Review: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale Book Cover The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
Danielle E. Shipley

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Because I’m on a life-long quest to find and devour books about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I was delighted to stumble upon The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale. A Renaissance Faire populated by living legends like King Arthur, Merlin, and the dashing Robin Hood? Count me in!

At the start of the story, newly orphaned minstrel Allyn-a-Dale is brought, rather unexpectedly, to the mystical Avalon. Avalon is a “place of magical renewal,” a refuge where legendary beings are kept alive and well by the magic of the fey. In order to keep the modern-day people who don’t live in Avalon (known as “Outsiders”) from discovering their secret, the legends hide in plain sight, operating Avalon as a Renaissance Faire and pretending to be actors portraying their real selves.

“While you’re in Avalon, you are employed by the Faire. Do room, board, and conditionally eternal youth sound like fair wages to you?”

Allyn is graciously permitted to join the Faire’s residents as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. All goes smoothly until someone steals the magical artifact that concentrates the faeries’ power and keeps Avalon’s residents alive. Robin and his crew vow to recover the artifact, and they venture into the modern world in pursuit.

Legendary characters and modern ways of life clash in this book; in many ways, it’s quite jarring. For example, I found it disconcerting that the wizard Merlin owns a computer. Likewise, there’s something vaguely horrifying about hearing one of the Merry Men utter the words “chillax, you pedant,” or seeing Queen Guinevere “grooving along to the Rock Minstrel’s ‘Round Table Rhapsody’” while playing a Dance-Dance-Avalon video game.

That said, there are times when it’s amusing to see the Merry Men try to assimilate to contemporary culture. Will Scarlet, Robin’s cousin and fellow outlaw, is an Outside/pop culture enthusiast, and he serves as the Merry Men’s sometimes-bumbling-yet-always-energetic guide during the jaunt through the “real” world. There’s a great scene when the group is initiated into the mysteries of placing an order in a fast-food drive-through, and I enjoyed the irony of Robin shopping for clothes at Target. (Archery…targets…get it?) Best of all, though, is when Will tries to engage the Merry Men in a “traditional road-trip game,” at which time his companions totally fail to grasp the nuances of the Alphabet Name Game.

There’s a great deal of goofy humor in The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale, some of it hitting its mark and some of it not. A few of the cheesier lines had me wincing, like when Merlin learns Allyn’s name and asks, “How do you spell that?” Allyn promptly supplies, “T,H,A,T,” which made me groan out loud.

“His gaze incredulous, Allyn whispered, ‘Do you really rob people?’
‘Unless you count the outrageous price of an ice cream cone around here, not so much nowadays,’ Will said, with a matter-of-fact shrug.”

My main complaint about this novel is that it’s simple and one-dimensional. While I found it to be a very pleasant book, I would have liked greater complexity and depth. It was much lighter and fluffier than I expected, and the characters’ lack of substance left me unsatisfied.

Ultimately, while I enjoyed adding this new Robin Hood story to my quiver (see what I did there?), the overall tone wasn’t exactly what I’d bargained for. I find I prefer more complex Robin Hood tales, with conflict and an edgy tone, to the light-hearted versions like this one. That said, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale boasts a fun premise and great writing, so if you’ve an interest in merry outlaws, it’s still worth giving this book a shot.

And now, I’ll leave you with a few amusing quotes from the book:

“There’s a lot of overlap, I’ve found, between the truth and the impossible.”

*****

“…Merlin paused between the chairs of Gawain and Lancelot, turned to face those assembled, and announced, ‘Just so everybody knows, we are all thoroughly screwed.’”

*****

“‘Thank you,’ said Allyn, lovingly embracing his guitar-lute as a mother would her ugly baby.”

YA Wednesdays Book Blitz: Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Book blitz banner for Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny

Welcome to this week’s Swoon Romance YA Wednesday! This week features Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny. Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

About Kissing Frogs

Book cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Popular party girl and high school senior Jessica Scott has a secret: she used to be a nerd — a big one; a goody two-shoes, grade-skipping, all-state spelling bee champ. But she lost the braces, put on some contacts, and applied all her academic genius to studying and imitating the social elite. Now she rules the school from the upper echelon of the high school realm. With her cool new friends and hottest-guy-in-school boyfriend, life’s a beach — and that’s where she’s headed for Spring Break. That is, until her teacher breaks the bad news that she’s failing Biology — and her only chance to make up the grade is to throw away the culminating trip of her hard-earned popularity and join the Conservation Club in Panama to save the Golden Frog.

