Friday, May 11, 2012


(based on a review copy)

As a tangent from any actual "reviewing": I read TRADE SECRETS as an ebook (because it's currently only available in that form). I must say I'm definitely not converted; I'm a print book loyalist. However, for all the other ebook skeptics out there, TRADE SECRETS is worth reading regardless of form. The story called to me whenever I wasn’t reading and, had the novel not been an ebook, I imagine I would have finished the entire thing in one day!

The authors took me by surprise by writing the second book in this trilogy in Kali's perspective. In retrospect, it's a logical approach, since it gives each girl a chance at center focus, but emphasizes their relationship over any one individual by shifting that focus periodically. And it's fun seeing the same characters through a different protagonist's eyes. For example, Brody, Kali's brother and now Zahra's boyfriend, may have seemed sweet and romantic from Zahra's perspective, but he's a pain in the butt to Kali and, frankly, not very supportive. However, I missed Zahra! She really won me over in the first book and, while I enjoyed Kali's perspective, too, for the first few chapters I found myself longing to sneak into Zahra's viewpoint every time she entered a scene. I found Kali a little less likable than Zahra, but note that's less likable, not unlikable. She's very into appearance and you can see this reflected in how often she mentions what everyone's wearing, how they're styling their hair, how much makeup girls use, etc. She's also boy crazy. So while Zahra circled around a few possible love interests and flirtatious encounters, Kali's perspective brims over with boys and more boys. The traits I already listed didn't endear her to me, but I did relate to Kali's interest in environmental issues, something about which neither Zahra nor Syd care much. (As a sidenote, Kali's equal passion for environmental activism and makeup struck me as potentially hypocritical, given that many big cosmetic companies aren't particularly eco-friendly. However, hypocritical certainly isn't unbelievable and there's at least a little hypocrite in everyone!)

What I loved the most about exploring Kali's perspective, though, is how her voice further builds the relationship between the three girls almost as a fourth character of its own. By crude sketches, Kali, Zahra, and Syd have nothing in common, but what they do share goes deeper: values, morals, and similar fears about being hurt again. While I liked Kali a little less based on interests, her voice carried a subtle note similar enough to Zahra's that I could understand how their two personalities would resonate. In fact, this topic ties in nicely with the story's matchmaking theme. Kali works hard on developing quizzes and formulas for evaluating the compatibility of potential couples. While effective to an impressive degree, Kali's tests still fail now and again, because some things simply aren't that easy to measure. On paper, Zahra, Syd, and Kali shouldn't work, but their friendship is the strongest relationship in this book.

While the premise may emphasize romance and the storyline fixate on friendship, what really hooks me is how many different - all compelling - storylines the authors packed into one novel. In TRADE SECRETS, Kali attempts a serious relationship rather than her usual flings with the hope that the experience will make her a better matchmaker and possibly even a more well-rounded person. However, this proves a greater challenge for her than expected and Kali actually winds up with quite a few different romance plotlines crammed into one book. In family matters, she wants to meet her father, a secretive mission given both her mother and Brody's strong resentment of a man who put his music before his family. Kali also wants to follow her father's musical footsteps, a decision not well embraced by Brody or her mother who both make frequent condescending remarks about such ambitions. To make matters worse, Kali must go up against her rival Hollis in a music competition. Hollis lacks Kali's experience or dedication, but, annoyingly enough, she may very well have more natural talent. Meanwhile someone's luring away Love Inc clients and Kali suspects Hollis may be her opposition there as well. Those are just some of Kali’s storylines. Syd and Zahra each have their own subplots. For just one example each, Syd fears her father’s much younger fiancĂ© might be cheating on him while Zahra finds herself in a tricky, torn-loyalties position dating the brother of a close friend.

Without any spoilers, I did think the girls, especially Kali, got off far too easy this time around. They were playing with fire and I just hope they count themselves lucky they only received minor burns!

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