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.

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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

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Poisoned
Series: None
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: October 20, 2020

Summary

Princess Sophie has always known that her stepmother the queen, as well the court, thought her too weak, too kind to rule. But she never thought that her stepmother would actually try to have her killed. Rescued by seven brothers in an enchanted wood, Sophie is safe, for now. However, her heart has been stolen and, if she wants to live, Sophie will have to get it back. Does she have the courage to dare the impossible?

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Review

Jennifer Donnelly follows up Stepsister with another feminist retelling, this time of “Snow White.” Sophie is the heir to the throne, but her stepmother the queen believes her kindness will endanger the country. Fearing that Sophie is a threat to her, the queen orders her killed. To reclaim what is hers, Sophie will need to stop listening to the voices that tell her she is not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough. She will have to find her own power, and learn that kindness is far from a weakness. Poisoned reimagines “Snow White” as a vibrant call to resist the patriarchy, reclaim kindness, and find true strength in one’s self.

Donnelly begins her story with a note briefly explaining its inspiration and purpose. She wishes to empower readers who may feel “less than” because of what society or social media tells them. Poisoned thus risks feeling a little didactic; Donnelly has told us the moral from the start. However, she deftly sidesteps this issue by purposefully embracing the fairy tale as moral. Her work is peopled with allegorical figures. It is told by an omniscient narrator, whose credentials are that he has done the wrong thing and died for it. It repeatedly tells readers its message, over and over again–strength lies within and cannot be conferred or taken away by anyone else’s words. And it works.

Part of my issue with Donnelly’s previous retelling, Stepsister, is that the speeches coming from the characters feel a little forced. Men do not have to go around explicitly announcing that women must be kept in their place lest they grow too powerful. The patriarchy is usually more insidious, and more subtle. And therefore far more dangerous. Poisoned removes this issue by having the omniscient narrator describe the evils of the patriarchy, the poison of treacherous words. No more over-the-top speeches by the characters themselves. It works because the fairy tale has always taught a message–the woods are a dark and dangerous place, but you can come out on the other side, if you are bright and bold.

The plotline itself is extremely engaging and action-packed. Donnelly clearly delights in having her characters face a myriad of monsters and other dangers as they travel, so readers never need fear getting bored. And Sophie is a delightful protagonist. Kind, yes, but not unrealistically or annoyingly sugary. She simply wants to do the right thing, even if she is not always sure what to do or confident enough to do it. But she has enough spunk to her that readers can easily believe that she can grow and change.

Poisoned will appeal to any readers who love retold fairy tales, especially ones that go beyond the original to create a wholly new world with its own rules, settings, and politics. It blends fast-paced action with reflection, creating a YA novel that feels like a true homage to a beloved story. If you are a fan of “Snow White,” a lover of YA fantasy, or simply a reader looking for the next engrossing story, Poisoned has plenty to offer.

5 stars

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King Boo Cover

Information

Goodreads: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Series: Mighty Jack #2
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Maddy has been taken by a giant! Now it is up to Jack and Lilly to save her. But, when the two get separated, Jack will have to figure out how to complete his mission on his own.

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Review

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke jumps right into the adventure where book one left off. Jack and Lilly journey across worlds to find Maddy and save her from the clutches of a giant. Along the way, they meet new allies and face new enemies. This action-packed read is sure to thrill readers who love fantasy adventures.

What I love most about the Mighty Jack series is perhaps how classic the books feel. They remind me of curling up on a summer day to read tales of heroes and monsters. They pay homage to fairy tale and fantasy tropes, while creating an original adventure. This is the kind of read that you wish would last just a little bit longer, always just a little bit longer.

My one critique is that Lilly remains a far more interesting–and capable–character than Jack, the titular hero. While Jack is off rushing headlong into fights, and failing to achieve much as a result, Lilly likes to step back, assess the situation, and create a workable plan. She ends up saving Jack more often than not. She also proves to have the true heart of a hero, demonstrating self-sacrificial love in moments when Jack remains focused on his own mission. Truly, the series ought to be named “Incredible Lilly and That Guy She Keeps Saving.”

