The Juliet Club

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The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
Published in 2008 by Greenwillow Books

Since I adore the film Letters to Juliet, I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it. I was really hoping that the plot lines weren’t too similar, and I was not disappointed.

The Juliet Club is about no nonsense, recently heartbroken Kate Sanderson, the daughter of divorced lawyer (mom) and Shakespeare scholar (dad). When she wins a Shakespeare essay contest, a trip to study Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy is her prize. Since her dad is a known scholar, he, too, is attending the seminar, which just happens to be hosted by his archrival, Professoressa Marchese. When they arrive, Kate meets her rival, Giacomo, who just happens to be the son of Professoressa Marchese. But there are no thoughts of being star-crossed lovers in Kate’s mind, who has recently vowed to never waste her time on love again.

Kate discovers that some of the other students are planning to pull a Much Ado About Nothing stunt on herself and Giacomo, but the pair decides to turn the tables. They pretend to be falling in love as they study Shakespeare, answer letters as “Juliet,” and prepare to perform the famous balcony scene, but Kate will soon discover that her stand on never loving again may be starting to waver.

I really enjoyed reading this! The language use is very minimal (less than 5 instances), and it is very clean. I didn’t know that Much Ado About Nothing plays such a major role in the plot line, but I am so glad that it does since MAAN is my favorite Shakespeare play! I loved how the characters would quote Shakespeare to each other and loved it even more when I knew which play was being quoted. (English major, remember? So, of course, I took a course on Shakespeare.) This novel further fueled my desire to go to Italy and visit “Juliet’s house” (one of my friends is over there right now—jealous!) I picked this up at my local used bookstore, but you can find it on Amazon for less than $6 right now.

If you are interested in finding out more about the actual Juliet Club, visit their website at julietclub.com/en/. You can actually write a letter to “Juliet” and receive a reply. (Yes, I’m probably going to do this!)

On the Fence

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On the Fence by Kasie West
Published in 2014 by HarperTeen

Remember when I said that I was looking into reading Kasie West’s On the Fence and ended up reading The Distance Between Us instead? Well, it’s a good thing that I did! Turns out that the characters in Distance make cameos in Fence, which is post-Distance, thus, giving away the ending of Distance. Anyway, after the glowing review I gave Distance, I’m sure you’ll find it hard to believe that I liked On the Fence even more, but I did! It had West’s same voice and style, but I could definitely see growth in her characters and the emotional depth of the story.

On the Fence is about Charlotte “Charlie” Reynolds, the youngest of four siblings and the only girl. She has three very protective big brothers…and her dad is a cop. (Not exactly enticing for the fellas, eh?) After losing her mother at a young age, Charlie has grown up in a house chock-full of testosterone and is very much a tomboy. For as long as she can remember, next-door-neighbor Braden has just been another one of her brothers, but when they start having late night chats at the fence that separates their yards, things start to change. Especially since they’ve both determined to keep their fence chats a secret.

When Charlie gets a job at a local clothing shop, she starts to discover another side to herself, a side that wears girly clothes and makeup and just might have a crush on the boy next door. But another guy, Evan, swoops in, capturing Charlie’s attention, and Charlie’s three brothers are the least of his worries. It’s Braden he has to watch out for. Jealousies abound as Charlie learns more about herself, including a devastating secret about her mother’s death. Charlie must decide which side of herself she really wants to be (girly or tomboy?) and which guy loves the real Charlie (Evan or Braden?).

Just like with Distance, there is no language (thank you!) and is very appropriate for YA. This novel does have strong emotional content surrounding the death of Charlie’s mother and the abusive nature of Braden’s dad, so I would recommend that the younger YA audience (15 and under) wait a few more years. Though the ending is somewhat predictable, there are surprises along the way. And Charlie’s brothers are very entertaining—they reinforce the desire I’ve always had for an older brother. I really enjoyed this quick read and look forward to reading the rest of West’s works.

