Serena’s Review: “My Lady Jane”

22840421Book: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book description: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In “My Lady Jane,” coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of “The Princess Bride,” featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Review: I listed this book as one of my picks for June Highlights without any real knowledge of what it would be. A comedy of the definitely-tragic life of Lady Jane Grey? Something about a horse? But the comparison to “The Princess Bride” is what truly sold me on it, and I immediately requested it from the library. And it was a blast!

King Edward is dying. Or so he’s been told. And in a brilliant scheme of his (not) own making, he decides to line up his best friend and cousin Lady Jane Grey to inherit the throne behind him. But to do so, she should really be married so the male heirs can take over eventually, because women are questionable leaders, Edward has to believe. And so enters Lord Gifford, or “G” who has a bit of a “horse” problem. That is, he becomes a horse from dawn to dusk every day. So now, poor Jane must mourn Edward (or does she?), become queen, and deal with a husband who prefers apples. It’s all quite lovely.

I am generally hit-and-miss on the concept of duel protagonists, even more skeptical of three. But this book pulls it off! We have chapters from Edward, G, and, of course, Jane, to tell us their story. Naturally, it would be easy for Edward’s chapters to fall to the wayside in a story that is largely about Jane’s queenship and her burgeoning relationship with G, her husband/horse. But I was surprised to find myself truly enjoying Edwards contributions and his journey to self-awareness. Yes, Edward, maybe women can rule…maybe, your half-sister, even, Ness (also known as Elizabeth…)?

G and Jane, however, were the true heart of the story and I enjoyed them both immensely. Jane loves books, so there was a natural kinship between us there.

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At one point, in the early more rocky stages of their relationship, Jane builds a wall of books between herself and G in the carriage because there was not enough room in the trunks. This is my kind of girl. G, too, had a great voice and sense of humor. His perspective from his “horse self” was hilarious.

Really, the humor is what made this book. The dialogue was witty, and the authors fully embraced the ridiculousness of their concept, and it as almost impossible to not feel their own laughter emanating from the pages.

And yes, the comparisons to “The Princess Bride” were on point. The use of a narrator inserting thoughts and opinions throughout the story was used in the same way, and there definite nods to the story itself. In one scene, G refers to a large bear by some long acronym and proclaimed he didn’t believe it existed (ala “ROUSs? I don’t believe they exist!”) However, while I enjoyed these nods and the style in general, there were points where I felt like it was leaning too heavily on elements from that story. A nod here and there, sure, but there were a few too many, especially with the parenthetical narration bits that struck a bit too closely to “The Princess Bride.” It’s one thing to follow a format, it’s another to almost copy an idea. Parts of this made me uncomfortable.

I also really liked the twisting of history. Instead of the actual struggle between Catholics and Protestants that was going on during this time period (and lead to the conflict in rulers with Mary and Elizabeth fighting for different national religions, essentially), this book changes it to a conflict between the Verities (people who stay people and believe this is the RIGHT way to be) and the Ethians (those who can turn into nifty creatures like horses/dogs/etc). It was fun seeing what was actually a very serious conflict be turned into such a creative fantasy adventure.

Which speaks to tone over all. Like I said, this is definitely a comedy story. If you’re looking for anything regarding a serious, historical book, this is not for you. The story/characters/narrator consistently make fun of elements of the time period (see: sexism regarding women rulers), and the dialogue is full of anachronisms. But, if you’re in the mood for a quirky, fun, romantic comedy, this book is definitely for you!

Rating 8: Super fun story, with three great leads. If you liked “The Princess Bride,” you’ll like this. But was also a bit too close to this original, at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Lady Jane” is a very new book, so it’s not on many lists. Obviously, if you liked this and haven’t read “The Princess Bride,” go do that now! And another great comedy fantasy series I love is called the “Hero” series by Moira J. Moore and starts with “Resenting the Hero.”

Find “My Lady Jane” at your library using WorldCat!

Reader’s Advisory for “The Raven Cycle”

Thank you for reading our joint series review for “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. As promised, here is our longer, in-depth Reader’s Advisory post for the entire series now that we have completed it. On to the picks!

