The Thirteenth Princess

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by Diane Zahler

Published 2010

I love fairy tale retellings.  Even when I know, deep down, that they’re going to be terrible, I still can’t resist them.  It’s like eating that last cookie that you know is going to make you feel sick but they are THE BEST COOKIES EVER so how can you resist?  This was one of those books.  My rarely-wrong sixth-sense that tells me whether or not a book is going to be dreadful was urging me to RUN, but I have really enjoyed the sudden spurt of retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and how could I really resist?

First off, let me clarify that this is a book for younger readers (I think it’s officially in the 9-12 range; the young heroine was 12.  However, while the writing was definitely manageable for a reader at that level, I don’t think that I would recommend the story for those who are younger – Zita seems overly interested in kissing and what it is like to by physically close to boys (and specifically one boy in the story), and I really don’t appreciate stories that encourage that kind of thing in such young girls.

(And yes, I know that back in the day everyone got married when they were 13 etc etc etc BUT this is a FAIRY TALE, not a historically accurate novel.  If it was historically accurate, well NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED, much less letting a princess’s love interest be a stable hand.  Point being, if you’re writing books for pre-teens, I don’t think that you should be reassuring them that going about kissing boys is what they should be doing.  This book would have worked even better if either Zita had been a bit older or the whole kissing/having the maids say that it’s important to know “when to stop” had just simply not been in the story AT ALL.)

Anyway, the basic premise of the story is that the king got married and had a wife he really loved except she kept having daughters and she had twelve daughters and it really soured their whole marriage and things got really weird and the king went kind of insane except no one seemed bothered by his actions even though they were pretty cruel and irrational and basically the book doesn’t straight-up say it because it’s for preteens but you are definitely given the impression that he got drunk and more or less raped his wife after they were visited by some neighboring king who had sons because our king was reminded of how upset he was about not having a son (even though the story goes out of the way to say that the oldest daughter is going to inherit the throne and that her father would never dream of letting the throne pass on to someone else so…  what’s the big deal about the son then?  Just one of the many things that didn’t hang together)….  um where was I?  Oh yes, he impregnates his poor, exhausted, abused, mistreated, misaligned wife yet again and then has the nerve to get super upset when she has another daughter.  First off, who the heck’s fault is it when someone has a girl instead of a boy?  (The male, actually…  he’s the one who contributes that particular gene…)  And secondly, not like you have a super awesome track record here:  You already have TWELVE DAUGHTERS.

So the king goes into this fit of rage (and the queen dies from childbirth complications and is probably glad for the escape from someone who apparently only loved her as a potential son-bearer) and decides that this youngest daughter is going to be brought up as a servant.

Wait, what?

So yes, Zita is raised in the kitchens except it’s no secret that she’s a princess, so the whole thing is stupid, because the cook doesn’t want her hanging out with a stable boy because she’s a princess, but she’s expected to help cook everyone’s food?  At first, she’s not allowed to see her sisters, but then when she finds out that she’s a princess, her sisters are all super excited and she starts sneaking out to see them?  The whole thing was just dumb.  It was a concept that could have worked, but it just felt like the author was too lazy to pull things together, almost like she purposely wrote a preteen book, hoping that 10-year-olds wouldn’t be able to see through all her plot holes.  (And I don’t expect tons of explanation and details about the government or whatever, but a story, no matter how simple or involved, should at least MAKE SENSE.)

The the author tried to make the rest of the sisters a little more relatable (apparently that isn’t a word?  Well it should be) by giving them all names and trying to give them little quirks and whatnot, except all of their names started with an A (in an attempt to make Zita’s name more emphatically different), so it just got super confusing.

And I’m really not even going to touch on the actually story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the part where they actually start dancing.  Suffice to say that it made just as little sense as the rest of the book.  The villain came out of absolutely no where, no warning, no hints, and actually absolutely no point.  Even after I found out who it was, I was just confused.  She tried to explain, but was really unable to come up with any plausible reason as to why this particular person should have been the villain.

Whatever.  The whole book was pretty dreadful.  I just get super frustrated when someone has an intriguing idea and then are too (I don’t know what… lazy?  Illogical?  Apathetic?) to make it work.

1/5.

Confessions of a Hater

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by Caprice Crane

Published 2013 (The copy I read is an ARC sent to me from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.  Ha.  They lose again.)

