Book Review: Royal Wedding

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Every now and then, something happens that makes you feel old. And yes, I’m aware that at only 25, I have no room to talk because I am not anywhere near old. However, after reading this book, I realize that I’m getting closer.

Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series is one of my all-time favorites, and 15 years have passed since its debut. 15 YEARS! Much like my experience with Harry Potter, I have literally grown up alongside Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo, Princess of Genovia–otherwise known as Mia.

In Royal Wedding, the 11th installment of the series, Mia has quite a lot going on in her already hectic life. She’s turning 26 and is finally engaged to her high school sweetheart Michael Moscovitz, but planning a wedding proves much more difficult than expected when she also has to run a non-profit, avoid the paparazzi, and help her father win the Genovian election for prime minister.

Oh, and speaking of her dad, it just so happens that Mia has a long-lost half-sister. I was thinking of adding a spoiler alert disclaimer to this review, but Cabot can’t exactly keep this plot twist a secret when she’s also recently published From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, a children’s book starring Mia’s new sibling, Olivia Grace.

And honestly, the appearance of Olivia isn’t even the biggest surprise in this book, but I’ll keep quiet on those particular details. That’s the exact problem that I have with Royal Wedding–it packs so much in one novel that it’s difficult to savor each development. By the time you adjust to a new change to these characters, you’re bombarded with yet another. There hasn’t been a Princess Diaries book in six years, and it would have been nice if readers could have experienced more gradual exposure rather than become overwhelmed all at once.

It’s also worth pointing out the a third Princess Diaries movie is rumored to hit theaters in the future, although nothing is in development at this time. Considering that the second movie, “Royal Engagement” (2004), diverted completely from the books by depicting a 21-year-old Mia becoming Queen and betrothed to someone other than Michael, I’m not sure whether the movie will be an original adaptation, a reboot, or something different (if it’s made at all).

I’m actually hoping that if Disney pursues a third movie, it will feature Olivia, because then a new generation call fall in love with the Princess Diaries. And since the 12-year-old is half-black, it would be great to see more characters of color on-screen. Ultimately, though, after 15 years, dare I say that I’m getting a little tired of Mia? I rapidly lose interest after the ‘happily ever after,’ and I have no real desire to see her in all her domestic bliss.

Don’t get me wrong: Royal Wedding is an entertaining addition to the series, and despite its flaws, I still gobbled it up in about a week. Meg Cabot is a wonderful writer, and I will remain a devoted fan no matter what. But if it’s up to me, I declare–bring on the new princess!

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Book Review: Awaken

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover via Goodreads

Yet again author Meg Cabot gets me to drop whatever book I was reading and read her latest release instead. Awaken is the final novel in her trilogy which adapts the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades to a high school setting.

I’ve already reviewed the previous novels in the series, Abandon and Underworld. In Awaken, teenager Pierce Oliviera is navigating her unconventional relationship with John Hayden, Lord of the Underworld.

But it’s not like they can get lots of quality time together, not when the Fates have mysteriously abandoned the universe, prohibiting recently deceased souls from entering their final resting place.

Since the Fates have disappeared, Pierce, John, and their friends must battle the evil Furies to restore peace both on Earth and underneath it. And with so many people stuck in limbo, what does it mean when the worst happens to someone who isn’t technically alive?

This series will obviously garner comparisons with Twilight, given that both female protagonists have brooding, supernatural boyfriends. Whether you’re a vampire or consort to Hades, you’re required to sacrifice a normal life with family and friends.

At least Pierce has more of a personality than her counterpart Bella. She throws herself into dangerous situations, wielding a whip and Fury-annihilating diamond necklace, so you certainly can’t call herself a passive bystander.

However, it’s a shame that her identity is still defined by John’s existence. Not to mention, even though she took responsibility for her sex life in book two, she throws safety to the wind and becomes surprisingly nonchalant about possibly getting knocked up (Bella much?).

Should have listened to Coach Carr!

So, yes, I’m still waiting for much-needed feminist young-adult novels. It would be nice to see a girl kick ass the entire time and not give into stereotypical gender norms by becoming the equivalent of a Stepford wife in the end (This applies to Katniss too, by the way. I stand by my argument).

But as much as I complain about weak female characters, Meg Cabot still does a good job writing an entertaining mythological adaptation. Sure, the jokes can be corny and the obstacles are resolved with little effort, but let’s face it, I’m a sucker for Greek gods.

