The Outlaws of Sherwood

51g4kt1rhxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_First Lines: A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way.

Hey guys!  So I grabbed this at the library because A) it’s Robin McKinley, who has written some of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings and B) I really do love me some Robin Hood.  I’m on a British/medieval kick right now (not really shocking, since I am about 60% of the time anyway), and this seemed like it would hit the spot.

Robin, a young forester, is weak.  Or at least that’s what the other foresters think.  As a target for their bullying, Robin does his best to stay out of their way.  But when one confrontation leaves a man dead, Robin knows his only option is to hide in Sherwood Forest.  With the help of a few friends, Robin manages to put together a small camp and recruit others who don’t fit in.  But creating a band of outlaws is the easy part…what happens when the Sheriff of Nottingham begins hunting for them?

I’m not really doing this book justice with that blurb, because it covers so much of the Robin story that it’s impossible to mention all of it, but it covers the big parts.

This was pretty well done. It does start off slow though, I will say. It took me a while to get into the story, but once I did, it was cute. There were a few twists I was not expecting, which says something for a legend I know as well as this one. I liked the changes that she made to the story (which every author does) and I thought it built well on the original legend.

The characters are all quite charming (well, besides the villains, obviously). They each have their quirks and I liked being introduced to each of them. I really liked Little John, who has been rapidly rising in my respect of his character the more I read these retellings.  And it has all the old favorites: Alan-a-dale, Much, Marian (who is a very strong and vivacious lead, certainly not a caricature), Will Scarlet, the Sheriff, King Richard, etc.  It also includes characters I was not familiar with.  A few I’m pretty sure were made up for this story (like the young Cecil, who becomes Little John’s boy), but others I think are in some of the older version of Robin Hood and have been dropped in more recent years.

Speaking of characters, as I mentioned with Marian, she is a female character worthy of admiration.  Most/all of the female characters were.  I absolutely loved that McKinley made it a point to show the strength of women, whether they were fighters, nobles, or simply the kitchen help.  Each one of them had a moment where you saw them as a person with fears and strengths rather than simply a shadowy, requisite female character.

The plot, after the beginning, can be quite exciting.  We cover so many of the stories surrounding Robin that we’re familiar with: Robin on the run, meeting Little John, Robin’s feelings for Marian, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, etc.  This story does make it more of an Us vs. Them story, with the Saxons (the original people of England) vs. the Norman invaders (those who came from France with William the Conqueror to take over and settle England, thus starting British history as we know it).  This was a point of real contention at this time, and it was a twist that I don’t usually see a lot in modern Robin Hood tales.

The ending is definitely worth it. It just takes a little while for this band of merry men (and women) to get going.

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Lion Heart (Scarlet, #3)

lion2bheartFirst Lines: There were no light.  I had gotten used to it, in a way.  I always rather thought that I were a creature of the dark–moving in it felt like my home, and that hadn’t changed.  I weren’t the sort that went mad in the dark.

The great thing about summer is that when I finish a book in the middle of a series, it’s super easy for me to jump up and go, “I’m going to head back to the library to pick up the next book now!”  Sure, the people around me look at me like I’m a crayon short of art box, but I really needed another Robin Hood fix.  It’s my favorite legend ever.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Imprisoned by Prince John for a crime she didn’t commit, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire.  After a daring escape, Scarlet discovers a plot to kill King Richard before he returns to England from the Crusades.  Eleanor of Aquitaine gives Scarlet a mission: spy for her and help bring King Richard home.  But it’s not that simple for Scarlet, who simply wants to return to Nottingham–and Robin.  Together, Scarlet and Robin can bring down Prince John.  But will their love be enough to protect them?

I can definitely say that this book did not go the way I was expecting.

The characters, in my opinion, are pretty much the best part of this series.  Scarlet is perfect to lead this.  She’s feisty, strong, loyal, and clever, despite all the bad things that have happened to her.  But more than that, the minor characters truly shine in this.  (Rob’s not a minor character, but he’s great too.)  I truly liked Winchester, Much, Bess, and even Eleanor in this one.  All so distinct, with things that you like and dislike about each.

What I truly loved about this book was that it has one foot firmly in history.  I discovered quite a bit about this time period when I was researching my family tree last summer and I’m related to a ridiculous number of earls mentioned in this book, so I knew something about them.  It was exciting every time I saw a new name crop up.  Because I knew what these men would go on to do.

But there were also a few things about this book that threw me off.  One was a complete tonal shift a little over halfway through the book.  I mean, it felt like a complete 180.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, the bad thing to happen that I was sure was just lurking in the shadows.  And when that new tone kept going…and going…I didn’t really know what to make of that.

