Hunted by Meagan Spooner

I have not yet read Meagan Spooner’s “Skylark” series, but I have read her “Starbound” series with Amie Kaufman and loved it. I’m always up for a fairy-tale retelling, especially a Beauty and the Beast retelling. And with the live-action movie about to release, B&B mania is on!

Hunted front cover (HarperTeen)

Hunted front cover (HarperTeen)

THE PLOT: Yeva is the daughter of a merchant in a Russian village. When her father loses everything, he moves Yeva and her sisters back to his hunting lodge in the forest. Then he loses his mind hunting a fantastic Beast of some sort and Yeva sets out to find him. Unfortunately she finds that her father has been killed by the Beast, who then captures Yeva.

The Beast is under a curse and needs a skilled hunter to break it. He thought Yeva’s father might be that person, but realizes it might be Yeva herself. The Beast thinks that if Yeva believes he killed her father, she’ll be motivated to hone her hunting skills by her desire for revenge against the Beast.

An unlikely friendship grows up between them, but Yeva still can’t forgive the Beast for her father’s death. She may find, though, that killing the Beast just leads to another level of the puzzle.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a fairly complete retelling of the original Beauty and the Beast tale with some additions and twists. The similarities: Yeva’s father’s ruin ultimately leads to her relationship with the Beast. Yeva has two sisters, although they are not presented as selfish compared to Yeva’s goodness. When Yeva leaves the Beast, she is delayed in her return by her family, and ultimately is spurred to return when she dreams of him.

There are differences, too. The story, set in Russia, is very grounded in Russian fairy tales. The tale of the wolf, and then the firebird, add dimension to the story.

The story is told primarily third person from Yeva’s POV. Every chapter starts with a short first-person intro from the Beast, but everything else is Yeva.

Really, all the characters are very likable: Yeva, her family, her pets, her sister’s suitor, and her own suitor. None have evil intentions or act out of selfishness (some almost muddle things up out of unselfishness!) The Beast is interesting…is he good? evil? both?

COVER NOTES: You don’t see Yeva’s face; instead, the emphasis is on her as the hunter. The green and gold are very eye-catching. The arrow in the title is a nice touch. I’d pick this up at the bookstore.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, which will also appeal to fans of Katniss.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available March 14, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Beheld (Kendra Chronicles #4) by Alex Flinn

I absolutely loved, loved, loved the last Kendra book, Mirrored (reviewed here). This one is written more of the style of Bewitched with multiple story arcs based on different fairy tales. How did it stack up?

Beheld front cover (HarperTeen)

Beheld front cover (HarperTeen)

THE PLOT: The overarching plot is that Kendra met her true love, James, a wizard, back during the Salem witch trials. James helped save Kendra, but the two were separated. Even though they vowed to wait for each other, centuries go by as they occasionally re-connect only to separate again.

Other than that, the plot is broken into four stories:

1. Little Red Riding Hood/Salem Witch Trials/ Ann Putnam. Lonely Ann is befriended by a talking wolf, and when Kendra spots the two of them together, Ann accuses Kendra of witchcraft before Kendra can accuse her.

2. Rumplestiltskin/ Bavaria, 1812/Cornelia. Cornelia meets handsome Karl at Kendra’s bookstall. Kendra’s assistant is also interested in Cornelia, and probably a much better match, but Cornelia is swept away by the romantic Karl. When Cornelia finds out the truth about Karl and realizes she’s in very big trouble, it’s Kendra’s magic and assistant to the rescue.

3. Cupid and Psyche/London, WWII/Grace (Okay, the ad copy says this is based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but I had never heard of that and recognized it as the myth of Cupid and Psyche). When Grace’s brother is reported missing in action, Kendra offers to help find him if Grace will marry cursed Phillip. Of course, Grace cannot see Phillip’s face, and can’t look at him even after they’re married. Grace takes the bargain but is ultimately goaded into breaking her word by her jealous sisters. Now she’s on a quest to get her husband back.

4. The Ugly Duckling/Modern-day Miami/Christopher. Chris and Amanda were best friends throughout childhood, both outcasts of sorts…Amanda an athletic tomboy whose mother was in jail, and Chris a weakling with an absentee father. But will their friendship survive when Kendra’s magic makes Chris a high-school swan?

