February 13, 2015

A Reenactment Village & Two Retellings

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando

Release Date: March 2006
Publisher: MTV Books
Pages: 288 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl is not how Betsy Odell imagined spending the summer before her senior year of high school, but her history professor father insists she take a job at Morrisville Historic Village. To make matters worse, Liza Henske, only the biggest freak from school - piercings, tattoos, bleached hair - works as a farm girl too. As far as Betsy can tell, her summer will be miserable and any chance of ever being popular is doomed.

When tragedy strikes Betsy close to home, her boyfriend and 'friends' are nowhere to be found, and her job becomes a welcome escape from the real world. James, a Morrisville employee from the next town over, is probably the greatest - not to mention cutest - guy Betsy has ever met, and Liza is surprisingly normal and fun. Caught between two worlds - old and new - Betsy is soon struggling with two versions of herself. Combining backdrops of historic Morrisville with the normal teenage world of beach parties, learning to drive, and broken hearts, Tara Altebrando writes a hilarious and fun novel of one girl's search for love and happiness - and the unlikely places she finds them.

Brief Thoughts of The Pursuit of Happiness
A year or so ago, I fell in love with Past Perfect by Leila Sales. As a historical fiction nerd, I immediately loved the setting: a historical reenactment village. After mentioning that I'd love more books with that quirky setting, Estelle gifted me a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness. As soon as I started reading it, I knew it was a winner!

The last thing Betsy wants to do is spend her summer dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl for the Morrisville Historic Village. But Betsy's father insists, and there's not much else she can do. She'll spend her summer miserable - and in the company of the school's biggest freak, Liza. When Betsy's mother passes away, her boyfriend and friends can't be found. They've distanced themselves from her, and suddenly her job feels like the only place where she has any fun. Liza's not so bad, and there's a cute boy, James, who has got her attention... Betsy's not sure where she belongs anymore or even what to do once she finds her place.

I'm so glad Estelle sent this book my way - talk about an underrated gem! The Pursuit of Happiness is a slower read, but it's one with so much heart. I loved how real it all felt. There are messy emotions and complicated situations, but I loved the tone of this book because it's sad without being depressing. Betsy is a little directionless, but in a way that feels almost familiar. The way she struggles with her family and friends - and the way those situations are resolved - made this a relatable read. I haven't necessarily dealt with the same issues, but Altebrando still makes them seem so authentic.

It's a simple story, yes, but Altebrando does a great job telling it! At its core, The Pursuit of Happiness about dealing with grief and loss while coming of age. It's a story of finding where you fit, learning to forgive and figuring out everything in the meantime. If you're looking for something under-the-radar but totally worth reading, this book would be a great option! I'd love to see more people discover it.
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Release Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins | Balzer + Bray
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

Thoughts on Across a Star-Swept Sea
I absolutely fell in love with For Darkness Shows the Stars, the first book in this series, and couldn't wait to continue with Across the Star-Swept Sea. So, I pre-ordered it and anxiously waited for my copy to arrive. When it did, I somehow ended up letting it sit on my shelves for months. What a total fail! Once all that time passed, I knew I wanted to re-read the first book before diving back into this world again.

Despite re-reading For Darkness Shows the Stars first, I still found myself a little confused when I started this book. The world Peterfreund has created is so unique and interesting! I've never read anything quite like it, and it's so much fun see this kind of creativity. But it made for a really slow start for me. The complexity was confusing, and I kept re-reading paragraphs or flipping back a few pages to try to make sense of it all. Once I felt comfortable with it, I started to pick up my reading pace.

I haven't read The Scarlet Pimpernel - but I want to now! Either way, I loved so many of the themes in this book. I was fascinated by the way this book prompts so many discussions - about perception, subverting gender roles and defying expectations. There's so much meat to this story, and it's the kind of book that makes you think. I loved the romance, especially the banter and the butting heads. But I wanted more! You spend so long with these characters and know so much about them (that they don't yet know about each other), so the ending was a bit of a letdown. There's not enough! I needed another chapter or something.

And I still wish there was another book in this series. There are some things introduced in this book that still feel so unfinished or unresolved. They aren't major things, but they were prominent enough that I almost wondered why they'd been introduced. I liked Across a Star-Swept Sea, but I didn't love it the way I did For Darkness Shows the Stars. It was just a bit too complicated, and I found myself losing my momentum while reading. For such an exciting premise, it felt oddly boring at times. I liked it, but I don't see myself re-reading it.
Love, Lucy by April Lindner

Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Hachette | Poppy
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Edelweiss; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
While backpacking through Florence, Italy, during the summer before she heads off to college, Lucy Sommersworth finds herself falling in love with the culture, the architecture, the food...and Jesse Palladino, a handsome street musician. After a whirlwind romance, Lucy returns home, determined to move on from her "vacation flirtation." But just because summer is over doesn't mean Lucy and Jesse are over, too.

In this coming-of-age romance, April Lindner perfectly captures the highs and lows of a summer love that might just be meant to last beyond the season.

Thoughts on Love, Lucy
I haven't read anything by April Lindner before, but I knew I wanted to read Love, Lucy as soon as I heard it was a YA retelling of A Room with a View. That's one of my favorite classics, and I could totally envision a modern twist on this timeless tale. There's so much potential!

Before starting college, Lucy Sommersworth has the opportunity to backpack through Europe with a friend. One of the last stops on her trip is Florence, Italy, and Lucy falls in love with the food, the culture, and the handsome boy she meets there, Jesse Palladino. They have a heady few days together before Lucy must return home and start her "real life." After all, it was just a summer fling... right?

Retellings often present a challenge. If you follow the source too closely, the story doesn't feel original or like it offers new insight or a new perspective on something familiar. But if you stray too far from the source, you run the risk of alienating people who love the original. I think Love, Lucy is actually a situation where you'll enjoy the book much more if you've never read A Room with a View. But if you've read and loved it? Skip this book!

I'm torn on my rating for this book. Without the retelling element, I think it was closer to an "okay" or  "liked it" rating. But having read the source? I'm so disappointed. If you read this book, I don't think you'd have any desire to pick up A Room with a View... and I think you'd have no idea what you were missing. There's so much depth to A Room with a View, and the themes are particularly compelling. Unfortunately, Love, Lucy just re-creates an modern version of the plot but captures none of the emotion or depth of the original.

The traveling aspect is fun, but the story and characters are really frustrating. I just kept thinking, "BUT THE ORIGINAL LUCY WAS SO MUCH BETTER!" And don't even get me started on all the ways Jesse Palladino doesn't even hold a candle to George Emerson... I was so hoping this book would retain the feelings evoked in A Room with a View, but it just didn't. Pass on this one and discover the amazing-ness of A Room with a View instead.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

2 comments:

  1. I have never read Room With a View but I think I had similar feelings to yours about Love, Lucy. The characters had no depth so it made it hard to connect with them. I did enjoy the story, but just couldn't get emotionally invested. I am really curious about Room With a View now though!

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  2. I want to read The Pursuit of Happiness! It sounds utterly delightful, and I've enjoyed other stuff from Altebrando in the past, so I might have to check it out. (I also really just love that cover.) And I'm happy you read Across a Star-Swept Sea! I think it's a pretty cool novel, and I'm thrilled at how Peterfreund introduced readers to another side of that particular world.

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