Royal Wedding (Princess Diaries XI) by Meg Cabot

Are you a fan of the Princess Diaries? I think I saw the first movie before collecting the books, but I don’t quite remember now. While I was happy with the way the 10th book left Mia and her friends (MUCH happier than I was with the second movie!), I had always hoped the Meg Cabot would go back to these characters. And now, we get to hang out with grown-up Mia in Royal Wedding.

Royal Wedding

Royal Wedding Front Cover (William Morrow/ HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: While now 26-year-old Princess Mia of Genovia feels self-actualized most of the time, a recent scandal with her father has her in panic mode. Her doctor suggests journaling to help her handle the stress (heh heh). It doesn’t help that tabloid reporters stalk her, wondering in the media why boyfriend Michael hasn’t proposed yet. Mia has no qualms about Michael, but she wishes the tabloids, and her grandmother, would stay out of it. When Michael does pop the question, Grandmère thinks she’s going to take over the wedding and make it an appropriate royal affair.

In the meantime, Mia makes another discovery…she has a young half-sister. In typical Mia fashion, she’s much more concerned with bonding with the girl and bringing her into the family than considering any scandal the press will cause. It’s also her priority to protect the girl, Olivia, from the culture shock Mia herself experienced upon finding out her royal status.

MY TWO CENTS: The author does a great job of showing that while Mia has matured, she’s still very recognizable as the neurotic teenager we know and love. We get to visit with the whole gang; in addition to dating Michael, Mia is still best friends with his sister, Lily, and her other close high school friend, Tina, who has maybe broken up with rock star Boris, or maybe not. Mia also employs a few former schoolmates in the community center she founded and even has a social media “friendship” with her ex-rival, Lana. The incorporation of all the former high school comrades feels natural and not at all forced.

We DO get to witness the proposal, but one disappointment; there’s not much description of the actual wedding. At that point, the action becomes so frantic that the reader is left with a recap of the wedding instead of an actual viewing. I would have much preferred to be “present” in real-time than finding out bits and pieces later. I felt that was a bit of a letdown; after all, the book is called Royal Wedding. But it’s a minor point in comparison to all the fun that’s going on.

Incidentally, biracial Olivia is getting her own spinoff series, starting with From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, releasing May 19 from Macmillan. A princess for a new generation!

BOTTOM LINE: A fitting continuation of the “Princess Diaries” series. If you grew up with the books, you won’t want to miss this satisfying installment.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 2, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Full disclosure: I have not read Water for Elephants or any other book by Sara Gruen. I haven’t seen the movie. A friend highly recommends Water for Elephants, and it’s on my “to read” list. So I thought when I had the chance to read the author’s new book, At the Water’s Edge, I would request it. I’m glad I did; I enjoyed it very much.

At the Water's Edge Front Cover (Random House)

At the Water’s Edge Front Cover (Random House)

THE PLOT: Maddie Hyde grew up with a crazy mother and detached father, so she made a “society” marriage to escape. Her husband’s parents don’t approve of the marriage, and fear that Maddie will end up mentally ill like her mother. They ought to be more concerned about their son, though, whose obvious addiction is only the tip of the iceberg of his secrets. Ellis has avoided service in WWII by being conveniently colorblind. His and Maddie’s best friend, Hank, is also conveniently flat-footed, so the three of them spend their time partying while other people their age are at war. After a final, devastating falling-out with Ellis’s father on New Year’s Day 1945, the three friends leave Philadelphia for Scotland to search for the Loch Ness monster. This isn’t a random event; Ellis’s father was obsessed with hunting for the monster and was disgraced after being accused of fabricating his evidence. Ellis figures if they can get proof, his wealthy father will welcome him back into the fold.

Of course, traveling across the Atlantic during wartime is no picnic, and “accommodations” in Scotland are sketchy at best. The trio stay in a tavern run by Angus, a man who was previously believed killed in action. He has little use for Ellis and Hank’s shenanigans, but Maddie starts to grow up as she makes startling discoveries about her husband and marriage. She enjoys making her first female friends ever in the tavern workers and gradually begins to understand that despite her partying lifestyle, she hasn’t really been living at all. As Ellis becomes more and more sinister, Maddie begins to fear he’ll have her declared insane and locked up for good to take control of her money.