If you can get past the feeling that the series has been inaccurately named for an incapable male instead of his amazing female friend, the Mighty Jack series is truly enchanting. It contains all the wonderful fantasy elements one could want, from goblins and dragons to magical portals to other worlds. If you enjoy stories like Narnia or King Arthur or fairy tales, the Mighty Jack series might just be for you.

4 stars

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack Cover

Information

Goodreads: Mighty Jack
Series: Mighty Jack #1
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

Jack is not looking forward to an exciting summer. His mom is working two jobs and he will have to stay home to care for his sister Maddy, who never talks. Then, one day, Maddy and Jack trade their mother’s car for a box of seeds. Jack has never seen Maddy so enthusiastic. But the garden they grow is magical–and dangerous. Do they have the courage and the strength to face the garden?

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Review

Mighty Jack is a graphic novel I have seen around for years, but I never felt very interested in reading it. I have read Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl and was not totally in love, as many reviewers seem to be. However, Mighty Jack was available when I was searching for something new, so I decided to give it a chance. I am so glad I did.

Mighty Jack, in many ways, serves mainly as an introduction to what clearly is conceived of as a grander, world-crossing adventure. Jack is stuck at home during the summer so he can watch his sister Maddy while their mom works. He is not initially thrilled about it, but, when they plant some seeds that turn out to to be magical, things get a lot more exciting. The bulk of the book is Jack, Maddy, and their new friend Lilly–a badass, sword-wielding girl who lives down the way–trying to figure out what their new plants do and whether they are life-threatening or just slightly dangerous. Readers will be just as intrigued to see each new seed sprout.

The book is fast-paced and engrossing, even if the world-hopping has not yet begun. It is fun to watch Jack grow in strength and confidence as he faces down each new challenge, always goaded on Lilly who, admittedly, comes off as a bit more heroic than Jack, or at least more skilled. She is the one who can wield a sword and shoot an arrow. She is the one always ready for a new adventure. She is the one who has a real interest in the plants and what they can do. This can be a little awkward, since, at times, one wonders if Lilly should not really be the titular character, rather than Jack. But their friendship is sweet, and Lilly helps draw out the best parts of Jack.

Mighty Jack feels likes some solid childhood fun, with all the adventures of a lazy summer daydream come to life and rolled into one action-packed story. Anyone who has ever dreamed of wielding a sword, finding a magical world, or speaking with a dragon will be enchanted with Ben Hatke’s graphic novel. It feels like a classic adventure. And, thankfully, it’s only the start.

4 stars

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows  Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: House of Salt and Sorrows
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Summary

Annaleigh lives with her sisters in Highmoor Manor, a house by the sea. Once there were twelve of them, but four of her sisters are already dead, and Annaleigh is beginning to think that is no accident. Each night, she and her sisters sneak out to attend glittering balls. But who–or what–are they really dancing with? Now Annaleigh must place her trust in a mysterious and handsome stranger if she is to break the curse that haunts her family.

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Review

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is a darkly atmospheric retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Annaleigh and her eleven sisters live in a manor by the sea, but now four of them are dead. At first, the deaths seemed like accidents, but the locals are murmuring of a curse, and Annaleigh is beginning to suspect murder. When another of her sisters begins claiming that she can see and speak with the ghosts of their dead siblings, Annaleigh must discover the truth before someone else gets hurt. House of Salt and Sorrows is a refreshingly original take on an old tale–one that will have readers afraid to go to sleep at night.

