Less of a whodunit and more of a who cares.

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MY LAST KISS

Seventeen-year-old Cassidy Haines is on a quest to unravel the mystery of her own death, about which she can remember nothing except for the fact that it might have involved kissing someone other than her boyfriend.

The police suspect that it was a suicide, but this doesn’t ring true to Cassidy or to her best friend, Aimée. Intriguing? Perhaps. Neal’s debut is much like a soufflé that collapses upon being served. Though not particularly groundbreaking, the premise is promising enough, but it simply can’t support the meandering plot and disappointingly flat characters. Unfortunately, the limits on Cassidy’s ability to sleuth from the afterworld create an awkward distance between Cassidy and the action—and readers. Cassidy is often a passive observer, spending the bulk of the novel looking on as Aimée scrambles to find out who was responsible for her death. The only person Cassidy can communicate with is her boyfriend, Ethan. This means that in order for her to play an active role in Aimée’s investigation, she must go through Ethan first, making her twice removed from the action itself. Finally, there is far too much importance placed on secondary characters that are either never fully developed or developed far too late. Maybe Cassidy should have stayed in the morgue and let Aimée tell the tale.

Less of a whodunit and more of a who cares. (Paranormal mystery. 13-17)

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-35128-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 2

Lara Jean's romantic entanglements complicate themselves further.

In the wake of the events detailed in To All the Boys I Loved Before (2014), Lara Jean confesses her love for handsome golden boy Peter. This frees the pair to start a romantic relationship with a clean slate, but over the course of the novel it becomes clear that embarking on a relationship that turns an aggressive blind eye to baggage is never a good idea. When a viral video of a steamy love session between Peter and Lara Jean rears its ugly head and a boy from the past enters Lara Jean's life once more, Lara Jean's life gets complicated. Every character from Han’s adored previous novel is back, with new dimensions given to nearly every one of them. Subplots abound, among them two involving Lara Jean's father and Peter's ex-gal Genevieve, but benefitting most from this second look is John Ambrose McClaren, a boy briefly referenced in the former book who is thrust into the spotlight here as Peter's rival for Lara Jean's heart. With all these characters bouncing around, Han occasionally struggles to keep a steady hand on the novel's primary thrust: Lara Jean’s emotional development. Han gets the job done in the end, but this overeventful sequel pales to the original where structure is concerned. The author's greatest success remains her character work, and the book does indeed give everyone a solid arc, narrative be damned.

A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2673-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2015

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