Cinderella Is Dead by Kaylnn Bayron

Cinderella Is Dead by Kaylnn Bayron

Information

Goodreads: Cinderella Is Dead
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

200 years ago, Cinderella married Prince Charming. Now, in her honor, the young maidens of the kingdom must appear each year at the king’s ball, where the men will choose their brides. Those who are not chosen are sentenced to a labor camp. Sixteen-year-old Sophia must attend this year, but she would rather marry her best friend Erin. So, she makes a desperate attempt escape, finding Cinderella’s last descendant in the process. Could it be that the fairy tale they have all been told was never true? This feminist retelling encourages readers to smash the patriarchy and choose their own destiny.

Star Divider

Review

Feminist fairy tales are rather in vogue right now, and Cinderella Is Dead proudly joins their ranks as it presents readers with a world where young women are seen by men as goods they can choose and abuse at will. The story’s darkness is also rather on trend as it becomes immediately apparent that society as a whole has chosen to look the other way as the king encourages the men of his country to select wives like wares at a market, marry them, beat them, and then dispose of them when they want a younger bride. Women are also being forced into labor camps, or sold secretly as apparent sex slaves. The book is not for the faint of heart. Those look for an edgy, feminist fairy tale with a twist, however, will adore Cinderella Is Dead, despite its share of common YA weaknesses.

Admittedly, a story line focused primarily on how awful men are can start to feel a bit oppressive, and, frankly, a bit unfair. The protagonist (Sophia) and her love interest repeatedly emphasize how there are really no good men because even the few who are not horrible wife beaters and murderers do nothing to stop the king and his followers. Sophia’s father, for instance, is presented as decent to his wife and daughter, but, when it comes down to it, he will not support Sophia’s desire to defy the king and run away, because he fears what the king could do to him and to his wife as a result. Sophia has little sympathy for her parents’ fear of being tortured and executed, and ultimately dismisses her father as a weak coward who cannot be a good man because of his apathy. Pretty much every single man in the book is presented either as evil incarnate or guilty by association. It’s a pretty extreme view that may alienate some readers, even if they do want to fight the patriarchy.

If readers do not mind this portrayal, however, the book has plenty of action, romance, and mystery to keep them engaged. Basically, Sophia needs to figure out the truth of the Cinderella story, not the propaganda the crown puts out in order to keep women subservient. This will allow her to identify the king’s weakness and put an end to his rule. It is a bit unbelievable that an untrained girl has plans to end the monarchy in a few days’ time with zero training and no plan, especially when others have tried before her for the past 200 years, but this is a pretty standard plot line in YA fantasy, so I imagine plenty of readers will find no fault here.

Another issue I had with the book is how quickly Sophia turns from being in love with (and wanting to marry) her childhood friend Erin, and desiring to be with her new flame. One look is all it takes for her heart to change sides. Instalove is pretty common in YA books, and I think Cinderella Is Dead is just engaging in a trope many readers clearly find enjoyable–or at least not objectionable enough for them to stop buying books. For myself, however, I wish the romance had had more of a lead-up. It is particularly difficult to sell instalove when you begin a book with the protagonist in love with someone entirely different!

Still, the weaknesses I see inn Cinderella Is Dead are really common in YA books, and many readers do not mind them at all. While they do prevent me from finding the book to be a five star read, I think it has enough originality and fast-paced action to be enjoyable. Readers who enjoy YA fairy tale retellings will want to give this one a try.

3 Stars

So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

Information

Goodreads: So This Is Love
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: April 7, 2020

Official Summary

What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper? Unable to prove that she’s the missing princess, and unable to bear life under Lady Tremaine any longer, Cinderella attempts a fresh start, looking for work at the palace as a seamstress. But when the Grand Duke appoints her to serve under the king’s visiting sister, Cinderella becomes witness to a grand conspiracy to take the king-and the prince-out of power, as well as a longstanding prejudice against fairies, including Cinderella’s own Fairy Godmother. Faced with questions of love and loyalty to the kingdom, Cinderella must find a way to stop the villains of past and present . . . before it’s too late. 