Unable to let go of her faded college dreams, Jess finds herself in a foreign country with a new social crew, and one handsome face that stands out as a blast from the past, threatening to ruin her queen bee reputation. Travis Henley may have grown up, but he still likes to play childish games and as payment for retrieving Jess’ lost ring from the bottom of a jungle pool, he wants three dates. While Jess does battle with spiders, snakes, wildfires and smart mean girls, she desperately tries to hang on to the last vestiges of her popular existence like the Golden Frog from its webbed toe. But as she starts to care about something more than tanning and texting – a species on the verge of disappearing forever – she may realize the worth of her inner nerd, and the one frog in particular that could be her prince in disguise.

Set in the lush and tropical El Valle de Anton, this modern fairytale re-imagining of “The Frog Prince” is toe-curling contemporary romance with an environmentalist heartbeat, in the tradition of Stephanie Perkins.

Review

Four-star rating
A free copy of this book was provided by Month9Books and Swoon Romance in exchange for an honest review.

Kissing Frogs is like a pina colada on a hot summer day – light, fun, and refreshing. It’s the story of Jess Scott, a nerd-turned-member-of-the-high-school-elite who finds herself sentenced to a Spring Break field trip saving frogs in a foreign country. While all of her friends are getting drunk and tan on a beach in Florida, Jess is spending her time cleaning out aquariums, taking nature walks, and writing a research paper in Panama.

If you’re thinking that a trip to sunny Panama doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a school break, you’re right. In between learning about the endangered species the Conservation Club has been sent to help, Jess and the rest of the kids get to hit the beach, go horseback riding, shop at local markets, and more. It’s actually a pretty cool “punishment,” and it’s not long before Jess begins to realize that the opportunity is one she should take advantage of.

This is one of the great things about Kissing Frogs – the protagonist is smart enough to know a good thing when she sees it. Although she’s upset about missing out on a vacation with her friends, is wary of touching frogs, and initially doesn’t recognize the importance of conversation, Jess tries to make the best of her situation. She’s a smart girl and an overall good person. It’s a nice change from the books where popular characters are either stuck-up, ditzy, or bitchy.

There are a few ways in which Jess is a little cliché – she’s got dyed platinum blond hair, lets her popular boyfriend walk all over her, and is addicted to her phone and makeup – but these things are pretty minor compared to her good qualities. Jess has a great sense of humor, makes an effort to make friends on her trip, and embraces the chance to learn new things.

It’s great watching Jess’ transformation throughout the book. As I already stated, she isn’t a bad person at the beginning of the novel, just a person with a limited view. The trip broadens her awareness of the world and wakes her up to a host of environmental issues. It was so pleasing to see her ditch her apathy and begin to take an active role in making the world a better place.

The conservation theme really differentiates Kissing Frogs from all the other cute, bubbly romances out there. I have to give Alisha Sevigny credit for raising awareness about the plight of endangered species in general and Panama’s Golden Frog in particular. She made me care about the animals and want to make a difference without ever making me feel pressured or guilty.

So far I haven’t mentioned much about the romance in this book. As the synopsis mentions, the love story is loosely based on the fairy tale The Frog Prince, and it’s everything I could have hoped for: sweet, natural, and lighthearted, with little to no drama. Some parts are fairly predictable – for example, there are a couple of occasions when Jess trips and literally falls into Travis’s arms – but the book is so adorable and fun that the predictable parts don’t really matter.

If you’re already planning your summer vacation and are looking for a book to take along to the beach, you can’t go wrong with Kissing Frogs. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, and you’ll certainly want to save some endangered species.

