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REVIEW:  Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

REVIEW: Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

Dear Ms. Elkins:

Your editor emailed me and asked me to take a look at this book. I think it sat in my inbox for at least a week and she contacted me again. She loves this book and wanted it to get read. Now I love this book and want it to get read.  In fact, in the last podcast I recorded with Sarah from Smart Bitches, I threatened to not talk during the next podcast if she didn’t at least read Stir Me Up.  Sarah called me a book bully.

Stir Me Up by Sabrina ElkinsCami Broussard grew up in her father’s kitchen and wants to be a chef someday but her father keeps pushing her toward college.  The chef’s life is not an easy one and he tries to explain to her all the negatives. She will have to work every holiday.  She won’t be home for dinner.  She will miss more family events that she will make. The restaurant will own her.

While Cami pretends to be interested in colleges, she and her current boyfriend (and employee at her father’s restaurant) dream of their restaurant owning future together. Cami’s last year of high school is interrupted by the arrival of her step cousin, Julian. Wounded while deployed, Julian comes to Cami’s home to recuperate.  He’s angry, sullen, and bad tempered and takes it out on everyone including Cami.  Worse, Cami’s abruptly ousted from her first floor bedroom to an attic alcove that doesn’t even have a door or a closet.  And what can she say? No, the war veteran should sleep in the floor in the living room? Things with her boyfriend take a turn when he continues to pressure her for sex which Cami isn’t quite ready for.

I couldn’t decide if this was a hamfisted way to clear a path for Julian but given that the breakup between Cami and Luke doesn’t quite happen in an expected way, I weighed in on the no side. Besides, I like it when the heroes of YA books are okay with waiting because that’s a message I’ll want my daughter to read. Just putting my bias out there.

The relationship between Cami and Julian is entirely believable as they go from antagonists to reluctant confidantes to something more.  Cooking plays a huge role in this book and I loved how evocative the writing was as it pertained to Cami’s love for food.  In the book, the creation of food becomes a metaphor and initially the only way that Cami reveals her feelings for Julian, perhaps at first even unconsciously.

Cami is a great heroine. She’s not hung up on her looks or getting the guy in this story; she’s trying to figure out her place in the world. Her thoughts aren’t filled with where the next party is or whether she is fitting in with the right crowd at high school. She’s busy trying to cope with her feelings for the wounded guy in her bedroom and deciphering what it means when he tells her to decide for herself what she wants out of life.

“No big deal,” he says. “For this one… ” He scrolls back up. “Just start with something like Ever since I was little, my father has owned his own French restaurant.”

He moves away from the computer and looks at me. “Ever since I was little…. ” I say.

“You’ll need to put it in your own words.”

“Okay. How about: I spent most of my childhood playing behind the stoves of my father’s French restaurant.

This mildly impresses him. “Did you?”

“Yes. Basically.”

“Did you like it?”

“I loved it. All the action and noise.”

“The noise?”

“Sure. The noises are great—the pots and pans and utensils and searing sizzling food, the chefs hollering and shouting at each other and the wait staff running around and the doors and the plates. It’s a concert.”

“You… maybe you should just be a chef.”

“Dad’s convinced I should get a degree first. So I don’t limit my options. Also because…” Julian’s kind of staring at me. “Because he never was able to go to college himself and he thinks it’s too hard a life.”

Oh God. Stupid pale complexion showing everything all the time. I cover my cheeks with my hands. They’re burning.

“Okay, well… let me know if you want me to read the new versions,” he says. And he wheels away.

Julian’s presentation as a Marine with a medical separation due to his amputated leg was sensitively handled.  Cami admits that on the one hand it bothers her because it represents a painful loss to Julian but on the other hand, the loss of his leg doesn’t define him in Cami’s eyes or anyone else’s eyes in the book.

One of the things that I think young adult books do so well is show how the characters actually fall in love. Cami’s movement from resentment toward curiosity and into desire is believable and sweet. There are love scenes but they are tactful and appropriate for the tone of the book.  Overall, there’s just a sense of loveliness and sweetness about the romance and Cami’s journey that I hope others pick this book up and read it. B+

Best regards,

Jane

PS I know I’ve talked up this book a lot but I feel like at $1.99 it’s a low risk proposition.

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REVIEW:  The Divorce Party by Jennifer Hayward

REVIEW: The Divorce Party by Jennifer Hayward

Dear Ms. Hayward:

I used to read a ton of Harlequin Presents books, but had left them by the wayside, until I picked up your new release, The Divorce Party, which was a direct result of your winning the 2012 So You Think You Can Write contest run by Harlequin.

The Divorce Party Jennifer Hayward

The Divorce Party Jennifer Hayward [Contemporary] ( A | BN | K | S | G )

Lilly Anderson wants a divorce. She fled her husband, Riccardo de Campo, a wine magnate, twelve months ago, and just wants the divorce to be final so she can rebuild her life and mend her bruised heart. She’s moved on in her life to become involved with Harry Taylor, a nice-guy thoracic surgeon, who would like to marry her. Of course, Harry never ignited the passion that Lilly feels for Riccardo. Nonetheless, she and Riccardo fought much more than they got along, and despite their extreme passion for each other, he broke Lilly’s heart. When he decides to throw a lavish party to celebrate their divorce, and insists Lilly attend, she takes her sister Alex as her wingman, pulls on a pink dress (Riccardo hates her in pink) and heads to the party, determined to just get through it so she can have her divorce.

Imagine her shock when Riccardo tells her he needs to stay married to her for another six months, portraying a happy, reunited couple so that the board of directors of his company will finally make him the CEO, a position he’ll inherit from his father. Lilly is appalled and distraught. She just wants to move ahead in her life, but when Riccardo offers her the house he bought for her in exchange for staying another six months, she’s tempted. Her younger sister has leukemia, and the sale of the house would fund her treatments for years. Lilly reluctantly agrees to the deal. What she doesn’t count on is falling for Riccardo all over again.

I really enjoyed this book. While Riccardo is all the things I expect from an HP hero: arrogant, ruthless, overbearing, he’s also very clearly in love with Lilly. While he takes extreme measures to be with her, I expected that of him as an HP hero. So I accepted the extremity and enjoyed the ride. While Lilly is a quintessentially meek HP heroine, she does have moments where she stands up to Riccardo, and when they finally succumb to their desire and love for each other, I found the payoff to be rewarding and really fun to read.

I understand that you won the So You Think You Can Write competition, but this book shows none of the signs of a debut author. It’s polished, has terrific flow and sticks to the Harlequin Presents sensibility while offering a slightly more evolved hero and a truly entertaining, quick read. I’m really looking forward to reading more from you, I think you’ve got a really bright future in the genre. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

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