Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ahead of its Time: The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries #1)
Turtleback Books, 2000

The year was 2000. The world at large had not, in fact, ended in the midst of Y2K concerns, however my world might as well have. Not that I'd loved elementary school, but compared to junior high... Junior high was proving to be another planet. So imagine my joy when I found Mia Thermopolis. She was struggling with her new school and the ridiculous world of algebra, too. Only I hadn't also just found out that I was a princess and heir to the throne of a small European country.

I have been a longtime fan of Cabot's work, and my summer break from school felt like a perfect time to revisit this series that I loved when I was younger, but never got around to finishing. I'm also a fan of the movies, but they are completely different from the events Cabot laid out here. In the first book, readers meet Mia, a sarcastic Manhattan teen who is a little bit oblivious to life, is failing algebra, is mortified that her mother is dating her algebra teacher, has a best friend who isn't always the fuzziest person ever, has a hopeless crush on the most popular guy in school, and on top of all of that finds out that due to her father's recent bought of cancer, the chemo has left him sterile and now she is his only heir to the throne of Genovia. Then comes Grandmere, the dowager princess and current leading royal who comes to stay at the Plaza Hotel and torture her granddaughter via "princess lessons." All Mia wants is a date to the Cultural Diversity Dance, is that so much to ask?

I flew through this book over the course of a few hours, the style of it like a conversation with a best friend, and I am excited to continue in this series. Also, it was nice to revisit my first ever book boy crush, Michael Moscovitz :)

In my opinion, contemporary fiction is where Cabot shines brightest, both in the YA and adult arenas. She has characters that feel familiar, like you really could be friends with them even though they are often in extraordinary circumstances. In Mia, I found a fictional friend who I loved growing up with, and I told Cabot as much when I met her a few years ago at my second ever signing event. And remember, back in 2000, YA wasn't really a "thing" yet. Cabot often shares the story of trying to find an agent and publisher for this book in the mid/late 90s and how it was a struggle because the story was too old for the children's section, but too young for the adult's. Thankfully, the HarperCollins family was willing to take a chance, and the rest is history.

If you're in the mood for a fun, light read to take you out of reality for a little while, pick up The Princess Diaries - you'll be glad you did.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Meg Cabot's Website
Meg Cabot on Twitter
Meg Cabot on Tumblr

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, Stringbean and Goose

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.


Story: Stringbean and Goose
Author: Laura Goode
Summary: Plain-faced performance artist and YouTuber Stringbean spends her time making videos of ugly things with her friend Goose, but is she so focused on the ugly side of life that she can't recognize beauty and good when it's right in front of her?
Thoughts: A little weird, but this story did grow on me after a while. I have mixed feelings because I didn't really connect with these characters, but I did find Goose in particular to be a kind and interesting soul. I was interested enough to want to know the outcome, but other than that, I don't have strong thoughts on this one.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond Her Years: The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Scribner, 2014

Five days after she graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a job lined up at The New Yorker and a promising writing career ahead of her that had already won her numerous awards and accolades in college, 22 year old Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. At the same time that her family and friends were mourning her loss, the world was being captivated by some of her final words. Her final essay for The Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," was going viral online, getting over 1 million hits in a matter of days.

It is the piece which lends its title to and kicks off this collection of stories and essays compiled by Keegan's family and former teachers. Some were written for classes in high school and college, others for the newspaper, but all act as windows into this bright young woman. In many ways, she was wise beyond her years, her works venturing into avenues and topics that I am now embarrassed to admit I scarcely thought about when I was 21 (and could/should dedicate more of my time to now at 26). Yet, she always sounds 21. A smart 21, a 21 with an impeccable vocabulary and earnest desire to paint the world in an honest light, the sort of honesty that is raw and unapologetic, occasionally tinted with rose-colored hues but only when the situation deserves it. The collection as a whole stands as a testament to this woman's potential which was already flourishing under the tutelage of some of the country's greatest professors and no doubt would have grown even stronger in time had she had more of it.

Of the nine fiction selections, most of them take on characters older than the writer herself and in a variety of situations. I was intrigued by the complications and two sides of relationships in "Cold Pastoral" and moved by the notions of love and family in "Hail, Full of Grace." Of the nine essays, "The Opposite of Loneliness" had me immediately contacting a friend of mine to declare "stop whatever you're doing right now. You have to read this." "Stability in Motion," an ode to her first car, brought back loving memories of my own first set of four wheels, the freedom, the portable home I'd made for myself. I also could empathize with her struggles in "Against the Grain," not in the sense of having Celiac disease (I don't), but in how she was both impressed and embarrassed by the lengths her mother would go to to protect her.