Serena’s Picks:

Series: “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series by Laini Taylor

This book is right up there as one of my newer favorite young adult fantasy series. If you liked the combination of fantasy and horror that you got with the “Raven Cycle,” this series is right up your alley. Also, if you liked anything about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”…don’t want to give it away, but yikes! Taylor also introduces a strong cast of characters, and while the romance is probably a stronger element in this series than it was in the “Raven Cycle,” it never overpowers what is otherwise an incredibly creative and unpredictable fantasy story.

518848Book: “Sabriel” by Garth Nix

This is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels. I wasn’t as aware of it as a teenager reading the story, but man is it dark as well! I guess there are necromancers in it, so I should have been aware as a kid, but for some reason, as an adult reader who regularly revisits this book, I’ve come to appreciate how well Nix handles the dark fantasy elements in this book. It also features a kickass heroine in Sabriel herself, a slow-burn romance that doesn’t overtake the story, and snarky cat. So, it’s pretty much the perfect book. It can also be read as a standlone, but Nix has written several sequels in the years since it was first published. I still prefer this one above all and so am only highlighting it here, but if you do read it and enjoy it, I did enjoy the others, too.

10626594Book: “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

Maybe this is a cheaty answer, but I don’t care! Obviously, if you like Stiefvater’s writing for this series, you are likely to enjoy her writing in this book. Mythology in the modern day, this book is simply a beautiful imagining of an only slightly alternate world where horses can come from the sea and are as beautiful as they are dangerous. The writing is exquisite, the two main characters are sympathetic and strong, and, it’s a stand alone that leaves the reader fully satisfied. Regardless of anything else, if you love horses or books about horses, this story is perfect for you.

Kate’s Picks:

Series: “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

A dark fantasy comic about family, magic, friendship, and demons, “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill (one of my favorite authors writing today) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Illustrator) is a dark and fantastical story. It follows the Locke Family, who has moved back to the childhood home of the recently murdered patriarch. Inside the house the three children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, find many magical things, such as magical keys, a door that once you cross you can leave your body, and a magical crown. But there is also a demon inside the well on the property that wants the keys. The tone is both frightening and coming of age, and it is a wonderful adventure filled with action, metaphors, and heart.

22535489Book: “Bone Gap” by Laura Ruby

The town of Bone Gap has an entertaining set of citizens, including a man who treats his chickens like they are people, a hippie lady who makes honey and honey based products, and the O’Sullivan brothers, Sean and Finn, who took in a mysterious woman named Roza. But then Roza disappeared, and Finn saw a dark and mysterious man with her whose face he cannot remember. “Bone Gap” is a story about evil beings that are seeking beautiful princesses, teenagers falling in and out of love, and a very odd town with very odd characters. I picked this because of the town Bone Gap itself, which, like Henrietta, has a feel to it that makes it feel like it’s very own character.

Book: “Far Far Away” by Tom McNeal16030663

Noah Czerny is one of my favorite characters in “The Raven Cycle”, the ghost who is still walking this earth because of the magical Ley Line. “Far Far Away” deals with a ghost as well, but this ghost is a familiar one: Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. “Far Far Away” is a story about a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson, whose closest confidant is Jacob, who is there to watch over him and protect him from an unknown evil. The friendship between Jacob and Jeremy is a sweet one, as is the friendship between Jeremy and a free-spirited girl named Ginger. And the horror elements of this story are also solid, involving a mysterious entity that is threatening Jeremy, taking fairy tale’s darkest points and making them even creepier.

And this wraps up our week long retrospective of “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. If you have read “The Raven Boys” or any other books in the series, what books do you think are similar? 

Joint Review: “The Raven King”

17378527This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the fourth and final book in the series, “The Raven King.”

Book: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, April 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I waited long and not totally patiently to get to this, the conclusion to “The Raven Cycle”. The book version taunted me on the shelf at work, because I was determined to hear Will Patton give life to these characters one last time, and that is what I did. And boy was it worth the wait. When early in the story some strange, ethereal beings that looked just like Blue Sargent came walking through the woods saying ‘make way for the Raven King’, in a weird, strange way, I knew that I was going to enjoy the end of all things. And all of our Raven Boys (and Blue) are so completely burdened during this book that the way that this all shakes out is going to be very, very important and consequence filled.