MY TWO CENTS: It’s a little difficult to compare a book with multiple story arcs to a book like Mirrored, which really only had one story, or two halves of one story. On the whole, I don’t feel like we got a lot more development of Kendra herself in this book, while I enjoyed each of the four sub-stories to varying degrees. I definitely liked the middle two stories better than the first and last. The first story I felt was a bit confusing and maybe unfinished; I half-expected Ann Putnam or her wolf to show up again in one of the later stories. My least favorite was the last, most modern story. I feel like Kendra was all but unnecessary in this story, and the childhood/teenage angst of Chris and Amanda was drawn out way too long. Plus, it didn’t help that Chris became a jerk.

The middle two stories were delightful, though. I think the Rumpelstiltskin story was probably my favorite, although the WWII story about Grace was also intriguing. The heroines of both stories act foolishly and bring at least part of their troubles on themselves, as is the way of good fairy tales. Cornelia is blinded with the idea of romance and can’t see Karl’s true nature, nor that of the one who really does care about her. Grace is perfectly happy in her arrangement until she lets her sisters goad her into breaking the rules. Thankfully, both of them are able to learn from their mistakes.

COVER NOTES: While this cover matches the style of the other Kendra books, it’s a little dark and murky for my taste. I like the elements of the mirror, straw, and crow; it’s just the colors I don’t like. I like that the title font matches that of the other books (I like when series books look they belong together).

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t love it the way I did Mirrored, but definitely still a must-read for any Alex Flinn/Kendra fans.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half to four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

Wendy Darling: Stars (Volume One) by Colleen Oakes

Wendy Darling has always been one of my very favorite Disney characters. I can’t explain why, exactly…the voice work? the way she’s drawn? (Obviously, the racism toward Native Americans in Peter Pan is horrible, but the art, done during Disney Animation’s first Golden Age, is spectacular.) Maybe it’s her calm and soothing nature. Of course I’ve read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and I’m likely to watch any kind of Peter Pan movie or show. (I admit…the live TV musical was an exception!) So I was excited to receive an electronic ARC of this retelling.

Wendy Darling: Stars Front Cover by Colleen Oakes

Wendy Darling: Stars Front Cover by Colleen Oakes (SparkPress)

THE PLOT: In this version of the story, Wendy is 16 years old and embarking on her first romance with her childhood friend, Booth. Unfortunately, he’s the son of the local bookseller, and therefore of an unacceptably lower social class than the Darlings. Wendy’s father is a kind man, but he absolutely forbids the relationship. Between this and harsh treatment from her moody 14-year-old brother, John, Wendy is in emotional turmoil when handsome Peter Pan explodes through the nursery window, inviting Wendy, John, and five-year-old Michael off to his home in Neverland. Once in Neverland, the kids begin forgetting about their home and loved ones (including Booth). Wendy’s attraction to Peter is like a force of nature, and she just wants to be near him. She also wants to keep her brothers safe, but John, dubbed a general by Peter, isn’t having it. As Wendy and John’s relationship deteriorates and Peter overwhelms them all, Wendy struggles to remember her past. But what is Peter’s real purpose in bringing them to Neverland? Why is Wendy in particular so important to him?

MY TWO CENTS: I absolutely devoured this book, which pulled me in right away with the introductions to the Darlings. I was a little taken aback at first by the ages of the children. I can’t remember if their ages are mentioned in Peter Pan, but I generally think of the children as ages 12, 8, and 4 or thereabouts. Making Wendy 16 years old really both takes away and adds to the plot possibilities. The whole point of Wendy being just prepubescent is that she’s trying to avoid growing up, not leap into adulthood. On the other hand, a teenage Wendy who has already had her first kiss opens up the exploration of a truly romantic relationship between Wendy and Peter. And this is obviously one of the main themes of the book: the difference between innocent first love and sexual awakening.

The presentation of John also takes some adjustment. In Disney’s treatment, John is kind of a nerd; he wears glasses and grabs his father’s top hat to wear with his nightshirt. He’s also still definitely a child.This teenage John seems to almost hate Wendy, even more so after their arrival in Neverland. What is up with him? Is he afraid of Wendy usurping his role as their father’s favorite child? He seems to hold a grudge against her for being a girl, using her looks to attract boys, and basically being a living doll. Is John having trouble with gender roles? Is he jealous of Wendy’s friendship with Booth while he, her own brother, is isolated and lonely? Or is he just being a typical 14-year-old brother, magnified by the lack of supervision in Neverland?

