Month: July 2015

Review: Royal Wedding (The Princess Diaries) by Meg Cabot

Royal Wedding
Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For some people, it’s Harry Potter or Twilight that really gets them into reading. For others, it’s The Princess Diaries. For me, it was a strange combination of all three.

I first started reading The Princess Diaries series back in 2002, at the tender age of 8. I read every book after book four as it came out, following Mia’s adventures as a high school princess and culminating in a little happy ever after (getting back together with her best friend’s brother, Michael). Now Mia is turning 26, hounded by the press, who claim she’s carrying twins sired by ‘the World’s Greatest Lover’ (Michael Moscovitz). The press are speculating about why Michael won’t marry Mia, and as Mia gets more and more stressed about political conflict and her dad’s erratic behaviour, Michael whisks her off to a secluded island, where he proposes (a big surprise in a book called Royal Wedding). What follows is a series of twists and turns leading up to the wedding, especially after Mia finds out she has a secret half-sister, Olivia Grace (the protagonist of the sister series ‘From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess’).

The format of the book is standard TPD fare – it’s written in the form of diary entries by Mia, with press articles and invitations ‘stuck in’, and some conversations taking the form of emails and text messages. This format is so easy to read, and it’s so easy to read ‘just one more chapter’ because the diary entries are often a few pages at most.

Reading this book was like catching up with old friends, but it’s not only Mia and Michael who return. A whole host of characters from the first series of books – Lilly, Grandmere, Rocky, Perin, Ling Su, Lana, Trisha, JP, Boris, Tina, Lars, etc. – are back in some form or another. This is, of course, explained away by the fact that it’s hard to make new friends once you’ve become a Princess of Genovia. Kudos to Meg Cabot for being able to write the same characters at different points in their lives convincingly – these are definitely the same characters we all know and love, just a little older, with new problems. My only problem with this is that it’s a little unrealistic that Mia would have kept in touch with all of her high school friends, and her college experience is mentioned perhaps once or twice. It would have been great to see some new characters and perhaps left some of the original characters to a sentence or two mentioned in passing.

My only issue with the plot is that the whole long-lost half-sister issue overshadowed the wedding (which is what the book really promises to be about) and there’s a few twists which struggle to be believable (then again, this is a book about a girl who discovers she’s a princess). We don’t even see the wedding (there’s a six-week time jump) or really any of the planning going into it, which is a shame.

I really enjoyed this book (I was grinning during the last few pages) and can’t wait for the next installment (which has definitely been teased in the last chapters). Hopefully the next installments will introduce new characters and antagonists, and continue to be on excellent form.

A sidenote: in the UK, this is marketed as a stand-alone novel, with no real mention that it is a continuation of The Princess Diaries (which it undoubtedly is). Considering that Meg Cabot has written other series, I can imagine that a lot of potential readers wouldn’t have realised that this is Book 11, although it could be read as a stand-alone novel/series. I would definitely recommend reading the other books first, to get acquainted with the characters and the story (some of which I had admittedly forgotten).

Annalise x

Have you read Royal Wedding? What did you think? Comment below or tweet me at @annalisebooks 🙂

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Confession: this was my first Rainbow Rowell novel. It won’t be my last.

Eleanor Douglas is an overweight (yes, an overweight main character!) teenager who starts at a new school after having being sent away by her new stepdad for a year. She reluctantly takes the bus to school, where she reluctantly sits next to Park Sheridan, a half-Korean boy from a pretty well-off background. Over the course of the school year, they go from sitting in silence to sharing comics and then find themselves dating. Simple, huh?

What really makes this story stand out is the background. Eleanor is overweight, dresses strangely, refuses to wear make-up, and subsequently finds herself with no friends and getting bullied. She lives in a poor home – a house where she shares a bedroom with her four siblings, and doesn’t even own a toothbrush. She bathes before her abusive stepdad comes home because their bathroom has no door. She lies when she goes over to Park’s house because her stepdad would refuse to let her go.

This isn’t a story set in a dream romantic world. There’s no love-at-first-sight locked-eyes-across-a-crowded-room twilight-esque scene where the main characters realise that they’re meant to be, forever and ever. Park doesn’t even like Eleanor when they meet, and it’s only through getting to know her that he starts to find her attractive. Eleanor acknowledges that they’re unlikely to get married and live happily ever after. There’s poverty and boundaries and bullying and embarrassment and even a break-up.

