Entwined by Heather Dixon

entwined_heather dixon

Come and mend your broken hearts here.

Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her — beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing — it’s taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late. (GoodReads description)


The Specs

ISBN: 0062001035 , hd, 472pp, 2011 by GreenWillow Books, YA, Fairy Tale Retelling, Romance


There is so much humor in this book, I love it.  This is one of my favorite moments, near the beginning of the book (so not spoiling anything):

“[…] Azalea looked down to see a pudgy little hand reaching out from beneath the tree, grabbing at his trouser ankle. Azalea cringed. “Not there, Ivy, you great idiot,” came a whispered voice from among the boughs. “Left — left — no, left is this way–” The hands peeking from beneath the tree skirts felt around, grabbed the ends of the platter, and slowly, with clinks and clatters, dragged the plate in.”

Azalea is one of several sisters who are forbidden to dance after their mother passes.  When Azalea discovers a secret passage that leads her to a magical, silver forest, there is all the dancing they could desire.  But slowly, things go missing: a handkerchief, a brooch, etc.

The Keeper is an enigmatic feature, the mysterious type women are drawn to, but you never really can tell what his secrets are, or his motivations.

There is some great character development with Azalea’s sisters, particularly Bramble and Clover, who each have their romances in the book.  Azalea is perhaps more in tune than her sisters into recognizing danger, but as she tries to break away, a treasured artifact goes missing and she is drawn in deeper.

This is one of the best revisionist fairy tales I’ve read recently and it’s very well done.  I can’t wait to re-read Entwined again and this is one of those titles that is going in my permanent collection.  Take a look and tell me if you agree.

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The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

princess-curse

“Merrie Haskell’s middle-grade fantasy novel Princess Curse is an imaginative retelling of the fairy tales The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast.

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Sylvania, the prince offers a fabulous reward to anyone who cures the curse that forces the princesses to spend each night dancing to the point of exhaustion. Everyone who tries disappears or falls into an enchanted sleep.

Thirteen-year-old Reveka, a smart, courageous herbalist’s apprentice, decides to attempt to break the curse despite the danger. Unravelling the mystery behind the curse leads Reveka to the Underworld, and to save the princesses, Reveka will have to risk her soul.

Princess Curse combines magic, suspense, humor, and adventure into a story perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine.” (Goodreads review)

 

Before I launch into my thoughts about this book, I just want to take a moment and say that I hope I get to meet Merrie Haskell someday.

We both wrote our first stories at the age of seven, we both got BAs in anthropology (mine cultural, hers biological) and we both work in libraries that house a million + books.  The fact that she’s written books haled as appropriate for fans of Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale and Karen Cushman (Goodreads) and Karen’s endorsed The Princess Curse, is just frosting on the cake.

I love, love, love Levine, Cushman and Hale (see where I met Shannon Hale), so stumbling upon this book and looking it up on Goodreads (my go-to) and discovering all that praise, well, I was thrilled. I guess it was just one of those serendipitous things that happens sometimes. I really hoped that this book wouldn’t disappoint me and it was so much better than I had hoped. 🙂

This charming story is set in Sylvania (modern-day Romania) and includes some folklore terms thrown in for color involving witches and dragons and ogres.

This is the first fairy tale that I’ve read set in Romania which has a personal connection for me. My parents spent some time there when I was a teen and I remember them trying to teach me a few expressions they’d picked up, such as:

“Cu placere!” (you’re welcome) – sounded like “couple of cherries”

“La revedere!   La revedere!” (goodbye) – sounded like “river dairy”

“bine” (good) – sounded like “ben-a”

(Thanks to Linguanaut for a reminder on the spelling)

Expressions aside, Romania has a wonderful culture of folklore and mythology which Haskell references without trouncing out some of the Romanian tropes (no gypsies appear in this book).  I’m not read-up on Romanian history but I would guess the setting is some time in the Middle Ages. It certainly has that Karen Cushman feel of when her books are set (ex: The Midwife’s Apprentice) and Haskell doesn’t romanticize the life of Reveka, an herbalist apprentice.

There are elements of classic fairy tales built into Reveka’s story (advertised as ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’) but I would say there’s also elements of ‘Briar Rose’ too.  Reveka is a likable enough heroine with plans and dreams of her own but she’s not a 21st century heroine in a medieval setting — an altogether too common error in today’s YA.

Reveka is practical enough to know the ways of the world at thirteen and understand that she would rather be her own mistress than marry and assume the responsibilities of her husband’s trade.

