Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, Austria-Hungary, 1853

elisabeth-theprincessbrideAuthor: Barry Deneberg
First Published: 2003
Publisher: Scholastic
Series: The Royal Diaries
151 pages (hardcover)

For my next Royal Diaries book, I decided to read about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. I don’t really know anything about her, so I didn’t have any preconceived expectations or anything like that.

I’ve read a fair number of Royal Diaries books (including this one on Elisabeth, I have read 12 of the 20 books in this series), so from my experience so far, I think this book is the most put-together one. Some of the other diaries were just, well, diaries, where the princesses talked about their day to day activities and barely any plot happens. This series is meant to educate kids about not only these historical figures, but also about what life was like back in their respective time periods, so I understand why some of the books were written that way. I was very pleased to find, when reading this book, that it managed to fit in an actual story as well, instead of just talking about what Elisabeth did every day.

This book on Elisabeth begins with herself, her mother and her sister being summoned to meet the Emperor of Austria and his mother, Princess Sophie. The reality of the meeting is that the mothers have paired up the 23 year old emperor with Elisabeth’s 18 year old sister. However, when everyone met, the Emperor found himself smitten with Elisabeth instead. He asks for her hand in marriage, which shocks Elisabeth. She had not expected this at all, and what’s worse, she’s afraid her sister will hate her for this. However, she, too, really likes this handsome young emperor¬† so she accepts — well, also because her mother really wants Elisabeth to accept so at least ONE of her daughters can become Empress of Austria.

Even though Elisabeth is happy to be marrying the Emperor, she is absolutely intimidated by her future duties as an Empress. As the day of the royal wedding approaches closer and closer, Elisabeth finds herself more and more uncomfortable with imperial life. Yet, she must endure …

Like I said, it was great that this book actually had a story and I enjoyed reading it. It’s extremely short, only about 100 pages — the rest of the book is the epilogue, historical notes, family tree and pictures, which is roughly 50 pages on its own! While the story presented in this book is interesting, Elisabeth’s life after she was married would have made an even more fascinating story, I think! In a tragic sort of way. Of course, the Royal Diaries series focuses on the princess’ and queens’ childhoods since it is a series aimed at children.

Anyway, I digress. This is definitely one of the better Royal Diaries books of the series, short and sweet!

My Rating:

The Poisoned Crown

thepoisonedcrownAuthor: Maurice Druon
First Published: 1956 (2014 in English)
Publisher: Harper
Series: The Accursed Kings #3
294 pages (paperback)

Book number three of The Accursed Kings series. Last we left off, Louis X was still on the throne, his wife had just conveniently left the picture for him, and he was setting his eyes on Princess Clemence of Hungary. Louis had already shown himself to be a bumbling idiot of a king who cannot handle being wrong on anything, so let’s see how he continues to ruin his father’s legacy in this book.

In The Poisoned Crown, Louis successfully becomes betrothed and then, married to Princess Clemence of Hungary. Clemence thinks she is a pretty lucky lady, given that she is already 22 (an old age to be married at in those times, for a noble) and had thought she would end up going to a convent. However, she soon realizes being Queen of France doesn’t make her very happy and her husband isn’t as charming as he seems. Louis, continuing his streak of bad decisions, decides to go to war against Flanders, which ends disastrously.

In the meantime, Robert of Artois and Mahaut, Countess of Artois, are still arguing and bickering over lands like they have been since book one. This time, however, they have involved King Louis into the matter. Louis wants to resolve their differences peacefully, but is forced to pick sides when they refuse to relent in their accusations against one another. Mahaut is outraged at the conclusion and plots the downfall of King Louis.

I definitely liked this book better than the last one. The last one was centered on the rivalry between the Charles, the Count of Valois the Rector-General of the kingdom, Enguerrand Marigny, and was very political in nature, which is sometimes hard for a non-political person like me to understand, even though I did overall enjoy that book. This one is more about family ambitions, which is more up my alley. If you want pure family drama, this book is it.