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About Alisha Sevigny

Author photo for April SevignyAlisha Sevigny holds a degree in Sociology and Professional Writing from the University of Victoria, is a film school graduate, former literary agent and current Social Media and Communications Director for an award-winning English school. A shameless romantic, Alisha and her husband have travelled the world together. On a recent trip to Panama with their new daughter, Alisha fell in love with the country, culture, and their national emblem, the Golden Frog. She was inspired to write her first Young Adult novel, Kissing Frogs. Born and raised in Kitimat, British Columbia, Alisha has always had a strong connection to the environment and conservationist spirit. She now lives in Toronto with her family.

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Giveaway

Swoon Romance is sponsoring a great giveaway: one reader will win two previously published Swoon Romance e-books of their choice! To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter below. The contest is open internationally. A winner will be selected on April 8, 2015.

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Blog Tour, Giveaway and Interview with Alethea Kontis

Book tour banner for Dearest by Alethea Kontis

I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to participate in the Dearest blog tour, hosted by Prism Book Tours. I had the pleasure of meeting Alethea Kontis, author of this book and the rest of the novels in the Woodcutter Sisters series, at BookCon last year, and I can honestly say that she’s just as sweet as she is talented. She’s known as Princess Alethea to her fans, and it’s easy to see why; in addition to the glittering face paint and sparkling tiara that she often wears, there’s a genuine kindness and generosity to Alethea that bring to mind the graceful, charming princesses found in fairy tales.

Alethea was kind enough to do an interview with me, talking about the fairy tales that inspired Dearest, describing the challenges of putting her own spin on a familiar story, and sharing her advice on how to retain a spirit of optimism in a crazy world. When you’re done reading the interview, make sure to check out the rest of the stops on the Dearest tour and enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win signed copies of the first three books in the Woodcutter Sisters series!

About Dearest

Book cover for Dearest by Alethea KontisReaders met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

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Interview with Alethea Kontis

Headshot for Alethea Kontis

Photo courtesy of Lumos Studio

Thanks so much for joining us today, Alethea! Tell us about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?

I am the three things I always put in my bios: Princess. Fairy Godmother. Geek. I am a nerd who likes to dress in costume, and I find magic everywhere that I go. It’s a beautiful life–my goal is to put even more wonderful things out into the universe.

Summarize Dearest in one sentence.

A generous seamstress with a heart as big as the moon finds destiny and adventure in a cursed flock of swans hiding at the top of her sister’s palace.

Dearest is based in part on “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Andersen and “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm. How are both of these tales referenced in Dearest?

I reread “The Wild Swans” again before I started writing Dearest — it’s amazing how much detail that story goes into. Elisa has 11 brothers who are cursed into swans by a wicked sorceress stepmother who quickly turns the king’s heart against his children. She also tries to curse Elisa, but her heart is so pure that the sorceress is forced to make Elisa physically ugly to serve her purpose. Elisa encounters an old woman in the forest who tells her exactly how to break the curse–she must weave eleven shirts from the nettles that grow in the graveyard, and she must not speak a word while she’s doing this–if she did, her brothers would die. In the meantime, she’s discovered by another king and taken to be his wife. But the archbishop sees her lurking in graveyards, condemns her as a witch, and condemned her to burn at the stake. As she is being marched to her execution, she throws 10.5 shirts over her brothers (for that’s all she’s had time to make) and they turn back into her brothers, though the youngest still has a wing instead of an arm.

Elisa was introduced in Enchanted as a mousy orphan girl named Rampion (another word for “Rapunzel”). The cook thinks Rampion is mute, but it’s because of the curse. Rampion cannot figure out how to weave shirts out of nettles…she’s tried before and failed miserably. Who better than Friday, the seamstress-sister of the Woodcutter clan, to help her out? I loved how everything just fell into place, once I started retelling “The Wild Swans” in Arilland. As for the shirts and the brothers becoming human again…well, you’ll just have to read Dearest to find out how that turns out in my version.

“The Goose Girl”…goodness, I could go on about that one forever. Suffice it to say that I stole Conrad straight from “The Goose Girl” (Conrad makes his first appearance in Hero), and he’s one of my very favorite characters in this series. There’s also an element of wind magic in “The Goose Girl” that I wove into Dearest, which makes all sorts of sense when one is working with swans.

