Darlene Foster: Amanda in Arabia

I have been following Darlene Foster’s blog for sometime now and had often told myself that I would want to read one of her books.

Lately, I’d been emersed in a lot of adult literary fiction and so this past weekend, I was looking for something to read which wouldn’t be too demanding on my exhausted brain cells. A book that a middle school child could handle.

So far, Darlene has eight Amanda adventure books, each one set in different countries: Spain, Holland, England, Arabia and Malta or in different states or provinces: Alberta, New Mexico or The Danube.

I had debated whether I wanted to read one of the adventures set in a place I had already visited but finally settled on the exotic, the foreign, somewhere I will likely never visit: The United Arab Emirates or as the locals refer to it as either the UAE or simply the Emirates.

Amanda, a twelve-year-old girl from Alberta, Canada, is visiting her aunt and uncle in the Emirates where she befriends an English girl living in the same apartment building. The two girls explore powder-soft white sandy beaches – spotless with its clear blue water, a deserted Bedouin village, impressive and dangerous desert dunes and sandstorms.

Then, there is the magical “Lawrence of Arabia” fairy-tale (After all there is a perfume flask which reminded me of Aladdin’s lamp, reference to flying carpets and a princess who needs saving). There is also the chaos of camel races and a kidnapping.

My favorite part was Amanda riding a camel in the desert – I never thought I’d be so interested in camels before reading this book.

There is also a scene where a boy is sand boarding in the desert dunes which brought back tender memories of my visit to Mui Ne Sand Dunes near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where, there too, boys sand boarded.

Reading Amanda in Arabia was like taking a mini vacation to a colorful and fascinating country learning a bit about their culture. It was encouraging how Amanda found everything about her visit amazing, whether it was the women covering their faces, the soothing sounding call to prayer five times a day, the friendliness of the people and the little goats climbing trees.

When I was ten or so I would order a bunch of Scholastic novels for my summer reading and would be so excited when they arrived. It is easy for me to imagine that I would have been just as excited to have received Darlene Foster’s Amanda series had they existed then.

Jennifer Kelland Perry: Calmer Secrets

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The Cross family (Darlene, Samantha, Veronica, baby Henry and Cash, Darlene’s boyfriend) are a normal family with its own problems ranging from sibling conflict over a boy, a mother’s drinking problem and abuse.

Calmer Secrets is a novel about good people making bad choices. It is a book about an affectionate family sticking together through thick and thin.

But it is also about romantic relationships. There’s Darlene with Cash, her live-in boyfriend who get along splendidly. Then Veronica’s dating “like you’re going through a box of Kleenex,” Samantha tells her and finally there’s Samantha’s conflict between two guys.

For anyone who has gone through dating in their early twenties, you will recognize the angst, vulnerability and fragility of that period of beginning to date.

Although Calmer Secrets is classed as a Young Adult book there isn’t an age to stop enjoying a book genre. I’ve always loved YA books, often taking me back to my own young adulthood and providing me with a few new vocabulary words:

Girl, you are bangin, says one of Samantha’s boyfriend’s when he sees her appear. To which she answers You’re pretty dope yourself. By the context I took these words to mean cool.

Calmer Secrets takes place in St John’s, Newfoundland, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. It was a pleasure reading about the vibrant painted row-houses, the pubs and the mall and a major blizzard which the author cleverly uses to advance her plot.

It’s a heartwarming book. Filled with love and tenderness and suspense.