Clemence is a new character introduced in this book. Even though she’s a solid goody-goody kind of girl, I liked her because she seemed to have an uncanny ability to bring out the best in others around her. And she is so innocent and sweet, no one would try to harm her. Of course, sometimes it was frustrating that she cannot see, or refuse to see, the ‘evil’ that is in the hearts of others. In such cases, it was a little frustrating having a character that’s so solidly in the “Good People” camp. However, I do hope that she and her baby will make it out of this story alright, considering what usually happens to the royal family in this series!

The most infuriating (and I say that in the best way possible) part of this novel is Mahaut, the Countess of Artois. I was like, “God damn it, just give your nephew [Robert of Artois] back some parts of his lands!!” And it’s not like I particularly like Robert that much either, but I do feel really bad that his inheritance got stolen by his greedy aunt. In the previous two books, she was merely an annoying old lady (to me, anyway), but in this book, she has definitely become more selfish. Her daughter was imprisoned a couple books ago, and instead of simply wishing for her safe return like any loving, caring mother would, she thinks about if her daughter is released, and is Louis dies with no heirs, her daughter could get a shot at being Queen of France (since she is married to Louis’ brother). What a strange way of thinking about things like this! Ugh, I hate Mahaut, I hope she meets her end soon (but I don’t want to Wikipedia her actual historical self to spoil things for myself, haha).

Definitely looking forward to the next one.

My Rating:

India Black

India_BlackAuthor: Carol K. Carr
First Published: November 2010
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Series: Madam of Espionage Mysteries #1
296 pages (paperback)

I discovered this series via Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed …” recommendation section. The combination of a promise of exciting espionage by a femme fatale kind of character and the gorgeous cover had me persuaded to give the book a try. Also, I love the time period this book takes place in, during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Bizarrely enough, despite the word “mystery” being used to describe this book (it’s right on the cover!), it’s not a mystery novel at all. At least, I don’t think so … The story is about a woman named India Black who is a madam that runs a whore house in London, called the Lotus House. She becomes pulled into an international crisis of some sort when one of the clients of her establishment dies inside Lotus House. Said client is a pretty high ranking government official, who was supposed to be carrying a briefcase with top secret military documents that could be very detrimental to Britain should they fall into the wrong hands — such as Russian hands. India is forced/blackmailed by the Prime Minister of Britain and a government spy agent nicknamed French (real name is confidential) to help them in retrieving this briefcase that was stolen from the Lotus House. India becomes engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase with Russian spy agents as they both race to be the first to retrieve these documents.

If any part of it is a mystery, I suppose it’s when India was just trying to figure out who the gentleman was that died in her brothel, but that was solved very early on. I really don’t think this is a mystery at all. It’s certainly a thriller kind of novel though, and action oriented. Another thing about this novel that might throw you off is that the plot summary and even the cover of this book look “serious” and “cool”– however, it’s actually humorous. I read some reviews where people said the characters were kind of ‘idiotic’ and certain plot points is nonsensical or bizarre, in a “why the heck would they do that?” kind of way. I really think it is all intentional, as my impression of the novel is that it’s all meant to be sort of comedic. No, I don’t buy the reason why the British government would recruit a brothel madame to help them retrieve top secret documents and various other events in the book, but I never, for once, felt this was a serious, realistic espionage novel. So I was able to easily suspend my belief and enjoy the ride.

With all that being said, I actually found myself quite enjoying the story. Mainly because I found it funny. The plot is kind of predictable, but India’s wittiness, sarcasm and humor held my interest. And you know what, it was just a plain ol’ fun novel to read. It didn’t take itself seriously, and it was so easy to slip into the story.

I think the main shortcomings of this novel is that it was packaged all wrong (not really a mystery, looks too serious on the outside); as well, the official book premise includes a promise of India starting to develop feelings for the British spy agent French … but that never happened in the book!! To be fair, I did get a vibe that India and French were to be an item in the future, however, this vibe came from my own ‘intuition’, if you will, about how characters in such novels usually end up. I don’t think I could find much contextual evidence to support this vibe I have. I think there was only one scene where the two of them had a slightly meaningful conversation, but 99% of the time, they were just bickering at one another.

So, all in all, initial expectations from the book’s premise and book cover could be potentially disappointing, especially if you thought you were getting a certain story but really wasn’t. However, overall, a very fun book and a series that I would love to continue reading.

