Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Princess Mia

The title: Princess Mia
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: HarperCollins, 2008
Got it from: Amazon?

Alright, I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Toronto (where I got FIVE new romances, yipee!) and my brain still hurts from seeing so many emaciated teenagers in skinny jeans hanging around the Eaton Centre. So I'ma gonna make this short and sweet.

Michael has broken up with Mia. This is not a spoiler, it happens at the beginning of the book. Mia has a mental breakdown and refuses to leave her room or shower for about a week. So her dad takes her to this cowboy psychologist named Dr. Knutz. There, Mia discloses that her Meyers-Brigg type is INFJ. I mention this only because I am an INFJ, and we're the rarest of the sixteen types. Go us! J.P. also reveals his love right before he saves her life in a dramatic and highly romantic way. Also, Lana stops being evil and actually befriends Mia (!) It's like the world has turned upside down or something.

On to book ten, the final installment! Oooohhh....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sex with the Queen

The title: Sex with the Queen: Nine Hundred Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics
The author: Eleanor Herman
Publication:HarperCollins, 2006
Got it from: Talking Leaves Buffalo

Things I have learned from reading Sex with the Queen:

1. It's better to be a queen in your own right than just a queen consort.

Examples: Look at poor Anne Boleyn. She got her head cut off for adultery and she wasn't even doing it. Catherine the Great, on the other hand, may have had more lovers than any woman in history and everyone thought that was just great.

2. If you're having an arranged marriage to a prince or a king, check him out first. If everyone refuses to let you see him before the wedding, nine times out of ten it's because he's insane, feeble, impotent, obese, gay or some combination of the above.

Examples: just about all of them.

3. If your husband-king is hated by his people for being ineffectual, it's totally cool to have an affair with a guy who's more effectual. Your people will love you for it.

Example: Maria Francesca of Savoy, Queen of Portugal, was married to the incompetent, impotent and obese King Alfonso. So she did what any normal woman would do: she had an affair with his sexy younger brother Pedro. They all lived happily ever after, with Maria and Pedro ruling the country and Alfonso growing so fat they had to roll him down the hallway.

4. If you're a Russian peasant family living in the eighteenth century, send your handsome young sons to the court of Catherine the Great. If they can perform, your family will never be poor again.

Examples: Sergei Saltikov, Stanislaus Poniatowski, Gregory Orlov, Alexander Vasilchikov, Gregory Potemkin, Peter Zavadovsky, Ivan Korsakov...and so on and so on.

It's just like Degrassi!; or Princess on the Brink

The title: Princess on the Brink
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication:HarperCollins, 2007
Got it from: The Book Depot

I don't want to upset anyone, but things in this book get serrrrious.

Why else would there be (gasp!) no lists?

Michael tells Mia he is moving to Japan, to work on a robotic arm that will help doctors perform closed-heart surgery. Mia is, of course, devastated. So she decides that in order to convince him to stay, she will give up her Precious Gift, aka her virginity, to him.

Sound the alarms! A teenager is thinking about having sex with her boyfriend! Yes, that's why people tried to ban this book.

I don't wanna tell you how it ends, but it's NOT GOOD. Michael, as I have said all along, is still a jerk. I'm beginning to think J.P. is too, but I still like him better than Michael.

Here's hoping things get better in the next one. But I know they won't, because I've already started reading it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

As You Desire

The title:
As You Desire
The author: Connie Brockway
Publication: Dell, 1997
Got it from: Powells

As you may recall, I recently reviewed Bridal Favors by Connie Brockway, which so far is leading contender for my favourite book this year. I was excited to get a copy of As You Desire, because it tops many people's best-of-romance list and is supposed to be extremely funny. Plus, it's set in Victorian Egypt. What's not to love?

Unfortunately, I think I may be the only person on the entire planet who didn't love this book. I can see why other people would like it, but it just didn't do it for me. For one thing, the heroine was wayyyy too Mary Sue-ish. Even her name - Desdemona, or "Dizzy," smacks of Disney Princess. She's young, naturally, and can read twelve different languages. She's a genius, don't you know? And so beautiful, men fall all over themselves to get near her. I actually put the book down and started making gagging noises during the scene where Desdemona walks into a restaurant and -

Well, let the passage speak for itself:

"I say," Lord Ravenscroft suddenlybreathed, "Now, there is a treasure worth coveting. Have you ever seen such a piece of tiny, golden perfection?"

