It's been a while since I've read a new book that I really enjoyed. There's so many out there right now that it's hard to find something special.
If you're into the New Adult genre, picking up the newest Cora Carmack book is a given. She's one of the biggest names in it. I'll be honest and admit that this is the second book of Carmack's that I read and boy, I sure as hell don't regret it.
When I first read Losing It, I enjoyed it as a light, easy read but I didn't crave the rest of the series. But man, after reading All Lined Up, I can say that Carmack's gone a long way since her first book and now I'm of the mind to trace my way back and get all the other books in between because I apparently missed out on a lot.
Now, on to the book.
First, the school and the game....
I'm not a big football fan. Maybe because I didn't grow up with it and only saw glimpses of it in books and TV. So when I first read the blurb on this, I hesitated, wondering if I'd ruin a good book by my sheer ignorance of its setting and environment. But don't worry if you're not a walking book of everything-football because while there's a lot of technical terms and references in the story, it doesn't overwhelm. It fact, it made me curious about the sport all the more. Also, at the start of the story, Dallas didn't love being at Rusk and I wondered, how is it then that there's a huge Rusk pep rally online from readers, bloggers and book fans alike? I didn't follow the entirety of the blog tours and the big build up around the 'Rusk University' spirit (Bleed Rusk Red!) but I felt it throughout the entire story. I've become part of this school and the culture and the same kind of buzz everyone's feeling in the book as it led up to the games, especially after the unexpected turn of events that shocked the entire student body, most especially the football team. It's amazing that Carmack accomplished to make a reader feel connected to something that's neither the central theme of the story nor a strong romantic factor. When the student body slumped their shoulders and dropped their heads down in defeat, I felt it. When the hopeful buzz caught the school, I was right there pumping my fists in the air. It was awesome! I felt like going back to college. LOL.
As for the characters...
Let me say, the character development in this book is well-executed. Kudos!
Dallas, as initially portrayed, didn't come as a big surprise. She's a little shy, naive, occasionally awkward, and a little unsure of a lot of things about herself and her life. As heroine of a New Adult book, this is to be expected often. But as I continued to read, I liked Dallas. She's candid and relatable, brave at times, but still vulnerable. Her insecurities are genuine, and yes, she literally dances back and forth between overanalyzing something to death and getting reckless all of a sudden. While others may bitch about a character's struggle to be consistent or decisive, we should remember that in real life, we're probably just as confused and as confusing. It's this accurate imitation of life that makes Dallas a believable character. She'd dreamed up the life she wanted only to face reality that she's not going to get it. She's torn between resenting it and making the best out of it. She's got a father she loves but can never seem to get on the same page with. She wants an identity but can't quite deny a large part of her that she doesn't like to be solely defined by. She made decisions she thoroughly regretted and had to learn from, even if it made her extremely cautious. She struggled between what she really wanted and what she thought was good for her and everyone else. These are all conflicts many of us have been through at a very similar stage in our life. She's strong but a little weak, she can be bold but she doesn't always believe it, she can be happy but she's not sure how to get there. All these things make her a dynamic character.
Carson is a really great guy. Not because he has a shiny sports car, or oodles of money, or he's smooth and confident, or a genius jock. He hasn't got and isn't any of those. Unlike many male leads out there (mine, included), Carson's character is not overblown—a tendency in many romance books where authors unwittingly end up with caricatures for heroes, instead of a realistic man. Carson is such a likeable dude. If you couldn't date him, you'd want him for a best friend. Or even an older brother (but that's just eew right now because I'm totally swooning over him). He's really down to earth. He's new at Rusk, pinching in his spot as a walk-on who's risking everything for not a whole lot of guarantees. He's a farm boy, has no real baggage except for a family he wants to help out in the best way he can. He makes no qualms about admitting he's not the smartest guy and that football's the best shot he's got at a better life. He's not sleeping with girls left and right. Guys didn't worship at his feet. He's not the team's golden boy. He's going back to their failing farm if he screws up his chance at earning a scholarship at Rusk. You'd think all this would kinda make him boring but it doesn't. Carson's funny and sweet and fiercely determined. Many would agree with Dallas that he's a freaking babe but throughout the book, I adored him more because he actually gave me plenty of reasons to respect him. Yes, respect. It's rare to find a romance nowadays where you're not just drooling over the male lead. You actually respect him. Excellent character development. Carmack didn't just give Carson those dreamy arms and abs—she really fleshed him out (Ugh. Such an obvious pun!).
