Book Review: The Runaway Princess

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Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

When the world seems to be falling apart, it’s natural to attempt to run away from it all. For me, my escape takes the form of light-hearted chick-lit about outlandish situations and love that’s too good to be true.

Hester Browne’s The Runaway Princess doesn’t compare to her other novels, like The Little Lady Agency series and Honeymoon Hotel, but it’s a nice break from reality.

It tells the story of Amy Wilde, a gardener from a small town just trying to expand her business. When she meets Leo, a handsome man at a party who’s interested in her work, she considers him merely as a potential client.

She never imagined that he’d be Leopold Wolfsburg, prince of the fictional kingdom of Nirona and one of Europe’s most eligible royals. When their professional relationship turns romantic, she is quickly thrust into the spotlight.

Faced with paparazzi invading her privacy and strangers insulting her online, she becomes overwhelmed by the consequences of overnight fame. As their whirlwind romance propels her closer to the chapel, she must decide whether love is worth sacrificing her and her family’s well-being.

The premise of this novel was interesting, and I enjoyed the dynamics between Amy and Leo’s swarmy brother and conniving sister. For the most part, the secondary characters were well-developed and showed dimensionality, which is often missing from love stories.

But most importantly, I appreciated Amy’s strong sense of self and her dedication to her family, roommate and job regardless of her potential princess status. She makes sure to speak up when her boyfriend tries fixing problems by throwing money around and refuses to live as a kept woman. Amy is certainly not one to be swept off her feet, and her groundedness is downright refreshing.

However, at over 400 pages, The Runaway Princess is too long for its genre, and it drags in places. I was also annoyed that it attempted to heighten drama by unnecessarily withholding information: the reason behind the disappearance of Amy’s troubled sister, for example, wasn’t nearly shocking enough to warrant such mystery.

Although this wasn’t Browne’s best work, it succeeded in briefly distracting me from the clusterfuck of this new presidency. Let’s just say that it’s horrifying when it feels like 1984, not 2017. Make dystopias fiction again!

2016 Goal Recap: How Did I Do?

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Image: Lara Casey

Last year I learned a lot about goal setting, mostly about why it doesn’t work. This fact was difficult for me to come to terms with, considering how much of an overachiever I am. However, when you’re ambitious, it’s easy to take on so many projects and tasks that decision fatigue sets in, and you question why you’re even working toward these objectives in the first place.

In 2017, I am determined to care less about achieving arbitrary goals and more about implementing successful systems. It truly is about the journey, not the destination, because it’s your daily habits that lead to meaningful accomplishments.

If we’re just looking at how many of my 2016 goals I crossed off my list, then I only hit a 50% pass rate. More importantly, though, I realized which goals were actual priorities and which ones were added merely to fill a “top ten” list. The sad part is that the goals that really matter to me are the ones that went uncompleted. That desperately needs to change, so I am more focused than ever on the steps that it takes to reach those goals, no matter how small.

So for what it’s worth, here’s the final tally:

1. Read 20 more books: PASS

I’ve hit this quota for several years now, and it seems to work for me. I read one book per month with my book club and a handful of others in between meetups. I’ve already blogged my reading recap of 2016, and for the most part, the selection was okay. A few excellent novels, but overall a mediocre reading experience.

2. Don’t buy any new books for myself until I’ve read everything I currently own: PASS

I thought that this goal would be difficult to stick to, but I received enough books and gift cards from loved ones that I didn’t have to spend a dime on my favorite hobby last year. And although this is not an important goal to maintain, I still have half a dozen books from my Christmas present haul that will keep me entertained for a few more months.

3. Read 10 new authors: PASS

I broke out of my comfort zone last year by committing half of my reading to new authors. Some I loved (Meg Elison, Paula Hawkins), others were hit or miss (Rainbow Rowell, Neil Gaiman, Jojo Moyes), but most were, unfortunately, forgettable (Mary Norris, Anne Brontë, Gabrielle Zevin, J. Kent Messum, Charlie Jane Anders).

4. Reach 100,000 total blog views: FAIL

In 2016, I gained 15,332 more views: not an impressive amount, but about average for me. I needed to earn 22,835 views to reach a total of 100,000 since I began blogging, which was very much a stretch goal. Since I’m over 92,000 total views now, I imagine that I’ll hit 100k in 2017, but I’ll be scaling back on Book Club Babe, so losing views is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

5. Blog at least once per week: PASS

Even after taking a month-long hiatus in November for NaNoWriMo, I was able to blog 55 times in the 52 weeks of the year. The two most popular posts in 2016 were interviews with author Meg Elison and Recycle Bookstore in San Jose, and my most popular Top Ten Tuesday post was about the characters I love, but other people don’t.