...Marta followed the direction of everyone's gaze to where Miss Carlisle's progress through the room was marked by a wave of men scurrying to their feet as she passed.

OH COME ON. I can tolerate that sort of nonsense in the heroine's rival, but the heroine herself? Please. Whatever happened to the heroine who is only beautiful to the man who loves her? Yes, men fall all over me when I can walk into a room, too, so I can really relate. Not.

Many women read romances for the hero, but in this case I found Harry to be - meh. Okay, so he's a spy. He has a learning disability that makes him tormented and brooding. He is also completely in love with the heroine before the story even starts, so where's the tension? Actually, they're both crazy about each other, they just can't admit it. I much prefer the slow realization of love rather than the will-they-or-won't-they stories. It would have been so much better if Harry hadn't been completely smitten from the beginning.

Honestly, I just couldn't get into this book. It took me forever to read because I just wasn't feeling it. (I can't wait for all the comments of 'but this is my favourite book ever and you ruined it you stupid harpy!') The ending was a little less annoying than the rest of the book, but by then it was far too late for me to love it.

I give As You Desire two stolen Egyptian papyruses out of five.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mother-Daughter Book Club; Much Ado About Anne

The title(s):
The Mother-Daughter Book Club; Much Ado About Anne
The author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: Simon & Schuster, 2007 & 2008
Got it from: La Library

Even if Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma's already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care, the new book club is scheduled to meet every month. But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate the drama of middle school.

I initially began reading these books because I'm hosting a mother-daughter tea at the library next month and I thought it would be fun to share some books about mothers and daughters. Admittedly, I struggled to get into the first book. There were a lot of characters and it was sometimes difficult to remember who was whose mother/brother/sister, etc.

I'm so glad I stuck with it, though, because my goodness I loved these books. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the four daughters in the club, each loosely based on one of the Little Women sisters. Shy, overweight Emma loves to read and write and wishes she weren't so poor. Her best friend Jess is the homebody who lives on a farm and misses her mother, who's away filming a soap opera. Cassidy is the tomboy who lives for hockey. Megan is rather bitchy, but a talented artist who eventually makes peace with the rest of the group.

The setting (Concord, Massachusetts) provides the perfect backdrop for exploring both Little Women and the girls' lives as young adolescents. So many of the activities the girls engage in reminded me of the fun times my friends and I used to have growing up (sleepovers, skating parties, school plays). That, combined with my girlhood love of Little Women, is probably biasing me toward this book. I don't care.

Sure, some of the book is a little unrealistic. One of the moms is a famous model and another a TV actress. Everything falls into place a little too perfectly at the end. Did I mind? Not a bit. While some of the scenarios were far-fetched, the relationships between the mothers and daughters were not. It's so refreshing to see a positive portrayal of friendships between female family members, since most books have them tearing each other apart like shrews.

The second book, Much Ado About Anne, is even better. The book club reads Anne of Green Gables and their lives inevitably become more complicated as they hit their teens. There's even the blossoming of romance - the awkward exchanges between Emma and her archenemy's brother are particularly sweet and totally take me back to those early days of first crushes (so much more realistic than some books that I've read recently *cough*Twilight*cough*). I've forgotten how much fun it is to read about those still-a-kid-but-growing-up books. I'm definitely going to have to put more on my reading list in the near future.

I'm really forward to reading more in this series. There's at least one more coming out in September (Dear Pen Pal - ooh, wonder which book they'll be reading?) and here's hoping it's not the last.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Beyond Heaving Bosoms

The title: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels
The authors: Sarah Wendall and Candy Tan
Publication: Fireside, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, here's the rundown: it's basically two women singing the praises of the good and trashing the bad of the romance novel industry. The site features book reviews, cover snarking, lots of swearing, contests where readers can earn dubious-sounding peerage titles (see my sidebar for details) and, well, man titty. This is their book.

