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.

Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I LOVE historical fiction. It’s my favorite genre. I’ve also read quite a bit of nonfiction about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. When I saw this YA book offered a modern, high school retelling of their romance, I was intrigued. Is their story so timeless that it can be dropped in any setting in any era?

Anne & Henry Front Cover (Simon Pulse)

Anne & Henry Front Cover (Simon Pulse)

THE PLOT: Henry Tudor is the Big Man On Campus at his exclusive high school, but he’s still not quite happy with his life. He lives in the shadow of his older brother Arthur, who died. He’s even inherited Arthur’s former girlfriend, Catherine. They’re expected to marry because their families believe they’re an appropriate match. Yes, their families are so snobby that Henry is criticized for being the football quarterback instead of spending all his time on the debate team. After all, debate will help prepare him for his future political career. Football is just a sport.

Then he meets new student Anne Boleyn, a dangerous rebel type. She’s got a bit of a past, and she’s very different from the in-crowd. She immediately annoys Henry’s friends when she puts them in their place for being jerks. But she captivates Henry by being wild in a way he’s never known before. They’re drawn together in a passionate romance that just might be love. But their relationship may not survive everything working against them–including Henry and Anne’s own destructive natures.

MY TWO CENTS: I tried to measure this book in two ways: as a retelling of a nonfiction historical relationship, and as entertainment provided by a YA book.

The emotionally explosive relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn literally changed the world, and people have studied the couple for hundreds of years. What about Anne Boleyn was so captivating that Henry broke away from the Catholic Church to have her? Obviously Henry wanted a legitimate son, but he risked everything for Anne, a commoner with no connections and radical ideas about religion. And once they were finally married after years of waiting, how did all that passionate love turn to passionate hatred so quickly? Was it just about her three failed attempts to bear a son? It’s likely that the conspiracy that brought about her execution was manufactured by Cromwell…on Henry’s orders. Had he just tired of her enough to have her killed? Or did he possibly come to resent how much he’d had to change for her? Had he just become crazed from his own power? Henry claimed until his death that Anne had bewitched him.

So how does this book incorporate the historical facts into modern teen life? Well, it’s got the general structure: Henry as a leader (student council president); dating Catherine, who was first his dead older brother’s girlfriend. Henry is emotionally disconnected from Catherine. He doesn’t really want his brother’s leftovers. This is sort of a pale imitation of Henry VII’s eventual divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon, citing the Bible passage about marrying his brother’s wife as the cause for their lack of a male heir.

Anne enters the picture as someone completely different from anyone Henry has known before. She doesn’t seem to care about appearances. She doesn’t immediately suck up to him for his social position. But none of Henry’s friends likes her, partially because they wanted her as their own conquest. Aside from the main characters, there are references to friends like Charles (Brandon) and Marie (a stand in for Henry’s sister, Mary?) and Wyatt (“noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am.” If you don’t know this reference, do look it up).

Unfortunately, because it’s a novel about teens, the real story has been pretty watered down to just the essence. A teenage Henry obviously doesn’t feel the desperate drive to produce a son before it’s too late. He just wants Anne to help him act out, to break out of his structured life. All their passion seems more like teenage hormones, not a force of nature. The change of Henry’s feelings for Anne seem based mostly on jealousy as the conspiracy set up by his friends entraps her. However, the reader does see hints of his own self-involvement, self-preservation, and general douchebaggery as he contemplates “no longer being under Anne’s spell” and starts looking for the next girl…possibly the cute waitress, Jane Seymour.

How does it read purely for YA entertainment? It’s a little difficult for me to answer that question, but I think I’d be disappointed with the ending if I didn’t know the background story. The story has a strange, abrupt ending, like the real-life story did, but a lite version. Teen readers may not get Henry’s motivation, or feel satisfied with the resolution since there’s no justice for Anne and no punishment for her tormentors. Maybe that’s the whole point—art mimics life in the lack of a happy, or at least reasonable, ending, and leaves you wondering where this went so wrong. I’m hoping that readers who are unfamiliar with the history might be curious enough to go looking for details of the real story. This book could be a great way to generate interest in nonfiction for those who might otherwise dismiss history as “boring.”

NOTE: For those concerned with such things, the book is full of strong language, and there are scenes of sexual activity.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting concept that didn’t quite make it for me. May not be satisfying to those reading for the YA story, but could be a gateway to getting younger readers interested in historical fiction or nonfiction.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 1, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss 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.

Star Wars Chapter Sampler

As we creep closer to December 18, and after all the hoopla of Comic-Con, I wonder if all Star Wars fans feel like I do—both thrilled and really, really apprehensive. If you’re a fan, you’ve proceeded from Return of the Jedi in one of two ways: you assumed the Empire was defeated and our heroes lived happily ever after, or you’ve followed the Extended Universe (now known as Star Wars Legends) and have come to love Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, and Ben Skywalker. Either way, your picture of life after Jedi is about to change. Is that good or bad? Only time will tell.

As a super-nerd, I still own my very battered paperbacks of the original novelizations of the films: Star Wars by “George Lucas” (really Alan Dean Foster), The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut, and Return of the Jedi by James Kahn. I really need to buy those on Kindle. But I’m intrigued by all these new Star Wars books that are coming, including retelling of the original movies. So I gobbled up the chapter sampler offered by Netgalley. It included three books that are “fresh interpretations” for young readers, possibly experiencing the franchise for the first time. (Unless their parents brought them up properly and they already know why May the Fourth should be an official postal holiday.)

BOOK 1: Star Wars: A New Hope—The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farmboy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

I think this is longest excerpt in the sampler…the beginning of Star Wars from Leia’s point of view. The dialogue is word-for-word from the film, but all Leia’s thoughts are a very nice addition. We get a little background on Leia that I had never read before, so I’m not sure if it’s new canon or just something I missed in comics. Leia has mostly been raised by her two aunts to be a proper queen when the time comes. (Her adopted mother’s sisters?) They’ve taught her to curtsy properly and give speeches. But what Leia has really wanted is to follow her father into the senate, and then the rebellion. Helping in the theft of the Death Star plans is her first lone mission, and she’s making a mess of it. Will she be able to get away from Darth Vader and get the plans to her father?

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK 2: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back—So You Want To Be A Jedi? by Adam Gidwitz

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one is a little strange. Some of it is told in the second person, like Luke is giving instructions on being a Jedi and escaping the Wampa. It reads a little like a “choose your own adventure” book. (Am I showing my age with that reference?) And then there are summaries of the action going on that Luke doesn’t see. This one will be the hardest sell for me since The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I’m immediately miffed that we’re told we won’t see “the mushy stuff” of Han and Leia’s love story, but totally understandable in a YA novelization. I’m also amused by the summary of their relationship: they “kind of love each other and kind of hate each other.” Yeah, that’s about right.

So, I found this one a little weird but interesting. I’d have to read a few more chapters to know if I really like the style. It probably will attract younger readers, though.

 

 

BOOK 3: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi—Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one seemed to be a fairly straightforward retelling of Return of the Jedi, starting with the droids’ journey to Jabba’s palace. There’s a bit of humor to make the boring trek across the sand seem…even more boring.  There’s also a quick intro to Jabba and his favorite prize, Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

I appreciate the humor in the sample chapters for this one, so I’d be interested in checking it out.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m most intrigued by The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy; least hooked by So You Want to Be a Jedi? but overall, I’d be interested in checking out all three.

May the Force be with us…always.

ON SALE DATE: All three will be available September 22, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

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

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