Fifteen by Beverly Cleary

My last post talking about my gateway book got me thinking about my favorite Beverly

Cleary novel which I discovered in 6th grade, Fifteen. Beverly Cleary is probably best known for her middle grade books about Ramona Quimby but she also wrote several good teen reads. Fifteen is my favorite of these.

Even though it was written and set in the 1950s, I can see a lot of parallels between Fifteen and my own teenage years in the 1980s. Jane Purdy, the main character, meets dreamy Stan Crandall one summer afternoon while babysitting a rambunctious 8 year old. That was pretty relatable. While cute boys can be few and far in between, they can show up in the most unlikely places. Thanks to a family with two teenaged brothers who moved to our neighborhood the summer before my sophomore year, I too had similar babysitting capers. I even remembered meeting a boy at a church function once and a week later he called and asked me to go to the movies. Unlike Jane, however, I was not excited about the encounter, nor did I think he was dreamy so I told him no. Looking back I realize I was not only a brat to this poor boy but I probably missed out.

Jane’s approach to Stan was also very relatable. She spends entire days getting ready for their dates (the description of her clothes is fantastic) and

gets insecure when she doesn’t hear from him on a regular basis. She even displays some of my own bratty behavior when she turns down an invitation to a school dance from another boy because she was waiting for Stan to ask her. Karma comes back to bite her when she finds out Stan is taking another girl and poor Jane is faced with days of misery assuming that her time with dreamy Stan Crandall is over for good. She even displays some scandalous behavior (well, scandalous for back then) that she is immediately ashamed of.

If you are not familiar with this delightful teen novel I highly suggest you pick it up. In addition to taking a time capsule back to the 1950s, you may also remember some of the spark you had for similar experiences in your own teen days. You will also get to find out what Jane does to get her mojo back.

I will forever love Fifteen by Beverly Cleary and give it a permanent Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

*You can get this dress from pintuckstyle’s etsy shop

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What Was Your Book?

What was your book? I’m talking about the book that got you reading. My friend Mandy at the Romance Bookie tells the story of when she first discovered the Princess Diaries books and those got her reading. Mine was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White read to class by my 3rdCharlottes Web grade teacher. I loved that book so much I wanted to read it over and over again so I asked for a copy of it that year for my birthday. I think I was eight.

I woke up early that year. My dad was eating breakfast and my mom went off and came back with my birthday present, a hard cove r copy of Charlotte’s Web. It wasn’t even wrapped. I still had an hour before it was time to get ready for school so I started what has become one of my favorite morning traditions. I sat down and read.

What an easy birthday that must have been! No special or extravagant gift. No party that I can remember. Even then I was a homebody loner and didn’t enjoy having more than a few friends over for a big birthday party. That year all I wanted was to read Charlotte’s Web.

Journey to AmericaReading became a regular part of my life. Back in the 1970s children’s literature was serious stuff! Dogs died and there were wars. I read a lot of books about Jewish children growing up in World War II Europe like Diary of Anne Frank, Journey to America and The Upstairs Room. I read the Little House books which established my love for historical fiction. I read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maude Hart Lovelace. I stayed away from fantasy books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. These were too weird for me. I did however enjoy A Wrinkle in Time. I think it was the chemistry between Meg and Calvin.

I loved making trips to the Livermore Public Library. I even got a job there when I was in high school. My friends Lisa, Lynda and I would spend summer afternoons sitting aroundLisa Lynda Karen reading reading. Even when our families went camping Lisa, Lynda and I would read while everyone else went off hiking or tubing. Sending me to my room was never a punishment because I would just pick up a book and read. My mom always said that my teenage rebellion was sitting in my room for hours reading Harlequin Romances.

My adult reading life has been sporadic. In college I could only fit pleasure reading in on winter and summer breaks. When I graduated and started commuting on public transit I discovered daily reading again. Several years later when I had to start commuting by car I was at a loss. Without public transit when would I read? It took me a long time to “figure out” how to read for pleasure when you are a busy working adult. Now I carry a book around with me and steal minutes while I’m standing in line or waiting for Jerry. And I also steal a few minutes in the morning before work, just like I did 40 years ago on my Charlotte’s Web birthday morning.

What was your book?

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From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

If you’re keeping track, the big Royal Wedding is still 38 days away. I know. It’s a longMiddle School Princess time to wait to catch up with Mia and Michael and Grandmère. There’s also supposed to be a bunch of fun storylines including  the discovery of Mia’s long lost half sister. But guess what? Next month you can meet said sister, Olivia Grace, in Meg Cabot’s newest middle grade novel, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.

By some strange and wonderful miracle Meg Cabot’s publisher, Feiwel and Friends sent me an advanced reader’s copy of the book so I’m thrilled to give you my review early! (Which by the way, is my own opinion and is no way influenced by the fact that I got the book for free.)