So, truly, I only apply to receive ARCs that I think that I will enjoy, or at least will find interesting.  Confessions of a Hater is a YA debut novel for Crane.  I have never read any of her adult works, but this one sounded interesting.  It’s about a teenage girl, Hailey, who moves (with her parents) the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of high school.  At her old school, Hailey has her group of friends, but she’s never been popular or had a boyfriend.  While packing for the move, she comes across a diary that belonged to her older sister (who is away at college) when she was in high school.  Titled “How to Be a Hater,” Noel’s diary is full of practical tips on just that–how to dress, act, talk, walk–you name it.  Hailey decides that this book is her ticket to a new life at her new high school.  Her first day there, implementing the diary’s techniques, Hailey is accepted into the selective clique of Skylar, the most stereotypical popular cheerleader girl you could ever imagine.  After a few days of keeping up appearances, Hailey abandons the popular girls and makes friends with some outcasts.  Together, they form their own clique, and call themselves the Invisibles.  The rest of the book is the Invisibles’ attempts to bring down the Populars, Skylar in particular.

My hope for this book was that it would have some depth.  Instead, it was full of cliches and stereotypes.  The Invisibles are comprised of a girl who got pregnant as a freshman, a shoplifter, a super-intelligent genius girl who’s addicted to drugs, a fat girl, a girl who’s super good with computers, etc.  The girl who was pregnant, Anya, is the only one whose story actually adds to the overall plot (she ends up being Hailey’s best friend).  The other stereotypes are superfluous.  I was especially distressed by the shoplifter and the drug addict.  Both of these are treated as minor problems, and sort of shrugged off and swept under the rug.  The shoplifting is basically treated as completely normal and acceptable behavior, while the drug addict is given a little more time–towards the end, she overdoses and goes to the hospital, and then everyone is like, Cool now she’ll be okay.  Say what?!

Meanwhile, Hailey starts dating a super nice guy.  While she isn’t willing to go “all the way,” there is a completely unnecessary scene where she first of all asks Anya for advice (which Anya gives, by telling her to practice on a frozen banana?!?!!?) and then proceeds to perform a sexual act for her boyfriend, all described in pointless detail, mostly her feelings about how weird this is and wondering if he likes it, blah blah blah–again, NOTHING to do with the overall plot of the story.

Hailey’s parents were a bright spot for me at the beginning of the book.  Finally, I thought, a book about a teenager who just has normal parents who have stayed married.  Spoiler alert: don’t get too attached to that detail.  Guess what other stereotype we’re going to fill in??

The main plot of the book, wherein the Invisibles and the Populars prank each other, escalates to a completely unhealthy and unrealistic level.  I find it hard to believe that someone like Hailey, who claims to have been mistreated by similar populars at her old school, could possibly not see that what she is doing is cruel, stupid, and immature.  Hailey’s method of apology, which involves committing a pretty major crime, is ridiculous as well, especially since she receives basically no punishment whatsoever, and is, in fact, rewarded for her crime–her friends accept her apology and the guidance counselor is convinced that he can land her a special internship at a prestigious art school.  So glad that this is the message we’re sending to our young people.

Finally, while Hailey’s narrative can be funny and snarky, it is also crude, full of profanity, and littered with references to brand names and pop culture.  Honestly, I only finished this book because I felt an obligation to do so.

Crane had an opportunity to tell a story that actually meant something.  A story about a girl who truly experiences what it is like to be invisible, and who honestly realizes the importance of looking beyond stereotypes and embracing our unique and individual selves.  A story about the strength of forgiveness and the power of helping others.  Instead, she wrote a story that emphasized stereotypes, embraced cliches, and makes extra-marital sex, profanity, shoplifting, underage drinking, and vandalism (to name a few) sound like completely normal and acceptable activities for high schoolers.

If you’re a parent of a young adult, don’t let them touch this book with a ten-foot pole.  If you want to teach them about breaking through stereotypes, have them watch High School Musical.

1/5.

When Rose Wakes

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By Christopher Golden

Published 2010

Okay, so I could really use some new book recommendations, especially for some decent YA/fantasy/fairy tale kind of reads, because I have definitely been picking some lemons (most through GoodReads).  When Rose Wakes, while definitely not as torturous as Sovaywas yet another book with so much potential that just sort of fizzled out into a “Whaaaat???” at the end.

The premise was interesting.  Rose awakens in a hospital in modern Boston to find that she has been in a coma for the last two years.  Now, finally awake, she has amnesia and can remember nothing of her past life.  Her only relatives are her two aunts.  As Rose regains strength, she starts high school, and tries to rebuild a life.

