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Retro Friday Review: Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
I ran across Carpe Diem around four years ago in the Feiwel & Friends catalog. They had the excellent good sense to reprint the wonderful President's Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White, and I wondered what other YA titles they had on the docket at the time. My eye was drawn to this cover right off the bat, and I still think it's just perfect for the book. I love the slightly faded parchment look of it. With the silhouette and the hair and the style it could be anything really. In this case, it's a contemporary novel about a girl who goes on the trip of a lifetime and who's priorities are rearranged a bit as a result. I never hear very much about the book around the blogosphere and I wonder if it just sort of flitted and floated its way by or if others picked it up for its pretty outsides and enjoyed the insides as much as I did. I haven't seen anything else from Autumn Cornwell after this debut, but I would certainly be interested in more from her.
 

Vassar Spore's parents just went ahead and named their only daughter after one of the most prestigious women's colleges in the country. Unsurprisingly, she grows up a goal-oriented perfectionist intent on winning a Pulitzer Prize and marrying an MIT grad. Yawn. In steps Vassar's bohemian grandma who demands she spend the summer with her backpacking across Southeast Asia. Blackmailed to within an inch of their lives, Vassar's parents give in and off she goes to a region of the world she never thought she'd see. And it's all bugs and dirt and complications from there on out. She encounters a myriad of people and pests from different walks of life and vastly different outlooks from her own. And the girl who thought she was so open-minded and so adaptable discovers she has just a few more things to learn about life before she heads off to college to save the world.
 

Okay. So I think we can all agree that this plot line could have easily slipped into the predictable too-serious-girl finds there's more to life than book learning . . . but somehow it just . . . doesn't. I kept waiting to succumb to that familiar jaded feeling and it never came. And even though I did predict one key surprise correctly, Cornwell absolutely won me over with her genuine love for her character and the region of the world she was exploring. You could tell the author had traveled herself (and loved it) as there's just that certain kind of wanderlust and experience with being immersed in something wholly other that's difficult to manufacture. It was here in spades and I was suffused with memories of living abroad growing up and studying abroad later in college. Precious memories, every one. This wonderful sense of adventure lent the story a freshness I wholly enjoyed. Vassar's voice is a strong one, one that changes and grows over time, which I always appreciate. Lastly, if none of this has induced you to read the book, all I have to say is you might want to meet the handsome young man Vassar encounters on her sojourn. Because Hanks the Malaysian Cowboy Bodyguard alone is enough reason to read the book. "Hanks plural, not singular." Man, I love that cowboy.


Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews The Accidental Vampire by Lynsay Sands
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
A Jane of All Reads reviews Miss Suzy by Miriam Young

Linkage
bookshelves of doom review
Fields of Gold review
Over my Head review
The YA YA YAs review

Comments

  1. Malaysian Cowboy Bodyguard? I'm interested.

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  2. Oh, I've read this. (I think I reviewed it too). Cute and funny. The whole international aspect was done well.

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  3. She travels in Southeast Asia? Must read this then. I've never been to Cambodia, Malaysia or Laos but I really want to go.

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  4. I've never heard of this one, but after this review I've got to get it! Maybe for Christmas. I love the backpacking bohemian Grandma concept. I've seen the relative-insist-on-expanding-horizons schtick a lot but usually an uncle or perhaps aunt. Not grandma.

    Yeah. Some elements sound familiar. But as you pointed out, and I think you have to remember for all books, it isn't WHAT, it is HOW an author creates a project. This one looks like it is done with a loving hand from the atmosphere to the characters.

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  5. Janice, lol. As well you should be. He's a doll.

    Holly, have you? Cool! Yeah, it's light and fun.

    Chachic, I would like to as well someday.

    Bets, yeah, the grandma is a character. And very different from Vassar.

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  6. YOU JUST MADE MY DAY!!! So I'll set the scene...I am an avid travelogue and road trip/travel fiction reader. I'm browsing the YA section at the Borders closing sale..never heard of this book but the travel bug in me started making my heart thump thump thump so I bought it not knowing whether it was even good or not! And the cover was incredible! I featured it on my Top Ten Tuesday list of books I bought for the cover/title. But I asked if anyone had heard anything about this book or read it and nobody had!! I AM SO HAPPY YOU LIKED THIS ONE. Moving it up on my TBR list!

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  7. I loved this book! And I'd completely got it for its cover, too... ;)

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  8. Jamie, LOL. Thanks so much for sharing how you picked it up. If you love travelogues, you will love this one.

    Shannon, see? It's really made of win, that cover.

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