I was mostly happy and satisfied with how it did, which is the good news! Stiefvater had a lot of plots to wrap up, but I feel like she addressed most of them and gave them closure. The reality of their situation has started to take it’s toll on The Raven Boys and Blue. Blue is coping with the prophecy that has haunted her her entire life, now that she has found a true love in Gansey. Gansey knows that he’s doomed to die in a sacrifice, and is trying to make peace with this. Ronan is still creating things and creatures and pulling them out of his dreams (including a little girl with hooves he calls Orphan Girl), but the responsibilities with this gift are weighing on him. Adam is a powerful scryer, but the loss of Persephone in “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” is still haunting him, as is his abuse filled past. And Noah seems to be wasting away before their eyes. Seeing all of this was both very sad, but very good in the sense that it was a good reminder that they are all teenagers. If they weren’t as affected by these things as they were, it would seem very disingenuous on Stiefvater’s part. It felt appropriate that they were all in their own little angst bubbles in this book.

It was also fun seeing Piper Greenmantle again, newly teamed up with Neve and a really disgusting demon that looks like a giant wasp. The demon always felt like a serious threat, and Stiefvater’s descriptions of it and the hell that it wreaked upon the characters in this book were very scary and made me squirm. But I think that this could tie into one of the weaknesses of this book. While Stiefvater did a good job of wrapping up most of the storylines, there were a few that felt very rushed to wrap up. I don’t want to give spoilers away, necessarily, but there were a couple characters who were brought back just to be thrown to the side. I went in thinking that these characters were going to be there for the remains of the book, especially the ones that have been gone since early in the series, to give them a large send off. But then they would be over and done with after, like, a chapter. I didn’t like how rushed that felt, and I think that sometimes it was done to make room for the new characters, which didn’t seem too fair.

That said, I LOVED a few of the new characters, Henry Cheng especially. We hadn’t seen very much of him in the previous “Raven Cycle” books, but he was given a prominent role in this book as he gets closer to Gansey and Blue. His friendship with Blue was especially nice, since in the previous book he highly offended her without meaning to and it caused a lot of tension between her and Gansey. By the end of this he kind of felt like Carol Cleveland’s role in the “Monty Python” group: not officially a part of the gang, but important enough and there enough that he was totally a part of the gang all things considered. I also liked the introduction of his mother, Sun, a dealer in magical and antique items, a fact that manages to tie a lot of the realties of this world and the conflict that is in it together.

There was another thing that I was worried about in this book, and that was Gansey’s ultimate demise. I, of course, hoped that there would be a way to make this prophecy not so, as I love Gansey, I love his relationship with his friends, and I love his relationship with Blue. But at the same time, this Death Kiss had been so hyped and so matter of fact, that if Stiefvater did some sort of cheap cop out or cliched solution, I would only be disappointed. I was worried and very skeptical that she would muck it up in some way. I’m not going to say much else on the matter, except that this was NOT the case at all, and that she was able to reconcile everything together in a way that I really, really enjoyed.

And Adam and Ronan. Oh my gosh, Adam and Ronan. I love everything about their relationship, and there were absolutely beautiful descriptions about each of them through the other’s eyes that felt so achingly romantic and tender that I got choked up a few times. You wouldn’t think that describing someone as an oil spill would be breathtaking in this regard, and yet Stiefvater managed to do it. Both of these characters are filled with so much anguish and pain, and they understand each other so well and so fully that it always hits the mark in the exact way that it should.

Overall I enjoyed “The Raven King”. I’m going to miss all of these characters and this world that Stiefvater has created, but I am so happy that she ended it the way that she did. Fantasy fans need to check this one out..

Serena’s Thoughts:

And so it ends. I was so nervous for this book. For one, sticking the landing is notably difficult for any series. And for two, Stiefvater had seemingly dug herself quite the hole to dig her way out of. Beyond the obvious prediction of Gansey’s death that has hung over the series as a whole from the very first chapter of the first book, none of these characters have had an easy time of it.

Blue, with her struggles to find a place for herself in a world that she doesn’t seem to fit within all while carrying this heavy burden with regards to love and death tangled in such a way that would break most adults. Ronan, so powerful and yet so trodden down with the burdens of his gift and the losses that just seem to keep coming. Adam, who has come so far, but still carries the scars of his home life, and the internal struggle to accept the gifts of friendship that he has been given, and now has to contend with the full extent to which his promise to be Cabeswater’s hands and eyes will affect his life. And Gansey, now aware of his doom, who can feel the end coming but doesn’t know how to get there or even what role he is to play, now surrounded by such supernaturally powerful friends as Ronan, Blue, and Adam have become. How does to end all of these stories in a way that is true to the tone of the book?