Star Divider

Review

So This Is Love is largely the type of YA I often miss–a feel-good fantasy story where nothing too terrible happens and where what’s most at stake is something in the protagonist’s personal life, not necessarily the fate of the kingdom or the world. The cover art makes the story look dark (I realize this is just the branding of these “What If?” Disney stories), but overall it has the hope and cheer of the original “Cinderella,” even when things are going wrong.

Lim impressively captures the tone of Cinderella herself, writing a character who sounds sweet and sometimes naive, but not in a way that’s off-putting or cloying, She comes into more confidence over the course of the story, of course, and there are some nods to the idea that she couldn’t have really been as happy and chipper being an abused servant as the Disney movie suggests, but I did overall think Lim did a good job of embodying the voice of a Cinderella character.

I have more mixed feelings about the plot. I enjoyed it while it focused on Cinderella and her quests to make a life for herself and to possibly recapture the attention of the prince and see if they really did fall in love the night of the ball. However, this romance and personal journey is mixed with some hints that something larger is going wrong in the kingdom–riots and calls from the peasantry for lower taxes, more representation in government, etc.

The weird part about this is that it all occurs off-page. The story rarely leaves the castle and then it stays in the city directly surrounding the palace. Readers only hear about this social unrest through the character of the Grand Duke–who is not the kind of foppish and silly character portrayed in the Disney movie, but rather a cunning political schemer who thinks peasants having power is scandalous and will be the ruin of the kingdom. This was a tough sell for me simply because I have seen the movie; otherwise, I suppose the character as a plot device (obstacle to Cinderella’s happiness) is fine. However, I did find it odd that the Grand Duke is incredibly worried about riots and social changes that the readers never actually see.

There is a similar subplot about the question of whether magic should be banned in the kingdom–which is also largely discussed as something occurring off-page and not something the readers necessarily have a large investment in, in terms of the main action. This also means there are roughly three major plots going on: Cinderella’s romance, the question of peasants having power, and the question of magic.

In the end, however, I think the book works. It’s a bit like a Disney movie itself–entertaining, never too dark even when Cinderella faces challenges, and…not always as developed as it could be. It’s fund and enjoyable; I just can’t always think too hard about the plot, or it becomes obvious that some parts don’t quite work. I did still like it, and I’m glad I read it.

Briana
4 stars

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Information

Goodreads: Cruel Beauty
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Nyx’s father made a bargain with the demon lord Ignifex before she was born.  Now she must become Ignifex’s bride.  But she has a plan to kill him.  Then, unexpectedly, Nyx finds herself falling in love.  Can she save Ignifex?  Or will she lose him forever?

Star Divider

Review

Cruel Beauty is part fantasy, but mostly romance.  Focused on the forced marriage of seventeen-year-old Nyx to the demon lord who rules her world, the story is ostensibly about Nyx’s efforts to kill her husband, but ends up being about Nyx’s desire to kiss the demon lord, as well as his mysterious, animate shadow.  Readers who enjoy steamy romances will find this fairy tale retelling to their taste.

I always feel conflicted about books like Cruel Beauty because I personally feel a little uncomfortable spending my time reading about someone’s lustful feelings.  The worldbuilding here is fascinating, and that drew me in, as did the mystery behind the demon lord’s curse.  Yet, time and again, the story returns to Nyx’s sexual desires.  Indeed, a good portion of the story is based around the question of, “When will he ravish her?”  Nyx initially lives each night in fear, believing her husband will claim his marital rights. Later, she begins to wish he would.  The result is almost like a weird kind of voyeurism where readers are supposed to start hoping that the climactic moment will finally arrive.  (There’s nothing graphic shown, though.)

