Book Review: The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room
A Series of Unfortunate Events #2
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Uncle Monty. He’s interesting, fun, and kind, and the kids are looking forward to going to Peru with him to study reptiles. But oh, this is a Lemony Snicket book, so we’re informed up front that their happiness won’t last. And indeed, it doesn’t.

I suppose I liked this book a little more than the previous. Even though I knew from early on that Uncle Monty wouldn’t signal the beginning of a happy life, I was still glad for the kids that they got a little bit of time with him. I think Count Olaf’s attempt at getting at their money was a lot more half-baked this time, but on the other hand, the way the kids got out of his snare was a little more clever this time. I did enjoy the “friendship” between Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and even thought it was pretty great that she…oh, I guess that would be a spoiler.

But just like with the previous book, the highlight of the whole thing, for me, was that it was read by Tim Curry. One whole star of my rating is based on that, because that’s how much I love listening to his voice. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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Book Review: Princess in the Spotlight

Princess in the Spotlight
The Princess Diaries #2
by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA contemporary fiction

Mia Thermopolis really just wants to be a normal NYC high school student. But as the crown princess of a small European country, she has to deal with primetime interviews and princess lessons instead. Then her mother drops a bombshell on her, and Mia begins receiving letters from a secret admirer. Will it all be too much to handle?

Boy, Mia sure does like to complain. I mean, I get that she has a lot going on, but it seems like every diary entry starts with her exclaiming about how something terrible has happened. And yet, I still enjoyed the book. It did get a little much when she made such a huge deal out a really low temperature when she got sick, and I couldn’t tell if she was exaggerating or if she/the author really thinks that a 100-degree temperature is really a big deal.

I think what keeps all of this from making the story annoying is the writing style. Things move quickly, the writing is easy to read (or in my case, listen to), and Anne Hathaway does a great job with the narration (I mean, she basically is Mia anyway). I can’t say I love the way Mia seems to treat her best friend, considering that she almost never shares any big news with Lily, leaving her to find out some other way. Lily gives as good as she gets, though; it’s a wonder these two are friends. Lest this review sound like a negative one, though, the book is fun and feels like a real diary from a teenager around the beginning of the millennium.

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Book Review: The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

When the Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with a very odd relative they’ve never heard of, their misfortune is only beginning. Their new guardian, Count Olaf, has designs on the fortune their parents left behind, and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

I’ve never read any of these books, nor have I seen any of the adaptations. It always seemed a little dark and strange for my tastes. And I would have continued in ignorance without any qualms had I not discovered that Tim Curry narrated the audiobooks for the series. I love Tim Curry, and I especially love his voice. And yes, he brought my rating up an entire star all by himself. Because overall, the book was only okay, maybe even less than okay. I wasn’t even entirely sure what genre (other than children’s fiction) to put this in, because it seems like it’s supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it all that humorous. And I guess there’s supposed to be a mystery, and I was actually looking forward to seeing what clever way the kids got out of Count Olaf’s snare, only for it to be a really simple, boring solution. Really, it was a little dark for children’s fiction, and Count Olaf’s and his friends were ridiculously and unnecessarily over-the-top mean.

I did like the way the kids stuck together and didn’t give up when things were bleak. I didn’t even mind the way the narrator inserted definitions for some possibly difficult words for kids, though to be honest, I don’t know that it wouldn’t have annoyed me if it wasn’t Tim Curry giving me those definitions. I’ve seen some reviews that say it gets better after the first book, so for Tim Curry’s sake, I’ll keep going for now.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Mr. Monk #3
by Lee Goldberg
read by Angela Brazil

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When much of the police force calls in sick as part of a contract dispute, Monk is asked to take on the role of a captain in the department. Though this means he’ll be betraying his friends in the department, Monk can’t resist the allure of getting his badge back. Unfortunately, San Francisco suddenly seems to be in the midst of a crime spree, and the squad Monk is given command of make him look almost normal by comparison. Almost.

Well, 3 books into this series, and I’m calling it quits. For now. Maybe I’ll try again later when I’m looking for something else to listen to. I love the show and have watched it several times through. Unfortunately, that means that I’ve also seen this story done before. At least part of it. The main part. There are two mysteries that happen in this book, one being the serial killings that kick the story off. And the way it played out was the same as an episode in which Monk has his badge back for a little while (the episode came after the book was published, so it’s not a rip-off…maybe the other way around though). So that does tend to bring the enjoyment down some, considering that I easily guessed at what was going on.