If you’re also a classics nerd, then don’t worry, because there are better books out there. I highly recommend Gods Behaving Badly (you’ll literally laugh out loud) and The Song of Achilles (bust out the Kleenex for this romantic tragedy).

Hope everyone has a happy Halloween! Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow because I will have a special announcement. Stay tuned!

Some Friday Fun: Book Cover Flipping

Happy Friday everyone! I can’t believe that it’s the end of May already; time just seems to fly by!

This is especially disconcerting when I realize that the year is 42% over, and I’ve only read 35% of my reading quota. Alas! I’m about 100 pages into Catch-22, which I’m enjoying so far, but I definitely need to spend time this weekend making a bigger dent into the novel.

Some might say that setting an annual reading goal is stifling, but I find that it keeps me motivated and pushes me to be a better blogger for my followers. I only wish that sleep was unnecessary–oh, how many books we could all read then!

Anyways, I found an interesting literary link that I thought I’d share: The Huffington Post’s coverage of author Maureen Johnson’s book cover flip experiment. As a YA fiction writer, Johnson was frustrated with the stereotypes targeted toward books written by women:

And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it. If we sell more — and we often don’t — it is simply because we produce candy, and who doesn’t like candy? We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same.

So Johnson tweeted her request that people recreate book covers as if the stories were written by the opposite gender. Here are some of my favorites, all of which you can check out at HuffPo:

 

 


I completely agree with Johnson. I believe that the publishing industry can be extremely sexist, perpetuating the idea that men won’t read female authors by packaging their novels in highly feminine covers–despite the fact that the quality of work is just as good as that of their male counterparts.

And while I have nothing against “chick lit” as a genre, since I read quite a bit of it, I realize that there’s no such thing as “dude lit.” We have perceived stories about women’s lives as different, and thereby somehow lesser.

So yes, I’ve described books as fluffy, light, beach reads, but only as an indicator of subject matter, not sex. There’s a huge difference between teen queen Meg Cabot and activist Margaret Atwood, and whomever you enjoy more is just a matter of preference.

And when it comes to my preferences, what I think is trash also has nothing to do with gender. I love romance novels when they’re written well, and loathe them when they’re written by Nicholas Sparks.

But if boys are so insecure in their sexuality that they refuse to read books with “girly” covers or written by women who use their first names instead of initials, then we have only ourselves to blame.

Let’s stop giving into cultural misogyny and start teaching all children to love reading, no matter what the main characters’ or authors’ genders are. Let’s stop polarizing the publishing industry by book covers and start encouraging more gender-neutral marketing. Lastly, let’s stop writing off entire genres as inferior and start reading outside our comfort zone so that we expand our preconceived notions and actually learn from one another.

Who’s with me?!

Audiobook Review: Jinx

Cover of "Jinx"

Image via Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5

If you’ve been reading Book Club Babe, you already know that I’m a devoted Meg Cabot fan. I may have a whole shelf of her work, but this was the first time that I bought one of her books in audio.

I’m still waiting for Awaken, Cabot’s sequel to Underworld, which will be released this July. So I decided to check out Jinx (2007), one of her few stand-alone novels. Unfortunately, it was aptly named, but it was one big ball of bad luck.

Jinx is titled after the protagonist Jean Honeychurch’s nickname. Terrible things seem to keep happening to this 16-year-old, so she runs away from her home in rural Iowa to live with her aunt, uncle, and three cousins in New York City.

One of those cousins, Tory, immediately becomes Jean’s rival when Jean catches the eye of her crush, Zack. But what happens when this competition between cousins takes a paranormal turn for the worse?

I could go into more detail, and honestly, I wouldn’t spoil much. What’s the point of keeping part of the plot a secret for the whole first third of the novel, if you already know about it from reading the summary? Talk about anti-climactic!

I also already knew that Cabot has a tendency to be melodramatic, but I figured what should I expect when she’s writing about teenagers? Well, even young adult fiction has to have standards.

I kept getting horrible vibes a la Fifty Shades of Grey: whether it’s E.L. James droning on about her “inner goddess” or Meg Cabot harping about “the knot in my stomach,” authors need to tone down the obnoxious metaphors!

You know why the green light is such a powerful symbol in The Great Gatsby? Because Fitzgerald doesn’t talk about it every five sentences! I understand that Jean is a nervous outcast, but I wanted to drive into oncoming traffic every time she described her stomach knot. I get it, you’re scared! Stop wasting my time with over-used clichés and move on!

I empathized most with Zack, who seemed completely fed up with all this petty cat-fighting. Although cat-fighting might be inaccurate, since Jean is the typical girl oblivious that her love is actually not unrequited after all. Yawn.