So, yeah, the focus on Nyx’s sexual desires is a little uncomfortable and made me wonder if reading Cruel Beauty was a beneficial use of my time.   However, I found myself really drawn into the world Rosamund Hodges creates.  Nyx lives in a land sundered from our world.  The sky is paper and demons lurk in the shadows.  Generations of scholars have sought ways to kill the demon lord and, hopefully, undo the sundering.  This is a delightfully original premise and, combined with Nyx’s explorations through the demon lord’s magic house, ultimately made the book worth reading.  (Though it’s worth noting that the constant Greek references add nothing significant to the worldbuilding, except perhaps a sense of confusion about why Hodge included them at all.)

I also enjoyed Nyx as a character.  As she constantly tells us, she is not very nice.  She has hatred in her heart and she is determined to kill the demon lord, even as she finds herself drawn to him.  This makes her feel vivid and refreshing.  Readers do not have to feel compelled to like her because, frankly, I am not sure she is likeable.  However, she is interesting.  And I wanted to know how her story would end.

Cruel Beauty is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in an original fantasy world, but focused a good deal on the romance.  Fans of fantasy and retold fairy tales will find a lot to like about the book.  But readers should also know that the romance takes center stage.

4 stars

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Information

Goodreads: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1
Source: Library
Published: January 29, 2019

Official Summary

Fall in love, break the curse. 

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom. 

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Star Divider

Review

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is an enchanting, romantic tale perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings who want a slow-burn, swoonworthy romance combined with a more active, political take on “Beauty and the Beast.”  The novel introduces readers to protagonist Harper Lacy, who must fall in love with Crown Prince Rhen of Emberfall in order to break the curse that has consigned him to turning into a violent beast at the end of each season–but it takes readers beyond this classic love story and asks how Harper and Rhen can help the kingdom outside the castle doors, what steps they can take to protect the people of Emberfall, even if the curse is never broke.  The result isn’t perfect, as intricate political machinations do not seem to be the novel’s strength, but the ambition of making a “Beauty and the Beast” story more than a romance staged in an isolated palace and the the passion and complexity of the characters help make the story shine even through its small flaws.

The romance–and the two characters in it–is really the high point of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It’s been a while since I read a novel where I was so invested in the romance, captivated as I watched the two characters come closer together slowly but surely, hesitant to trust each other but hoping they could–and then that the trust would turn into something more. This is a lovely, slow burn romance that builds over the course of the novel and brings the readers right along with it.

The characters themselves, however, are also wonderful as individuals. Harper is a bit rough around the edges, understandable since her mother has cancer, her father has run out, and her brother is apparently involved with the Mafia.  She’s no-nonsense and straightforward, but she is also kind and does what’s right even when it’s hard and even when it seems foolish. Rhen is equally complex, a man struggling with a curse that has lasted seemingly forever, tired of his fate but also hoping to do what he can for his people.  (A lot of readers prefer the guard commander Grey as the most interesting character; I like him, as well, and he is complex, but I actually think his real time to shine will be in the companion novel Kemmerer has planned.)

I had just a couple small issues with the book. First, the enchantress who has cursed Rhen doesn’t seem to have a plausible motivation.  There’s an explanation, but it seems flimsy. It doesn’t explain her desire to torture Rhen, Grey, and really anyone else any chance she gets or her apparent desire to see Emberfall as a whole burn to the ground. She’s a bit flighty and actually reminded me of Lucinda from Ella Enchanted the way she randomly pops in and out of places and causes unasked-for havoc, but inexplicably more sadistic than Lucinda. She makes sense as a plot-mover, not so much as a character, which is a shame considering how complex the rest of the characterization in the book is.

Second, I didn’t really understand all the political maneuverings in the novel.  I understand Kemmerer has written contemporary YA before, so maybe “how to run a country” is not her area of expertise, but I was a bit lost when things like “closing the borders and stopping all trade” were presented as “initially wise” moves that “protected the country.”  I also was not 100% clear on why all the royal guard was gone, why the prince was no longer communicating with his army or…anyone, etc. I think there are some obvious solutions to their problems that were never taken or addressed.

