Book Reviews

Review Notes: The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, The Rose & the Beast, Princess Ben

I’m back! I finished all my finals yesterday, and I’ve already started reading as many books as I can. I’ve finished five so far this week! Reading books this quickly means it’s pretty tough for me to keep up on reviews, but since I don’t want to get too far behind I’ve decided to do mini reviews instead of full ones. Or, not mini reviews, since these thing turned out pretty long, but “review notes.”
I’m feeling super lazy after pumping out so many essays in the last few weeks, so these’ll mostly be lists of my impressions and main thoughts instead of a coherent paragraph. At this point I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just write some haikus, but I think that’s a little above my current capacity for thought at the moment. It took me three tries just to write this and make it sound good!
So: please forgive me if these aren’t up to my usual review standards, but I hope it’s better than nothing and that you’ll enjoy reading them. I expect I’ll probably be doing this all winter break, to be honest. The reviews will be grouped into threes, so here’s the first set:
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Publication: Puffin; Reprint edition (June 25, 2009), Paperback, 304pp / ISBN 0142413380
Genre: Mystery, MG/Children’s
Read: November ?, 2009 – December 13, 2009
Source: Publisher

If it hadn’t been for Lucas’s photographic memory, they might not have remembered the man. It had been almost a year since she and Kari noticed him copying a famous Rembrandt painting in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. But now in the National Gallery in London, they spot the same guy, copying another Rembrandt. Then, when a never-before-seen Rembrandt painting is discovered in Amsterdam, the girls begin to suspect the truth. Convinced that no one will believe them without hard and fast evidence, the teenage sleuths embark on a madcap adventure to find the forger and bring him to justice. (From Amazon)

– Protagonists were very YOUNG 14 year olds. They’re supposed to be in high school, but they seemed very naive re: stuff like…oh yeah! Those women standing on the corner of that sketchy part of town are prostitutes, not just random girls hanging out, and so maybe you shouldn’t dress like them and sneak out of your hotel room while your mom is away and go to that part of town, DUH. And they’re supposed to live in Minneapolis! But maybe they were super-sheltered? Or just, uh, stupid naive.
– It’s obviously a MG book but sometimes it seems like it’s trying too hard to be “good” or parent-safe. There was a big thing about substituting “meep” for swear words. wtf? I understand the point, but it would have been less annoying to just not mention it at all and not have the girls swear as a natural personality trait, or something.
– Still, it was interesting mystery with BIG thrills. I actually go so nervous for the protagonists that I had to put it down for a few weeks.
– It’s a really good for younger kids. Scary in some parts, but the story is good and I think practically everyone would enjoy it (except maybe mall goths?). It’s just that some parts annoyed me and the characters were slightly unrealistic– something I tend to have problems with in MG books, unfortunately.
– I have the next book and I’ll read that one, and hopefully when I do I’ll be less grumpy!

The Rose & the Beast by Francesca Lia Block
Publication: HarperTeen (August 7, 2001), Hardback, 240pp / ISBN 0064407454
Genre: Fantasy, Teen
Read: December 14, 2009
Source: Library

With language that is both lyrical and distinctly her own, Francesca Lia Block turns nine fairy tales inside out.
Escaping the poisoned apple, Snow frees herself from possession to find the truth of love in an unexpected place.
A club girl from L.A., awakening from a long sleep to the memories of her past, finally finds release from its curse.
And Beauty learns that Beasts can understand more than men.
Within these singular, timeless landscapes, the brutal and the magical collide, and the heroine triumphs because of the strength she finds in a pen, a paintbrush, a lover, a friend, a mother, and finally, in herself.