You’ve said that “The Goose Girl” is your favorite fairy tale. What draws you to this story in particular? (Note: If you’re not familiar with the story of “The Goose Girl,” Alethea provides an entertaining summary in this Fairy Tale Rant. She also does a rant of “The Wild Swans” that I recommend as well!)

I love that the princess in this story is not just a princess, she’s also the daughter of a sorceress. I love that Falada (the talking horse) doesn’t die after the evil maid has her head cut off, and she speaks to the princess every morning as she goes to tend the geese. I love that the princess keeps her word, despite the fact that she could probably out the evil maid in a second. I love that Conrad is a clever boy who can see magic and has no qualms about walking right up to the king and telling him something is fishy. I love that when the equally-clever king finds out about the maid switching places with the princess, he asks the maid at dinner how she would deal with a similar betrayal and she unwittingly decides her own (pretty nasty) fate.

I have loved many fairy tales over the years, and I am appreciating more of them now that I am older and using them as essentially the history of my book series…but “The Goose Girl” will always be my favorite.

What is the most challenging aspect of blending well-known fairy tales with a story of your own? How do you choose which elements of the original tale to include and which to omit?

I suppose the most challenging part is knowing that I can’t remember all of every single one of the Grimm and Andersen and Lang fairy tales (which is one of the reasons I started Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants on YouTube). But when I think of how the Woodcutter family might have shaped the fairy tales we know and love today–it’s kind of like telling Fairy Tale Origin Stories, but with my own characters, in my own world. I use as much of the “base note” fairy tale as I can (in Dearest‘s case, “The Wild Swans”) and the things I’m forced to leave out (like Falada) I can always use later, in some other way. There are so many common elements across so many fairy stories…it’s fascinating how they all just sort of come together.

Some of today’s most beloved fairy tales have been around for centuries. What is it that has allowed them to stand the test of time?

Oh my, that’s a question for someone much older and wiser than me. Jack Zipes and J. R. R. Tolkien and even Andrew Lang himself have all attempted to answer this question. Commercially, fairy tale ventures have always been successful because of their familiarity. But what fairy stories have really stood the test of time in the 21st century? Most kids today only know Disney, not the written tales, and nursery rhymes are sung less and less at children’s bedsides. Even more complicating are the Disney “retellings” like Cinderella and Maleficent, which use the Disney fairy tale as the origin story, and not Grimm or Perrault at all. I worry for the fate of a planet that knows no true Grimm fairy tales–I hope my series encourages readers to seek them out.

Have other authors’ fairy tale retellings influenced your own writing in any way?

Book cover for Beauty by Robin McKinleyRobin McKinley’s Beauty and Deerskin are two of the most amazing retellings of all time. Those books let me know that it was possible to retell a fairy tale in a spectacular and engaging way. Similarly, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones played with fairy tale tropes in such a way that I knew I wanted to do the same.

Friday, the protagonist in Dearest, maintains a spirit of grace, kindness, and optimism in the face of all kinds of obstacles, including floods and curses. What do you think the secret is to maintaining this kind of positivity and grace in the real world?

I became an optimist as a teenager because of two things: my best friend Casey, and Voltaire. Casey was (and still is) a tiny blonde with a sunny disposition that even the darkest night can not dispel. She was a friend to everyone and the epitome of happiness–in all of my stories, she was First Princess. I was far more jaded back then, a shadow to her light. And then we read Candide in Mr. Stafford’s AP European History class, and I had a whole new perspective on optimism. Instead of siding with Voltaire, I sided with Casey. If my life is what I make it, then I choose to be a being of light. It is difficult these days, especially when optimists are a dying breed, but I hold out hope for a brighter future. (Which is pretty much what we do anyway, by definition.)

In Enchanted, the first book in the Woodcutter Sisters series, Prince Rumbold is turned into a frog, and in Dearest, Tristan and his brothers are cursed to spend their days as swans. If you had to pass your days in the form of an animal, which animal would you prefer to be and why?

In college, my major was Chemistry, with a concentration in Marine Science…possibly because one of my favorite books as a kid was Deep Wizardry, in the So You Want to Be a Wizard series by Diane Duane. In that book, the children get transformed into sea creatures and have to take part in a very important ritual to save the ocean. So…the chance to be anything with fins that gets to swim around in this magical world right here on our planet that we still know so little about? Count me in.