MY TWO CENTS: I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, and I had a little trouble getting into the first two chapters. After that, I became really involved and didn’t want to stop reading. I found Maddie a sympathetic character who grew throughout the book. I felt her situation becoming more desperate, and hoped she would eventually have the courage to get away from Ellis. I did feel that the storyline with Angus was predictable. Wondering how everything would be resolved kept my interest, though. I hoped Maddie would get a happy ending and Ellis would get what he deserved, and I wasn’t disappointed.

BOTTOM LINE: A really good read that I didn’t want to put down once I was into it. A little predictable toward the middle, but satisfying in the end.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available March 31, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

I titled my Amazon review for this this ARC “Wars of the Roses for Game of Thrones Fans.”

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird Front Cover (Penguin Group USA)

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird Front Cover (Penguin Group USA)

 

THE PLOT: The book starts with the arrangement of the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, which includes the return of French territories Anjou and Maine to France. Surprisingly, Englishmen living in those areas aren’t wild about giving up their homes to the French, so lots of fighting ensues. In the meantime, Henry VI is mentally incapable of running a kingdom. The book only covers up until the Duke of York becomes protectorate, so this is all really preliminary setup for the actual Wars of the Roses.

MY TWO CENTS: Many of the current popular books on the Wars of the Roses are more romantic historical fiction, or told from women’s points of view. This first book in a new series is a lot more brutal…lots of battles, torture, and hangings. It’s also told from all male points of view with the exception of Margaret of Anjou. Narrators trade off, much as the Song of Ice and Fire books do, and include both real historical characters and purely fictional characters. (However, the writing is nowhere near as dense as the SOIAF books; it’s a much quicker read, and I don’t think the word “craven” has been used…but “boiled leather” has!)

BOTTOM LINE: Some of the scenes were a little too brutal for my taste, but overall, I found it an antidote to some of the other more romantic books. If you like fictionalized accounts of historical battles, you will probably enjoy this book. The next book in the series is titled “Trinity,” and I definitely have it on my “to read” list.

TEACUP RATING: A solid 4 out of 5 teacups. I like the writing, love the period covered, and ended up sympathizing with most of the main characters. I don’t love reading about torture, though. (Does anyone? Really?)

ON SALE DATE: This book will be available in the US in hardcover and eformats on July 8, 2014. I believe it went on sale earlier in other markets, such as the UK.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

A coworker suggested this book to me, and she was right: I read it as fast as my eyes would let me.

Ghost Bride Front Cover

Ghost Bride Front Cover (William Marrow/HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: It’s a little hard to explain. In Victorian-era Malaya, Chinese-descended Li Lan is approached by a wealthy family to become a ghost bride for their deceased son, Lim Tian Ching. While taking the offer would guarantee her comfort for the rest of her life, she’d also be stuck as a “widow” forever. Her father, an opium addict, wants her to make the deal to ensure her future, but Li Lan declines. Then her prospective ghost husband starts haunting her, his family starts “courting” her, and she becomes enamored of the family’s new heir, Tian Bai. But Lim Tian Ching believes his cousin Tian Bai poisoned him. An unexpected incident catapults Li Lan into the spirit world and on a journey of discovery.

MY TWO CENTS: My coworker recommended this book because she knows I love the Miyazaki film “Spirited Away,” and she said this reminded her of that. I completely agree. If you liked “Spirited Away” or any other Miyazaki film, then you will probably like the style of this book. The plot meanders around through different characters who appear and disappear from the narrative, but everything ties together in the end. Put another way, it’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland style of book. I’ve seen negative review points that focus on the style, so if you don’t like this disjointed style, you may not like the book. I knew going into it what to expect, so it didn’t bother me at all.

I was also inspired to do a little research on the custom of ghost brides. It was interesting to find out more about the beliefs of other cultures.

BOTTOM LINE: I LOVED this book. I read a library copy, but we’ll be investing in our own copy. Remains to be seen if that will be hardcover, trade paperback, or electronic, but I definitely want to own this book. [EDIT: we picked up a hardcover, but an ebook is not out of the question.]

TEACUP RATING: Five plus teacups out of five from me. LOVED IT. Hoping for more from this author, possibly even a sequel?

ON SALE DATE: The book is currently available in hardcover and ebook formats, and will be released in trade paperback on August 5, 2014.

Dark Angel by Sally Beauman

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Dark Angel E-book Cover (Open Road Media)

Every once in a while, you run across a book that makes you want to skip work, stay up all night, and just…keep…reading. You can’t stop thinking about the characters and wondering what secrets are coming next. For me, Dark Angel by Sally Beauman was one of those books.