In a lot of ways I was more excited about Middle School Princess than Royal Wedding. I have a special affection for middle grade fiction and I was also fascinated with the teased storyline of Mia’s long lost sister and was anxious to meet her. A part of me was expecting a rehash of the original books and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case.

Like Mia, Olivia also keeps a diary which is how the story is told. Otherwise, the two sisters are not very much alike. The biggest difference is that Olivia is nowhere near as neurotic as Mia. She takes everything in stride and seems to have a good head on her shoulders. Unlike Mia, Olivia does not have a complete meltdown when she finds out she’s a princess. In fact, she is more concerned about meeting her father for the first time. While there are plenty of new characters we also get to see some of our old friends including Mia, Grandmère and Mia’s (and Olivia’s) dad, Prince Phillipe. I enjoyed this aspect of the book very much, especially that they were from a different perspective, Olivia’s point of view.

I found this book extremely tender and….oh gosh I’m embarrassed to admit…I even cried at one point. It was this quote:

I’d wave to my mom in heaven out the window, but I don’t want anyone to see me and ask who I’m waving to and then think I’m being weird, waving to the angel of my mom.

I believe there will be more book in this series and I absolutely can’t wait for them! I give this a Relaxed Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating relaxed

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Princess in Waiting by Meg Cabot

I’ll admit, the first time I read Princess in Waiting, volume 4 of the Princess Diaries seriesPrincess in Waiting by Meg Cabot, I wasn’t that excited. Don’t get me wrong, I think the series as a whole is great! But there’s something about book 4 that makes it different from the rest of the books. I thought about what that might be during this current read and I think it’s the fact that book 4 is missing controversy and build up to some big event.

In Princess in Waiting the big event is Mia and Michael’s first date and the only controversy is Mia’s insecurities about how much Michael likes her. The first time I read this book I was kind of disappointed with the lack of excitement but this time around I kind of liked that quality. With all the drama and surprises of the first three books I was glad to relax a little in book 4 where Mia settles in for her second semester of high school and finds out what it’s like to be Michael Moscovitz’s girlfriend.

The other big difference about Princess in Waiting is the first half which takes place in Genovia, not New York City. Mia is, of course, bored to tears spending her Winter Break in Genovia, not to mention wild to see Michael. I, of course, loved reading about all the princessy deliciousness of the royal palace and all the activities Grandmère has lined up for Mia.

Mia’s neuroses, especially where her relationship with Michael is concerned, did get a tad on my nerves in this book. However, her constant advice seeking about romance did make for an amusing quote:

Somewhere between the two of them – Grandmère and Lilly – must lie the truth to maintaining a successful relationship with a man.

Hesitation notwithstanding , I still give this book a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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The Bastard by John Jakes

I first read The Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes when I was in high school. EarlierThe Bastard this year after Jerry and I watched Sons of Liberty on History Channel I got a hankering to read the first book in the series again so I ordered a copy of The Bastard.

The first thing that struck me when I got the book was the length. It’s 528 pages. I can’t imagine reading a book that long when I was 16 but I clearly did because much of the story came back to me the second time and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more.

The first half of the book takes place in Europe starting in 1770. Phillipe Charboneau, the main character, is 17 years old and learns that he is the illegitimate son of a nobleman and heir to his fortune. Unfortunately Phillipe’s attempt to claim his father’s money doesn’t go over well with the rest of the family. They are a vengeful set so Phillipe changes his name to Philip Kent and travels to the American colonies. He lands in Boston in 1773, just in time to become involved with the rebel uprising that sparked the Revolutionary War.

In addition to having romantic relationships with large breasted women on both continents, Philip becomes acquainted with several historical figures including Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Through his association with these people as well as dramatic events in his own life, Philip experiences significant historical events firsthand. He helps throw tea into Boston Harbor. He joins the militia and is one of the minute men during the retreat of the British at the Battle of Lexington.

The development of Philip’s character is interesting. He seems more like a conduit to tell a story and after 500 pages I still did not feel like I “knew” him like I did the other people in the book like Anne Ware and Marie Charboneau. That said, Philip certainly does grow and mature in the 5 years that cover the story. Jakes also very cleverly parallels Philip’s own character and inner struggles to the development of the colonies themselves. In fact, a thought that Philip has sums up the theme of the novel quite nicely and gets my award for favorite quote:

“…if America as a whole dared to seek what Sam Adams openly desired – total independency – she would be, in a sense, what he had been from the beginning: a bastard child thrust into a dangerous world alone and unprotected.”

