Turtle in Paradise

When I first saw the title of my latest read, Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, I immediately wanted to substitute the word “Turtle” for “Cheeseburger.”  (All of the Parrotheads out there know what I mean!)  As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off the mark.  Turtle in Paradise, a nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, takes place in Key West in 1935.  The Key West we see in this book, however, is not yet the popular tourist destination that it would eventually become.  Like every other place in the nation at this time, Key West has been hit hard by the Great Depression, and our main character, a girl named Turtle, has also been hit hard by some major changes in her own life…

When Turtle’s mother gets a job as a housekeeper for a woman who hates kids, Turtle is sent all the way to Key West, Florida, to live with a bunch of relatives she’s never met. Turtle, a no-nonsense eleven-year-old, is not exactly thrilled with the arrangement. It soon becomes obvious that her aunt and cousins–all boys–aren’t what one would call happy about the situation either. But they do the best they can, and Turtle soon adapts to life in the Keys.

Turtle learns a lot about the family her mother left behind. (It seems she’s related to nearly everyone around her. The road she lives on is even named after the family.) She meets cousins and a grandmother she never knew she had. She goes on outings with the rambunctious boys in the neighborhood and discovers all kinds of things–how to care for whiny babies, nicknames for nearly everyone in the community, and how to make people think there’s a ghost playing tricks on them.

Turtle teaches the boys a thing or two as well.  She even leads them to a treasure that will change their lives forever.  But just as Turtle is finding  a home and family in her own personal paradise, something–or someone–comes along that could turn her world upside down once again.  Read Turtle in Paradise to discover how one girl finds a way to hold on to the things–and people–that really matter.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, but I enjoyed Turtle in Paradise, partly because it didn’t really feel like I was reading historical fiction.  Yes, there were historical details that added to the story.  (I especially enjoyed the Ernest Hemingway cameo.)  At its heart, though, I thought this book was a story of how one girl dealt with the changes in her life.  She adapted to a completely new situation, and she eventually grew to love her extended family and the new setting in which she found herself.

I adored the character of Turtle.  Unlike girls in a lot of children’s books, Turtle definitely didn’t see the world through rose-colored glasses.  She was a realist–some would even say a pessimist–and she was often brutally honest with those around her…kids and adults alike.  She used her wits to get by, and she didn’t sugarcoat things.  She wasn’t a girly girl, and she got right in there with the boys when they romped around the Keys. 

I wasn’t terribly impressed with most of the adults in this story–particularly Turtle’s mom and aunt–but I think a lot of that can be attributed to what life was like in 1935.  When adults are worried about being able to pay the bills and support a bunch of kids, I guess there’s not a lot of room to be overly sympathetic and sensitive.  I would have liked more resolution, though, regarding Turtle’s father and her mom’s boyfriend.  There’s more story to tell there.

All in all, I think Turtle in Paradise is a fine book for readers in upper elementary on up.  Even adult readers will appreciate the bits of nostalgia offered in this book–The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie, etc.–and this book could lead to further reading about what life was like in different parts of America during the Great Depression.  Turtle in Paradise is yet another wonderful summer read, and I think kids of all ages will enjoy it!

If you’d like more information about Jennifer L. Holm and her amazing books (including the insanely popular Babymouse series), visit http://www.jenniferholm.com/.  Happy reading!

Fins Are Forever

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs, proceed with caution. 

I’ve been oddly fascinated by mermaids since I saw The Little Mermaid years ago.  I’ve always loved the water (even though I’m terrified of sharks and jellyfish), and I’m certain that humans will never know all there is to know about the ocean.  Could there be mermaids or other mysterious creatures below the surface?  I don’t know, but it’s definitely fun to read about, and Tera Lynn Childs’ mermaid books definitely fall into the “fun” cagegory.  When I read Forgive My Fins, I likened it to a combination of The Little Mermaid and The Princess Diaries.  Those comparisons continue in the sequel, Fins Are Forever.

Fins Are Forever by Tera Lynn Childs picks up where Forgive My Fins left off.  Lily has made her decision to renounce the throne of Thalassinia to spend her life on land with Quince, the love of her life.  She will formally renounce her royal title after her eighteenth birthday, which is just a few weeks away.  But a lot can happen in a few weeks…

Now that Lily will be staying on land for the forseeable future, she has to deal with life after high school.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t really been focused on grades and preparing for college until now.  Her GPA is less than stellar, and the dreaded SATs are looming.  How can Lily possibly become a marine biologist–and help the kingdom of Thalassinia from land–if she can’t even get into college?

