Audiobook: Victoria

victoriaby Daisy Goodwin
Read by : Anna Wilson-Jones
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Content: There’s some illusions to sex and scandal, but mostly it’s a pretty straight-up historical fiction. Good for those who are interested in England and/or queens and/or history. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I have always had a bit of a weakness for historical fiction when it comes to royalty. I ate up the Phillipa Gregrory books about the Tudors back in the day, and I’m sure there’s more than I’m forgetting. I’ve had my eye on this one since it came out back in November, mostly because the cover is so pretty (and we all know I’m a sucker for pretty covers). I didn’t quite know what to expect about the book, though.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. Taking place over the first year or so of Victoria’s reign, it deals with her conflicts with her mother and her mother’s “companion” Conroy, with learning how to govern (and her dependence on, and infatuation with which was heavily played up, Lord Melbourne), and with finding her feet. It ends just as she meets and marries Albert, so there’s very little of the Victoria she came to be.

But the thing that kept me listening was the narrator. She was FANTASTIC. All the perfect inflections for every character, and she kept me wanting to know more about the characters and the story. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this one in print; Goodwin is an excellent writer, and she knew how to balance the personal aspects of Victoria’s story with the political ones to keep it intriguing. But, listening to it gave it the push it needed for me to really enjoy the book.


The World of Pooh

worldofpoohby A. A. Milne
First sentence: “If you happen to have read another book about Christopher Robin, you may remember that he once had a swan (or the swan had Christopher Robin, I don’t know which) and that he used to call this swan Pooh.
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Content: These are meant to be read aloud, and we started our girls on them when they were around 4 years old. That said, they’re delightful for anyone.

I was in need of comfort reading, and so what better thing than to pull out Pooh Bear, who hasn’t been read in several years. At least since K was 4 or 5. Which is definitely too long.

I’d forgotten how enjoyable and silly and wonderful these stories are. (And how faithful the Disney movie is!) I loved all the characters from the passive-aggressive grump Eeyore to the simple yet profound Pooh Bear to the small and anxious Piglet. The stories are so delightful and they made me laugh, which is something I needed. I read one or two stories each night, and I looked forward to visiting the animals every night.

It’s definitely a classic. And one that I should revisit again soon.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

tenantofwildfellby Anne Bronte
Fist sentence: “Dear Halford, When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most remarkable occurrences of your early life, previous to our acquaintance; and then you requested a return of confidence from me.”
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Content: It’s a lot to digest: a lot of characters, etc. and there’s some reference to… unsavory… things but nothing actual. If you can handle any Bronte or Austen book, then this is for you. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up on M’s recommendation (I’m not a Bronte fan); she said it was her favorite of the Bronte books she had to read in class, and that I might like it.

The basic plot is this:  a woman — Mrs. Helen Graham — moves into an empty house with her son. She soon becomes the subject of gossip in the neighborhood, and garners the interest of a young man, Gilbert Markham, who soon professes his love for her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Graham isn’t free to love, and she — through letting Gilbert read her diary — confesses all to him. And the all is sordid. She thought she was marrying a good man (or at the very least, an okay one that she could reform) and it turned out that she, well, didn’t. He was a liar, a cheat, a philanderer, and not very kind her her. She put up with it for a while, for the sake of their child, but eventually had enough and left.  Which was unheard of in 1847.

So, on the one hand: good for her! Good for her for getting her and her child out of the marriage. Good for her for sticking up to her beliefs. Good for her for staying strong.


Ugh, why do the Brontes have to be SO moralistic? Was it just a Victorian thing? Even though she was the victim, and I think her husband was all sorts of Awful, she was SO very moralistic. She had absolutely no faults about her, and was always right. Which makes for a very boring main character. It was all: oh! look at the virtuous woman and how she suffers. And I don’t mean to demean women’s suffering or the fact that they were (are!) treated badly at the hands of men. It’s just that, as a character in a book, reading about someone who is So Good is kind of, well, dull.

And then there’s the end. (Spoilers ahead.) She goes back to her husband when he gets ill (really?) because she’s So Good. And then he dies, so she’s free to remarry Markham and live happily ever after. Nice and all, but I dislike the Victorian (again!) notion that a woman is only happy with the (right) man. I’ll give Anne props for including the (right); I’m sure societal conventions were more along the lines of marry the girl off, as long as he’s rich who cares. (See: Jane Austen.) It makes me glad for how far we’ve come.

Or maybe just reading the Brontes makes me irritable. They’re all melodrama and no humor or societal observation. Give me Austen any day.

Me Before You

mebeforeyouby Jojo Moyes
First sentence: “When he emerges from the bathroom, she is awake, propped up against the pillows and flicking through the travel brochures that were beside his bed.”
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Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs scattered throughout (but not enough to seem excessive) and some talk of sex (but none actual). It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I’ve known about this one for years, and I’ve just been putting reading it off. Perhaps it’s my aversion to all things “everyone” reads (I know: I should read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, but…). Maybe I thought it would be maudlin and depressing. The movie came out (and went, here), and I still didn’t really feel much of a need. Then, as summer book bingo is winding down, I had the “Everyone But Me Has Read” square, and I figured this was what needed to fill it.