Also, Prince John’s character took on a particularly unattractive desperation.  Look, I can enjoy a villain if they are clever and unrepentant.  (Not that I’d ever want to meet them, but these are the villains that seem to be the hardest to overcome.)  And in the previous books, I would have said this was Prince John.  But in this book, he just reeks of desperation and carelessness.  That said, I’m not really sure how I’d rewrite his character either.

All in all, it was a lovely series and this was a great addition to the series.

Lady Thief (Scarlet, #2)

9200000023284534First Lines: The fire breathed, the dying embers flaring and cooling in a hot pulse.  I watched the cold black creep over the orange.  The fire were going out.

Recently, I wanted to get back into this series.  Back when I read the first book, Scarlet, it wasn’t even a series.  So I grabbed the first book again and reread it, then picked up this one.  I was desperately hoping it would live up to the first book, which had a bunch of the characters I love from old Robin Hood stories.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Now that Scarlet’s identity has been revealed, her future is suddenly on the line.  Her forced marriage to Guy of Gisbourne is keeping her apart from her true love, Robin.  As Prince John and the court fall upon Nottingham to appoint a new sheriff, the locals are all hoping Prince John will appoint Robin as the successor.  But Prince John has other plans, plans that revolve around a secret about Scarlet that even she doesn’t know.  Forced to play the part of noblewoman and wife to Gisbourne, Scarlet will do whatever she can to help Robin from inside the court.  But how far is Scarlet willing to go?

This book was everything I hoped it would be.  The characters were stunning, the action was enthralling, and the villains are dangerous.

Seriously, where has Scarlet been all my life?  This girl is a strong, loyal role model.  Sure, she’s sassy and she doesn’t always follow the rules, but she’s not about to let anyone use her or turn her against her beliefs.  It’s simply magical.

Of course, the other characters are equally amazing.  Robin is definitely the tortured hero here, but it was nice to see Much step out a little more into the limelight.  No matter what retelling it is, he always gets relegated to this weird sidekick role.  But here, he finally became a more significant player in the story and I loved that.

I loved seeing the royal court show up in this one because it’s such a contrast the world of Notthinghamshire.  Scarlet is so not comfortable there, but she knows how to get what she wants and she sees through their manipulation.

Speaking of the court, the villains that arrive with the court (I was trying to be somewhat sneaky, but clearly everyone knows that one of the villains is Prince John, as he is in every Robin Hood story) are some really dangerous dudes.  I mean, there are things you tend to expect villains to do in stories.  Like we all expected Lord Voldemort to kill and torture to return to power.  I expected a more regal form of this from Prince John.  But…man, did he up the ante.  There’s definitely some shock value to what he does.

The action was great.  There may not be as much fighting and hiding in this book as there was in the previous, but we still have plots that Scarlet is trying to foil.  We have villains who will do just about anything to push their own agendas.  And, as I mentioned, what Scarlet has to gain and lose is much higher than it ever has been.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book.  More court backstabbing and scandal, I’m sure.

Pretty Crooked (Pretty Crooked, #1)

First Lines: GO GO GO go go go!  The chant was in my head, because I didn’t have enough breath in my lungs to make sound.

When this was advertised as a modern day Robin Hood story, I was hooked.  I’m a huge Robin Hood fan and I love the story of stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  It has never gone out of style in the 700 years or so it’s been around.  So I was intrigued to read a modernization of the tale.

Willa just moved to Arizona with her mom and for the first time in Willa’s life, they have money in amounts she’s never seen before.  Willa gets into a private school called Valley Prep and quickly fits in with the popular crowd called the Glitterati.  But Willa quickly notices that not everyone at VP is rich like the Glitterati.  Some kids are there on scholarship, and they are bullied relentlessly.  So Willa decides to even the score by stealing from the Glitterati and giving to the scholarship kids.  But how long can Willa keep this up before she gets discovered?  And will she be able to steal from the gorgeous Aidan, one of the Glitterati boys that makes her heart race?

I was actually pretty disappointed in this book.  It wasn’t as awesome as I was hoping.  I didn’t even know it was the first in a series until we started getting to the final 3 or 4 chapters and things weren’t wrapping up like you would expect at the end of a book.  That was disappointing because I really wanted answers to a couple of things.

The first half-ish was pretty good.  It’s Willa trying to adjust to her new life and making friends and fitting in.  That was entertaining because Willa speaks the way teenagers pretty much do.  Meeting the characters is always one of my favorite parts of a story.  And some of these characters are just awesome.

