Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Reviews and Author Interview: The Elite and In Too Deep by Jennifer Banash

Today I am featuring The Elite series by Jennifer Banash with a review of the first 2 books in the series, a preview of book 3 and a very cool interview with Jennifer (seriously -it's worth reading even if you aren't interested in the series).

Before we get started, I just wanted to say that these are not the type of books I typically read. I have never read even a single sentence of Gossip Girl, The A-List, The Clique, or any other teen books about the fabulous lives of the rich and snobby. But hey, I like to expand my reading horizons and read something out of my comfort zone every once in a while. These novels had a lot more depth than I expected, and though they certainly don’t offer up a cure for cancer, they are good at what they set out to do.

Book 1 – The Elite
Casey McCloy is not in Normal, IL anymore. She’s moved in with her grandmother who lives in the most exclusive luxury apartment building in New York’s Upper East Side. And when she meets the three resident teen beauties, clad head to toe in designer duds, she realizes her Old Navy wardrobe isn’t going to cut it. She’s going to need a complete makeover – something new frenemy and reigning elite princess of Manhattan Madison Macallister seems happy to give – but will it come at a price?

Although this book is a bit slow at the start while it sets up, once it gets in gear, the drama, which mostly focuses on Madison and Casey competing for the attentions of Madison’s ex boyfriend Drew, flows fast and furiously. I liked that Madison’s minions, Sophie and Phoebe, weren’t stereotypical airheads but had minds and plotlines of their own.

One thing I found extremely odd and disconcerting was the fact that Casey knew her high-end cosmetics so well that she could identify the specific brand of bronzing oil/lip gloss/nail polish someone was wearing with a single glance and sniff. Can people really do this? I kept thinking she would be very valuable in the marketing department of a cosmetics company!

The book closes with some startling revelations and we’re all set for…

Book 2 – In Too Deep
Casey is finally starting to fit in, but she’s not sure New York Casey is someone she even likes. Madison is sure she doesn’t like Casey – after all, Casey got her corn-fed claws into Drew – a big no-no since everyone knows he belongs to Madison. Drew knows he’s fed up with the perfect veneer of Manhattan’s elite, and he doesn’t like that it seems Casey is headed in the same direction…

In Too Deep is even more over-the-top than The Elite – Madison is scouted by a modeling agency, Phoebe has secret trysts with Sophie’s brother, Sophie throws a fabulous sweet sixteen bash with a reality show camera crew in tow and a very famous special guest, and Casey…. Um…Casey tries to figure out why Drew sometimes showers her with attention and sometimes ignores her. (Oh, and she seems to have lost her super high-end cosmetics radar – how about that?). Yeah, I did feel like Casey sort of got short shrift in this installment, but that should be remedied in…

Book 3 – Simply Irresistible
Madison has been asked to star in her own reality TV show – with her rival Casey. Madison’s none too pleased that Casey could end up just as popular as she is…

This comes out in July, and I’m looking forward to picking it up and really seeing the fur fly.


And now, please welcome Jennifer Banash, here to answer a few of my questions!

You wrote the series for teens, but many adults are reading YA these days thanks to the success of Harry Potter and Twilight. Do you think your books appeal to that crossover audience? Have you heard from any adult fans?

I think that YA is crossing over more and more these days, but I really don't know if my series in particular possesses that appeal. I haven't heard from any adult readers who aren't my friends!

The clique led by queen bee Madison is made up of three girls until Casey comes along. Why is it that popular girls in books and movies always run around in groups of three? I’ve noticed too that when a fourth girl comes along, it usually leads to the group’s undoing (see Heathers, Jawbreaker, Mean Girls, The Craft, etc.). Care to comment on this phenomenon?

Never thought about it before, but you're absolutely right! Three is a number that is said to theoretically posses magical properties--spells are chanted three times, and in fairy tales such as Cinderella, there is always a series of events that come in threes (Cinderella goes to the ball three times). I think that the practical reason for groups of girls that come in groups of three in YA novels is that the "leader" is always kind of a lone wolf in many ways, and her flunkies need each other for company!

Honestly, my head was spinning from all the product placement in The Elite. Why did you focus so much on labels? And did you spend a lot of time at Barney’s and Sephora in the name of research?

That's something I toned WAY down in IN TOO DEEP. I didn't have to do any research at all--I'm completely obsessed with fashion and read Vogue magazine like it's my own personal bible. I'd take out the trash in stilettos, a ball gown, and a tiara is I thought I could get away with it .. . .

I’m a total Sephora addict! Are the characters favorite brands your favorites too? Tell us what’s in your make-up bag.

Yes! I love writing from Sophie's POV because she's slightly funkier in style than the rest of the Bram Clan. I definitely share her fascination with Too Faced, and MAC! I'm also obsessed with Trucco lip glosses, and the eyeshadow palettes from Coastal Scents--they're really cheap, and the colors and pigmentation are fabulous. It's like MAC for pennies :)

You’ve mentioned BITTEN, a book you wrote about twins who move from NYC to Dracula’s castle in Romania, in a few interviews and I am intrigued. Any updates on a publication timeline you can give us?

I've actually shelved BITTEN for the time being. With the whole TWILIGHT phenomena, no one's buying vampire books right now--the market is completely saturated.

I’ve never been to NYC, but I’m going this August. What do I absolutely have to check out in order to get the insider experience? I’m definitely hitting up the Strand bookstore – but what else is can’t miss for a first timer?

