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.


Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

How many Labyrinth fans are out there? Come on, you know you love it. David Bowie singing and dancing with Muppets? A teenage future Oscar-winning actress? What’s not to love???

How many Labyrinth fans also love Phantom of the Opera? or L.J. Smith’s “Forbidden Game” trilogy? If you just bounced up and down in your chair, then put Wintersong on your “to read” list because you’re going to want to check it out.

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press)

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Griffin)

THE PLOT: In early 1800s Germany, plain Elisabeth (Liesl) Vogler is the oldest of three children. Her sister, Käthe, is gorgeous and has become betrothed to Liesl’s childhood friend and crush. Liesl’s little brother Josef has been groomed by their father as a musical genius, even though it’s Liesl who composes the music he plays so beautifully. Liesl is stuck helping run the family inn while her siblings go on to everything Liesl wants for herself. She used to believe in magic, and often composed music in the Goblin Grove near their home, but now she believes she’s outgrown these tales. Her father has convinced her that a girl simply cannot be talented.

When Käthe is taken by Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King, Liesl fights her way to the Underground to get her sister back. But is it Käthe the Goblin King even wants? What bargain will Liesl strike to save Käthe? Liesl will learn some difficult truths about herself, familial love, and romantic love while she fights for her life. And what will the Goblin King sacrifice to get what he wants most?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a difficult book to review, because I could just say “I loved it!” and leave it at that, but it deserves a bit more scrutiny. First, the author cleverly plays off readers’ possible exposure to the setting of Labyrinth while also painting a vivid picture of the Underground. It’s very lushly written; very descriptive, which I enjoy, but maybe not everyone would.

Also, it’s a very “adult” written book. I don’t mean to say it’s sexually descriptive; it’s not. What I mean is that nothing is black and white. It’s not a fairy tale with a cut-and-dried “they loved each other and all lived happily ever after” ending. Real life and real love is full of difficult choices. You seldom get something valuable without giving up something else. Some younger readers, with their limited life experience, may not “get” everything this book is saying, all the layers and nuances—and, therefore, may not love it. A naive reader might ask, “But if two people really love each other, shouldn’t they be able to work it out?” while more jaded readers will appreciate the difficulties the characters face.

While I’ve mentioned Labyrinth a few times (and anyone would make that connection with the Goblin King), does the book really rely on the movie? No, but there are enough allusions that if you wanted to mentally go there, you could. For example, the Goblin King is described as having different colored eyes, a la David Bowie. He’s described as both a young man and an older yet ageless counterpart. Liesl’s goblin attendants would certainly make fantastic Muppets. Reading about the Underground and the Goblin City might bring certain images to mind.

Anyone who’s read the “Forbidden Game” books will also see a resemblance to Julian (not that there aren’t plenty of Jareth/Julian crossover stories to begin with). Just setting it in the German forest and using the term Der Erlkönig will resonate with anyone familiar with Volume 1, The Hunter. As will some of the Goblin King’s actions. How much does he love? How can he show it?

Finally, there are similarities to The Phantom of the Opera. The Goblin King is drawn to Liesl because of her music, and he’s a powerful yet unloved, unlovable figure living underground. He knows the only way he could make her stay with him is to take someone she loves and make a trade. But Liesl’s choices mid-book will surprise even him. Then there’s that gradual change from monster to someone who learns to love.

Will this book have a sequel? I don’t know. I would certainly welcome a sequel, and I think there’s more story to tell here. It could also stand alone as written.

COVER NOTES: What a beautiful cover! No girl in a floofy dress; just an image that brings to mind Labyrinth (snowglobe), Phantom (rose), and Beauty and the Beast (rose again). The color scheme is fairly stark and wintry.

BOTTOM LINE: I crazy-loved this book. I will buy it in hardcover to keep on my shelf and re-read at the earliest possible opportunity. Whatever this author writes next, I’ll be there to gobble it up.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available February 7, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

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

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.


Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

I had read Rhiannon Thomas’s first book, A Wicked Thing, and liked it well enough that its sequel, Kingdom of Ashes,  is purchased and on my “to read” list. But the description of her new book caught my eye, and I had to read it ASAP.

Long May She Reign Front Cover (HarperTeen)

Long May She Reign Front Cover (HarperTeen)

THE PLOT: Freya is a nerdy, antisocial scientist. Her father wants her to spend more time in society at court, but she really just wants to be experimenting in her lab. She slips out of the King’s birthday party early, only to learn later that almost the entire court was poisoned to death. Freya goes from being twenty-third in line to the throne to Queen of a greatly reduced kingdom.