But she keeps having these dreams–creepy, very realistic dreams.  In the dreams, she is a princess in a castle, and her country is  besieged by war.  And Rose herself is being pursued by an evil witch.  Her aunts shrug off her dreams, and Rose tries to, too.  But she can’t help but notice that so much of her life seems to be…  unusual.

Okay, so, so far, so good, right?  Good set up, and the story could go so many different directions.  There’s just loads of potential.  Except–Golden decides that the best direction for this story to take (SPOILERS SPOILERS) is for Rose’s curse to have been, instead of pricking her finger on a spindle and dying, that having sex with her husband on their wedding night would be the death stroke…!??!  So Rose’s aunts are all obsessed with her not having boyfriends so of course Rose decides that she has to go about snogging this random dude that she’s only known, you know, three days.  And then people are actually leaves because the evil with is making people out of forest materials and there are these crows going around protecting Rose except they really creep her out and then there’s this huge battle scene at the end and the one aunt gets killed really grotesquely and just…  bleh.

So the whole story was just really unnecessarily dark and depressing, the plot got super confusing and disorienting, Rose herself isn’t particularly likable, and there are just way too many references to sex (especially for a 16-year-old heroine) for me to be comfortable with the story.  The word that kept coming to mind when I was reading this book was crude.  Not necessarily the writing style, per se, but the language and story: swearing, sex, violence–all in a way that just jolted into the story without really moving it along.

Yet another 1/5.  And I’m seriously about sending me some book recommendations.  Comment or email me (itsthegoodlife15@gmail.com).  I’m always looking for something new!

Sovay

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by Celia Rees

Published 2008

Sometimes I find myself wandering in the YA section of the library and just meandering about.  I usually leave with a few books, some of which end up being epic and brilliant and amazing, and others end up being overly-complicated, overly-dramatic, and over-the-top.  Unfortunately, Sovay is going to fit neatly into the latter category.

For those of you who don’t want to read spoilers, this book is going to get a 1/5.  It was honestly fairly dreadful.  The first 2/3 were at least readable, but by the ending I was actually dreading picking it up, and had to force myself to finish (hoping against hope that some miraculous end would bring everything together…  but no.)

I will say that one of the things about this book that really did irritate me was the constant introduction of arbitrary homosexuality.  Can the highwayman take Sovay to a regular whore-house to find her some clothes?  No, he takes her to a whore house of young boys dressed as women.  There are constant comments about so-and-so being thus inclined, etc.  At one point, Sovay’s brother comes home from Paris and greets her and their old friend, Gabriel.  They’ve grown up together like siblings, we’ve already been told.  Sovay’s maid is convinced that Gabriel has feelings for Sovay, but Sovay isn’t so sure.    This is how the author writes the touching scene of Hugh’s homecoming:

“Hugh!”  Gabriel burst into the room.  “Mrs. Crombie told me you were here!  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you!”

“Or I you!”  Hugh went over to meet him.  “Old friend!  I had not thought to see you here!”

Gabriel took his friend in a strong embrace and Sovay wondered if Lydia was right in her judgment of of exactly who was the object of Gabriel’s affection.

Really? How is that even vaguely a necessary comment?  How about, Gabriel and Hugh have been life-long friends and Gabriel thought Hugh was dead and he’s not so they’re glad to see each other?  Could that be a possible interpretation to this embrace?  But no, it’s like that the whole way through the book, this constant, nagging, unnecessary undercurrent of homosexuality, and it irritated the bejeebers out of me.

Before the story, there is a poem, supposedly lyrics from a “traditional ballad” about a woman named Sovay who dresses as a highwayman and holds up the carriage in which her fiancee is riding.  She then demands that he hand over a ring, which happens to be the ring that she gave him to prove her undying love.  Well, the dude says that he would rather die than give up the ring, because it was a gift from his truest love, and of course Sovay says that that’s the right answer because if he had given up the ring she would have killed him.

Let’s be honest here: just reading that little ballad was almost enough to prevent me from reading the rest of the book.  Because really?  If someone held up my  husband and demanded that he hand over his wedding ring, I would really rather have a live husband minus a ring than a dead husband still minus the ring because the thief is going to end up with the ring either way.  But I digress.

