Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Bites: A Contemporary Fiction Mixed Bag

Whew! It's a been a busy beginning to the new year! Since I used my last few weeks of 2011 and the first few weeks of 2012 to get in some extra reading before the spring semester got rolling here at school, I'm making use of my occasionally recurring blog feature 'Book Bites' (a name of which I am pathetically proud) to share quick reviews of several novels in a single post.  This group is mix of recent and not so recent releases that generally fit into that broad category of contemporary fiction.

Past Perfect by Leila Sales
Chelsea has spent most of her life trapped in the past--in 1774 to be precise.  Every summer since she turned six, Chelsea has worked with her parents at Colonial Essex Village, a local living history museum.  Now that she's sixteen, Chelsea just wants to get a normal job--preferable somewhere with air conditioning.  But thanks to her theatrical best friend, Chelsea is back at Essex for the summer, along with Ezra, the ex who broke her heart a few months ago.  But just as Chelsea is trying to bury her past with Ezra, she meets Dan, a very cute Civil War re-enactor and her sworn enemy in the long standing prank war between Essex and the Civil War museum across the street.  But was her past with Ezra as perfect as Chelsea remembers? Or is it time for her to stop living in the past altogether? And most importantly, would her family and friends ever forgive her for dating a boy devoted to a different historical time period?

This romantic comedy delightfully lives up to its quirky premise and positive buzz.  The unusual setting amid historical re-enactors initially sets this apart from the average teen romance.  Chelsea's sarcastic but sensitive voice and the multifaceted exploration of the theme of misremembered history, both personal and national, further increase the novel's appeal.  

3 1/2 STARS

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
If Piper could just learn to keep her big mouth shut, she would not be in this mess.  But since she couldn't, Piper is now the manager of the school's suddenly popular local rock band, bizarrely named 'Dumb,' and she's got to get them a paying gig within a month to make the arrangement official and get her share of the profits.  However, there are a few problems. Firstly, Piper is deaf. Secondly, and more importantly, even Piper can tell that Dumb does not sound good.  But somehow Piper and the other mixed up flavors of people that form Dumb are going to have to learn to make beautiful music together.

Another novel with a quirky premise and one that not only lives up to its potential but actually supersedes it.  Five Flavors of Dumb is a delightful novel about friendship and coming of age that happens to feature a protagonist who is deaf.  Piper is funny, frustrated, sarcastic, angry, and kind.  Her deafness is integral to the story in that it shapes Piper's life and motivations; the novel provides a look at the complex social world that Piper and her family live in as part of the deaf community.  However, the novel never makes her deafness a gimmick and Piper's conflicts with her family and her shifting perceptions of and relationships with the other members of Dumb are pretty universally relatable.  


My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger
Boston native and baseball fiend T.C. falls in love with gorgeous and politically active Alejandra at first sight.  But Ale just can't trust all that charm and she's preoccupied with sneaking her way out from the limiting life of diplomat's daughter into the spotlight of the stage.  Meanwhile T.C.'s brother and aspiring theatrical superstar Augie is falling in love with Andy Wexler (who, incidentally, is falling in love with Augie) and everyone knows it, except Augie and Andy.  So through one roller-coaster of a year filled with romantic mishaps, sign language, Mary Poppins, baseball, and musical madness, T.C., Ale, and Augie rely on each other as they figure out some of the secrets to love, life, and the pursuit of happiness.

Where has this novel been my whole life? It's been on my radar for a while but I didn't get a chance and copy in my hands until earlier this winter.  And I am so happy that I did!  As other reviews have noted, Year is a bit of modern day fairytale but it is a delightful and extremely funny one.  The characters are all fully developed and sympathetic and the individual voices stand out in the multi-formatted narrative, which includes journals, emails, text messages, faxes, IMs, and more.  This one is a welcome addition to both my 'happy place' novels list and my 'makes me laugh/snort on public transportation' list.


Notes From An Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne
Elsie Wyatt has big dreams of orchestral superstardom and she is determined to make those dreams come true.  The first step in her plan of becoming a premier French horn player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra like her father and grandfather?  Get accepted to an extremely selective musical summer camp.    To improve her chances, Elsie has to find a musical ensemble to diversify her resume.  Tragically the only option left seems to be marching band, an ensemble that won't let Elsie play her instrument or sit down.  

This musical tale lives up to its cute title and mildly humorous blurb; Notes is a light middle grade coming of age story that will appeal especially to tweens devoted to music.  However, it doesn't go much deeper than that.  Elsie is a prickly but very sympathetic protagonist and her development into a more self-aware person is enjoyable to follow.


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