“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” has seen its share of retellings, but I am not sure I have yet read one that embraces the horror genre so strongly. Upon reflection, however, horror is the perfect genre for this story. Twelve girls go dancing at night in a mysterious underground world populated by–what? Monsters? Demons? Certainly someone out to get them. Amping up the terror by adding ghosts seemingly intent on revenge simply makes sense. Readers who enjoy creepy tales will not be disappointed by this one.

Admittedly, however, though I enjoyed the scary aspects of the book, I did find that the allure of the unexplained dissipated rather quickly as the book neared its conclusion. Perhaps this is inevitable. The protagonists need to uncover information related to the mystery in order to solve it. But more information means less fascination–once you know what the ghost is, it will never be as frightening. To compensate for this loss, Craig adds a great deal of action and drama. But I would have preferred more atmospheric creepiness to the fast-paced conclusion.

I was also somewhat disappointed by the book’s romance. Annaleigh spends very little time with her love interest, making it difficult to buy into their relationship. She knows next to nothing about him–about what kind of person he is, what values he holds, what future he envisions. As a result, I could not feel very excited about his appearances, nor could I really believe that Annaleigh and he shared some sort of earth-shattering romance that could defy the fates themselves. He was really just kind of…around. Honestly, I can’t even remember his name.

Still, despite a few weaknesses, House of Salt and Sorrows is a satisfying YA fantasy. Fans of fairy tale retellings will likely want to pick it up. It may not be life-changing, but it is solid and enjoyable.

3 Stars

20 YA Books Based on Fairy Tales

YA Books Based on Fairy Tales

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwall

Mechanica’s stepsisters gave her the nickname out of spite, but, as an inventor, Mechanica rather thinks it fits. Still, she’s ready to escape from the family that hates her. Could a technological exposition be her chance at freedom? A charming spin on the “Cinderella” tale with well-developed characters.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Annaleigh and her sisters live at Highmoor, a manor by the sea. There used to be twelve of them, but four have mysteriously died. The village thinks the family is cursed. But could the deaths have something to do with the balls her sisters attend each night? A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng has been promised she will grow up to be Empress–but only if she rejects the man who loves her and accepts the dark magic within her. That magic demands to be fed with the hearts of the recently killed. Is Xifeng ready to pay the ultimate price to gain the throne?

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Entwined by Heather Dixon

Entwined

After the death of their mother, Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters find themselves confined to the castle in mourning, forbidden even to visit the gardens.  Their father in his grief begins to ignore them, leaving the girls even more desolate.  When they find a secret passageway to an underground world, they grasp the opportunity to dance there each night, forgetting their troubles.  There in the darkness, however, lurks a man known as the Keeper, who longs for the power to free himself and visit the land above.  The princesses soon realize they have placed themselves in extreme danger, but, unless they can learn to forgive their father and place their trust in him again, everything may be lost.  A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

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Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle has never been able to please her mother. She’s too wild. Too ugly. Too opinionated. That hasn’t kept her from trying, though. She’ll cut off her own toes to try to make her mother happy. But the prince isn’t fooled. As blood pools in Cindererlla’s glass slipper, Isabelle is sent away in disgrace. Then chance gives her the opportunity to change her fate, to reclaim the pieces of her heart she’s lost. Isabelle yearns to try. But maybe she’s too bitter and broken to get her own happily-ever-after. A standout feminist fairy tale retelling featuring a bold heroine and an imaginative world.

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The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

Seafarer's Kiss

When the mermaid Ersel rescues a shieldmaiden named Ragna, she is given a choice: bid farewell to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the king. In desperation, Ersel asks for help from Loki. But if she ever wants to be with Ragna, she will now have to outwit the God of Lies.

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Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

A companion book to Princess of the Midnight Ball, this reads as a mixture of fantasy, romance, and mystery.  The protagonist Princess Poppy is not the Cinderella figure, but, rather, the one who takes it upon herself to discover where a serving girl has suddenly been acquiring fancy new clothes.  This gives the story a unique spin other retellings lack.

