Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventh Book Review: “Crystal” by V.C. Andrews

“Crystal” by V.C. Andrews is the second book in the Orphan series. This book follows the orphan Crystal who is adopted into an interesting family. The father is a peculiar penny-pincher and the mother is a soap opera fanatic. The couple approaches Crystal very differently and she soon finds herself trying to help solve the problems of her adoptive parents – most specifically that of the mother.

Shortly after being adopted, Crystal starts to understand just how strange her adoptive parents are. The mother comes off as a bit of an airhead. “Isn’t it wonderful to have a husband like Karl who can keep you from making the wrong decisions?” (Crystal, pg 12-13). Statements like these give the impression that Crystal’s mother feels content to let her husband make all the decisions – easy and hard alike – so that she can continue to live a life run by the television shows that she is so dedicated to. She is constantly trying to rope Crystal into staying beside her on the couch so they can watch the shows together. Crystal realizes very early on that her adoptive mother is living through the characters on her soaps. Then her adoptive father is full of advice and guidance that for whatever reason, he cannot bring himself to extend to his wife. ““Balance, Crystal,” he explained. “That’s what makes life truly comfortable, maintaining balance. Assets on one side, liabilities on the other. Everything you do, everyone you meet has assets and liabilities. Learn what they are, and you’ll know how to proceed.” (Crystal, pg 25). I liked this quote and found it a little odd at the same time. He talks about balance as if it is so important, but does almost nothing beyond adopting Crystal, whom he had hoped would be a positive influence, to get his wife to stop obsessing over television shows.

It was an odd book, that’s for sure. Crystal was a likeable enough character, although a little overly serious for a child. But acting older than you are makes sense for someone that was raised in an orphanage. The relationships that she develops with other kids her age were interesting. She didn’t behave like most kids do when trying to forge friendships, instead she refused to conform and pretend to be someone that she isn’t and was therefore, able to bypass friendships that would have been hollow.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. I like V.C. Andrews’s writing to a point. It’s okay. For the most part, the books are easy to read, and there is the added bonus with this series that the books are very short, so it isn’t a huge time commitment. I found parts of “Crystal” to be mildly entertaining and I’m intrigued about the rest of the Orphans series. But this book isn’t for everyone. It is one of those books that when it was done, it didn’t linger. I wasn’t emotionally attached to it or any of the characters. That is what I really look for in a book – a full reading experience with characters that I care about. And that isn’t really something that I found while reading “Crystal” by V.C. Andrews. But if you’re looking for a book to stash on a chair that you sit in for a few minutes, “Crystal” will work quite nicely.

This one quote I just had to include: “I hated promises. They were like those balloons I had seen drifting in the wind. They had shape until the air escaped, and then everyone forgot them.” (Crystal, pg 163)

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixth Book Review: “Finding Audrey” by Sophie Kinsella

“Finding Audrey” by Sophie Kinsella was so good. It’s her first young adult novel and I was a little apprehensive about it because of that, but I really enjoyed this book. So much so, that I was literally laughing aloud while reading it on the train on my way into work and I devoured it in one day. It was amusing and entertaining, but it also covered a much deeper issue and I think Sophie Kinsella did this well.

When we meet Audrey, she is suffering from an anxiety disorder that surfaced after an unpleasant incident at school. She had a complete breakdown and had to leave school and spend time in the hospital while she got over the worst of it. Now she is staying at home, working on her recovery, which is a very slow process. She cannot be around other people, and she wears dark glasses all the time. “Finding Audrey” is about her trying to pick herself back up again, and while she is doing that she is interacting for the most part only with her immediate family. I really enjoyed Audrey’s family. She has the overprotective mother that takes advice from the articles she reads in the newspaper a little too seriously, “She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the Imaginary Daily Mail Judge, who constantly watches her life and gives it marks out of ten.” (Finding Audrey, pg 19). Her older brother Frank is moody and always playing video games, and Felix, her 4-year-old brother is just hilarious. ““I will fight the chicken pops with my sword,” he says importantly. “I’m a very strong fighter.”” (Finding Audrey, pg 53). Audrey’s dad is great, he’s supportive and sweet, and frequently living in his own world removed from the conversation.

Besides her family, Audrey goes to see her doctor on a regular basis, which is the only time she ever leaves the house. Her doctor gives her some homework: she asks Audrey to get a video camera and make a movie. Audrey is instructed to be a fly-on-the-wall and just observe for a few days and then to try to work up to interviewing her family, and then try interviewing someone outside of her family. What I found really neat about this was that once she was given this assignment, the book was split up between a narrative and a screenplay, which was a lot of fun.

