Love and Gelato

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Love and Gelato

by  Jenna Evans Welch

August 2016

I loved this book! This is one I would absolutely read again and I’m recommending all over the place. It’s a Young Adult fiction, which is not a genre I’ve happened to be reading a lot of, but I’m so glad I did this time. When I first started reading, I thought the dialogue was a little rough or forced, but as I fell into the story, it stopped bothering me and I didn’t notice it anymore. I thought the plot was heartwarming, sweet, and very clever. There was so much good about Love and Gelato.

Lina is 16 and has just gone through the unimaginable: losing her mom to cancer. Before her mom died, she made Lina promise to go to Italy. Unsure of why, Lina agrees, and now finds herself in Italy, on her way to meet her father. Her father she didn’t know existed because her mom never told her (she found out from her grandmother after her mom died). Lina is hurting, angry and confused. She misses her mom and her best friend, Addie, and she hates that her dad, Howard, lives in a war memorial (aka a cemetery). After her first awkward night, Lina goes for a run, where she meets Ren, a half Italian, half American boy her age. They hit it off and he becomes her unofficial tour guide. After a few days, Lina’s dad’s co-worker Sonia, gives Lina a package that was sent to the memorial. It’s her mom’s journal. At first Lina is too overwhelmed to open it, but then her curiosity gets the better of her. As she reads, Lina gets drawn into her mother’s world from when she was a young woman studying photography in Italy. Lina reads about how her mom fell in love with her dad, “X,” and how it needed to be a secret. Lina starts wondering about X and about how certain things don’t line up, so she confides in Ren and the two of them begin to figure out the past. Spoilers: Lina doesn’t look anything like her dad, and he doesn’t recall certain things from his past with Lina’s mom. Lina is suspicious and with Ren by her side, they continue to read the journal and track down people who knew her mom. Turns out, another man, Matteo, is Lina’s dad. They find him and learn that he is an awful, selfish person and doesn’t want anything to do with Lina. By now, she has grown to really like her fake dad and soon learns the truth: her mom was in love with Matteo and got pregnant with Lina. Before she found out about the baby, she realized what an awful guy Matteo was and moved on, realizing she really loved Howard. By then she knew she was pregnant, but that the baby was Matteo’s. In Italy, the baby would rightfully be his, so she makes a heart wrenching decision to leave Howard (not telling him about the baby, just making him think she didn’t love him), and also to leave Italy so Matteo could never have an influence over the baby or take the baby away. Lina and Howard finally talk and realize the sacrifice Lina’s mom made. In the beginning of the journal, there’s a single phrase: “I made the wrong choice.” It becomes clear that Lina’s mom wishes she had stayed with Howard because she loved him. Howard and Lina find closure and because they have grown fond of each other, Howard offers to be Lina’s dad and she accepts. Meanwhile, Lina has fallen in love with Ren, but they have a lot of miscommunication and are each thinking the other one doesn’t love them, when they both really love each other. Lina tries to make it better, but fails and is heartbroken. Then, Ren decides to try one last time and they get everything out in the open and realize they both love each other. Lina decides to stay in Italy to finish high school now that she has found a dad and a boyfriend and is finally finding happiness after her mother’s death. It is a very sweet ending and I just loved the banter and friendship between Lina and Ren, and Lina and Howard. My synopsis doesn’t do this sweet, clever story justice.

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book!

All the best, Abbey

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Matilda

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Matilda

by Roald Dahl

August 2016

Matilda was my first introduction to Dahl’s writing (which I know has received much praise). I have to say, I loved his writing  . . .it was his writing alone that kept me reading because I hated the story! I’m a mom, so maybe that’s why, but I just thought it was awful. Then end redeemed it a little bit, but I seriously almost stopped reading 5 or 6 times throughout the book. Did it upset anyone else? Or am I alone? I will give Dahl another chance, by reading more of his work, but I did not love Matilda until the very, very end.

Matilda is a brilliant little girl who lives with her older brother and a mom and dad who hate her and hate reading and learning of all sorts. Her father is a dishonest car salesman and her mother is self-absorbed. Matilda learns about the library and begins to read voraciously, while being horribly treated at home. She is feisty and does what she can to get her parents back, but in the end, she is only 5 and has to do what she’s told. When she gets to kindergarten, her teacher is a dream and is one of the first people to care for her. The principal however, is just as awful as her parents and tortures her and the other school children. Spoilers: Matilda perseveres and because she is so brilliant and the adults are so cruel, she figures out she can make things happen by focusing her brain and sending power out through her eyes. She learns that her teacher is the niece of the principle and also has a horrid life, so Matilda uses her power to save the day. She makes the principle believe that her brother is speaking to her from the grave (by using her power to write on the chalk board while sitting her in seat). The principle, who had been stealing the teacher’s house/fortune/etc, gives everything to her and leaves town. Matilda’s father gets caught red-handed in his dishonestly and leaves town as well, agreeing to let Matilda say with her teacher. It is a very happy ending . . . thank goodness!