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Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Midnight Ball

Rose and her sisters are cursed each night to dance for the King Under Stone. Can Rose save her sisters with the help of Galen, a soldier newly returned from the war? An original retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” featuring a knitting hero! Book one in the Princess series.

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Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

A decade has passed since Petunia and her sisters defeated the King Under Stone with the help of a young soldier. The bonds keeping the evil king’s sons imprisoned, however, are breaking. Oliver, a dispossessed noble and sometime bandit, wants desperately to protect Petunia from harm. But webs of magic and treachery lie all around and even true love may not prove strong enough to break them. A retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” (with a dash of Robin Hood). Book three in Jessica Day George’s Princess series.

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A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Prince Rhen is cursed to relive his eighteenth year over and over again until a girl falls in love with him.  Unfortunately, they never do–not when they see the beast he becomes.  Then Harper, a girl from D.C. enters his world and, suddenly, Rhen thinks he might have a chance.  But war approaches his borders and Harper fears for the family she left behind.  Can Rhen save both his kingdom and his heart? A gripping retelling that goes beyond the romance to tell a story about political machinations and impending war.  Readers who enjoy high fantasy and war stories will delight in this expanded version of an old story. The first in a series.

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Spinning Starlight by R. C. Lewis

Liddi Jantzen is the heiress to the most influential tech company in the Seven Points; she only wishes she were as clever at inventing tech as her older brothers are, so she can earn the role. But when all of her brothers go missing at the same time, trapped in the conduits between the seven planets, it is up to her–the girl with the “checked genes”–to find a way to save them. The final catch: the person who imprisoned them placed a vocal imprint in Liddi’s throat and if she speaks about the plan to anyone, her whole family will die. A retelling of “The Wild Swans.”

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So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

In this retelling of the Disney movie, Cinderella never tries on the glass slipper. Never taken to the palace as the missing princess, she instead finds work there as a seamstress. But then she gains knowledge of a conspiracy against the kingdom. Can Cinderella stop the plot before it is too late? A fun and entertaining read for fans of the original film.

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Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin has longed dreamed of becoming the tailor to the emperor. Unfortunately, the position is not open to women. But then emperor calls her father to court and Maia, seeing her chance, disguises herself as her brother and goes in his stead. There she enters a competition to please the emperor’s newly betrothed and become the court tailor. But she never reckoned on being assigned an impossible task or on falling in love with an enchanter. An enjoyable fairy tale with a classic feel.

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Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

The del Cisne sisters are cursed. One day the swans will take one of them, transforming them into a swan, and leave the other behind. But their fate becomes even more complicated when two boys become involved.

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Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

It is 1518. When women in Strasbourg begin to dance in the street until they fall dead, people look to Lavinia and her family. Are they witches? Five hundred years later, Rosella Oliva has a pair of red shoes attach to her feet, making her dance uncontrollably. She will have to look to the past if she wants to save her life.

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Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Echo North

Scarred by a wolf when she is seven years old, Echo Alkaev leads a lonely existence, shunned by the villagers who think she is cursed. Years later, she meets the wolf again and he strikes a bargain: he will save her father’s life is she agrees to live with him for one year. In his house under the mountain, Echo finds an enchanted library and begins to fall in love with Hal, who seems trapped in the books. But an evil force is growing and the wolf, Echo, and Hal will all be lost at the end of the year, unless Echo can find a way to break the curse. This enchanting fantasy blends elements from “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Tam Lin.”  Readers who love retellings with a classic feel will fall in love with Echo North, which captures the elusive spirit of Faerie.

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Rogue Princess by B. R. Myers

Rogue Princess

Princess Delia steals a spaceship to avoid an arranged marriage. When she discovers a stowaway, however, the two will have to join forces to defeat a rebel plot. A gender-swapped sci-fi retelling of “Cinderella.”

