Book Review: Aces Up by Lauren Barnholdt

Aces UpTitle: Aces Up (Amazon)
Author: Lauren Barnholdt
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
Published: August 2010 by Delacorte Books

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She's been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon's dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler's lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn't made even half the money she'd hoped.

When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn't react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.

Soon Shannon's caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money's this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?

This fun, sexy, recession-proof story is a bubbly summer read with surprising depth—great for fans of Sarah Mlynowski.

My Thoughts
When I found out that Lauren Barnholdt had an upcoming YA novel about a love triangle mixed in with a bit of poker, I knew it was going to be right up my alley. I really enjoyed reading Two-Way Street, also by Lauren Barnholdt, so I knew I had to read Aces Up.

Seventeen year old Shannon Card (I like how her last name fits with the theme of the book) needs to get a job to pay for college. Her father recently got laid off from his job, his car got repossessed and he had to sell his beloved boat. Needless to say there’s no college fund waiting for her. Shannon doesn’t just get any job, she gets a job at a casino as a cocktail waitress where she can make the big bucks. And because one would have to be 21 years old or older to work in a casino, Shannon has to get a fake ID.

Soon after starting her job, she gets an invitation to an exclusive club - Aces Up. She is sought out by Cole, the leader of the secret club, because of her amazing math skills. Shannon doesn’t know how to play poker but Cole teaches her the basics and hones her craft using mathematical strategies.

Then there’s Max, Shannon’s best friend since they were little but the two have been divided after an awkward almost-kiss moment. Max has moved on with another girl and the friendship between him and Shannon is on hiatus. Then Max asks Shannon to tutor him in math but chemistry seems to be the topic at hand, if you catch my drift.

Shannon is making loads of money from gambling in the casino using her newly acquired skills but it’s still not enough to get her into college. Cole wants her to join him and his crew in a poker tournament, where they will basically need to cheat in order to win. Shannon is caught between a rock and a hard place and has a decision to make; either go with Cole’s plan or do the right thing and rat him out.

Aces Up reminded me of the movie 21, except in this book the game is poker – Texas Hold’em style. I think one of the reasons I liked this book so much is that I love playing Texas Hold’em (even though the hubs beats me most of the time…although I can pull off a good bluff every once in a while). Barnholdt does a great job at setting up the game rules for the reader, however, the storyline doesn’t center around poker hands.

I liked the ending; it wasn’t what I had expected but it played out well. Aces Up definitely lived up to my expectations. From the beginning, all the way to the end, I was drawn into Shannon’s world. I swallowed this book down in one gulp. Barnholdt’s books do that to me; they capture me and reel me in. She has mastered the art of tapping into a young adult mind. Reading her books make me feel 17 again, which in essence, is why I enjoy reading YA.

Most of us read books to escape and Aces Up was a great escape. This book is a perfect fit for a summer read. It’s a fast-paced, fun and entertaining read that will leave you wondering how everything is going to play out. Aces Up gets your adrenaline going; like when you’re holding pocket rockets and the flop is laid down with a pair of hockey sticks and a deuce. You’re sweating it out, waiting for that boat to come your way and it all comes down to that river card. Like with any of Barnholdt’s books, I’m all in baby!

The Book Vixen’s Rating

About Brianna: Supermom by day, naughty reader by night. Addicted to chocolate, Twitter, her iPad, her Kindle, and 99¢ Kindle deals. You can follow Brianna on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.


  1. Great review.
    Sounds like a very interesting book.

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  2. Now this sounds like a lot of fun!

  3. Nice review, sounds like a good book! The last paragraph of your review made me LOL :)

  4. great review, I will have to try it out even though I wasn't a huge fan of Two Way Street


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