Two Mini Book Reviews {The Set-in-Summer Edition}

Hello!

Thanks for sticking with me through my blog hiatus! I had an excellent vacation with my family {we visited Monticello, the Appomattox Court House, Gettysburg, and the Boden Outlet store, of course :)}, and I’m now soaking up the last bits of summer before I return to school next week. I haven’t posted a set of mini reviews in a long time – how’s last September for quite a while?! – but I wanted to share my thoughts on these reads before the summer season comes to a close. What have you been reading lately?

The Stars of SummerTitle: The Stars of Summer
Author: Tara Dairman
First published: May 5th, 2015 by Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 236
Genre: Middle Grade / Realistic Fiction
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Yes – it’s the cutest! Here’s my review for Book One.

It’s not easy being an undercover restaurant critic — especially when you’re only twelve years old!

After successfully completing her first restaurant review for the New York Standard newspaper, Gladys Gatsby is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and eating. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley.

As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy; she struggles to pass her swim test, can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches, and cannot seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper. The worst part is she’s not able to find a moment to sneak away for her latest reviewing assignment: finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when Gladys learns that her hot dog assignment might actually be a dirty trick made up by a jealous fellow critic, she fears her reviewing career could be over forever.

This perfectly plotted sequel brings readers on a rollicking summertime adventure through New York City with all of the charm of All Four Stars and even more foodie flavor! {Goodreads}

As popular of a setting as it is, I’ve never actually been to the “traditional” summer camp, where, if my knowledge from books and movies will suffice, your cabin mates become your best friends, the mess hall becomes your second home, and your days and nights intertwine to become an endless slew of fun. Though my opportunity to go to summer camp has since passed, there are a number of novels that allow me to visit the classic destination in a different fashion: through the power of words. One of the most recent – and most adorable – examples is The Stars of Summer, the follow-up to Tara Dariman’s foodie debut, All Four Stars, where the book’s pint-sized restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby is off to Camp Bentley. It’s as cute as it sounds!

Like its predecessor, Dairman’s sophomore novel delivers in both charm and heart. Gladys has a lot on her plate, pun not intended, during her summer vacation: she is the new assistant cook in the camp kitchen, she has to pass her swimming test, and she has the difficult assignment of finding the best hot dog in NYC. These storylines offer various opportunities to introduce new characters, from an arrogant young author to a gruff camp cook, but they also allow the previous characters to grow and develop. In addition, Gladys’s enthusiasm for good food is contagious, and the vivid descriptions of her meals had my mouth watering {it’s important to note that this book is best read not hungry}.

While the novel suffers from a slow beginning, the plot picks up as Gladys adjusts to camp life and learns more about her new acquaintances. Fortunately, this is only a small complaint in an otherwise outstanding new installment; it’s the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Dairman, and I think it will be no different when the third book is released. Like a towering ice cream cone on a warm summer’s day, The Stars of Summer can only be described in one way: a delight not to be missed.

The Summer I Turned Pretty

Title: The Summer I Turned Pretty
Author: Jenny Han
First published: May 5th, 2009 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 276
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary Romance
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Yes! I’m hoping to get to Book Two in the Summer series at some point.

Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer – they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along. {Goodreads}

I’m not a beach person in any sense of the term – I would rather spend my summer afternoons sight seeing in the city or swimming in the pool, thank you very much – but I oddly still gravitate towards books with a beach setting. The common formula of small town charm and carefree romance makes for easy reading, and more importantly, I can do it without the accompaniment of the blazing sun and seaweed {yes, please!}. Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of the more popular “beach books,” and its sequels, It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer, find similar success in the style. I myself finished it underwhelmed, but I’m happy to have finally read it all the same.

Belly longs for the summertime, as it’s this season where her worries melt away in the time spent with family friends Susannah, Jeremiah, and Conrad. This year, however, tension lingers in the usually carefree atmosphere, and change comes quicker than Belly expects or wants. Where the novel shines is in developing Belly’s emotions; Han has proven herself well in crafting realistic teenage protagonists, and Belly is no exception as she navigates the new developments in her life. In contrast are the other character dynamics: the romance between Belly and the brothers falls flat, and even the friendship between Belly’s mother and Susannah lacks the expected spark.

Some readers call the Summer series young adult classics, but I remain on the fence as to whether or not this is the best of contemporary YA. What I was hoping for was different from what I read, and though this situation can sometimes lead to a pleasant surprise, I was only left conflicted over my thoughts upon finishing. I hope the series improves as it continues, as my curiosity already has me grabbing Book Two. I like to finish reviews on a positive note, so despite my so-so feelings, know that I’m still a proud Jenny Han fan.

Have a terrific start to your week!

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4 thoughts on “Two Mini Book Reviews {The Set-in-Summer Edition}

  1. […] First to praise is Tara Dairman, author of the delightful All Four Stars and its sequel Stars of Summer. Cover to cover and book to book did I fall in love with the series’ adorable narrator, Gladys Gatsby, as she balances a sophisticated food critic career with the typical responsibilities of a middle school student. I finished both with nothing but a smile on my face, leaving me in anxious anticipation over Dairman’s next installment! {reviews: 1 / 2} […]

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  2. […] One of the first songs in Hamilton is “My Shot,” in which Hamilton moves to New York and joins in the fight for American independence. It’s fitting, then, that the song would be used to feature a go-getter, a character who goes after what they want regardless of the obstacles in their way. It was a description that instantly brought to mind Gladys Gatsby, the pint-sized food critic in Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars; despite the difficulties that arise {and there are plenty}, Gladys takes the opportunity to do what she loves. {reviews: 1 / 2} […]

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