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Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

When Lina’s mother, photographer Hadley Emerson, is on her death bed, she makes Lina promise her one thing: that she will spend a year in Florence. Hadley’s year there was the best year she ever had. She then begins talking about Howard, a boyfriend who still lives in Florence, who she has never mentioned in Lina’s seventeen year life. Lina begins to wonder why Howard is being brought up all of the sudden.

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Hadley dies in the middle of the school term and Lina decides to finish out the term living at her best friend Addie’s house. Before she is reluctantly ready to go, her grandmother tells her that Howard is actually her father. How could this be…that he could be her father and never, ever contacted her?

It is with reluctance and trepidation that Lina flies off to meet her father for the first time.

There is something to be said for the predictable…as long as it’s readable, both of which are Love & Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch’s debut novel. Of course, how could you be in Florence (or any part of Italy for that matter) and not meet up with romance and heartbreak? Lina meets up with both.

Welch also throws in a few (predictable) curves but that doesn’t diminish Love & Gelato‘s enjoyment factor. Lina and her love interest, Ren, are good characters, as is Howard. If you’ve ever been to Italy (as I was a long, long time ago), the book conjures up some of those long forgotten memories and visuals.

And you can’t forget the taste of gelato. Even thinking about it makes my mouth water. So, even though winter is closing in, there is always room for gelato…and love.

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When We Collided by Emery Lord begins with Vivi throwing her pill over the cliff into the ocean and carving “Vivi Was Here” in an old tree trunk. From this beginning we, the readers, are waiting for the inevitable crash in Vivi’s life because we can make an educated guess as to what that pill was supposed to do.

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Vivi should stand for vivacious (which according to the Merriam Webster dictionary derives from the Latin verb vivere or ‘to live’). She is the embodiment of it: sparkling, effervescent and spontaneous. And exactly the opposite of Jonah who, eight months after his father’s unexpected death, is trying with his two older siblings to keep the family of seven together. His mother stays in bed mostly. The ‘littles’ need to be dressed, fed, taken to school. Yet somehow this unlikely couple seems to work, partly because Vivi has seen some dark days.

Vivi is new to Verona Cove, having come from Seattle to spend the summer, and she loves it. It is a quaint little town; one you can really feel at home in, and Vivi wastes no time making her “Vivi Was Here” mark on the town. She inserts herself into the breakfast routine of loner police officer Hayashi while deciding to try the coffee shop breakfast menu in alphabetical order. She gets a job at the local potter’s shop. She envelopes Jonah’s family, having a profound impact on little Leah. Yet we know, the edge of the cliff is approaching.

Narrated in alternating first person chapters by Vivi and Jonah, When We Collided is the story of a remarkable girl and her impact on those around her. While having a major romantic element as do all of Emery Lord’s books, it also has a serious side to it as well, and in her Author’s Note at the end of When We Collided, Lord talks about mental illness, personalizes it, and provides relevant resources.

Emery Lord is part of my triumvirate of teen romance novelists, in the partnership of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson.  So I would heartily suggest you read Open Road Summer and The Start of Me and You. And in her author bio at the end of the book, she says she lives with a blind beagle and a spaniel, so she obviously loves dogs. My kind of person.

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On a side note, Matson has a new book out entitled The Unexpected Everything. So there you have it. Your summer reading list has a great beginning.

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Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler is a warm-hearted coming of age story. Ashleigh Walker is going through a lot. Her parents are either silent with each other (and her) or bickering with each other. Living at home is intolerable. School is no better. It is what school has always been to teenagers: a boring pain. She has no boyfriend and no prospects.

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But things are about to change. At a party she meets Dylan, a cute boy who is interested in her. And at school, Miss Murray, the substitute English teacher is making English fun. Moreover, she seems to understand what teens, and especially Ashleigh, are going through. She seems to be able to look right inside Ashleigh and understand her emotions, her innermost thoughts and feelings. The more Ashleigh sees her, the more she wants to see Miss Murray. These feelings confuse her.

In an easy going but engrossing manner, Liz Kessler gets Ashleigh through her parents’ breakup, her sexual identity crisis and her friendships, both old and new. There was something about Read Me Like a Book that made me want to read it straight through. I didn’t, but only because I didn’t have the time.

Ashleigh and her best friend, Cat, are two extremes. The former is more reserved. The latter more wild. Somehow, the combination seems to work for both of them.

All of us need, but few of us find, someone who can read us like a book. It’s gratifying to know that Ashleigh found that person.

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If you want a great book about friendship, Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler is the perfect fit. No major realistic fiction issues. No abuse, neglect, rape, drugs, etc. Quite refreshing, actually.

