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Tuesday, April 20, 2010:
Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles (2010) - review
Rules of Attraction: The sequel to Perfect Chemistry!

When Carlos Fuentes returns to America after living in Mexico for a year, he doesn’t want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him at a high school in Colorado . Carlos likes living his life on the edge and wants to carve his own path—just like Alex did. Then he meets Kiara Westford. She doesn’t talk much and is completely intimidated by Carlos’ wild ways. As they get to know one another, Carlos assumes Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, and refuses to admit that she might be getting to him. But he soon realizes that being himself is exactly what Kiara needs right now.

Thanx to the lovely and intelligent Christine, who raved about "Perfect Chemistry", I've become a huge fan of Simone Elkeles' books. This is the 3rd one I've read, and it's amazing, and I've discovered each one is better than the last.

Carlos has been staying with his mother and other family in Mexico, but while there, he's lived the life of a hard partier: drugs, girls, nightclubs, even getting involved with a local gang. His family thinks it's time to get him away from that dangerous world, so his mother sends him to Colorado to go live with his older brother Alex (from "Perfect Chemistry"). Of course Carlos is totally against the idea, and doesn't want to leave, but at the moment he has no choice. However he plans on breaking away first chance he gets. No way he's gonna stick around and be some goody two shoes and end up pussy-whipped and stuck in a dead-end job like Alex.

On his first day at school, much to his disgust at being treated like a child, he's assigned to be shown around school by Kiara Westford, the plain, quirky daughter of Alex' college professor. Carlos can't quite figure her out, though he notices she can't resist a challenge, but before he gives it much thought, he's distracted and his interest is captured by the most popular girl in school, super confident Madison Stone. This girl is one fine mamacita, and as bold and experienced as he could ask for. And if she's up for a little recreational fun, the kind he's been missing since he left Mexico, all the better.

Being good-looking and charismatic, it doesn't Carlos long to get into the groove, and soon gets himself invited to a wild party at Madison's house. Despite his brother's warnings, he has no intention of curbing his bad boy activities, though he's surprised to discover he's not quite ready to jump into things with Madison quite yet. He still intends to buck the system and find his fun where he can while forgetting about Kiara and her weird relationship with Tuck. He's not looking for anything permanent. He wants his old life back and is resentful of having to follow any rules that he didn't make.

But with Carlos' penchant for attracting trouble, it isn't too long his boring life heats up when he's busted for having drugs in his locker at school. Drugs that don't belong to him. His choices are severely limited when he's placed into an outreach program with the condition that has him moving into the Westford house. Now he's faced with a whole new set of rules to follow.

Because he's not looking for anything serious, Carlos has a difficult time acknowledging his growing feelings for Kiara, and he has properly trouble expressing all the emotions she stirs up inside him, so instead of being mature and open about it, he denies them and acts out, trying to get a reaction out of her. He intends to push Kiara away, but at the same time he just can't let go. Meanwhile Kiara is scared to get hurt, but she's also human and helpless to the way she feels. She sees glimpses of the man Carlos could be, and it only makes her want more of that.

But beyond his feelings for Kiara, Carlos has significant problems. Now that he's finally figuring out what he wants - something meaningful and long-lasting - his old lifestyle keeps creeping in, and he tiredly realizes that he just can't walk away from the gangs. They'll never let him go, not when he's a hot commodity in the drug world. So he has some hard choices to make, choices that could endanger the lives of the people he loves most...

My thoughts:

I've been jonesing for this book ever since I finished "Leaving Paradise", which I absolutely loved. I was eager to get back with the Fuentes family again, though I wondered how Simone could possibly re-capture the magic she created in "Perfect Chemistry". It was off to a rocky start when I first met Carlos, and thought he was a first-class jerk. Despite almost losing his brother Alex, who jumped out of the Latino Blood, Carlos had a chip on his shoulder at least a mile long, and wasn't afraid to show the world just how pissed off he was. This boy needed to be taken down a notch or two.

Enter Kiara Westford. This girl is unique in her own way. She doesn't wear makeup and runs around in unflattering t-shirts and hiking boots when she's not trying to fix her car. She likes doing her homework, and she's a big fan of rules. I liked Kiara a whole lot because she stays true to who she is. We don't all of sudden see her start to dress differently or get a makeover. It's her individuality and guts that finally get through to Carlos. It's apparent right from the start that Carlos intimidates her with his outrageous comments and hot body, but she doesn't back down from him easily, oftentimes using silence to deflect his comments and her studies to ignore him. And this is what gets them both into a little trouble, because Carlos doesn't like to be ignored.