The Giver (ranting ahead)

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The Giver by Lois Lowry
Published in 1993 by Delacorte Press

When I saw the trailer for The Giver, I knew I had to cave and finally read the book. I almost read it a few years ago, but when I saw the word “Utopian” used to describe it, I shied away. I cannot stand Utopia. But, after seeing the trailer, it reminded me of The Hunger Games, so I picked up a copy at the local used bookstore. I just finished it and immediately rewatched the trailer…you have been warned.

The Giver (the book) is about a twelve-year-old boy named Jonas who lives in a society that is very, well, blah. They have no colors, no feelings, basically no lives. They are told what to eat, whom to marry, what children to adopt, what job to have, etc. Practically all free will has been taken away. (Communism, anyone?) When Jonas turns twelve, he is assigned his job, but this job is different than the rest. His job is to be The Receiver, the one who holds every memory ever. But it’s more than just memories, it’s history. The people do not know their history, just the time in which they live. (Not that I couldn’t have gone without a few History classes, but no past at all?) Jonas is now to be given these memories by the outgoing Receiver, aka The Giver. But as Jonas receives more and more memories, he starts to envision a different world, a world in which everyone can make his or her own choice, have free will. In the end, Jonas has to choose: the world he lives in, or the world that could be?

Now comes the ranting. So, like I said, I watched the trailer right after finishing the book, and I’m already up in arms. First of all, Mr. Aussie (Brenton Thwaites) that is playing Jonas is a very attractive twenty-five-year-old. Obviously, movie Jonas is not twelve. And Meryl Streep’s character is in one scene in the book. One. Scene. But, of course, you can’t give Meryl just one scene. And The Giver is supposed to be a lot older than Jeff Bridges from how I read the book and the cover. (Got some Methuselah going on there.) And the romance? Book Jonah takes pills that stifle his hormones for a good chunk of the book, but even when that stops, he is TWELVE and barely even talks to Fiona, much less kiss her. But it is inevitable to have a budding romance with a very attractive twenty-five-year-old and a—wait for it—seventeen-year-old. Clearly, Hollywood’s goal is to take a book that is loved by many and make it into a movie that is nothing like the book. I think they want to make us mad, don’t you? I know, trust me, I know, that a movie version of a book cannot be exactly the same as the book and that they have to be approached as two separate works, but there’s a line. Having the same title and same character names doesn’t deserve a “based on the novel” blurb in the credits, okay? “Inspired by” is more like it. Will I see the movie? Eh, maybe so I can rant some more (all of this is just from the trailer!). The movie, as its own entity, does look good. Stupid Hollywood.

I think readers should be at least twelve to read this book since that is the age of the main character, but there is some heavy stuff to deal with toward the end, which might be a little much for some. It’s done in a way that is age appropriate, but it is still heavy. I think kids these days read books far above their level and parents don’t monitor what their children read, which saddens me. To be on the safe side, at least twelve, but more likely closer to fourteen.

The Importance of Being Literate

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When I began college, I knew that I was going to be an English major. I was told that I would change my major because everyone does, and I replied, “No, I won’t.” And I didn’t. A) There wasn’t anything else I wanted to major in, B) I loved—and still do—the study of all things English, and C) I like to be different and refuse to do something just because it is “the norm.” Choosing to major in English is not an easy decision, but it is a decision that I am grateful to have made. Why am I saying all of this? I’m giving you a little backstory so that you know why I am so passionate about my degree, reading, and writing.

In a world where nearly everyone one you see is on his or her smartphone (in the mall, on the road, even at dinner with family), it seems like fewer and fewer people are making time to read. I see children playing games on their parents’ iPads and iPhones before they can even speak in sentences. What is happening to our world? Technology is taking over, that’s part of it. I wrote a research essay in 2012 titled, “Technology and Reading: a Beneficial Bond or an Unfavorable Union?” In it, I discuss the reading statistics that have come with e-readers and e-books. Here is an excerpt:

