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Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

I’ll start off, up front, by saying The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein is a great book. But who would expect less from the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.

Fifteen year old Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart has returned home for summer break to help her mother and grandmother pack up their household. Her grandfather’s recent death and the realization that they had lost their fortune forced them to sell their centuries old castle, Strathfearn, near Perth, Scotland to a school and construction was under way to convert the house and property to its new use. On her first day home, lying on Drookit Stane, a standing stone in the River Fearn, she is hit over the head and is unconscious for several days. Euen McEwen, a Traveller, a nomadic Scottish group, found her and brought her to the hospital.

Simultaneously, Professor Hugh Housman who was cataloging the antiquities of the household, mysteriously disappears. Julia remembers seeing him in the river, naked, prior to being clonked on the head and many feared that he had drowned, either on purpose (since his advances were recently rebuffed by Solange, Julia’s governess) or by accident.

The Pearl Thief is an amazing story combining Scottish folklore with a coming of age story with a little history with a small mystery. It takes place during the summer of 1938. The Travelers or Tinkers as they’re called (since many sell tin and other metals), are similar to gypsies and have that same derogatory connotation. They are not well regarded by the Scots yet have a long history in the land. The McEwens, especially, were friends with the Stuarts and Julia’s and Euen’s mothers played together as young children.

Wein contrasts the ‘haves’ of Julia’s upper crust gentry status with the ‘have nots’ the McEwens who live from day to day, traveling to where there is work, typically farming. Yet it is the Travelers whose philosophy it is that it is better to give than to receive.

Part of the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Wein is her descriptions–of the land, the history, the mythology. Her story traps you and her language reels you in. I can’t give this book and Wein’s other young adult books, enough accolades.

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Alice bought Teddy a lottery ticket for his 18th birthday. It was a lark, a gag gift. But of course, as you can guess, it was a winning ticket–$141 million, $50+ million if taken in a lump sum.  Both Alice and Teddy have had their share of trouble. Alice’s parents died when she was young, within 13 months of each other. At the age of nine, she was uprooted from her California home and relocated to Chicago, to live with her Uncle Jake (her dad’s brother), Aunt Sophia and cousin Leo. Teddy’s gambler father walked out on him and his mother, draining their bank accounts, forcing them to move into a small one bedroom apartment, pinching pennies to get by. So, they deserve something good to happen.

Alice, in unrequited love with Teddy for ages, hopes that the Teddy she knows and loves is unchanged with his new found wealth, but of course, that isn’t the case. Suddenly he’s on a buying spree, buying everything he doesn’t need.

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith (author of The Comeback Season,  Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between, The Geography of You and Me, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, among others)  is a ‘self discovery’ book. Alice, having a idealized memory of her parents, is trying to please them by doing volunteer work and applying to Stanford where her mother got accepted but could not attend. Is this what she really wants?

Her cousin Leo’s boyfriend is attending college in Michigan, where Leo is applying. But is that what he really wants?

And Teddy is spending money like he’s got millions, with no particular goal. Is that what he really wants?

The three teenagers all learn who they are and what family is in Windfall. As you read, I doubt you’ll be surprised by the end. It’s what you’d expect. It’s what I expected, but not what I wanted. I’m a big Jennifer E. Smith fan, beginning with her first book The Comeback Season, and you’re guaranteed a fun, readable story. But, in this instance, I wanted a surprise ending. I wanted her to go out on a limb. I wanted her to give us the unexpected, but I didn’t get it and that disappointed me. While the cliche is “it’s the journey, not the destination”,  in this instance I wanted the destination to warrant the journey and I didn’t quite get it. But still, I did have fun along the way.

SPOILER (maybe)

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I was rooting for the underdog!

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Sawyer!!!!!

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Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, has penned a very readable second novel, The Upside of Unrequited. In my review of the first book I said, “If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” I’d pretty much have to say the same for The Upside of Unrequited.

Molly and Cassie are the twin daughters of lesbians Patty and Nadine. Cassie is cute and decidedly gay. Molly is somewhat overweight and decidedly straight. Early in the book, Cassie meets Mina and  quickly falls for her. Molly, on the other hand, has had 27 crushes but has never been kissed and never had a boyfriend. Mina and Cassie try to set Molly up with Will, Mina’s best friend but there’s no chemistry. Molly, on the other hand, likes dorky Reid, a co-worker at the store at which she has a summer job. Is this going to be crush number 28?

Albertalli tackles several issues in The Upside of Unrequited: twins growing apart when one is in a relationship and the other isn’t, the insecurities of girls whose figures don’t meet the societal norm of pretty or sexy, the legalization of gay marriage. All of this is done in an easy to read, fun story. Readers will like the characters. The situations are real. The writing is descriptive.

Any reader who likes young adult romance can’t go wrong.

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The Sun is Also a Star, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award, by Nicola Yoon is a new spin on love at first sight, love in a day, etc. Natasha Kingsley is trying to save her family from deportation back to Jamaica. Daniel Jae Won Bae is on his way to get his haircut before his Yale admissions interview when fate intervenes. Seeing her from afar, he is intrigued by her, her huge afro, her absorption in the music she’s listening to through her big headphones.

