Friday, October 23, 2015

Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler, 2015

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A delicious follow-up to Heather Hepler's smash hit The Cupcake Queen!
Former Manhattan girl Penny has quickly discovered that life in a small town is never dull. Not when there's a festival for every occasion, a Queen Bee to deal with, an animal shelter to save, and a cute boy to crush on.
There's a new girl in town: Esmeralda. She's beautiful, French, and just happens to be Queen Bee Charity's best friend. Penny hopes the arrival of Esmeralda means Charity might be too busy to keep making her life miserable.
But Penny doesn't have a lot of time to worry about Charity. Her best friend, Tally, has recruited her to help raise money to save the local animal shelter. Then there's Marcus, the adorable and mysterious boy who Penny thinks maybe likes her as much as she likes him. Plus, this is Penny's first holiday season as a "divorced" kid--although she has no idea what this means.
Can Penny help her friends save the shelter, navigate her new family dynamics, and get the boy, or will Charity and Esmeralda find a way to ruin everything?

(272 pages)

I'll be honest: this is the second book in a series, and I haven't read the first book. I don't really know what's spoilers and what isn't for the first book, so check The Cupcake Queen out on Goodreads here if you want to read it before my review. I don't make a habit of starting series halfway through, but I got an ARC of Frosted Kisses in August, and I just couldn't resist diving into what looked like the perfect end-of-summer read.

The MC Penny is fine, a bit of a vanilla character really, and I honestly felt like the other characters were the ones who stole the show. I appreciated the depth of Penny's worries, though, because mixed right in there with the petty school-girl pranks and fretting about her budding relationship with Marcus are some serious scenes about her absentee father, and about her realization that she can't keep excusing his behavior away. I don't know what happened between Penny's parents in the first book, and I'm not really a fan of divorce in general, but it's compelling to watch Penny struggle to come to terms with her father's parenting fails.

Trouble with bad parents brings me to Penny's best friend Tally, who may or may not have been a little over-the-top (okay, yeah, she was), but was still likable enough. I feel like Hepler probably wanted me to love her even more, but I just didn't really click with her. I didn't dislike her, though, and I enjoyed reading about some of the scrapes she pulled Penny into. I also appreciate that she was dealing with some truly terrible issues, bringing further depth to the story. What I didn't enjoy as much was the way she kept switching back and forth between being friendly and being mysteriously moody, for a reason that wasn't explained until Chapter 17. I think the decision to reveal it so far into the book was a bad one, because it made the entire novel feel more contrived and little bit like a soap opera. If she had just told Penny sooner, or been a little subtler about the whole thing until later, the entire book would have been much stronger.

As for Penny's love interest, Marcus has it all: he's sweet, he's kind, he's loyal, and he's motherless. Marcus isn't really "mysterious," though. I'm really not sure where the synopsis comes off saying that. He's not (unlike most of the other characters) hiding any big secrets, he's not brooding, he's not erratic. All in all he's a nice, normal, sweet boy and the only mystery to be found in connection with him is wondering why Penny could ever doubt his affection for her. He and Penny have a very sweet relationship, and I loved the way they weren't just "Boyfriend and Girlfriend!" with no room for thinking about anything other than impressing each other, and trying to find the privacy to have their first kiss. They were also just friends, and very good ones at that.

All in all, Frosted Kisses is a lot deeper than I was expecting. At the same time, it's still just as shallow. For the first 150 pages I had hope that it would, despite its flaws, end up a meaningful, original, stereotype-bending novel. It didn't - I mean, it had its meaningful parts and its fairly original components, but it also featured a few too many cliches. The mean girl is so shallow and petty I couldn't help finding her funny, and once or twice the action felt forced (like when Blake knew the answer to a question Penny had, and was sitting right there when she asked it, but didn't tell her because he "wasn't going to get involved." I mean, seriously?).

So yeah. I'm not sure whether I'll be going out of my way to recommend Frosted Kisses, but I won't be warning people off of it either. And if you think it looks good, then you should definitely give it a try! Just, um, maybe start with the first book. I can see Frosted Kisses being even sweeter to read if you actually know everyone's backstories.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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