Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly (ARC Review)


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


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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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

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass book cover


Goodreads: Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: September 5, 2017

Official Summary

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.

Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Star Divider


Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a quiet yet powerful reimagining of “Snow White” that focuses on relationships rather than action. While the pacing is slow at times, the novel shines when showing readers the love between Princess Lynet and her stepmother and all the obstacles, both external and internal, they need to overcome to keep it.

The first half of the novel was my favorite because it focuses on Lynet and Mina and really delves into their hopes and dreams, their struggles, and all the forces that have made them who they are. Both have somewhat disappointing fathers, as Lynet’s is obsessed with her dead mother (to the point where he seems a bit one-dimensional as a character, to be honest) and wants Lynet to be just like her, and Mina’s father has always been out for himself; when he interacts with Mina, it’s just to get her help in obtaining something he wants.

It’s rather beautiful to read their alternating chapters, as the book shows both the past, where Mina fought to become a queen and feel she had some power in the world and over her own life, and the present, where Lynet and Mina have a loving relationship in spite of all the people who never wanted them to become close. Bashardoust’s skill really lies in drawing these complex women and in drawing all the lines that connect them to the people around them.

Because I was kind of just interested in watching the characters grow and interact, I thought things got a bit boring once the climax of the novel hit, when the “Snow White” retelling part really takes off, as Lynet flees the castle to be safe from her stepmother, etc. I do think the pacing was off here, which didn’t help. It felt slow for a while and then got fast suddenly at the end, but Lynet and Mina without each other were also simply less interesting. Bashardoust still tries to explore their feelings, their choices, their fates in this section of the book, but I just wanted them to get back together to see what happened then.

Overall, I enjoyed the book because of the deep look into interiority readers get. The “Snow White” aspect was vaguely interesting, and the magic and the world building had their moments, but I wouldn’t recommend the book for those things. If you want a book about strong female relationships or about complicated family relationships, this is a gem. If you want an original and exciting fairy tale retelling or complex magic system, there are better books to choose.

3 Stars

Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?


As a follow-up to my popular post “Why Didn’t Cinderella Just Leave?” [her abusive stepmother’s household], today I’m answering another popular fairy tale question: Why did Snow White eat the poisoned apple?

As always, there are many versions of “Snow White,” as well as many modern retellings, and some authors might try to tackle the question more directly by offering reasons or justifications why Snow White would do something that seems so obviously dangerous to readers. My post is based on the Brothers Grimm version of the story, “Little Snow-White.”

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Snow White Is Just a Child

The first thing to note about the Grimms’ version of “Snow White” is that Snow White is seven years old, which itself might provide an answer as to why she would do something that seems incredibly naive. She’s a very young child! In the Disney adaptation, which more people may be familiar with, Snow White is fourteen, but still relatively young, barely a high schooler in the modern age. However, I think the fact Snow White has faced direct danger (the huntsman trying to kill her) and knows her stepmother is out to get her but still is trusting enough to take food from a stranger means there’s something going on besides her young age.

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…But She Never Seems to Learn Her Lesson

Snow White’s apparent naivete is actually worse in the Grimm’s version of the fairy tale than in the Disney adaptation. While viewers watching Disney are likely frustrated Snow White takes an apple after literally just being warned not to let any strangers in the house because her stepmother is out to kill her, her choice to eat the poisoned apple seems even more absurd in the traditional fairy tale–because she only takes the apple after being tricked/harmed by her stepmother two previous times!

In the Brothers Grimm story, the evil queen first disguises herself as an old woman pedaling wares who offers to let Snow White try on a beautiful corset–then laces it so tightly Snow White can no longer breathe and passes out. Again, Snow White was just warned by the dwarves not to let anyone in, but she she goes with her gut instead of her brain and thinks that someone who looks so honest (and innocently elderly?) must be trustworthy:

“I can let that honest woman in,” thought Snow-White, then unbolted the door and bought the pretty bodice lace.

Nearly dying and learning that even people who look honest might not be honest does not teach Snow White a lesson, however. The dwarves need to leave the house again, and they remind her not to let anyone in a again:

When the dwarfs heard what had happened they said, “The old peddler woman was no one else but the godless queen. Take care and let no one in when we are not with you.”

When a different kindly old woman shows up with more pretty baubles to sell, Snow White remembers what happened last time only for a moment before relenting and letting the stranger in:

Snow-White looked out and said, “Go on your way. I am not allowed to let anyone in.”