These questions did not ruin my enjoyment of the book, however.  I loved reading this take on “Beauty and the Beast” and meeting a cast of fantastic characters who all had to find ways to overcome their doubts and past mistakes to do what they could for other people. In many ways, the book isn’t so much about romance or even saving a kingdom as it is about personal sacrifice and finding strength in unlikely places. Highly recommended.

4 stars Briana

Six Retellings Based on Unusual Source Material

6 Retellings Based on Unusual Sources

The Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson (Beowulf)

Charlie has never known where he belonged.  But now his stepfather has returned to the place where he grew up–Taper, Florida, where football is what matters and the boys learn speed by chasing rabbits through the burning sugarcane.  Charlie wants to belong here, too, but an ancient evil lurks in the swamps and the only way for him to save the lives of those he loves may be for him to sacrifice his own.

The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse (Beowulf)

Rune washed up on the shores of the Geats as a baby and many have hated him ever since. Now a young man, Rune struggles to fit into his society and to prove himself worthy to be a warrior. The awakening of a dragon gives him the perfect opportunity to show his mettle, but Rune fears he may fail his king in the hour of his need.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (“Tam Lin”)

While exiled by Queen Mary, Kate Sutton stumbles upon the magical and dangerous world of the fairies.  Convinced that the Fairy Folk have kidnapped a young girl, Kate sets out to save her.  But will she be the fairies’ next sacrifice?

Violet Eyes by Debbie Viguié (“The Princess and the Pea”)

When a storm brings Prince Richard to Violet’s farmhouse, the two immediately fall in love.  But Richard is destined to wed for political reasons.  Can the two find a way to outwit royalty and find their happily ever after?

Deathless by Catherynne Valente (“The Death of Koschei the Deathless”)

Over the years Marya Morevna has watched three birds turn into three husbands, one for each of her sisters.  Now she waits for her own bird to rescue her from the cramped living quarters and the constant hunger that have become her existence.  But Marya has not prepared herself to receive the attentions of Kocshei the Deathless.  Can she rewrite the story Koschei has played out so many times or will she become just another plaything for the Tsar of Life to throw away?

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann (“Yvain; Or, the Knight with the Lion”)

In this graphic novelization of the 12-century poem by Chrétien de Troyes,  Yvain defeats a lord in battle and finds his own life forfeit.  Then a lady rescues him.  But will Yvain remain faithful?

Kin by Lili St. Crow

kinInformation

Goodreads: Kin
Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness #3
Source: Gift
Published: February 25, 2015

Official Summary

In the kin world, girls Ruby de Varre’s age are expected to play nice, get betrothed, and start a family—especially if they’re rootkin, and the fate of the clan is riding on them. But after a childhood of running wild in the woods, it’s hard to turn completely around and be demure. Even if your Gran is expecting it.

Then Conrad, handsome and charming, from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to seal alliance between their two families. The sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, dominant, and downright gorgeous. Yet as Ruby gets to know him more, she starts to realize something’s…off.

Then, the murders start. A killer stalks the city streets, and just when Ruby starts to suspect the unimaginable, she becomes the next target. Now Ruby’s about to find out that Conrad’s secrets go deeper than she ever could have guessed—and it’s up to Ruby to save her Gran, her clan, and maybe even herself….

Review

Note: Kin is a companion book to Nameless and Wayfarer. You do not need to read them in any particular order to follow the story, though past events are briefly referenced.

Kin is a solid conclusion to the Tales of Beauty and Madness series.  Readers finally get into the head of wild, impetuous Ruby and see she has problems and insecurities of her own that she has been hiding beneath her brazen exterior. Though the story is perhaps a little less imaginative than the previous two, it is also less convoluted.  Kin is a great send-off for anyone who has come to love the series and just wants one more tale.

The Tales of Madness and Beauty have consistently suffered from irritatingly ambiguous world-building; I’m not the only reader who couldn’t quite wrap my head around the history of the world and the rules of the magic.  While the atmosphere is at least familiar by Kin, if still confusing, St. Crow adds a new dimension by finally explaining Ruby’s family.  Readers have understood she is “Kin” before now, but here we learn more about what that actually means—and for some reason St. Crow manages to go a lot more into detail on this system of magic than she does with the others.  While Nameless and Wayfarer always felt a little slippery to me, I found I could get a nice grip on Kin, and it was refreshing.