I think everyone can relate to Eleanor in one way or another. She’s the weird girl that every school has at least one of, the girl who’s a bit chubby and strange, who doesn’t dress correctly, who hates PE class, and who gets picked on. I was definitely one of those girls (I also didn’t have a cute half-Korean boyfriend though). This book is a little ray of hope for those girls, hope that they might meet someone who loves them for who they are (yeah, still waiting on that…).

So what else is great about this book? The characters are well developed, with hobbies and likes and friends and PARENTS (who haven’t dropped off the face of the earth conveniently so our lovebirds can live happily ever after at the tender age of 15) and FLAWS. Eleanor is no Mary Sue. She’s a girl with a bad home life and low self-esteem who doesn’t quite understand why this guy likes her so much (and doesn’t share absolutely everything with him). Park’s mum is judgemental at first, and doesn’t like Eleanor – but, like Park, she comes around to see she’s actually a nice person. There’s also diversity with an Asian love interest (not all love interests have to be mysterious, pale and handsome!) and Park’s background involving the Korean War really gives life not only to him, but also his parents.

Other reviews have highlighted a few problems with the book. There is a lack of racism in 1986 Omaha towards both Park (as a Korean) and Eleanor’s black friends which could have been a really interesting side story and the romance which develops between Park and Eleanor is perhaps a little unexpected (unless of course you’ve read the title of the book!) seeing as how antisocial he is towards her when they first meet. If I had to change something in the book, I’d add more. The book is pretty damn near perfect, but a few more side stories and secondary character development wouldn’t hurt.

A note on the ending: it left me wanting more. Don’t doubt that it wasn’t a good ending, but it left me wanting to know more about what happens to these characters as it’s a tad abrupt. However, I’m content with knowing that this a great stand-alone novel – too many YA books today are spun into a 10+ book series which eventually run out of steam.

Eleanor & Park is a Jacqueline Wilson novel for a slightly older generation, a refreshing tale of love between two imperfect characters. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on more Rainbow Rowell books. (Fangirl is waiting patiently on my shelf!)

Annalise x

View all my reviews

Review: Forever by Judy Blume

Forever
Forever by Judy Blume

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Forever is a story about a teenager’s first love and first time (having sex). Katherine and Michael are two older teenagers who meet, hit it off, and start dating. He wants to have sex with her, she’s not entirely sure if she wants to, but then she agrees and they do it. There are no horrific consequences – she doesn’t get pregnant, she doesn’t catch an STD, and she doesn’t die – and this is what sets it apart from other books depicting this kind of story (at least at the time it was published).

The story is a fairly realistic depiction of teenage romance – actual teenage romance without a paranormal element and rainbows and fireworks if and when the main characters have sex. There are scenes where both main characters acquire contraception – something a lot of YA writers leave out, because it ruins the romance of it all. This is where the book really excels – and why it is still a bestseller today – it’s realistic. There’s premature ejaculation and awkwardness and the whole ‘making-a-big-deal-of-it-all’ aspect of high school. Katherine and Michael are not soulmates (although they believe it at the time) and their relationship doesn’t even last the summer. Sure, there are people who marry their first boyfriend and live happily ever after, but it just isn’t the norm in real life (although it seems to be in YA). Michael’s had sex before, and I’d love to see more of this in fiction – real, experienced characters, especially girls. Every YA heroine seems to be an innocent virgin, and every villain is a sexually promiscuous bad girl – and it only reinforces slut-shaming and the idea that once you’ve had sex your personality miraculously changes.

The whole story is pretty progressive. Kath’s parents would rather have her having sex at home that god-knows-where, and her grandmother sends her pamphlets on all-sorts of relevant information – abortion and contraception. There’s a character questioning his sexuality and experimenting. There’s an attempted suicide, due to said questioning. It’s only disappointing that, forty years after this book was first published, so much of the story is relevant today. Teenagers are still having sex (shock horror), but there’s still controversy around non-heterosexual characters, abortion, and even just sex in general in YA fiction. In Kath’s world, there is no shame over having sex, using contraception, having an abortion – they’re seen as sensible, responsible choices. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world just yet.

Forever is known for being teenage girls’ first read of realistic sex. The topics involved (and the age of the main characters) suggest this book is for older girls, but the writing style is simplistic, and I almost felt a little too old to be reading it. The whole plot seems a little undercooked – at only 200 pages long, I would have happily read a book with a bit more padding. Some really interesting sub-plots are touched on briefly – Sybil’s hidden pregnancy, Jamie’s first experiences of love, and Artie’s possible homosexuality – which really would have brought the book into its own had they been expanded on. I think the tone and style of the book is really a remnant of the era in which it was first published – it reminds me a lot of the books I read published in the 1980s and 1990s, like Animal Ark and The Babysitters Club, rather than the high-octane paranormal fantasy romances that dominate YA today.

