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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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.

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.

Born of Deception by Teri Brown

This sequel to Born of Illusion finds magician and psychic Anna van Housen (possibly Harry Houdini’s illegitimate daughter) in danger across the pond.

Born of Deception Cover (Harper Collins)

Born of Deception Cover (Harper Collins)

THE PLOT: Anna has moved to London to be with boyfriend Cole, tour Europe performing her magic act, and possibly work with the society of “sensitives.” She’s not too sure about the society, which seems to be in chaos. Then there’s a murder, Anna is the target of psychic attacks, she and Cole seem to be drifting apart, there’s a new cute guy, and, worst of all, Anna’s mother comes to visit.

MY TWO CENTS: I read book 1, Born of Illusion, in August 2013. I didn’t retain lots of details from that book, but I still enjoyed this one. I would say if you haven’t read that one, you really should to get a true picture of Anna’s background and the start of her relationship with Cole. However, I think the mystery in this book is enjoyable even if you didn’t read Illusion first.

I DID pick up early on who was behind the psychic attacks, but maybe a younger reader wouldn’t. Plus, I was expecting yet another reveal in conjunction with the perpetrator, but that didn’t pan out. Or maybe just hasn’t panned out YET. (Please tell me there will be a book three!)

BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the first book may be really annoyed at Cole in this book, but Anna is still a captivating and sympathetic heroine. You want to see her succeed and be happy, no matter what twists and turns her life path takes. Fans of supernatural YA who are sick of vampires and angels should give this one a try.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four teacups. It certainly keeps you reading, but may not be as memorable as other YA series. Nevertheless, I’m hoping there’s another book in the series.

ON SALE DATE: Born of Deception will be available in hardcover and e-book formats on June 10, 2014.

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

 

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