Summing it up: I hated this book so much because of how awful the kids are treated, but if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, then you might just like it. 😉

All the best, Abbey

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

by J. K. Rowling

August 2016

And just like that, I’m done with Harry Potter’s second year. I’m definitely hooked and definitely a fan so far. I really liked Rowling’s second installment and following Harry’s ups and downs. I love that he once again saved the day and is such a brave protagonist. I feel like there’s just a draw or a pull to read about Harry. You genuinely want him to succeed and more than that, have good things happen and figure out how to finally defeat Voldemort (I really, really hope he does . . .and I literally have no clue about any of the other books, so please no spoilers!). I also think there’s something comforting about Rowling’s writing style . . . I can’t put my finger on it, but when I open up her books, it’s just comforting, even if the story itself is not comforting. I’m very curious if my opinion will change as I keep reading.

Harry’s second year at Hogwarts gets off to a rocky start when Dobby (the Malfoy’s house elf) sneaks into Harry’s room at the Dursley’s to warn him not to return to Hogwarts because there is an evil plot in the works. Harry ignores Dobby (after Dobby gets him in serious trouble with the Dursleys), and escapes being locked in his room when the Weasley brothers rescue him in a magic car. Things continue to go down hill for Harry. When the Weasleys take him to go shopping for the new school year, Harry gets separated and lands in a dark magic ally where he overhears Mr. Malfoy revealing he owns banned dark magic material. Eventually, Hagrid finds him and returns him to the Weasleys. But when he and Ron are about to get to their station, they find they cannot get through the wall. They decide to take the magic car to Hogwarts, which lands them in heaps of trouble. When Harry is finally settled into school, dark, strange things begin happening. Spoilers: first he hears voices in the walls, then he learns he can speak parseltongue (the language of snakes), students start getting petrified (including Hermione), spiders are leaving Hogwarts in droves, a mysterious journal turns up, Hagrid is accused of opening the chamber of secrets and gets sent to the prison Azkaban, and Dumbledore is forced to step down as headmaster. In the end, Harry discovers that the chamber of secrets is one of the girl’s bathrooms that is haunted by a terribly sad ghost. The great, evil, creature that lives in the chamber of secrets is a giant snake (who was the voice Harry was hearing in the walls . . .the snake travels through pipes) who can kill anyone who looks in his eyes. If you don’t look directly (i.e. though a mirror or reflected in water) then you get petrified. Harry discovers all of this when he learns that the creature took Ginny Weasley, so he sets off to find her. In the end, he kills the giant snake, and rescues Ginny. That mysterious journal fills in missing pieces. It was written by Voldemort and he uses it to lure Ginny into giving more and more of herself to him. When Harry finds the snake and Ginny, he also finds Voldemort (pseudonym Tom Riddle) and defeats him after killing the snake. And thus ends their second year at Hogwarts, everyone safe and happy, except for the Malfoys . . .Harry tricks Mr. Malfoy into freeing Dobby (even though Dobby was the one who made it almost impossible for Harry to get to school in the first place). Throughout the book, Harry struggles with his place. He feels like perhaps he really belongs in Slytherin, especially because Voldemort put a little of himself in Harry when Harry got his scar. At the end of the book, I love how Dumbledore reassures Harry by saying, “‘Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.'” ‘It only put my in Gryffindor,’ said Harry in a defeated voice, ‘because I asked not to go in Slytherin. . . .’ ‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, beaming once more. ‘Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'”

Summing it up: I thoroughly enjoyed this second book and I’m looking forward to the third!

All the best, Abbey

Swear On This Life

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Swear On This Life

by Renée Carlino

August 2016

This is the first book I’ve read by Renée Carlino and it will not be my last . . . I loved it. I loved every second of it. The characters were relatable and complex. They grew and changed and the story was dynamic. It reminded me a lot of Colleen Hoover’s writing, and part of the story reminded me of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. These are two things I love, so it’s no surprise I was a fan of Swear On This Life. I read the book in two sittings and that was only because I decided not to stay up until 2 or 3 am to finish (yes, it was a difficult choice). I am really drawn to characters that need to face difficult situations/relationships, from their past or present in order to grow and become the best version of themselves. The protagonist, Emiline, is one of those characters, and I loved reading her journey. Hats off to Carlino . . . looking forward to reading more of her work.