Her father (not in line to the throne) and advisers want her to act as a figurehead while they try to find the murderer, who they’re sure is part of a rebel sect that hates the monarchy. Freya feels that she could do more good investigating than trying to learn how to walk in court dress or the appropriate way to wear her hair. And if she’s going to have to rule, she’s going to be the best possible ruler she can be…even if that means going against her advisers and her father.

Freya has a trio of friends to back her up. Naomi is her childhood friend whose brother was killed in the massacre. Naomi is alive because she left the banquet with Freya. Sweet, poised Madeline is next in line to the throne after Freya, but she’s doing everything she can to help Freya become a polished ruler. William Fitzroy is the king’s bastard son, and it’s possible the king was about to legitimize him and make him heir to the crown. All three help Freya find her confidence in ruling HER way. But what if one of them was also responsible for the mass murder?

MY TWO CENTS: I fell in love with this book, which is part murder mystery, part finding-yourself story. I admit that, as a fledgling manager, I identified with Freya 1000%. I totally understand how it is to suddenly be in charge. Everyone you report to hates everything you do. Everyone who reports to you hates everything you do. After listening to everyone tell you what you SHOULD do, the only way to really succeed is to be yourself. (A work-in-progress, in my case!)

In some ways Freya reminded me of Elizabeth I as portrayed in the movie Elizabeth. She knows she can make things right, but she’s not sure how, or how to get people to listen to her. I just love that Freya is a scientist. Where other YA heroines use physical skill, Freya uses her knowledge to problem-solve. So refreshing and very relateable.

A decent mystery is also a huge plus. Everyone is presented at various times as viable villains. There were specific people who I didn’t WANT to be the villain, but anyone could have been.

COVER NOTES: First, let me say how pleased I am that this is not a girl-in-a-ballgown cover. Second, the castle in the flask is just brilliant. It gives it just the right fantasy/science mix. This is NOT a heroine who wins over a kingdom with athletic skill or pretty gowns. If she succeeds, you know science will play a role.

BOTTOM LINE: LOVED THIS BOOK. What else to say? Engaging characters, good story.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available February 21, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The author says this is a standalone book, but I would campaign for a sequel…

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

A Forest of Wolves (Uprising #2) by Chelsea Luna

This is the second book following the clash of Catholics and Protestants in 16th-century Prague. The first book, Lions in the Garden, was previously reviewed here.

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover (Lyrical Press)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Mila Novakova is on the run from her father, Vaclav, Chancellor of Bohemia, and her maybe-kinda husband, Radek, Duke of Prucha. Since the marriage was forced and hasn’t been consummated, Mila’s true love, Marc Sykora, insists that the marriage hasn’t actually taken place. The Inquisition is getting into full swing, and Marc is the leader of the Protestant rebellion.

In the meantime, Mila isn’t exactly fitting into life with the peasants. Marc’s uncle has a hatred of Catholic nobles, and Marc’s childhood friend wants Mila out of the way so she can have Marc for herself. And when Marc is away recruiting for the cause, his brother Henrik is Mila’s best friend and support…but does he really want more?

Mila finds confirmation of a truth about her past, but she’s not sure how to use this information for good. No matter what she chooses, her own life is in danger and the people she loves face torture and death.

MY TWO CENTS: I was eager to continue this series; it’s a period I’m familiar with, but not the location. I’m really not as well-educated on the Holy Roman Empire as I should be. This series can definitely interest a reader into researching an unfamiliar period of history.

Mila is an engaging heroine, and as a reader, I want to see her succeed. I’m interested in the story. I know there are anachronisms, but they don’t bother me much when it streamlines the material for younger readers. And it’s definitely an engrossing story. You root for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys.

What a really don’t want to see is another love triangle. In the first book, there was a bit of a triangle with Radek and Marc, but in this book, since you already know that Radek is a villain, the triangle starts to form with Marc and his brother. Henrik’s interest in Mila doesn’t have to go beyond friendship, so I hope it stops right where it is, right now.

I read this book under the impression that it was the end of the series, but as I got very close to the end with unresolved plot threads, I realized it wasn’t meant to be the last book of the series. I do seriously hope the story continues. Should you read it without reading Lions in the Garden first? Eh…really, no. You should start there. While most of the backstory is explained, you don’t really get the level of emotional weight you should by starting with this one.

COVER NOTES: The first book showed Mila’s face, while this one only shows her from behind…in an absolutely stunning gown that would have been more appropriate for the first book than this one. When I flipped through my e-books, though, I saw that this cover was similar in concept to several other YAs on my Kindle…girl shown from behind in gorgeous ball gown. The colors in this are quite striking, and I’m sure it will appeal to the target audience.

BOTTOM LINE: Uses interesting characters to explore a period of history that is unfamiliar to me, and makes me want to know more. I hope the story continues, and especially that the villains get what’s coming to them.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 13, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: While the author has stated on social media that she’s working on book 3, she can’t confirm when it will be published.