I liked that Sophie Kinsella had Audrey wearing dark glasses to guard herself from the outside world. Audrey gives a bit of an explanation about the dark glasses, “…if you ask me, most people underestimate eyes. For a start, they’re powerful. They have range. You focus on someone a hundred feet away, through a whole bunch of people, and they know you’re looking at them. What other bit of human anatomy can do that? It’s practically being psychic, is what it is.

But they’re like vortexes too. They’re infinite. You look someone straight in the eye and your whole soul can be sucked out in a nanosecond. That’s what it feels like. Other people’s eyes are limitless and that’s what scares me.” (Finding Audrey, pg 27). I thought this was a pretty powerful and insightful statement.

Would I recommend this book? Definitely – it is something that would be especially enjoyable to the female readers out there, but that doesn’t mean that guys wouldn’t like it too. I almost feel like it would be a good book to share with any parents that find themselves in a similar boat as Audrey’s parents. It’s fictional, sure, but reading about Audrey’s illness from her perspective could help some parents better understand why some things work and other things don’t, and how it is a slow process to get better. I think it is a great book to read for entertainment’s sake, but it could also be used almost as an educational tool for anyone in a situation similar to Audrey’s.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifth Book Review: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a very interesting read. It is a short story that I got for free through BookShout. I didn’t even realize that the 2008 movie with Brad Pitt was based off of the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald until I saw it as an option on the ‘free books’ list. I haven’t even seen the movie, but my interest was peaked and so I began to read “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” on my iPhone whenever I had a spare moment.

One thing that really struck me when reading this story was how everyone in Benjamin Button’s life seemed to blame him for his existence and the oddity surrounding it. He was born an old man and his father forced him to behave like the child he was expected to be. He was put in the nursery and given children’s toys to play with and expected to eat what a child would eat. After he once broke something he received a form of praise, since it was something that a child would do. “Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something every day, but he did these things only because they were expected of him, and because he was by nature obliging.” (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, pg 3). I thought this was a sad quote, very early on it is established that Benjamin wants nothing more than to please those around him. He goes out of his way to try to act as he is expected to act based off of his age, not his reality.

Normally, I am not one for shoving my interpretation of symbolism into my book reviews, but I couldn’t help it with this story. It seemed to me that Benjamin Button was an excellent example of anyone that is slightly different and how those that are different in one way or another are constantly being told to be normal, or at least what society believes should be normal. The example that really shone through to me was that of homosexuality. There are still many people out there that believe that being gay is a choice; that it is something that people chose to do, rather than the truth, that it is just a part of who you are. Expecting people to change, to pretend to be what they are not, is a part of everyday life in our current society. This is especially true for homosexuals (despite the dramatic changes towards acceptance that have come around in recent years). The way that everyone in Benjamin’s life scolded him and felt ashamed of him, it just struck me as unfair. “But there’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you’ve made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don’t suppose I can stop you, but I really don’t think it’s very considerate.” (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, pg 8). I thought this was a great example of how it was more important to those around Benjamin to blame him for the fact that they were uncomfortable and that in their opinion, he was being selfish by choosing to be different.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it was a very interesting read. In just a few pages, Fitzgerald was able to portray the challenges that Benjamin faced by being born in extraordinary circumstances. Benjamin was born an old man. The entirety of his life had a shadow of sadness to it. Everyone he should have been able to expect support and love from instead judged him and were ashamed of him. It was a sad and fascinating read.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fourth Book Review: “The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory is historical fiction set during the time of the Cousin’s War where the Yorks and Lancasters battled each other for the right to the crown. The Cousins War paved the way for the Tudors. “The Red Queen” follows Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII of England and it is the second book in the Cousin’s War series. What I really enjoy about historical fiction is, since I do not have a strong grasp of history, everything is still a surprise! Not to mention, I really enjoy Philippa Gregory’s writing. I think she mixes fact with fiction well and her writing often inspires me to spend time reading up on the history she writes about.

From a young age, Margaret Beaufort has her duties and loyalties engrained into her mind. When she is being married off her mother lectures her: “…you must know that you could never choose your own life. You are a girl: girls have no choice. You could never even choose your own husband: you are of the royal family. A husband would always have been chosen for you. It is forbidden for one of royal blood to marry their own choice. You know this too. And finally, you are of the House of Lancaster. You cannot choose your allegiance. You have to serve your house, your family, and your husband.” (The Red Queen, pg 24).

