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Archive for the ‘Chick Lit’ Category

clementineEach chapter in this entertaining, dark yet humorous debut novel counts down the 30 days pop-artist Clementine Pritchard has given herself to set her affairs in order before her suicide. She starts by crashing into the annoying car that blocks her driveway daily, tossing a teapot she never wanted anyway out of her apartment window, and flushing her medications for various psychoses–freeing her body from the numerous side effects she’s suffered from most of her life. The complex details of Clementine’s troubled history are revealed slowly with each day. I don’t want to reveal too much that will spoil the suspense for potential readers, but I quickly became fascinated with this flawed but loveable protagonist’s compelling story. I was not able to assume what had happened to her in the past or predict what she might do next, so the pages just kept turning.

It was uncomfortable but also quite funny watching her live her last days on the edge without the usual fear of consequences for her rash actions, eating her lovingly described extravagant last meals, and fearlessly speaking her mind. I found myself fearing for how she might pick up the pieces if for any reason she were not to have the courage to go through with her planned death. It all seems very considerate, how carefully she prepares so that no one will be terribly inconvenienced or have to go to any expense for her loss, yet she has falsely assumed that her death would cause no harm.  Clementine may have gravely underestimated her worth to significant others in her life. In the course of her last month, it turns out that some are not who they had seemed, and new people have entered her life unexpectedly.

I found this to be a very touching story and a quick read that was well worth my time. Anyone who’s ever contemplated suicide, even for just a moment, can relate to Clementine’s state of mind and the fact that suicidal thinking creates distance in relationships. Older teens may find appeal in this book’s emotionally intense themes of childhood abandonment, but recommenders should be aware that it contains adult sexual and drug-related content. I look forward to more contemporary fiction titles from Ashley Ream.

Look for Losing Clementine in the WRL catalog.

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With the popularity of British TV series like Downton Abbey, I think it is time to draw attention to a wonderful television series from 1973, Flambards.  It is set in the period from 1910 through World War I, and it includes many of the same issues of the changing relationships between the British ruling class and the people they felt they ruled over.

Christina is a teenage orphan who is passed around from elderly aunt to elderly aunt living in genteel but shabby conditions until Uncle Russell calls for her to be brought to  Flambards, the family’s crumbling ancestral home.  Christina is a child of her times, who obeys unquestioningly and misses all the deeper family currents.  She has been sent to Flambards because she is an heiress who will come into her fortune when she turns 21.  Uncle Russell requires her fortune to save Flambards which is crumbling into disrepair as he has spent all his money, time, and energy on fox-hunting.  In Uncle Russell’s mind the logical solution is for Christina to marry his eldest son, Mark, who is also her first cousin, and they will spend her fortune to save Flambards.

Uncle Russell is obsessed with fox hunting, even though he is confined to a chair and in constant pain after a hunting accident.  He lives through his sons as they hunt, which is fine for Mark who is only interested in hunting, drinking, and girls. His brother, Will, hates hunting.  Will is an intelligent, sensitive boy who wants to learn to fly in the new airplanes that are being developed.  Christina spends time with both her cousins, but Will is easier to get along with and she enjoys talking to him about planes.  The interest of the handsome groom, Dick, adds to the romantic tension, while the increasing drunken brutishness of Uncle Russell raises the drama.

Flambards is based on the series of novels by K.M. Peyton, which started with Flambards published in 1967, then went on to The Edge of the Cloud (1969), Flambards in Summer (1969), although the TV series doesn’t cover Flambards Divided (1981).  Our library doesn’t currently own the books although they are still in print.  As usual in comparisons between the screen version and the book, the books have more depth and background, but they cannot provide the  the gorgeous scenery, the galloping horses, and the wondrous early planes.

As I already said, Flambards is a good choice for fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, but also I recommend it for lovers of romance and horses.  Oddly for a historical romance, I also recommend it for aviation fans.  Early planes like the Bleriot are integral to the plot of the story so the series creators made and flew radio controlled model working replicas of these early planes.  I actually thought that they made full-size planes until I researched it for this blog post, so they did a good job of hiding the planes’ size.  Either way, their flimsy, splindliness and air of imminent disaster is fascinating!