It will be very hard to review this story without spoilers, but I will say that I was immensely satisfied with the ending. These are incredible challenges to face, and I think that Stiefvater handled them all with aplomb. Further, and I really shouldn’t even be surprised any more by this, she adds another character, Henry, who comes with his own baggage and gifts and was slotted in so seamlessly that by the end of the story, I was just as invested in his outcome as the others. Seriously, how does she do this??

The horror in this book also reaches its peak. There were pieces of imagery that were incredibly disconcerting, and often the scene-setting even played hand-in-hand with the type of story-telling you will find in the best horror/thriller novels. At one point, a scene is described through a character’s perspective who cannot see what is happening around him. In many ways, the scene was exactly like one you would come across in a horror movie, when suddenly a room is plunged into darkness and all you have to go on is scuffling and the random shout of dialogue to piece together what is happening. Stiefvater, just like a director of a film scene like this, understands perfectly that sometimes our imagination will make the unseen a million times more terrifying than anything actually presented. It was excellent.

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And, while I was satisfied with the ending, Stiefvater doesn’t fall into the trap of happily-ever-after. The villain in this story is a demon, and if that’s what you’ve got to fight against, a story can’t end with only rainbows and butterflies. A few villains from previous books make surprise appearances, and the background into Mr. Grey’s life as a hitman hired by an underground network of magical art dealers, essentially, is more fully fleshed out in a very creative manner. Sacrifices are made and there were times were I was definitely crying.

But like I said, it did end perfectly. The paths that are lain before the remaining characters were believable and true to the types of people they had all grown into by the end of the series. There was the possibility lain down for future stories for the characters, but I’m not sure how I would feel about a return to this series. This all felt wrapped up so neatly, and I am more than content imagining their future adventures without needing actual follow-up novels. But, at the same time, I’ve started out skeptical about how Stiefvater could pull of this series and live up to the hype, and she’s completely surpassed my expectations. Maybe I should be more trusting! Either way, this was a fantastic conclusion, and I highly, highly recommend this entire series to fans of young adult fantasy and horror.

Kate’s Rating 8: Some of the plot points are hastily tied up, but overall the characterization is spot on and the ending is very satisfying.

Serena’s Rating 9: Practically perfect ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven King” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys,” “The Dream Thieves” and “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”

Joint Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue”

17378508This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the third in the series, “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”

Book: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2014

Where Did We Get This Book: We both got an audiobook from the library

Book Description: There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Kate’s Thoughts:

And it is finally in this, “Blue Lily, Lily Blue,” that “The Raven Cycle” taps into its dark fantasy potential and runs crazy with it. I had been waiting, SO EAGERLY, for this book to become creepy and unsettling, and when things started getting real and  eerie stuff started happening I rejoiced. And then pathos set in, and my rejoicing turned to almost crying. Maggie Stiefvater ran me through the ringer with this book, and Will Patton was an accomplice. And I want to ask both of them, how dare you?

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When the story begins, Maura, Blue’s Mom and ringleader of the psychics at Fox Way, has disappeared from the house, leaving nothing but a vague note. Blue, understandably worried about her mother, isn’t one to sit around waiting for her to come back, and she enlists her Raven Boys to help her out. The power of friendship is so very strong with this group, and Stiefvater writes them all so believably and gently and tenderly that I can’t help but love every moment of it. Poor Blue is in a situation where she has the most friends that she has ever had in her life, but now her mother has left with little explanation and may never come back. This horrible situation takes it’s toll on Blue throughout the novel, and her desperation is an undercurrent in this story. But along with being afraid for her mother, this is the book where Blue and Gansey finally (kind of) start up a romantic relationship between the two of them. There is, of course, the problem that Blue cannot kiss him, as she is, according to prophecy, doomed to kill her true love after she kisses him. But this kind of works out for the better, as Stiefvater has to portray great sexual chemistry between these two without going to the obvious kissing and make out sessions. The result is incredibly romantic.