(I’m assuming y’all know what the plot is.) What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I enjoyed it. I loved Lou; she was smart and spunky and real. I loved her relationship with Will, that it was complicated but also honest and open. And I loved that Moyes faced the ideas of a Life Worth Living head-on. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions, but it made me cry and it gave me something to think about.

In short, maybe the hype was right about this one. Now, to see how the movie holds up.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

confessionsby Laurie Viera Rigler
First sentence: “Why is it so dark in here?”
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Content: I know there was mild swearing, with a couple of f-bombs, some talk of sex, and one (failed) sex scene. It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Courtney has had a life-long relationship with Jane Austen. She finds herself turning to Austen’s books after a breakup, or when she’s stressed, or just when she needs comfort. There’s wisdom in Austen’s words, and Courtney finds herself pining for simpler times.

That is, until she wakes up in Edwardian England, as Jane Mansfield, a 30-year-old spinster (oh the horror!). It takes a while for her to believe her situation, and even longer still for her to accept that this has really and truly happened (and isn’t a dream) and then to accept that she may never get back “home” to L. A. and to just throw herself into this strange and foreign world.

It’s a silly premise, and a lot of the intrigue of the book comes from the juxtaposition of the 21st century woman trapped in a 19th century world. But, Rigler spends too much time with chasing men (ah, it’s a romance after all), and while she gives us glimpses of Austen’s world, it’s not nearly enough for me. It was a silly fluff of a book, but in the end, left me mildly dissatisfied.

That said, Lost in Austen (the British miniseries that bears similarities to this) is a lot of fun.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

cursedchildby J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
First sentence: “A busy and crowded station.”
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Content: There’s nothing “objectionable” for all the Harry Potter fans out there, but know that 1) the format may make it challenging for some kids and 2) the book has adult sensibilities — even though the protagonists are 14-year-olds, there’s a lot about parent-child relationships. Even so, I’ll probably put it in the YA section (grades 6-8) with all the other Harry Potter books.

No spoilers, just thoughts.

  1. Like I’ve read just about everywhere: it was nice to revisit this world. I missed the world building that Rowling did with her prose. Rather, I spent the time wondering how on earth they were going to stage this thing and wishing I could see it live.
  2. I enjoyed the exploration of what being the child of a very famous person could be like. And how parents too often project their wants and desires onto their children. The tension between Harry and Albus, while not really explored too much, was interesting.
  3. The plot itself was kind of silly. It really was just a way to have yet another magical adventure in the world that Rowling created. Real life is kind of boring (don’t we all know), and it was fun to dream up another adventure for Harry and crew, but, yes, it was silly.
  4. M had a problem with the portrayal of Ron, and I agree: he’s not just there for laughs.
  5. I really enjoyed Albus’ and Scorpious’s friendship. I wish that were explored more, outside of a silly time traveling adventure.

So, final thoughts? It’d be a blast to see, it was fun to read, but there’s a large part of me that wishes Rowling would go back and do prequels instead of keeping up with Harry. A Maurader’s book? I’d totally be on board with that.

And Then There Were None

andthentherewerenoneby Agatha Christie
First sentence: “In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.”
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Content: Well, there are murders, but all are off-screen, and none are grisly. There’s no swearing. It’s in the mystery section of the bookstore.

This is one book I remember reading as a kid. I was probably 12 or 13, and I discovered Agatha Christie, and thought that she was just brilliant. Such a great writer! Such a clever mystery!

I haven’t revisited it in years, and with the “classic mystery” square on my book bingo I thought I’d take the time to revisit it.

And. Well.

The writing’s okay. Christie does have a knack for moving the plot along (thank you!), with lots of dialogue and without a lot of exposition (which really comes at the end). But it’s not brilliant writing. And the characters are all kind of stereotypical (the nervous younger woman, the prudish old woman, the handsome young man, the nervous doctor, the bullish judge). There’s no time to connect with anyone (perhaps that’s the point?) so you don’t really feel any shock at their deaths.

But the thing that bugged me was that I couldn’t figure it out. She made a completely unsolvable mystery (perhaps the point, again), and then hands you the solution at the end: Aha! Here it is! You missed it! I felt cheated that I couldn’t figure out WHO was behind this. There were really no clues. And I found that irritating. (I like to think that if I were a smarter reader, I’d catch all the clues, and maybe I just missed them, but I really don’t think so in this case.)

So, while I liked it well enough, it didn’t live up to the hype that I had built up in my own mind over the years. Which is too bad.

The Witches

witchesby Roald Dahl
First sentence: “In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.”
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Content: It’s not as scary as I thought it would be, and surprisingly simple for the size. Heads up, though: grandma smokes a cigar. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

So, I remember reading this one at some point, and I had a violently negative reaction to it. I HATED it. So, I was a bit wary going in this time. But, since I picked this for the Roald Dahl book club, I needed a re-read going in.