But once she started stealing, it just wasn’t fun to read anymore.  I don’t know exactly what it was, whether it was my moral objections to stealing and pretending to be someone’s friend while you do it or if it was just something about the writing style that threw me off, but I just couldn’t get into it anymore.

I also thought the story missed so many opportunities to comment on social injustice or online bullying, but it just sort of glazed over them.  They were there, definitely, but Willa didn’t have much of a stand on them, even though she was stealing to correct a social injustice.  I know books don’t want to sound preachy or anything, but there could have been some valuable nuggets of wisdom in this.  It was almost more about Willa’s warped sense of revenge than anything else.

So yeah.  I mean, I kind of liked it, but it wasn’t the kind of book I would squeal and pass on to my friends.  I’m not sure whether or not I’m interested enough to read the sequel.

Scarlet

First Lines: No one really knows ’bout me.  I’m Rob’s secret, I’m his informant, I’m his shadow in dark places.  No one ever takes me for more than a knockabout lad, a whip of a boy.  They never really see.  And I don’t mind that they don’t see.  Like, when you walk through a room full of big men drunk off their skulls, it ain’t so bad to be ignored.

I feel like everyone knows the legend of Robin Hood, but there are some characters that don’t make it into all the retellings of the legend.  That’s the saddest part of the whole thing.  Some of the best characters are the ones that are left out.

Everyone in Nottingham has heard of Will Scarlet, the best thief in Robin Hood’s band of merry men.  But Scarlet is keeping a big secret, one that only Robin and his men know–Will Scarlet is actually a girl.  Scarlet has run away from her past and identity to join Robin.  Everything gets turned on its head when thief taker Lord Gisbourne is hired to rid Nottingham of Robin’s band.  As Gisbourne gets closer, Scarlet must decide how much she cares for the people of Nottingham, especially John Little and Robin himself.  How far is the fight going to go?  Are they willing to risk their lives for it?

I loved it.  I wasn’t sure I would since one of the essential pieces of the story was tampered with by making Will a girl.  But it totally worked.  It was seamless and enticing.  I kept wanting to read more and more and more of it.

As you can probably tell by the first lines, Scarlet’s voice comes through easily.  That was what I liked best first off.  It was clear that Scarlet was narrating and what she thought of everything.  She held nothing back…except her own secrets.  It was really interesting to read.

I also really liked the characters.  All of them were roughly teenagers, which was different from most stories.  John Little (“Little John”) was a solidly build flirt of a man.  Robin was a bit moody, but an excellent leader.  Much (the miller’s son) was reasonable and innovative.  And Scarlet was great with a pair of knives, clever, and resourceful.  The one who wasn’t a teenager was Gisbourne, who was just an amazing villain.  I don’t normally like villains, but when I’ve seen them played by someone as gorgeous as Richard Armitage in the BBC series, I’m fairly gaga over them.  He’s all I could picture the whole time I was reading.

There’s a lot of adventure in the story.  What else would you expect from a story of Robin Hood?  It was really neat to see the fights and how everyone in the group reacted to them.  And it was neat to see how everyone reacted to Scarlet as a girl in a band of men.

I just loved it.  Scarlet has made her way onto my list of favorite heroines.  She kicks butt.

Spotlight Friday (26)

It’s Friday!  And it’s going to be a really good Friday too!  Belle is here with her new list! Also, yesterday I found out I won a copy of The Fault in Our Stars that is *signed*.  I know that’s not such a super massive big deal, because John Green signed all of the first editions, but hey, let a girl keep her excitement.

Embrace (The Violet Eden Chapters, #1) by Jessica Shirvington

Release Date: March 1, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads)I slowly opened my eyes. The sun speared its first bright rays of golden orange into the sky and I leapt from the cliff, with the sorrowful knowledge that no matter what the outcome, at least part of me would die that day… 

Violet Eden is dreading her seventeenth birthday dinner. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. The one bright spot is that Lincoln will be there. Sexy, mature and aloof, he is Violet’s idea of perfection. But why does he seem so reluctant to be anything more than a friend? 

After he gives her the world’s most incredible kiss – and then abandons her on her front doorstep – Violet is determined to get some answers. But nothing could have prepared her for Lincoln’s explanation: he is Grigori – part angel and part human – and Violet is his eternal partner. 

Without warning, Violet’s world is turned upside down. She never believed in God, let alone angels. But there’s no denying the strange changes in her body … and her feelings for Lincoln. Suddenly, she can’t stand to be around him. Luckily, Phoenix, an exiled angel, has come into her life. He’s intense and enigmatic, but at least he never lied to her. 

