Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty Universe)

cruel beauty_rosamund hodge

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. (Goodreads description)


The Specs
ISBN: 0062224735, hd, 352pp, 2014 Balzer + Bray


This was such a complex book. I really wanted to like it. I adore the “Beauty and the Beast” story too; it’s my all-time favorite fairy tale.  That doesn’t mean that I’m closed-minded about new interpretations, far from it.  That’s what storytelling is all about so when I heard there was going to be a new version released where Beauty (here called Nyx) is going to marry the Beast (a demon lord named Ignifex) and then try to kill him to save her people, I was like, “Yay!!!  They’re totally going to fall in love. Let’s do this!”

I know, I’m a little odd.

So this story is not only “Beauty and the Beast” but there’s also elements of “Bluebeard” and “Taming of the Shrew” too.  Ignifex’s castle is a labyrinth of locked rooms, some of which she has keys for and some that do not, and heaven help her if she finds a way into the rooms where she should not go.

I love that Nyx, who of course is intelligent, is almost an empowered heroine, educated and lethal.  Her anger and resentment towards her twin sister, Astraia, makes her more flawed and interesting.

Another element that I really liked was the presence of servants in Ignifex “The Gentle Lord”‘s castle.  In other iterations of B&B these servants are personified as magical, dancing objects, severed hands wielding candelabras or figures that move within paintings.  In Hodge’s universe, the servants are shadows, living under a cursed enchantment but still capable of expressing some emotions which Nyx uses as a way to alleviate her loneliness.  Great plot decision, loved it.

Okay, now for the bad.

What really bothered me the most about this novel (and why I rated it lower) is the conclusion of the book.  It felt rushed.  I was left feeling confused.  There was so much that was crammed in that I lost track of what was actually happening.  I rarely re-read a book when I’ve immediately finished it (though favs I’ll go to again and again). So, you’ve got to get my attention the first time around and Hodge lost me completely. I’m sorry!

Without giving away spoilers, I didn’t care for the way it wrapped up and was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  If you’ve read Cruel Beauty and you understand what I mean, or maybe you understood the conclusion better, or maybe you think I’m completely wrong, sound off here.

I’m willing to give the title another round, and a different rating.  So there you go. If you think Cruel Beauty deserves a higher rating, and another chance, let me know.  As it was, I was rather disappointed.

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The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

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“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)

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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!!!!

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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)

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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