Maybe I’m just too old for high school drama. It’s easy to tell a fictional character to snap out of it and get some confidence, but I know that it’s easier said than done in real life. I wish that I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self to stop worrying what the “popular” kids think about you, because those bullies weren’t worth the brain space anyway.

I’m just going to chalk Jinx up to being an older novel that’s not representative of Cabot’s level of work. I’m also skeptical of trying audio versions of her books in the future, since I may be more accepting of teenage immaturity in print. Hopefully, Awaken will redeem my previously high opinion of this queen of teen fiction! Fingers crossed!

‘Tis the Season! My 3 Favorite Books About Weddings

I just got back from a bridal shower of a friend who’s practically family. I’m one of her bridesmaids, and it was great to spend such a special day with her…which, of course, got me thinking about literary weddings. I decided to make a list of my three favorite books which deal with the chaos, stress, but also fun of planning a wedding:

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot (2009). This finale of the Queen of Babble trilogy follows Lizzie Nichols as she makes the difficult decision between Luke, the man to whom she’s engaged, or Chaz, Luke’s best friend, with whom she’s also in love. The twist here is that Lizzie happens to work in wedding gown restoration, so how does a woman who’s already knee deep in bridal manage to get to the altar? If you’ve read the series up until now, you’ll know who Lizzie ultimately chooses, but this book’s so entertaining that you won’t care. Another gem by Cabot!

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The Little Lady Agency and the Prince by Hester Browne (2008). Another end to another great trilogy, this novel tells the tale of Melissa Romney-Jones, a curvy bombshell who dons a blonde wig and calls herself “Honey”–all for the sake of turning fixer-upper men into marriage material. Her current project is prince Nicolas von Helsing-Alexandros, who can’t seem to blind his wandering eye. And what happens when her fiance Jonathan Riley starts acting controlling? Can they work it out, or will she fall for her best friend Nelson? Clearly, there’s no shortage of love triangles in chick-lit!

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (2012). This book published on Valentine’s Day of this year has got to be one of the cutest stories I’ve ever read. Poppy Wyatt has just lost her engagement ring, an antique that’s been in her fiance Magnus’ family for three generations. So when she comes along a lost cell phone, what better thing to do than to enlist the phone owner’s employer to help find the ring? But when that boss turns out to be a sexy businessman named Sam Roxton, Poppy’s happily ever after just got way more complicated. The perfect book for the 21st-century reader, full of text talk, emails, and footnotes! Check out my full review here!

So there you have it! Three adorable stories if you can’t get enough of dresses, rings, cakes, and true love! I’m currently reading Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon, about a woman decades into her marriage, but it’s always nice to remind yourself of the newlywed stage! And for any of my readers attending weddings left and right, please share your own wedding reads!

Book Review: Underworld

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ok, guys, I have a confession to make: I cheated. Cheated on I, Claudius, that is. I’m usually not someone who juggles multiple books at a time, but I fully support book-sluttiness (it’s the best kind!). It’s not that I, Claudius is not a good book, because I have every intention on finishing it. But I’m sure you all have that author who when he/she publishes something new, you drop whatever you’re doing to read it.

That’s how I am with Meg Cabot, queen of teen fiction. After a quick calculation, I’ve found that I have read almost half of her entire bibliography, which currently clocks in at over 70 books! I don’t think I’ve ever read 34 novels of any other authors–I mean, I have a whole shelf dedicated to Cabot!

Why do I love her so much? Cabot’s like cotton candy to me: She’s not a writer of heavy substance, but she’s light and sweet, and her words just melt in your mouth. I can’t ignore cotton candy when the Fresno Fair rolls around every October, and I can’t help but cheat on books when a new Cabot novel is released.

Underworld is Cabot’s second work in her Abandon trilogy. (You can find my review of Abandon here). The book starts off with Pierce Oliviera waking up from a nightmare, only to find herself in the Underworld with death deity John Hayden. In this modern adaptation of the Persephone and Hades myth, Pierce must save her cousin Alex from the Furies, who can inhabit the living earth by possessing weak-willed people–such as Pierce’s own grandmother, who as a Fury, has been secretly trying to kill her ever since she was a young child.

Along the way, Pierce learns about John’s dark past and meets his crew-mates who assist him in sorting the dead and battling the Furies. She also struggles with her own teenage hormones, dealing with the temptation of cohabiting with her boyfriend, who just so happens to be Lord of the Underworld.

