Monthly Archives: May 2014

Anna and the French Kiss

anna and the french kiss

I feel like Anna and the French Kissby Stephanie Perkins is one of those books which has been on my to-read list for ages, mostly because it shows up as “recommended” by various sources.  I wasn’t terribly interested initially, but figured I’d give it a go.

Anna has been shipped off to Paris, to spend her senior year in an American School in France.  This means leaving Atlanta, her home, and all she holds dear – her best friend, her crush, her mom and her little brother.  Sure, boarding school in Paris sounds like a dream come true for some, but Anna is reluctant (at least initially).  Then she meets some friends, including the handsome and charming Étienne St. Clair.  Too bad for Anna, Étienne already has a girlfriend.

What follows is a very teenage drama, filled with angst and too much crying. The book is mostly about navigating relationships (friends, crushes, and a little bit of family).  Coming from an adult perspective, I felt like the drama was over-exaggerated and much of it seemed silly and over-done.  Maybe it was less relatable for me because of my age, or maybe it was the buckets of tears (and the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of teen drama, even when I was a teen with drama).  I felt like the annoying romantic relationships overshadowed the friendships, particularly the friendships between the girls.  Since I’m a fan of strong female characters and role-models, this bothered me.  I just wanted to shake Anna and tell her that life does NOT revolve around boys.

On the plus side, I did love the descriptions of Paris, and it totally sparked my desire to head back over to France (especially since my one visit there was extremely brief and part of a tour).

Also on the plus side, although I felt there were a lot of failings (including my failure to resonate with this book), it wasn’t awful. I wouldn’t re-read it by any means, but if teen romance drama is what you’re looking for, this would be a sure bet.

3/5

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Young Adult Books

Princess of the Midnight Ball Series

I have been waiting and waiting to read this series by Jessica Day George and finally the books became available through the library.  The series consists of three books, and I will review all three in this post.  A caveat – I actually read the second and third book before I got to the first, since those were the order my holds came through, but since the first book (Princess of the Midnight Ball) is based on the Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, it really wasn’t a mystery what had happened.

To the reviews!

First, Princess of the Midnight Ball.  This I read last but it goes first in the series so I will start with it.

Princess of the Midnight ball

This is the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, doomed to dance by the King Under Stone.  The twelve princesses are each named after flowers, and Rose is the oldest.  She must take on the mantle of responsibility, for their mother is long dead and the Princesses are cursed.  Every third night, the Princesses must descend through a magic door into the realm of King Under Stone and dance.  They dance through illness, exhaustion, and pain, for the deal their mother made with King Under Stone is binding and there are years of debt to repay. It soon becomes clear, however, that King Under Stone has plans for the girls, and hopes to trap them there forever.

Galen is a young soldier returning from the long and expensive war that killed his parents and his only sister.  He returns to the only family he has – an aunt and uncle in the city.  His uncle, who is the head gardener for the king, takes him on.  Working in the royal garden, Galen has a chance to meet the infamous princesses.  Despite his rough past, he has a kind heart and gentle soul and it pains him to see the girls (and Rose in particular) suffering.

After the king decrees a contest to see who can solve the mystery, Galen waits as princes come and go, unable to solve the curse.  He decides to break the curse, once and for all.  With the help of some common herbs, a mysterious invisibility cloak, and some wool, Galen may finally be able to free the princesses.

I have to say, this was my favourite of the three.  I had great respect for Galen, a soldier who did not let war coarsen his manners or his heart.  He was kind to strangers, listened to his elders, and felt no shame in knitting. I really enjoyed the manly knitting, actually, and thought it was a clever addition to the story.  He obviously liked Rose from the start, but his attempts to woo were subtle and sweet.

I loved Rose for her sense of duty.  She was in a tough spot, torn between responsibility, trying to protect her sisters, and a secret affection for a mere gardener.

It was a very traditional retelling of the tale, with only a few tweaks.  I really enjoyed the added background and context, including the difficulties with the church (who believed witchcraft was afoot) and politics (including the relations between neighboring countries, which became increasingly delicate as time passed).

I appreciate a tale that applauds characters who are clever and polite!

Princess of the Midnight Ball  = 4/5

On to number two: Princess of Glass

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales, Young Adult Books

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty

curse of the thirteenth fey

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty, by Jane Yolen

Gorse is the thirteenth fey in her family, with twelve elder brother and sisters.  Her mother, the seventh of seven, and her aunts all expect great things from Gorse.  They think that she is the One from a prophesy.

Gorse is not what you’d expect for the “evil” fairy from the Sleeping Beauty tale.  In this twisted fairy tale, she is the heroine and Sleeping Beauty is the daughter of a petty, greedy king.  A girl who is selfish and unkind, and who represents the descent of the royal line into selfish and weak rulers.  Worse, the Family is bound to the land and must do the Bidding of the royal family.

