Long Lost Review: The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th July 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hot Key Books
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The funny thing about stop signs is that they’re also start signs.

Mayzie is the brainy middle sister, Brooks is the beautiful but conflicted oldest, and Palmer’s the quirky baby of the family. In spite of their differences, the Gold sisters have always been close.

When their father dies, everything begins to fall apart. Level-headed May is left to fend for herself (and somehow learn to drive), while her two sisters struggle with their own demons. But the girls learn that while there are a lot of rules for the road, there are no rules when it comes to the heart. Together, they discover the key to moving on — and it’s the key to their father’s Pontiac Firebird.

This is one of Maureen Johnson’s earliest books and it’s fascinating to see how far she has come over the last fifteen or so years. This was also one of the first books I read of hers and I’ve been on the Maureen Johnson train ever since. 

The story is about family and loss, about trying to recover afterwards but there isn’t a deep sadness about it. We see how each of the girls cope with their grief and the lives they’re choosing to live. The point of view changes but Mayzie is the main focus of the story for the majority of the time. Palmer got my sympathy because she was sad and often ignored, and Brooks goes off the rails a bit but there is a sisterly relationship explored throughout as they try and cope and come together. Johnson shows how May is the one who is trying to keep everyone together and functional and her stress and flustered moments come across really well. It was interesting to see it come from the middle sister and not the eldest as you’d expect. 

One thing I disliked was the May/Pete thing that Johnson had going, mainly because Pete did a 180 from being a horrible person to May for most of the novel that I couldn’t look past. It comes so out of the blue that it felt forced and throws you, especially coming from characters we have gotten to know for most of the story. The “romance” is probably the part I liked the least, at no point are we rooting for Pete at all since he has been so horrible, and the secret adoration isn’t something I’m keen to believe. 

I hate to say this, especially about a Johnson novel, but I wanted a little extra something to make it stronger. The story needed a bump, just a little one to give it that extra something and make it stand out more. There isn’t any real structure which lets you focus on the characters themselves and not a lot happens for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story, it was good, but I’d probably best describe it as a warm story – no huge moments or events but it was well told and nice. The good news is the ending brought everything together wonderfully which was quite satisfying and of course it was filled with Johnson humour which was an enjoyment level all its own. 

Long Lost Review: The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 26th February 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Australia
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Lily is a producer on a successful cooking segment for a daily morning show. The new chef has just arrived on set and he is drop dead gorgeous. And despite everything – the sabbatical that Lily and her flatmate Simone are taking from men, the fact that Jack is a work colleague – Lily falls head over heels for him.

And while Lily battles her feelings, her flatmate Simone breaks their pact and starts dating some guy from her wholefoods shop. That guy turns out to be Jack. Up close, Lily bravely watches on as romance blossoms between Simone and Jack. Or does it? They don’t seem to have much in common, apart from their striking good looks. And Lily and Jack just seem to get each other. Is that the same thing as falling in love? And could she ever dream of betraying a friendship? Lily has to make some difficult decisions about work and home, and realises that if she doesn’t take life by the scruff of the neck, she is the one who’ll be picked up, shaken and dumped. 

I really loved this book. I had it sitting on my shelf for years and I finally got around to reading it in 2017 and I have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was made into a TV show but I can’t bring myself to watch it because based on a cursory glance at the first few episode summaries it clearly changes a few things I absolutely loved about the book so I haven’t watched it. I’m sure it is still good in its own right but I want to preserve my book memories.

The blurb makes the story sound more like unrequited love than I believe it initially to be. Naturally, after having sworn off men, the perfect one walks into Lily’s life, but what I loved was that Lily and Jack’s relationship doesn’t start off perfectly. She takes a while to warm up to him and their friendship and work/life banter is much more enjoyable than having them get together. Yes Lily starts to get a crush on Jack, but it doesn’t consume her or become to focus of the novel, her determination to further her career is the focus of her days and Foster balances her work and her downtime really well so Lily’s whole life is encapsulated without having every tiny detail and event laid out.

I loved that Foster didn’t go the jealous friend/unrequited love route she could have done. Yes it is there in the tiniest instance, but Lily is so in denial over her feelings for Jack initially she never pines over Jack being with someone else, nor does she obsess over him like a lovesick puppy. It was really refreshing and I loved the different approach to having her feelings be the be all and her job and life be brushed over while she spent her time thinking about him.

