Sunday, May 4, 2014

Early Review: Blonde Ops by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman

Blonde Ops
Authors: Charlotte Bennardo (website | twitter)
              Natalie Zaman (website | twitter)
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (Raincoast Books in Canada)
Source/Format: ARC sent to me by Canadian publisher in exchange for an honest review (thank you!)
Publication date: May 6th, 2014 (Tuesday!)
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Pitched as The Devil Wears Prada meets James Bond for teens, featuring a fashion magazine intern in Rome who uncovers a plot to kidnap the First Lady.

Expelled from yet another boarding school for hacking, sixteen-year-old Rebecca "Bec" Jackson is shipped off to Rome to intern for Parker Phillips, the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s top fashion magazines. But when a mysterious accident lands Parker in a coma, former supermodel and notorious drama queen Candace Worthington takes the reins of the magazine. The First Lady is in Rome for a cover shoot, and all hands are on deck to make sure her visit goes smoothly.

Bec quickly realizes that Parker's "accident" may not have been quite so accidental, and when the First Lady's life is threatened, Bec is determined to uncover the truth. On top of that, Bec must contend with bitchy models, her new boss, Candace, who is just as difficult as the tabloids say, and two guys, a hunky Italian bike messenger with a thousand-watt smile and a fashion blogger with a razor-sharp wit, who are both vying for her heart.

Can Bec catch the person who's after the First Lady, solve the mystery of Parker's accident, and juggle two cute boys at the same time? Blonde Ops is a fun, action-packed romp through the hallways of a fashion magazine and the cobblestone streets of Rome.

Review:


I was really excited for Blonde Ops and I'm really, really sad to say that it wasn't my cup of tea. In theory, it seemed like the perfect book for me: I love fashion, I love spies/heist scenarios, and I love travel. This book had all of those elements, but somehow, it just failed to really make me care about the characters or the story.

The basic premise is that the main character, Bec Jackson, is a hacker who has just been kicked out of yet another prep school. Fed up, her absentee mom sends her to Rome to her friend and big-time fashion magazine editor Parker Phillips. Bec will stay with Parker, finish her year through distance assignments and intern at the magazine, called Edge. Edge is in Rome to do a special feature and photo shoot with the American First Lady. But Bec soon discovers that there's a plot to hurt the First Lady, and using her hacker skills, she needs to help uncover the plot and make sure the First Lady is safe. And oh yeah, there are cute boys around, too!

The Good

The Action-Packed Ending:  I liked how everything was tied up. I found this book a little slow getting into, but he pacing picked up near the end, and the big reveal, while a little obvious, was still pretty fun and made for a good romp around Rome.

The Fun, Well-Rounded Secondary Characters: The secondary characters, especially some of the other people who work at Edge, were really pretty fun. I loved the hairdresser, Joe, and his ex, the makeup artist. I also especially enjoyed Bec's fellow intern, Sophie, and managing editor Kevin and their side story. I appreciated the way that these stories were in the periphery but we got to watch them grow. In fact, I would venture to say that I liked some of the secondary characters better than I liked the main character.

The Not-So-Good

The Unlikeable MC: I found Bec kind of whiny. I get that she's not into authority, but the way she acts as an intern - insubordinate most of the time, complaining about most of her tasks - makes her seem very young, irresponsible, and frankly, pretty flakey. Example: When the managing editor asks her to bring him coffee, she basically refuses to do so because he doesn't say "please." Here's the scene:
"I was about to take a cup up to Ugi when Kevin came barreling down the stairs.
"I'll take that--" he started, but I pulled back, sloshing some onto his hand and the pristine white cuff of his shirt. "Look what you've done!" he shouted.
If I gritted my teeth any harder, they'd crack. "That wasn't for you--"
"Hello? I'm the one who ordered the espresso."
Ordered?"Get the stain remover pen from my office!" he shouted, then added, "Move," when I didn't bolt for the steps.
I gave myself credit for working hard, not complaining, and resisting the urge to tie up Kevin's e-mail account with thousands of spam messages to keep him too busy to bug me, but this time, he'd crossed the line."
Ok, seriously? I'm pretty sure that as an intern, getting coffee is her job. And yeah, maybe Kevin should have been more polite, and sure, this internship wasn't Bec's idea, but I'm pretty sure this is how interns are treated. This isn't that bad, and doesn't warrant what she does to him. It's just one example of Bec's immaturity.

