Thursday, April 25, 2013

Up In Lights


Published:  April 1st, 2013
That Time I Joined The Circus
By: J.J. Howard
ISBN-13:  9780545433815

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

     Self-proclaimed teenage music snob and outcast Lexi Ryan (formerly known as Xandra) is forced to leave behind her life in New York City to find her long estranged Mom, when her Dad dies in a tragic accident and she's left without money or options.  Due to a huge mistake Lexi made with her best friend Eli, she is more than happy to leave the city and start over again - even if it is with a broken heart.  Arriving at the circus where her Mom was supposed to be, Lexi finds out that she isn't there anymore and is left trying to scrounge a job and place to live from the ringmaster while she looks for her Mom.  Soon finding her niche as the resident fortune teller and friends in the ringmaster's teenage daughters, who are trapeze artists, Lexi is discovering who she is and what she wants to do with her life.  But it all might come crashing down when someone from her past finds her and she finally comes face to face with her Mom.  Can Lexi build a life for herself with the best parts of the new and the old? 
     Lexi as a character struck me as an odd mixture between self-hating, superior know-it-all and insecure outcast.   But surprisingly enough, she didn't get on my nerves as a main character.  Her snarky wit and jack-of-all-trades persona appealed to me and I enjoyed her voyage of self discovery throughout the novel.  Although I hated her romantic decisions and the guy she ends up with happens as an atrocious plot device/twist that really annoyed me as a reader.  Probably the worst thing in this entire book was the bouncy castle of romantic relationships and feelings!   Lexi's relationship with Eli really pissed me off.  He's supposedly her best friend, but as soon as he started dating Bailey he ignored and treated her like crap 99% of the time.  But because he still gave her little bits of his time, Lexi was convinced it was all 'evil' Bailey's fault as the shallow girlfriend.  It couldn't be because, I don't know, Eli is a complete douchebag???  The whole 'mistake' between them re-inforces this belief.  And the ending completely doesn't fit in with this obvious fact of his character.  Jamie, the guy on crew at the circus who shared a kiss with Lexi was described as a player, with a string of broken hearts behind him.  So color me confused when he immediately latches on to Lina (the girl who has been in love with him and he has ignored) and becomes a one-girl kind of guy!  Also the relationship with Nicolae was too similar to insta-love and never felt like it had any true depth.  It felt like the characters were going through the motions.
     If it feels like I'm mega focused on the romance, let me get to the actual plot and execution.  The book was very unbelievable in it's overall plot.  Yes, I can get behind a girl going to find her Mom at the circus.  It has awesome potential.  What made no sense was the complete lack of grief or any emotion resembling it from Lexi for her dead Dad.  Also, yeah right!  Like no social worker, school counselor or other officially inclined adult is gonna stop a 17 year old from dropping out of school, being evicted and traveling from New York to Florida by herself.  Can you say 'foster home'?  The resolution of the lifetime of pain, betrayal and anger sitting between Lexi and her Mom, along with the ease and quickness she accepts her Mom's version of the divorce/abandonment, pissed me off.  Plus, for a book supposedly about a girl trying to find her Mom it spends an awful lot of energy on a love triangle that is weak as a best case scenario.  I was more interested in the time Lexi spent and the circus and her friendships with the trapeze sisters Lina and Liska.  Both of those side characters intrigued me and they were fleshed out characters with dreams, disappointments and feelings of their own.  I felt like they were in and out of the plot, only there when it was convenient for Lexi to pay attention to them.  The lack of interest on Lexi's part towards finding her Mom after she gets to the circus, coupled with the fact that her Dad left all his money to his cheating ex-wife, with no provision for his supposedly beloved daughter, who he was a single parent to for over a decade, really took the cake and was almost more than I could take as a reader.  It just made no sense whatsoever.
     While I did feel the magic and mystery of the circus setting, I felt that the author didn't give enough details or descriptive scenes/moments about the circus to really connect or picture the setting other than in a vague sort of way.  It wasn't at all like other circus books I've read where you can picture everything that's happening in high definition and Technicolor.  I guess it was ideal for those who want to insert themselves into the book, but to me it was lacking something.  I just am disappointed that this book really waffled between what it was aiming for and what it actually achieved in terms of plot and character development especially.  I actually felt like Lexi's character had taken steps back by the ending, instead of forward.  This book was like cotton candy, nice and fluffy with some fun moments and some feel good ones.  But it had no lasting effect on me and too many inconsistencies to really make my day.  The alternating between present day and flashbacks before the tragedy and the 'mistake' do add some extra development to the story, but can be jarring.  Sometimes right when you immerse yourself into a certain setting or event, the time and place shifts abruptly to something very different.  The quotes from songs and the songs used for chapter titles were a fun touch though.  They represented Lexi in a fun (sometimes cheesy) was that I loved.  Overall a fun read, but if you have hang ups about cheating or are expecting something really deep it may not be for you. 
VERDICT:  2.75/5  Stars
*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published April 1st, 2013.*

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