While e-book sales may continue to rise, research done by the Pew Research Center shows that “print books still dominate” as the most read format (Rainie et al 19). But an obvious change is occurring. In June of 2010, 95% of adult readers were reading print and only 4% were reading e-books; however, as of December 2011, the print readers had dropped to 84% and the e-book readers had risen to 15% (24). Furthermore, it would seem that e-readers actually encourage more reading. “Those who read e-books report they have read more books in all formats. They reported an average of 24 books in the previous 12 months and had a median of 13 books. Those who do not read e-books say they averaged 15 books in the previous year and the median was 6 books” (3). Despite these encouraging numbers, the number of people who do not read continues to increase. The rate has changed from 13% in 2001 to 19% in 2011, suggesting that the e-reader may only have clout with people who already read (19). Nevertheless, these findings indicate that e-readers have, in fact, inspired readers to read more, which is certainly a benefit that the e-book technology has brought about.

Yes, people who read may be reading more, but more people are not reading at all. You might ask, “Who cares? So what if I don’t read? I can’t discuss the latest Stephen King, but what is so important about that?” Well, let me tell you.

A few years ago, a professor gave me an article that for the life of me I couldn’t remember the title of. I had to pull out my college files to find it, searched folder after folder, but I found it! I have it in printed form minus page numbers, but here is a link to an online version (also without page numbers, which isn’t very helpful, especially since I want to cite properly). Published in The New Yorker, “Twilight of the Books” by Caleb Crain opens by asking, “What will life be like if people stop reading?” (134). It will not be pleasant, I assure you. People may thinking reading is a waste of time and effort, but, at the end, Crain says this: “readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence” (138). In short, readers tend to be more well-rounded than non-readers.

And I cannot begin to express the importance of reading for children. When I was a child, I loved reading so much (I know, shocker) that I was determined to learn how to read myself so that I could read even more. And I did. I knew how to read before Kindergarten. The little boys I babysit make my day every time I’m with them. Sure, they like to play, but we spend most of our time sitting on the couch reading book after book after book. If children don’t read, how will they grow their imaginations? Imaginations that fuel creativity? In a blog post that Grammarly recently released on promoting literacy, some statistics were given regarding low literacy in adults. Low literacy in adults can come to an end if we instill the desire to read in children.

As for writing, being able to write is an invaluable skill. I find errors in books, articles, on websites, etc almost daily. I know that we are human and make mistakes, but these are simple errors that probably wouldn’t happen if English majors were involved (just sayin’). There are so many times that I receive an email that is full of errors and not only reflects badly on the writer, but also makes the employer look questionable in hiring skills and training. I came across a post a few months ago, and it really stuck with me. “Why I Hire English Majors”—just the title makes my heart beat faster. Nearly every job listing I see requires writing ability. So, don’t think English and writing aren’t important because YOU WILL ALWAYS NEED TO WRITE. You write emails, Facebook posts (don’t get me started), text messages, shopping lists, memos, notes for your children, etc. As long as we continue to communicate with others in a non-verbal manner (which seems to be the most prevalent), we will be in need of writing skills. Typo on your resume? Kiss that job goodbye. Vice versa, as long as we write, we will be reading something!

I feel like I’ve been on this soapbox for some time now, so let me conclude by saying that I don’t want to live in a world where we don’t read and don’t write because I want to live in a good world. Will you join me?

You, too, can contribute to the promotion of literacy. Spread the word, bloggers. Grammarly will donate to a literacy charity of your choice if you blog about literacy and good writing skills, share their post about promoting literacy, and send an email with the link to your post and the name of your selected charity to
promoteliteracy@grammarly.com.

Be sure to visit www.grammarly.com and try out their Grammar Checker!

The Shakespeare Stealer

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The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Published in 2000 by Puffin Books

I’ve been having trouble finding a book I enjoy lately. I start a book and am disenchanted after just a few pages. Not a good sign. This was not the case with The Shakespeare Stealer (which I think would have sounded better as “The Shakespeare Thief,” but that’s just me).