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

Lions in the Garden (Uprising #1) by Chelsea Luna

Set in 1610, Lions in the Garden takes place just shortly after the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. However, where most of my historical fiction choices are set in England, this YA story takes place in Prague at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

Lions in the Garden Front Cover (Lyrical Press)

Lions in the Garden Front Cover (Lyrical Press)

THE PLOT: Having been threatened with marriage to an old man, 17-year-old Lady Ludmila Novakova is attempting to run away from the Bohemian court when she is accosted in the forest. Luckily she is saved by Marc Sykora, a young blacksmith, who returns her to the castle. Mila is smitten with her rescuer and invents reasons to see him, even after her elderly suitor is replaced as potential husband with her oldest, dearest friend…a powerful duke.

Mila has been brought up in the very sheltered court, so she has no idea how the peasants in the village live. Her understanding of the Protestant Reformation is “Catholics are good, Protestants are bad.” Her interaction with Marc and a shocking turn of events begin to open her eyes to true good and evil…out in the world AND disturbingly close to home inside the royal court.

MY TWO CENTS: Mila is extremely naïve, but not stupid. She makes some dumb choices, but they are based on what her privileged life has taught her to be true. Learning to question what she’s always been told is her first step to a wider world. The reader is definitely rooting for her by the end of the book.

Mila’s friends and family are a little harder to read. Marc seems to be a sympathetic character, but does he have ulterior motives? Is Mila’s childhood friend Radek a good guy, a bad guy, or something in between? Who is really running the court? And what drove Mila’s mother to commit suicide when Mila was a child?

I loved the setting. I’m so used to reading historical fiction set in Renaissance England that I’m somewhat ignorant of what was going on outside of England, Spain, and France. I really need to read some nonfiction about the Holy Roman Empire, and this book could be a similar gateway to that history for young adult readers.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read, relatively unfamiliar (to me) setting, an evolving heroine, and a story that’s not completely predictable. I’m looking forward to the release of its sequel, A Forest of Wolves, in September.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available March 1, 2016, in paperback and e-formats.

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

Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

While I was annoyed that Teri Brown was writing something other than a new book in the “Born Of” series (book 2, Born of Deception, was reviewed here), I was totally up for reading something new by her, too. I have found that Teri Brown is always a good read. Her historical heroines are exactly my cup of tea (pun intended).

Velvet Undercover Front Cover (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Velvet Undercover Front Cover (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Samantha Donaldson is an exceptionally intelligent 17-year-old English girl who impresses the heck out of certain judges at the Girl Guides competition. After all, German is only one of the five languages she speaks and reads. While she plans to study mathematics at the university when WWI ends, she spends her free time as a messenger for the government in London.

Then Sam is recruited for female spy organization La Dame Blanche. While Sam is understandably hesitant to jump in, she’s offered incentive: if she joins, military intelligence will investigate her father’s disappearance during a diplomatic mission. Her trainer/mentor, Miss Tickford, prepares her for her new role, but also seems to have secrets of her own.

Sam’s mission: impersonate Sophia Therese von Schonburg, a person with family connection to the Kaiser’s family. Living with the royal family in the heart of Berlin will enable her to find and extract a missing spy code named Velvet. Velvet’s handler has disappeared, and she’s so far undercover that no one is left who knows her true identity. She could be one of a few different people. Sam will have to tread carefully in her part, even while developing a tentative relationship with German Corporal Maxwell Mayer.

MY TWO CENTS: The success of this book hinges on the likability and believability of its main character, and Teri Brown has created a winner. Sam is, thankfully, no Mary Sue character. She may be exceptionally intelligent and willing to do anything for her father, but she’s also young, scared, naïve, and fully aware that she’s out of her depth. All of these things play well into the story as Sam gradually learns what her mission really is.

There’s mystery as Sam investigates the various people who might be Velvet. I don’t think it was glaringly obvious. I thought I knew, and then I thought I was wrong, so it’s certainly not like I knew the whole time.

There’s also development in the relationships between Sam and various people…her mentor, Miss Tickford; her maybe-possible love interest, Maxwell; and the young ladies who might be Velvet.

I also like the inside look we get at Berlin in 1915. I’m definitely not as up on WWI history as I am with other historical periods, so that information was interesting to me AND made me want to learn more. That’s exactly what historical fiction should do.

 BOTTOM LINE: Very enjoyable Young Adult historical/mystery with an engaging heroine and interesting insight into WWI Germany. I don’t know if there will be a sequel or series, but if there is, I’d definitely pick it up.

TEACUP RATING: This book gets four out of five teacups from me.

ON SALE DATE: Velvet Undercover is 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.

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