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The Big Shuffle    by Laura Pedersen order for
Big Shuffle
by Laura Pedersen
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Laura Pedersen has done it again! The Big Shuffle, her latest novel featuring the lovable Hallie Palmer, is another thrill ride through the ups and downs of Hallie's completely messed-up life.

The novel starts out on a sad note Hallie's father dies of a heart attack and her mother is in so much shock that they have to send her to the local mental hospital for some rest. It is up to Hallie now to take care of her eight younger siblings while her older brother continues his schooling. Hallie's life goes from college student to over-stressed mom overnight. Luckily, she has rather unconventional help. Her scatterbrained aunt comes to take care of the funeral arrangements, her father's sailor uncle turns out to be great with the kids, Pastor Costello practically moves in, and, of course, Bernard comes to the rescue with food (and cable TV).

Things may not be perfect at home, but Hallie manages a routine that gets her through the day and ensures the well-being of her family. Of course things cannot be fine for long, and soon Hallie's love life is thrown a curve ball when her boyfriend announces that he dropped out of college. More concerned about her future than ever, Hallie must make some tough decisions if she ever wants to regain her own life.

This episode in Hallie's life gives us glimpses into characters who were only peripheral in Beginner's Luck and Heart's Desire - Hallie's youngest siblings. As with all the individuals in these novels, each of the Palmer children has quite a personality. Also, Pedersen has created her most outrageous character yet (and that's saying something since all those who people her novels are quirky): Uncle Lenny. Uncle Lenny may not be realistic, but he sure is fun, and must be read to be believed. Once again, Pedersen shows that she is a master at creating characters who draw the reader into the story and stay with the reader long after the book is read.

The Big Shuffle will delight Hallie Palmer fans, but new readers should start with Beginner's Luck and Heart's Desire for proper introductions to Hallie and her wonderfully wacky friends and family. While sequels have a tendency to taper off in quality the further they get from the first book, The Big Shuffle is just as enjoyable and well-written as Beginner's Luck in fact, I feel Pedersen's writing has even grown some.

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