Book Review: The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries
Book #1
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Mia Thermopolis is just trying to survive high school, as a freshman at a private school in New York who is not popular, not pretty, and not good at algebra. Then her dad drops the bombshell that he’s the crown prince of a small country in Europe, and that because he can’t have any more kids, Mia is the next in line for the throne. She resists this news heavily, especially when told that she’ll eventually have to move to Genovia, but her struggles are only beginning.

I have seen the movie based on this book a few times since it came out, including once recently with my daughter, and I’ve always enjoyed the movie. I had thought about reading the books, but it was learning that the audiobook was narrated by Anne Hathaway that clinched it. And though the movie is different from the book in a lot of ways, the character of Mia Thermopolis in the movie is very true to the book. The book is written entirely as diary entries from Mia as she finds out she’s a princess and deals with the fallout from that, so hearing it all in the voice of the one who brought the character to life added a wonderful dimension to it.

This book struck me as so real, the way the MC’s thoughts are laid so open and bare to her diary that she has no reason to believe anyone will ever read. When I was in high school, I made various attempts to keep a diary, a mostly blank book that I still have, and when I look back at it, I realize that I was unable to be completely honest even with only myself as the audience. I wonder how many teenagers and even pre-teens have read, or will read, this book and will be inspired to keep a diary. The book was published right around the time I was graduating high school, so while I lived in a vastly different place than NYC, I could still feel the connection to my younger days.

I can’t truly say whether I’d have rated the book 5 stars if I’d read it for myself, but as far as the audiobook goes, I loved listening to it. The first 3 in the series of 11 are narrated by Anne Hathaway, which should give me time to decide if I like the series enough for itself to continue reading after that. I initially read this with a mind toward whether or not to suggest it to my daughter, who is 11, but I think there are a few mentions of things that she’s too young for, even if they might go over her head, that I’ll hold off on recommending it to her. If you haven’t read any of this series, though, and like the movie, I suggest giving the audiobook a try.

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Throughout all of Jacob Portman’s 15 years, his grandfather has told him stories about his past. Incredible, unbelievable stories about monsters and kids with special abilities and an island where he and the other kids hid from the monsters. As he grows up, Jacob realizes that the stories are fictional, or at least an exaggeration of a childhood shaped by fear of persecution and annihilation, for Jacob’s grandfather’s family was Jewish in Poland during WWII. Then tragedy strikes, and Jacob begins to feel he’s losing his mind, haunted by his grandfather’s monsters. The only solution he can think of is to go to the island where his grandfather once lived, where he hopes someone who knew his grandfather might still be. But he could never have prepared himself for what he would find there.

I really did not know what I was getting into when I started reading this book. Apparently some people expect it to be horror, but it really isn’t–more creepy at worst. It’s more mystery and suspense with some adventure, definitely sci-fi/fantasy elements, and even some historical fiction thrown in. I really liked the mystery and intrigue as Jacob tried to decipher his grandfather’s cryptic message. I also think the world-building around the safe house and the way it’s kept safe are incredibly interesting and well-done. The main character starts out as a self-important, bratty kid, and…well, he may still be that at the end of the book. But a self-important, bratty kid with a mission is better than one with no aim whatsoever, so there’s that.

I was really caught up in the book almost the whole way through, but when I slowed down to think about it, I realized the writing could have been better. And the inclusion of the photos sometimes flowed well, but other times the explanation for why there was a photo of a particular person or event just felt too forced. However, I think I approached this book the opposite of most people–rather than being excited about these creepy, vintage photos that the story is written around, I didn’t really care about the photos in advance, read the book for itself, and looked at the pictures as they came up. If you’re thinking of reading this book because you’re looking for a creepy story to go along with the creepy pictures, you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for an interesting speculative fiction world with kids with super-hero-type powers that first have to save themselves, and then quite possibly the world, this might be worth reading. Be warned, though: it ties up most of the story from the book, but the ending is a jumping-off point for the next book, which I’m looking forward to continuing.

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Book Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

When Emily’s only remaining parent, the father she is very close to, dies, she is taken in by 2 aunts on her mother’s side. Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t really want her and only takes her because the lot fell to her. Aunt Laura is at least kind to Emily, but overall, her mother’s side of the family are proud, snobby people who strongly disliked Emily’s father and disdain their niece. Emily’s new classmates also treat her badly because of her proud family. Emily learns to cope with her difficulties by writing to her late father, pouring out her sadness and frustrations.