The Family are Shouting Fey, and Gorse has never been formally trained.  At thirteen, the family is called to a royal Bidding, to bless the new princess.  Unfortunately for Gorse, things go wrong along the way.  At risk of bursting into a thousand stars for oath breaking, Gorse must find a way to escape her unexpected detour and make it to the royal Bidding on time and with the right gift. She meets some interesting characters along the way, and might just help out the Family after all.

I felt like this story started off quite strong, and I really liked Gorse and her family.  It was easy to picture the bickering and opinionated Aunts, and the rowdy bunch of cousins all playing together.

Unfortunately, I felt like the plot line fizzled out prematurely.  The story kind of tripped and fell flat on it’s face. The explanation of what Gorse DID exactly, and HOW left me skeptical.  That skepticism extended to the final lines … which I shall not discuss because spoilers (but suffice it to say, I was not entirely convinced).

3/5

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales, Young Adult Books

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2)

Hollow City

Book number Two!  Hollow City by Ransom Riggs follows after Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  I usually try to re-read the first in a series before seeking out the sequel just to refresh the story in my mind, but I didn’t want to commit myself to purchasing either (since I didn’t LOVE the first) and both of course had long wait-lists at the library.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to pick up and remember what had happened in the first book – or at least get the important bits early on.

So Jacob Portman, who traveled to Wales in the first book in order to solve a family mystery, finds himself now in a race against time.  He and his peculiar friends must make it to London in order to save their beloved Miss Peregrine before it’s too late.  There are many obstacles and perils along the way, and the children must rely on their peculiar strengths along with a lot of luck in order to stay alive and fulfill their quest.  It’s still 1940’s Britain, and there is as much to fear from air-raids and bombs as there is from wights and hollowgast.

One of my complaints about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenwas the lack of character development overall.  Hollow Citydoes a better job of bringing out Jacob and Emma and rounding them out more, but most of the other characters don’t show much growth or background.  Instead they seem to solidify in their archetypes.  Bronwyn is ever the strong girl, who protects the small and weak. Millard is the scholar, who provides a teaching voice and a source for background knowledge. Horace is the cowardly fortune-teller who is obsessed with his clothes. Olive is a light-headed little girl. Enoch is the sarcastic and seldom helpful boy who can re-animate the dead. Emma is the hot-tempered, assertive love interest.  As an aside, Emma is too fiery for me (excuse the pun) and her alarmingly quick temper isn’t endearing but annoying (in my opinion).  You meet a host of other characters, and the action sweeps the story up so quickly that there really isn’t much time for character development.

On the plus side, I think I liked Jacob more than I had previously – he is a great character and did change and grow and realize things about himself.  I also appreciated that he doesn’t see the world as black or white.  On the minus side, the romance plot line was pretty thin and not super believable.  I definitely got the sense that Jacob’s feeling’s for Emma’s were not reciprocated evenly.

I felt that there was much better integration of the random vintage photographs into the story, and they weaved more into the plot line.

The story is fast-paced and carries along with a lot of improbable coincidences, but it’s interesting overall.  If you’re looking for dimensional characters and personal growth, look elsewhere.  If you want lots of running and being chased, this would be a good book for you.  Overall, it was better than the first, and earns a 3.5/5 in my opinion.  Still not worth purchasing, but I don’t regret the read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult Books

Beyond Snapshots

Happy Victoria Day!  Because it’s the long weekend and I am just so excited about this book, you get a bonus post!  It’s definitely off my beaten path.  A non-fiction book? What??

I recently bought a DSLR – by far the fanciest camera I have ever owned.  I’ve always been interested in improving my photography / camera skills, but none of the terms or technical aspects have stuck in my head – until now.  Since purchasing my camera, I’ve taken out a bunch of photography books from the library and found them dry and unhelpful.  Then I stumbled across Beyond Snapshots by Rachel Devin & Peta Mazey (which I was drawn to by the cover) and I felt like a ray of enlightenment illuminated my life.

Beyond Snapshots

I loved this for many reasons, but primarily because it was very readable and it made sense.  Woo hoo!  I actually read through the whole thing (in previous guides I’ve tried, my eyes would glaze over after half a page and I would just flip through looking at the pictures and captions. Heh. Maybe that’s why I didn’t learn much from them).

This felt like a real-life guide, with helpful tips, easy-to-understand explanations and analogies, and lots of stunning pictures that are just the kind I want to be able to take myself.

5/5 for this guide!

Update:  You can also find these two through their website and blog: http://www.beyond-snapshots.com

I promptly called up a friend and we headed over to High Park to practice.  Unfortunately it ended up raining, so our session was cut short by the downpour. It was worth the straggly hair and wet arms (we shared an umbrella which clearly wasn’t big enough for two people haha).  After stopping off for snacks and drinks, the sun came out again!