The three detectives Monk is saddled with as captain, though, brought the enjoyment down even more. I guess they’re supposed to provide humor, them all being so outlandish, but seriously…it just smacks of ineptitude on the part of whoever hired them. One of them has a radio taped to her head when we first see her, for goodness sake, a full-blown paranoid conspiracy theorist. One is so old he can’t even remember his own name half the time (and that’s not hyperbole), and the other is trigger-happy. Each of them comes with their own assistant, à la Monk’s Natalie, and frankly, I can’t find the humor in any of it. It’s just too over-the-top ridiculous, the kind of thing I might cringe at but live with when watching the show, but when hearing it described by pseudo-Natalie, I just can’t.

It’s too bad, too, because there were some really funny moments early in the story. Things that remind me of why I love Monk so much. But they didn’t occur much after that, definitely not enough to elevate the rest of the book. If you’re a fan of the show and think you’ll enjoy the book, though, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try. I don’t think you even need to start at the beginning, since I haven’t seen any real correlation between the books so far.

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Book Review: Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #8
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian suspense

While enjoying a ride in his Uncle Rex’s small aircraft, a near-miss in the air leads to injury for both Jay Cooper and his uncle. Uncle Rex is knocked unconscious, and a head injury leaves Jay without sight. The plane is still flying, but with no pilot and a dwindling supply of fuel, how long will it stay aloft? And will they be able to land safely?

Like book #4 in the series (Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea), this book involved no archaeology or supernatural elements—this one didn’t even have any kind of mystery—and was simply a race against time to save one of the Cooper kids from catastrophe. This book was also quite suspenseful, as Jay had to learn not to rely on what he felt and instead rely on what he was being told by those who were more knowledgeable than he, and more importantly, had more information. While typing that last sentence, I literally just realized the parallel to our lives in that situation. Sometimes sensations Jay felt made him think the plane was turning a lot more than it was, and he couldn’t see to verify those feelings. Various other people at different times were outside of the aircraft, could see more clearly what it was doing, and relayed that information to Jay. He had to trust them to be correct, in order to help save his own life, rather than rely on instincts and feelings. What a parallel to how we live our lives paying attention to our own instincts and feelings, when we are much better off relying on God, who knows infinitely more than we do and knows what’s best for our lives (and the lives of those around us)! And indeed, the biblical theme of trusting God, even to the point of submitting to Him if He chooses not to save one’s life, is strong in the story.

I really liked how immersive the story is, in regards to those flying the planes, the air traffic controllers, and other related things. In a way, it seems like Jay does very little, other than follow instructions from others, but I think his mental struggle and what he does from inside the plane while unable to see were still a good part of the story. I might have liked something a little more closely related to the overall theme of the series as the final book, but it was a good book on its own. I’m really glad I listened to the audiobooks read by Peretti himself for the 2nd half of the series—he certainly adds drama and excitement in his reading. This book, and the overall series, are good for the age group (pre-teen through teens).

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Book Review: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Twenty-five years after the release of The Princess Bride, a movie that was not much of a success in its time but later became a cult classic, Cary Elwes, who played the iconic Westley in the movie, writes about his time working on the set. With additions by many of Elwes’s co-stars, along with the director, the producer, and the screenplay writer (who also wrote the book the movie is based on), Elwes gives us a peek at the making of a movie in general, and this family favorite in particular.

As soon as I knew this book existed, I knew I’d be reading it, and I knew I’d enjoy it. I’ve seen the movie several times, but even more importantly, it is my husband’s all-time favorite movie. So I suggested we both listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Elwes himself, an actor we have both really liked for a long time, which is exactly what we did. And we both loved it! We also loved that the bits added by other people who worked on the movie were mostly read by those people as well. I think the fact that they were willing to take the time to first write, and then narrate their own thoughts on the making of this movie illustrates exactly what Elwes says throughout the book, that this cast and crew became a lot like a family. Others who read this book seem to be looking for the seedy underbelly, assuming that Elwes left out anything negative in his rush to extol the virtues of his co-workers. And I can’t say that’s not the case, of course, but perhaps the reason this memoir is so friendly and upbeat is because that’s how it really was. It’s not like poor Wallace Shawn was brow-beaten into saying his time working on the movie was all sunshine and rainbows (he had some issues, but I won’t say more than that).

I loved hearing some of the accounts of things that happened throughout the months working on this film, and even in the time after. Some of them were described by multiple people, which added a nice depth to them. I had re-watched the movie in anticipation of reading this book, but still felt compelled to look up certain scenes to see something Elwes described, whether a specific way he moved during the scene due to an injury or a line that was improvised. For fans of The Princess Bride, this book may make you see the movie in a whole new light and, hopefully, a good one. If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend it.

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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: 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: 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: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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