Where the Heart Is

Author: Billie Lettswhereheart
Publisher: Warner Books
Date: 1995
Genre: Women’s Fiction
ISBN: 9780446672214
Price: 12.00
Number of Pages: 358
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, E-Book, Audio

Rating Scale: 5Q, 4P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/billie-letts/

http://www.readersread.com/features/billieletts2.htm

Links to Reviews

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-446-51972-4

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/billie-letts/where-the-heart-is/

Reader’s Annotations

Novalee is 17, pregnant and has just been deserted by her no-good boyfriend. Broke and with nowhere to go, Novalee must find a way to survive and take care of her baby.

Plot Summary

This is the story of Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old girl who is driving across country with her boyfriend, Willy Jack. During the trip, the couple stop at a Walmart somewhere in Oklahoma so that Novalee can use the restroom. However, when she comes out of the store, she finds that Willy Jack has taken off. Novalee is stranded in a new state with almost no money and a baby on the way. With nowhere to go, she spends the day at Walmart and upon the store closing, she panics and ends up getting locked in overnight. With little options, she ends up living in the store for a period of time. During her stay she meets several people, including Sister Husband, Moses Whitecotton, Benny Goodluck and Forney Hull, who she becomes friendly with. One night, she goes into labor while she is locked in the store, but is thankfully rescued by Forney who had earlier that day discovered her secret. After spending some time in the hospital, Novalee and her baby move in with Sister Husband. The book is also interspersed with Willy Jack’s downward journey into jail, stardom and alcoholism. As Novalee raises her child, she comes to find that she is not alone and that family and a home is what you make of it.

Critical Evaluation

Without a doubt, the novel’s greatest strength lies with its wonderfully eccentric characters. All of the main characters are well-developed. There is not a one-dimensional character in the bunch. Sister Husband, Forney Hull, Moses Whitecotton, Benny Goodluck and Lexie Coop are all extremely well drawn with interesting backstories. They each have a touch of darkness in their lives but have managed to overcome it, just like Novalee. Alcoholism plays a big role in the novel, especially with Willy Jack, Sister Husband and Forney Hull, each with a unique viewpoint of the disease. Willy Jack’s journey throughout the book shows his dissent into alcoholism and his eventual self-destruction. While Sister Husband is a recovering alcoholic, who has managed to move on and devotes her life to helping others. Forney is still different, as he must take care of his sister who struggles with the disease. All of these characters show the destruction in can reign down and how it can be overcome with strength of character. These issues are only a small part of their stories. They never fall into cliché or predictableness. Each character brings a unique viewpoint to the novel and they all play an important role in Novalee’s journey to adulthood and happiness. Like Novalee, you become attached to these characters and it is very hard letting them go when you finish the novel. Very few novels succeed in making their characters come alive off the page like this.

Appeal Factors

Heartwarming, upbeat, character-driven

Read-alikes

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Awards & Lists

Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award (Rosie Award)
Oklahoma Book Awards: Fiction category
Oprah’s Book Club
Walker Percy Award

Discussion Ideas

• Discuss the theme of home in the novel.
• Discuss Willy Jack and why his story was included in the novel.

Justification of Selection

Women’s fiction is not a genre that I had read much in, so I was looking for a title and this one caught my eye. Novalee sounded like an interesting character and after reading the first page I was immediately hooked.

Austenland

Author: Shannon Haleausten
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date: 2007
Genre: Chick Lit
ISBN: 1596912855
Price: $19.95
Number of Pages: 194
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, E-Book, Audio

Rating Scale: 4O, 4P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

http://www.squeetus.com/stage/main.html

http://www.twilightlexicon.com/2012/01/28/interview-with-shannon-hale-midnight-in-austenlans/

Links to Reviews

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/shannon-hale/austenland/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-59691-285-4

Reader’s Annotation

Jane’s obsession with Mr. Darcy is out of control. Will a trip to Austenland be the wake-up call she needs?