6. Original goal: Write 10,000 words of my novel per month. New goal: Write 45,000 words before 2017: FAIL

It pains me to admit that I only wrote about 5,000 words in 2016, almost all in Q3, the brief time period when I wasn’t searching for or adjusting to a new job, or preparing to move into a new place. I’ve quickly learned that 10,000 words per month is too ambitious, and I’m better off slowly working my way up to that goal. This year I’m committing to the very small baby step of 100 words per day instead, because enacting a regular writing habit is the key to future success.

7. Complete the first draft of the manuscript of my novel: FAIL

Obviously, I didn’t complete my manuscript in 2016, so I’m not going to continue beating myself up for failing this goal. On the axis of productivity, writing a novel falls under the “important, but not urgent” category and always gets pushed aside for tasks that are “urgent and important” like work deadlines, or worse, activities like checking social media that are “neither urgent nor important.” I will certainly make a better attempt at prioritizing my personal goals this year.

8. Visit 5 new bookstores: FAIL

You can tell that towards the end of this list is where my goals become less meaningful. Visiting new bookstores is fun, but not life-changing by any means. I made a trek to two local bookstores and one in Rome during my spring vacation, so I’m appreciative of the memories I made. It’s always something I try to do when traveling, so I’m sure that I’ll continue doing so without needing to add extra pressure on myself with an arbitrary quantity.

9. Brush up on my Latin (goal abandoned): FAIL

Why I even bothered with this goal is beyond me, but I don’t have the heart to discard my old Latin textbooks from college. I will most likely never study this language again, but I enjoyed the two years that I did tremendously. Cogito ergo sum, but in this case, I did not think realistically about this goal and abandoned it without a hint of guilt.

10. Learn conversational Greek and Italian: PASS…ish

To better navigate through my two-week adventure to Greece and Italy last year, I tried picking up the native languages. After using Duolingo for a few months, the app deemed me about 35% fluent in Italian, but there are few online resources that teach Greek, so I just taught myself a few basic phrases. Not that any of this training really mattered, since both countries are so accustomed to American tourists that they prefer to speak to you in English anyway to make everything easier.

2016 GOAL RECAP: Passed 5 goals; failed 5 goals (50% success rate)

Do I consider 2016 a successful year? Not in the traditional sense of reaching the goals that I set, but definitely from a self-awareness standpoint. I’m grateful for the experience, because it taught me that I need to try things differently this year if I want to see a dramatic transformation. 2017 will be the year of system-setting, not goal-setting: progress is made by incrementally improving every day, so I’m committing to baby steps, not giant leaps for mankind.

This means that I will sadly be devoting less time to this blog. I will still check in to post my book reviews but mostly as maintenance rather than engagement in the book blogging community. I never intended to make money with Book Club Babe, but its stagnant growth and lack of ROI is becoming a larger opportunity cost than the pleasure I gain from blogging.

I love my followers so much and am thankful for their support.I’ll always enjoy book-blogging, but it’s about time that I publish a book of my own for others to blog about! One day I hope that you are as excited to read a novel of mine as I am to share my fiction with the world.

Knowing when to step back can save yourself from burnout and resentment, so I appreciate your understanding as I focus on my greatest passion. I wish you all a fantastic 2017!

Book Review: Fangirl

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Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

What’s worse? Not liking a book that everybody loves by an author you’ve never read before, or by an author you already respect? I’ve experienced both circumstances this past year, and the latter is far more disappointing.

After falling in love with Eleanor & Park, I knew that I had to read more from beloved author Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl seemed like another slam dunk: a coming-of-age story about an introverted writer of fanfiction, something that’s right up my alley. But the more I kept reading, the more I realized: great premise, terrible execution.

Let’s the discuss the fanfiction first. I’m no stranger to the genre; in fact, I read a ton of fanfics in high school, usually about Harry Potter. Fanfiction.net currently has over 757,000 Harry Potter fanfics—by far the most popular subject—so it’s not surprising that Rowell created a Harry Potter lookalike with Simon Snow.

The problem is that Simon Snow comes off as a cheap knockoff and becomes more of a distraction. Even worse, the fanfiction excerpts between chapters do not move the plot forward whatsoever, so I found myself skipping over them. Why read about a subpar copycat when the real wizard wunderkind already exists?

I appreciated that Cath’s fanfiction of choice was slash, meaning that her characters were gay even though their original counterparts were not. The “slash” refers to the relationship or “ship” of the story. For example, I enjoy reading Harry Potter slash fanfics that ship Remus/Sirius, Harry/Draco, and Hermione/Ginny.

But let’s be honest with ourselves. I bet that the vast majority of fanfics in existence are erotic in nature, so imagine the letdown I felt knowing that Cath was a virginal ball of nerves and the only wand-waving her fanfiction featured was of the literal variety.