Here are some unedited snapshots from our walk!

It's finally spring!

It’s finally spring!

I know it's overexposed, but I really like the airy effect

I know it’s overexposed, but I really like the airy effect

I love those reeds in the background!

I love those reeds in the background!

Cherry Blossoms - so pretty!

Cherry Blossoms – so pretty!

Lovely yellow bush

Lovely yellow bush

Lovely stone wall

Lovely stone wall

More cherry blossoms!

More cherry blossoms!

I LOVE David's Tea.  I am so addicted to "Pink Lemonade" - it's my current favourite!

I LOVE David’s Tea. I am so addicted to “Pink Lemonade” – it’s my current favourite!

It's Nancy Drew! You have no idea how excited I was about this sign haha

It’s Nancy Drew! You have no idea how excited I was about this sign haha

I love flowers. Can you tell?

I love flowers. Can you tell?

Trees in the sun

Trees in the sun

Sunny

Sunny

That’s all the patience I have for uploading photos for right now!

I welcome comments/critiques/suggestions for improvement!

Cheers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography

The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy by Gorgette Heyer is not my usual Young Adult fiction read. I had a hankering for a humorous historical recency romance and that is exactly what I got!

When her father, Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, travels to Brazil, Sophy invades her aunt’s house at Berkeley Square. Fresh from the Continent and an unusual upbringing, Miss Sophy seems cheerfully determined to set the somber Omsersley household – and the secret power behind it, Charles Rivenhall (the heir) – on it’s head.

The Ombersley family is in desperate need of Sophy’s intervention.  Lord Ombersley is useless, Charles is becoming tyrannical and is engaged to a grim and uptight fiancee, Cecelia is smitten with an unsuitable poet, and Hubert is stuck in dire financial straights. Who better to help than their dear cousin?

Sophy proves to have her father’s hand for diplomacy, a vibrant and cheerful disposition, and a knack for match-making and scheming.  Unconventional and blunt, Sophy is determined to set things right in the house in a manner only she is capable of. Socially savvy and smart, Sophy is a witty, charming heroine and I couldn’t help but cheer at her exploits and adventures.

This story fulfills my desires for a fun, clever female lead who knows how to tweak convention in the best ways.  I had two complaints.  One was an awful stereotypical description of a filthy criminal Jewish moneylender. (I got over that by pretending omitting the Jewish part in my head).  Two was the fact the cousin thing. (I got over that by accepting that inbreeding was a thing back then, as gross as that is).  Aside from that, I loved Sophy – she is so fun, lively, and full of mischief!  I love how she unabashedly takes the house by storm.

I also LOVE happy, feel-good endings.  Plus, the book is funny! I would very much recommend this book if you’re in the mood for a witty historical tale, vaguely reminiscent of  Pride and Prejudice (maybe just in era alone, as this has MUCH more fun and fluff and less social commentary).

5/5

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Fiction, Chick Lit, Historical Fiction, Romance

School of Charm

School of charm

I totally was drawn in to read this book by the cover – isn’t it just charming?  It looks so cozy and magical!  Lisa-Ann Scott has written a charming middle-grade tale of personal growth.

It’s 1977 and Chip (aka Brenda) has just moved to South Carolina with her Mama and two sisters, Charlene and Ruthie. They’re all moving in with their Grandma, after Chip’s daddy died in an accident.  Chip has always been a tomboy – someone who loves climbing trees, catching fish, and walking in the woods.  She was daddy’s girl, and misses him tremendously.  Things seem different in the South, as Mama and Chip’s sisters are caught up in preparing for a Beauty Pageant.  Chip doesn’t quite fit in – for one, she looks like her Daddy with his blonde hair and strong legs.  For another, she hates dresses and dolls and doesn’t have a talent.  But once she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm, Chip decides that entering the pageant might be the key to fitting in and fixing her heart.

I love:

  • that Miss Vernie’s best advice is to be true to yourself, and that this also means discovering yourself.
  • that the other participants of Miss Vernie’s School of Charm are good reflections of other struggles (like Karen’s struggle with her weight, and Dana’s struggle to be proud of herself).
  • that the characters have depth and background – they are rounded.  Even Grandma, who at first seems all prickles and sour faces.
  • that the book promotes paying attention – and learning from the lessons life hands us!

This is a sweet story, and I totally felt for Chip and her struggles to find a place in her family and to reconcile the “new Brenda” with the “old Chip”.  I loved that the story was wrapped up with some follow-up, and that nothing was black and white.  I was the teensiest bit disappointed it wasn’t a school of magic (the word “charm” sure had my hopes up) – but in a way, I liked the way it revealed the magic of believing in yourself!

I would totally recommend this – even though it’s for younger audiences.   5/5

2 Comments

Filed under Tween Fiction