Despite knowing her fate from a young age, Margaret still wallows in the unfairness of it all. “A parcel – taken from one place to another, handed from one owner to another, unwrapped and bundled up at will – is all that I am. A vessel, for the bearing of sons, for one nobleman or another: it hardly matters who. Nobody sees me for what I am: a young woman of great family with royal connections, a young woman of exceptional piety who deserves – surely to God! – some recognition.” (The Red Queen, pg 53). I liked this passage. I think it exhibits well the kind of person that Margaret Beaufort is. She struggles with the duties that she was born into, and allows herself to wallow a bit. But she always points out that she has ‘exceptional piety’ and therefore knows the Will of God. Her relationship with religion was fascinating in my mind. The way that she was portrayed made it seem like praying was something she did to have the appearance of piety, where in reality, it was all an act. She tried so hard to prove that she had a special connection to God and she used this to prove how things must go her way because God Wills it. Multiple times while reading this book I felt my eyebrow raise up at some of her reactions to different events, and the way that she wove the world around her into a fictional truth, and that she knew what was best because of the special relationship she held with God.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, I really enjoyed reading “The Red Queen”. I think that Margaret Beaufort is a remarkable character and it was a lot of fun trying to guess what she was going to do next. I think that Philippa Gregory’s writing is easy to get into and she makes history, (which I always thought was boring), absolutely mesmerizing! This is the second book in the series, so I would recommend you start with “The White Queen”. The way that she tells her stories makes it helpful, but not completely necessary, to start at the beginning. I am already planning out which of her novels I will read next. I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author to try out if you’ve never read historical fiction before.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Third Book Review: “Fast-Pitch Love” by Clay Cormany

“Fast-Pitch Love” by Clay Cormany is a book that normally, I would never pick up. The author contacted me and offered a copy for review and, as a lover of books, of course said I would read it. I was sent an eBook version, and so I read the book in bits and pieces on my iPhone during my commute if I didn’t have a physical book with me. (Despite the craze and the convenience, I still prefer a physical book to an eBook any day). “Fast-Pitch Love” is a young adult novel that revolves around a 17-year-old named Jace who volunteers to help coach a softball team with his mother. He does this because he is under the impression that the other assistant coach is the girl he has been crushing on. His plan is to get close to Stephanie by working with her. However, his plan goes awry when it turns out the initials he saw did not belong to Stephanie, but to her sister Sylvia. At the request of his mom, and with the hope that Sylvia will be the key to getting Stephanie’s attention, Jace stays on to help coach softball.

There were several different things that struck me as I read “Fast-Pitch Love”. The first was the softball talk. I’m not a big sports person, so this probably is more about me than the book, but I found there to be a lot of technical language and more than once there was a play-by-play report of what was happening in the softball games. I found this to be a little dull. At the same time, I’m not sure if the author could really have cut much of it out because it was relevant to the story. It’s a toss-up. I’m pretty sure if I was a fan of softball and understood the game on a better level that I may have appreciated the play-by-play and been able to really see in my mind what was happening. As it was, I didn’t love that. One thing that I did really enjoy was how Cormany portrayed the sibling interactions between Jace and his younger sister. “He slumped in the chair by his desk and considered an age-old question: Where did little sisters belong on the list of extremely annoying things? Were they worse than tooth extractions, jock itch, and algebra tests? Absolutely. The misery they caused lasted so much longer.” (Fast-Pitch Love, loc 122). I thought this was amusing and I certainly can relate to the challenges of not being an only child.

What I also really enjoyed about this book was the way that Jace grew as a character. He starts out as a high school boy – focused on nothing greater than a girl he is crushing on. Throughout the book though, Jace comes up against various challenges and he rises up to them. He gains a better understanding of things beyond those that directly affect him. He learns that there is more to softball and more to love. “Each softball game was like a person’s life. It had a beginning and an end, highs and lows, as well as characteristics that set it apart from other softball games.” (Fast-Pitch Love, loc 2778). I really liked this quote and I think it portrays some of the wisdom that Jace develops further into the novel.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, not to everyone, but yes. I enjoyed it much more than I was anticipating. I’m glad that I pushed through the beginning where there was an awful lot of talk about softball. The language was a bit overly technical for me as a non-sports-fan, but there were a lot of other factors that drove the plot along and kept things interesting. Just when I felt like things were getting a little predictable, there was a change of pace or a surprising turn of event. I would pick up this author’s work again.