My Rating:

Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia, England, 1829

victoriaAuthor: Anna Kirwan
First Published: November 2001
Publisher: Scholastic
Series: The Royal Diaries
219 pages (hardcover)

This time around in my reading of The Royal Diaries series (one of my absolute favourite childhood series, though I never managed to read ALL of them when I was a kid), the focus is on Queen Victoria from England. I am really interested in Queen Victoria, but it’s hard to find historical fiction on her (I only know of two novels that are about Queen Victoria, including this one). There are lots of books that take place in the Victorian Era, but very few where Queen Victoria is the main character … sad!

This book is about Victoria when she was 9 to 10 years old. The book centers around her childhood and her relationships to the various people in her lives. In particular, she is fond of the king of her time, George IV, who she calls Uncle King. She doesn’t have the strongest relationship with her mother, but does love her; unfortunately she is under the influence of John Conroy, her mother’s comptroller, who also is hoping to rule over Victoria (through her mother). For unbeknownst to Victoria, Uncle King’s heir (his brother) is most likely unable to have children with his wife, making Victoria, their niece, very likely to become Queen of England one day.

One thing that stood out to me in this Royal Diaries installment is that the writing actually feels more authentic to its time period than others. I mean, I understand some of the Royal Diaries are going to have a difficult time making the writing seem authentic to the time period when the princess writing it isn’t even supposed to know English. But some of the other Royal Diaries do take place in European countries and none of them had writing that felt as “real” as this one.

Like most of the other Royal Diaries books, this book is also mainly concerned with the day to day life of little Victoria in 1800’s England. Maybe that would be more interesting to a child reading this book (which I realize is its intended age group); I thought it was just okay. I wouldn’t say I’m really knowledgeable in what life was like in 1800’s England, but I probably know more than a child reading this book, so probably the educational portion of this novel would be much more fascinating to a kid. This book has not much action, I’m afraid. Towards the end, it gets a little more exciting (though I use that word in the relative sense) when Victoria begins to piece together how the inheritance of the throne of England is going … and her shock when she realizes it could be her, though she tries to brush it off at first.

All in all, it was a solid read with both pros and cons. I’m just glad to read something on Queen Victoria, there should be more his-fics on her life!

My Rating:


reachedAuthor: Ally Condie
First Published: November 2012
Publisher: Dutton
Series: Matched #3
512 pages (hardcover)

If you’ve read my reviews for the first two books of this series, you might be wondering why I bothered reading book three, Reached, at all, since I didn’t really like the first two books that much. Well, my line of thinking was something like, “I’ve come this far, it’s the last book.” I didn’t really care about how the story was going to end, but I did want some sort of closure with the series. Well, I got to the end and it’s pretty much the same as the first two books, though somehow this one managed to be even more boring.

So, the Rising (the rebellion) is supposed to be up and fighting the Society in this final book.During all this, there is a Plague going around and our main characters are trying very hard to find the Cure for. Even worse, the Plague mutates, so that their previous Cure no longer works and they have to find a new one. And of course, during all these events, it is expected (as the third and final book in the series and all), that Cassia is going to finally make a proper decision between Xander and Ky, the two boys who are in love with her.

It all sounds very exciting, but it wasn’t. I thought book two was going to be the most boring book in the series, but I was wrong: book three is! The first 300-ish pages of this book, it honestly felt like nothing was happening. There is nothing that happens that sticks out in my mind. There was just so much “fluff” writing. It felt like the author wanted to be “deep” and thoughtful in her writing, but none of it was convincing. And while I normally like poetry, I don’t buy what this book (or rather, this series) has done with poems. They become almost like a form of currency, people trading bits of poems to get what they want. Why would a bunch of rebels who can’t even write decide that poetry was worth anything? I hardly think their Society mandated education would help them learn how to appreciate poetry, especially poetry that was written decades or even centuries ago. Maybe modern poetry … Anyway, I digress …

I kept expecting the Rising to finally do something against the Society. But there was no fighting, no nothing! I don’t NEED there to be actual fighting to be interesting, but I did expect something exciting to go down. Instead, I got this super anti-climatic realization from Cassia that the Rising and the Society are one, that the Society engineered the Rising to make people think there’s change and be satisfied. The reveal was not very exciting and the events that followed this realization were pretty boring!