“You surely may take a look,” said the old woman, pulling out the poisoned comb and holding it up. The child liked it so much that she let herself be deceived, and she opened the door.

She’s practically dead until the dwarves come back and take the comb out of her hair. So with these two new near-death experiences under her belt, one really does wonder, Why does she eat the apple?

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Is the Apple Different?

When the evil stepmother comes to the dwarves’ cottage a third time, this time as a old woman selling apples, Snow White seems ready to stick to her guns (though she oddly phrases her reason for not letting the woman in as being based on instructions from the dwarves, not her own reservations about trusting strangers after having been nearly killed twice quite recently):

Snow-White stuck her head out the window and said, “I am not allowed to let anyone in. The dwarfs have forbidden me to do so.”

“That is all right with me,” answered the peasant woman. “I’ll easily get rid of my apples. Here, I’ll give you one of them.”

“No,” said Snow-White, “I cannot accept anything.”

The stepmother does try to eliminate some possible objections. First, in the quote above, she offers to give Snow White an apple instead of selling it to her (though money never appears to be an issue). When Snow White still refuses, she points out the obvious and laughs, suggesting it would be absurd to think that the apple is dangerous:

“Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two. You eat the red half, and I shall eat the white half.

Eating half of the apple does seem like a good way to demonstrate that it is safe and not poisoned. Snow White didn’t have any assurances that the bodice or the comb were safe, but in this case she does seem to get some proof the apple is safe. However, I still don’t think rational reasoning has anything to do with Snow White’s choice here; obviously it would be safest to not eat the apple or to take it, say it will be saved for later, and then throw it away.

Personally, I think the difference between the apple and the first two tricks is that the apple is more obviously magical. The evil queen goes into a special, secret room of her castle to create the apple, which she did not do for the bodice or comb, and the narrator says that “anyone who saw it would want it.” That might not be a throwaway line about how lovely and delicious it looks, but rather an indication that it’s magically tempting.

That temptation seems to be the key (and, of course, apples have been a symbol temptation since the Garden of Eden). Snow White’s ability to resist the lure of the apple lessens the longer she looks at it. She is said to “long” for it, whereas she seemed to have simply thought the bodice and comb were pretty:

Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the red half was poisoned. Snow-White longed for the beautiful apple, and when she saw that the peasant woman was eating part of it she could no longer resist, and she stuck her hand out and took the poisoned half. She barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

While I think it’s fair to say Snow White was tricked the first two times because she’s absurdly trusting for someone who knows her stepmother is out to murder her, I do think she is less at fault in the case of the apple. She eats it because there is strong magic attached to it that makes her want to eat it.

What Do You Think?

Does Snow White eat the apple because she’s too trusting? Just stupid? Or overwhelmed by powerful magic?

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Nameless by Lili St. Crow

NamelessGoodreads: Nameless 
Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2013


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.


You can read Briana’s review here.

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.  The world building can sometimes be confusing and the protagonist bafflingly oversensitive, but, overall, Nameless is an engrossing read.

Initially I found myself somewhat overwhelmed by the world of Nameless, which is never explained in-depth.  The protagonist Camille simply names creatures, historical events, etc. when they occur and does not provide much background.  Eventually one may surmise that the Family are vampiric, that something bad called Twisting can happen to people with something called Potential (which seems to be magic), that things can be charmed, and that names here are somewhat randomly based on our own names–the Renaissance, for instance, is now the Renascence, or something like that.  But it takes time to build up this knowledge and even now I am not entirely sure what a jack is or why Twisting occurs.

Eventually I just accepted that the book was not going to explain anything, which left me with the dilemma of the narration.  Camille does not speak much as she has a stutter and worries about people becoming impatient with her.  This means that much of the narration is her thoughts.  The other narration could be her thoughts or could be the third-person narrator.  The line is blurry, which is all the more confusing because it curses so much.  Camille herself curses verbally once, I believe.  And she seems pretty demure in general, a quiet girl who goes along with whatever her bolder friends say and whose main desire seems to be to avoid any trouble.  So the narration calling everything g—d can be jarring.