So much of everything is done wonderfully in this. The right balance of fun, seriousness, and romance. I love Lily as a character, she is young but growing up, she knows what she wants and has a goal in mind, but she also has a little fun as well. I definitely think a reread of this is in order because I remember it being such a wonderful read filled with the surprises and delights to entertain while also feeling real and having an emotional impact.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 3rd October 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure — her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift.

I had two roundabout introductions to this story: the first was in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, the second was the Simpsons episode entitled Grift of the Magi. It wasn’t until I actually read the book though did I realise that is was Sesame Street was referencing with their adorable Bert and Ernie side story, and while I knew the name, I never knew what it was about.

This is an incredibly quick read, it is a short story but one that has a lot of impact. Henry draws you into the era with the language and the descriptions. You also see the love and devotion that Della and her husband have for one another and it is a testament to the writing that such a short story had impacted on the cultural psyche.

There’s the beautiful Christmas spirit and the love of a young married couple to entice you as you read. It’s an incredibly sweet story and in a way Della gets a raw deal, but that is taking away a bit of the magic. It is simple but heartfelt and there is a wonderful Christmas feel to the book.

Long Lost Review: Also Known As Lard Butt by Ann Herrick

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th June 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Books We Love, Ltd
Pages: 80
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Laura finds out that, Ricky, the boy who created her horrible nickname, “Lard Butt,” has moved back into town—and immediately schemes to keep him quiet. After all, she can’t let her new swim teammates, especially drool-worthy Noah, hear the horrible name! No way! 

She’s determined to put a million years between grade school and junior high—even in the face of a father who drives an éclair, a would-be-movie-star mother who suddenly moves back home, and a past that comes back to haunt her with the dreaded nickname.

Although Laura’s embarrassed about how she looks in a swimsuit, she tries to stay true to her vow to take risks. She even lets Maria talk her into going to the school dance, where she braves negotiating a truce for a quarreling couple.

New friendships form, Laura’s mother starts getting too domesticated for Laura’s comfort, and hints of romance start to develop—or do they?

Another review I could have sworn I posted ages ago and yet here we are, unable to find it and therefore posting it. This was a decent story, short and sweet. The idea of this ‘Lard Butt’ is a bit strange, Laura isn’t overweight, she just has a large bottom. The way she talks about it is like it’s an abnormal growth but it seems to just be a bit bigger than most. Her thoughts about it switch from acceptance to being self conscious, her mother calls it a problem which wouldn’t help, and she was teased as a kid (hence the nickname), but she has learnt to try and deal with it.

Laura is shy and not confident, she has one friend she has known since primary school, and she is starting at a new school with apprehension. But at the same time she is determined to make changes in her life and leave the old her behind. It’s sweet in a way, Laura doesn’t try and do a complete remodelling of herself or her personality, she just decides to take risks and do things that may be out of her comfort zone.

The ‘Lard Butt’ aspect isn’t a major focus, it plays a role but it acts more of a starting point to what else happens in the book. Laura’s history and own feelings about it are understandable, especially memories of being teased, but the constant references she makes to it can become tiring, especially when it isn’t really a crucial plot point.

Being young and a bit naive Laura has a good voice and story to tell. Seeing things from her perspective provides us with her thoughts and opinions, and it also shows us how clueless she can be as well. Understanding people and situations when Laura does not makes you read a lot more into the story than the one she gives, which makes it more rounded, but there remains a focus on Laura and her growing confidence than really delving into multiple character backgrounds.

The characters are quirky and sweet and varying versions of interesting and they are as deep as they need to be for the story. Some certainly more than others, but because we see things through Laura’s eyes many references or details are briefly addressed or skipped entirely. There are many secondary characters you grow attached to like Ricky, and even a teacher at times, sweet people around Laura that help fill her world and help change her way of thinking. Her relationship with her friends and family is strong and Herrick explores these different connections with varying degrees which work quite well meaning you get a great understanding of her relationship to each person.

There are both happily ever afters and not so happily ever afters which is a great balance, it reflects reality quite well, varying degrees of good and bad things happen, nothing too life changing or exciting, just daily life. The story is quite short which I think works to its advantage, there isn’t enough to sustain a longer story and I think Herrick has balanced everything out nicely, providing conclusions, hope and resigned you to the fact that life isn’t always perfect but you can make the best of what you’ve got.