Flambards also has wonderful music, written by David Fanshawe.  As I am typing this I have the whistling refrain from the credits going through my head, and I’m anticipating spending some quality girl-time re-watching some of my favorite episodes.

Check the WRL catalog for Flambards

 

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Every summer, I gravitate toward at least one light beach read, but I don’t typically select Romance novels. On the Island caught my attention when a library user asked for it at the reference desk months before the print edition became available; the e-book had already become a bestseller.

Initially, I suspected it as a controversial storyline with a potentially inappropriate romance between an attractive female teacher and the sixteen-year old boy she is to tutor at his wealthy family’s vacation home on a Maldives island.  My verdict is that the romantic relationship is handled tastefully and might even be considered a soft read (although I haven’t read enough in the Romance genre to judge authoritatively).  There are interesting details about the characters and the plot that make this page-turner far more than a teenage boy’s “hot-for-teacher” fantasies come true.  T.J. recently survived cancer, Anna is not a sexual predator, and the two develop their strong friendship and survival bond long before any romance ensues.  You’ll have to read the book to find out how long they are on the island and whether or not they act on the attraction as mutually consenting adults.

The student and his tutor leave Chicago together, flying later than the rest of the family, and experience delays that result in a last-minute chance to fly on an unscheduled chartered seaplane.  They are the sole survivors washed up on an uninhabited island after their obese pilot dies of a heart attack and crashes in the Indian Ocean.  Some unbelievable coincidences seemed contrived to conveniently benefit the stranded castaways’ chances of survival, but I enjoyed the book without worrying over them too much.

On the Island is safely a fun novel that can be read in a single beach day or weekend.  Reading about this novel helped me learn a new word: robinsonade, a genre label for desert-island fiction named after Robinson Crusoe, of course.

Check the WRL catalog for On the Island.

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I love my job and one great aspect is exposure to all sorts of literature and encouragement to read things I don’t normally read. Romance is a genre I haven’t tried since I read Sloppy Sloshers  (as my Grandmother called her Regency Romances from authors like Georgette Heyer) as a teenager. I selected The Shunning by the complex method of walking along the Books on CD shelf and looking on the spine for a little red heart indicating romance.

Katie Lapp is 22 years old, which is old to be unmarried in her small Amish community. She is soon to be married to widower Bishop John, who has five small children from his first wife. Things already sound challenging, but Katie looks forward to becoming stepmother to five sweet children. What makes things difficult is that Katie has always been a rebel by Amish standards. She likes to sing songs that aren’t in the official Hymn book and has even hidden a forbidden guitar that belonged to her first love Daniel, who drowned on his nineteenth birthday. A shocking event on her wedding days leads Katie to be shunned by the Amish Community. No one is allowed to communicate with her in any way or they risk being shunned as well. Some of the saddest scenes are when Katie sits down to eat her dinner in her family kitchen, but at a separate table. Even her sweet and previously loving mother won’t talk to her.

For the Amish the event of Shunning is meant to be so horrible that the shunned person will fall back into line and do what the community requests. Katie finds the experience miserable but will she confess and repent? A revealed family secret, plus a growing feeling that she might not belong with the Amish leads Katie to consider the huge and desperate step of leaving the community.

The mystery in The Shunning was a bit predictable since I guessed two important secrets early in the book. The story moves at a moderate pace, which gives plenty of time to really care about the characters and their fates. Every character is nuanced. Bishop John is physically attracted to Katie, which is slightly creepy given their difference in age, but he is shown as a kind man who loves his children and will be a kind and loyal husband. Even the children are fully drawn characters. Although I selected The Shunning by the Romance sticker, I felt that the romantic elements aren’t extremely significant. The Amish are portrayed sympathetically and presumably realistically as the author Beverly Lewis grew up near Amish communities in Pennsylvania. I found the closeness of the families appealing, but was shocked by the harshness of their shunning.

The book was made into a movie in 2011. Like many adaptations, it misses the subtlety and depth of the book, but it was great to see what the Amish houses and community looked like – not quite what I pictured.  It has two sequels, The Confession and The Reckoning  which are currently on my bedside table waiting to tell me what happens to Katie and her family.