Camille herself is a sweet and engaging protagonist, though oddly concerned with “not fitting in.”  The narration suggests that the Family girls might bully her, but Camille never interacts with them so we’ll never know.  She also implies that her school mates don’t like her or think her odd.  She only interacts with her two friends Ruby and Ellie, so, again, we’ll never know.  But one suspects no one really cares about her, other than the run-of-the-mill gossip you might expect when you’re a member of a prominent vampiric-immortal-Mafia Family.  After all, she’s always moping about how she’s not Family and they plan to cast her out, even though she’s accepted as Papa’s daughter and having a years-long flirtation with the Family heir Nico.  But, sure, Nico’s going to cast her out one day when he suddenly remembers that she’s adopted.  Oh wait.  He’s known that since they met.

Camille’s desire to learn her past makes sense, but her insistence that she “doesn’t belong” and “isn’t wanted” does not when you consider how lovingly her Family treats her, how she is an integral part of the household, how she attends important functions for the Family, how she is finally indisputably and publicly announced as a member of the Family.  This insistence could make her annoying, but somehow I only found Camille a bit odd and maybe a tad wearying.  Her weird decision to “make everything right” by doing the dumbest thing imaginable was more frustrating to me in the end and I was willing to overlook whatever emotional hang-ups she had.

These issues plagued me throughout the novel, but the plot itself is so compelling that I chose to wave them aside while reading.  Plot-wise, the only things that bothered me were an extraneous shirtless scene with Camille (because she just forgot a guy was in her room when she decided she didn’t need a shirt anymore?) and, again, the weird decision to “help” all her friends and family by getting herself killed.  But, hey, the premise of this retold tale was original and I liked the characters.  So I’m willing to pick up the sequel.

4 starsKrysta 64

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente


Goodreads: Six-Gun Snow White
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013


Once upon a time a silver baron forced a Crow woman to marry him and bear him a daughter.  But that daughter’s skin betrayed her heritage and when her mother died, her stepmother in cruelty called her Snow White–a constant reminder of the type of beauty and the kind of life she can never have.  Snow White , however, can pull a trigger faster than any man in the West, and she hopes that will be enough for her to take her freedom.


Catherynne Valente, author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, must have once visited Fairyland herself.  Her prose is an enchantment  inviting readers into a world where reality and magic blend together, enticing them always to journey farther in until it’s too late–the story has grasped hold of their hearts and there is no going back.  She weaves yet another masterful spell in Six-Gun Snow White, utterly transforming the tale into something new and beautiful, but also unbearably dark.

A dark edge to her fairy tales may in fact be one of Valente’s trademarks.  Even in her middle-grade series she introduces twisted souls and the hard loss of Faerie to those who have spent their allotted time. Her adult novels go even farther, however, filling the stories with so much pain that one sometimes wonders if there is any magic left at all.  I often suspect that it is Valente’s prose more than her content that provides the magic–her words have a sense of rightness to them, whether they are sharp-edged and beautiful or even humorous.  For instance, one of my favorite quotes from this book reads, “Mr. H traveled to the Montana Territory on a horse so new and fine her tail squeaked.”  But always the darkness lurks beneath and I’m not always sure that this is my kind of fairy tale.

Darkness, of course, has always been a part of Faerie.  I believe in Valente’s worlds while she is spinning her tale.  But Deathless and Six-Gun Snow White both lost me at the end, where the story drops off into that lukewarm despair characteristic of many a piece of literary fiction.  The characters just continue on in resignation.  Fairy tales, it seems to me, should end with a bang, either in hope or despair.  This vague continuance of misery just doesn’t feel right.

Still, Valente’s prose draws me in, as so her richly developed worlds.  I love in particular how she matches her prose to these worlds.  Not many authors experiment so freely with their style and it’s always a treat to see how Valente will challenge herself next.  Even though her endings disappoint me, I’m ready to go with her on a new adventure at any time.

*This post is participating in Witch Week at The Emerald City!

Krysta 64

Snow White Lucks Out by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Snow White Lucks OutInformation

Goodreads: Snow White Lucks Out
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #3
Source: Library
Published: June 2014


Snow White knows that her friends no longer trust her now that they have discovered her stepmother Ms.Wicked is a member of the E.V.I.L. Society.  Still, she has so many luck charms that she simply has to trust everything will turn out all right.  But when her favorite lucky charm goes missing, will she have the strength to stand up to her stepmother?