I would have much preferred if Fangirl catered more to adults than young adults because I am now way too old to find Cath’s anxiety about kissing a boy endearing. Everyone around her is telling her to grow up, and so was I.

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but despite being an underdog, Cath is goddamn annoying. She uses her social anxiety to justify being rude to people and acts high-and-mighty when it comes to premarital sex and even the slightest amount of underage drinking. I can empathize with the struggle to make friends in college and survive small talk, but goodness, Cath should get herself a therapist, pronto.

What also frustrated me about Cath was that this supposed do-gooder cannot complete an original writing assignment if her life depended on it. Or at the very least, her grades, since she flat-out refuses to follow instructions. She thinks that she’s such a special snowflake because she can’t create her own characters. Cry me a river. I cannot imagine that any actual writers of fanfiction think or act this way.

Rowell is a master at writing honest interactions between characters, and it’s the supporting actors that save this story from being a complete flop. Levi is an absolute gem who deserves a better love interest, and Reagan the roommate should have been the star of the show. All the members of Cath’s immediate family, from her bipolar dad and estranged mom to her hard-partying twin sister Wren, were more interesting than she was, and toward the end, I was so desperate for this book to have multiple POVs. Anything to get out of the head of a naive girl who’d rather die of malnutrition than ask where the cafeteria is located.

Eleanor & Park was a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of high school sweethearts that felt real, featuring a girl who faced trauma and was forced to mature far past her age. Compared to Eleanor, Cath is a whiny child who sees everything in black and white and avoids her problems instead of overcoming them.

Don’t get me wrong: Rainbow Rowell is an excellent author, and my irritation with Fangirl’s protagonist is proof that she can unlock an emotional response. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that my response was not the intended one. I think to save myself from future disappointment, I’ll stick to Rowell’s adult novels from now on.

Book Review: If I Could Turn Back Time

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

In Beth Harbison’s novel If I Could Turn Back Time, Ramie Phillips is 36 years old with a lucrative career that affords her designer clothes and luxurious vacations. But as she compares herself to her pregnant friends, what fulfilled her in her twenties seems empty and superficial in her thirties, and she finds herself wistfully dreaming of a family.

After suffering a freak accident, she gets a redo at life when she wakes up as her 18-year-old self. Now is her chance…or so she thinks. Can she preserve her relationship with her high school sweetheart, stand up to the mean girls, and maybe even get her dad to give up smoking before he dies suddenly two years after graduation?

I’ve been a fan of Harbison for years, ever since I read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and its sequel Secrets of a Shoe Addict. She has a knack for writing relatable characters and meaningful relationships outside of the romantic ones. Ramie certainly fantasizes about settling down with her old boyfriend, but she understands that the greater lesson in this surreal experience is living in the moment, whether she can change what happens in it or not.

It would be easy to make this time-travel story full of cliches, making a career-oriented woman realize that she should have cast aside her ambitions and become a stay-at-home mom instead. What’s interesting is that Ramie gets the opportunity to walk down two very different paths to see which better suits her as an individual.

In a world in which everyone displays their highlight reel on social media, we may believe that we should have done things differently. Without disparaging any particular life choice, Harbison explores whether the grass is truly greener on the other side. I have never felt inclined to become a domestic goddess, but the idea of “what if?” has the reader pondering what she’d do in Ramie’s shoes.

Rather than ask whether women can have it all, Harbison asks the better question: do they even want it all to begin with? If I Could Turn Back Time explores serious themes like nostalgia, regret and the loss of a parent in a way that’s more playful than painful. It’s a great read to begin the new year as we reminisce about the past and look forward to the future.

My 2016 Reading Recap

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This year has certainly been a rollercoaster: in addition to this crazy presidential election, I’ve suffered the lows of two job transitions, but I’ve also experienced the high of moving in with my amazing boyfriend. However, when you average all the peaks and valleys, what you’re left with is a state that is somewhere in the middle, and my year in books was no exception.

2016’s reading recap can best be defined as “meh.” Although there were a few knockout novels, for the most part, I was disappointed. Super-popular stories like American Gods and Me Before You were just okay, and ones that were supposed to disrupt their respected genres were flat-out terrible. Some authors I’ve read before were consistently good, but others like Rainbow Rowell ranged from amazing to mediocre.

Here are my 2016 reading stats according to Goodreads:

  • 20 books read, totaling 6,482 pages
  • Shortest book: The Tales of the Peculiar (160 pages)
  • Longest book: American Gods (635 pages)
  • Average rating: 3.6 stars

And here is my master list of books, ranked from best to worst. Consider this my public service: reading lackluster stories so you don’t have to!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Rating: 4 out of 5

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Rating: 3 out of 5

Rating: 2 out of 5

I have two books left to review, which I hope to get around to during my three-day weekend. I’m also still adding new books to my to-read list for 2017, so let me know what your favorites were this year and which ones I should avoid!