I highly recommend this collection to those looking to deviate from their usual reading selections. While perhaps not groundbreaking material, Keegan's style and voice is refreshing and full of possibility - something those of us who are lucky to still be here could do well to keep in mind in the days we still have.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

The Opposite of Loneliness Website

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starr-Eyed, Becca First

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.


Story: Becca First
Author: Alex Flinn
Summary: Meghan desperately wants to be a better singer than Becca, but does she realize the price they both pay for the things they each think matters more?
Thoughts: This addition to the anthology is a sad, raw look at people who don't understand each other in a "the grass is always greener on the other side of the street" situation. I didn't have very strong feelings about either of these characters, however I was able to empathize with both of them to a degree and could understand each of their points of view.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Story Book Ending: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2014

Isla is the smartest person in her class, but feels like she only knows a few things for sure. One is that she has no idea what she wants to do with her future. The other is that she's had a hopeless crush on Josh Wasserstein for the last three years. Only after a chance encounter one summer night in Manhattan, maybe it's not so hopeless. When they return to Paris for their senior year in the fall, a romance blossoms faster than Isla ever could have hoped for, and falling in love is more wonderful and intense than she ever could have imagined. But the couple soon discovers that while their love comes easily, it also comes with challenges from their families, friends, and future plans. Will reality get in the way of Isla and Josh getting their happily ever after?

Where oh where to begin?! Stephanie Perkins delivers a heartfelt contemporary romance here that is a definite departure from her previous two books. While I live for the tension that comes with two characters coming together, this novel instead focuses on what happens next: the work of a relationship. For Isla and Josh, falling for each other is easy, but making things work is a whole other story. Perkins doesn't shy away from the challenges, instead she puts them front and center. School rules. Expectations from family and teachers. Wanting to spend all your time with that one special person, but needing to remember your friends who are just as important. It can be overwhelming, and sometimes Isla makes choices that made me cringe, but that's what growing up is all about. She's a girl with good intentions and a good head on her shoulders, so while she does make mistakes, she also learns from them, as does Josh.

Isla is a character I can see many readers identifying with. Applying to college undecided was something I have personal experience with and know how terrifying it can be. She has always played it safe, reading about adventures instead of having them herself. Josh makes her want to branch out, and yes, sometimes those risks end in disaster, but sometimes she also flies. One of my favorite things about Isla is her friendship with Kurt, her best friend since forever, and how they understand (and misunderstand) each other. The relationships with her sisters was also fantastic, especially that with little sister Hattie. Sure Isla is worried about how well does she really know Josh since they haven't really known each other that long, but she's known Hattie her entire life and finds that she doesn't know her so well, either.

And of course, there's Josh, the artist who tries to come off as indifferent and aloof, but is actually brilliant, talented, and cares far more than he ever lets on to most people. He and Isla at at their best when they are blunt and honest with each other (if not always with themselves). There's plenty to swoon about here, and I had butterflies more times than I can count while reading.

While each of Perkins's books can stand on their own, I do believe they work best if thought of as a series and read in order. Anna and the French Kiss starts things off, and I believe that Isla is most like a sequel to that one in that we meet Isla and Josh there, so you have a much stronger understanding of who they were before they were Isla-and-Josh. Timeline-wise, this novel is taking place at the same time as Lola and the Boy Next Door, but if you read this one first, there are major spoilers about the other two books.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I do have a few minor points to pick at. I absolutely loved the tension and build up especially in Anna but also present in Lola. Josh and Isla's relationship moves very fast in comparison. Part of me would have liked things to been a bit slower for the sake of wanting that build up but also just because I'm a "let's take things slow" kind of person. However, I know that for plenty of people, a relationship that jumps in full speed is realistic, perhaps more so than my notions.

All in all, I'm so sad that this collection is at an end, but I'm so happy that it's around. I know that I will enjoy rereading this whole set in the years to come. So thank you, Stephanie, for giving hopeless romantics and shy girls like me plenty of stories to fill our daydreams and making me believe that while my own happily ever after is taking his time showing up in my life, hopefully he's on his way.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Stephanie Perkins's website
Stephanie Perkins on Twitter
Stephanie Perkins on Tumblr

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Video Review - Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla is finally here, and let me tell you, she was worth the wait.

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, The Artful Dodger

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.


Story: The Artful Dodger
Author: Aimee Friedman
Summary: Ruthie's first summer at Camp Backstage is full of dramatics on stage and off.
Thoughts: A cute and heartbreaking read, but the ending felt abrupt and unresolved (which was clearly intentional, but it still didn't sit well with me). No particularly strong feelings on this quick story.