I enjoyed this book very much. While I do have some interest in the characters and their personal stories, I loved the tie in to American history and how it relates to the characters lives. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and can see myself keeping the books around so I can read them again. I give this a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Princess in Love by Meg Cabot

Have you read Princess in the Spotlight yet? If not, you better go do that before you readPrincess in Love this review because I’m going to break it wide open with all sorts of SPOILERS with my review of book three in the Princess Diaries series, Princess in Love. OK, you’ve been warned. Here we go….

If you already read Princess in the Spotlight you know that Mia’s mom and Mr. G got married and Mia is going to be a big sister. (wow, felt good finally letting that all out) You also know that Mia’s secret admirer is….drum roll please….Kenny! Oh.

Yep, Mia has a boyfriend and he’s her lab partner Kenny. That must be why the book is called Princess in Love, because Mia is in love with Kenny. Or is she? We all know that Mia has had a crush on someone else for some time now. While she spends a lot of time thinking about this other guy, she also has plenty of other things to worry about in this book. Really important things like finals and Christmas shopping and her trip to Genovia where she will be officially presented to the Genovian people as Her Royal Highness Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo. Oh, and let’s not forget about French kissing.

Yes, even though Mia finally has a boyfriend, she still hasn’t entered the territory of French kissing and she’s quite concerned about it. She not only has no expertise in this area (thus the need for a well written how-to guide from the fabulous Tina Hakim Baba) but Mia is not even sure she wants to share her tongue with Kenny. She eventually does get to experience kissing of the French variety but you will have to read for yourself to find out who the lucky garcon is. I will tell you what Mia learns about the art of French kissing though:

“It isn’t gross if you’re in love with the guy.” *

Want to know what my rating is? Like you even have to ask! I give Princess in Love a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B all the way!

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

*or as I discovered in 1984, you’ve had a California Cooler or two.

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Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot

Volume 2 of the Princess Diaries series, Princess in the Spotlight, starts up with some Princess in the Spotlightreally big news, another huge life event that Mia has to get used to. I won’t tell you what it is but I’ll tell you this much: Mia takes the news a lot better than she did when she first found out she was a princess.

On the royal side, Mia is getting ready for her first big interview with Beverly Bellerieve on the prime time news show, “Twenty Four/Seven.” Unfortunately the interview doesn’t go very well. Mia ends up blurting out all sorts of information that makes life rather difficult for her.

Besides the interview there’s plenty of other fun things going on in the book. There’s sleepovers and weddings AND Mia starts getting notes from a secret admirer! He’s someone who professes to like Mia well before she became a princess. I know who you’re thinking…I thought it was that same person as well when I read the book the first time. I won’t spoil it for you now, but you better hurry up and read it because I’m going to break open this whole thing when I talk about book 3, Princess in Love.

It was during this second read of Princess in the Spotlight that I remembered why I love Grandmere so much. During the wedding scene (I won’t tell you who’s, you’ll have to read to find out) Mia gets a chance to show Grandmere how much she’s learned about being a princess in such a short time with this beautiful quote:

‘’”…a princess, no matter what kind of adversity she is facing, has to put on a brave face and not hide behind her wealth and privilege.”

There’s no question about the rating, of course. It get’s a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B all the way. 

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Mourning in Miniature by Margaret Grace

I was first introduced to the Miniature Mystery series of books a few years ago at a time when I least expected it: I was visiting the local craft shop. I was chatting to the store owner about how I was looking for supplies to build furnishing for my dollhouse. Next thing I know she was telling me about a local writer, Camille Minichino, who built miniatures and also wrote mystery books under the pen name, Margaret Grace. She gave me a copy of the first book, Murder in Miniature and I was on my way to becoming a fan.

Later that night I cracked open a copy of the book and entered the world of Lincoln Point, a fictitious Bay Area town that, based on the description, sounds an awful lot like Castro Valley except it’s located on the Peninsula (i.e.: Silicon Valley) near Palo Alto.

Other than the fact that she gets herself involved in horrid murder investigations, the main character Geraldine Porter (“Gerry”) is right up my alley. She is not only a retired school teacher and grandmother to 10 year old Maddie (I have a sweet spot for old ladies, seeing as how I’m practically one myself) but she is a miniature enthusiast. Each book in the series features a specific miniature project Gerry or one of her friends is working on that gets tied into the story.

In the most recent book I read, Mourning in Miniature, the project is a miniatureMourning in Miniature replication of the hallway lockers in the local high school where Gerry first taught. It was created by a friend and member of the local craft group, Rosie Norman in honor of her upcoming 30 year reunion.

As I write this I realize I have a lot in common with Rosie Norman. First of all, I too am looking forward to my 30 year high school reunion this year, although I haven’t constructed a miniature model of my locker – yet! In addition to this, like Rosie I am a bit on the frumpy side, love miniatures and also love to read. I also like to hang out with old ladies.