Happy New Year!

XOXO, Book Club Babe

Book Review: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Liane Moriarty is known for soap opera-esque stories that while dramatic, don’t quite follow the norms of their respected genres: The Husband’s Secret was a quasi-thriller that isn’t traditionally thrilling, and The Hypnotist’s Love Story is a quasi-romance that isn’t traditionally romantic.

This novel stars Ellen O’Farrell, a hypnotherapist in a bizarre predicament. Her new boyfriend Patrick is having trouble committing—not because he doesn’t believe in the validity of her unique profession, but because of his stalker ex-girlfriend Saskia.

Ever the optimist, Ellen finds this situation more intriguing than insane. Saskia follows them around town, shows up to Patrick’s son’s games, and even breaks into Ellen’s house and bakes her cookies. So why does the reader also feel sorry for her?

Moriarty is great about planting seeds of doubt, and this time it’s in Patrick. Why does he get so angry over Saskia and yet refuses to call the police? Why is he dating Ellen when it’s so obvious that he’s not over his late wife? And if he’s such a perfect boyfriend, then why can’t seem to help with the simplest chores?

I feel that this novel could have been fantastic if it followed conventions a bit more closely. I expected some lighthearted chick-lit, but Saskia’s disturbing behavior opens an unexpected dialogue about grief, mental illness and boundaries. Ellen’s relationship with Patrick moves so quickly that it’s easy to empathize with Saskia’s inability to move on.

However, every time you think the book is going to delve deeper, one obstacle gets pushed aside and another is introduced. Ellen must also deal with the reemergence of her estranged father and the wrath of a dissatisfied client, but these conflicts are too easily resolved in the end.

Not quite a romance novel, not yet a crime drama—The Hypnotist’s Love Story suffers an unfortunate identity crisis and doesn’t live up to its potential. And at a whopping 480 pages, that’s a long haul in literary purgatory.

This novel was different and fun but not the home run that I was looking for. That said, Moriarty is a great author, and I’ll continue reading her work because she’s more than capable of hitting those homers.

Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

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Image: Collider

Rating: 3 out of 5

Last weekend I finally got around to watching the latest Harry Potter film, and now I’m finally getting around to writing my review. It’s easy to explain why I’ve been dragging my feet: I’m still perplexed why this movie was made, even though I know the only reason is the metric ton of cold, hard cash that it generated (over $600M to be exact).

The original Fantastic Beasts book, along with its companion Quidditch Through the Ages, was published in 2001 to support Comic Relief, the British charity of “Red Nose Day” fame created to alleviate global poverty.

I remember reading Fantastic Beasts fondly when I was a kid, because I was obsessed with anything HP-related, but now I’m just mind-boggled that Hollywood can take a tiny encyclopedia of magical creatures and develop a multi-movie series out of it.

Fantastic Beasts is the Hogwarts magizoology textbook written by Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt’s visit to New York City in the 1920s, where he must re-capture a few of his furry friends after they escape his magical suitcase.

Nothing about this backstory is included in the book. Instead, Rowling develops her screenplay using information provided by her online lexicon Pottermore. She weaves Newt’s travels with the more menacing tale of Gellert Grindewald, the love interest of Dumbledore who ultimately betrays him and becomes the most dangerous dark wizard prior to Voldemort’s rising.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for that story to develop in the sequels as Grindewald is only discussed briefly in the film until the particularly famous actor who plays him makes a cameo at the end.

Instead, you learn about Newt’s struggle to advocate for animal rights in America, a country which frankly is a lot less exciting when it comes to magic. Wizardry is mysterious and intriguing when it’s associated with the castles and robes and other medieval elements of the Old World. Surrounded instead by high rises and noisy cars, the “otherness” of this universe is lost.

Don’t get me wrong: the script is great, the plot is fine, and actors do a wonderful job giving dimension to their characters. I especially look forward to Ezra Miller’s career taking off, because he is an absolute gem (you’ll know him from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and his new role as The Flash in the DC franchise).

I certainly enjoyed this movie, but I was hyper-aware that this series is meant for the next generation of Harry Potter fans. Much like “Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a kids’ movie with the potential to grow into something grittier and darker but has pretty low stakes right now. Even the fantastic beasts, though cute and fun, weren’t that innovative but rather weird combos of animals already walking this earth (bird + snake = Occamy, mole + platypus = Niffler, etc.).

All in all, this movie gets a resounding “okay” from me. It was good enough that I’ll continue watching the sequels, which is exactly what Warner Bros. expects. I think that I speak for all fans that we’d rather see a Marauders prequel, but we’ll take what we can get.