Unfortunately, the plot of Kin was also a lot clearer, but not in a good way.  Readers may be surprised to see that the book jacket gives away the answer to the mystery in the story, but it’s really not a spoiler.  The text itself goes out of its way to point out the villain to the readers, consistently pointing out that something should have been a warning to Ruby or she would realize later what a bad sign it was (as if Conrad’s abusive behavior isn’t enough of a bad sign to readers without such authorial intervention).  I enjoyed reading Kin anyway, but it’s unusual for a book to be so upfront about what its own plot is and what the resolution is going to be before the actions even begins.  Perhaps St. Crow felt the fact that Conrad is the villain was so obvious, she might as well embrace it instead of even playing at suspense.

While Kin isn’t quite the madcap, confusing ride that Nameless and Wayfarer were, it’s still a lot of fun.  Readers finally learn the secrets of the Kin and get introduced to characters who are only alluded to previously, such as Ruby’s grandmother.  (There are even a couple of cute Kin boys!)  In fact, I found it kind of nice to end such a strange series on this more tempered tone.  Everything wraps up fairly neatly, and I’ve gotten about as much of the world and the characters as I want.  (Though I’d probably be first in line to buy if St. Crow wanted to do a companion series about some new characters.  Can we go over the Waste???)

4 starsBriana

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTARInformation

Goodreads: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015

Official Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review

I wasn’t a huge fan of Maas’s debut, Throne of Glass, but this was in large part because I thought the book still read like something the author had started writing at the age of sixteen, even after extensive revisions before publication.  With this in mind, I decided to give Maas’s new series a chance; after all, fans everywhere are obsessively swooning over the book, and Maas has garnered a lot more writing experience finishing the Throne of Glass series..

As an amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast” and Faerie lore, A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t offering something spectacularly original. but it’s still wildly fun and engrossing to read.  The main draw is really the romance–steamy, enthralling, and tantalizingly forbidden.  That is to say, I’m not sure anyone is here for the plot, which for a long while features protagonist Feyre living it up in her captor’s mansion, doing little while pretending she’s a badass (an unconvincing characterization, in my opinion, which I did my best to ignore).  The true attraction are the unfathomably handsome and off-limits Faeries, who do their best to provoke Feyre and reader’s hearts into submission.

However, the plot excels in one particular point.  I always hate the part of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings where Beauty goes away and bad things happen to the Beast and “Oh, no, will she go back to save him?”  We know she’s going back to save him, and it can seem like a tired and unnecessary plot tangent in uninspired retellings.  Maas makes it work, though.  This isn’t a pit stop in her plot; it’s when the plot really gets going and Feyre begins to show more of her character.  I enjoyed this section more than I would ever have anticipated.

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

4 stars Briana

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (ARC Review)

A Whole New World-minInformation

Goodreads: A Whole New World
Series: Twisted Tales #1
Source: ALA
Publication Date: September 1,2015

Summary

In this retelling of Disney’s Aladdin, Jafar has acquired the magic lamp and its genie. Now Jasmine and Aladdin must join forces to defeat him and save Agrabah from his wicked sorcery.

Review

If A Whole New World were an original work, I would probably just call it a solid fantasy novel that satisfyingly fulfills a lot of tropes, even if it does not necessarily add anything new to the genre and move on. However, as a reimagining of Aladdin, A Whole New World has extra criteria to meet in order to please Disney fans, namely, staying faithful to the original content while still offering readers a unique twist. Unfortunately, the novel too often strays to extremes, either copying the movie too faithfully to be interesting or straying so far that it is difficult to tell it is supposed to be a version of Aladdin, and it never really finds the sweet spot necessary for a great retelling.