Ultimately, this is a book written to teach girls about safe, realistic sex. It more than achieves in that aim – and it’s a testament that girls are still reading it today. If it was a little longer, maybe those who don’t normally read, wouldn’t bother to read it.

I would kind of love to see a new Forever on the market though – a cult bestseller written today that portrays sex and being a teenager realistically. I’d also like to see a book that touches on the same theme but is aimed at boys – Forever is told through a girl’s perspective (as many YA novels are), and I’d be interested to read something from the other side for once!

(Also, my 2015 copy has a lovely design (a simple cherry) which isn’t as cheesy as some of the others and has red gilded edges)

Did you enjoy Forever? Do you have any recommendations? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below 🙂

Annalise x

View all my reviews

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard to review this book because it basically doesn’t have a plot – it’s a collection of lists and snapshots into Mindy’s life (until 2011). I’m not complaining – I enjoyed it more than a boring old memoir as Mindy’s personality shines through (and her humour is what makes this book so easy and compelling to read). Mindy says in the first few pages that she’d like the book to read like a really funny magazine, and it succeeds in that aim.

Mindy reminds me of my best friend. This is the kind of book which makes you want to be Mindy’s best friend – she’s funny and lovely and relatable. This book reads like a long conversation, a humourous one at that, the kind you’d have over wine and chocolates before watching Bridget Jones’ Diary (which, incidentally, is a film that makes Mindy cry).

A word of warning: this was written before The Mindy Project aired, and Mindy does makes references to her time at The Office (which I enjoyed less because I’ve never watched it) – it’s a good read nonetheless, but I feel those who are more acquainted with Mindy’s work would enjoy some chapters more.

This is a short and sweet read (at 222 pages), which is easy to devour in a day or two. The sequel, Why Not Me?, will be published in September, and looks to be slightly longer (a welcome change).

View all my reviews

TBR: The Post-YALC Pile

After an amazing weekend at YALC, my TBR (To Be Read) pile has grown. It was already pretty big – I’ve spent the last three years procrastinating by buying books, but not really procrastinating by reading them (after many 16 hour days in the library trying to learn Chemistry, you kinda just want to sleep and eat). I’m planning on getting through my pile this Summer though (never going to happen but it’s always nice to be optimistic!).

tumblr_m594prrf331r0yglfo1_400 9200000003760743

1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, and 2. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithian

I’ve read two John Green novels before – Looking for Alaska and The Fault in our Stars. They’re both critically acclaimed, and I thoroughly enjoyed TFioS… the second time I read it. I hardly ever read a book twice, but TFioS was a rare exception, and I’m glad it was – I enjoyed it the first time, and I really want to be a bigger fan of John Green’s work (hence the book buys). Both of these books have interesting premises – AAoK is about a boy called Colin who has dated a grand total of 19 women called Katherine, and WG,WG is a collaboration between two authors, both writing for different characters (both called Will Grayson). I really hope these books exceed my expectations based on previous John Green novels I’ve read – but I won’t deny i’ll be first in line for his next book.

rowell_ep_us fangirl-rainbow-rowell-cover-677x1024

3. Eleanor & Park, and 4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Confession: I’ve never read a book by Rainbow Rowell. That’s about to change. All I’ve heard are good things about her novels, specifically these two, both published in 2013. Eleanor & Park is a love story, set in 1986, with Eleanor, the slightly overweight new girl with a dysfunctional family, and Park, a half-Korean boy from the ‘perfect home’. Fangirl is about identical twins, moving on to university, still obsessed with their favourite author. I’m excited to start reading these books, if only for the fact that I know people who fit these characters (an achievement in itself).

41uloIrm4nL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

5. Forever by Judy Blume

I’ve heard about Judy Blume ever since I started reading YA fiction. She’s a legend, and this weekend, I got to watch her giving a talk at YALC. I would have asked her to sign a book, but I’ve never read a Judy Blume novel. I decided to rectify that. It is a feat in itself that this book is still a bestseller after forty years – and a little disappointing that it’s still controversial. I picked this up at the Waterstone’s book shop on site at YALC – hopefully it’ll be worth the £6.99 I forked out for it.

