Friday, August 15, 2008

Reading Roundup, Part One

I'm still dragging around most of the books I said I was going to post about, so I'm going to do a couple of posts with two books at a time. It's always a little hard for me to do this, partly because I'm so long-winded and partly because I have to find books that share the same tags. I think these two go together pretty well.

Here's where I start wishing I were using stars or .5's or something. I enjoyed both of these books, but I'd give the edge to Suite Scarlett, even though I've given them both the same rating.

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
4Q 4P Audience: J/S

Maureen Johnson is another author I love to read. Although she has written some more serious books (Keys to the Golden Firebird comes to mind), it's her sense of humor that makes her stand out for me. If you haven't checked out her blog, you should remedy that soon!

Scarlett's family owns an historic hotel in New York City. While one might think that means they're rolling in the dough, nothing could be farther from the truth. The hotel rarely has more than a handful of visitors, and the family is barely making ends meet. That means they're very short-staffed. Well, actually, they're no-staffed. And that means that when each child in the family turns fifteen, they are given a room in the hotel to care for. Scarlett turns fifteen as the book opens, and she is given the Empire Suite, the hotel's showpiece guest room. It's not a room that's used often, but mere hours later, Amy Amberson, former Broadway actress arrives and takes the hotel by storm. Scarlett is at her beck and call for the summer. And trust me, Amy becks and calls a lot.

Scarlett's siblings play important roles in the book, so here's a quick rundown: Marlene, 11, is a spoiled rotten cancer survivor. She and Scarlett don't get along. Lola is pretty, charming, and the kind of older sister anyone would want to have. Spencer is the eldest, and he and Scarlett have a special bond. Spencer is a hugely gifted physical comedian, and it is his dream of being a professional actor which creates the events around which the book revolves. His "give me a year to see if I can become an actor" is just about up. If he doesn't get a professional gig within forty-eight hours, his parents are going to insist that he take the culinary school scholarship he has been awarded so that he can become the hotel's chef.

Well, Spencer does get a professional gig, sort of. Sure, it's Hamlet in a parking garage, not Broadway, but it's an acting job, right? And it pays. Sort of. Better yet, as far as Scarlett is concerned, his acting partner, Eric, is heart-stoppingly, breathtakingly gorgeous - and nice, too! And do those Southern boys know how to kiss!

When Spencer's group loses their rehearsal space, it's Scarlett and Amy Amberson to the rescue. Between trying to sneak the entire cast and a couple of unicycles into the hotel basement, shoplifting tuna, running a scam on an old rival of Amy's, and figuring out a way to get Eric to fall in love with her, it's a busy summer.

I smiled and laughed my way through this book. I also loved the relationships between Scarlett and Spencer and Scarlett and Lola. Scarlett-Spencer scenes are often just plain funny, but they are often very touching as well. There's a bonding/truth-telling scene between Scarlett, Spencer, and Lola towards the end that was perfectly pitched. (It also makes me wonder how Marlene could possibly be as bratty as she is, even given the "she used to have cancer, give her anything she wants" mindset of the family. I loved it when Scarlett called her out, though Scarlett is ashamed of herself.) Amy is a terrific character, too. She's a little over the top (she's an actress, after all!) and she's not as smart as she thinks she is, but her heart is in the right place. In fact, this book has heart written all over it. Read it when you want a book that makes you feel good. (And I hear there's a sequel coming. I'm there!)

(That was a short write-up? ::sigh:: I give up!)

How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mylnowski, and Lauren Myracle
4Q 4P Audience: J/S

In a nut shell, this is a road trip book told in three voices. It won't keep pace with New Moon, Eragon, and Harry Potter, but I expect it to circulate very well. All three authors are very popular here.

When Jesse gets some devastating news about her mother's health, she has to get away for a while to process all the emotions she's trying to deal with. But she just can't bring herself to tell anyone what's going on. Not even Vicks, her best friend. So she manipulates Vicks into thinking that driving to Miami to see her boyfriend is a good idea. What Jesse doesn't know is that Vicks is wondering whether she even has a boyfriend now. He's been at college for two weeks and he hasn't called her yet. Is that how you treat your girlfriend of two years? She thinks not. Thing is, neither girl has any money to spare. On the other hand, Mel, the new girl at the Waffle House (where they all work), is loaded. She's also desperate for friends. So she ignores the obvious - that Jesse doesn't like her and that neither girl really knows her - and invites herself along. The deal: she pays for the food, the gas, and the accommodations. Jesse doesn't like it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Mel is in.

What follows is some female bonding, a bit of sightseeing (the world's smallest police station and biggest alligator), a bit of breaking and entering, a bit of partying, and more than a bit of romance. There are also some tears, some fights, and some hugs. It all makes for a quick, light read, though this isn't just a frothy no-substance book. The girls each have issues that give the book some depth. Jesse needs to come to terms with her mother's illness and the way both of them have reacted to it. Vicks is convinced that her long-term boyfriend is ready for greener pastures, but she's afraid to confront the issue head on. As Jesse says, she'd rather run from a problem than deal with it. And Mel is so used to taking a back seat to everyone in her family that she doesn't know how to tell people what she's really feeling. She's also desperate to be liked, which leads her to make some questionable decisions, especially when a really cute boy is involved.

One other thing to note about this book: Jesse is a devout Christian, and she tries to live her life accordingly. Vicks is not at all devout, and she has a very different take on how to live a moral life. Despite this, the two are fast friends. They are accepting and supportive of each other, even while each may give the other grief on occasion for her beliefs or actions. Conservative Christians will probably appreciate that a like-minded character isn't portrayed as narrow-minded, as is fairly often the case.

My one minor quibble with the book is that I wanted to see Jesse deal with her mother and her illness, and that never happens. But even though I was left hanging a bit, I understand that the book is really about getting her to the point that she can face having that discussion, and that mission is accomplished.

If you like books about what it means to be a friend, if you like books about being in/falling in love, if you like books told with humor and heart, this is a book for you.

By the way, the other post I've had in draft mode for about three weeks now is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, also by E.Lockhart. That post will be finished (I swear!) within the next couple of days. You'll want to check that book out, too.

(Well! It only took me six days between the time I started this post and the day I finished it. I suppose that's an improvement of sorts!)

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