– I’ve never read a FLB book before! I did have an assumption that she wrote the sorts of books that teens fall in love with and model their life after (or something like that, anyway). I was kinda worried that I wouldn’t enjoy her books because I’m no longer a teen and a lot of teen antics annoys me now, but I figured this would be fine because it’s fairy tale retellings and how angsty could that be?
– Yeah, more angsty than I thought. Also this is turning out to be more like a regular review! How ’bout that?
– The stylistic elements stands out more than the writing– kind of like The Sounds & the Fury or Ulysses, where the style takes point instead of the actual story– even the page layout overrides the text. It (the text) is all squished together inside these huge margins, and while it’s cool (it feels like a secret, magic book, almost, very intimate) it also kept distracting me.
– The retellings were like a framework of a story rather than a full story. I suppose you’ll just have to read it for yourself to see, but it wasn’t straightforward and clearly understandable, like…I don’t know. Agatha Christie? It was more non-corporeal, more spiritual, like stream of consciousness stuff. Maybe The Sound and the Fury is a good example again.
– There was an interesting combination of past and present in the retellings. I often didn’t know when a story took place until maybe a character pulls out a cell phone, but until that point it feels like a long-ago time. I liked the drama of the old + new.
– Liked some stories better than others: snow, charm, bones, beast.
– Nevertheless, it wasn’t entirely my thing– too…aware of itself, maybe? But I also don’t like the sorts of books that fans of The Bell Jar and, I don’t know– Morissey! seem to like, so it probably just is my personal taste.
– Just a random thing, but I couldn’t help notice overwhelming hetereosexuality of the stories. Although there’s a lesbian story somewhere in the middle, it just seems kind of weird there’s not more retellings with gay characters. (I know about Ash– I’m reading it now. Are there more fairy tales with gay characters as protagonists?)

Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (March 18, 2008), Hardback, 344pp / ISBN 0618959718
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Children’s/YA
Read: December 15, 2009
Source: Library

Benevolence is not your typical princess and Princess Ben is certainly not your typical fairy tale. With her parents lost to unknown assassins, Princess Ben ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia, who is intent on marrying her off to the first available “specimen of imbecilic manhood.” Starved and miserable, locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben stumbles upon a mysterious enchanted room. So begins her secret education in the magical arts: mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire . . . But Ben’s private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat facing the castle and indeed the entire country. Can Princess Ben save her kingdom from annihilation and herself from permanent enslavement?

– Ben really annoyed me for a lot of the book. I know she’s sheltered, and naive, and spoiled, and she even says all that herself. But she doesn’t bother trying to change until the very end, and even then it’s because of a negligible outside influence. She’s a princess! I know she wasn’t raised like the heir to a nation (and I don’t know WHAT her parents were thinking, not even to educate her in the ways of ruling a country), but still. Have some responsibility, please!
– Also, I couldn’t really get any sympathy up for her for anything outside of her parents dying. Oh, you’re living in a nice castle, being terrorized into learning graces and other basic stuff rulers need to know? How HORRIBLE. I understand that queens (and princesses) need to know more than just dancing and small talk and that Ben must have been scared out of her mind, living with her “enemy,” but, I mean, c’mon. It wasn’t THAT bad. Grow up a little quicker, y’know?
– I did like the little touch about Ben (over-)eating for comfort rather than sustenance. It was a nice subtle emotional thing that gave the story layers.
– The story had a lot of start something exciting-STOP now we have to do something boring. The beginning was extremely exciting, but I nearly gave up in the middle it was so dull! Luckily something shocking happened soon after that and I kept reading it.
– I did like the romance, although I think it (and the rest of the plot) resolved way too neatly.
– If you don’t think about the plot holes until the very end of the book it’s very enjoyable, but unfortunately I had trouble doing that.
– I had a lot of problems with most of the book, but I like the basic idea and it wasn’t HORRIBLE. Ben-as-an-adult (and as a better princess) seemed really lovely, but the way she acted when she was younger (the MELODRAMA) just killed my connection to her.
Bookmark and Share


  • Jenny

    Congrats on finishing finals! I’ve been wondering about Francesca Lia Block for a while, but I’m still undecided about whether to read one of her books. I mean I support banned books! but hers sound a bit strange, and not necessarily in a good way. 😛

    • Anastasia

      I think they’re good for a certain set of girls, some of which I knew in my teens but that I have a hard time describing. They’re sort of…emotionally fragile? And they think about dark stuff a lot, and are maybe generally unhappy but want to be happier and try to do that by writing poetry and doing art and…stuff. You know? Sort of…the girls who don’t fit into neat slots but still want something that they can relate to/respond to. Something like that, anyway.
      I think I’m pretty slottish so I can’t completely related to FLB’s books, but I do appreciate the space they fill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.