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: After the First Death by Robert Cormier

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: 3 December 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On the outskirts of a small American town, a bus-load of young children is being held hostage. The hijackers are a cold and ruthless group, opposed to the secret government agency Inner Delta.

At the centre of the battle are three teenagers. Miro is the terrorist with no past and no emotions. Kate is the bus driver, caught up in the nightmare, and Ben is the General’s son who must act as a go-between. 

Death may be the only escape.

I found this book in our school library when I was 13 or 14 years old so it would have been 2002 or 2003. I was amazed that this kind of thing could be written in a book. I loved the characters and their story and how they got there. Cormier brought them to life so easily, you understood who they were with only a few words.

I also loved how Cormier didn’t shy away from anything but at the same wrote without being too detailed about what was going on. It was a perfect balance of a sensitive topic alongside very restrained graphic content. I don’t know whether my views have changed after all these years, I may have to reread it and see if it was as simple as all that but it would be a welcome read.

I remember recommending this book to everyone at the time and it was something that stuck with me for years afterwards. There are key scenes which have never left me and it is an amazing story about courage and fear and things you can’t change no matter what. There were no apologies of what was being written and it was realistic but also suitably held back for the intended audience.

What was interesting too was the points of view offered. Not often do we see the inner workings of those who terrorise and have control in these nasty situations, even more so to get their backstories of how and why they do the horrible things they do, but Cormier does, and he does it well. You don’t get sympathetic exactly but it does open your mind. You also get the perspective of those in those situations, as well as those seemingly powerless on the outside. It was a fascinating triangle of seeing the same event from different viewpoints.

It is not for everyone, as I said very touchy topic matter and it isn’t the most innocent story around the children involved, but it still a fantastic read and one that stays with you.

Long Lost Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

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: 22nd March 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Century
Pages: 387
Format: Paperback
Genre: Thriller
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

You think you know the truth. The truth is you know nothing.

If your husband was murdered,
And you were a witness,
How do you explain, seeing him on your nanny cam?
You thought you trusted him.
Now you can’t even trust yourself.

A very fractured Long Lost Review this month. I went through my review drafts and found this one, half a thought in barely two paragraphs so I’m trying to work with what I remember because I know I really loved it at the time.

I had never read a Coben book before but I knew how popular he is. This book came across my desk at work in 2017 and after reading the blurb I borrowed it right away. I’ve always loved stories about people faking their own deaths, I know that sounds odd, but it intrigues me. This had intrigue and a whole lot more. For a while this became my go to book to recommend for people if they wanted a captivating and engaging story with a lot of surprises.

The only character I remember is Maya; ex-military who is haunted by decisions she made that got her discharged. I don’t remember anyone else but I loved how we become doubtful ourselves as Maya starts to doubt what she sees and hears. It’s told in third person I think so we don’t get her inner thoughts but I remember that not being important as I could still become invested in her and her circumstance.

It’s a complicated case where you are unsure who to trust, what to believe, and when you think you know what is happening Colburn shakes things up again spectacularly. There’s a lot of twists and surprises but it only added to the experience, you never knew where it was going but when the reveal happened it was a well earned result. I know when I finished this I was planning on reading more of his to see if they gave me the same reaction, but I have yet to do so but maybe it’s time to revisit that since I remember liking this one so much. Maybe I need a reread of this first?

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