Emiline is an adjunct writing instructor who has yet to write anything “good.” She is struggling to make her way and advance her career, when her room mate hands her a book that she ‘just has to read.’ Emiline reluctantly picks it up to find that it is a story of her very own past, filled with traumatic events she’s spent years trying to forget. She quickly realizes that her best friend from childhood, Jase is the mysterious author, J. Colby and she struggles to make sense of why he plagiarized her life, especially when it’s been 12 years since she seen or heard from him. While she is seeped in memories, Emiline is also struggling with her relationship with her boyfriend of 7 years, she loves him, but are they really a good fit? Spoilers: when Emiline is about half way through the book, Jase comes to town for a book signing and they meet. Emiline is completely thrown off guard and is left in a tail spin. She still has deep feelings for Jase, but they don’t know each other anymore and she has a lot of issues from her childhood that she needs to deal with. When she was a girl, she and Jase were neighbors and grew up playing together. They both had horrible home lives and found relief being together. Their friendship slowly blooms into love by the time they are 15. At the same time, Emiline’s father is becoming a more violent alcoholic (her mother has long since abandoned them), and one day he beats up both Jase and Emiline because he catches them kissing. Jase calls child protective service and gets Emiline to safety, though it costs them being together. Emiline goes to a foster home, but is forced to leave when she finds out she has an aunt who will take her in. Before she goes, she tries to run away with Jase, but in the end, he turns them in so Emiline can have a good life. The next 12 years they have no contact and Emiline always wonders why Jase never came to find her. So, now, with this book, Jase has dug up all the pain and she decides to finally deal with it. Emiline takes leave from work and finds her dad, who is out of jail and staying clean. They reconcile and then she finds her mother, who is cold and Emiline realizes that it was never her fault her mother left her, her mother just couldn’t really love her. She also mutually ends things with her boyfriend, when they both realize they are not a good match. Then, finally, Emiline finishes Jase’s book and discovers that he wrote it for her. He wanted her to find healing and he’s always loved her and wanted to be with her, but he had to write this book for her first. She also finds out that he was the one who slipped the copy to her room mate. Emiline then races to Jase and they naturally live happily ever after. It’s cliche, but the ending is very sweet and very wonderful.

I think growth for a character is a huge part of what makes a book “good.” Emiline deals with a lot in this book and there are a few quotes that describe part of her growth, that resonated with me. Emiline says, ” . . .I realized that my father had learned something in his recovery that I still hadn’t totally grasped: the past would only fester and eat away at us if we tried to hold on to it too tightly.” And later she realizes, “We can’t always control our circumstances, who our parents are, where we live, or how much money we make, but in those rare moments when we can shape our fate, when we do have the power to make our own happiness, we can’t be too scared to do it.”

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book. I loved the arc and the growth and the characters. It was a moving, sweet, quick read!

All the best, Abbey

The Door by the Staircase

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The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh

August 2016

Another juvenile fiction for you today (I unashamedly love juvenile fiction). This one was a little slow getting into, but was very good . . .sweet and endearing. I really liked it. Marsh was so creative blending Russian fairy tales with an updated story. I’ve always loved fairy tales, so that was one reason I was drawn to this particular book. Overall, it was clever, heartwarming, and definitely a good read.

Twelve year old Mary lives at an awful orphanage after her mother and brother die in a house fire. She is sad and alone until one day she has the good fortune to be adopted by a kindhearted old lady. She is given fresh clothes and scrumptious food and allowed to explore their town where she meets Jacob, who becomes a good friend. All is not what it seems in the sleepy town of Iris . . .it is filled with magicians and mystics. Jacob knows them all and is one himself. He points out how they all do their tricks, though some he can’t figure out. It soon becomes clear that something is amiss at Mary’s new home, and she learns from the servant and talking cat that Madame Z is none other than Baba Yaga, a horrible witch who eats children! Mary must keep her wits about her and out think the witch before she becomes her next meal. Spoilers: Mary convinces Madame Z to teach her magic and not eat her. Madame Z agrees and teaches Mary how to copy down recipes, weave, and care for her fire breathing horse. Mary still doesn’t trust Madame Z, so she breaks a promise and joins with Jacob to chase after the firebird who will give her one wish (a wish of safety). However, Mary gets tricked by the evil servant, who uses Madame Z’s love for Mary (turns out she could be trusted), to kill Madame Z and take over her world. Mary has to use the magic Madame Z taught her to bring her back. She calms herself by weaving, writes down the recipe to bring the witch back to life, and rides the horse to collect the ingredients. She kills the evil servant and brings her mother back to life and they live happily ever after!