As Violet gets caught up in an ancient battle between dark and light, she must choose her path. The wrong choice could cost not only her life, but her eternity…

What’s To Like: Honestly, it sounds a lot like Fallen by Kate Lauren.  But I never really managed to get into that series.  But this sounds good, so maybe I’ll like this better.  Angels have a way of finding themselves on my bookshelf.

My review of Embrace.

Pretty Crooked (Pretty Crooked, #1) by Elisa Ludwig

Release Date: March 13, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):Willa’s secret plan seems all too simple: take from the rich kids at Valley Prep and give to the poor ones. 

Yet Willa’s turn as Robin Hood at her ultra-exclusive high school is anything but. Bilking her “friends”—known to everyone as the Glitterati—without them suspecting a thing is far from easy. Learning how to pick pockets and break into lockers is as difficult as she’d thought it’d be. Delivering care packages to the scholarship girls, who are ostracized just for being from the “wrong” side of town, is way more fun than she’d expected. 

The complication Willa didn’t expect, though, is Aidan Murphy, Valley Prep’s most notorious (and gorgeous) ace-degenerate. His mere existence is distracting Willa from what matters most to her: evening the social playing field between the haves and have-nots. There’s no time for crushes and flirting with boys, especially conceited and obnoxious trust-funders like Aidan. 

But when the cops start investigating the string of thefts at Valley Prep and the Glitterati begin to seek revenge, could Aidan wind up being the person that Willa trusts most?

What’s To Like: When I hear “Robin Hood”, it’s like when someone says “bacon” around a dog.  My head turns from whatever I was doing and I go, “Come again?”  The fact that this is like a modern retelling of Robin Hood has my attention perked.  I’m interested to learn more about Aidan too.  He sounds hot.

My review of Pretty Crooked.

Spell Bound (Hex Hall, #3) by Rachel Hawkins

Release Date: March 13, 2012

*Hey, third in an EXPLOSIVE series!  Spoilers are bound to be ahead!*

Summary (from Goodreads): Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. Now Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies—the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium. Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t as confident. 

Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride—can she get her powers back before it’s too late?

What’s To Like: What’s NOT to like is the better question.  Sophie is a spunky warrior with a sense of humor that leaves me in stitches as I read.  How awesome is that?  There’s always so much that happens.  I can literally never put it down once I start.

My review of Spell Bound.

Spotlight Friday (21)

This week, I’ve been sifting through a huge number of upcoming books to find the best ones to anticipate for next year.  And I must say, it’s going to be a fabulous year.  There are so many!  And they all look fantastic.  I haven’t even gotten through all the ones I wanted to read this year.

The Alchemy of Forever (Incarnation, #1) by Avery Williams

Release Date: January 3, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads)After spending six hundred years on earth, Seraphina Ames has seen it all. Eternal life provides her with the world’s riches, but at a very high price: innocent lives. Centuries ago, her boyfriend, Cyrus, discovered a method of alchemy that allows them to swap bodies with other humans, jumping from one vessel to the next, taking the human’s life in the process. No longer able to bear the guilt of what she’s done, Sera escapes from Cyrus and vows to never kill again. 

Then sixteen-year-old Kailey Morgan gets into a horrific car accident right in front of her, and Sera accidentally takes over her body. For the first time, Sera finds herself enjoying the life of the person she’s inhabiting—and falls for the human boy who lives next door. But Cyrus will stop at nothing until she’s his again, and every moment she stays, she’s putting herself and the people she’s grown to care for in great danger. Will Sera have to give up the one thing that’s eluded her for centuries: true love?

What’s To Like: It sounds cute and ungodly dark at the same time, which, if you haven’t figured out by now, is exactly what I love.  I’m very interested in this human boy and exactly how evil Cyrus is.  He’s probably going to be the most intriguing character in the whole story.  Great, now I’m sitting here trying to figure out his motives without even having read the book.  Yay me.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1) by Veronica Rossi

Release Date: January 3, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads)Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction. 

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions. 

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

What’s To Like: Personally, I think it should be “what’s to fear”.  The creepy thing about dystopias is that they seem like exactly where our world is headed if we don’t change our way.  With Aria’s “Smarteye” (sounds like “smartphone” and every other “smart” technology we have now) and the Realms, we’re already on our way to making Reverie a real place.  And that is a very, very scary thought.

My review of Under the Never Sky

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Release Date: February 14, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads)Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

What’s To Like: Thanks to the BBC Robin Hood series, I am completely smitten with the legend of Robin and his Merry Men.  Or…maybe not men, as this version would have it.  That’s the most exciting part, that there’s a girl incorporated into the story.  I’m very interested to see what her story is.  I’m also very VERY interested to see what Robin’s like.  He had so better live up to my expectations.

My review of Scarlet.