Book cover for AlphaOops! by Alethea KontisIn addition to the Woodcutter Sisters series and your other novels, you’ve also written picture books, short stories, essays, and poems. Which form do you find the easiest to write? The hardest?

Writing is rarely easy. Every single book or short story or poem or essay requires a significant amount of Butt in Chair. Once I force myself to sit down and do my homework, however, I remember just how much I love school.

You were a student of well-known authors Andre Norton and Orson Scott Card. What’s the most important lesson you learned from them?

They taught me that authors are just people too. This may seem like such a silly lesson to learn, but the pedestal we often place authors on is incredibly high. These amazing people taught me that the only difference between us was simply an unprecedented amount of that aforementioned Butt in Chair. Miss Andre invited me to come back and work in her library. Scott looked at me and said, “Just write the book.” Such simple things…but moments that prodded me to start this amazing journey.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve come to the decision that the New York publishing machine takes too much time to turn, so I’m conquering the world of self-publishing. It’s time for me to take all these ideas–and all those years of working behind the scenes in the publishing industry (almost 20 years!)–and put them to work.

In the next six months, I will be publishing Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome (another illustrated collaboration with artist Janet K. Lee), Trixter (a Woodcutter novella), and a trilogy of short contemporary romance novels set in a small beach town in central Florida. I’m very excited about all of them!

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Alethea! It’s been great getting to know you better!

About Alethea Kontis

Alethea KontisNew York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a fairy godmother, and a geek. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, and ranting about fairy tales on YouTube.

Her published works include: The Wonderland Alphabet(with Janet K. Lee), Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome (with Janet K. Lee), the AlphaOops series (with Bob Kolar), the Woodcutter Sisters fairy tale series, andThe Dark-Hunter Companion (with Sherrilyn Kenyon). Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines.

Her YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012 and the Garden State Teen Book Award i 2015. Enchanted was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award.

Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives and writes in Florida, on the Space Coast. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie. You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.

Want to meet Alethea in person? Check out her Road Tour HERE!

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Enter here for an opportunity to win autographed copies of EnchantedHero, and Dearest!

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Review: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

The Fairest Beauty Book Cover The Fairest Beauty
Melanie Dickerson

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom – but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents, Rose and Wilhelm, by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible – she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else – he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help – but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them – they must also protect their hearts.

Review:

I’m usually a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but this version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves left me underwhelmed. The characters lack depth and realism, and the entire tale is a little too bland for my taste.

The most surprising thing about The Fairest Beauty is that although it’s certainly recognizable as a Snow White story, many of the elements of the original tale are conspicuously absent. Magic has no presence at all in Dickerson’s story, meaning there’s no magic mirror, no enchanted kiss, etc.

Instead, Dickerson seems to have replaced all fairy tale elements with a hearty helping of religion. There’s a lot of prayer, Scripture reading, and holy contemplation. The protagonist, Sophie, treasures a scrap of her family’s Bible as her most prized possession, and her idea of fun is reciting parables from the New Testament.

Sophie is the main reason I wasn’t wild about The Fairest Beauty. She’s a lovely girl, inside and out, but her constant sweetness gets to be kind of grating after a while. No matter what the situation, Sophie responds with kindness and aplomb. Even when her stepmother regularly throws her in the dungeon, withholds food, and heaps chores upon her, Sophie bears all of the humiliation and injustice heaped upon her with patience and grace. It’s just too much – a little sweetness is good, but a lot will give you a stomach ache. And cavities.

Sophie does have some redeeming qualities. She can occasionally be feisty, and she has no problem taking care of herself. It also helps that she’s just as susceptible to a cute and dashing hero as the rest of us, even if she does resist temptation better than I might.

Said cute and dashing hero, Gabe, didn’t completely wow me at first, but he eventually grew on me. He initially comes across as immature and dimwitted, but he does grow up over the course of the story.

I’m always happy to have another fairy tale retelling under my belt, but I don’t see myself rereading The Fairest Beauty. I need more entertaining, less squeaky-clean.

