Book Review: The Happy Camper

The Happy Camper – Melody Carlson – Revell – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

Home is the place to heal, right? At least, that’s what Dillon Michaels is hoping as she leaves her disappointing career and nonstarter love life behind to help her grieving and aging grandfather on his small Oregon farm. The only problem? Her eccentric mother beat her there and has taken over Dillon’s old room. After a few nights sleeping on a sagging sofa, Dillon is ready to give up, until she receives an unlikely gift–her grandfather’s run-down vintage camp trailer, which she quickly resolves to restore with the help of Jordan Atwood, the handsome owner of the local hardware store.

But just when things are finally beginning to run smoothly, Dillon’s noncommittal ex-boyfriend shows up with roses . . . and a ring.

My thoughts

This is the second book I have read by Melody Carlson and I have now decided that her writing style is just not for me. As such, this review – as always – is an honest breakdown of my response to the book, but I realise that many people who do enjoy Carlson’s writing won’t find fault with the same issues I did. If this sort of thing is your style, then I am sure will enjoy what is a simple story of coming home, and falling in love.

Dillon leaves her boyfriend and her job on the same day. She is tired of hanging around waiting for Brandon to make her his number one priority and tired of catering to the whims of her boss. A phone call from her mother inspires her to return home to her grandfather’s farm. She doesn’t expect her eccentric mother to be there, and is a little upset when she is relegated to the lumpy couch. When her grandfather gives Dillon a run-down vintage camper trailer, Dillon puts her efforts into restoring it, and quite enjoys visiting the local hardware store to see the handsome, maybe-available owner, Jordan. When her boyfriend arrives in town begging for her to give him another chance, Dillon will have to choose between her old life and her new one.

The Happy Campers is a sweet and simple story. I enjoyed the parts where Dillon throws herself into renovating her camper van. She enjoys discovering new techniques, quite a bit of retail therapy and putting the finishing touches on her new home. Everything comes easy to her and for her (except maybe backing the van itself), so this part of the story doesn’t present any complications for the story.

I also really liked Dillon’s grandfather. He is a hard worker, very kind and understanding to both Dillon and her mother and has plenty of wisdom and all the right answers to share. Dillon is lucky to have his support.

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Book Review: A Constellation of Roses

A Constellation of Roses – Miranda Asebedo – HarperTeen – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

My thoughts

A Constellation of Roses is a poignant novel about finding your family and a place to belong. With just a touch of magic, this is a realistic novel that is magical in every other way – from the magic of the scent of good baking, to the love and acceptance of family.

Trix has a gift. She can steal anything without being caught. It helps her to survive, especially since her mother left her and never came back. Living week-to-week in run-down motels, Trix is shocked when the police and then the foster system catch up with her. But nothing can prepare her for being told she has a family, that she has an aunt that she will be going to live with. The McCabe women, Trix’s Aunt, cousin and Great Aunt all have gifts, and for once, Trix may finally have found somewhere she could belong — if she can stop herself from running.

Trix is such an awesome character. So strong and brave, yet so heartbroken underneath all that bluster and confidence. I loved that Trix is a good friend. Loved that she is there for people, even if she doesn’t feel like she belongs. Loved that she makes good decisions and is smart and kind, even if she thinks she is not.

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Book Review: How To Make Friends With The Dark

How To Make Friends With The Dark – Kathleen Glasgow – HarperCollins AU – Published 1 April 2019

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Synopsis

It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.

Here is what happens when your mother dies.

That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.

Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.

My thoughts

How To Make Friends With The Dark is an honest look at the journey of grief, complicated and messy, as well as the variety of conditions and struggle for normalcy faced by children who lose a parent or are removed from unsafe living conditions. It is a delicately crafted novel, unflinching and considered.

Tiger and her mother are a unit – it’s them against the world. Things might be tight and Tiger might chafe against the close rein her mother keeps her on, but everything is okay, or at least sort of, when they are together. But when her mother suddenly dies, Tiger is thrown into a whirlpool of foster homes, halfway houses and uncertainty. She battles unrelenting grief and can only liken it to standing on the edge of a black hole ready to swallow her up. As family secrets are revealed, she questions if she ever really knew her mother, or what she can expect from life now that everything that she knows has been stolen from her.

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Book Review: Past Perfect Life

Past Perfect Life – Elizabeth Eulberg – Bloomsbury YA – Published 9 July 2019

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Synopsis

Small-town Wisconsin high school senior Allison Smith loves her life the way it is-spending quality time with her widowed father and her tight-knit circle of friends, including best friend Marian and maybe-more-than-friends Neil. Sure she is stressed out about college applications . . . who wouldn’t be? In a few short months, everything’s going to change, big time.

