Goodreads summary (abbreviated):
Behind the creepy castle-like exterior of Birchtree academy is the sound of gossip, back
stabbing and malice. When Zara’s dad takes on the new principal job at
the elite boarding school, Zara knows she’ll be an outsider. She dreams
of true love and marriage instead of possible frenemies and secrets.
Definitely not Birchtree material.
In the cusp of everything are
the twins. Oliver and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nixon are renowned for their
different – yet equally effective – methods of torture. And both have
their eyes set on goody, goody Zara.Will she fall under their spell? Will friendship and raw desire cause her to re-think her values? Or will Zara change theirs?
Rarely does a book surprise me as much as Riley Gray's Laced In Malice did. In the ten minutes it took me to read the first chapter, I was hooked. By what, you ask? The descriptive train ride through the English countryside? Umm...no. By the main character's texts with her mum? Aside: even though I'm not English, I have an itching desire to start using the word Mum. Definitely no. By the sexy, leather clad, cigarette-smoking hotty who got a nice verbal backhand from the MC when he propositioned her for a quickie. *insert shifty eyebrows* Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner.
In a nutshell, I think guys who sleep around and use women are creepy (doesn't everybody?). But I loved that Gray was able to take this stock character, the man whore, and change him into something real. Oliver comes across as intelligent, not just because he's in the highest classes but because *gasp* Gray actually makes him sound intelligent! He actually has a well-thought out explanation for why casual sex is okay. Now, I'm not saying that I bought his excuses, I'm saying that Gray made me believe that he believed them. And in the process, like Zara, I was eager for him to see how wrong he was. Everything else about Oliver puts him in the "yes please" category. He was charming, polite, a writer (GOD yes!!), and knowing that I was going to see this sexy and intelligent young man change his tune hooked me to the story. But I don't want to leave you thinking that Oliver didn't make me want to pull my hair out or slap him silly because I did want to do both those things at various points in the story. And in the end, I wasn't entirely sure of his motivations. I kept flip-flopping, was he really just into Zara because she was an unattainable conquest or did he honestly care about her? Was he a victim too or was he hiding something BIG? I'm not going to give the story away, but I will say that Gray did an excellent job of giving his character enough depth that I loved him even while I was never 100% sure of him.
Now, Zara. Admittedly, she comes across as a goody two shoes (as it says in the summary), but she also had a tongue on her that I admired. She could give it back to Oliver just as easily as he gave it to her. I was rooting for her from the start. But there were moments in the story where I was scratching my head and wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her so she'd wake up. Thankfully, a few chapters after I had that moment of thinking, 'you're so stupid', she had me questioning whether I was the one who had to be shaken awake. Zara was too trustworthy, but at the same time, she made me realize that I am too. I asked myself, if I were in Zara's shoes would I have tried to brush aside my misgivings about the people I called friends? Would I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt? Sadly, the answer is probably yes. I am, like Zara, a bit naive. The good thing is that I like characters who can make me see flaws in my own, and Zara did this, so two thumbs up for her.
Together: so here's a bit of analysis that I hope will give you an extra incentive to buy this book. 50 Shades of Gray. I haven't read it. I have no desire to read it. But I have read countless discussions of it, and there's one thing they all seem to agree on. The plot line of the girl turning a guy around and making him into a worthy man is the success of that book (well along with the sex and I'll get to that in a moment). I think the same could be said of Laced In Malice. I was so so eager to see Zara turn Oliver around or for them to come to some sort of middle ground. Like I said, I'm not a 50 Shades fan, nor do I want to be one, but if you're looking for a toned-down version of that book, and a better written one, then I say look no further. Laced in Malice delivers.
The sex. Well, I had to bring this up because of the 50 Shades reference above, and I want to be fair both to the author and to my readers. Individually, I'd say that I've come across scenes in other young adult books that are just as intense as the ones here. The difference I think comes with the fact that there are more scenes of this type in Laced In Malice. It is not erotica by any means, but it does give the book a heavier sexual draw than most other young adult books I've read. I hate to put an age limit on books, but for those who want to know what it's like, that pretty much sums it up.
Finally, I feel like all I've talked about is the relationship between Zara and Oliver, and while that was a driving force as to why I loved this book and read it in one day, it wasn't the only one. I really loved the mystery/thriller aspect that Gray set up. I had my suspicions as to what was happening, but I was never 100% sure of who to trust. Like I said above, I kept flip flopping. Back and forth. Back and forth. I don't think I've gotten sea sick by a book before, but this one gave me that experience! Yay to Gray for excellent writing that keeps the reader guessing. And then... the ending! GAH!!!!!! MISS GRAY, YOU HAD BETTER SET YOUR BUTT DOWN AND START WRITING THE SEQUEL!!! Yes, I can say that because she's a friend of mine, but that in no way taints my review. Those who know me know that I'm stingy with my 5 stars, and Laced In Malice deserves them all.
Summary: five stars. Buy it now!