Each Grimmtastic Girls book presents the story through the eyes of a new character and this has proven a rather exciting technique.  It allows the authors to bring out the characters in different ways, as seen by various individuals, as well as to play with the type of story they write (the bold Red, for example, played with a dangerous romance while the more straight-forward Cinda simply toward her one goal–to find friends).  However, this also means that readers will most likely find they have preferences–they will relate to or like some characters better than others and thus may find that they enjoy certain installments of the series more than others.  In this case, I found that, although the plot still engrossed me, Snow did not capture me the way Cinda and Red did and thus the third book in the series is so far my least favorite.

Snow has a more timid disposition than either Cinda or Red who, although they possess insecurities and fears, largely forged ahead anyway.  Snow, in contrast, spends a lot of her time thinking about everything that worries her, from doubts about her appearance to whether her friends still like her.  It is, of course, understandable that Snow would behave this way.  Her stepmother, after all, emotionally abuses her, constantly criticizing her and insulting her, and even trying to sabotage her so she looks foolish in front of others.  Still, I wished she could find time for more interesting thoughts than, “Do my friends like me?” for the twentieth time.

The plot of her book also seems rather quiet.  The romance is more subdued–actually more of a casual friendship than a romance since Snow and her prince interact very little and Snow seems not to recognize her own feelings.  The personal aspect of the plot is barely a plot point at all–where Cinda had to find friends and Red had to find courage, Snow has to find…her missing lucky charm?  The title of the book suggests Snow learns to rely on herself, but the story itself doesn’t bother to focus on that too much, except for the moralizing bit at the very end.  As for the mini quest–its importance to the overall plot isn’t quite yet clear.  Altogether, little seems to have happened to drive the main plot forward, though by the end enough has been set up for book four to make large advances.

The most memorable part of the book ended up being, for me, not Snow or the search to find the missing artifacts or anything one might consider important, but rather the randomness of the dwarves.  Cinda and Red’s stories flowed naturally into the overall structure of the series, but the authors seemed uncertain how to place Snow’s tale in a boarding school setting.  After all, she’s not running away so she can’t meet dwarves and live with them, and her stepmother is a teacher at the school and not likely to murder her on the premises.  The dwarves were thus obviously squeezed in just because they “had” to be there, not because they made sense in the context of the plot and they disappear as arbitrarily as they came.  Truly, this book is the weakest in the series so far.

Even so, I still enjoyed Snow’s story and was pleased to go on another adventure with her and her friends.  Next up is Rapunzel’s tale and, since she has been the most mysterious of the four protagonists so far, I look forward to getting to know her.


Whatever After: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski

Whatever After Fairest of AllInformation

Goodreads: Fairest of All
Series: Whatever After #1
Source: Library
Published: May 1, 2012

Official Summary

A fresh, modern spin on a classic fairy tale–from bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski!
Mirror, mirror, on the basement wall . . .

Once upon a time my brother and I were normal kids. The next minute? The mirror in our basement slurped us up and magically transported us inside Snow White’s fairy tale.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

But hey — we’re heroes! We stopped Snow White from eating the poisoned apple. Hooray! Or not. If Snow White doesn’t die, she won’t get to meet her prince. And then she won’t get her happy ending. Oops.

Now it’s up to us to:
– Avoid getting poisoned
– Sneak into a castle
– Fix Snow White’s story
And then, fingers crossed, find our way home


Whatever After: Fairest of All is a cute exploration of what could happen if Snow White didn’t eat her stepmother’s poisoned apple; it turns out, she might just miss her chance to meet her prince!  Ten-year-old Abby and her little brother Jonah are not about to let that happen, however, so they embark on a quest to ensure Snow gets her happily ever after, after all.

The result is a romp of a tale that sprawls through different excursions, as Abby and Snow brainstorm various ways to put Snow’s story back on track.  Do they reenact everything?  Lure the prince?  Go to the prince themselves?  (And which prince are they trying to attract anyway?)  The characters have a variety of fun adventures, and hilarity and danger both ensue, as Abby, Jonah, and Snow try various approaches—all while trying to dodge the still very determined evil queen.

Although the plot is light and a bit quirky, the voice is of the book stands in contrast.   It may be due to an attempt by Mlynowski to give her protagonist a young voice, but Abby often just sounds petulant.   She also routinely states the obvious and can be very repetitive.  Here are few quotes from the beginning of the story, so you can get a feel for her voice yourself.

“Why is the mirror in our basement turning colors?  Mirrors should not change colors.  I do not like mirrors that change colors!”