Luckily this is where the similarities end because by chapter 4 Rosie is the main suspect in the investigation of the murder of the high school football star. Since the football star from my high school is a great guy (his signature phrase is: “Love ya! Nade Cali Style!) I think he’s pretty safe from an unlikely demise at our reunion. Also, if I was the suspect in a murder investigation, I don’t think I’d have a great friend like Geraldine Porter to try to clear my name. You’ll read have to read the book to find out whether or not Rosie really did it.

I pride myself in being able to pin the killer before the main character does in some of the mystery books I read but this is one that had me stumped till the end. In addition to the mystery, we also get a new character that may or may not present a little romance for Gerry. Seeing as how she is a widow with a precocious granddaughter and an active crafts group, I’m sure Gerry could use a little romance. I’m looking forward to see where it goes in the next book, Monster in Miniature.

Overall, I think Mourning in Miniature was a great read. I give it a classic Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating classic

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The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Like many of her devoted fans, my first introduction to Meg Cabot was The PrincessThe Princess Diaries Diaries. I read the series several years ago and oh my what a joy! I’ve been looking forward to reading the series again and the anticipation of book 11, Royal Wedding which releases on June 2, 2015 seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Just like the first time, my second read of The Princess Diaries did not disappoint. Written in the first person, the book is the diary of high school freshman Mia Thermopolis. Starting on September 23 we find that it is the first few weeks into the school year of New York City’s Albert Einstein High School and Mia has a big problem: Algebra. She is not only flunking the class but she has just learned that her mother is dating the teacher, Mr. Gianni.

As if the Algebra problem isn’t enough, Mia then finds out that her father has been keeping a very important secret from her: he is the Prince of a small European country, Genovia and as his sole heir Mia is a Princess who is one day expected to take over the reign.

Finding out that you are a princess sounds like every girl’s dream, but Mia is smart enough to see past the glamour and money. Being the ruler of an entire country sounds like a horribly stressful proposition!

Despite the seriousness of the matter, the tale of Mia’s first month of royalty is delightful and funny. As she struggles with this new identity Mia finds out who her true friends are and also meets a few new ones.

While Meg Cabot wrote several great books before this, The Princess Diaries which was published in 2000 is truly her best work. In all of Meg Cabot’s books you can tell there is a little piece of herself in the main characters but Mia and her friends have a little something else that makes them very special. I’m not sure what it is but maybe in this next read I’ll find out.

If you are looking for a fun teen read, or want to find out what I find so special about Meg Cabot, please do read The Princess Diaries. I’m sure it’s no secret that I give this one a full fledged Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance bookI’ve mentioned before that I like reading historical fiction. Of this genre, my favorite is fiction based on real historical icons. Therefore, when I saw Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund I snatched it up.

I’ve been a fan of Marie Antoinette ever since high school French class when Mrs. Berard spent a week lecturing us on the French Revolution in French. Because I was a horrible student I had to spend extra time with Mrs. Berard after class so she could explain everything to me again in English which had me entranced. Prior to the help in English, the only thing I remembered was that the infamous quote “Let them eat cake” was actually “Qu’ills mangent de la brioche.” Brioche is not really cake, but actually a fancy sweet bread made with lots of eggs. According to Mrs. Berard, Marie Antoinette said this during the Paris bread riots.

Most modern day historians now agree that Marie Antoinette did not in fact insensitively suggest that the hungry peasants of Paris should eat brioche if they were out of bread. This includes Sena Jeter Naslund. In fact, the quote is not even addressed in the book. A tiny part of me wishes that it was. Otherwise, I loved the book.

In Abundance, we get an intimate and picturesque look at the life of Marie Antoinette that does seem very believable. One of Naslund’s sources was letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and her mother. Many letters appear in the book and while I do not know if they are the actual depictions, I’d like to believe that the tone was at least duplicated. Even as the character develops, which Naslund does very well, she maintains her sense of youthful sweetness and naiveté.

In addition to Marie Anotinette, the reader also gets a good picture of the other people in her life, including her husband, Louis XVI. When we first meet him he is portrayed as dull and awkward but grows into a thoughtful and sensitive man as the marriage progresses. According to Naslund and several other historians, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s marriage was not consummated for several years. (Note: Mrs. Berard left this part out entirely.) Marie Antoinette’s frustration, as portrayed in this book, became my own and I am now interested in reading biographies of Louis XVI. I have yet to find anything that speculates that he was gay so I’m dying to know: what the hell was his problem?

If you paid attention in history class (or like me, you had to get your French teacher help translate your notes) you know Marie Antoinette’s fate. Maybe because of the spoiler, the end chapters about the last year of her life were my favorite.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a deep intimate portrait of one of my favorite historical figures with plenty of new details I will pick up in subsequent readings. I give this one a shrimp coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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