And it’s…. weird. I was asked if it was “good”, and I said “It’s weird.” “Does that mean it’s bad? ” Nope. Just weird.

The basic plot? There are witches out there, and they look like us. Except they always wear gloves, and a wig (to cover their bald heads) and the have no toes. They hate children and make them disappear. They are, at all costs, to be avoided. So when our narrator (whose childhood sounds suspiciously like Dahl’s), accidentally ends up in a ballroom full of witches, he’s (understandably) terrified. Especially after he hears their master plan for the children of England: make a time-release mouse potion, put it in candy, and voila! No more children. They’ll all be mice.

Except our narrator doesn’t make it out in one piece: he’s caught and turned into a mouse. But, he can talk and he can still think like himself so he goes and convinces his grandma that he’s still her grandson. And informs her of the Grand Plan. Which they, unbelievably, thwart. But our narrator remains a mouse, which is just fine with him because then he won’t outlive his grandma.


There are the usual Dahl themes: adults hating kids, and good kids being bullied (by the witches). But it really feels different from the other ones I’ve read. Matilda is darker, and Charlie is more didactic. I’m not quite sure what The Witches is other than… weird.  Was it supposed to scare kids? Was it supposed to just be amusing? (It wasn’t.)

This one’s going to be an interesting discussion at book group.


thebfgby Roald Dahl
First sentence: “Sophie couldn’t sleep.”
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Content: There’s a small bit of violence, but for the most part, it’s easy enough for the youngest of the grades 3-5 set. It’s in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore.

Sophie is up late one night in her orphanage when she sees something coming down the street. That something turns out to be a giant, who plucks her out of the orphanage and takes her back to his land. He says it’s because he needs to keep her safe,  because there are other, bigger, badder giants around. And he’s not wrong: the giants back at the stomping ground ARE bigger, badder and meaner.

(And that’s where Dahl’s overall themes come in: the BFG is the “runt” of the pack and is constantly being picked on. He’s also more evolved, and smarter, and just better than those bullies.)

Sophie experiences life with the BFG, and together they decide that the other giants need to be stopped (mostly because they eat children; though the BFG’s argument for it was pretty persuasive…). So they go to the Queen (really, my favorite part), convince her of the existence of the giants, and get her help in stopping them.

Perhaps it’s just the order I’ve read these, but this one is now my favorite. I loved the Seuss-like wordplay that went on with the way the BFG talked. I liked the friendship between Sophie and the BFG, and I thought their solution to the problem was pretty ingenious. It’s a delightful book, much less dark than Matilda or as mean as Charlie. So far, this one is the best.


matildaby Roald Dahl
First sentence: “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers.”
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Content: It’s a bit longer than Charlie, and a bit more complex. But, that said, I’d give it to a confident 8-year-old reader. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

So, I’ve read this one before, but it’s been years and years and years and even though I’ve watched the movie a bunch (it’s one of my girls’ favorites), I wasn’t quite prepared for how DARK Matilda is.

I mean, all the usual Dahl themes are there: a powerless, nice child (not poor, though that comes with Ms. Honey) is bullied (by her parents and other adults) and discovers something grand within herself in order to overcome. But, the adults are beyond awful. They’re abusive. The Wormwoods (who are hilarious in the film) are corrupt and neglectful. But, it was Miss Trunchbull, who I always condered just an annoyance, who really got me this time. She’s not annoying: she’s an abuser. And perhaps it’s where I am in my life, but that didn’t sit well with me. I’m not entirely sure why; Matilda and Ms. Honey have a happy ending, after all, and Miss Trunchbull (not to mention Mr. Wormwood) get their comeuppance. But, it kind of rang hollow for me.

That said, it’s also not as funny (or at least clever) as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It was sweet — both Matilda and Ms. Honey are sweet characters amid all the lame, awful people — but it wasn’t clever. (Dark undertones!) I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure it’s my favorite. (Then again, I still have four more books to read this summer.)

The book group discussion, however, was fantastic! I had 20 kids ranging in age from 5 to 12, and they all had amazing things to say. One boy said he had read it eight times, and had some smart thoughts on it. As did many others. We talked about favorite characters and whether the Wormwoods were funny (yes) and whether Mr. Wormwood deserved the pranks (yes!). Ms. Trunchbull was deemed to be too mean to be funny, though one girl insisted that her parents would have believed her if she had told them what Ms. Trunchbull was doing. We talked a lot about the chocolate cake, and many pointed out that an 18-inch cake really isn’t that big. One girl said it was “just right”. And my favorite comments were when we were talking how Dahl makes ugly=mean and beautiful=good. One girl pointed out that ugly people can’t help being ugly and that they could be nice and beautiful people can be mean. And another girl said that maybe Dahl was just trying to make the character’s inward ugliness show outward. Both excellent.

So, maybe not my favorite, but it was a great discussion.