The opening scenes of the novel describe in beautiful prose the city of Agrabah. Contrasted with the beauty of the castle and the desert, however, is the quarter of the Street Rat where protagonist Aladdin lives. The initial chapters are the most reminiscent of the movie, which means they’re a great refresher for readers who haven’t seen the film in a while but may come across as boring to those who have.

Things go haywire after Jafar gets his hands on the genie lamp. From here, the novel progresses into fairly fantasy (or even dystopian) fare. Jasmine and Aladdin form a rebel alliance of the most downtrodden citizens of Agrabah in order to wrest back their freedom from tyrant Jafar. Although seeing Jasmine as a kickass rebel leader should have its charms, this portion of the plot never achieves the urgency it aims for. First, Jafar takes over the sultanate and the city with such swiftness and ease it is difficult to imagine how he is supposed to scare readers from this point on; the idea that he wants to take over the world in addition to the city comes across as a throwaway line rather than aa real threat. Second, Jafar happens to be an idiot. He makes a series of choices that are simply so inane and so ineffective there’s no point in being afraid of him. Jafar does not come across as a worthy adversary, and that makes the fight against him dull.

Jasmine and Aladdin do not fare much better in terms of characterization. They’re definitely smarter than Jafar, but overall they seem flat. The author’s best attempts to give them backstories and complex personalities where they must weigh their own needs against the needs of others failed to make me invested. I also was not a fan of the continually repeated point that Aladdin may be a thief ButHeIsSoMuchMoreMoralThanThoseOtherRottenThievesWhoStealProfitNotJustFood. I like complexity in characters. I dislike the trend in YA literature that suggests a character must be as moral as possible for me to cheer him or her on.

Overall, A Whole New World just felt unremarkable to me. I can see the structure of the book and the places where the author tried to make the characters complex and tried to make the action dark. It is just that none of it felt real to me—I was not convince. I think Braswell has talent as a writer and I would be interesting in looking into whatever she writes next, but this one earns a pass from me.

Briana

Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Sleeping Beauty Dreams BigInformation

Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #5
Source: Library
Published: January 2015

Summary

Briar Rose arrives at Grimm Academy determined to live life to the fullest before her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse laid on her at birth comes into effect.  However, her first days quickly turn from exciting to heartbreaking when the students start to believe she’s really a villain.  It looks like E.V.I.L. has managed to rewrite her story!  Can Rose convince her new friends that she’s really against E.V.I.L. or will she fall asleep for a hundred years first?

Review

Sleeping Beauty is my favorite fairy tale and I was excited to see that the Grimmtastic Girls series had finally retold her story.  I decided quickly that I like Rose’s spunky nature (even though the idea of Sleeping Beauty cramming in life experience before her sleep is not new) and that her crush is sweet and kind and therefore a perfect match.  However, their tale was overshadowed by the plot holes that began to appear in the overaching storyline.  In the end, I could only think that Sleeping Beauty deserves so much more.

The story begins slowly enough, rehashing old plot points and even familiar details of the Grimm world–apparently Rose’s newness to the Academy means readers must wade through explanations of who prominent characters are and recaps of the past four books.  With these details out of the way, the story finally has the freedom to move forward, but it continues to do so sluggishly, repeating every few pages Rose’s thoughts on her curse, jousting, her family, and more.  The feeling of repetition never fades; Rose and her crush even seem to have a variation of the same conversation every time they meet.

Between Rose’s  musings on knighthood and her curse, the series plot slowly progresses, but this time it begins to raise troubling questions about how the world of Grimmlandia really works and why essentially no adults seem concerned about the reemergence of the E.V.I.L. Society.  It’s like Harry Potter, with schoolchildren repeatedly saving the world, while the adults stand by and watch–except in this case readers do not even have the certainty of knowing that Principal R. even knows what’s going on in his school.  The one adult who definitely does know what’s going on typically hides herself while directing twelve-year-olds to do her work.  She’s supposed to be the most powerful enchantress in Grimmlandia but she’s afraid to reveal herself?  Yet she’ll risk preteens?