To add to Lily’s stress-filled life, her cousin Dosinia has arrived to further complicate matters.  It seems that Doe has been exiled, and it is up to Lily to educate the pest on how to appreciate humans and live among them.  It’s not an easy task.  Doe is a brat who is used to getting her way, and living on land is not going to change that.  And when Doe bonds with Lily’s former crush, Brody, things go from bad to worse.  Now, Lily has to clean up Doe’s mess when her own life is messy enough.

Lily is about to lose it.  The pressure is really getting to her, and the sudden appearance of a childhood friend, Tellin, is about to complicate her life even more.  He plants an idea in her head that has her questioning the decisions she’s made, especially her decision to give up the throne.  Lily is torn between her love for Quince and her duty to her home.  Is there any way she can have both, or will she be torn between two worlds forever?  Read Fins Are Forever by Tera Lynn Childs to find out!

Even though I thought Fins Are Forever was a little more serious than Forgive My Fins, I liked it just as much.  It was a light, quick read that was full of humor.  Both of these books are perfect for some fun summer reading.  Just imagine reading these books at the beach, looking out over the ocean, and thinking “what if…”

I’m not sure if there will be more books in this series, but I hope there will be.  I’m anxious to see where Lily’s story goes from here.  For now, though, you can visit the author’s website at http://www.teralynnchilds.com/ for more information on the Fins series and other awesome books.  Enjoy!

The Splendor Falls

I’ve been meaning to read The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore for quite some time, and I’m happy that I finally got around to it.  This book is haunting and creepy, but it manages to keep the same relaxed pace as its setting–the Deep South (Alabama to be precise).  I have lived in the South my entire life, so I appreciated how true to the culture the author is in this book.  She recognizes that, though the Civil War is a dark period in American history, it still plays a very important part in Southern life (much to my dismay sometimes).  Ms. Clement-Moore also explores the Celtic connections that so many Southerners have, as well as the widespread belief in ghosts and evil spirits.  (Some of my Southern friends and family members may scoff at this, but I challenge them to visit Charleston and see how popular the ghost tours are.)

In The Splendor Falls, we are introduced to Sylvie Davis, a girl whose entire future is uncertain now that she can no longer dance.  After a horrible fall that ended her ballet career (and the depression that followed), Sylvie is now being shipped off to Alabama to spend the summer with her aunt Paula in the Davis family home where her late father spent much of his childhood.  Almost immediately, Sylvie senses that something is not quite right at Bluestone Hill.  She’s seeing things that couldn’t possibly be there, and she feels a chill in the air that can’t really be explained in the heat of summer.  What’s going on here, and why is Sylvie seemingly the only one experiencing these things?  Does this have some connection to why her dad left Alabama and never looked back?

As Sylvie explores old family secrets and tries to figure out where to go from here, she’s also dealing with the interest of two young men.  She’s unaccountably drawn to Rhys, a guest in her cousin’s house who is mysterious, has an adorable accent, and always pops up when she needs him the most (a lethal combination for any girl).  Then there’s Shawn Maddox.  He’s the town’s golden boy, and everyone seems to think that the sun rises and sets on him.  Everyone except Sylvie, that is.  But even she can’t deny that he has some kind of weird magnetic appeal.  But is that appeal completely natural, or is there a more mystical explanation?  (I know I completely gave away the answer by even asking that question, but bear with me.)

Is Sylvie going crazy?  Why is everyone so interested in her?  And why does she feel so connected to a place she’s never even been before?  Can she solve the mysteries in this sleepy southern town before she loses her mind…or her life?  Read The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore to find out.

Although this book had a more relaxed pace than many books I’ve read, I appreciated the change.  The pace complemented the setting beautifully.  I would recommend this book to fans of Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.  I just love books about magical secrets in Southern towns.  I wonder if there are things like that going on in my own South Carolina town…

Anyway, for more information on The Splendor Falls and other books by Rosemary Clement-Moore, please visit http://www.rosemaryclementmoore.com/readrosemary/Home.html.  Enjoy!