As I’m sure others have pointed out, it will seem odd to think of a thirteen year old pursuing a career (or marriage) when the average marriage age in the USA today is 27 (Atlantic.com). I was 27 when I married actually but when you’re going back hundreds of years…things were different. Life expectancies were shorter. It’s a cultural divide as much as it’s a divide in centuries.

Reveka is old enough to recognize an opportunity so when she hears about the reward for breaking the curse of the dancing princesses, she jumps at the chance. Reveka is drawn into a world of magical and mythological beings and mysteries she must solve at the peril of her own soul.

This book also opens with a great first line:

Three days after my thirteenth birthday, Armas, the Executioner and Chief of Prisons, came for me while I ate breakfast.

Isn’t that great?

Haskell tactfully avoids any romantic entanglements with Reveka (who is, just thirteen) and the men in and around the castle, which would just come across as odd, if not disturbing, to readers.  I loved one moment in the book where her master (employer) says of Reveka that she’d no more consider (a certain person) romantically than she would a donkey.

The shadowy figure she meets is an interesting, complex character.  There is a lot to explore there and while we do find out more about him, his story is by no means left resolved.  The Princess Curse could be a stand-alone book but I hope it won’t remain that way for long.  I want to rejoin Reveka’s life and watch her break another curse.

Rating: 4 stars, because I think the concept, author, and story are awesome.

Evertrue by Brodi Ashton (Everneath #3)

evertrue_ashton

Terrified for her survival, Nikki and Jack begin a desperate attempt to reverse the process using any means possible. Even Cole, who they expected to fight them at every turn, has become an unlikely ally — but how long can it last? Nikki needs to feed on Cole to survive, Cole needs Nikki to gain the throne in the Everneath, Jack needs Nikki because she is everything to him — and together, they must travel back to the Underworld to undo Nikki’s fate and make her mortal once more. But Cole isn’t the only one with plans for Nikki: the Queen has not forgotten Nikki’s treachery, and she wants her destroyed for good. Will Nikki be forced to spend eternity in the Underworld, or does she have what it takes to bring down the Everneath once and for all?

In this stunning conclusion to the Everneath trilogy, Brodi Ashton evokes the resiliency of the human spirit and the indomitable power of true love. (GoodReads)


The Specs
ISBN: 006207119X, hd, 368p, 2014 Balzer + Bray, YA, fantasy, mythology, romance


Thar’ she blows! Spoiler Alert!!!!

Continue reading

Everbound by Brodi Ashton (Everneath #2)

everbound-ashton

Nikki Beckett could only watch as her boyfriend, Jack, sacrificed himself to save her, taking her place in the Tunnels of the Everneath for eternity — a debt that should’ve been hers. She’s living a borrowed life, and she doesn’t know what to do with the guilt. And every night Jack appears in her dreams, lost and confused and wasting away.

Desperate for answers, Nikki turns to Cole, the immortal bad boy who wants to make her his queen — and the one person least likely to help. But his heart has been touched by everything about Nikki, and he agrees to assist her in the only way he can: by taking her to the Everneath himself.

Nikki and Cole descend into the Everneath, only to discover that their journey will be more difficult than they’d anticipated — and more deadly. But Nikki vows to stop at nothing to save Jack — even if it means making an incredible sacrifice of her own.

In this enthralling sequel to Everneath, Brodi Ashton tests the bonds of destiny and explores the lengths we’ll go to for the ones we love. (GoodReads)

Continue reading

The One by Kiera Cass (The Selection #3)

one-kiera cass

The Selection changed the lives of thirty-five girls forever. And now, the time has come for one winner to be chosen.

America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown—or to Prince Maxon’s heart. But as the competition approaches its end and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes just how much she stands to lose—and how hard she’ll have to fight for the future she wants.

From the very first page of The Selection, this #1 New York Times bestselling series has captured readers’ hearts and swept them away on a captivating journey… Now, in The One, Kiera Cass delivers a satisfying and unforgettable conclusion that will keep readers sighing over this electrifying fairy-tale long after the final page is turned.


I stumbled onto The Selection series right around the time The Elite was coming out, or about to come out. I absolutely adored The Selection and The Elite was a great follow-up. So, like Cass’ other readers, I eagerly awaited for the finale to be published in May this year, and that leads us to The One.

The short-short version: Yes, I really liked it but I wasn’t left with the “warm and fuzzies” at the end that I was expecting and that was a major let-down.

