Aces Up by Lauren Barnholdt is not at all like I'd expected it to be. From the cover, I really expected some light, flirtiness playing poker. And while there is poker, and there are relationships in this book, I found both aspects to be quite surprising.
Our main character in this story is Shannon Card. She's 17 and she's just been accepted for early admission into Wellesley College. It's a huge thing for her, she's been working so hard for this for such a long time. But, in order for things to work out with the college of her dreams, Shannon must stockpile a lot of money. And quickly. Her dad has just lost his job and there is no way that her parents could cover the cost of tuition. In desperation, Shannon makes some very iffy decisions.
The thing about this book, was that even though inwardly I kept shouting at Shannon 'NOOO, don't do THAT' I could still really believe in her as a character and felt like the choices she made were done in a way that I could relate to and sympathise with.
So, with a tuition bill of nearly 30,000 dollars, what would you? Would you buy a fake ID and birth certificate from the shady guy at school? Would you get a job waitressing at the local casino? Would you agree to be a member of this secret-poker group, Aces Up? Would the fact that the person asking, Cole, is super hot make the decision easier or harder to decide, do you think? Shannon is all set to say no to Cole's offer. The quick and easy money seems a pretty big tempation, but it is only after Shannon is rejected by her long-term crush, Max, that she seems keen to try Aces Up. And soon everything seems to spiral out of control, as her lies start building up, and Shannon gets into a bigger mess than she'd realised. Both in her love life and in the choices she has made regarding school, her family, her job and with Aces Up.
The thing I think I loved the best about this book were the relationships that Shannon has with the people in her life. Her sister, Robyn, was really great and supportive. I found Shannon's almost frenemies-style relationship with Parvati to be interesting and fun to find out more. Mackenzie was an absolute gem of a character. I love people who are very surprising and outspoken and fun like Mackenzie is! Of course, Cole is one to watch out for. But it was Max who is was the surprise of the book for me. I was desperate to unravel more of the history between him and Shannon and find out how everything went so horribly wrong between them!
All in all, this was a very surprising read! I shall be picking up more books by Lauren Barnholdt in the future.