I loved how as he slowly begins to fall in love with Kiara, he also starts to care for her family. After spending so much time rolling his eyes and wishing like hell he was anywhere else, the Westfords manage to sneak past his defenses and he begins to enjoy the time he spends with them. He starts to feel like he belongs to something really special, and it shocks him to realize that this family of near strangers begins to think of him as one of their own.

One thing I couldn't help but marvel about as I was reading this book was how Simone could write about the most mundane and everyday things in a scene, yet she makes it sparkle and grabs your attention almost immediately. I found myself quite taken with just how ordinary yet love this story was. One of the reasons I love YA books so much is because of all the emotion that is packed into a couple hundred pages, and Simone excels at writing such stories.

It caught me a little off-guard to acknowledge the effectiveness of the sexual tension between Carlos and Kiara, which was so potent and alive that it was like a force all its own, but it's also romantic and natural. It felt strange because these are two teenagers, and I felt somewhat guilty for getting caught up in it, but at the same time, I could recall quite clearly those intense feelings from when I was a teenager 20 years ago. It is telling how a YA romance can be so much more exhilarating to read than some of the adult books out there. It's that overall connection between the main characters that keeps me so enthralled.

However as wonderful as this book was, it's not without its flaws, most notably the epilogue, so similar to the one in "Perfect Chemistry". I admit, itt had me rolling my eyes. From what another blogger (Mollie) told me, these are quite popular in teen stories - perhaps the whole soulmate thing - but it felt cheesy to me. Still, even that wasn't enough to detract from my complete enjoyment of the story.

Rating: ***** out of *****

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  1. Great review! I thought Perfect Chemistry was sweet. It didn't blow me out of the water, and there were a few things I took issue with, but it was sweet. Not enough to move me on to the next book. Until I started reading the reviews! I suppose I'll have to see if the library has it. ;)

    BTW, I thought the epilogue in Perfect Chemistry was a little eye-roll-worthy too, very neat and pat. In some ways I felt like Alex had conformed a lot to how Brittany wanted him to be. There was a scene in PC where she chastises him after he gets treated like a waiter in a swanky art gallery. I lost a little respect for her as a character then.

    But anyway, you make the sequel sound good!

  2. I keep meaning to read this series, I don't know why I haven't yet. Great review!

  3. I really didn't like the epilogue in PC. I thought the book would have been just as satisfying (more so in fact) if it HADN'T been there. But whatev. I remember reading some reviews where people were just IN LOVE with the epilogue. I thought "REALLY"?! I mean I love me some teenage cheese as much as the next person. I LOVE some crappy Amanda Bynes movies but the epilogue was a little much for me. In the future when if/I re-read it...I'll be skipping it for sure!

    I have a few more books to read before I get to RoA though! Damn! Can't wait to read it!

  4. I read great reviews about Perfect Chemistry but never picked it up. I need to remedy that and then grab this one as well. Great review Stacy - it sounds wonderful.

  5. Hey Stacy!
    I totally surface skimmed your review, because I've got it sitting here in the TBR wings. But I did read your comment about the epilogue and I had to smile. I remember reading the epilogue of Perfect Chemistry ... and I was crying because it was so emotional and sweet... and laughing at the same time thinking "this is SO corny! But I LOVE it!" LOL!

    Mollie--Like the Amanda Bynes movie, "What a Girl Wants"? I love that movie! :D Sheeesh! I'm 41 years old, what's up with that? *rolling eyes at myself*

  6. Great review! Thank you for reminding me this is out now. :)

  7. Great review Stacy - thank you. I really need to read Perfect Chemisty. I hate it when your TBR list is so unwieldly that good books get lost on it!

  8. So I just finished this last night. Was kind of disappointed. Gave it 3 stars. Will try to put into words why it let me down. But mostly it just felt like something from PC was lacking. I'm going to mull it over and see if I can't put my finger on it.

    Although I thought the epilogue in this one was better than the one in PC although I'm not sure an epilogue in either was really necessary....

  9. Sorry you didn't like it quite as much as I did Mollie. I can't explain it, but this book really was lovely. Sure, parts are over the top, but I didn't mind that. I was so drawn into the story. I worry that the 3rd book won't hold a candle to either of these 2 books now.

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