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Reagan and Victoria are social outcasts for two vastly different reasons. Reagan is what most people would call trailer park trash, despite her 4.0 cum while putting in as many hours as possible at Joe’s diner. Vic on the other hand is of Latino descent in the lily white mid-Kansas town of Charytan. Having been expelled from school in Arizona, her professor parents moved the family to Kansas where they both found jobs at the local community college.

Despite their differing backgrounds, Reagan and Vic become fast friends, although each hide something of importance from the other. Having realized that the only way out of their personal hells is to go away to college, we come upon them (Vic actually) planning their college visits, knowing that they want to go to the same school and be roommates.

Reagan and Vic are a contrast in opposites. Reagan wears the same battered jeans and t-shirts while Vic is into fashion design, making her own clothes and looking gorgeous. Having been through a bad relationship, Reagan is avoiding boys while Vic wants to meet some hot boys. While Reagan is interested in classes and the library, Vic is interested in sororities.

To find out whether their dreams will be fulfilled and what stumbling blocks they encounter along the way (which they do, otherwise, why write the book?), you’d be wise to read Just Visiting, in some ways a more realistic portrayal of friendship and in some ways a more idealistic friendship. Nevertheless, we’d all be lucky to have such a friendship. In the meantime, let’s vicariously enjoy theirs.

P.S. A good end of summer beach read…Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend.

 

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Despite commitment issues…with trilogies, that is…I was convinced to read Madly by Amy Alward, the first in the Potion trilogy. I’m glad I did. Will I read volumes 2 and 3? I can’t commit!

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When Princess Evelyn mistakenly drinks the love potion she prepared for Zain, she falls in love with the first person she sees, which happens to be her reflection in a mirror. Of course the royal family can’t have this. Plus it’s wreaking havoc with her magic…and her life.

The King calls a Wilde Hunt, an ancient tradition in which alchemists the world over try to find the exact ingredients for the antidote, for anything less will kill Princess Evelyn. Taking place in the current century, the Hunt pits the Kemi family, primarily Samantha Kemi apprenticing as an alchemist to her grandfather, who hails from a long line of famous, old-school alchemists against the ZoroAster corporation, a manufacturer of synthetic potion ingredients.

Madly nicely blends the old and the new. Characters zip around in cars and trucks, fly on airplanes and teleport. They communicate via social media, telecasts, cell phones, etc. Yet they use Bunsen burners, test tubes, and mortars and pestles. They look for ingredients including flowers, unicorns, abominable snowmen…the things fairy tales are made of. There is danger at every turn.

And what would a fairy tale be, old or modern, without a wicked witch and a love interest, both of which are here in full force. For a fun read, fairy tale, adventure, romance, try Madly out. You may be bewitched.

 

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SoarJoan Bauer is one of my favorite authors. But there’s something else at play here and maybe you feel it as well. There are so many middle grade and YA books that deal with issues, serious issues, so when a book comes along that really has no serious issue, a totally feel good book, you sort of feel cheated. Soar by Joan Bauer is just such a book.

Twelve year old Jeremiah has been through a lot. Abandoned in a corporate snack room as an infant, he was taken in and ultimately adopted by Walt, one of the workers. At age ten, after months of illness and waiting, Jeremiah had a heart transplant. By age twelve he had lived in four cities and is about to move to Hillcrest, OH. An avid baseball fan, Jeremiah is unable to play baseball after the transplant because he can’t really exert himself. He decides he would like to coach. Hillcrest is perfect as it is known for its excellent high school baseball program. However, upon arrival Jeremiah finds the high school baseball coach embroiled in a steroid controversy, the program suspended and the middle school program non-existent. It is going to take all of Jeremiah’s coaching skills to resurrect middle school baseball.

Joan Bauer, author of books told from a middle AlmostHomeschool girl’s perspective, most recently Almost Home, has switched genders narrating Soar in Jeremiah’s first person voice. Soar is a feel good book in all respects. The steroid controversy, which is a serious issue,  takes second place to Jeremiah walking into a new school in March, gaining the respect of the middle school baseball team and coaching them to a respectable finish with minimal adult help and supervision. How many twelve year olds can do that? Middle school is tough, no matter what you think and middle school kids don’t readily take to the ‘new kid’ especially when the year is three quarters over. And how many school principals would let a twelve year old coach the baseball team?

Bauer makes no attempt to hide Walt’s budding relationship with Jeremiah’s cardiac doctor and well as Jeremiah’s ‘friendship’ with Franny from across the street. And Franny’s grandfather just happens to be a former baseball coach, who towards the end of the season is asked to coach the team. Hmmmm!!!!

Also, when Jeremiah visits the new cardiac doctor, she immediately adjusts his medication. Would any doctor do that without consulting the previous doctor who has been treating him for two years? I would hope not and unless Walt’s crush has taken over his common sense, neither should he.

But these are questions raised by an adult reading a middle grade book. What kid would think of them?