This work of historical fiction tells the story of a young boy, Widge, who is an orphan living in Elizabethan England. He is apprenticed and taught how to write in shorthand by Dr. Bright, who developed modern shorthand. A stranger arrives one day to purchase Widge’s apprenticeship from Dr. Bright in order to, as the title states, steal from Shakespeare. Widge learns that his new master, Simon Bass, expects him to attend the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a new play by Shakespeare that has yet to be printed (therefore, not easily performed by other theatre troupes). Unable to record the entire play in one setting, Widge ends up joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to steal the play book. In the end, Widge must decide which is more important: stealing the play and obeying his master, or finding freedom, a family, and a home with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

I really like how this book shows some of the history of shorthand. Seeing as kids aren’t even taught cursive anymore, I’m sure they have no idea what shorthand is (and there are even examples of it!) Even though Widge’s naivety can be a little annoying, he is still a child, so that is to be expected. This book has several twists. Without giving anything away, let me just say that there is a plot twist that I figured would be used, but I was shocked at the reveal. I will definitely be rereading to see if I can spot the clues sooner.

So, I really enjoyed this book! It is a short read that kept my attention the whole time, even though it is meant for ages 10 to 14. I think 10 is a little young, not content-wise but for understanding who Shakespeare was and the time in which he lived. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (unless it is Jane Austen related), but I was impressed with this work. I enjoyed seeing how Widge’s accent changes overtime as he goes from speaking in his Yorkshire accent and dialect to that of a Londoner. There is some language, which also makes me question the intended audience, but the words didn’t necessarily mean then what they do now, so I understand WHY Blackwood employs them (historical accuracy) but wish that he hadn’t (contemporary meaning and audience).

I’m really shocked that a movie version hasn’t been made, but I will certainly watch it if one is!

Elixir

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Elixir by Hilary Duff
Published in 2010 by Simon & Schuster BFYR

I’ve been feeling the need for more Hilary Duff in my life lately. What with the tenth anniversary of A Cinderella Story this past July 16 and the release of her new single, “Chasing the Sun,” I’m ready to see the Duff make a comeback (please let her new tv show be good!). With that being said, I pulled from my to-be-read stack Elixir, a YA novel by none other than Hilary Duff! (insert squeal) Going into this book, my thoughts were: did this book get published because it’s actually good, or did it get published because of who wrote it?

Here’s what I found out: there’s a reason I grabbed this book from the $3.97 clearance bin. Sorry, Duff.

The first half of this book is AMAZING. I sat down to read, and an hour later, I was 100+ pages in. I was hooked. Another 100 pages in, I was still hooked. But when I
got to the second half…well, let me back up and tell you about it.

Seventeen-year-old Clea Raymond (who I couldn’t help but envision as seventeen-year-old Duff) is the daughter of a senator—her mom—and a heart surgeon philanthropist—her dad, who went missing on his last trip to Brazil and has since been declared dead. Clea, however, cannot come to grips with her father’s “death,” despite extensive therapy. When the opportunity arises for Clea to go to Brazil, she jumps at it, hoping that she will discover something that will explain her father’s disappearance. (Sounds good, right?) She loves photography and starts noticing an unknown man in photos she’s recently taken. A stalker? He starts to make appearances in her dreams, too, and each time, Clea is a different woman from a different time period, all women who loved this mysterious man named Sage (really?), all women who died. (I know, still sounds good!) When Clea tells her friend, Ben, about Sage being in the photos, Ben reveals a secret of her father’s: Sage has been in every photo of Clea and that Clea has taken since she was born. (Ah, intense!) And it all has something to do with the Elixir of Life (thus, the title).

Now. It. All. Goes. Down. Hill. (**Spoilers ahead**). Clea goes to Brazil, just happens across Sage, decides after about five minutes that he isn’t a threat after all, and falls in love. A day later, what does Clea do…with Sage…in her best friend’s car? You guessed it. Then, there’s this journey to Japan to find a creepy old lady in the basement of a Japanese mall, which leads to the revelation that Sage destroyed the Elixir of Life 500 years ago and didn’t bother to mention that before flying halfway around the world. Oh, and Clea IS the women she dreamed about (surprise reincarnation, very Fallen-like), the women who all died (still sounds like Fallen), and she will die next if Sage doesn’t kill himself to end the cycle, which he is about to do when he gets kidnapped. And then the book ends. (I’m sorry, what?) Yes, Sage gets kidnapped, and Clea gets on a plane to go home. No resolution, no trying to save him, no nothing. Is Clea’s father is still alive? Don’t know. She has what she thinks is a premonition of him still being alive, but we have no clue because the book ends without mentioning him again. I imagine that this is how Hazel felt after reading that book that just ends mid-sentence in The Fault in Our Stars. (I get it now, Hazel!) I don’t have any qualms about giving away the ending because after this review, I hope you’re not going to waste your time, but let me just say that I have never been more disappointed in a book ending. (I’m talking worse than Mockingjay and Allegiant, folks.) How can a book that starts off so good end so badly??