The biggest reason why this book was such a let-down was its length. Running at 323 pages (hardcover version), that’s a bit short for a YA novel. In comparison, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross was 408 pages (same format). The One needed to be either a) longer, or b) have a follow-up book.

The first half of the book is what you’d expect: more drama in the household as Maxon gets closer to each of the girls, inspiring competition, jealously and America to “hedge her bets” by maintaining her secret relationship/friendship with Aspen (swoon). Eventually, Maxon’s got to find out and of course he does, and everything hits the fan. That’s not a spoiler really, you’re expecting that from book 1.

What troubled me about this book was how under-developed the second half of book 3 was. It was too rushed, too much squeezed into a short space and I didn’t get the satisfying conclusion I was waiting a year for. Obviously I don’t know what was going on at the production end of things but maybe with pushed-back release date, or room for a fourth book, Cass would’ve had the creative room to develop the book further — and there were so many places where she could have too!

That’s what broke my heart about The One. The second half of the book needed more room to breathe.

The third book in a series is sometimes called “The War” and with The One, that is no exception. Without naming names here, people die.

Yes, it’s traumatic and sad. But was it necessary?  I’m not so sure.

There were hints in earlier parts of the book series about the backstory behind the characters and I really thought that those points would come back to the foreground in this last book … and it kind of disappoints. I’m sorry but I’m trying to talk about the story without giving out too many spoilers.  Suffice to say, there’s some shockers in there, but I’m not positive that it’s to advance the plot.

So, that’s my big beef with the book. Yes, there’s gorgeous fashions and yes, you won’t be screaming at the book (probably) by the end of it, but for me, this is one of those read-once-and-donate books. It’s not a read-and-reread book. And that makes me really sad. 😦 Do I recommend it? Eh, if you’ve read the other two, sure. Finish the series. If you haven’t started the series? Trilogies are over-rated anyway.

3 stars

The Goddess Inheritance by Aimee Carter (Goddess Test #3)

goddess_inheritance_carterLove or life.
Henry or their child.
The end of her family or the end of the world.
Kate must choose.

During nine months of captivity, Kate Winters has survived a jealous goddess, a vengeful Titan and a pregnancy she never asked for. Now the Queen of the Gods wants her unborn child, and Kate can’t stop her–until Cronus offers a deal.

In exchange for her loyalty and devotion, the King of the Titans will spare humanity and let Kate keep her child. Yet even if Kate agrees, he’ll destroy Henry, her mother and the rest of the council. And if she refuses, Cronus will tear the world apart until every last god and mortal is dead.

With the fate of everyone she loves resting on her shoulders, Kate must do the impossible: find a way to defeat the most powerful being in existence, even if it costs her everything.

Even if it costs her eternity. (Goodreads description)


The Specs

ISBN: 0373210671, pb, 303pp, 2013 Harlequin Teen, YA, fantasy, mythology, romance


SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this is the final book in The Goddess Test trilogy so of course, there’s going to be spoilers in the series.  In the last book, Kate was captured by the King of Titans and now she’s pregnant and Henry’s child is at risk.

We see a whole lot more of the King of Titans in this one and Hera wavers from thinking she can control him to being absolutely terrified.  For as immortal as the gods seem to be, their power dwarfs in comparison to that of a single Titan.

Due to Kate’s kindness towards Cronus in the last book, he’s under this misguided belief that Kate is in love with him.  He basically wants to make her Queen of Earth (maybe the universe, I dunno, how far does a Titan’s power span?)  He’ll even rear Kate’s child as his own.

Only problem — if she agrees, everyone she loves will die.  Yeah, and if they try to fight him, they’ll likely end up dying anyway.

So…. does Kate do the honorable thing and stick by her man? Hell no.  And that’s what I hated about this book.  Why doesn’t Kate open up to Henry about everything that’s going on?  Why does she go off and do her own thing?  Why don’t you just talk to your spouse already?!

I don’t get it.

As far as the action goes, you’ve got the big finale with a final battle (of course), all guns drawn, that this trilogy deserves.  That’s great.  But it’s been several months since I’ve read this and honestly, I can’t remember what happens anymore.  It’s not epic like, LOTR or Star Wars or even Twilight or HP.

Out of the three books, definitely not my favorite.  What makes it interesting and readable is Cronus.  The guy’s a nut job, a certifiable psychopath.  And he’s really interesting to read about.  I loved the twisted way Carter introduces him in Goddess Interrupted and he’s just so much fun to read.  If I pick up this title again, it’ll be to explore his character more.