“Um, why are there thousands of large trees in my basement.  Wait.  My basement does not have trees.  I turn to Jonah.  ‘We’re not in the basement!’”

Abby does have a personal character arc, as her adventures in the mirror give her a better perspective on what things matter in life, and on working to make the impossible possible.  Further, she deserves kudos for exhibiting spunk in the face of danger and sticking close to her friends.

Jonah, the younger brother, is seven years old and a little more immediately endearing.  He too has a penchant for repetition, but with more exuberance.  Examples include: “Wake up, wake up, wake up!” and “Excuse us, excuse us, excuse us, excuse us, excuse you, EXCUSE US!”  This is pretty believable for a little kid, although it can be just about as tiring to read as it can be to listen to in real life.  (Ok, once in awhile it’s funny, too.) In the end, Johan is my favorite character due to his big heart, his loyalty, and his unfailing sense of adventure.

In spite of the annoying (in my opinion) dialogue interjections, the plot proceeds at a steady pace, and there is just enough mystery at the end of the book to encourage readers to continue with the series.  Readers still have a lot to discover about the magic mirror and the relationship between our world and fairy tale worlds.  Finally, there is a little hint that Abby and Jonah will be called on another adventure quite soon—and that they will be willing to answer the call!

Fairest of All will appeal to younger middle grade readers who enjoy fairy tales with spirited heroines.  Great for fans of E. D. Baker or Diane Zahler.

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Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Kill Me SoftlyInformation

Goodreads: Kill Me Softly
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: April 2012

Official Summary

Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents’ tragic deaths to her guardians’ half-truths about why she can’t return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.

In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who’s a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.

But fairy tales aren’t pretty things, and they don’t always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy tale curses of their own . . . brothers who share a dark secret. And she’ll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.


Kill Me Softly is a thoughtful, romantic book that looks the darkness of fairy tales in the face and combats it with all their hope. The story follows fifteen-year-old Mira as she attempts to track down the secrets of her past—and discovers they are far more implausible than she ever dreamed. She, and many of the inhabitants of the city where she was born, are “cursed” to live fairy tale lives, following in the footsteps of princesses, heroes, or villains.

Those who follow Pages Unbound will notice I reviewed Shannon Hale’s Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends last Monday and complained about a similar story premise, explaining it did not make sense. Be relieved to know that Sarah Cross handles the “born to fill a fairy tale role” plot much more skillfully. It actually works in Kill Me Softly because the roles are random, not handed down from parent to child, and each character is only cursed to do something similar to their fairy tale predecessor, not relive their story verbatim. For instance, a “Snow White” will probably eat a poisoned apply and fall into an enchanted sleep, but she may be able to skip the part where she lives in an adorable woodland cottage with a bunch of dwarves. Or the Huntsman might decide to actually kill her. Oops.

Kill Me Softly, being YA, is also able to confront the darkness of the original Grimm fairy tales head-on. Cross discusses, not just the gruesomeness or violence that characterize many stories (like Cinderella’s stepsisters chopping up their feet to fit into the glass slipper) but also the dark mentality that being cursed into a role can bring. There are characters who are proud to be villains, or who use their curses as excuses to be terrible people. There are characters who are simply twisted, who want to kiss sleeping girls not because they are in love or just want to save them from an enchanted sleep but because, well, they want to take advantage. Fairy tales are not always pretty, and Cross makes sure Mira learns that—and then tackles it.

After learning she is cursed, Mira has a lot to think about: destiny vs. free will, true love vs. playacting, the bad parts of fairy tales vs. the good. Mira is spunky, and immediately enters militant mode, struggling against the idea that the most important parts of her fate, like whom she falls in love with, are predetermined. Some other reviewers have found Mira’s attitude disagreeable, which is understandable. Personally, I found it plausible, considering her situation. And when she butts heads, not just with the idea of pre-destiny, but with a certain irritating young man, I even found it funny. (And, again, believable. I don’t think I would take his consistent attitude without eventually giving back a bit of my own!)

Of course, Mr. Obnoxious turns out to be a potential love interest. The weird part: two other guys do, as well. We don’t have a love triangle in Kill Me Softly; we have a love square. All three guys are given an explanation for being suitors, and they are mostly good ones (not just some ridiculous excuse that Mira is just such a great catch that guys are always fawning over her!) There is no explanation, however, for why Mira falls hardest , in instalove, for the one guy who is clearly the worst pick. Fortunately, readers have the rest of the book, and two other guys, to encourage their hopes that Mira will change her mind.