I recommend The Shunning if you are in the mood for a slower read with a glimpse into a contemporary and nearby, but exotic lifestyle. Try reading it  on a hot day when you need cooling off, as most the action occurs in a chilly Pennsylvania winter.

Check the WRL catalog for The Shunning.

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If your birthday is also Valentine’s Day, you probably either love all things hearts and flowers, or hate every pink and red bit of it. The fact that Piper’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day means that she typically receives many heart-themed birthday gifts each year, but does not mean she believes in love. This year though, her best friends Claire and Jillian are determined that the three of them will not be alone on the most romantic day of the year. They devise “The Plan.” Some of “The Plan” involves things you might expect, such as hair highlights and new makeup techniques. Then the girls take things one step further.

When she’s not at school, Piper works at Jan the Candy Man, a candy store known for its creative confections. Piper, Claire, and Jillian borrow the kitchen one evening to make a new, special type of chocolate. A chocolate that incorporates the recipe Jillian found for a love potion. When the girls’ crushes start to notice them after eating the chocolates they are sure it’s coincidence—right?

Reading Love? Maybe is like watching a fun romantic comedy. You begin to root for the main characters in their struggle to find love. The subplots are also entertaining and even secondary characters have personality. Even Valentine’s haters will find something to love in this one.

Check the WRL catalog for Love? Maybe.

 

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As the song goes, “What a difference a day makes.  Twenty-four little hours.”  The events of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight take place over the course of just one day.  It is a very momentous day for Hadley and Oliver.  They meet at the airport, on a transatlantic flight from New York to London.  Hadley might never have met Oliver if she had made her original flight.  But, in this case, the four minutes she was late made all the difference.

Hadley is on her way to her father’s wedding.  He left her and her mother for a job at Oxford two years ago, and never came back.  Hadley is still bitter about it, but she has been told in no uncertain terms that she must attend this wedding.  His wedding to “that British woman,” as Hadley refers to her soon-to-be stepmother.  Add to that her crippling claustrophobia, and she is really dreading this trip.  Then she meets Oliver.

Oliver is a British college student studying at Yale.  He is also on his way to London for a wedding, and he doesn’t seem any more excited about the prospect than Hadley.  He is very helpful in getting her through her fear of flying, however, as they talk the seven hour flight away.  By the time they arrive at Heathrow they have formed quite the attachment and, even though they go their separate ways, Hadley can’t help but hope they’ll meet again.

If you’ve done the math, you know that Hadley and Oliver’s flight has only brought us to the seven hour mark of the aforementioned twenty-four hours, so there’s a pretty decent chance their story doesn’t end there.  Odds are they’ve probably fallen in love at first sight.

Check the WRL catalog for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

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A teenage girl shoplifts a too-tight, red, sleeveless turtleneck from Walmart. Immediately afterwards, the only adult in her life (who turns out not to be her mother or official stepmother) drops dead in the checkout line. This roller-coaster start sets the tone for this stirring tale of Lutie and her young brother, Fate, as they struggle to survive alone.

The plot bounds along as appalling events follow closely one after another. The children end up living on the streets of Las Vegas where they are prey to a parade of unsavory characters who seem to offer a helping hand but really want to exploit them. Teenage Lutie is often flawed, sometimes to the point of not being likable, but I realized that she has adult responsibilities without any help or guidance. Ultimately, she knows she loves her shy, bookish brother and wants to do what is best for him. A series of plot twists and turns ensue including Lutie’s forays into child prostitution and drugs. I found this very plausible and and also very disturbing.

Lutie and Fate’s desperate situation and downward spiraling luck drew me into their story, but I found it increasingly difficult to believe that they would ever extricate themselves from the mess their lives had become. Readers of Billie Letts’ other novels, such as the popular Where the Heart Is, know that she leans towards tearjerking but heartwarming endings, and Made in the U.S.A. follows that pattern. Who knows, maybe some of the exploitative strangers are genuinely kind? And maybe Lutie will find a practical use for her gymnastic talents?

This book is for you if you like a fast-paced, human interest novel with strong, quirky characters, that shows the dark side of life but ultimately has a joyous ending. I was glad that their story ended how life should proceed rather than what often happens to the many real Luties and Fates alone and lost on city streets.

Check the WRL catalog for Made in the U.S.A.

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