In conclusion, for those not interested in my ridiculously long and ranty synopsis below:  so many dudes, and yet zero actual romance; so many plot ideas, and yet no direction; so many characters, and yet no conclusions; so many villains, and yet no real triumph from the heroine.  DREADFUL.

(For those who enjoy my rants about books that drove me crazy, and don’t mind spoilers, read below.  :-D Be warned, it’s long, because I really, really enjoy giving a summary of books I didn’t like.  It’s cathartic.)

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Heiress

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by Susan May Warren

Published 2011

 

So I fear that at times this blog gets a bit boring.  Lately, I’ve been reading Cadfael, Corbett’s Trick books, and the Betsy books in a sort of round-robin fashion.  And while I’ve been having a perfectly lovely time (I have especially fallen in love with Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy!), my reviews tend to get a bit repetitive.

Well, fear not!  I have, in fact, been reading other books besides those.  Unfortunately, this one was dreadful.  This came as quite a surprise to me, as I have actually read other books by Warren before and found them to be decent suspense novels.  I was excited when I discovered that she had written a new trio of books, set in t he early 1900’s, following three generations of women.  Since I’ve been reading my way through twentieth-century history over the last two years, I thought to myself–Perfect!

But, like Julie Lessman’s A Hope Undauntedthis book was just full of unnecessary angst and stupidity.

The story focuses on two sisters, daughters of an important and rich newspaper baron in New York City.  The oldest daughter yearns to be a writer like her father, while the younger daughter wishes to be the belle of New York society.  I won’t bore you with the details, but basically every time you thought something good was going to happen, it ended in tragedy.  Everyone lied to everyone else, then felt bad about it.  Everyone ended up with unhappy romantic entanglements.  And there was no real story to hold things together.

It was impossible to like anyone, mainly because Warren killed off characters right and left (mostly nice ones…  the bad ones seemed to linger like a bad taste in your mouth), or nice characters turned out to be jerks.  The sisters were both irritating, poor decision-makers, and self-destructive.

And, worst of all–while other books of Warren’s that I have read have done a good job introducing and working through Christian themes, this book handled it terribly.  God was just sort of tossed out as a band-aid for random problems.  There was no real engagement or relationship with Him.  The characters’ faith just sort of came and went.  The so-called ‘Christian’ message was just randomly-inserted preaching that had no real connection to or impact on the story.  It was the sort of Christian fiction that makes my skin crawl, to think that non-Christians read that and think that that’s what we believe…  ugh.

So, in summary–impersonal characters, terrible story-telling, not a happy moment in the entire book, flat and platitude-filled religion–all combined to make this  book a complete waste of my time.  1/5.

A Hope Undaunted

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by Julie Lessman

Published 2010

So a while back I was studying the 1920’s and this book was set in the 1920’s, so I thought that I would give a shot.  However, I just now got around to reading it, and let me tell you something: if you want a textbook example of how not to write Christian fiction, this is it.

Overly complicated plot, flat and stereotyped characters, dull and lifeless platitudes (mouthed, not lived), unnecessary love triangles, and the list goes on.

Sassy Kate is determined to be a strong, independent woman who won’t be held back by an overbearing man like her religious father who is constantly trying to ruin her life by making her follow rules.  When she stays out past curfew with her wimpy, puppy-dog, over-eager-to-be-physical boyfriend, her father punishes her by making her work for the summer as a volunteer for an orphanage organization in Boston.  Except who is charge of said orphanage?  None other than Kate’s childhood nemesis, Luke, who has, of course, grown from a scrawny and obnoxious little boy into an incredibly attractive young man.

And I was going to write more about this plot, but I just don’t even want to relive this story.  IT WAS TERRIBLE.  Suffice to say, Luke goes off and sacrificially marries his friend because she’s pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s baby because he raped her after they had broken up and Luke marries  her because he feels super guilty because back in the day before he was a Christian he slept with this chick, too, and she got pregnant then (apparently she’s super fertile) but he never knew it and then she started dating the  horrible rape dude and he beat her up and made her miscarry the Luke/chick baby SO even though Luke is desperately in love with Kate (even though she’s incredibly annoying, bossy, obnoxious, and stuck-up) he still marries the chick.

And I really, really hoped that what would happen is that Luke would fall in love with that chick and that they would live happily ever after, because she was way nicer than Kate and she sincerely loved Luke, and while Luke was off being married, Kate started dating this other mutual friend (whose name I can’t remember) and he was really, really nice and I liked him but do you know what?  The chick DIES while she’s giving birth but Kate doesn’t find that out until after she’s already engaged to the other dude, so, of course, in the end, the other dude releases Kate from their engagement (hopefully because he realized that she was a dreadful person) so she can go off and marry Luke and the other dude goes off to fulfill his life dream of being a priest.