THE PLOT: The book follows three generatrions of an upper-class English family and the very disturbed little girl they adopt, and her effect on the entire family. The story is framed by the narrator, Victoria Cavendish, who relates the story of her family…including her godmother, Constance Shawcross. Ten-year-old Constance is adopted by the Cavendish family in 1910, and spends the next 60 years manipulating, twisting, and blackmailing; essentially wrecking the lives of her four adopted brothers and pretty much everyone else in the family. She torments each brother in a different way, chooses a husband that fractures the family, and ultimately becomes guardian to orphaned Victoria. She raises Victoria with love and ferocious jealousy, keeping Victoria from the man she loves and from forming a family that would take her from Constance.

The book also centers around an accident or murder that occurs in 1910. Is it a murder? And if so, who is the murderer? Everyone had motive; some had opportunity. But how did it happen?

MY TWO CENTS: It took me the first few chapters of Victoria’s searching for Constance in New York to really get into the book, but by the time it turned back to 1910, I was enthralled. Constance is a HIGHLY damaged child who becomes an unbalanced and sometimes dangerous adult. However, she’s also intelligent and sometimes likeable, and you pity her. You can’t help rooting for her and hoping she’s punished at the same time. Make no mistake: this book is VERY disturbing. There are descriptions of child rape, horrific death, kinky sex, pornography, suicide, pet trauma…basically anything you’d find in an original V.C. Andrews series (NOT the ghostwritten messes of recent years).

The relationship between Constance and her eventual husband also reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Constance marries a man who understands her, the only one who really gets what a malicious, scheming lunatic she is, and yet loves her all the same. But Constance’s love for someone else, plus all her issues, just keep the couple from ever really connecting and being happy. The reader sees the marriage breaking down and thinks, “If only they’d communicated at this moment…if only she’d said…if only he…” The reader becomes very emotionally involved in the narrative.  You feel for every character.

A great portion of the action takes place in 1910, and then between 1914 and 1919, so the time period should be very attractive to Downton Abbey fans. You also see some of the “Upstairs, Downstairs” interaction between the family and their servants.

BOTTOM LINE: An absolutely enthralling book, well worth the read. Just be warned: this is a LONG book (800 pages in hard copy format), but you will not want to stop. Also, I’m glad I already have another Sally Beauman book to read, because I’m interested in checking out all her work.

TEACUP RATING: Definitely 5+ teacups. Even though I have the digital copy, I may also invest in a hard copy to have on hand. It’s just that good.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice

Heavens

The Heavens Rise Front Cover (Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster)

I had never read a Christopher Rice book before, but the description intrigued me. After reading this book, I’ll be likely to read more of his work.

THE PLOT: The story primarily follows two main characters: Marshall Ferriot, who is a violent maniac even before he obtains supernatural powers, and Ben Broyard, the gay best friend of Niquette (Nikki) Delongpre. Teenage Nikki and her parents go missing one night after Marshall sticks a snake in their car as revenge for Nikki’s rejection of him. Marshall had arranged for Nikki to believe her boyfriend, Anthem, was cheating on her, so he could move in. Nikki befriended Marshall, but turned him away when he made his move. But it was too late; they had both picked up an ancient parasite in the pool Nikki’s parents were having dug. The rest of the book is mostly a supernatural mystery: what really happened to Nikki and her parents eight years ago? How did Marshall really wind up in a coma, and how do people die violently near him? Ben, now a reporter and helped by recovering alcoholic Anthem, works to piece together the truth.

MY TWO CENTS: This book contained elements of two of my favorite horror books: Stephen King’s IT and Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. (My sincerest apologies to Mr. Rice on pulling his mother into the conversation, but I can’t help the comparison when this book is set in New Orleans with a rich, unresponsive, wheelchair-bound main character who also has supernatural powers.) However, it’s not nearly as terrifying as either of those two books, which gave me nightmares in young adulthood!

BOTTOM LINE: This is a good book for Halloween week. It’s not overly scary, and the reader is carried along easily through the story. And really, isn’t New Orleans a great setting for a horror story? (Yes, I’ve been watching American Horror Story–Coven. ‘Tis the season.) I really liked the character of Ben as our hero, and Marshall was a totally deplorable villain.

TEACUP RATING: I give this book four teacups…I think I wanted a little more from the ending. However, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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