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geekerella

In this modern retelling of “Cinderella,” Elle is a geek girl who meets her prince at a con. This is a cute read meant primarily to be fun, though the book also raises questions about geek culture and what it means to be a “real” fan. A lively retelling perfect for readers looking for something sweet and charming.

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Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Found in the snow at six years of age and adopted by a powerful branch of the Family, Camille has no memory of her past. She only knows that she is human, not a true member of the Family, even if they treat her as one of their own. And her past is about to catch up with her. Nameless puts an original spin on the story of “Snow White”, replacing the dwarfs with branches of a powerful Mafia-like family and shrouding the past of the protagonist in shadow.  The result is a compelling paranormal romance set in an alternate universe where magic entered history sometime after the Industrial Revolution.  

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Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow

Wayfarer

Ellie Sindar is a powerful charmer, but her stepmother abuses her, forcing her to use her spells for stepmother’s gain. But when handsome Avery arrives at her school, Ellie begins to dream of a future romance. Unfortunately, however, her stepmother has dark plans in mind–and Ellie’s soul may be the price.

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. 

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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

Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime by Derek Fridolfs, Dustin Nguyen

Batman Tales Once Upon a Crime

Information

Goodreads: Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Features retellings of classic tales starring Batman characters.

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Review

I tend to be more of a Marvel comics fan, but, in the interest of expanding my knowledge of the DC comics characters, I picked up  Batman: Once Upon a Crime.  It appeared to be cute and fun, which was what I wanted, rather than some dark, brooding tale of the Batman.  At least to start.  However, I am afraid that neither the stories nor the characters resonated with me.  I think you may already have to be an avid DC fan to appreciate this one.

Batman: Once Upon a Crime contains several retellings of classic stories and fairy tales, all featuring characters from the Batman comics.  For example, there is “Wayenochio,” featuring Damien Wayne as Pinnochio, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland starring Alfred as Alice, and a mystery centered around “The Princess and the Pea” (as well as “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk”).  There is also a retelling of “The Snow Queen” starring Batman, which differs from the rest in that it tends to feature full-page spreads rather than panels and tries to be evocative.

Usually, a successful retelling will reference the original story while successfully providing some sort of twist. In this case, the twist is that the characters are all Batman characters. So I would assume that there in some sort of in-joke there. For example, I think Alfred as Alice is supposed to be amusing because Alfred is an uptight butler who likes everything in its place, and he cannot stand the “mad” Wonderland. However, because I lack sufficient knowledge of the characters, the most I could really do was kind of go, “Oh, it’s Catwoman as the Cheshire Cat!” If there is any joke to this beyond the fact that they both are cats of some sort, I don’t know. So the stories did not make many successful allusions, for me.

I did hope that the stories themselves would be sufficiently interesting, and provide enough character development and background, that I could feel emotionally invested in the tales. However, this never happened. Mostly, I slogged through the book, feeling grateful it was short and soon end. I imagine readers who are already intimately familiar with the DC characters might feel differently. However, I cannot say that I would recommend this as a first read for those who are hoping to become fans.

3 Stars

6 Enchanting Retellings of “Cinderella”

Do you love retold fairy tales? Can’t get enough of Cinderella? There are more extensive lives of Cinderella retellings out there, but these are six of the best that we actually recommend!


Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle has never been able to please her mother. She’s too wild. Too ugly. Too opinionated. That hasn’t kept her from trying, though. She’ll cut off her own toes to try to make her mother happy. But the prince isn’t fooled. As blood pools in Cindererlla’s glass slipper, Isabelle is sent away in disgrace. Then chance gives her the opportunity to change her fate, to reclaim the pieces of her heart she’s lost. Isabelle yearns to try. But maybe she’s too bitter and broken to get her own happily-ever-after.  A standout feminist fairy tale retelling featuring a bold heroine and an imaginative world.