Review: My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean, and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life with Giulio by Jane Harrington

My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean, and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life with Giulio Book Cover My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean, and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life with Giulio
Jane Harrington

Don’t get me wrong. Brady is my best friend, but sometimes I think that things just come too easily for her – sports, school, and now this! I mean, what are the changes of meeting a hot Italian guy on the plane who just happens to be the new foreign exchange student at school? We won’t EVEN mention the fact that he has fallen madly in love with Brady and worships her every move. (OMG, his name is Giulio and he is gorgeous!) Just thinking about it is enough to make my teen angst rise to new levels.

Sure, Brady and Giulio are an item NOW, but there is a glimmer of hope. Since most teenage relationships last just 34 days, I need to be ready. It’s just that there are so many things standing in the way. How can I possibly have time to plan my new life with Giulio when I am trying to juggle a militant English teacher, a crazed football coach, X-Men, and all of life’s other little annoyances? Speaking of annoying, did I mention the tendinitis that I am developing from all of the writing I have to do in this poetry journal? My hand will be falling off now! Arrivederci!

(Actual rating: 4.5 stars)

Review:

My Best Friend, the Atlantic Ocean, and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life with Giulio is a much-needed reminder that a book doesn’t have to be serious, overly dramatic, or dripping with angst to leave a lasting impression. Harrington’s novel is light-hearted, hilarious, and easy to read, and I absolutely loved it. I can’t think of a single thing I’d change about this book, and I have a feeling that the good mood it put me in will easily carry me through the rest of the week.

The premise of My Best Friend… is pretty simple. Delia, a ditzy high school student, has the hots for her BFF’s boyfriend Giulio. She doesn’t try to seduce him away from her BFF, just does whatever she can to put herself in Giulio’s path so that when he and the BFF eventually break up – it’s inevitable, you know – Giulio will move on to her.

Plotting to snatch up your best friend’s man may sound pretty low, but in Delia’s case this behavior is more humorous than reprehensible. Delia’s not manipulative or bitchy, just clueless. She truly believes that her best friend and Giulio are destined to break up within approximately 34 days of beginning their relationship (a statistic she read online somewhere), and she wants to be ready to step in as Giulio’s new girlfriend as soon as possible. The entire book hinges on the schemes Delia comes up with to get closer to Giulio, and the results are hilarious, as she’s not particularly gifted in the field of boyfriend thievery.

My Best Friend… is narrated in the form of a journal for Delia’s English class. I’m usually wary of books written in this format, but in this case it’s quite effective. The journal allows Delia’s unique voice, which is the source of most of the humor in the book, to come through loud and clear.

When I started reading, I was initially alarmed by how much of an airhead Delia is. There are times when she seems to be completely oblivious about pretty much everything. Roman numerals, vending machines, sarcasm, basic vocabulary – you name it, she’s clueless about it. I was mildly put off by this at first, but after a while the humor that results from her obtuseness made me laugh loud enough, and often enough, that the ditziness became a strength of the book rather than a weakness.

The fact that Delia is tremendously likable also helps make up for her lack of, shall we say, book smarts. Delia has a big heart and makes friends with just about everyone she meets, getting close to people that most other popular girls wouldn’t look twice at. She comes across as a very sweet person. Even when she’s doing something that’s generally considered despicable, such as plotting to steal her best friend’s boyfriend or suckering a guy who has a crush on her into doing her homework, she does it with such genuine naïveté that you find yourself unable to fault her for it.

Delia’s quest for winning Giulio’s heart, combined with her total lack of common sense – she’s like a teenaged Amelia Bedelia, I swear – gets her into some pretty hilarious situations. She ends up managing the high school football team, becoming vice president of a gender neutral club, and joining an alliance of costume-wearing X-men enthusiasts. If that’s not enough to pique your interest in this book, I don’t know what is.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about My Best Friend, The Atlantic Ocean, and Other Great Bodies Standing Between Me and My Life with Giulio. It is an absolute delight to read, and I love that it didn’t leave me heart-broken and exhausted from sobbing like many other books I’ve given 4.5 stars.