If you’ve read the first two books and you want to finish the trilogy, by all means, read this book.  For me personally, I kind of wish this had been a 2-book series and they’d just defeated Cronus (or locked him up) in the sequel.  It would’ve spared me some of the wish-washy decisions Kate makes in book three.

Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter (Goddess Test #2)

review-pinkgoddess-interrupted-carterKate Winters has won immortality. But if she wants a life with Henry in the Underworld, she’ll have to fight for it.

Becoming immortal wasn’t supposed to be the easy part. Though Kate is about to be crowned Queen of the Underworld, she’s as isolated as ever. And despite her growing love for Henry, ruler of the Underworld, he’s becoming ever more distant and secretive. Then, in the midst of Kate’s coronation, Henry is abducted by the only being powerful enough to kill him: the King of the Titans.

As the other gods prepare for a war that could end them all, it is up to Kate to save Henry from the depths of Tartarus. But in order to navigate the endless caverns of the Underworld, Kate must enlist the help of the one person who is the greatest threat to her future.

Henry’s first wife, Persephone. (GoodReads description)


The Specs

ISBN: 0373210450, pb, 305pp, 2012 Harlequin Teen, YA, fantasy, romance, mythology


Growing up, I thought that I was the cleverest kid on the block because I was able to use an out-of-date World Book collection to create a detailed genealogical chart for all of the Greek deities (and Roman counterparts) based on the entries in those blue encyclopedias. What was I, 10? Yeah, probably. Don’t look at me like that. If you’re reading about a modern-day sequel of the story of Persephone, chances are probably that you did the same thing I did. 😉

Mythology has made a come-back in recent years (Percy Jackson, et al) but I’ve been looking for a few good reads (pun intended) centered around a heroine. So I was really happy to stumble upon this series.  Book 1, The Goddess Test, was a refreshing take and I was curious where they’d pick up at in the sequel.

I’ve often said that middle books are difficult to pull off well but I think this book was actually more interesting than the first one in the series.  We get to see more of the characters mentioned in the first book and they’re involved more in the plot, rather than just be background characters.

For example, we get to see the deities as deities and Hera isn’t done yet with messing in Kate and Henry’s life.  They also introduce another villain in the series taken from mythos, the King of the Titans, currently locked up in Tartarus.

One of my favorite details of this book that may go unnoticed is the similarities in design between the mansion and the palace — the palace being on a much-grander scale because it is located in the Underworld.

There is something about Biblical in nature about it actually — it’s like the mansion is a “type and shadow” (Col. 2:17) of the real palace that Kate sees “dimly at first, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).  That was just something that occurred to me while reading and thought it was interesting.

One small detail that you’ll adore are the love tokens Henry leaves for Kate on her journey, and I won’t spoil it by telling you what they are but I loved, loved, loved this detail.

A minor problem with the series that’s bothering me but I hope is fixed in the final book of the trilogy … the heroine isn’t very proactive. A lot that happens could be resolved by Kate being more forthcoming and I wish that Kate would do just that.  Maybe it’s a growing phase?

Anyway, overall, I enjoyed this sequel and I’m looking forward to reading the finale.  I recommend this book for anyone interested in YA Greek mythologies.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

girls_at_the_kingfisher_clubIn a not-so-quiet townhouse, somewhere in Manhattan, there are twelve Hamilton sisters, shut away from the world by an embarrassed father. The eldest, Jo, is a surrogate mother figure, de facto leader (earning her the moniker “The General”), and dance instructor. It is the Roaring Twenties and the girls know every popular dance from the Foxtrot to the Charleston.

Having discovered a way to disappear unseen in the twilight hours, the sisters visit a string of speakeasies, dancing and flirting, and finally settling on The Kingfisher Club as home. When a police raid thrusts Jo into the path of an old flame, Tom, the gossiping talk about the Hamilton sisters reaches their father’s ears. Desperate to be rid of them, he forms a plan to marry them all off. It’s up to Jo to circumvent their father’s plans but at what cost to her heart?

There is a lot of territory to cover with twelve girls and their love lives over a period of eight years and we get Jo’s impression of each sister in staccato moments within a much-longer narrative. The third-person narrator elects to follow the girls, not their father, which lends him a shadowy personality and creates unanswered questions about his business ethics. This contrasts well with Jo, whose fiercely protective nature toward her younger siblings, and their love, loyalty (and antics) in return, are reminiscent of the March sisters.