Yes! Definitely go to the Strand--it's my fave bookstore and you can find a lot of ARCs there as well. If you're over 21 check out a bar called Milk and Honey--they make pre-prohibition drinks from completely fresh ingredients by hand. It's also a really cool place because you have to text the bar's number to get in--then they text you back and tell you to come over! So, it's very hush-hush, secret fabulousness! You should also go shopping--Fifth and Madison Avenues are great, but there are lots of little designer boutiques downtown in the West Village, and in Brooklyn that are unique and fantastic. Williamsburg has some amazing boutiques, and it's only a few subway stops from downtown Manhattan. Go to my favorite ice-cream parlor, Serendipity 3 and have a frozen hot chocolate--they're world-famous, and amazing. Go to Central Park and have a picnic if the weather's nice. And do go to the top of the Chrysler Building for the awesome view--it's less touristy than the Empire State, and personally I think the actual artichetecture of the building is much more beautiful.

Thank you Jennifer!


Alea said...

Jennifer has some great NYC tips! And Lenore, I'd say you and I count as adults yes? I'm looking forward to reading these and seeing the reality tv part come into play in the third book! And great observation of packs of 3!

Kelly said...

Hi Lenore,

You've been awarded the Sisterhood Award. Stop by my blog for the details!

Congratulations and thanks for all your hard work!

The Novel Bookworm

Beth Kephart said...

Hey, always good to get your perspective, Miss Lenore. Great interview!

Staci said...

The books sound fun and right up the tweens/teens alley!! I don't know the first thing about all that makeup but I'm sure there are people out there that could do the smell thing!! Great interview. I hope the author does end up finishing her vampire book. For me, vampires never grow too old and it sounds like a different twist than Twilight.

Iryna said...

You were right - the interview is totally worth reading!

Happy Saturday!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Alea - I guess we are adults aren't we? :) And yes, I think book 3 sounds like it is going to be really fun. Love the color on the cover too. I am sucker for pretty shades of green.

Kelly and Beth - Thank you both. Your kind and enthusiastic support of my blog has kept me going strong.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Staci - I could understand being able to identify a perfume by scent (though I can't do it), but tanning oil? I'm not that into the current vampire romances, but I think Bitten sounds great because there are twins and they go to Romania!

Iryna - Wasn't it? Happy Saturday to you too!

Alea said...

Lenore- I agree, the third one is beautiful, it's my favorite!

Bitten does sound awesome, I agree!

susan said...

"of Gossip Girl, The A-List, The Clique, or any other teen books about the fabulous lives of the rich and snobby."

I didn't have the slightest interest in these lifestyles or books when I was a teen and don't as adult. That said, I do get the appeal. I like the cover of _In Too Deep_. Since my primary concern is that our readers are reading, I'd put these on our wish list if I thought our girls would read them.

I think there might be a cultural divide with these though. There are some titles that are huge hits in the mainstream that don't even register on the radar in our library. _The Gossip Girls_ haven't moved at all.

susan said...

I failed to say though, Lenore, I think you do a wonderful job of publishing articles that match the tastes of your readership. You give your readers what they want. Kudos.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Nice interview. I have In Too Deep but I need to read it still. I did like The Elite though, even though I've never read The clique or anything either.

I really want to read Bitten. It does sound good and different, so that's nice.

Ohh I wish I had these tips when I went to NYC. Next time. Next time.


Ali said...

An author recommending buying ARCs at a bookstore, is something I never thought I'd see!

Sadako said...

These look like such awesome guilty pleasures.

Also, I wish I were one of those people who could tell cosmetics products just by looking at them, but that's pretty hard. I don't know anyone who can!!!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Susan - That's an interesting point you make. I've been asked to donate some of my YA books to a charity that distributes them to youth programs in Africa and I had to wonder if they really want to be reading bleak dystopias or books about teens living the high life.

Lauren - They are great tips, aren't they? I am so excited about my trip to NYC!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Ali - I guess The Strand is known for its ARCs, not sure what most authors think about that, but apparently Jennifer is ok with it.

Sadako - Guilty pleasures for sure :)

Reader Rabbit said...

Great interview :)

I've never read her books before, perhaps I'll have to check them out!

Ladytink_534 said...

I haven't read any of the "teen books about the fabulous lives of the rich and snobby" either but when I do, I believe I may just have to pick these up! Great interview (especially liked the three question, I've noticed it too)!!! Now I want to go to NYC :(

Amanda said...

I REALLY need to start reading these books!
The covers are sooo pretty too!
Fantastic interview.

Andrea said...

Great NYC tips..I LOVE Serendipity 3..mmm..frozen hot chocolate. But sadly, I have never been to the strand!

Michelle Kuo said...

I am definitely checking out the frozen hot chocolate once I visit NYC!
Ahh, I really want to read The Elite and In Too Deep, they've been on my wishlist for a long time..
I love make up too and love Sephora. I would definitely shop there more often if only I had the money! Sephora items are a bit pricey..

Amee said...

I never noticed the three thing until now! Very observant!

Jen said...

I love the NY tips!
The covers are lovely ^_^

katayoun said...

nyc sounds fabulous, let us know if you went to milk and honey!! ooh let us know everything.
i've read a couple of gossip girls, but not my kind of reading, don't know if peterfreund's ivy league series would be in the same genre but i really liked them and would seriously suggest them!

Megan said...

I love the NYC tips and the interview thanks