After reading the Anne of Green Gables books by the same author, this book is considerably darker, sadder, even somewhat depressing. For all the times I was surprised to see how terribly some of the people of this time period acted, especially older women, in the Anne books, a few of the characters in this book made my jaw drop. There is some charm to the story, and Emily herself is quite deep and introspective. She also can be brash and quick-tempered. I liked the way she was able to get past certain injustices or clashes with other people by simply writing about them. Though she bordered on mean when she described people in her writing at times.

There are some bright spots in her life–friends she made, for instance. I think Perry was my favorite, because though he is uncouth, he is also super kind and protective of Emily, who, frankly, could use a protector. He may have taken it a step too far now and then, but that seems to describe a lot of the characters in this book. One thing I really liked was that Emily was so terribly upset over what she was told Ilse’s mother had done, considering that that kind of thing seems so commonplace now. I’d love to go back to a time when it’s seen as a terrible, even unlikely thing. The outcome to that story arc, though, was…bizarre, is all I can really say.

I kind of get the feeling that I might like this series more as it goes, which would be completely the opposite of the Anne series, where I started to like each book less after the first one. However, I’m not completely sure if I’ll continue the series.

Extra note for the audiobook version I listened to: Overall she made the main voices distinct enough from each other, but there were times when she read the letters Emily wrote to her father where she would simply neglect to put any real emotion or inflection into parts. It could have been better.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Played Brahms

The Cat Who Played Brahms
Book #5
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When an old friend of his mother’s, a nearly 90-year-old woman he’s always called Aunt Fanny, offers him use of her cabin on a lake for the summer, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran decides that a few months away from the bustle of city life and his newspaper job that keeps changing assignments on him might be just what he needs. Moose County, though, is practically a whole different country, and Qwilleran experiences culture shock, even as his old familiar instincts kick in when he’s certain he’s found evidence of a murder occurring.

I keep saying this, but I think this might be my new favorite in the series. Qwill out of his element was pretty great, and the introduction to the area I know he’ll be living for the rest of the series was comical in many ways. The inclusion of Koko’s latest quirk as hinted at in the title was might have been my favorite so far, and I really liked the little bit of emotion near the end of the book. I loved seeing real friendships begin to develop with people he’ll be living amongst soon, and especially enjoyed the few interactions he had with the managing editor of the local paper. Overall, the clash of a true city man trying to understand the far north country made this book different than the previous in a lot of ways, but I really liked it.

To be honest, until I started reading through this series recently, I wondered if I only liked them when I was younger because…well, I was younger. I thought I’d find them silly, pedantic, boring, etc. now. Apparently my reading tastes haven’t changed all that much, because I’ve been enjoying them a lot. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers
A Woman of WWII Mystery #2
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Poppy Redfern’s writing has gotten noticed, and she’s been made a scriptwriter for the London Crown Film Unit to help showcase British civilians who are heroes in some way to the war effort. Through this job she meets women pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose job it is to fly new and repaired planes to military airfields throughout the country. While working on the script for the film about these ladies, one of them dies in a spectacular crash that is attributed to pilot error. But Poppy is not so sure it was an accident and starts asking questions that don’t exactly relate to the script she’s writing.

I really liked this book, though not quite as much as the first one in the series. The world-building and atmosphere were just as good, but the characters were just a little weaker. And the mystery plot was mostly done well, but I was left scratching my head a little at the end. There was a clue given near the beginning of the story that was never actually used in any way, unless I simply missed it. Still, the story played out well.

I love the history that this series brings to life, and learning about the ATA and Attagirls was the best part of the book. The American fighter pilot Poppy grows close to in the previous book, Griff, is in this one as well. Readers hoping to see their relationship ramp up may be disappointed, but I personally don’t mind the struggles they’re going through, only partly related to the differences between their cultures. Poppy comes to realize during this book that she may be offering Griff more than just “British reserve” due to her own past, but Griff shows that he can handle it. I wonder if we’re seeing shades of the author’s relationship with her husband, she being British and he being American. Either way, it’s a much more realistic-feeling “romance” than most you find in books, and I like it.

Poppy’s continued inner voice of the main character of the novels she’s still writing is a quirk that doesn’t detract from the novel at all, in my opinion. Like the previous book, I enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. I may have to wait half a year for the next book to come out, but I’ll definitely be watching for it.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii

Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii
Mr. Monk #2
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery

Unable to handle his assistant Natalie going to Hawaii and leaving him alone, the defective detective Adrian Monk takes a pill to combat his many phobias and OCD tendencies and tags along. Once the dose wears off, he’s back to being his normal self, which includes ruining a wedding and Natalie’s vacation. But more importantly, it means classifying an accidental death as a murder and getting himself involved in the investigation.