Finally, I’m enjoying the presentation of Evil Peter Pan. Anyone who watches Once Upon a Time has already experienced an evil Peter whose goal is to stay young forever no matter what it takes. This Peter obviously wants Wendy. Why choose her, specifically? What led him to her nursery window? How much of what Peter has told Wendy is the truth? And why does he use Tinker Bell like an ex who will still do anything for her guy?

BOTTOM LINE: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In addition to being a well-written story, it makes you want to analyze it. I can’t wait for Volume Two—Wendy Darling: Seas. If you’re a Peter Pan fan, don’t miss this.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available on October 13, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on ARCs provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mirrored (The Kendra Chronicles) by Alex Flinn

I love fairy tale retellings, so I’ve read all of Alex Flinn’s books since Beastly. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mirrored, a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it didn’t disappoint.

Mirrored Front Cover (HarperCollins)

Mirrored Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Poor 10-year-old Violet Appel is so homely that her beautiful, single-parent mother ignores her. She is bullied by her schoolmates, and her only friend is Greg, a shy boy who shares her love of birds. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s there when Violet discovers she’s a witch, including powers like bringing dead birds back to life. For three years the young people are best friends…until Greg goes away to summer camp for a few weeks, hits puberty, comes back a hottie and a jerk, and ditches Violet. See, the girl he’s always had a crush on, Jennifer, has noticed him. The only thing is, Jennifer is Violet’s worst bully. She won’t have anything to do with Greg if he continues to be friends with Violet.

Violet is now completely alone and bullied worse than ever, to the point of being beaten by two boys. But her powers flare into full being, and she’s befriended by an ancient witch named Kendra (who Flinn fans should know well). Kendra teaches Violet how to use her powers, but Violet only has one agenda: to make herself beautiful and win Greg back from Jennifer.

As a teenager, Violet is the hottest girl in school. She’s used witchcraft to gradually give herself perfect features and a model’s body. Despite all this, she’s still bullied, and Greg only has eyes for Jennifer. As Violet realizes the no one, especially Greg, will ever love her, her powers become more twisted.

Fast forward to Greg and Jennifer’s daughter, Celine. Celine is beautiful, the best of both of her parents. She’s a bit of a loner, though, because she lost her mother in a tragic “accident.” But her father’s old friend Violet was there to pick up the pieces, marry Greg, and become Celine’s stepmother. The family lived happily until Greg pointed out how beautiful, kind, and talented Celine is…like her mother. From that point, Violet becomes Celine’s enemy. When tragedy occurs, Violet becomes completely unhinged, and Kendra urges Celine to take refuge with her friend Goose and his family.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a great book for teens to think about. Bullying is NEVER an acceptable act. Ditching friends who love you because you found “better ones” is seriously cruel. And sometimes, your hero isn’t a prince or a rock star, but a person of small stature with a giant capacity to love.

The book is divided into three parts, written in first person with three points of view: young Violet narrates part one, Celine takes part two, and Goose gets part three. It’s great to get inside each character’s head because, since you know them so well, you root for all of them.

Can I say how much I love Goose? Obviously, Flinn has somewhat based his character on Tyrion Lannister; easily the most intelligent character in the Song of Ice and Fire series; fantastically played on Game of Thrones by the fabulous Peter Dinklage. (There are several references to Tyrion in the book; he’s Goose’s hero.) Tyrion is my favorite character, and a lot of other people’s too. It makes sense to base a YA hero on him and remind everyone that people of small stature can be brave, intelligent, and loving. Goose is a believable romantic lead. You WANT Celine to end up with him. What a great message for teens, especially in opposition to Violet’s belief that only being beautiful will get her what she wants.

BOTTOM LINE: After being disappointed with the “Rapunzel” story Towering, I’m blown away by Mirrored. I may like it more than Beastly, although I’m not sure. I’ve already reread it, and with my reading schedule, that’s a testament in itself.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups. LOVED IT.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 15, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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