. I wonder, considering that Liz seems to be continuing with Sam and Riley in another book, if we're going to be seeing a lot of these characters have their own stories? Is there any hope for Seth to ever be redeemed after the stunts he pulled? My money says no, but the writer in me can't help giving a small "what if"? He was an ass, but he was a well developed and motivated ass, nonetheless. I can admire an antagonist when I understand WHY they are the way they are, and I "got" Seth, even if I didn't agree with him. 

The last thing I want to mention regarding the characters ties into the themes of racism and / or social class division. I think that a great job was done in not turning this into some type of preaching, whether that had been about "white kids", "native kids", "rich kids", "poor kids"... What I got from reading this book was the very real thought that no matter what your circumstances or background is, it does not have to be what defines you. Anyone can be a great person, or a total jerk. And most of us excel at both, at different times in our lives. The idea that people can change, that they can be sorry and learn from their decisions, was very strong here and I appreciated that. 

Those who hate insta-love can totally rejoice: you aren't going to find it here. 

I really think that Liz did a great job in how Fred and Ryan's story started, deepened and developed. How do you make a boy aware of a girl he's never noticed even though she's been there all along? You put her straight in his path, doing something he cannot ignore. 

How do you bring two people who have every reason not to like each other together? You start by giving them reasons to respect each other, even if they don't necessarily see them right away. (The reader does, and that's important.) 

How do you make two people who are obviously right for each other earn an HEA (happily ever after) as opposed to being handed one? You make them work for it. Hard. Two steps forward, three steps back. 

I think the best I can really say is that Fred and Ryan brought out the best in each other without either character losing their own identity or blatantly changing because of the other. The ways each character developed and matured throughout the book was related not only to their respective love interest, but also to the things happening in his or her own life. 

I loved the fact that I wanted to root for Fred and Ryan to become a couple *because* of who I found them to be as individuals, rather than in spite of it. That, to me, was a welcome and refreshing change.

Hooked is everything I hoped it would be and more. Great characters, an interesting page-turner plot that kept me up past the wee hours of the morning and smooth effortless writing that immersed me into Fred and Ryan's world all came together to present one of the most enjoyable contemporary reads I've experienced in a long time. Don't let the golf scare you away: Hooked is a fantastic story that is truly not to be missed. Liz Fichera has managed a hole in one with this captivating debut, and my only complaint is that I can't read Riley and Sam's story *right now*. 

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