This immaturity is in direct contrast with the skills that we're told that she has at manipulating the system and finding ways out of dangerous situations. I just couldn't reconcile Bec's smarts with her personality - especially when, as a hacker, she's supposed to have a naturally suspicious mind, but ends up trusting people and making decisions that seemed incredibly naive or just plain stupid. I don't want to give anything away, but in the interest of trying to back up these statements, let me just say that when the villains were revealed at the end, the first thing Bec does is hug one of them. It's only when that villain actually outright admits his treachery that she stops believing in him.


The Totally Implausible Story: At the beginning of the book, we're told that Bec is a hacker. To me, a hacker really means someone who is on their computer constantly, looking for chinks in the armour of the internet and technology. They work mostly on their computers, NOT in the outside world. For Bec, a hacker means getting into mischief any way she knows how - she's hardly ever on her computer and seems to have skills that go more towards "spy" than "hacker." For instance, one of the first things she does is use black eyeshadow as a powder to find fingerprints on stuff. First of all, who thinks like that? And second of all, as dumb as it sounds, I actually know from experience (re: having my stuff stolen in London on my honeymoon) with the police that it's actually really hard to get fingerprints off stuff - I actually had a CSI dust our stuff and then say to me and my husband, "It's not like it is in the movies." So yeah...because of that experience, I was immediately suspicious of Bec's skills at being a spy - she's not trained, but she seems incredibly able to fool high-level government operatives. There's a lot more to this gripe than what I can say in a spoiler-free review, but suffice to say...I just didn't believe it.


The Pacing and Writing: I think the believability issue came out of two things: 1) the naivete that I mentioned, where Bec was super easily distracted by the boys in her life instead of being uber focused on what she was doing and 2) the voice and pacing of the writing, which I found gave me too much telling and not enough showing. The prose just did not flow smoothly at all - I felt like one moment, I was reading a beautiful description of a square in Rome, and the next, the momentum was dialed up in a way that didn't feel natural. It happens more than once and I honestly felt like I was just being tossed and turned with the writing. Example:
"Finished with this water bottle, he crushed it--and put the bottle in his courier bag. What was he, a hoarder? Or maybe he thought someone would take it and sell it on eBay for a small fortune - him being who he was. Ha! If there was one thing I had already learned in my few days abroad, it was that these fashion types were crazily delusional when it came to their own importance.
Odder still was the twinge and flutter I felt in my stomach when he glanced my way with those intense brown eyes. Okay, it's just a normal reaction to a guy you find intriguing, even if he is strange. Get over it, Bec"
First of all, we're already in Bec's head, so I don't know if I need to get her talking to herself as well. Secondly, instead of immediately going with that suspicion, which I think a hacker would do, Bec ends up trying to tell herself that a) she's not interested in this dude b) that she's the one who's being weird here. And c) the way she describes what he does is just...I don't know, weird? Immature? I just didn't really connect with the writing and pacing here.

The Final Word:


Blonde Ops will definitely be compared to Ally Carter's Gallagher Girl books, but I really found it to be a much lesser book in the same genre. Carter's books always pull me in immediately, and the writing and characters feel believable. Unfortunately, I often found my mind wandering while reading Blonde Ops. It's definitely a light read, and while I found that it strained credulity, I do think that younger teens or reluctant readers might not have the same problems escaping into this fun summer read.

Are you interested in reading BLONDE OPS? Is believability an issue for you when you need an escapist read? Do you like getting little snippets of secondary character plots? What's your favourite summer read? Let me know in the comments!

4 comments:

  1. The cover of this book is gorgeous, definitely one to pop out among other books. But, I'm not sure if I will like Bec. I always get frustrated when reading a book with a whiny mc and when she/he doesn't do what they are supposed to do. Why give them a skill if they are not going to show us how it's like to have it? I've come across several books with this problem and I don't like it. So yeah, it might be an issue for me the believability of this book.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This one sounds interesting, I love that it is action-packed, I am just hate whining!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good review. I don't think I would read this book, but it does sound really cute and funny. <3

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great review! This book sounded really good but I don't know, based on your review I don't think I'll be reading this anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete

You're looking so pretty today. Would you like to leave a comment or thought? I read each and every one of my comments, and I'd be so happy to see yours!