I absolutely love this ancient Greek myth, and this version balances new and old pretty well. Pierce and John have great sexual chemistry, and the story-line was intriguing and suspenseful enough for me to finish this book in three days. True to form, Cabot produces another sugary read, and fans of light-hearted romantic reads will enjoy this sequel.

I also appreciate Cabot for addressing sex in a way that is not condescending to teens, and is also smart and safe. One of the first things Pierce asked was whether she could get pregnant by a death god–oh, how I wish Bella Swan could have been that thoughtful before she got knocked up with a vampire baby! Cabot is highly aware of the faults of other young adult bestsellers, like Twilight, and ensures that her readers are aware of the consequences of their decisions.

However, Cabot is not without faults. People who need heartier reads might find Underworld formulaic and cheesy at times. Also, although Cabot takes a more liberal stance when it comes to sexuality, I found the descriptions of her gay characters stereotypical. I knew that the cemetery sexton Mr. Smith was homosexual without him having to wear pink all the time! I’m sure the gay male community would appreciate representations in media that don’t have to do with pastel colors, flamboyant speech patterns, or cliche occupations like interior designers or hairdressers.

Other than that, I would recommend Cabot’s Abandon trilogy, and I’m looking forward to the last sequel Awaken next year. And I promise to return to I, Claudius–no more cheating!

So are you monogamous or polygamous when it comes to reading? What books are your cotton candy? Send me your comments!

2011 Book Review Catch-Up: Part 3

The time’s come to review my final two books of 2011, which I read this past summer. Both books are young-adult fiction, Abandon by Meg Cabot and Matched by Ally Condie.

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Rating: 4 out of 5)

One of the first books I reviewed on this blog was Cabot’s vampire sequel Overbite, which I would not recommend unless you absolutely cannot get enough of anything vampire-related. However, I have read almost every single one of Cabot’s novels, and for the most part I love them to bits. Her most famous series, The Princess Diaries, is excellent, and I also love her Runaway and Queen of Babble trilogies. So naturally, when I heard that she’d be releasing a novel during the spring based on the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, I was excited. I wrote my 20-page senior project on two poems about Persephone (Tennyson’s “Demeter and Persephone” and Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine,” which I’ll probably discuss in a Masterpiece Monday sometime). As a Classics minor, I was ready to get my nerd on with this modern adaptation.

Persephone and Hades are reincarnated in this story as 17-year-old Pierce Oliviera and her love interest John Hayden. After a near-death experience a couple years earlier, John is determined to bring Pierce back to the Underworld. The novel suffers from weaknesses seen in other Cabot works, namely predictability and cheesy dialogue. However, she nicely infuses folk tales from Florida’s history and incorporates other mythical elements like the Furies. While many might find Pierce annoying and John more of a kidnapper than boyfriend material, I didn’t mind it because their relationship should be more like Phantom of the Opera at first, because what girl with any brains would willingly choose death over her loved ones? (*cough*Bella Swan*cough*). I could be wrong, but I trust that Cabot will have their relationship grow some more before Pierce makes her decision. Can’t wait for the sequel Underworld to come out in May 2012!

Matched by Ally Condie (Rating: 4 out of 5)

This dystopian novel which was published last year ponders the idea of having the government choose your significant other. At her Match Ceremony, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is partnered with childhood friend Xander Carrow, which proves to be a rare match since they live in the same borough. All the teenagers receive a microchip with their match’s personal information, but when Cassia insert hers in her home port, another boy named Ky Markham pops up on the screen. Unfortunately, because Ky is known as an Aberration for a crime his father committed, he’s not supposed to be matched with anybody. So what explains this anomaly?

In this world, people survive on soma-esque pills to cure anxiety and erase memories, all their time is scheduled, and they are euthanized on their 80th birthdays. Only 100 poems and 100 songs have been approved to exist, but Cassia comes across a forbidden copy of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which sparks her need to rebel against the system. While some may call this yet another love triangle tale like Twilight, I enjoyed the mystery–and of course the literary references. I’m looking forward to its sequel Crossed, which I received for Christmas. Keep an eye out on this trilogy, because Disney bought the film rights before the book was even released! What’s up with Mormon authors like Ally Condie and Stephenie Meyer making major bank on their young-adult novels? Coincidence? Or should I seriously think of converting to board this success train? Well, either way, Matched was worth its hype, and I hope Crossed doesn’t disappoint!

Now that I’ve caught up, I’ll be posting my master list of 20 books, from best to worst, by Thursday. Hope you enjoy it!