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Not If I Save You First Great Choice for Holiday Reading

I dedicated the bulk of October to researching and outlining the next manuscript I planned to write. I’ve never been much of a “plotter” but tend to write more as it comes to mind or “pantser” style. November is known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) and I intended to participate with the goal of writing 50,000 words this month. Sounds great right?

Then I spent four days bedridden with a horrid case of shingles which caused my eye to swell closed. As illness scrapped my writing plans, I decided to use the month to read more of the genre I wanted to write, suspense. I hit up our local library and perused the racks of new fiction. I love to read Christian fiction, but I also trend into mainstream work as well. As a writer, knowing what’s selling and what readers enjoy reading helps me to craft a story and characters that not only accomplish my goals but also actually make it onto bookstore shelves.

Fiction, much like television and movies, often contains content that I’m not interested in filling up my mind. I am particularly wary of media that contains a lot of foul language or erotic scenes. If I’m watching television I can turn the show off or watch something else. If I’m reading a book I downloaded from the library’s free ebook app I can quickly return it and choose another book. Checking out a book from the library feels different though. Once that book leaves the building with me, I’m committed. We also had a week long trip planned and I couldn’t risk being caught with books I couldn’t read.

So as I read jacket covers, I also skimmed the content looking for that objectionable language and explicit scenes. Two of the books I chose had some foul language but nothing worse than I’d hear on prime time television these days. I’ve not written book reviews on my website but I thought I’d give it a try. I’m starting with the last book in the group that I read because I think it would appeal the most to my readers, which is mostly my mom and my sisters.

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter features sixteen-year-old Maddie, the daughter of a former secret service agent, and Logan, the son of the President of the United States. First, let's be clear, I love any television show, movie or book that involves the President. The West Wing continues to be one of my all-time favorite television shows. When I read the book jacket, I was already in and the fact that it landed on the New York Times bestseller list confirmed my choice.

In recent months I’ve read a lot about the designation of books as Middle Grade (which usually feature a protagonist 9-12 years old) and Young Adult (which usually features teen or early 20s characters). Some adult readers look down their noses at these books writing them off as not serious fiction. Please don’t make this mistake.

While the main characters are both 16, the plot and pacing are sophisticated enough to keep the attention of this 40-year-old. Let’s not forget that most Americans read on a 7th-grade level (or at least that’s what I was taught in journalism school) so the language of YA books is on the same level as other mainstream fiction.

One of my favorite parts of Not If I Save You First is Maddie’s voice. She understands survival skills better than most adults but just as her clever ideas make you forget she’s sixteen she throws in a few “totallys” and flips of her hair to remind you. The antagonist clearly underestimates her and I love to see her use her feminine charms and teenage moodiness as her most potent weapons.

If you’re looking for a book for a teen or young adult or older adult who enjoys suspense, I highly recommend this book. Plot twists and suspense kept me guessing and Carter fills in the gaps of our knowledge at just the right time. You don’t have to worry about explicit scenes or a ton of violence, although it is a suspense so there are a few injuries, and the language is pretty clean.

If you’d like to hear slightly more about the plot than the book jacket includes, read on for a spoiler-free intro.

At age twelve Maddie and Logan formed what they believed to be a lifelong friendship. They explored our nation’s most famous home as only twelve-year-olds can. Until (there’s always an until) Logan’s mother was almost kidnapped in a back hallway and the two BFF’s witnessed the entire thing. They more than witnessed the kidnapping. Logan’s “panic button” drew the attention of the secret service (i.e. Maddie’s father) who save the First Lady and killed a Russian operative. Both Maddie’s father and Logan found the wrong end of a bullet in the process but lived to tell the story.

Before Maddie’s father completed his hospital stay, he resigned from the Secret Service and upon his release promptly moved he and Maddie to the middle of nowhere Alaska for no obvious reason. Fast forward six years, a sixteen-year-old Maddie has adapted to life in the arctic cold with no one nearby and her father away for a day or two at a time. She’s a girly girl who loves to paint her nails but also knows the best way to start a fire in the dead of winter with only a few sticks and some nail polish remover.

Logan, on the other hand, hasn’t fared so well. Without Maddie’s camaraderie, he’s made a game of slipping his Secret Service detail and creating havoc all over the world. Fed up with his shenanigans his father ships him to Alaska to live life unplugged with Maddie and her father.

The catch? Maddie and Logan haven’t seen each other or even spoken in six years. In fact, Maddie hasn’t heard a word from Logan even though she wrote him faithfully for two years. She reacts just as you’d expect a sixteen-year-old girl to react. She intends to punish him for his silence by teaching him what life in Alaska with no electricity, no running water, and no other people is all about.

Until an assailant shoves her down a cliff and leaves her for dead while dragging Logan away all as a terrible winter storm approaches. With no time to call for help, Maddie heads into the storm to save him.

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