At the beginning of the story, I wondered whether what he and Dallas had for one night was life-changing enough for them to be torturing themselves the way they were but as I peeked into both Carson's and Dallas's minds (dual POV that's actually pulled off smoothly and effectively), as they battled with themselves, it really sold it to me, that there had been something more in the beginning than what was obvious. Others might think it was a bit insta-love and at first glance it's easy to pin it down as that but their attraction goes from a sudden collision to a slow burn that eventually makes everything catch fire. They had a genuine friendship that sees them through their individual struggles and makes them stronger together. Their moments together were tender and sweet, and hilarious at times. Their relationship wore Carmack's brand of endearing awkwardness but they were small things that actually made you like them more. I personally loved it when Carson aptly described Dallas's poor, dancer's feet. I loved it when Carson tried to walk away with his dignity intact when he realized Dallas worked at the Learning Lab and he desperately needed help with his paper. I could list a whole bunch more things but that would be too many spoilers.
I also liked a lot of the characters. Coach Cole evolved as a character as well. It's funny because I really felt the way the team did around him—you respect him but you're not quite sure whether you like him or not but you work with him anyway because he's not going to take shit from you. I also loved his pep talk. I felt like I could go out there and play football because he says I can.
As for the other secondary characters, I loved Stella. She provokes Dallas but also makes her laugh and calls her out if necessary. She was also just an absolute darling with sparkling lines and spunky confidence. I liked Ryan too because he was a good friend to Carson and surprised me when he said some pretty hilarious things when I expected him to be the serious type. He might just be the antidote to Stella's irrepressible attitude. Silas was a real douche in the beginning but he made me stop and pay him more attention after his unexpected shift in attitude when Carson gets thrown into the fire. Maybe he's not so bad after all. As for Levi, I have a feeling this isn't the last time we've read about him.
This book is pretty solid. It touches deep on the whole experience of growing up, of people giving themselves clear-cut directions only to find themselves going down a different road. Life is a constant navigation test. We kinda know where we're going but it's in how we get there that defines the whole journey. New Adult should really showcase this more as it is one of it's most defining trait—that self-discovery we find ourselves having when we realize we're finally growing up when we thought we've already been adults all this time. I would never want to take away the romance but the evolution the characters go through should be given its chance to shine as well.
Carmack did an excellent job with this. I definitely think that her personal history gave this book an incredible sense of conviction but it's in how she integrated it and built a story out of what she knew that attested to her writing talent. I can't recommend this book enough.
I tried to read it slowly but sadly, it still had to end. Good thing this is a series and there's more to look forward to! =)
DALLAS: Why does no one get that it's impossible to have a fresh start when nothing has really changed?
DALLAS: You know you're growing up when you start to see more inevitabilities than possibilities.
CARSON: There are no easy days, sir.
"No one in my entire life has ever told me I have a big heart."
I touch the hand she has braced on her knee, just for a few second, and say, "Then no one in your entire life has been paying much attention."
STELLA AND RYAN:
As she walks away, he calls out, "I thought you don't date."
"I thought you were going to sweep me off my feet."
"Do you ever think that maybe that's all people do? Fix some things and break others? And we all just live in this giant cycle where we screw things up and hurt people we love, and then we turn around and try to atone for that by fixing other things. And maybe we're all just waiting on our turn for a broken heart and the person who will fix it."
"I think I break more than I fix."
"The only thing we can do is try to find people whose scars compliment our own. And I'm pretty sure Carson McClain would carry your baggage around the world and back if you asked him."
See more reviews for All Lined Up here: Goodreads All Lined Up