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Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

A companion book to Princess of the Midnight Ball, this reads as a mixture of fantasy, romance, and mystery.  The protagonist Princess Poppy is not the Cinderella figure, but, rather, the one who takes it upon herself to discover where a serving girl has suddenly been acquiring fancy new clothes.  This gives the story a unique spin other retellings lack.

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

At birth Ella was cursed by the fairy Lucinda with the gift of obedience. She has to follow any order given by anybody, even if she receives a command that endangers her or others. Determined to gain her freedom, Ella sets out on a journey to find Lucinda and beg her to take back her gift. Rescue, however, may come from a more unexpected quarter. With its spirited heroine, intriguing premise, and heart-wrenching emotion, Ella Enchanted proves a timeless tale that bears repeated readings.  It has rightfully taken a place among the classics of children’s literature.

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Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison

This retelling takes inspiration from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to depict Ella as a proponent of labor reform. Coming from “new money,” Ella struggles to find acceptance in her new social class, but also feels drawn to help the working class from which she rose. A modern take on a classic tale.

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

In this modern retelling, Elle is a geek girl who meets her prince at a con. A cute read meant primarily to be fun, though the book also raises questions about geek culture and what it means to be a “real” fan.  A lively retelling.

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Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow

Ellie Sindar is a powerful charmer, but her stepmother abuses her, forcing her to use her spells for stepmother’s gain.  But when handsome Avery arrives at her school, Ellie begins to dream of a future romance.  Unfortunately, however, her stepmother has dark plans in mind–and Ellie’s soul may be the price.

ARC Review: Crumbled! by Lisa Harkrader

Information

Goodreads: Crumbled!
Series: The Misadventures of Nobbin Swill #1
Source: ARC from BookCon
Published: Aug. 27, 2019

SummarY

As the son of a dung farmer, Nobbin Swill spends his nights emptying the king’s latrine. Then, one night, he finds the king’s signet ring among the waste.  Nobbin thinks returning it could be the making of his fortune.  Instead, he finds himself setting out on a quest with the hapless crown prince, who is supposed to find out why Hansel and Gretel are missing.  Can Nobbin rise above his reputation?  Or will he only ever be “one of those Swills?”

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Review

Reviewing lower middle grade is always difficult for me as I am not the target audience and often do not appreciate the simplistic (usualy nonsensical) plot lines or the obvious attempts to appeal to young children.  Indeed, I found myself immediately skeptical of a book where the protagonist is a crud-encrusted, smelly dung farmer who picks through feces to find treasures to keep at home.  Historically based?  Sure.  But also a clear attempt to find fans among kids who love poop jokes and everything disgusting.  Would the book hold up or was it the start of another series with a kid-friendly premise but no solid story?  I wasn’t sure and, having read it, am still a little unsure.

The book cover compares the story to Shrek and, indeed, the “disgusting” hero who goes on a quest in a reimagined fairy tale land is familiar enough.  But I, as an adult reader, feel like the “solve a mystery in a fractured fairy tale world” is a stale concept.  “Ho hum, Hansel and Gretel are missing again,” was all I could think.  And yet, for newly independent readers, this concept will likely not be stale at all.  Third grade readers will probably love this book!  (After all, it has poop.  Lots of it.)

The plot is very simplistic, as is to be expected, with a clear and obvious villain.  However, younger readers may appreciate this, either not realizing that the end game is obvious, or feeling proud of themselves for having figured it out and being “in the know” while the characters bumble about.  Plenty of stuff that happens in the story is not very logical, but this will be again likely be overlooked by the target audience.

My reading experience was very much a see-saw like this, with me, the adult, feeling bored, but also recognizing that I could very well be holding a poop-tastic bestseller in my hands.  After all, if Magic Kittens, Pirate Puppies, and Rainbow Fairies can fly off the shelves, why can’t a dung farmer?  Maybe this is the new Captain Underpants?  I still think a really great story should hold up for both adults and children.  However, I also concede that children love plenty of things that many adults just don’t get–and this book is probably one of them.

3 Stars