Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Historic Summer Romance: Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm

"Please remind me again why you're going to pilgrim camp."

"Okay, first it's not camp. It's a living history museum studies internship." I nestled my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder, trying to zip my suitcase closed with one hand. Definitely not working. "And second, Ugh," I grunted. That zipper was like beyond stuck. "Like I've told you about a million times, I'm not a pilgrim." I sat on the suitcase. "I'm an eighteenth-century New England colonist on the coastline of the territory now known as the state of Maine. It's a totally different thing. It's like mistaking Pucci for Gucci."

"Sorry, Libs," said Dev, "but you know my brain shuts down when you go all History Channel on me."

Libby's friend Dev can't understand why she's not interning at Teen Mode with him in Manhattan, but Libby loves history and eighteenth-century romantic writers like Jane Austen. To Dev "living history is an oxymoron." But to Libby it's her best chance to live an a romantic era, immersing herself in 1790, and to wear some really cool kirtles and curve-defining stays. A Colonial Cinderella!

But the details are not so Disney. She is stuffed into cramped quarters with the mousy Suze and the arrogant Ashling, who insists on staying in character as the prudish Susannah Fennyweather 24/7 and sneers at the magnitude of Libby's off-duty wardrobe. The Living Museum itself is having financial woes, with such declining attendance that this may be their last season. And then there's the colonial makeup code:

"No makeup?" I stuttered. "Um, I don't mean to be a pain in the butt about this, but I'm blond--"

"We are well aware," Ashling deadpanned.

"I look really weird without eye makeup. Like an alien. Because I have blond eyelashes. I might scare the kids..." I trailed off.

"As a redhead, I am familiar with the phenomenon," Maddie said dryly. "We appreciate your sacrifice. But no makeup."

But Camden Town has its compensations. Libby loves her job with the Girls of Long Ago Camp and soon proves that she can turn out a mean gingerbread baked in the ashes with the best of them. And then--there are the squaddies--buff, tanned teen boys who man the facsimile ships in the harbor. And when these sailors are in port, as Libby notes, it's like an explosion of Harlequin historical romance cover models. And one of the demo squaddies, the totally hot Cam, soon comes calling, sending her little girl campers into a romantic tizzy. Cam quotes sonnets, brings daily bouquets, and invites her to go sailing and dancing at the first holiday clambake. They're potentially the perfect colonial couple, Libby thinks.

Enter Garrett, the nerdy sci-fi nut, whose idea of style is a three-decade old Starship Enterprise tee, the cub reporter for the Camden Crier, assigned to stake out the good ship Lettie Mae in hopes of photographing the ghost reportedly seen there. Libbie sees an opening to escape her totally annoying roommate Ashling and find space for her shoe collection and volunteers to be the requisite intern who monitors Garrett's stay aboard the boat. Libby finds Garrett impossibly dorky, with his Hobbit-hairy toes, his open disdain for the hunky Cam, and his vintage Star Trek wardrobe, but it's worth it, especially since her cell phone gets really good service out in the harbor. Now if she can just entice Cam to do a Mr. Darcy to her Elizabeth Bennett, Libby's summer will be a historical romance in and of itself!

But, as literarily noted, the course of true love never does run smooth, and Libby soon finds that although she can hack the historic part of the summer, the romance part is not what it is cracked up to be:

"I can't believe I fell for that idiot." I shook my head.

"Oh, I can," Garrett said grimly. "Let me guess.... he quoted some Shakespeare at you, brought you flowers, and swept you off your feet with all the romantic bullshit you always dreamed of but were afraid existed only in books?"

"Um, yeah. Pretty much exactly," I admitted.

But as Shakespeare himself notably said, "All's well that ends well," and this sweet and spicy tale does work out that way in Stephanie Kate Strohm's forthcoming Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a light and witty summer romance yarn with a spunky heroine who packs her cell phone in her bodice but leaves her common sense back home pro tem as she temporarily falls for the charming cad. It's an old premise, but one in which Strohm's snappy dialogue and timely twists of plot takes the reader along merrily in this historical romantic romp.

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