Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: A Little Bit Country
The Book: Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols

The Particulars: Young Adult Contemporary Romance, MTV Books, 2013, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Back in 2013 I judged a local RWA chapter contest.  My job was to read all the first place winners in the categories and pick the overall winner.  Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols won the YA category and while I really, really liked it - it ultimately was my runner-up to Sea Change by Karen White.  At the chapter meeting where I announced the winner, Victoria Dahl was the guest speaker.  Dahl and Echols are critique partners.  Apparently Dahl went home and told Echols all the nice things I said about her book because shortly thereafter she sent me a nice note and a couple of books (this being one of them) in the mail.

The Review:
I slapped my hands over my ears and yelled, "I would like out of this country song now.  I want out of this country song right now!"

I wasn't sure who I was praying to.  The ghost of Johnny Cash, maybe.  But nothing changed.
Bailey Wright Mayfield grew up traveling the bluegrass circuit with her parents and younger sister, Julie.  Her and Julie were the act - you know, cute kids singing harmonies wearing matching outfits while Bailey rocked out on her fiddle.  But in the past year it's all gone to hell.  A record company has come calling - interested in Julie sans Bailey.  And the record company doesn't want Bailey's existence to get out because it could "screw up" their PR machine.  The parents go along with this and basically tell Bailey to shuttle herself off to the side, which means no social media, no playing music on her own, just sit in the corner and breath quietly.  Bailey handles this as well as you'd expect an 18-year-old girl who has just been told to smile while hacking off her right arm - she rebels.  And when her rebellion goes too far?  She's sent to live with her grandfather while the parents and Julie hit the road to drum up excitement for her forthcoming debut single.

Her granddad feels sorry for her and lands her a job playing her fiddle with cheesy tribute acts at the local mall.  One day she's backing Dolly Parton, the next she's thinking of filing a sexual harassment claim against Elvis.  That's where she meets Sam, who is playing with his father, Johnny Cash.  Sam loves that Bailey has perfect pitch, the way she handles her fiddle, and asks her to join his band.  Joining a band most certainly would set her parents off, who have already threatened to not pay for her college tuition in the fall if she screws up.  But we all know where this going, right?  Of course she plays in Sam's band and that's when things get really complicated.

There's plenty of conflict and drama to go around and it keeps this YA novel humming along.  Bailey is supposed to be staying "low key" so she's not upfront with Sam about who her sister is.  Sam is ambitious, looking at every angle to achieve a music career to the point of using people.  Needless to say the band's drummer, Charlotte, is not terribly pleased to have Bailey arrive on the scene - what with her being one of Sam's many (many...) ex-girlfriends.  There's also bassist, Ace, who looks to keep everyone on an even keel.

There was a lot of good in this story.  I loved (LOVED!) the world-building, the Nashville setting, and even though I'm not big into country music, I feel hook, line and sinker into this world.  I also loved Bailey.  The girl that nobody seems to want and only notices when she acts like a typical teenager and starts rebelling.  Given how her parents steamroll over her the minute a record company blows sunshine up their butts over Julie - well let's just say I thought Bailey's reasons for acting out were fairly compelling.

What didn't work for me was the romance, specifically Sam.  Granted Sam is 18 and therefore acts how one might expect an 18-year-old guy to act.  Namely, he's selfish.  For a good long while I had a hard time believing he "cared" about Bailey.  Too often it's "what can you do for me and how can you get me what I want in the end," which needless to say once he finds out that her sister has a Big Ol' Record Contract.....I wanted to slap this boy into next Tuesday.  Is Bailey blameless?  Well, no.  She's running and hiding, licking her wounds in the corner instead of fighting.  But Sam was beyond the pale for me for a good long while and I felt strongly that he was using her.

The author starts to turn it around at the very end though.  It takes Bailey blowing up.  I mean, really blowing up.  At Sam, then her parents, and finally that spurs Sam on to declare his undying love and how he truly cares about her and yada yada yada.  It does helps, but I can't quite forget the vibe I got from him throughout the rest of the story.  That he's a user.  That he only wants what he wants and he'll use anybody he can to get what he wants. This is also the moment when Echols discloses Sam's Tragic Back-Story which smacked to me of Hey Look, I'm a Tragic 18-Year-Old Boy So It's OK To Overlook the Fact That I'm Using the Heroine for Most of the Book.  However, while Sam is a jerk, we're currently living in a genre world where authors are trying to convince readers that hardened criminals and abusers are "heroes" - so really Sam acting like a selfish 18-year-old kid is, perhaps, nit-picky of me.

So it's truly a mixed bag here.  I enjoyed it.  It's a book that will stick with me for a while.  But as a romance I found it problematic.  As an 18-year-old girl finding her voice?  It worked better.

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...


I'll be nitpicky right along with you, because I seriously despise the current tendency of making heroes out of sociopaths.

Dorine said...

Thorough review, Wendy. Good choice for the challenge. I'm right with both of you on the current hero trend. Not for me either.

Kimberly Keyes Romance said...

I loved your review. I read it on accident, *grin* because I don't read YA. That being said, a romance is a romance, and I love romance. And part of what clicks for me is when the hero is heroic. So, that would have been a big problem for me as well. I'm looking forward to following your blog.
Kimberly Keyes

Wendy said...

AL: INORITE? I feel so quaint taking issue with an 18-year-old hero who acts selfishly towards the heroine when there are corners of the "Dark Romance" trend that is the stuff of nightmares.

Dorine: I like YA but I read so very little of it because adult books take up most of my time. So this was a nice way for me to meet my own Challenge theme.

Kimberly: Welcome! Yes, this particular book worked much better for me as a "coming of age" story for the heroine than as a romance. I found the hero a little too problematic.

Jazz Let said...

Boots, hard heeled boots way too near violin *shudder*

And hero would also put me off. I don't want to even see this book.

nath said...

Wendy, great review!! I wanted to get this book - the cover is just so pretty... but the reviews weren't great, so I held off. I guess it was a good decision.

Perhaps we're too old for YA? I told Ames recently, it's just a vicious cycle. We want to read YA, but are annoyed when the characters act their age ^_^;

AL: they're trying to find the new trend of heroes. I'm just tired of authors jumping all on the same bandwagons and readers wanting more of the same ^_^;

Jennifer said...

I've read one Jennifer Echols book (Going Too Far) and I did like her writing style. I'm not sure if I'll give this a shot. I like the idea of the heroine finding her voice and the development of the country music world, but the selfish hero makes me hesitate. Thanks for the review though!

Wendy said...

Jazz: LOL! Well the heroine in the book is better at taking care of her violin better than the cover model :)

Nath: Yeah, as a romance it just didn't work very well. But I loved the heroine and I loved *her* story. On that level it worked for me, but I kind of wish the heroine had ridden off into the sunset alone and made her own way in music. Alas....

Jennifer: I really enjoyed Such a Rush a lot (the heroine is a pilot!) and falls for her flight instructor's (and boss's) son. I'm a really heroine-centric romance reader and I think Echols does a great job with heroines - Bailey in this book, especially. But ugh. I kept mentally rewriting the hero in my head :)