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Shy, he can’t go up to her and introduce himself, but fate steps in again when he saves her from being hit by a car as she crosses the street. Daniel, the poet, has fallen in love. Natasha, the pragmatist and scientist, hasn’t come close.

But, events work themselves out and they spend the day together. Yoon not only tells their story, but also ancillary stories: the security guard at USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service), the secretary for Natasha’s immigration lawyer, their parents and siblings. Chapters alternate between Daniel and Natasha, with asides about various people, theories, etc.

Yoon also explores the complicated Korean American family dynamics and Jamaican American family dynamics–the thought of greener pastures in America and the wish of immigrants that their children have a better life than they had.

Will Daniel go to Yale? Will Natasha stay in the United States? Will it require a parallel universe to keep these lovebirds together? The only way you’ll know is by reading The Sun is Also a Star.

For a similar, totally enjoyable book about love in a day, try Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

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OK, so I have to put my two cents in. Is The Sun is Also a Star award worthy or finalist worthy? I don’t know. It certainly was an enjoyable read. The characters suck you in and never let go. It does deal with complicated issues such as family dynamics, parents forcing careers on their children, deportation, love. Yet, despite this, I found the book to be light and fluffy. Since both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award are “literary” awards, I’m not sure The Sun is Also a Star fits the categories. If this was a popularity contest, by all means. So, you decide for yourself. Let me know your thought.

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The best way to describe What Light by Jay Asher is that it is suitable for one of those Hallmark or Lifetime Channel cheesy Christmas romance movies. So, the less said about it the better.

Synopsis: Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. From Thanksgiving through Christmas they relocate to California to sell the trees. The farm and lot have been in the family for generations.

As a result of this lifestyle, Sierra has two sets of friends, one set in each state and gets emotional every time she has to leave one for the other. She’s also avoided entanglements in California, knowing she’s a short timer.

This year is the exception. She meets Caleb, a boy with a shady past. Her overly protective father, now has cause to be even more protective.

What Light is ready made for TV, cheesy plot, semi-tearjerker ending, set at holiday time. Quite the change from Asher’s overly serious, suicidal Thirteen Reasons Why. I had nothing else to read so I kept going, but luckily I’m not diabetic because the sugary sweetness of the book would have put me in a coma.

If you go for this sort of book (guilty pleasure or not), go for it. Otherwise read Sarah Dessen or Emory Lord or Morgan Matson.

The end.

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Although The Warden’s Daughter is about a child growing up inside prison walls, the resemblance to Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts ends there. The latter is a humorous book, with some serious overtones while the former is a sensitive look at a girl looking for a mother, with some humor included.

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Cammie’s mother sacrificed her own life to save Cammie, when she was just an infant, from being hit by a milk truck. Her mother pushed the carriage Cammie was in across the street, while taking the full impact of the vehicle. Cammie incurred only minor bruises.

Since then she and her father have had a series of ‘trustees’, responsible convicts, tend their house, cook their meals, dust and clean. At age 12, however, Cammie decides she needs a real mother and Eloda Pupko, the current trustee, is a good choice. Yet no matter how much she cajoles, schemes, manipulates, Eloda keeps her distance, remains aloof.

The story is told by Cammie when she is in her mid-60s (although it is not always apparent). It story evokes 1959, on the cusp of Cammie’s thirteenth birthday. American Bandstand and the songs of the late 50s play a big role and will bring back memories to those adults choosing to read The Warden’s Daughter.

But Eloda and Cammie, a confused twelve year old with flowing hormones which make her irrational at times, are the main characters. Eloda is the gruff but caring housekeeper and Cammie is the unhappy almost teen who gets excited one minute about her best friend, Reggie, getting on American Bandstand and the next is kicking all of her friends out of her birthday sleepover because one of them starts crying because she forgot to bring a toothbrush and her mother won’t let her use any but her own.

Jerry Spinelli, known for Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, always comes up with a good story. The Warden’s Daughter is sensitive and fun and shows there is a good side to everyone.

 

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What happens when two people are attracted to each other, but only one knows a secret that can strain that attraction? Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake delves into this subject and comes to a realistic, not a sugary sweet, conclusion.

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Sam and Hadley come from broken homes. Each had a parent who had had an affair, the result of which dramatically altered their families and their lives. Each ultimately moved from their home town of Nashville to a suburb, Woodmont. Each blames the offending parent for ruining their lives. Hadley finds comfort in hooking up with random guys, showing no interest in developing any kind of relationship. Sam just blows up.

The two are paired for an English assignment. Hadley, having learned that a boy she hooked up with at a party had a girl friend (she does have some scruples) trusts no boys. Sam has heard a bit about Hadley’s reputation and is dubious. But there is an attraction, only Sam knows something that could doom any budding relationship.

Sam, his younger sister, Olivia, and his best friend Ajay, as well as Hadley and her best friend, Kat, make a good ensemble cast. Their reactions to the philandering adults is understandable, however, the adults’ reactions to their children is hard to understand. Everyone is emotional. Everyone is upset. But still…

I give the author credit for not necessarily taking the easy way out, but coming up with a realistic ending. My only criticism with the book: it was 50 pages too long. By the end, I was skimming.

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