16069030

6. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

I first heard of the book a few months ago, and I knew I had to buy it. You know why? The cover. I knew I needed that cover on my shelf. I’ve also heard good things – about the plot, the world, the characters – and after attending a talk at YALC with Marie on the panel, I ran out and bought the book. Kestrel is a general’s daughter in an empire which enslaves those who it conquers, and she’s expected to either join the military or get married. Kestrel has other ideas. She buys a slave – Arin – with unexpected consequences, and finds herself falling in love with him.

untitled

7. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

I hadn’t heard of this book before YALC, and it only took two days before I caved and bought it – I’d heard so many good things (It won the YA Book Prize 2015). To my surprise (maybe I should plan better), the author (Louise O’Neill) appeared on the ‘Bringing Sexy Back’ panel in the morning, and, because I was hauling around all my purchases from the weekend, I happened to have my copy of Only Ever Yours on me, for the signing afterwards! I’m so excited to read this book, and ‘Asking for It’, out in September – mostly because of the comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

tumblr_mr8khs7hnh1rwor04o2_250

8. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

This was one of the books my friends bought for my birthday (I sent them a huge lists of books I promised not to buy and let them choose which ones to get). This originally was released in 2011, and it’s been sitting on my Goodreads list since then. Juliette’s touch is fatal, and she must decide whether to use it for good, or for evil. Also, look at that cover!

gone-girl-400x400-imadu8yszepkzbvd

9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I’ve known about Gone Girl for a few years, since the book first came out in 2012. I was there for the initial hype, and I was just never convinced enough to buy and read it. Then the film came out, and I went to see it. The film is amazing, and I knew the book would be too. I know all the twists and turns now, but I hear the book is even better, and the film will be tough to beat. Bring it on!

What’s on your TBR list? Have you read any of the books on my list? (I’m not going to lie, I imagine most people have.) Comment below or tweet me at @annalisebooks 🙂

Annalise x

YALC, London: Day 3

image

Sunday was the last day of YALC (see Day 1 and Day 2 here!) and it did not disappoint. After packing up my stuff (which at this point had swelled to a very heavy backpack and a tote bag) and leaving the hostel, I made my way to Olympia for the third and final day of YALC.

The first workshop, Author and Editor, was presented by the amazing Non Pratt and A.J. Grainger. Both authors and editors, this talk gave a great perspective on the whole writing and editing process.

My only panel of the day was Bringing Sexy Back – a great choice if I do say so. The portrayal (or not) of sexual intercourse (of all kinds) is a controversial topic, but the panel handled it with grace, and brought up some important questions – again touching on the subjects of feminism, sexuality, and consent. I thoroughly enjoyed this panel, which was presented by James Dawson, and featuring Non Pratt, Louise O’Neill, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison. James Dawson was a particular highlight, as he was sporting a wonderful ‘naked Daenerys Targaryen costume’, complete with ‘modesty dragons’!

After lunch, I went to two back-to-back workshops on Book Blogging – Book blogging for beginners and Taking your blog to the next level. Both were presented by Andy Robb, and featured some of the winners of the 2015 UK Young Adult Blogger Awards. All the panelists were informative and had some really great advice on how to start blogging and what to blog about (I’ll hopefully be using this advice!). A real surprise were the goody bags provided by Chelley Toy of Tales of Yesterday – which even included everyone’s favourite thing, free books! A huge thank you for the treats!

Before the last workshop of the day (and YALC), I headed into the main Comic Con area to get my photograph taken with the lovely Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones). The rest of the convention was exciting to look around – I bought some photographs and a graphic novel for one of my best friends but there was so many things that I was tempted to buy! It was great to see some cosplay from around the convention – even if I wasn’t sure what a lot of people were dressing up as!

The last workshop of the day was Vlogging for beginners with Sanne Vliegenhart – I really enjoyed learning about BookTube and intend to at least have a go at it at some point (probably when I return to university). It seems like a really great community, and one that would be fun to participate in.

So that was YALC! I’m already looking forward to next year, hopefully as a more accomplished blogger and writer. I loved meeting and discovering new authors, and the panels and workshops were (and i’ve used this word way too much over the course of these last few posts) INSPIRING – so much that I started this blog, and NEED to be writing and working on ideas soon!

Hope you all enjoyed the weekend too! What was your highlight of the weekend? Comment below or tweet me at @annalisebooks 🙂

Annalise x

YALC, London: Day 2

image

After a few hours sleep at my hostel (even though I was exhausted even after Day 1), I awoke on Saturday excited for another day at YALC!