Valentine’s novel has glamour in spades, evocative of the Jazz Age’s fashions and dance crazes and the dark side of prohibition. As a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, it works surprisingly well as a historical novel absent of magic cloaks and gemstone-encrusted boughs.


This review first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Society. I was provided with a copy of the book for the purpose of a review.

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

amaranth-enchantmentI’ve been meaning to read this for well over a year now.  Each time I see the cover of the girl holding the beautiful, magical flower, I’ve thought “hmm, maybe later.” Then finally, that day came.  While this novel is firmly rooted in YA fantasy (with some of the usual characteristics), I would classify it as a sub-genre of fairy tale.

We have a heroine, a handsome prince, and a “witch”. There’s a conflict that separates them being together and the witch helps the heroine overcome the obstacles, yada yada yada. It’s a faraway kingdom that doesn’t exist in our modern world (typical fairy tale setting).

What I find so fascinating about this book is that it’s not really a Cinderella retelling (although there is some tongue-in-cheek nods to it).  The witch isn’t really a fairy godmother either.  My local library actually has this classified under “extraterrestrials” in the database, believe it or not, which made me do a double-take.

The Amaranth Enchantment is a stand-alone title. It’s the first book by Julie Berry that I’ve read and I’m not sure what else is out there that she’s done but I liked this well enough that I’d give another one a try.

The plot breaks away from the helpless heroine mold and Lucinda Chapdelaine resorts to unusual methods to try to restore some of her former life.  Without giving it away, there are a few characters that appear early in the book who “steal the show” and it’s their personalities that bring such wonderful color to Lucinda’s story.  In that sense, Lucinda is the straight man to their antics.

The tone of the book is pretty light with elements of humor.  There are some moments that transcend the ‘lightness’ to have an almost spiritual, ethereal beauty but those moments are few and far between.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, it’s worth a reading through once, and it’s introduced me to the author who I would definitely read some of her other material.  That aside, this probably won’t be a repeat read for me but if Berry releases a follow-up on Lucinda’s adventures, I’ll probably check that out at some point.

Rating: 3 stars

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

thinking-womans-guide

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

Book 27 of this year’s Goodreads challenge led me to the world of Orsland, a world created (discovered?) by Emily Croy Barker, Harvard graduate and executive editor of The American Lawyer.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I would not have expected a lush, epic fantasy from a Harvard grad.  I’m delighted to be proven wrong.

This book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is of course our introduction to Nora as she stumbles from her ordinary world (a wedding in the mountains) to the special world (Orsland) where she keeps company with beautiful people who are more than they seem. Part 2, Nora has met the magician Aruendiel and is now trying to learn “skills to survive” as the synopsis suggests. Cooking, cleaning, helping the housekeeper. Part 2 drags on forever.

Part 3 is where Nora finally starts to get to learn how to magic (yay!) and we learn the rules of magic in this world.  There is a big turning point between Parts 3 and 4 which I guess I would call the 75% marker.  Nora’s goals shift and things get much more complicated, leading up to the climax.

Barker has stated that she’s working on a sequel so things don’t exactly get resolved and there’s new characters and problems that are introduced way too late in the first book to expect it all to be wrapped up in a pretty bow.

For its overall length, I was a bit thrown about where the plot points would be found.  I understand (and agree) with some criticisms on Goodreads that the book is too long.  It’s not that there’s too many ideas crammed into one place per se.  Rather, there’s a lot of filler with all that cooking/cleaning that I wish could have been condensed.

It’s almost as if the passage of time is happening in real-time.  There are some moments that feel like months are passing — a barren vastness — and others that I wish Barker had prolonged.

One thing that I especially enjoyed about Nora was her understanding (and use) of poetry.  There are a few lines from the book on the author’s website — with citations — but I wish I’d had the foresight to underline/highlight each verse throughout the book to look it up later.  There are so many wonderful bits and pieces in there!

There’s also this interesting geography I want to know more about which the author references on her website with maps. Link: Maps

I really hope that in the sequel that we get more of a feel for the landscape.

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear what is going to happen in the next book but I won’t give away spoilers!!  I hope that the seeds Barker has planted will grow into a sequel, but perhaps not one quite so long.


April 2014 Status

Total Abandoned Titles:

(1) A Talent For Trouble by Jen Turano (226pp read)

Total Books Finished: 10

Total Page Count: 2,311 (and growing!)