Let me just say right off that I hate “the Monk.” I hated him in the television episode he appeared in (“Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine”, the last episode with Sharona…and you know, I always suspected that was the real reason she left) and I disliked that he made an appearance in this book. Fortunately, this drugged state of the main character didn’t last long, but I certainly hope the author of this book series doesn’t plan to resurrect him every time he needs to put Monk in a situation he would normally avoid. For goodness sake, there’s a very good, touching reason Monk stopped taking the pills the first time, and for him to completely disregard that cheapens the great respect he still has for his late wife.

Now that that rant is out of the way, the book was another nice re-visit with a television show that has long-since ended (this series came out while the show was still on, but they’re all new stories to me). I felt pretty immersed in the island setting, often going away from the heavy tourist areas to see everyday life on the island. The accent of the detective that they worked with was done very well by the narrator, and I’m not sure it would have come across nearly as well if I read the book myself, so that’s a major check in the audiobook column. I still don’t love her depiction of Monk himself, but I’m sure trying to imitate the voice of an actual person (the actor who played the role) is more difficult than narrating other books.

My biggest gripe, and the reason that I may eventually have to stop reading this series, is again that the author just seems to not have the best handle on Monk. Monk using pop culture references, like a reference to Michael Jackson, is just not true to his character. And he was far more concerned about Natalie’s injuries and sunburn at one point in the book than I feel like he would be–not even a mention about the mess her blood was probably making, for example, and he was…well, “tender” is the best word I can come up with, and Monk really isn’t tender. And Monk at his most normal self isn’t really about going out and having fun, yet we’re to believe that he plays miniature golf? And well? When, exactly, is he going out and hitting balls at windmills without his assistant knowing about it?

The book is more good than bad, despite what it may sound like above. There are some funny moments that remind me of why I like the show and characters so much. But there’s a reason that the character in the TV show has the problems he has–he’s brilliant and can solve basically anything. Without some major handicaps, he’d be too good, and that would be boring. He needs something to hold him back, to be the main conflict for the show, and that is his OCD and phobias that do tend to distract him and make him self-absorbed quite often. If this series continues to grind those edges down, I probably won’t be able to keep reading it. For now, though, I’ll see what the next one holds, and for those who might be interested, it does look like many others aren’t as bothered by these things as I am, so if you’re a fan of the show, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try!

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Book Review: Dying to Meet You (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Dying to Meet You
by Rich Amooi

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: Romantic comedy

By all appearances this book should be a light, fun read, and it has many reviews to that affect. However, I was ready to quit at about 30%, gave it a few more chances, and finally called it at 50%. I’m always a bit uncertain about the modern rom-com genre going into it, and this book had a lot of things I really don’t like, starting with a romance that is much more based on physical attraction than I prefer. Add to that some tropes that make me groan, like the embarrassing “Oops, did I say that out loud?” moments that had already occurred twice by the time I was at 30%. The main character is 10 years older than me, but acts at least 15 years younger than me, making it almost impossible for me to imagine her at the correct age. And what first made me consider quitting on the book was the incredible number of amazing circumstances or rare chances happenings that happen around this woman, including her getting a rare form of an already rare disease, such that the doctor says he’s never heard of before, and the difference in this form? She doesn’t have the debilitating symptoms that would make the plot of this book unable to happen. What a coinkydink!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Full Sentence Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is book titles that are complete sentences, which turned out to be a little easier than I thought it would be. Not that I found a ton of them, but I did find more than 10 and had to narrow it down. So I went with only books that I’ve read, and I’ve put them in order of lower ratings to higher ratings (as rated by me).

10. Don’t Keep Silent by Elizabeth Goddard
The third in a series, all 3 of which have titles that are complete sentences. See my review here.

9. All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen & Jory John
My husband loves this book. I thought it was okay. But the important thing is that not only is the title a complete sentence, it’s even written in sentence format on the book cover, with a period at the end and everything!

8. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
The first in a trilogy, all 3 of which have titles that are complete sentences. See my review here.

7. Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman
See my review here.

6. Hope is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton
See my review here.

5. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
See my review here.

4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Somehow this book always makes my top ten lists… See my review here.

3. Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg
First in a series of novels about the TV detective, many of the other books in the series have complete-sentence titles too. See my review here.

2. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
In a way, one could possibly read this in a different way than would be needed for it to be seen as a complete sentence. I choose to read it as an imperative with the implied “you” as the subject. See my review here. (Another similar title is Escape from the Island of Aquarius.)

1. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
This book has been in a few of my TTT posts in the past too, but come on, it fits so well! See my review here.

Looking for books for this list was more fun than I expected it to be. What’s on your list?

Book Review: Tidewater Bride

Tidewater Bride
by Laura Frantz

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

1634 Virginia is a dangerous place, but the colonists in James Towne are determined to make a life in the New World. Selah Hopewell and her family work as merchants, providing goods for those in and around the town. Though she is well past the marrying age, she has preferred to help her father, rather than take a husband. Alexander Renick is a widow who has strong ties to the nearby Powhatan people, his late wife being a Powhatan princess. He is also the wealthiest tobacco baron in the colony and quite married to his work. As Selah and Xander, separately and together, deal with the treachery of both man and nature, they begin to feel a pull toward each other.

There are some books that are billed as romance and that’s clearly all the story is meant to be about. And then there are some books that are billed as romance, but have so much more depth to the story than just how the two main characters end up together. I much prefer the latter, and fortunately, this is just that type of story. Yes, the romance is there, and it’s sweet and innocent, just how I like it. But it’s not the main focus of the book, and even the main climax of the book doesn’t revolve around it. There’s so much more going on–the tenuous peace between the colonists and the Powhatans, the duplicity of some of the less-than-moral colonists, and the turmoil that both Selah’s and Xander’s families are in at different times during the story. And during all of that, a blooming relationship.

The other side to this, though, is that I’m not sure there was a very solid, clear main plot throughout the book. Even now that I’ve finished the story, the only real main thread I can identify is the question of what, if anything, is the shady Helion Laurent up to? It’s not that the story is lacking in conflict–far from it. But no main conflict rises to the surface until at least halfway through the story (unless I just missed it). This doesn’t mean the story was bad by any means, but it does lend to the narrative feeling a bit slow for a while, I think. Fortunately, the characters and the different things that are going on are interesting enough that “slow” never became “plodding” or “boring.” I really appreciated the way that Selah recognized her shortcomings, not because someone pointed them out to her, but because a timely Bible verse shed light on her inner being, and she repented of those things, providing inspirational character growth.

This was a departure from me, a time and location in history I’ve not read much about, and the description of life in the early Virginia colony was fascinating. In the author’s note, Frantz admitted to a few things she bent timelines on, but I’m definitely ignorant enough that I would never have known the difference. I looked up a few words that I wasn’t certain I was understanding from context, but for the most part, the story was easy to read and really took me back in time. I recommend this book for all fans of Christian historical fiction, whether or not you would specifically seek out the addition of romance.

Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List
by Thomas Keneally

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Nonfiction historical novel

Most people have at least heard of this book, or the movie that was made from it, about the war profiteer turned savior of over a thousand Jews during WWII. I watched the movie in high school and then tried to read the book, but gave up due to how long and dry it was. That’s probably the biggest mark against the book for most people–it’s slow and plodding for at least the first several chapters. And throughout the entire book, the narrative is bogged down by so many names of locations and people, all of which are foreign to at least some of us (mostly Polish names, some German) and difficult to pronounce. However, I’m not sure Keneally should have done it differently, and if that is the only downside to the whole book, I would say there’s a lot of reason to push through it and keep going. It does pick up a little after some of the early chapters, and in the end, I’m really glad I read it.

One thing that’s always struck me about Schindler, and did even more so while reading this, is that he’s not necessarily the type of person you would picture as a “savior.” He was gruff, prone to fits of anger, and frankly had absolutely no respect for women at all. And yet, when he saw injustice and brutality happening, he was spurred into action. And while his motives for helping are examined multiple times in the book, it’s clear that it’s not just a matter of profit that he fights to keep his workers, considering the lengths he goes to at times to not just keep them but also to keep the SS from brutalizing them in his factory.

Though Schindler’s actions are the focal point, the book also takes an up-close look at some of the people eventually saved by him. The book reads like a series of vignettes about Schindler himself and various of the different Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). Keneally states that he did his best to include only facts, while filling in conversation here and there, but because he couldn’t possibly have every single detail, the story at times reads more like looking down on a scene, rather than being right there in it while it happens, as we’ve come to expect from novels. He makes it clear, though, when he couldn’t corroborate a story, that it might be more legend than fact, and even this only happens a few times. Overall, the book is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and clear picture of one man who was completely unextraordinary most of his life, yet did an incredibly extraordinary thing during a dark and terrifying time in human history. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, I recommend reading this book to pretty much everyone who’s remotely interested in the subject matter, even if it does take you some time to get through it. It’s worth it.

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