I kicked off the day with an amazing panel – YA: The Next Generation. Moderated by Samantha Shannon, and starring Alice Oseman, Lucy Saxon (wearing an awe-inspiring Zelda cosplay), Helena Coggan and Taran Matharu, this was a real highlight of the weekend (although it did make me feel old at the tender age of 21!). This panel brought up some interesting discussion surrounding diversity in young adult novels, and the downsides of being published so young, and ultimately it was inspiring that people younger than me have both written and published novels – definitely got to get down to writing sometime soon! The panel also brought up the different routes into becoming a published author – Taran started posting on Wattpad before getting picked up for a publishing deal. The panel also reinforced the idea that you should write the book that you want to read – if you want to read it, others will too!

A highlight of the afternoon was the Editing Yourself workshop with Alexia Casale. This was my first real introduction into editing, something i’ve not really ever got to the point of doing (although I did write a 50,000 novel during NaNoWriMo last year which I might come back to at some point). The whole editing process became a lot less daunting and something I actually look forward to (although it is a lot easier to edit someone else’s work!). I’m really looking forward to the day where i’m confident enough in a novel and an idea that I get to edits! Alexia also gave advice on writing in general – something I took to heart was to start your novel at the last possible moment for everything to make sense and the plot to work – describing the mundane is generally boring to your readers.

The last talk of the day was on the differences between being published in the UK and the US – this was really informative about the different ways the markets work and what they look for. There was also some great advice about covers – something authors generally have no control over. It’s always exciting to see the ways different publishing teams take a novel and market it – so many different covers and titles for the same book inside (albeit a few language edits!).

On Saturday, there were also many amazing authors signing their novels – Judy Blume (a legend if I ever saw one), Cassie Clare (I didn’t take any of her books to sign because I already got two of them signed last year – and the queues were so long!), Malorie Blackman, Holly Smale, Arabella Weir, Patrick Ness… Great to see so many inspiring people in one place!

I grabbed a copy of Forever by Judy Blume, a book i’ve heard recommended for years, from the on-site Waterstone’s bookshop, and hopped on the tube after the convention to the Foyles store on Charing Cross Road. After many recommendations over the first two days, I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse, and a book on writing New Adult novels (i’m planning on writing, honest!).

All in all, Saturday was an exciting day, with some great authors and inspiring panels and workshops. Were you at YALC? What were your highlights?

Annalise x

YALC, London: Day 1

image

So I’ve had an amazing weekend at the Young Adult Lit Convention (YALC) (Part of London Film and Comic Con (LFCC)) which has inspired me to finally start this blog. So much happened that it’s probably best to blog about each day separately.

I’ll kick off with Friday (chronological order seems sensible!). I travelled down to London in the morning, reading a little of American Gods by Neil Gaiman then starting Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch on the train.The convention opened at 1pm, with YALC events starting at 2.30 – I arrived at 2pm and got stuck in! A real benefit of the YALC pass is that we got to use an exclusive entrance for the first hour of the convention, which meant skipping the queues (this came in extra handy on Saturday when the queues were round the block!).

This was my first YALC and I bought a weekend pass because the workshops and talks looked so good that I really didn’t want to miss out!

The first talk I attended was Publishing 101 with Gemma Cooper – this was a really good introduction to the publishing industry which I had had no previous knowledge about. I was already becoming inspired to write.

Next, I signed up for a trilogy of workshops. The first, Building worlds, was with Lucy Inglis, writer of City of Halves and Crow Mountain. Both these books have their worlds almost acting like a character, and so it was interesting to hear her methodology for planning out a novel and creating worlds unlike our own (no mean feat!).

The second, Cosplay for beginners, was presented by Lucy Saxon, who demonstrated some amazing cosplay herself (the panel were dressed as characters from Harry Potter, and historically accurate Ariel – inspiring!). The talk itself was really informative and encouraging to get up and just have a go, no matter what skills you have – good advice for any hobby!

The last, Creating characters, with L.A. Weatherly, was also really helpful – I learnt that knowing everything about your character (their background, their family, what they want, etc.), even if you don’t even mention it in the novel, can really help develop your characters (and your understanding of them). She also announced her forthcoming series, The Broken Trilogy, and unveiled the cover of the first book, Broken Sky! It was really exciting to be one of the first people to hear about a new series – definitely a highlight of the weekend!

Afterwards, I was so inspired I caught the tube to Waterstones Piccadilly to get a new Moleskine to develop some ideas for novels and characters – job well done YALC!

Was anyone else at YALC on Friday? What were your highlights? Comment below or on Twitter at @annalisebooks 🙂

Annalise x