Plot Summary

The story begins with Jane getting a visit from her mother and aunt. Her aunt finds a hidden DVD of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. The aunt calls Jane out on her Darcy obsession at lunch while her mother is gone from table. The aunt dies and leaves Jane a vacation package to Austenland. Jane, who has gone through a slew of boyfriends, gives up on men altogether and goes on vacation as a last hurrah before living in spinsterhood. Jane gets there and is looked down by the owner, Mrs. Wattlsebrook, because she is not rich like their usual clients. She changes Jane’s name to Miss Erstwhile. Jane meets the gardener, Theodore, as well as Mr. Nobley and Miss Charming. Jane doesn’t know if she is cut out for this sort of experience.

Critical Evaluation

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found it extremely humorous and heartwarming. I really connected with Jane’s character and her obsession with Mr. Darcy. I really liked her growth throughout the book and how she started to realize her own faults and why she has had so many failed relationships. I especially enjoyed her rapport with Mr. Nobley. Even though it’s a bit of a cliché, I’ve always enjoy romances where the couple don’t like each other at first. Some would say the book is predictable, but I honestly didn’t care one bit that I could see what was coming. I was having too much fun with the characters to notice.

Appeal Factors

Character-driven, romantic, humorous, YA appeal, book-to-movie

Read-Alikes

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Discussion Ideas

  • Discuss pop culture’s obsession with Jane Austen and why her books are still so prevalent.
  • Discuss Jane’s obsession with Mr. Darcy and her past failed relationships.

Justification of Selection

I adore Jane Austen, so I’m usually very picky about reading books that are about modern-day adaptions, but this book hooked me. The premise sounded very entertaining, so I decided to try it out and I’m very happy that I did. It is a fantastic book and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Arranged

Author: Catherine McKenziearranged
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: 2012
Genre: Chick Lit, Romance
ISBN: 9780062115393
Price: $14.99
Number of Pages: 390
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, E-Book, Audio

Rating Scale: 4Q, 3P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

http://catherinemckenzie.com/

http://interviewingauthors.com/catherine-mckenzie-author-attorney-international-bestseller/

Links to Reviews

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-211539-3

http://www.amazon.com/Arranged-Catherine-McKenzie-ebook/dp/B006FOISZO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425682015&sr=1-1&keywords=arranged+by+catherine+mckenzie

Reader’s Annotation

Anne has always picked the wrong man. Maybe it’s time for someone to pick for her.

Summary

Arranged is a fast-paced, fun contemporary romance. Anne Blythe has just found out her boyfriend of three years has been cheating on her. Once she ends the relationship, she begins to reflect on her past relationships and doesn’t like what she sees. She realizes that she has never picked the right man, always putting looks above all else. After running into two ex-boyfriends who are both not married and finding out her best friend is engaged, she decides drastic action is necessary. She calls Blythe &Company, who she believes to be a dating agency. Once at the appointment, she realizes that they conduct arranged marriages. Anne, who believes she has hit rock bottom, decides her life needs drastic action and she signs up. Anne jumps through all the necessary hoops, including payments, testing, psychoanalysis and counseling. Months later, Anne gets the call that a match has been found. She flies to Mexico to meet her husband-to-be, who is a fellow writer named Jack. Once she meets him, she feels an instant connection with him. Although she is unsure, she marries him and the two are very happy together. However, there may be more to Jack than she thought.

Critical Evaluation

I thought this was an extremely fun romance to read. Although, I wasn’t sure about Anne as a character at first, as I thought her to be a little shallow and self-absorbed, I enjoyed her character development throughout the course of the book. I also enjoyed Jack, who could have been a one-note character but was instead developed quite nicely. I loved their dialog together and found them to be very believable characters. Although the reader has to suspend their belief a few times in the book, I happily did so and wasn’t bothered by its far-fetching elements. As far as the writing, it wasn’t the best book, but I was absorbed in the story and had a very nice time. I thought the ending was perfect and, all-in-all, I am very glad I came across this book.

Significance of Book

Catherine McKenzie is an international bestselling author, and Arranged was very well-received by reviewers. It takes the fascinating subject of arranged marriages and makes it into a charming, fun romance.

Read-alikes

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual by Kim Izzo

Awards and Lists

N/A

Discussion Ideas

  • Discuss arranged marriages and how McKenzie presents them in story
  • Discuss the references to Anne of Green Gables

Justification of Selection

One of the reasons this book caught my interest was the fact that it revolved around an arranged marriage. I was curious about it and the fact that it looked like a fun, upbeat romance sealed the deal.