The love story between Cassia, Xander and Ky ended very predictably too. I did not expect the “leftover” boy to find love too, but he did. That didn’t make me feel happy though. I feel that having the “leftover” boy find true love suddenly just undermines the “leftover” boy’s feelings for Cassia during the entire series. If he can love another girl so soon after Cassia makes up her mind about who she wants to be with, then he never truly loved Cassia at all, you know?

I don’t feel satisfied after reading this final book, but I can’t really say I’m disappointed either. I just feel nothing, like none of it mattered.

My Rating:

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

the_ocean_at_the_end_of_the_laneAuthor: Neil Gaiman
First Published: June 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books
181 pages (hardcover)

For whatever reason, I have been coming across Neil Gaiman’s name a lot lately (probably read it in some articles dealing with Hachette and Amazon or whatever). When I saw this book at the bookstore, I recognized his name. It sounded like a fantasy-esque novel and I’m a big fan of fantasy … so that’s how I ended up reading this book.

As someone who has never read a Neil Gaiman book in my life, let me just say this wasn’t fantasy — well, not really. Definitely magical though. It’s kind of hard to describe the story. Okay, I admit, it’s sort of fantasy, but not it is also definitely not your usual flavor of fantasy. The story reminds me a lot of something that Studio Ghibli would create (Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio that created such classics as My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle). If you’ve ever watched a Studio Ghibli film, then you’ll probably understand what I mean when I say the fantasy in this novel is a lot like a childhood story that is “darker” somehow, and very dream like, like you’re not sure where the line between real and not-real is.

The story centers around a nameless seven year old boy. The time is the 1970’s (I think). The boy lives with his mom, his dad and his sister, in a large house that is sometimes rented out to passersby and other miscellaneous people. The boy has no real friends and spends much of his time engrossed reading books. One day, he makes friends with an 11 year old girl named Lettie Hempstock who lives at the farmhouse at the end of the lane. She says she’s 11 but shies away from answering the boy’s question of how long she has been 11. Lettie also insists the pond at their farmhouse is an ocean, and that she and her mother and grandmother sailed across this ocean from the old country to where they are now a long, long time ago. So, some things are already not what they seem to be.

Some strange things and dreams have been happening to the boy and Lettie lets him know she knows what is happening. She takes him across the farm to what seems to be a completely different world. There, they encounter (in the boy’s opinion) some frightening things. During their trip, the boy lets go of Lettie’s hand, which she explicitly told him not to do. When the boy returns home, back in his own world, his mother introduces him to the new babysitter/nanny, and the boy knows that there is something terribly off about this woman, something scary and demon-like about her. The rest of the story primarily dealt with banishing this babysitter/nanny, back to where she came from.

I know I just made it seem like the plot is crystal clear, but believe me when I say the story isn’t that clear-cut and there aren’t straight forward motives. I admit, sometimes I got confused with what was going on, especially since there is such a dream-like quality with this story. However, I found myself rather enjoying this book despite that, staying up till the wee hours of the day to read just one more chapter. I think what I liked about this book is one of the messages of the story, which was packaged together nicely in a quote that I can’t find right now, but basically, that there is really no difference between adults and children. Adults may act like they are in control all the time and know what they’re doing, but inside, they are the same as they always have been, the same as when they were children. And it made me miss being a child.

Another great quote I fell in love with was, “Did I pass?” …. “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” Like every person on the planet, we have all had our own difficulties and challenges to embrace while growing up, transitioning from child to ‘adult’, and this quote made me feel … relieved. Like, despite it all, no one can truly judge you and decide your worthiness as a person.

My only ‘complaint’ about this novel was that it was so short, and yet the hardcover price is ridiculously high. I mean, I know hardcover books are expensive but come on, this book doesn’t even break 200 pages and yet costs just as much as my hardcover books that are 300-400 pages.¬† (No, this is not the reason why I am giving this 4/5 stars). Anyway, I’m interested in reading more of Neil Gaiman’s books in the future. I didn’t realize he wrote Stardust and Coraline (which are movies, I believe?) so maybe I will start with those, who knows?

My Rating: