Vassa in the Night

28220892First Lines: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.  Two big black eyes, both full of stars.  At first Night ignored them.

I got this book a few months back from Uppercase, but I kind of let it sit on my shelf forever because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I hadn’t really heard of it at all before it arrived in the mail and it seemed like the type of book I had to be in just the right mood to read.

In the  enchanted city of Brooklyn, there are two types of people: the people who can party without worrying about anything and the people stuck in the working class district where the chance of death is much, much higher.  This is Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Nearby is a convenience store owned by Babs Yagga, a women whose policy is to behead anyone caught shoplifting in her store–and sometimes innocent people when the mood strikes.  When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs, Vassa knows this could easily be a suicide mission.  But with a little big of luck and a magical wooden doll from her mother named Erg, Vassa might just break the curse and free her neighboorhood.  But when Bab’s doesn’t play fair, what will Vassa do?

This book was weird.  Like A.G. Howard’s Splintered series weird.  The kind of weird where you have to read sections two or three times and you still don’t actually understand what’s happening.

Vassa is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit in. Her stepsisters don’t understand her and her only real friend is a talking doll named Erg. As a trick (sort of a game of chicken, really), Vassa’s sister insists that Vassa go to the nearby BY’s store, where most people who go in after dark never make it out alive.  I thought Vassa was incredibly dumb for even taking her stepsister’s dare, and my opinion of her didn’t improve much throughout the story.

The story is just so bizarre that it’s very hard to follow and I found myself getting bored of it because it was so hard to follow. I kept giving up. I’d read a chapter or two and put it down to do something more interesting.  That’s never a good sign.

There was very little about the first half of this story that I liked. I never had a single character that I clicked with who kept me reading. I never had a moment where I was excited about what I was reading. Even the climax wasn’t terribly exciting for me besides the fact that I was almost done with the book.

The story only really started to improve when it was in its last twenty pages or so. Once the loose ends started getting wrapped up, I finally started feeling like the story was falling into place. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly encouraging. I had to put up with 270 pages before that.

(Some of you are probably wondering why I even bothered finishing this. I own it, bought through Uppercase. I felt obligated to read it all the way to the end.)

It was just too much.  It tries to play into many fairy tale tropes while simultaneously turning them on their head.  But it felt like it was trying to do this with every trope instead of just focusing on a couple.  It’s overwhelming.  Not one I’ll be reading again.

Hunted (Hunted, #1)

30653719First Lines: We always know before the change comes.  When a storm approaches, we feel it in the thickness of the air, the tension in the earth awaiting the blanket of snow.  We feel the moment the wind changes direction.  We sense a shift of power when it is coming.  Tonight there is hunger in the air.

ARC ALERT!  I received a copy of this from Edelweiss (a great website for getting ARCs) and this doesn’t officially release until March 14, 2017.  You’ve got about three months, so mark your calendars.  Now let’s get down to business about this Beauty and the Beast retelling.

Yeva has grown up with aristocrats and high society, but nowhere feels like home so much as the outdoors, where she can hunt and be away from people.  So when Yeva’s father loses everything in a risky business move, it’s bittersweet for her.  Forced out of society, Yeva and her sisters and father take to an old hunting lodge in the middle of the woods where she doesn’t have to make small talk or fend of suitors.  But losing his business may have cost her father his mind.  When her father goes missing, Yeva knows she needs to hunt the cunning beast her father was obsessed with hunting before he disappeared.  As she hunts him back to his valley and deserted castle, she has to wonder who is going to survive, her or the beast?

This is not your Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  This is not Robin McKinley’s Beauty, full of romance even as it seems to be a little darker than Disney.  This is more like Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses.  This is actually quite dark at times and feels more like a parable than a fairy tale.  And I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever.

I loved that this retelling not only pulled in virtually all of the elements that I love so much about the original story (a girl trying to save her father, a cursed beast, character development as they change, etc.), but it also managed to reflect the time in which it was written (i.e. now).  Yeva is not a pushover of a girl, waiting for a prince to come rescue her.  She’s strong both physically and mentally, but also the dystopian feel to the story makes it seem more realistic and dangerous.  It’s a real shift from a lot of other Beauty and the Beast stories.

The story is set in a  land called Rus (which I’m about 90% confident is supposed to be Russia based on names and weather).  The setting really helped make the story that much scarier because of all the snow, the dense forests, the abandoned castles and lodges, and even some of the creatures Yeva runs into.  I’m telling you, Spooner does a really nice job upping the creepy factor in little, innocuous ways that just sneak up on you after a while.

I’ve already mentioned Yeva a little, but I just want to reiterate that she has most of the same characteristics of every Belle/Beauty that I’ve come to love.  She’s clever and persistent, a combination that sometimes makes her come off as arrogant in this book, but for good reason.  The Beast, however, is a bit different.  Yes, he still retains a lot of the same characteristics as well, but this Beast is truly dangerous.  He can be ruthless and divided on what he wants, which makes him dangerous if Yeva pushes him just right.  He’s not a romantic hero, but an animal at times.  You can just feel that he could absolutely tear Yeva to shreds if he so pleased.

Speaking of romance, I hope you aren’t here for a grand love story because this isn’t it.  This is a revenge story, a parable about the dangers of wanting too much, a story of discovering what one truly desires.  You’re not going to see grand gestures of love here, though there are still elements of it.  It’s not completely gone, but it’s way different than you’re expecting.

While I more or less adored nearly this entire book, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the ending.  It wraps up too quickly and, for me, had too many plot holes in the last chapter or two.  I know this is supposed to be the first book in a series, but these didn’t seem like the kind of things that will be mentioned again in a later book.  I needed more of a sense of closure.

Overall, though, I generally found this a treat and I’m really curious to see where the next book in the series goes.

Beauty and the Beast (Timeless Fairy Tales, #1)

41snlt75b7lFirst Lines: Prince Severin happened to be pacing in the little hall when the stained-glass skylight shattered, and a young woman fell through the ceiling with the broken glass.

I’ve signed up for BookBub, which emails you daily with book deals in your favorite genres, and this showed up once on it for either really cheap or free.  Naturally, I struck.  Hello.  I named my blog after this story.  And with all this NaNo stuff, this seemed like an easy story to read while I wrote my own story.

From Goodreads: Once upon a time Elle made a mistake. A small miscalculation sends her through the roof of an enchanted chateau. Stranded until her broken leg mends, Elle is unwillingly forced to rely on the good will of the sour chateau owner —the cursed Prince Severin.

Prince Severin—the commanding general and staunch supporter of his brother the crown prince—is cursed to look like a beast until a maiden falls in love with him. He has given up all hope of shattering the curse, and has only disdain for Elle.

Unfortunately, the pair can’t seem to avoid each other thanks to the meddling of the chateau’s cursed servants. Eventually Elle’s playful manners and Severin’s hidden gentleness draw the pair together.

But not all love stories can end that easily. After all, Elle is not what she seems, and Severin’s life is placed in danger when hostilities flare between his brother and the monarchs of a neighboring country. When Elle risks everything to save Severin, will he be able to forgive her for her lies?

Elle and Severin are interesting characters. They both take a little while to warm up to, but they’re sweet once you get to know them. I liked getting to follow both of them as they slowly started to warm up to each other.  Elle has a lot of secrets, but she’s got a good heart.  And we have a hard time seeing what Severin’s really feeling because he’s used to no one caring.  So it was really fun to see those two open up.

It wasn’t just a simply Beauty and the Beast retelling.  I liked the background plot to all of this, with warring nations and magical beings that inhabit the land. It was something I wasn’t completely sure was going to work (I’ve read other books before where it hasn’t), but it did. The main plot is definitely about Elle and Severin, so this background stuff was so far removed from the story that it was just here and there, enough to make things interesting but not to overpower the story we love.

I’m kind of a purist with this particular fairytale, so the closer it sticks to the source material, the better. This did a nice job of including all the moments that I have come to look forward to while still creating its own identity. I’m impressed.  That’s not easy to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed this.  I can’t wait to see what else this author has done.

Stray (Four Sisters, #1)

stray-hc-cFirst Lines: Aislinn’s hands were bleeding.  Her dress was stained with dirt and muck, her hair unraveling with each heaving breath.  The scent of dampness, of mud and sweat, filled her nose.

This was a book I think I got free from Scholastic as part of their Reading Club rewards one month (which is like, such a blessing and a curse because I can never get through all my books!).  Originally, this book hadn’t caught my attention.  But once it was in my hands?  Yeah, I was willing to try it.

Aislinn seems to have it all: power, wealth, and the title that comes with being a princess.  The only thing she doesn’t have is the ability to control her magic…and that can cost her everything.  When Aislinn’s magic causes too much trouble, she’s forced to give up everything about who she is in order to train to be a fairy godmother.  As a fairy godmother, will Aislinn be able to follow the Path she’s been given…or will she find her own?

As an original fairy tale, I give it kudos for being imaginative and different.  There are definitely elements of different stories in it.  A dash of Cinderella, a pinch of Sleeping Beauty.  Every now and then you read over something and go, “Oh, so this is like this story.”  But for the most part, there’s no story that you can wholly compare it to.  It’s all on its own.

