The Royal We

Guilty pleasures – we all have them. We all need them. A harmless indulgence to turn to when the evening’s pile of dishes is too high or it seems like you simply cannot fill the day’s school and work lunch bags one more time.

WPL has been helping to feed mine for years with the subscriptions to the simply magical Royalty-watching magazines Majesty and Hello! Canada. Occasionally I augment my magazine reading with something from the non-fiction shelves by Penny Junor or Sally Bedell Smith. And, in the early spring of 2015, I was thrilled to read that two fashion bloggers were writing a fictionalized tell-all based on the romance of Will and Kate. After being captivated by this splendid romance I regularly turn to the website from authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan often as they publish a weekly “Royals Round Up” with a collection of royalty news from around the world and share sweet little nuggets of silliness about the families they cover. I highly recommend it. They make me smile every weekend with their comments about sweet Royal babies, tiaras and glamorous dresses and have added a tagline to their website that says “Will the Prince marry an American? We wrote the book on that.” because they did and it is spot on.

The idea behind the novel The Royal We is that they have used the facts of Will and Kate’s love story and written a novel entirely about them, just slightly adjusting their names, and adding in some fun details where they couldn’t dig up the facts. Their Kate is ‘Bex’ and Will is ‘Nick’ and his brother is a rakish red-haired ‘Freddie’ but the timelines match and you can perfectly imagine every step that they are taking if you have seen the photographs of Will and Kate on the campus of St. Andrews. Conveniently for these two bloggers they added a twist that their future queen is actually an American who comes to England to spend a year studying and meets her future husband/prince. She didn’t even come with the idea of romance in mind – she just wanted to sketch and paint. It’s always that way in the best romance novels, isn’t it?

In their swoon-worthy story Nick/Will is prime royalty so there are glitzy parties and museum openings with paparazzi chases but the real connection begins with a friendship built over binge watching American vampire TV shows in their dorm rooms. His brother Freddie is everything you would want him to be – charming, hilarious, a new girl on his arm every night – adding a light touch to balance the tension of Bex getting to know Nick’s very formal extended family. Poor Bex faces British tabloids, critical society snobs and personal demons in the years before Nick proposes (it’s based on their life story, you know how it ends, so I am not spoiling anything for anyone here) and I enjoyed reading it the first time and have recently re-read in my excitement over Harry’s (or Freddie’s?) wedding. The supporting cast of minor royals and friends who attend university with Nick and Bex do a wonderful job of hanging about and it ends perfectly but with enough suspense that it keeps you turning the pages. It’s just delightful reading for anyone wrapped up in the excitement of watching Harry and Meghan’s wedding unfold.

I know that any book written by two American fashion bloggers will be more of a vacation read – perfect for the beach or the airplane – for many and, because it is written with the young royal family as the main focus there is more of an emphasis on the fun side of things than the historical beauty of St. George’s Chapel, but it ends with Bex/Kate trying on endless wedding dresses and isn’t that what we look forward to in a romance novel? This is a book you read for diversion or entertainment – not so that you can bring it up at the next party you attend, unless it is a party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. And, did you know you can even download it from Overdrive and read it on your eReader so your family doesn’t have to know that you are enjoying it a second time? Perfection!

If you want to relive the formal thrills of Kate and Will’s April 2011 wedding or look forward to the casual beauty of Harry and Meghan’s May 2018 wedding you really cannot go wrong with The Royal We. You should brew a whole pot of tea for this one.

— Penny M.

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

July 31st is Harry Potter’s birthday. It’s also J. K. Rowling’s birthday and I remember a time when being aware of that little nugget of information was a lesser-known treat shared among fans of the sensational new book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Now, 20 years later, it seems that the whole world is steeped in knowledge of the world of Harry Potter, his friends, their time at Hogwarts, and the genius of J. K. Rowling. Everyone is a fan of Harry Potter. According to Rowling’s British publisher there have been over 450 million Harry Potter books sold and when the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the deathly hallows, was published in 2007 there were 2.65 million copies sold in the first 24 hours.

It’s hard to think back to what life was like 20 years ago before the first Harry Potter book was published. We think that we remember what life was like back then but do we really? Jean Chretien was our soapstone sculpture-wielding Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was investigated and impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice and we were looking forward to the Nagano Winter Olympics. Does any of that sound familiar? What if you had a soundtrack of Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” from the Titanic? It was constantly on the radio, I think it was playing everywhere. If you are having a hard time thinking of how much life has changed in twenty years look at J. K. Rowling herself.

jkrowling

I remember exactly what it was like to read the first book in the series. I read it on the GO train as I went back and forth to work at my first job in a library in Toronto. In fact, I remember looking around at the people around me, who often dressed in conservative, dark suits and long coats, and felt like we looked as if we all might be heading off to Hogwarts.  Everything she wrote about Harry’s life seemed so real, maybe I was living it? And, I wasn’t the only adult traveling on the GO trains who read that first book or any that followed. It was not unusual to look up from the pages of one of those books and see someone else enjoying the same book. I loved the smiles that we shared as we looked over at other people who were wasting their time reading newspapers – newspapers! When they could have been getting to know Harry, Ron and Hermione? They were missing so much.

