Series Spotlight: The Royal Diaries

I read the above three books depicted in the Royal Diaries series: Cleopatra VII, Daughter of the Nile; Eleanor, Crown Jewel of Aquitaine; and Sondok, Princess of the Moon and Stars. The Royal Diaries was Scholastic’s spin-off of the Dear America series, but wasn’t as successful, and was cancelled sooner than its predecessor. I would recommend these books to young readers interested in historical fiction, while perhaps not looking for entirely character-driven novels. I think the downfall of this series is that each book tries to document or invent a childhood for these remarkable women of history, when these women’s greatest or most famous accomplishments happened later in their lives. The Sondok story in particular was mostly fiction, since so little is known about her to begin with. If considering a title in this series, I’d suggest Anastasia or Marie Antoinette.

Book Review: Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria-France, 1769

This is a very neat little retelling/fictitious diary of Marie Antoinette’s younger years, and her days before she becomes the notorious Queen of France. The author uses her imagination to invent a childhood for Marie that girls today may relate to, and all the events leading up to her arranged marriage and the obscene pomp and pageantry she must endure at Versailles. This book, like others of its kind, paints Marie Antoinette as a sympathetic character and was originally a Scholastic Royal Diary. It would be interesting to read this and then follow it up with Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund, and then perhaps Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, A Novel of the French Revolution, to get the whole scope of Marie’s life and death.

Book Review: Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 by Carolyn Meyer

anastasiaThis book was originally part of Scholastic’s Royal Diaries series. We meet the last Grand Duchess of Russia, Anastasia, in her tender adolescence, and read all about what her life was like with her siblings, prior to the Revolution and their deaths. This diary-formatted book is a good introduction to the history of the Romanovs and the fun-loving, mischievous personality of Anastasia for younger readers.

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book rocks so hard. Junior, a modern Native American teen from the Spokane Indian Reservation, is the charming narrator of this terrific fictional diary, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by award-winning author, Sherman Alexie.

Junior aspires to be a cartoonist and tells his unique, hilarious, and heart-wrenching story in humorous, original narrative accompanied by drawings and other graphics. The reader follows Junior as he leaves school on the reservation to attend a white high school, and his experience as an outcast in both worlds he straddles. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and a novel I count among my favorites.

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

guernseyWhen author Mary Ann Shaffer passed away, her niece, Annie Barrows, took up the mantle of completing the novel her aunt had been researching and writing. The resulting product of their joint efforts is this delightful little story, entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We meet a variety of characters, including our lovable and humorous main narrator, Juliet, through letters, journals and correspondences.

This is a beautiful story about the English people recovering from the Blitz in the 1940s, and a group of friends who form a special book club. A light yet uplifting and charming read, this book is a sort of modern revival of Jane Austen. You can read it in one evening, and forever maintain an affection for it. Highly recommended to women and book-lovers alike!

Book Review: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

abundanceSena Jeter Naslund takes up the ambitious task of chronicling the life of Marie Antoinette, 18th century queen of France, in Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette. In this fictional journal/memoir, Naslund does not depict Marie Antoinette as the cold, vain and selfish queen as her reception has been throughout history. Rather, the young woman exposes herself to the reader as simply naive and misunderstood, as she shares “her side” of the story. We meet the young princess at the tender age of fourteen, when she leaves the home of her mother, Empress of Austria, to marry the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, Louis-Auguste. As Marie Antoinette tries to be a sweet and supportive wife, her young husband is unable to consummate their marriage. Not being able to bear the Dauphin an heir brings the young Dauphine much suffering.

Naslund’s thorough research on French royalty and history, and the court and culture of Versailles, is nothing short of remarkable. Most of the time, the reader has sympathy for the Dauphine, although at times her immaturity can be grating. While a very good introduction to Marie Antoinette, the author does shed a more favorable and sympathetic bias toward the queen, representing her as a compassionate, heartfelt young woman who was mortally misunderstood by the French people (and by some in the royal court). All of the queen’s negative aspects are instead left ambiguous– did she really make that error out of deliberate ignorance, or was she forced or misguided by someone else? Did she really have an affair with the French soldier, or was theirs simply a close yet innocent friendship? Either way, this is a very good work of historical fiction.

By the time I finished reading this novel, I felt as though I’d returned from an epic journey. Naslund really transports the reader to that place and time. Abundance is not easily forgotten, and I continue to carry what I’ve learned from it.

Series Review: The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Volumes I – IV

pdWhen I was around age sixteen, I read the first four of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries novels: The Princess Diaries, Princess in the Spotlight, Princess in Love, and Princess in Waiting. The books are the fictitious journals of Mia Thermopolis, a New York high schooler who is self-conscious about her flat chest and geeky status, among other things. She’s an ordinary teenaged girl in most ways: she lives with her mom, has a crush on her best friend’s brother, and loves environmentalism. But everything is about to change when she finds out that she is actually the princess of a small, European country called Genovia. Enter her formidable grandmother, grand-mere, who must give Mia “princess lessons” and is ever-displeased with Mia’s results.

I absolutely loved these books at the age when I read them. They were funny, easy reads, and sort of wish-fulfillment for every American girl who wishes she’d find out she was a princess. But as I grew older, I never finished the series.