Readers who like sports action will find little of it in Soar. Instead, they will find a boy determined to overcome the odds and that’s the reason, as is true with all Joan Bauer books, Soar belongs in every middle school book collection. Because there are kids who strive to overcome the odds against them and kids need to read about them, issues be damned. It may be sappy and it may smack of sugar, but you know what, every now and then you need your sugar fix. Soar will take care of that.

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Willowdean’s mother has a pet name for her: Dumplin’. Although it’s a term of endearment, when a girl is overweight, it’s also a constant reminder of her body. Luckily, she only uses the term Dumplin in the house. Knowing that her mother once won and now organizes the  Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant only makes Willow more cognizant of the way she looks and adds to her concern that she is not living up to her mother’s standards.

In the summer between sophomore and junior year Willowdean is working at the fast food store, Harpy’s. Working in the kitchen is the gorgeous Bo Larsen who all the girls lust after. When he starts paying attention to her, she gets nervous. Why would a gorgeous guy like him take an interest in her…that’s what everyone would say, she thinks.

It has been six months since her Aunt Lucy passed away. Lucy, obese at 500 lbs., died as a result of a heart attack. While going through her night table, Willowdean finds a blank application to enter the 1994 Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. The rules do not require entrants to be pencil thin with long straight blond hair, etc. The only thing it requires is parental consent. Thinking that Lucy let her dreams pass her by, Willowdean vows not to let the same thing happen to her and she enters the pageant (after guilting her mother into consenting), which convinces several of the other high school outcasts to enter as well.  However, it also prompts her best friend, Ellen, to enter which defeats the whole purpose. Ellen could actually win. Before she can stop herself, Willowdean tries to get El to withdraw, which she will not do and which causes a rift in their friendship.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is the story of ‘misfits’ who are comfortable with themselves for the most part. Willowdean’s friends (Millie, Amanda and Hannah) all have something a school bully (i.e. Patrick Thomas) would love to pick on and he does. Yet they they pay him no heed and do what they need/want to do.

The message I got from Dumplin’ is that it’s time to change the norm and it is starting very slowly. France is the most recent entry into the small (what I’ll call elite) group of countries banning ultra thin models, joining Israel, Spain and Italy. Why does someone need to look undernourished to be considered beautiful? Why can’t someone with a limp be beautiful or have teeth that haven’t been capped or orthodontured?

Julie Murphy makes her point in a fun book. The ending is believable. The feelings of Mille, Amanda and Hannah also ring true. While it might be a light-hearted look at a serious issue, it is sensitive and realistic. A great book!

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InfiniteInfinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler is getting starred reviews. Jake, Mia, Whitney, Zoe and Gregor are grouped together at high school orientation in rural upstate New York. They must think of a project that will bond them together and be accomplished that afternoon. They decide to write a letter to their future selves, hide it somewhere in the school and meet after graduation under the basketball hoop in the school yard to read their letters.

Infinite In Between follows the quintet through four years of high school, going their separate ways and coming back together. The teens run the gamut: a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl, a daughter of a movie star (constantly in rehab) who is living with her aunt and a stereotypical teen guy. Their experiences run the gamut from illness to dating complications to sexual identity to college applications to getting drivers licenses to getting pregnant to alcohol consumption. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any issue Mackler left out. (That could be one of my issues with the book.)VeganVirginValentine

The story is told by month over the four years with short chapters about various quintet members.
As with other Mackler titles, (I’ve read The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Vegan Virgin Valentine, Love and Other Four Letter Words, and The Future of Us co-written with Jay Asher) her current title is extremely readable. It’s a fast read despite its 400+ pages. Each and every character, with one exception, is likable (possibly another issue I have with the book).

TheEarthMyButtIf a starred review means you like a book and want to read it to find out what happens, then Infinite in Between earned its stars. However, if a starred review means it’s a fantastic, well written, can’t see how it could have been much better book, then it falls short. As I said earlier, Mackler packed virtually every teen issue into this book. That might, and I said might, have been OK if she’d tackled the issues, but 90% of them turned out happily-no muss, no fuss, no bother. What’s more, she treats a high school girl getting pregnant and the father having no responsibility with equal weight as getting a drivers license. If she got shit from her parents, we don’t know about it. If she confronted the father, we don’t know. The only thing we do know is that she decided to give birth. Is she giving the baby up for adoption? Is she going to keep it? What is she going to do about college and child care? All important questions that should be addressed, even though it does not happen to one of the quintet.

As for every character being likable? Come on, there has got to be at least one unlikable bully in high school. That’s just a fact of life; someone who would make the life of a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl or the daughter of a movie star totally miserable. To gloss over this is unrealistic.