If you're looking for a dead serious outline of the genre, complete with reading lists, I'm afraid you're out of luck. If you've ever been teased for your love of romance novels, don't take them too seriously and enjoy things that make you laugh, this book is for you.

And oh, did it make me laugh. I kept going into my husband's office with, "you have to hear this!" so many times, eventually he grabbed the book from me and started reading it himself. I knew when the back cover promised to examine, in detail, the "hero's untamable Wang of Mighty Lovin'" that it was going to be a good time.

The SB's are at their best when they're (lovingly) tearing apart the worst of the worst. You know all the clich├ęs about romance novels: the impossibly beautiful women, the oiled men sporting mullets, the stock storylines: they're all examined with much snarkage. They hit the nail on the head in their discussion of Old Skool vs. New Skool romances and why women today wouldn't put up with the heroes of Old Skool romance (raping ahoy!). Their discussion of how romance covers are made is actually quite informative and I loved their interview with John DeSalvo, who's posed for approximately 1 trillion romance novel covers. (He's right behind Nathan Kamp, who's posed for 1 scrillion covers. My goodness, that man is everywhere!)

The weakest chapter by far is Chapter WTF: Defending the Genre. I've always been a little dubious about the SB's claims of being feminists. Anyone who admits to admiring Dan Savage and giving her husband's friends Playboys as gifts (ew! And gross!) is immediately suspect in my opinion. They give a good analysis of why the genre is degraded by so many but fail to offer any really good comebacks. I was really disappointed in their discussion of how to defend yourself against charges that romance is chick porn. Their answer (porn is in the eye of the beholder) was lame. I can think of two good defences: the sole purpose of romance novels is not to titillate, and it doesn't do so at the humiliation and degradation of another human being. Oh well. I can't expect everyone to have the same grasp of Feminism 101.

That chapter aside, there's some great stuff in this book. The Choose Your Own Adventure parody at the end, "Choose Your Own Man Titty," was worth the price of the book alone ("How angry is the captain when you're finally unceremoniously dumped back in his cabin? a) coldy furious or b) blazingly angry?") Hilarity aside, the writing was actually quite good. They may just have a career for themselves should should they decide to give up their website.

Rating: Eight man titties out of ten.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Party Princess, Sweet Sixteen Princess

The title(s): Party Princess, Sweet Sixteen Princess
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: Harper Collins, 2006
Got it from: Book Depot

Party Princess, aka Volume 7 is my favourite book so far in the series. Mostly because of J.P. but also because it's the most fun.

In this book, Grandmere is gloriously basking in being the manipulative monster she loves to be. She wants to buy the faux island of Genovia in Dubai but has to outbid John-Paul Reynolds Abernathy III for it. Meanwhile, Mia discovers her student government has spent all their money on recycling bins and can't afford the place they need for the senior's commencement ceremony.

So Grandmere steps in with a play she's written: Braid! The Musical. Of course it's all a ploy to give John Paul Reynolds Abernathy III's son the lead role. And the son turns out to be the Guy-Who-Hates-It-When-They-Put-Corn-in-the-Chili. Mia is mortified because she's written a story about him called "No More Corn!" in which he commits suicide at the end. She also discovers that besides being kind of cute, J.P. is actually really nice to her. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Meg Cabot is really in her glory here and Mia's chaotic existence is never funnier. Braid! The Musical is (loosely) based upon the life of Rosagunde, Mia's royal ancestress who strangled her enemy with her braid the night he forced her to marry him. Rosagunde is my heroine. J.P. plays Gustav, Rosagunde's peasant lover and a fictional creation of Grandmere.

Can we just get rid of Michael now and have J.P. instead? Please?

Sweet Sixteen Princess, which took me about 35 minutes to read, takes place on Mia's sixteenth birthday. Grandmere has some big idea of taking all of Mia's friends to Genovia and airing her party on MTV. Mia, of course, freaks. This mini-novel is interesting because it actually furthers the plot rather than being purely stand-alone. Lily is now dating J.P., whom she's crazy about, but it's clear that J.P. prefers a certain princess. Oh, what a tangled web. On to Book Eight, the book that right-wing zealots tried to get banned. Stay tuned to find out why...