Speaking of romance, as a firm shipper of Ronan and Adam, this book was a feast of delightful implications when it comes to those two and their relationship. While part of me was definitely like ‘JUST GET TO THE KISSING!’, I really appreciated how slowly and meticulously Stiefvater decided to build their relationship. Because of this choice, it felt very natural and not unrealistic for Adam and Ronan to start gravitating towards each other. Had Adam just fallen in head over heels, especially with everything going on and his comparatively recent break-up with Blue, it would have rung quite false and come off as patronizing. Adam is starting to understand the way that Ronan feels about him, but he still has aways to go to understand how he feels about Ronan. Seeing them work these things out for themselves is a good way to build to a very satisfying and realistic pay out, and Adam and Ronan are well on their way there.

And then there’s the horror elements that I really, really liked. There were scenes that involved possession (poor Noah, things just keep getting worse and worse for him), and very claustrophobic scenes in caves and forests and darkness. It was in these parts that we met one of very very favorite new characters of this series, Gwenllian. Gwenllian is the daughter of Glendower, and a very potent psychic who tied up and left in a cave beneath Henrietta, where she remained for thousands of years under magical influence. And boy oh boy, is she both super creepy and a super hoot. She has her own abilities, abilities that are similar to Blue’s, though that isn’t one hundred percent made clear in this story. Gwenllian merely says that she and Blue and both mirrors of sorts, and that because of this Blue is safe to stand between the magical (and dangerous) mirrors in the house that made Neve, Maura’s sister, disappear. And Gwenllian comes at just the right time, there to fill the void when shit gets super real and we lose one of the women at the Fox Way house. I won’t tell you which one, but I will say that it’s absolutely heartbreaking, and it was the first time that I felt like the stakes in this series were, indeed, very high. The moment that a recurring character is killed in a series like this, that’s when you know that no one is really safe.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Whew! I felt like I had been put through the ringer when I finished this book! The first two stories slowly built to their climax points towards the end of the novel, but this book was ON the whole time. Throughout it all was the feeling that they were always on the cusp of something, that just around the next corner, on the next page, something even more fantastical was going to appear. And given that we had thousands of cars and nightmare-griffons being pulled out of dreams in the last book, topping herself in the fantasy department seemed like it would be too great a challenge for the author. Nope!

What was notable about the fantasy elements in this story as compared to the first two, perhaps, was the tinges of darkness that prevailed throughout it all. I’m sure Kate was pleased with the increased horror, and speaking for the more casual (read: more easily freaked out) horror reader, the darkness was at just the right level to give chills without veering fully into horror with a capital “H.”

The villains in this book were my favorites so far. Piper and Colin Greenmantle were the exact sort of people you live next to for years, then it comes out that they were psychopathic serial killers, and you’re just like, what? They did yoga! Even better was seeing their bizarre relationship dynamic from within. Their own casual approach to villainy right alongside quaint discussions of domesticity was almost just as disconcerting as all the fantasy horror elements.

Kate’s Rating 8: The stakes for all of our characters are raised exponentially as “The Raven Cycle” takes its darkest turn yet. I was immersed in the story progression, sufficiently eeked out by the horror elements, and I had my heart pummeled. Bring on the end, Stiefvater! I’m ready.

Serena’s Rating 8:

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves.”

Serena’s Review: “The Rose and the Dagger”

23308084Book: “The Rose and the Dagger” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

Review: I picked up this book right on the heels of finishing the first, and while I enjoyed the first one for the most part, I was almost more intrigued by this sequel because it wouldn’t be that. The “retelling” of “A Thousand and One Nights” had been thoroughly wrapped up in the first book, so endless opportunities were spread before this one. And the cliffhanger left some good room for growth. For the most part, I think this succeeds, though it does get bogged down by the trappings of the first book.

Originality played highly in this book’s favor. Freed from the original trappings of serving as a retelling, the author had room to take world-building and character growth in her own directions, and for me, this really succeeded. While before the story was trapped largely within the confines of the palace in Rey, here Shazi has been released on the greater world and new and exciting destinations come with it. And alongside these fantastical new settings, adventures followed.