Summing it up: this one was sweet, heartwarming, and very clever. I definitely recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

Gone Girl

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Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

August 2016

This was a good one. This was one of those books that everyone talks about and then it was made into a movie, and even though I’m late to the party, I dove in and read it to see what all the fuss was about (and I’ll definitely be seeing the movie next). I really liked how the book was set up from Amy and Nick’s perspectives and how the story unfolds. I loved Flynn’s style and story line. The one and only thing that I’m having a hard time with is the ending . . . it’s frustrating, but more on that later.

Nick and Amy seem to have it all: great jobs, a beautiful apartment in New York City, and of course, a perfect marriage. However, in an unfortunate change of fate, they both lose their jobs, and Nick’s parents start having health problems, so they decide to move to Missouri to be close to them. Then, on their 5th anniversary, Amy disappears, and the remainder of the book is solving what happened to her. Spoilers: Nick is not the nicest person. He has been having an affair for over a year before Amy disappears and wants to get a divorce. Unbeknownst to him, Amy knows about the affair and in an elaborate ruse, sets up her husband to look like he murdered her, while she slips away to start a new life and see how awful Nick’s life becomes. She doesn’t think through every scenario though and ends up loosing all her money and needing the help of an old flame, who just wants to “care” for Amy by keeping her prisoner in his huge lake house. She keeps weaving lies and ends up killing him and “escaping” back to Nick (who by now has figured out how diabolical Amy is). The world is thrilled (even though they had been condemning Nick the whole time), so Amy and Nick resume living together, even though Nick knows he’s living with a sociopath. Amy has power over Nick (he has no proof of what she did and she gets pregnant), so he doesn’t have a good option to leave. In the end, if he continues to “be the husband Amy needs” then everything will be ok. This is what I can’t wrap my head around. There’s no good option for Nick. Even though he’s not a great guy, Amy is crazy and he has to stay with her! And he’s basically ok with it. Did any of you get why?!

Summing it up: aside from a puzzling ending, this was a very good book and I recommend it.

All the best, Abbey

The Girls

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The Girls

by Emma Cline

August 2016

I kept hearing about The Girls. How it was a coming of age story, a story about a cult, a bit of a thriller. I was intrigued, so when it caught my eye at the library, I scooped it up. I was excited to read it, but I ended up being a little disappointed. It wasn’t a bad book or one I disliked, it just was not what I imagined it to be after all the praise and hype. That being said, it was an interesting book and one that you think about after you finish reading. The great majority of the writing was Evie’s thoughts and perspective both at the time things happened and in hindsight. Cline is very descriptive about people, places, and especially feelings. You really felt like you were the one experiencing Evie’s life. It was a different writing style from anything I’ve read before.

The story follows Evie, a 14 year old girl who gets swept away by the promises of some girls in a cult (though it doesn’t seem like a cult at the time). Evie has just fallen out with her best friend and her parents have divorced, so she doesn’t feel like she belongs any where. When she meets the girls and hears their message of living in the moment and sees how they share everything they own and drink in the words of their leader, Russell, Evie gets caught up in the movement and spends a lot of her time with them. It’s summertime and she flits between her house with her mother and spending time with the girls. One day they decide to have fun by breaking into Evie’s neighbor’s house to move things around in order to unsettle the owners. They get caught, but Evie takes the fall and lets the other escape. By the time she’s done with being grounded, things have drastically changed with the girls. Their living situation is worse and there is less life in the camp. Spoilers: Evie is a little disappointed, but not disenchanted, only thrilled to be back. The girls and one guy are leaving to do something for Russell and Evie begs to join them. However, partway there, Suzanne (the leader among the girls), kicks Evie out of the car and leaves her. You find out later that the group was on their way to murder a former friend of Russell’s, but when he’s not home, they murder the people they find there instead: a man, two women, and a child. Eventually they get caught and Evie is never prosecuted. In fact, no one ever knows about Evie’s involvement, except Evie. However, Evie spends her life paranoid, always looking over her shoulder, expecting to be caught. She feels like she was involved, even though she didn’t murder anyone. And that’s basically how the book ends.

Summing it up: I have mixed feelings. I liked a lot about the book, but I didn’t love it. I can’t say I’d recommend it, but if you’re curious, I’d definitely tell you to read it. So, totally on the fence with this one. What did you all think? Especially at the very end with Evie’s paranoia? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

All the best, Abbey