Two Novels for Beach or Backyard
Reviewed by Michele Ashman Bell

Whether you’re relaxing on the beach or in your own backyard this summer, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than reading a good book.  Two new releases by Spring Creek Book Company are sure to provide hours of enjoyment.

Will the real Catha Battersby aka LaNae Battersby please stand up?  In Katie Parker’s new book, Just the Way You Are, Catha Battersby is ready to head off to college.  As she leave home, she decides that she wants to change her name from Catha, which she considers boring and unconfident, to LaNae, which she feels represents a person who is outgoing and sure of herself.   Since Catha’s middle name is Elaine, she doesn’t feel like it’s a huge stretch from the truth.   She wants her first year at college start off right so, calling herself LaNae (without her family’s knowledge), she heads to the University of Oklahoma ready to start life with a new identity and personality.

Just the Way You Are is the story of LaNae (Catha), her roommate Hanna, and their other two roommates Jane and Mandy, all four experiencing their first year away from home and full of anticipation about college life and … dating. 

Enter Emmett Potter, freshly returned missionary who is convinced he’s invented a surefire method of finding his future wife.  Of course, none of the LDS girls on campus and at the institute are aware of his plan and play right into his hands as he begins to enter data into his computer about each girl he meets and rates them on a point system, much like a beauty pageant, with him being the judge.

As Emmett begins his wife search and methodically dates each and every available LDS girl, he causes friction between the girls in LaNae’s and Jane’s dorm.  LaNae has developed feelings for Emmett, but finds out that he’s dated Jane.

The plot thickens when LaNae finds out how to hack into Emmett’s computer program, finds Jane’s name at the top of the list, and puts her own name in its place  Emmett, seeing LaNae at the top, figures she’s earned the most points and therefore must be the right one for him.

The characters in this book are fresh and quirky and fun and create a great ensemble cast that works well together.   The girls have interesting backgrounds and challenges at home (particularly LaNae and Jane), which creates drama and further complicates their lives.  The author seems quite in tune with the thoughts and feelings of young girls who are out on their own for the first time.  This story will strike a familiar cord to readers who have already had this experience of going off to college for the first time.  It will also give young girls who are ready to strike out on their own, a feel for some of the challenges and the fun that college life can offer.  The girls spend more time worrying about finding husbands than worrying about academics and getting their degrees but they are still very likeable and well-developed characters.

At first I was a bit confused when the POV changed with scene breaks and new chapters, but that problem is remedied by paying close attention to the headings at the beginning of each new scene.  Some of the girls’ home life situations seemed a bit strong for a book that by-in-large was lighthearted and humorous.  When LaNae is physically struck by her father, the incident is soon forgotten and not much more is mentioned about it.  I wanted more closure about this issue, or at least to see LaNae deal with the issue and work through the emotional impact of it.  Still, the strong dose of reality was pertinent, since sadly, situations like this do exist.  Hopefully seeing LaNae move on with her life will give hope to others in her situation. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Just the Way You Are.  This is the type of book you’ll read, then pass around to all your friends because you’ll want them to enjoy it as much as you did.  And don’t forget, it’s the perfect book to take with you on vacation, even if it’s in your own backyard.

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On the Road to Royalty is a very charming book and one I would highly recommend for young women to read.  Dianne Crabtree has created wonderful characters and a delightful plot that makes the book engaging, fun to read and hard to put down.

The story is about Lisa Larson, who has a huge crush on blue-eyed Jared Nichols.  Word gets out to Jared’s friends about Lisa’s crush and they decide to play a trick on Lisa.  But with the help of her two friends, Patrice and Angela, Lisa manages to get the last laugh – and the boy! 

One of Jared’s friends calls up Lisa posing as Jared, and asks Lisa out on a date.  She immediately realizes it’s not Jared but accepts the date anyway.  Lisa and her friends come up with a plan to catch Jared’s friends in their feeble plan and when Friday night arrives, Lisa is dressed up as a fairytale princess, ready for her Prince Charming to arrive.  To her shock and surprise, Jared is standing at her front door.  Horrified, Lisa feels ridiculous in her princess outfit, but Jared assures her she looks quite beautiful in it and what started out as a disaster, turns into a lovely evening.  And what makes it even nicer is that Jared isn’t put off by Lisa’s grandfather, who has just come to live with her family.  Forced to give up her room and move in with her younger and annoying sister, Lisa isn’t excited about having her aged grandfather living with them.  But Jared and her grandfather seem to have a connection that helps Lisa see her grandfather and in a new light.

Jared and Lisa begin to date and just when Lisa thinks everything is perfect, Whitney Thurber enters the picture.  Whitney is every high school girl’s worst nightmare; she’s beautiful, rich and basically perfect in every way.  Every boy in the school seems to be in love with her, including Jared.  Lisa is completely intimated by Whitney and is convinced Whitney not only wants to steal her two best friends from her, but also Jared.

Lisa’s insecurities grow to even larger proportions when Whitney puts on the appearance of being interested in the Church and turns to Jared for information about the gospel and to answer her questions.  Lisa’s convinced it’s just Whitney’s way of stealing Jared from her.

Lisa soon realizes Jared’s true feelings and Whitney’s true intentions, both of which come as a surprise for Lisa, and one you’ll want to read the book to discover for yourself.

I enjoyed this story because it really got to the heart of struggles most youth deal with; insecurities and self-doubt and wanting to be accepted.  Dianne’s writing is fun and fresh and her characters are easy to care about.   The dialogue is crisp and the humor is witty and quick.  I loved the development of Lisa’s relationship with her grandfather and how he became such an important person and friend to her. 

On the Road to Royalty is a real treasure and is one book you won’t want to miss this summer.

2005 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.