Estelle: Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

Stir Me Up by Sabrina ElkinsStir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 268
Target audience: Young adult/mature
Keywords: Marines, cooking, post-high school fears
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: When Cami’s stepmom’s nephew, Julian, is terribly injured in Afghanistan, he moves into Cami’s bedroom and she moves into an alcove. Turned off by his moody behavior, Cami tries to forget he is even there, going on with her cooking at her dad’s restaurant and her secret hang outs with her boyfriend. But when Julian’s tough exterior finally starts to break down a bit, Cami is surprised by what she feels for him. Could this ever work?

Sabrina Elkins can tell a story. An absolutely addicting story. Here’s why:

  • Cami has valid insecurities just like any of us. It’s her senior year of high school and all Cami wants to do when she graduates is cook. Not go to college like her dad wants, but to cook in a restaurant, like the one she has grown up in. It’s not easy to balance what you want and what your parent wants for you. In addition, Cami is in a relationship that is leading up to her losing her virginity and she is petrified. She really doesn’t want to. I wish more characters were open about this fear (instead of automatically being a crazy sex goddess before they’ve lost their virginity).
  • Since his injury, Julian is going through a lot of physical and emotional changes. In ways, Elkes’ characterization of Julian reminded me of Travis in Something Like Normal. He’s seen some terrible things, he’s been through a horrific ordeal, and he is angry. He is really really angry. Even when his anger is displaced (most of the time), this felt so true to his situation. And his recovery? The details of his rehabilitation? I like that Elkes took the time to go into that part of it too.
  • Cami and Julian’s slow burn romance. These kids did not rush into anything. In fact, they deserve some applause because I think they did a commendable job of trying to stay away from one another. (It is kind of awkward since Cami’s stepmom thinks of Julian as her son.) But you know, Cami is the only one who will put Julian in his place and when they start to warm up to each other, he’s really nice and helpful and wants her to figure out what she wants out of life (with or without him in the picture). There’s a friendship and tenderness there.
  • It’s not all about sex. Don’t misunderstand me. This book is hot. (I think the first kiss goes down in history as one of the best ever.) But sex is not the end goal. It’s just a thing that may or may not happen. And most importantly, the depiction and the moments leading up to all of it, it all comes down to a boy and a girl. Not who has more skills or what words they use to describe things. It’s just about a boy and a girl.
  • Parental pressures. Cami’s restaurant-owning dad is concerned that he may not have been around for her much because of his work schedule. He so wants Cami to understand the sacrifices he had to make because of his passion for food, which is why he wants her to go to college and “do more with herself”. I like how this plotline subtly popped up during the story. (And a main character with a serious hobby? Loved this. Elkins doesn’t joke around either; there are recipes included at the end of the book!)
  • Lastly, it’s funny. Stir Me Up is not only about chemistry, or serious post-high school decisions. Cami has a great best friend who texts the best messages, and Cami’s dad is a Grade-A food snob and this leads to some very interesting family dinners.

Have I convinced you? It was so nice to read a well-rounded new adult book with two character that certainly had baggage, but it was believable baggage that made them oh-so relatable.

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Estelle: Pizza, Love & Other Stuff… by Kathryn Williams

Pizza, Love & Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams ( web | tweet)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt
Pages: 240
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cooking, reality TV
Format read: ARC from ALA (Thanks!)

Summary: Cooking is in Sophie’s blood. Her mother, who died when she was little, was a great cook and her father owns an Italian-Greek restaurant where she works. When her best friend finds out about a reality show for young chefs, he urges her to try out and hopefully win a scholarship to a prestigious cooking school in California. Soon, she is thrust into drama and the spotlight like she never imagined.

You know how they say you shouldn’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach?

The same belief could be applied to reading this book. With all the talk of grand food preparation and the recipes included after each “reality show” challenge, my stomach was constantly grumbling. (Williams included two of my absolute favorite foods too — pizza and eggs benedict!)

Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff… is a very cute novel featuring Sophie, a 16-year old who comes across as very sheltered due to her work at her family’s restaurant. She doesn’t have much experience with boys and it seems like her boy best friend, Alex, is pretty much the only solid friend in her life. (Not including the employees at her dad’s restaurant.) Instead of following in her father’s footsteps, she dreams of being a well-known chef and though she is self-conscious about her talents, she tries out for the reality show and makes it!

In ways, once Sophie makes it to California, this book reminded me of Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy trilogy especially when it uncovered just how “unrealistic” reality TV was. Instead of booze and boys, there’s a burn book and a few competitive moments orchestrated by the producers. Sophie is aware of what the producers of the show are trying to do — make TV worth watching and she manages to steer clear and watch what she says. (Although that doesn’t mean these people don’t twist her words when the show finally airs or she doesn’t question the loyalty of her friends at points.) I was happy to see she made two friends right off the bat — the adorable and funny Stan and the focused Shelby. She even reconnects with her mother’s sister, Mary, who owns an organic restaurant on the west coast. There is even the mysterious and European Luc, who sweeps Sophie away and causes her to question her feelings for her bestie, Alex.

Even though the book is description heavy, the pacing is still quick and I got a good handle on who Sophie was as a character. She had a great passion for cooking and she also loved her family. My one qualm were some moments that I felt were glossed over and I would have liked to have either a) more interaction or b) time not to jump so quickly. There’s some sweet innocent romance going on, for sure, (in fact it feels like these kids are 14 and not 16 much of the time) but it never overpowers the true focus of the book: Sophie venturing out on her own and figuring out how she can make the world a better place with her food.

For a feathery, fun read, perfect for the foodie or a person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen — a subject not spotlighted in many the world of YA. Let’s hear it for the pizza!

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