In fact, I would classify this book as an adventure story, first and foremost. Its predecessor was largely a romance, and the hints of a love triangle made me nervous for this book’s direction. Gladly, these worries were unnecessary. The romance served as motivation and fuel to the fire of Shazi’s attempts to end the curse, but it is a matured romance that is steady and sure of itself. No needless wavering or second-guessing.

I also really enjoyed the nods to Aladdin in this book. The scenes with the magic carpet were beautiful and obviously made me want one for myself. And the inclusion of a genie-like character was inspired, most especially given the well-rounded characterization that is applied in the relatively short amount of page time that is devoted to the character.

There were a few downsides, however. While I enjoyed the increased time that was spent from Shazi’s sister’s perspective, there was also a rushed romance here that felt unnecessary. Irsa’s journey was one of self-discovery. As a character who had spent a life time comparing herself unfavorably to her fire-y and strong sister, Irsa’s path to self-acceptance and appreciation for her own unique talents was one that I believe would speak to many readers. No need to add in the distraction of a burgeoning love. It felt like this was inserted purely to compensate for the fact that Shazi and Khalid’s own love story was past the “discovery” phase, and the author worried that more romance was needed. Unfortunately, I feel that this addition was a disservice to both Shazi’s and Irsa’s story. It was refreshing to read a series where the primary romance progressed in a normal manner, from new love to steady love, and the addition of a love interest to Irsa’s own tale distracted from the more interesting story of personal growth.

The other small niggle I had with this book was the inclusion of stories-within-stories. I listed this as part of the reason I enjoyed the first book, and given the fact that its a retelling of “A Thousand and One Nights,” it plays a large and natural role within the narrative. That’s all well and good. Unfortunately, this book isn’t that. The adventure and more action-packed nature of the story doesn’t serve as a natural vehicle for the insertion of shorter tales. While I understand that the author was attempting to highlight the importance of story-telling and reinforce what made Shazi so special to begin with, the addition of a few of these tales were more distracting than anything else. I wish the author had felt more comfortable letting her previous work stand for itself and allowed this book to be its own thing as well.

Overall, however, this book was a solid conclusion to the series. Characterization, over all plot progression, and the new additions to the story all served to fully round out the duology. For fans of retellings, or readers looking for a fantasy story set in a non-European setting, I highly recommend this book and series!

Rating 6: A solid conclusion, if a little undermined by trying to be too similar to the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

 

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Wrath and the Dawn”

18798983Book: “The Wrath & the Dawn” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Review: Fairy tale retellings have been enjoying quite their moment in the sun over the last few years in the young adult publishing industry. And while they are some of my favorite stories to read, I’ve also about reached my saturation point for the number of ways you can try to make the prince character in a version of “Cinderella” actually interesting. So, I was very excited when I ran across this book and discovered it not to be yet another common fairy tale exploiting a craze but instead a story inspired by “A Thousand and One Nights.” I mean, I dressed up as Scheherazade as a kid for Halloween once, so obviously I was going to read this immediately. And, for the most part, it’s a pretty solid entry.

It’s hard to review this while also gauging my reaction based on whether or not I appreciated this book for what it was actually doing or because I was just so thrilled it was doing something different from the many other retellings. A big question with these is whether or not it differs enough from the original story. And this sort of did? The basic premise is still there. King kills wives each morning, woman sets out to avenge her friend who was a victim of this madness, woman staves off the axe via elaborate and strategic story-telling. And Shahrzad embodied many of the traits of the original character: spunk, bravery, and sheer stubbornness to see this mad plan through.

Unfortunately, because it is a novel and not a fairy tale, the book also fell victim to its premise. In the fairy tale, it’s very easy to spin this type of tale and escape relating the details or inconsistencies, especially using common story telling lines like “Another morning dawned. Another day passed. And Scheherazade continued to enchant her king husband.” That’s sweet and poetic and moving forward along those lines, it’s easy enough to set up your happy ending. With this? Not as much. There’s no way, even with the most sympathetic king character to not make Shahrzad’s transition from “revenge driven murderess in the making” to “love stricken girl who thinks maybe, yeah, he’s not that bad” seem less then believable and make her, as a character, highly questionable. All that said? I think the author did the best she could with this set up. I mean, it’s a crazy story to begin with, so going in, there has to be some forgiveness for the madness of the whole set up.

