This book was fun to read…but nothing else. It was a cookie-cutter model of YA Chicklit at its boringest.
Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She’s been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon’s dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler’s lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn’t made even half the money she’d hoped.
When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn’t react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.
Soon Shannon’s caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money’s this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?
I read this book in one sitting. It was a short, fun read, but there was absolutely no substance.
Warning: This review is going to be scathing, and it isn’t because I hated this book in particular. I am just so tired of reading the same contemporary romance plot arc over and over. This book, with a different premise (swap out gambling and replace it with X), is exactly like hundreds of other books that I’ve read. I keep picking up these books wanting to be impressed, wanting to be swept off my feet with a cutesy romance and a plot that explores “real life.” But I’m just wasting my money.
Aces Up had the usual cast of characters for a book like this: the protagonist who overthinks and screws up romance, the hot “boy next door” who the protagonist is trying to get over, the mysterious hot guy she rebounds with, the friends who support her and provide a measuring stick for her mistakes, the parents who she evades but loves unconditionally.
As a protagonist, Shannon really got on my nerves. She was anxious and jumped to wild conclusions; she was always in her head over-analyzing situations. I empathized with her financial aid situation on a basic level, but nothing about her character made me want to meet her in real life. Her overtly “teenage” voice felt stereotypical and gave me no insight into who she really was; the author sacrificed good writing to give her character an “OMG I broke a nail” personality. From a different perspective–and with better writing at its core–Aces Up could have earned at least another star in my rating.
Ahh…the love triangle. You’ve got Max and Cole: good cop, bad cop. It is the love triangle that I’ve seen a million times before: girl falls for hot bad boy because sweet hot guy is taken/friend-zoned/in this case both, bad boy turns out to be–shocker–bad, good guy picks up the pieces. I’m honestly not even spoiling anything–you can tell where the story is going to go from the synopsis. Did I get sucked in to Cole and his (let’s be honest) sexy gambling ring along with Shannon? Of course. But that doesn’t make the plot any more original.
The gambling plot was the most interesting part of this book. It’s the reason I bought the book in the first place (a million years ago, tbh). I love playing cards, and I’ve dabbled in poker, so I thought a YA romance surrounding a casino would be awesome. The poker plot line was fun, and it provided what uniqueness the story possessed. The set-up of the Aces Up club was believable, as was Shannon’s emotions that led her to join it. This plot line got close to discussing something of substance–gambling addiction–but it never fully committed, once again leaving Aces Up as a romance…and nothing else.
Major parts of the plot struck me as unrealistic, chiefly Shannon’s supposed straight-A nature. Nothing in her voiced tied in to or validated her supposed 4.0 or her acceptance to a prestigious college. She’s supposedly a math whiz but an English student at heart, but I never “got” that from her personality. Over the course of the book she does homework, like, twice. Then, during her poker playing days, she literally has zero hours for homework, but manages to only have her grade in one class slip (that we are told about), and we are led to believe that it hasn’t slipped far. (Joey @ Thoughts and Afterthoughts had a post ranting about athletes never working out in books; turns out, my version of this is when smart characters never do homework.)
The sudden-poverty that Shannon’s family faced also felt unrealistic. It seemed like Shannon’s well-off family would have put some money into savings, but suddenly they are selling their boat, having their BMW repossessed, and fearing losing their house. I know that horrible things like this happen in real life, but in the story it felt like the author was overstating the problems just to force her protagonist to do crazier and crazier things. (Then again, I’m sixteen, so talk to me when I’m thirty and I might change my opinion on this portion of the plot.)
Overall, Aces Up is a quick read full of humor and romance, but if you want a unique plot or a story that delves into societal issues–this book is not for you. I don’t regret reading it–honestly, it was a good filler for an afternoon–but I won’t be reading anything else by Lauren Barnholdt, and I will be working harder to select deeper contemporary reads in the future.