…But I nearly quit at the beginning.  Aislinn’s world is so patronizing and male-centric.  Early on in the book, this was the face I was constantly making:

glee-oh-hell-no

See, in Aislinn’s world, women are supposed to be meek and biddable.  They are always supposed to listen to their Advisor, who is always a man.  The Advisor is always right, even if in your gut you believe him to be wrong.  Even when your Advisor tries to get you married off to someone who doesn’t care for you at all.  And in the grand scheme of things, you listen to your Advisor first, then your husband/father.  If you have a problem, you go to them instead of trying to figure it out on your own because, hey, women clearly don’t know what’s best for them.

*Fumes*  I hated this.  IhatethisIhatethisIhatethis.

The only reason I stuck with the book was because I hoped there was going to be a “stick it to the Man” moment at the end of the book, where Aislinn would like, roundhouse kick her Advisor in the face and call him a chauvinistic pig.  ‘Twas not to be, though someone did get their comeuppance.

So besides allowing herself to be made into a thoughtless sheep, Aislinn wasn’t that bad…but she wasn’t great either.  I had a really hard time getting attached to her as a character because, in the beginning, I was trying to figure out her world.  Then, once I started having that figured out, she underwent some emotional (or, ahem, lack of emotional) turmoil that suddenly cut off everything that I had to connect me to her.  That was frustrating.  It took several chapters to get that connection back.  And by “several”, I mean something closer to 15.

But once that connection was regained, the story did pick up.  The plot got more exciting and there was actually even a little mystery/suspense.

Honestly, though, there just wasn’t a whole lot of substance to the book.  I found myself skimming pages sometimes just to get to the dialogue because the descriptions contributed little or nothing to the story.  So, not a great read, but not utterly awful either.  Even though the beginning kind of is.

Princess of Glass (Princess, #2)

First Lines: “Perfect,” the Corley said, lips stretched in a wide smile.  She took a shallow pan of molten glass and set it in the air over her head.  “Yes, everything will be perfect this time.”

I’m finally done with all the Outlander books (that are currently released), which means I’m back to a steady diet of YA!  And after getting used to the length of Outlander books, I’m flying through these.  I thought a fairytale might be a nice way of easing back into YA.

*I know this is the 2nd book in the series, but you don’t necessarily need to read the first book to understand this one, so I’m not marking it with spoilers.*

Princess Poppy wants to escape the troubles of her kingdom.  Whispers and rumors follow Poppy and her sisters everywhere because of what they survived.  So when nearby kingdoms decide to do a prince/princess exchange program to promote international relations (and marriages), Poppy finds herself in the country of Breton.  It all goes well until a hapless servant named Ellen is tricked by a vengeful godmother into competing with Poppy for the heart of the eligible prince.  Can Poppy stop what’s coming?

(Ironically, while I’m reviewing this, I’m listening to the soundtrack from Into The Woods, which shares some similarities with this book.  I did not plan this.)

I actually started reading this book back in 2010, and somehow got interrupted and never finished it.  So this time around, I was determined to get it off my to-read list.

This book was just…meh.  I find that a lot of fairytales are this way.  I think some of they try too much to rely on the charms of the fairytale they are retelling (in this case, it’s a vaguely connected Cinderella).  That’s what I feel happened here.  There wasn’t anything here that charmed me.

The characters didn’t seem to have real personalities besides a couple of identified traits.  Poppy calls herself “the tough one” at one point, and that’s really her personality.  Like, that’s it.  She’s tough and stubborn.  Christian, the eligible prince, has even less personality because he spends half the book…not himself.  You can’t really have a personality when you’re not yourself, right?  And Ellen…by Zeus, I hated that girl.  Every time she came into the book, I just wanted to curl one hand into a fist and skip her section.  (I don’t think this is the effect the author intended.)

There were some things I genuinely enjoyed about the book.  The character banter, for one, is usually interesting.  There’s some sarcasm and a few jokes.  There were a couple of variations to the Cinderella story that intrigued me.  But overall, this book is just forgettable.

And forget about there being any kind of romance/love story.  It’s supposed to be there, but, like magic, it just sort of appears out of nowhere.  No build-up, no cutesy crushes, nothing.  That was a huge disappointment.

Overall, I just wasn’t impressed with this.  It was just…mediocre.

Water Song: A Retelling of “The Frog Prince”

First Lines: “What a fool I was!” Emma Winthrop muttered, furious at herself as she stared down at Lloyd Pennington’s handsome face in the photo in her opened locket.

I managed to squeeze in a little book between my Outlander books (which takes so much time, but they are delightful).  I figured a good little fairytale retelling was just what I needed.

I’m just going to copy the synopsis from Goodreads because it does a good job: Young, beautiful, and wealthy, Emma Pennington is accustomed to a very comfortable life. Although war rages abroad, she hardly feels its effect. She and her mother travel from their home in Britain to the family estate in Belgium, never imagining that the war could reach them there. But it does.

Soon Emma finds herself stranded in a war-torn country, utterly alone. Enemy troops fight to take over her estate, leaving her with no way to reach her family, and no way out.

With all of her attention focused on survival and escape, Emma hardly expects to find love. But the war will teach her that life is unpredictable, people aren’t always what they seem, and magic is lurking everywhere.

I was actually pretty impressed with this book, especially given how hit-and-miss I’ve been with the fairytales in the Once Upon a Time series.  (Not to be confused with the TV show of the same name.)  This is a pretty loose retelling.  It’s the bare bones of the fairytale, but it’s completely its own story.

The setting for this was fascinating and way different than I expected.  It’s set in WWI in Belgium, just as the war starts to really heat up and get super deadly.  I mean, I can’t say I’ve ever read a fairytale before where mustard gas plays a part in the plot.  But that gave the story a solid grounding in reality while still having bits of magic in it.

While I enjoyed the characters of Jack and Emma, I thought there could have been a bit more character development for them.  They felt a little flat to me.  There were flickers of strong emotions that I felt coming from them a couple of times, but they were more rare than I would have liked.

Also, this is a super fast read.  I got it done in 2 hours with a few interruptions.  I love when you can sit down and just inhale a book from start to finish like that (especially since the Outlander books I’ve been reading take at least 2 days of solid reading to finish).

Overall, a very cool retelling with a unique setting and interesting characters.

Strands of Bronze and Gold

First Lines: You see, I had a fabulously wealthy godfather.  That was why anything was possible for me.

I decided recently that I’ve been reading a few too many dark contemporary novels and I needed to switch genres for a break.  So…enter in the fairy tale!  This is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale of Bluebeard (which I’ve never even heard of), but I was more than interested in giving it a shot.

When Sophia’s father dies, she gets a letter from her mysterious yet fantastically rich godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, asking her to live with him.  With no money and few other options, Sophie accepts.  Sophie has always longed for the ease and charm of sophisticated living, but she’s also surprised by what else wealth brings.  As she begins to thread together pieces of her godfather’s past, she begins to feel like his mansion is more of a prison than a home.  Because each of his former wives has a dark story–and hair as fiery red as Sophie’s.  Suddenly, she realizes Monsieur de Cressac may not be who he seems…and it may be too late for Sophie.

Again, I just want to say that I don’t know this original fairytale.  So I had no idea where this story was going to go.

In terms of “fairytales”, this was a bit lacking on your fairytale stereotypes.  There’s no magic, no mythical creatures.  The closest you get to anything like that are a few ghosts.

BUT the setting more than made up for it.  It’s set in 1855, Mississippi.  There was luscious scenery, a gothic abbey that had been brought over from England, and the dramatic backdrop of slavery in the South just prior to the Civil War.  I loved it.  How often does American history blend in with fairytales?

I thought the characters were pretty well done, but maybe some of the minor characters more so than the main characters.  Sophie, for example, seems a bit delusional at times.  Like she sees herself as the lion when clearly she’s the mouse being stalked by the lion.  But I suppose that’s a pretty human characteristic.  Perhaps the best-written character was M. de Cressac himself, who was equal parts charming and unsettlingly creepy.  He moved so smoothly between the two that you both kind of loved him and hated him at the same time.

As for the plot, I was pretty disappointed.  Because, seriously, nothing happens.  The story crawls.  I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen.  For Sophie to discover barely-hidden secrets or something.  But it really just ended up being some weird, creepy happenstances that only sort of added up to a conclusion.

And for like the whole second half of the book, I kept getting these really weird vibes.  Like ants-under-my-skin vibes.  It was uncomfortable and I just wanted to back away from the book slowly before it attacked me.

I was also a bit disappointed with how quickly the ending wrapped itself up.  We’ve spent this entire book building and building up to this conclusion…admittedly, it’s somewhat obvious how the story is going to end…but then the climax and the resolution happens in two chapters.  There are like 35 chapters in this books and that’s all the ending gets?  I felt cheated.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting tale (with a lovely setting!), but this probably wasn’t the best version of it.