Besides this non-ending ending, there were other issues that I had with this book. 1. Clea is only seventeen, but her mom lets her jet around the world by herself. (And the parent of the year award goes to…) 2. People all around the world recognize Clea because her mom is a senator. (I’m sorry, but I don’t think that I’d recognize Obama’s kids, much less some senator’s.) 3. Clea, under a pseudonym, is a famous photographer (The reason she’s able to go to Brazil is because it’s an “assignment.”) 4. The scenes where Clea is the women from different eras don’t even attempt to use historically accurate language. (I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have used the phrases “deal with it,” “ex-girlfriend,” “a big deal,” and “are you kidding” in RENAISSANCE Italy.) 5. I can’t believe how many times “I” was used instead of “me” and vice versa. (Simon & Schuster, hire me to be an editor!)

Obviously (said like Snape), this novel is a big disappointment. I wouldn’t recommend Elixir unless you stop reading in the middle. There is language, not an extensive amount, but some. The biggest turn off, though, is the sex in the car. At least it isn’t described. If you still want to read it, I would recommend 16+ (because I wouldn’t let my fifteen-year-old cousin—who loves the Duff—read this and be so disappointed). But I still love the Duff!

The Distance Between Us

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Published in 2013 by HarperTeen

What made me read this book? Well, I was actually looking at another book (On the Fence) by the same author and decided to buy The Distance Between Us first—I can’t remember why. What intrigued me about both books was that the reviews mentioned how clean these books are, and I’m hoping this is a characteristic of the author.

The story is told from the point of view of Caymen (no, she isn’t named after the Islands) Meyers, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her single mom above their doll store. It’s written in first-person present tense, which happens to be my preferred POV and tense—it makes me feel like the story is happening as I’m reading it and that I’m right in the middle of the action. Caymen has been raised to think not-so-highly of rich people, so when she meets Xander Spence, a handsome rich boy, she has to decide whether or not her mom’s views should continue to be her own. Xander isn’t just rich, by the way, he’s RICH, and Caymen can’t even afford to have a cell phone. Both Caymen and Xander want to rebel against the expectations their families have for them, so they have “career days” to discover what they want for themselves.

As with most YA novels (The Hunger Games, even Twilight), the hero of this book is significantly more invested in his relationship with the heroine than she is in her relationship with him. While Xander has nothing to hide, Caymen is constantly keeping secrets—including keeping her relationship with Xander a secret from her mom. It takes time for Caymen to realize that honesty really is the best policy, but she wouldn’t be the heroine if she were perfect from page 1.

Ms. West’s site lists The Distance Between Us as “Pretty in Pink meets Pride and Prejudice.” Some similarities I see are: two guys are competing for the heroine’s attention, there’s initial reluctance on the heroine’s part toward the inevitable hero, a fight ensues between heroine and hero that nearly destroys the entire relationship, and everything turns out happy-go-lucky in the end.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book. It might be one of the best YA novels that I’ve read in quite some time, and I’m hoping that there is a sequel in the works (or at least the same story from Xander’s POV). It’s a quick read, easy to get interested in (a big factor for me), and retails for $9.99 (or even less on Amazon!). There is no language that I recall (and I was on the lookout), and while there is somewhat detailed kissing, it isn’t graphic in any way. I would let my fifteen-year-old cousin read this (or make her because it is so good!) but not my thirteen-year-old cousin.

So, grab a copy for yourself, and let me know what you think!