Listen, I’m not saying every Young Adult book must be as issue driven as those of Patricia McCormick, Laurie Halse Anderson or Dana Reinhardt. But, hey, even characters in Sarah Dessen, Emery Lord and Morgan Matson novels have significant(?) issues they need to overcome before they get to the happy ending and how they got there is apparent (and part of the reading enjoyment, I think). In Infinite In Between, the one big issue is ignored and the quintet’s minor issues (because truly they all are minor) are expounded.

Since I don’t give numerical ratings on this blog, I will merely say that I must be jaded by something because in my humble opinion Infinite In Between does not warrant a starred review. It is a nice, feel good read, however, and well worth your time.

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Clare and Aiden have 12 hours before she departs for Dartmouth in HelloGoodbyeNew Hampshire and he jets to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. The question that so many teens face but hasn’t been written much about in YA literature is what do they do. Having been dating for 2 years Aiden is of the impression that long distance romances can work and there are so many folks who have married their high school sweethearts. Clare, on the other hand, thinks that they should break up now, while on an up streak, rather than wait until it fizzles out over time and seeing each other on college breaks becomes awkward. However, Aiden, always the joker, hasn’t been keen on discussing this subject.

So, on their last night together in the suburbs of Chicago, Clare the anal one and list maker in the relationship, has created a list of places of importance to their relationship that they must visit before leaving for separate coasts. Aiden, the unromantic one of the duo, isn’t quite sure what occurred at some of these spots but he’s going along with Clare.

In the 12 hours from 6 PM to 6 AM the next day, Clare and Aiden come to a decision. Along with this, readers get a glimpse of both Aiden’s and Clare’s parents, who play a major role in how the teens react to their situation. Additionally, they get to know their best friends, Scottie and Stella, who also impact their decision.

ComebackSeaspmHello, Goodbye and Everything in Between is a great title because the book is a 12 hour roller coaster of emotions. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Saying goodbye to friends and family is tough even if it isn’t permanent.

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer E. Smith from The Comeback Season, to StatisticalProbabilityThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight to Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between. While at the beginning of the book, it wasn’t my favorite, by the time I got to the end, it was high on the list (I think The Comeback Season will always be my favorite since it was my first (and her first) Smith book). You know what to expect with Smith. A great story. Great characters. A great ending. And possibly a teary eye at the end.

I’d put Jennifer E. Smith up there with Sarah Dessen, and new favorites Emery Lord and Morgan Matson.

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TheLittleParisBookshopLet me start of by saying The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is not a guy book. I don’t normally segregate books by the gender of the reader, but in this case it’s the truth.

Jean Perdu (which means ‘lost’ in French) is truly lost. His lover, Manon, left him 21 years ago and he still hasn’t gotten over it. His apartment is devoid of furniture and he has a huge jigsaw puzzle on his floor, which he takes apart on completion and begins anew.

He lives in a small apartment building inhabited by a peculiar group of neighbors. One is a young and acclaimed writer, Max Jordan, who is hiding from his adoring fans, especially those expecting a new book which is not forthcoming. A new arrival is Catherine who has been in a loveless marriage for 20 years and has recently been thrown out by her husband with nothing but the clothes on her back. It is inevitable that Perdu and Catherine, two lost souls, would meet.

Perdu is a book seller (which is what attracted me to the book initially). His shop is a barge docked on the Seine and he considers it a Literary Apothecary. According to him, he can see into people’s souls and know exactly what book to prescribe to mend a broken heart or a broken soul.

For reasons you need to find out for yourself, Perdu impulsively pulls anchor and embarks upon a voyage. Of course you know it’s a voyage of self discovery. At the last minute, Max jumps on board and the two experience this life voyage together. As per the Publishers Weekly review, “Though George’s prose is sometimes a bit overwrought and the “physician, heal thyself” plot device has been done to death, her cast of engaging characters [on the river voyage and in the apartment building] keeps the story moving. Her sumptuous descriptions of both food and literature will leave readers unsure whether to run to the nearest library or the nearest bistro.” I agree, and the recipes she includes at the end of the book are an added bonus.

George’s prose do get a little bogged down, but there are some gems as well. Such as when Perdu is pondering his life,  “Where did the last twenty years go? The south is a vivd blue, Catherine. Your color is missing here. It would make everything shine all the more brightly.” Her discussion of literature is way beyond my comfort zone, both the real and the fictional literature. I much prefer her descriptions of the river towns the duo stop at and the quirky people that inhabit them.

I consider myself somewhat of a romantic but the story was a little over the top for me. Yes, we all have regrets and we’ve all suffered romantic heartbreaks, but to have put ones life on hold for 21 years seems a bit much to me.

The Little Paris Bookshop is an ode to love of the life long kind. I’m sure it exists and I wish I had experienced it as a young man. In some respects I’m jealous of Perdu. But in many others, I’m glad I’m not him. Your opinion?

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