Remember how it took so long to wait for the next book to be published? I have often told my own kids that they have no idea of how lucky they are that the entire canon of Harry Potter’s life just existed on our shelves for them to read when they wanted. They didn’t have to wait like all of the ‘older’ people did. Well, the books weren’t just sitting there for them to read at first, I read the books aloud to them the first time and made some of the chapters a little less ‘scary’. I said that Harry and Voldemort were just fighting ‘a bit’ and I might have left out some of the more horrible moments entirely. I was never able to read the final moment in Dobby’s life at Shell Cottage without crying.  However, like so many people who come into WPL and talk about their love of Harry Potter we have endless happy memories that come from that wizarding world. We have inside jokes that come from the books, we have seen the movies together, we have celebrated Harry Potter birthday parties complete with wands, robes and chocolate frogs and made the pilgrimage to the theme park so that we could all have the fun of seeing the ‘wand choose the wizard’ and bring home a Pygmy Puff.

The Harry Potter books have never stopped being popular here at WPL. We often purchase new copies as the books keep wearing out from use! It’s rare that a week goes by without someone coming in to say that they just felt like a Harry Potter movie marathon. Whether it is the original seven books, the supporting material (we have such a great wizarding craft book, for example) or the films, every customer comes in with a conversation about how much the stories have meant to them. It always comes with an instant smile and a feeling of recognition, as if we are all part of the same little nation of people who share the same language and jokes. I remember an afternoon at the McCormick branch where an elegantly dressed woman came in and asked for the first book in the series and, as we walked back to the front desk, she confessed that she made a habit of re-reading the books every summer. Other customers have said that they read them for comfort when they have a cold, or have taken to reading the chapters about Harry’s Christmas holidays as a part of their family tradition each year. We have families who enjoy the audiobooks on long trips to the cottage or to visit grandparents in Nova Scotia every summer. The tale of a lonely boy who finds acceptance, friendship and love means something to so many people and, 20 years after the first book was published, it continues to be so important to all of us.

I’m not saying we should all go out and bake a chocolate cake as Hagrid did when he helped Harry to celebrate his birthday (oh, those horrid Dursleys had previously ignored the day or given him absurd things like a coat hanger as a gift) but it might be a good way to celebrate the boy who lived and the woman who gave us pages and pages of a world to escape to whenever we need it.

-Penny M.

The First Female Pope

I first came across Woman of God when I put it on hold for a library customer a few months ago, and it immediately piqued my interest. I was intrigued by a plot that was so different from James Patterson’s usual fare. When I saw that I was available as an e-audiobook in the Download Library last week, I figured it was about time that I jumped into my first (!!!) Patterson and Co. book.

This book follows Brigid Fitzgerald and her journey to potentially become the first female pope. The book opens with a short flash forward scene when Brigid is being considered as a papal candidate, then jumps back to the beginning of Brigid’s career as a doctor. From there, it follows Brigid’s different medical jobs, relationships and involvement in the Catholic church. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and the audio presentation of it, but I had a few issues with the way the story was paced.

Let’s begin with the main character, Brigid. I found her to be engaging and worthy of sympathy. I really liked experiencing the story through her perspective. It’s not an easy feat to write a religious character that doesn’t come across pious and holier-than-thou. I really felt for her and the trials that she goes through in the book. There was an honesty to the character that I found appealing and satisfying.

Although Brigid was a compelling character, there were so many other secondary characters that just seemed to exist on the periphery. This was the result of the quick pace of the story. At first, I really enjoyed how quickly the story was moving along; it kept the book from getting boring. However, by the middle of the book, there were so many different characters that seemed to flit in and out of the main character’s life that I found it hard to really get grounded in the story. Plot events happened quickly, so I sometimes felt that I didn’t have enough time to get invested in characters before they encountered tragedy. Since I wasn’t invested, the tragedy often felt glib and melodramatic. That being said, Brigid was a good enough anchor, as the main character, that I could overlook the poorly developed secondary characters.

Before I sign off, I want to spend a little bit of time discussing the audiobook portion of my reading experience. If you’ve ever listened to an audiobook, you’ll know that the quality of the narrator makes a big impact in the enjoyment of the book. Luckily, in this case, I thought Thérèse Plummer, the narrator, was excellent. In the parts of the book where Brigid is grieving, she has a way of making her voice sound so broken and depressed, while still clearly reading the story. Plummer definitely elevated my reading experience of Woman of God.

In the end, Woman of God was an interesting read, but I would have enjoyed hearing more about the political drama surrounding a female pope and stronger secondary characters. If you want to read a story about a woman’s life of self-sacrifice, then you’ll enjoy this book, but if you’re looking for a Vatican thriller, you might want to pass on this title.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

–Jenna H.