Other than this, the writing and scene-setting was beautiful. Again, maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of settings like this in YA fantasy books nowadays, but the descriptions of the desert and lifestyle were beautiful and fresh. I also liked the inclusion of the stories that Shahrzad told each night. It would have been easy to just use a cheat, maybe tell one story, and then sweep the remaining nights under the rug. But the tales themselves were interesting and fun. Your mileage with this may vary, however, as the stories can also read as long breaks in the actual narrative of the book itself.

One other big detractor: a love triangle.

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(Source)

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It’s the first in a duology (praise be, not a trilogy or, heaven forbid, a series…) So, I’m moving directly on to the next and should have a review of that up soon! This story pretty much wrapped up the retelling part from the original, which leaves the next with completely new content. We’ll see how it goes!

Rating 7: Good retelling, but fell into some common pitfalls.

Reader’s Advisory:

Serena’s Review: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland”

18961361Book: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, March 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling – a human boy — in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution–until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant.

Review:

This book marks a notable shift from the books previous to it in the series. Alas, our beloved September is nowhere in sight! And instead of experience the bizarre transition from “reality” to “fairyland,” the trip has been reversed with poor baby troll, Hawthorn, being selected as a changling and mailed (the postal service exists everywhere it seems!) to the “real world.” Here he faces the challenges of adapting his nonsensical worldview to a very sensible (or so it claims) world. While the story differs, the beautiful writing, philosophical musings, and abundant creativity remains. So following my established reviewing format for this series, here are a few passages that stood out to me.

Growing up has been a theme throughout this entire series, and this book was no different. The mixture of melancholy and joy, confusion and excitement, and the general sense that we don’t have this whole thing figured quite out is wonderfully discussed.

I shall tell you an awful, wonderful, unhappy, joyful secret: It is like that for everyone. One day you wake up and you are grown. And on the inside, you are no older than the last time you thought Wouldn’t it be lovely to be all Grown-Up right this second?

So, too, the coping mechanisms of childhood. I, obviously, identify with this last method.

Some small ones learn to stitch together a Coat of Scowls or a Scarf of Jokes to hide their Hearts. Some hammer up a Fort of Books to protect theirs.

One of my favorite things about this series are the quirky insights into aspects of life that, on the surface, have very little to do with the story of a Changeling troll or a wandering human girl in Fairyland. One of my favorites from this book:

English loves to stay out all night dancing with other languages, all decked out in sparkling prepositions and irregular verbs. It is unruly and will not obey—just when you think you have it in hand, it lets down its hair along with a hundred nonsensical exceptions.

Philosophical views on life are vivid and rich in this book. I’m still surprised by how seamlessly the author works these in. What could so easily become preachy and silly-ly on-the-nose instead reads as a beautiful side note placed directly next to an excellent fairy tale.

A choice is like a jigsaw puzzle, darling troll. Your worries are the corner pieces, and your hopes are the edge pieces, and you, Hawthorn, dearest of boys, are the middle pieces, all funny-shaped and stubborn. But the picture, the picture was there all along, just waiting for you to get on with it.

The other books probably had this as well, but in this story I found myself appreciating the shorter, one sentence thoughts that sprung off the pages. Someone should make a coffee table book out of these stories with some of these quotes.

She’s an old woman possessed of great powers–but aren’t all old women possessed of great powers? Occupational hazard, I think.

Lovely.

It is not so easy to always remember who you are.

True.

Rules are for those who can’t think of a better way.

Correct.

A thing too familiar becomes invisible

Worth an extra thought.

While the beautiful language and creativity remained in this story, I found myself missing our familiar characters. Hawthorn is a lovely protagonist, but I had spent three books coming to know September, and the last books ends with the feeling that she is on the cusp of something important. And, while she does make an appearance towards the end of this story and I see the neat place that this story fill within the larger narrative, I still found myself finishing it and wishing for a bit more.

That said, I still highly enjoyed this book and it is clearly setting the series up for this final book. I’m both excited and so, so nervous! Please let things work out for my lovely September!

Rating 7:  Still quite enjoyable, but slightly less preferred than others in the series

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” is included on this Goodreads list: “Fairies in Children’s Fiction” and “Changelings.”

Find “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Reviews: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” and “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There,” and “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.”