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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

In this, the third and final novel of the Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas is coming to the village of Mount Polbearne.  Mount Polbearne is an unusual village set on the coast of Cornwall; when the tide comes in, the only road leading to and from the village is covered by the sea, and it becomes a little island.  Windy, cold, and oftentimes isolated, it's a village where generations of fishing families have lived, and tourists visit during the summer.  Polly's bakery is still in full swing, and as popular as ever.  She's living with Huckle, her beekeeping boyfriend in the lighthouse she bought earlier in the year.  They're engaged.  Life is good. 

But we all know that when life seems at its most stable, we're often thrown a curve, and that's just what happens to Polly.  Huckle wants to get married and have kids; Polly's fatherless childhood preys on her mind, and makes her hesitate.  Her best friend Kerensa, married to the mogul Reuben, finds out she's pregnant, but instead of being happy about it, she's terrified it will expose a secret only she and Polly know about.  Forbidden to tell Huckle the secret, the added stress on Polly creates even more tension between Polly and Huckle.  

While Polly's life in Mount Polbearne is the happiest she's ever been, it certainly has a few bumps in the road.  Can she find a way to make everyone happy, and keep herself from going crazy?  Add to that Reuben's request for Polly to cater his whole Christmas celebration (which is multiple parties), when all she wants is to spend Christmas Day lounging around with Huckle and not baking one thing.  But the money Reuben is offering is more than Polly can even comprehend, and would go a long way towards making life easier.  What's a baker to do?

This was a good conclusion to the Little Beach Street Bakery trilogy, although it did seem a bit gloomy at times.  I'll certainly miss the people I've come to know reading these books, and I'll always be hoping Jenny Colgan sends out an unexpected, yet very welcome, update on Polly, Huckle, Kerensa, and Reuben.  Polly's journey to happiness comes to a satisfactory conclusion, and the ending is sweet and perfect.  

If you haven't read the first two books in this trilogy: Little Beach Street Bakery, and Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery,  please do before you read this--you'll understand the dynamics of the characters much better, and  Polly's journey to happiness as the beloved baker of Mount Polbearne is worth the read.  

Rating:  4/6 for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  Polly and Huckle, while happy, still have growing pains (as do all relationships).  I appreciate the author's understanding that happily ever after takes constant work!

Available in paperback and ebook.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale by G. Neri

 It's very true I haven't read much children's fiction this year. I saw this book and, knowing a little bit about Truman Capote and Harper Lee's childhood friendship, I thought this would be a good read to include in my Christmas picks for December.  It is the continuation of Tru and Nelle, but you don't need to read that in order to enjoy this tale.  

I read the author's note after finishing the book, and learned that most of the people in this novel were actual real-life folks in Truman and Nelle's lives. Set in 1935, just a few days before Christmas, Tru is a runaway, hitching a ride on a train from his military school in New York to Monroeville, Alabama.  He had moved to New York with his mother and step-father, preferring the bright lights of New York City.  But once his mother was granted full custody after a bitter divorce, Truman finds out he's in the way, and shipped off to a military school where he doesn't fit in at all.  He decides he can't take it anymore and hops a train, getting back to his friend Nelle and his family:  Jenny, Big Boy, and Sookie.  He's welcomed back with open arms, but isn't there very long before bad things start to happen around Tru.  Suddenly homeless, his family ends up staying with Big Boy's family on their farm for Christmas.  A mysterious murder happens, and Nelle--trying to be helpful for her father, A.C., ends up creating a disaster when she notices two black men hanging around near the murder scene.  

While Christmas is approaching quickly, Tru and Nelle are struggling to find the meaning of Christmas, and the hope for justice to be served after it becomes quite clear the two men are not guilty of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But the South in 1935 is no place for justice when it comes to race, and A.C. has his one and only criminal case in Monroeville, defending the two men.  

Through all of this turmoil, Tru and Nelle are rediscovering their friendship, evolving in their love of storytelling, and struggling with their identities--neither one is a typical tween and they don't fit in anywhere.  But Christmas has a special pull, and the love of family and friends means a lot in a time of despair and racial injustice.  

I really did enjoy this novel.  I thought it was a good balance between what the climate was like for 1935 Southern America--so many people with nothing, the KKK, racial tensions; but still that important pull of family and sticking together. Of being a good neighbor, of taking that one extra step to help, be kind, and understanding.  Tru and Nelle's struggle to move their relationship from a childhood friendship to a young adult friendship is something most of us have had to go through with dear friends we've know for a long time.  And justice.  As A.C. tells Nelle, sometimes the most important thing we can do is to be a witness to events, even when we can't do anything to prevent the outcome.  

This is a young reader novel, but very suitable for adults and teens, too.  Truman Capote's memoir A Christmas Memory is still available in bookstores and libraries.  



Rating:  4/6 for a novel about Truman Capote and Harper Lee's childhood friendship, and one special Christmas.  

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz

I can't say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is my most favorite book ever, but I definitely have a soft spot for it, and of course I love the BBC series version with Colin Firth.  So much so, that I bought it on VHS tape years and years ago.  And, Colin Firth remains the only Darcy in my heart.  

I thought this would be a fun read-a modern version of P&P with the roles reversed:  Darcy is a 29 year old super smart woman who has risen to partnership in her hedge fund financial corporation in New York City.  From the town of Pemberly, OH, she's avoided going home for eight years after a falling out with her father over her refusal to marry Carl, who looked good on paper, but whom Darcy just didn't love.  Instead, she left for New York City and became a very rich woman working on Wall Street.  Her life is fairly empty except for work; she can buy anything she wants, but just isn't very happy.  A family health crisis sends her flying home just before Christmas.  She's uncomfortable in her family's very plush home (Dad is a very successful businessman) and running into old family friends-namely, the Bennets, a family of men who Darcy's known all her life.  There's Jim, who makes an immediate connection with Darcy's actor friend Bingley, and there's Luke.  He's annoyed Darcy all through high school, and their drunken make out session under the mistletoe at her family's Christmas party is a shock to Darcy.  A shock, you say?  Yes, because she realizes she's got feelings for Luke.  

There are all sorts of complications, and the path to true love for Darcy and Luke isn't smooth.  I got tired of trying to compare P&P to this story, and I wish De La Cruz hadn't even tried to make this a modern version.  It would have been a perfectly good story without trying to force it into the P&P mold.  It strayed enough away that I just got annoyed, and the flimsy pivot in the plot (two Bennet boys are juvenile delinquents, and Darcy basically pays off the high school principal to let them stay in school) was lame-o.  This novel would have been heaps better if it was just about two people who discover they don't dislike each other, but actually quite like each other-without all the extra junk that mucked up the story.  I also found the nonchalant way Darcy talked about money a bit off-putting.  It was a Hallmark movie gone wrong, I'm afraid. 

Oh well.  It's a quick read, and enjoyable enough, just disappointing for me. 

Rating:  2/6 for a plot that tries to force itself into a clever, modern twist of Pride and Prejudice, but fell short for me.  I didn't much like Darcy, either.  

Available in hardcover, and ebook.