But when Ally files her applications, they send up a red flag . . . because she’s not Allison Smith. And Ally’s-make that Amanda’s-ordinary life is suddenly blown apart. Was everything before a lie? Who will she be after? And what will she do as now comes crashing down around her?

My thoughts

What would you do when you discover you’re not who you thought you were? A homage to home, friendship and family, Past Perfect Life delves into the questions of what family really means and what it takes to discover where you truly belong. With a strong female lead character who walks that balance between determined and flexible, cautious but brave, and a wonderful cast of secondary characters, Past Perfect Life is a compelling YA contemporary novel.

Ally Smith’s life is turned inside out when, while applying to college, has her social security number denied. She discovers her dad – the dad she loves spending time with, who is her best friend and rock – isn’t who he said he was. Everything she thought she knew was a lie, but Ally isn’t so sure what to hang on to from her old life and what to embrace in her new one.

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Book Review: This Time Will Be Different

This Time Will Be Different – Misa Sugiura – Harper Teen – Published 4 June 2019

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Synopsis

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop — to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

My thoughts

This Time Will Be Different is an endearing novel about family and family history, flowers and the magic of the language of flowers, and friendship, crushes and romance. It’s about growing up, discovering more about the world and yourself and your place in it. It’s about standing up for what’s right and learning to move on. It’s fun, cute and romantic and sure to please YA contemporary fiction readers.

CJ Katusyma likes working in her family’s florist. It’s perhaps the one thing she hasn’t yet messed up and while it doesn’t exactly make her mother proud of her at least she’s not a disappointment in her Aunt Hannah’s eyes. But when CJ’s mother threatens to sell the shop to none other than the man who stole it from CJ’s ancestors, CJ, Hannah and their new assistant, Oliver (dorky history geek and, ok, yes, slightly cute), plan to turn things around and prevent the sale. But life gets even more complicated with her best friend starts crushing on the sworn enemy, CJ is torn between geeky-cute Oliver and her long-term crush who is finally showing her some interest, and her relationship with her mother deteriorates.

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Book Review: The Center of the Universe

The Center of the Universe – Ria Voros – Kids Can Press – Published 2 April 2019

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Synopsis

Grace Carter’s mother — the celebrity news anchor GG Carter — is everything Grace is not. GG is a star, with a flawless wardrobe and a following of thousands, while Grace — an aspiring astrophysicist — is into stars of another kind. She and her mother have always been in different orbits. 

Then one day GG is just … gone. Cameras descend on their house, news shows speculate about what might have happened and Grace’s family struggles to find a new rhythm as they wait for answers.

While the authorities unravel the mystery behind GG’s disappearance, Grace grows closer to her high school’s golden boy, Mylo, who has faced a black hole of his own. She also uncovers some secrets from her mother’s long-lost past. The more Grace learns, the more she wonders. Did she ever really know her mother? Was GG abducted … or did she leave? And if she left, why?

My thoughts

The Center of the Universe is an fascinating YA contemporary novel about growing up, about family, about love and friendship, about horrible events that change and shape lives, about waiting and overcoming, about learning to listen, and about watching the stars. Part mystery, part coming-of-age contemporary, The Center of the Universe is sure to delight and surprise YA contemporary readers.

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Book Review: The Healer

The Healer – Donna Freitas – HarperTeen – Published 9 October 2018

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Synopsis

Marlena Oliveira has—mysteriously, miraculously—been given the power to heal all kinds of ailments. People around the world believe she is a saint. But her power comes at a price: she can’t go to school, she can’t have friends her own age, and she certainly can’t date.

Then she meets Finn, a boy who makes her want to fall in love. For the first time, she begins to doubt whether her gift is worth all that she must give up to keep it.

My thoughts

The Healer is a compelling and unique book. It is a very different coming of age story, yet despite Marlena’s special abilities that set her apart in the world, her story of falling in love for the first time, discovering who she is and is meant to be and learning to stand up for herself is universal.

Marlena is a Healer. Some say she is touched by God, others say she is a saint. For years, her mother has decided how she will live and what she will do. But as Marlena begins to stretch her wings, she must decide if being a healer defines her or if she can heal on her own terms.

At first, I was expecting a book similar to The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, but The Healer is not about plants or potions and is far more mystical and religious. Marlena isn’t sure where her powers come from, some days she’s not even sure she really has powers. But her mother is a firm believer that Marlena has been touched by God and a church and religious group has risen up around Marlena. The constant attention is something that Marlena hates the most. She longs for connection with people not awe and fear from afar. She wants to be able to walk down the street of her hometown without seeing her face on souvenirs in the windows of shops. She wants to live a normal life.

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