In the meantime, throughout the entire book, the author acts as though the turning point is going to be Kate becoming a Christian, except that is just made to sound so shallow and unimportant.  The book is full of innuendo that is just plain embarrassing because it’s ‘Christian’ innuendo so it’s okay (???) and, in the background, all of Kate’s sisters (who were apparently heroines of their own series of books) are still settling into their marriages and all of them are feeling so put-down by their husbands because their husbands refuse to allow them to work so that of course means that their talents are being wasted at home.

So, in summary (if you’re still with me after all that rambling):

  • The heroine is completely annoying and unlikable
  • The religion is just thrown in for no apparent reason
  • Despite the claim to be a ‘Christian’ novel, the book is full of (very badly written) innuendo
  • The entire book basically teaches that a woman who is not a career woman is wasting her time and talents

Dreadful, 1/5, if that.

A Most Unsuitable Match

 

by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Published: 2011

First off, it’s been several weeks since I actually read this, so I am sorry that I can’t remember everyone’s names…

This book beautifully illustrates everything I hate about pseudo-Christian chick lit.  The entire book was a slow-motion train wreck.  The characters were stiff and wooden and made completely unrealistic decisions.  The heroine was self-centered, stupid, and soulless.  The heroes (because yes, there were two, involving the dreaded and pointless love-interest triangle) were overly stereotyped and thus unrelateable.  The plot was full of drama and random deaths and accidents and Indian attacks and shipwrecks and robberies and betrayal all in an attempt to cover the fact that there was no storyline worth pursuing.

But the worst part was the attempt to make this a “Christian” story.  While the heroine wanders about bemoaning her lack of faith, and the heroes spout Bible verses (and one of them decides to become a missionary), there is no depth.  No real issues are addressed, and there is no resolution–the heroine begins the book confused by the things that are happening in her life and wondering why God is allowing these things to happen.  In the end, not only have none of her questions been answered, she has basically decided that she doesn’t care about those questions any more, and decides to marry the missionary dude despite the fact that she isn’t sure that her faith is strong enough to make him a good wife.

Instead of taking an opportunity to have some real discussions about how God uses events in our lives to shape us, grow us, and teach us, the author seems content to brush all of the heroine’s concerns aside in favor of a “happy ending.”  I was left feeling like the marriage that was the book’s climax would be a long and difficult struggle, rather than a strong partnership.

The love triangle was also pointless and frustrating, because I actually liked the other fellow far better, and felt that he would have been a much better match for the heroine; plus, she led him on dreadfully.  See, they end up in this town in the frontier, and she likes Dude #1 a lot, and there is no reason not to, because he’s charming in every way.  Then Dude #1 has to go off on this important quest, so he leaves her behind, but they have this kind of unspoken agreement because they’ve been together for a couple of months now and flirting like crazy.  While Dude #1 is gone, the chick meets Dude #2, who is a doctor and who has a son who is blind.  Well, the chick’s best friend is blind so she knows all these ways to help the son get along (he wasn’t born blind; he had been blinded by some disease) and pretty soon she’s having dinner at their house and hanging out with them all the time and comforting Dude #2 when he’s struggling with different things and they’re all homey and cozy because she hangs out there in the evenings knitting and stuff and basically she just totally ignores the fact that she more or less told Dude #1 that she was interested in him.  Then Dude #1 gets attacked by Indians on his way back (except they were actually attacking another band of Indians and he just got caught in the crossfire because OF COURSE the Indians would never attack a white man because they’re super nice and not anything like the bloodthirsty stereotype!) and he gets this weird brain injury where he loses his voice so now she has both dudes and she keeps dithering back and forth and it is just DREADFUL.  And in the end, she marries Dude #1, and I actually think she would have done much better with Dude #2, so even that didn’t end right as far as I was concerned.

Finally, the very title of this book made no sense.  There was no reason at all why the chick shouldn’t have fallen in love with and married the dude that she did.  They were equals socially and financially, they were attracted to each other and got along fine.  In fact, the only reason the match seemed unsuitable was because the dude far more serious about his faith than she was, and that was the one thing that the author completely ignored.

All in all, this book was definitely a mere 1/5.