Of course, even though the E.V.I.L. Society knows the identity of several of their enemies (Rapunzel, for example, blithely reveals her plan to thwart them in the last book, in a strange reversal of the explanatory speech usually given by foolish villains), they do nothing about it, so maybe the enchantress believes the kids ares safe.  One wonders if some sort of unwritten truce exists.  The good side, after all, knows the identities of several of the E.V.I.L. members, yet allows them to continue teaching the youth of Grimmlandia.  You might think that they want the villains where they can see them–yet the Academy holds the most powerful artifacts in the land and, by allowing the villains to teach there, the good side grants them easy access to all the magic they need to carry out their plots.

Or perhaps the good side can’t get rid of the villains at all since they belong in the fairy tales?  But that does not explain why the plot of this book features the students at the Academy shunning Rose when they believe her to be evil.  (Her story is rewritten to show her spitting up as a baby on the thirteenth fairy–truly villainous stuff there.) One can’t say that the kids avoid her because her parents are written as rude–the Queen of Hearts is rude but no one cares.  And Snow White’s stepmother is an well-known witch actually named Ms. Wicked, but no one holds that against Ms. Wicked or Snow.  Why are villains allowed to teach at the school–Snow White’s stepmother tries to murder her, after all!–but a girl who spat up on a fairy can’t be trusted?  No one explains.  In fact, it all just brings up another question–if the characters all know their fairy tales, why doesn’t Snow know that her stepmother is jealous of her and wants her dead?  Why are there so many gaping plot holes?

I still enjoy the Grimmtastic Girls series, but I need some of these questions to be answered fast.  I want to be able to focus on the characters and their personal journeys, rather than find myself preoccupied with attempting to wrap my head around the illogical plot elements.  I hope the sixth book will illuminate these matters, but I’m doubtful it will.

Rapunzel Cuts Loose by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Rapunzel Cuts LooseInformation

Goodreads: Rapunzel Cuts Loose
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #4
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

When an enchantment goes wrong, Rapunzel finds herself left with a hair catastrophe.  But the school fair approaches fast and the E.V.I.L. Society plans to use it as a cover for some of their dastardly deeds.  Can Rapunzel defeat E.V.I.L. while dealing with the worst hair day ever?

Review

Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams continue to make each installment of the Grimmtastic Girls feel fresh with the fourth in the series, Rapunzel Cuts Loose.  Finally readers get inside the head of the mysterious goth girl, whom we find has some secrets in her past.  However, the authors skillfully veer away from stereotypes and caricatures, showing Rapunzel to be a sweet and caring girl who, though she harbors worries like any preteen, does not hide behind her goth girl look but wears it because that is how she chooses to express herself.  With a heroine so confident, what’s not to love about Rapunzel Cuts Loose?

The girls, of course, continue to fight E.V.I.L. in this story, but more interesting to me at this point are the characters themselves.  Each protagonist faces a secret fear and manages to overcome it.  Each one brings distinctive traits and talents to the group.  Each one consistently demonstrates kindness, compassion, and caring.  In short, each girl manages to be an excellent role model while still coming across and real and interesting.  How fascinating to see a series that shows that goodness need not be dull and that girls can be feminine and strong and all sorts of things in all different ways!

I also enjoy how, even though each book so far has featured a love interest, each one has been unique.  And each one has been something that young readers may encounter themselves.  Rapunzel’s story is the first to feature two love interests, but it’s not the horrible love triangle you think.  Instead, Rapunzel makes the mistake so many girls do–she falls hard for the handsome, tall, smooth-talking guy everyone wants-even though he’s obviously selfish and self-centered.  Meanwhile, her poor friend Basil, a legitimately caring guy, falls by the wayside.  But such is life and Rapunzel and her young readers are about to learn how to look past looks to see one’s true character.

I am absolutely thrilled to find a series full of so many good messages and so many characters who are worthy to emulate–all packaged in a story that is truly absorbing and never seems preachy.  I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about these books from fellow readers.