Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Samantha is a stranger in her own life. Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all-popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.
Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her that night. As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it's one she no longer wants any part of. The old Sam took "mean girl" to a whole new level, and it's clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies. Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery. She's getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she's falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her-even if the old Sam treated him like trash.
But Cassie is still missing, and the facts about what happened to her that night isn't just buried deep inside of Sam's memory-someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet. All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on. But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?
What I Liked:
Ahhh, what a great book! I'm so glad that I liked it. Usually when I want to read a book SO BADLY, for what seems like FOREVER, I get so afraid of reading it, and then I don't read it, or keep waiting to read it even after I get a copy, or end up not reading it. Terrible, I know, but that's what "self-hype" does (hyping up a book for yourself?). Of course, this book had a lot of hype surrounding it, from the publisher, other reviewers, and the fact that it's JLA. So. I'm really glad I liked it.
This is a whodunit book with a twist. Honestly, at first, it was so much like Far From You by Tess Sharpe (a fellow Disney-Hyperion April 2014 release). I just read that book last week, so it was still fresh. Both books start with the aftermath, and both heroines are very, very confused. In Far From You, the protagonist remembers though. In this book, Samantha can't even remember her own name.
This is one thing that Armentrout portrays beautifully - Samantha's amnesia. It feels so very real throughout the book. This book is part real, part psychological, and Armentrout nailed both, but especially the psychological aspect. This book gets twisted and creepy, in terms of what Samantha sees (and eventually, what she thinks she sees).
It's interesting how radical Samantha's personality change is, but I believe it. Brain injuries and amnesia are tough, as well as shock and stress to a person's system. I would have HATED Samantha's old personality (who LIKES those types of girls? No one.), but I admired her new personality. She is NOT like 99% of Armentrout's other heroines - overly feisty/snarky, somewhat forced into that fiery nature. New Samantha is a little more subdued and quietly determined. I like this, and I REALLY like that Armentrout finally decided to give her heroine a new personality. Because in all seriousness, if you took away the names of Armentrout's heroines, they would all sound THE SAME. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Samantha seems different though, so that's good.
This story is quite different from Armentrout's other stories, which is nice. Instead of something paranormal- or romance-based, we have a psychological and mysterious type of plot. Who killed Cassie and hurt Samantha? Is what Samantha seeing real, or hallucination? It's interesting to see those two plots at work. There is also Samantha's assimilation at school - it's very different, because everyone still thinks she is a horrible, cruel person, but now everyone thinks she is crazy, and that she had something to do with Cassie's death.
So that's one of the reasons why I REALLY liked this book - it's complex, and not in a we-must-save-the-town/world way, like all of Armentrout's paranormal/supernatural books have been. It's also not a sexy-male-quiet-but-spunky-female-who-is-messed-up-let's-have-sex kind of a book, like all of Armentrout's romance books have been. It's different, more original.
The hero (male protagonist) is different as well. Apparently, Old Samantha treated Carson Ortiz like crap, but when they were younger, they were friends. Then Samantha changed and became friends with Cassie, and basically kicked Carson to the curb. So their relationship isn't a heated I-hate-you-but-love-you angry type, but it's also not the smoldering lusty one either. They have a beautiful history, and great chemistry, but that isn't something primary in this book. It also doesn't "happen" until late in the story.
But back to Carson. He isn't your alpha male. He isn't a mouthy, dirty-joking-cracking wise-a** who could also double as a jerk. He isn't a "bad boy". Basically, he isn't ANY of Armentrout's male characters. I had the same problem with her male characters - take away their names, and compare them. They're all glorified sexy jerks, right? Except maybe Jase (Be With Me). But Carson is down to earth, kind, and patient. He isn't rude or arrogant or "bad". He is quite sexy though, but in a less typical-Armentrout-male-protagonist way.
I already touched on the romance a little - how it is not the at forefront of the plot, and that it doesn't really "happen" until late in the book. I like this. It *works*, in terms of what Samantha and Carson are like, and the nature of their friendship and relationship. And definitely when it comes to all that Samantha is struggling with.
So, the climax, the wrap-up? I won't give anything away, but it's pretty crazy. Things get messy as the book goes along, but the very end of the book is INSANE. I like that Armentrout wraps up everything, and I wasn't left with any questions. This is how a standalone novel should be - especially a mystery. Bravo, Armentrout! You've broken out of several molds - this is good.
What I Did Not Like:
I honestly can't think of anything specific that I didn't like, which makes writing this section really easy. But, as always, if I think of anything, I'll edit my review and add it.
Would I Recommend It:
I would highly recommend this book! It is so much more original than most of JLA's other books, if that helps convince anyone. I know I've complained a lot about her heroines and heroes being extremely cookie-cutter similar, and their relationships being formulaic, but I'm glad to see the change in this book. ENTIRELY in this book. Like, the boy isn't some mouthy sexy smoldering jerk, and the heroine isn't some snarky feisty hot female. Yay for a more original story and characters! And this book was great - ignoring JLA's other works. I really enjoyed this book.
5 stars. This is probably my new favorite JLA book (followed by White Hot Kiss). I feel like up until these two books (and the prequel novella for White Hot Kiss), I didn't absolutely LOVE JLA's books. I enjoyed them, or really liked them (Obsidian, Onyx), or maybe didn't like them at all, but this one and the Dark Elements books are quality. More original.
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