Overall, Kill Me Softly is a stellar fairy tale retelling. It is original and modern, while maintaining the romance, magic, and darkness of its source tales. Cross will draw readers in with her fast –paced writing and biting dialogue, and then they will stay for the unforeseeable plot twists and the hope that Myra will find her happily ever after, in both romance and free will. Recommended.

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale

Ever After HighInformation

Goodreads: Ever After High:  The Storybook of Legends
Series: Ever After High #1
Source: Library
Published: October 1, 2013

Official Summary

At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens…whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.

As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen’s destiny is to follow in her mother’s wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven’s style. She’s starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.

What if Raven doesn’t sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.


This review has to begin by addressing the elephant in the room: The premise of The Storybook of Legends makes absolutely no sense—and the problem is not one that can be fixed, bar rewriting the entire book with a new plot.  In Hale’s fairy tale world, each new generation of characters must relive their parents’ stories.  Apple White will become the next Snow White, eat an apple, fall asleep, fall in love, etc.  Ashlynn Ella will become the next Cinderella, work hard, go to a ball,  meet her prince, lose her shoe, etc.  And so on.  This social structure raises a lot of questions.

For one, why are all these characters in high school together?  Holly O’Hair (Rapunzel) should have been kidnapped as a baby and raised in a tower.  Ashlynn (Cinderella) should have had a terrible childhood with an evil stepmother.  Briar (Sleeping) Beauty should be hidden away from spinning wheels. And so on.  These fairy tale characters have already missed half of their stories!  Other complications arise, however.  Apple White and Raven Queen are supposed to be Snow White and the Evil Queen, which means Raven should be Apple’s stepmother.  She is not.  This is actually mentioned in the book and the characters shrug it off, saying, “There must be slight variations in the story.”

Yet other characters have similar relationship problems.  For instance, Ashlynn Ella’s parents are Cinderella and Prince Charming—yet Ashlynn is supposed to marry Prince Charming.  But would not her brother, if she had one, be Prince Charming?  Whom, then, does she marry?  And, since her mother Cinderella is still alive, must  she suddenly die so that Ashlynn’s father can remarry an evil stepmother?  And then does her family suddenly lose their fortune and royal status so Ashlynn can live as a mistreated commoner girl?  The questions  can go on and on and on, for each and every one of the characters.  Saying that the stories must change a bit with each general of fairy tale characters is far from an adequate explanation.

Nonsensical premise aside (and we must put it aside to get anywhere with this book), The Storybook of Legends is a pretty entertaining read.  It is more commercial, or perhaps gimmicky, than Hale’s typical stories, filled with cheesy modern references to musicians (Taylor Quick), and brands and with silly fairy tale puns.  The characters have their own fantasy slang, such as telling each other they look “fairy nice,” apparently an attempt to make the book sound hip.

The story’s strongest point, however, is probably the characters.  Though Hale is working with fairy tale “types” and with somewhat predetermined personalities, she manages to make each person come alive.  Even the characters truly invested in living out their well-known destinies have unique hopes, dreams, and quirks.  Apple White is determined to be the best queen she can, yet experiences moments of self-doubt.  Briar Beauty wants to live life to the fullest, since she is going to spend a lot of time sleeping.  Dexter Charming wishes to be as brave and, well, charming as his older brother.  Hale’s star character, however, is Madeline Hatter, a slightly mad girl who speaks in Riddlish yet has the world’s biggest heart and a lot of wisdom.  For me, her charisma helps her outshine even protagonist Raven Queen.

The main storyline, following Raven as she decides whether or not to sign the Storybook of Legends and seal her destiny as the world’s most evil queen, is an engaging little adventure.  Raven gets into a number of escapades, some related to discovering her destiny, some just to get her through the daily trials of high school.  Readers spend as much time with Raven trying to navigate friendships and classes and they do navigating magical perils.  In the end, the plot does not get quite as far as readers might wish, instead saving the things that I, at least, really wanted to know for future books in the series.  The Storybook of Legends just gives readers a taste, introducing characters and the main problem, without really solving it.  Truthfully, I would have liked to see a tighter plot, with everything answered and tied up in a standalone, rather than an entire Ever After High series.

All that said, The Storybook  of Legends is still fun, creative, and cute.  Shannon Hale has written better books, but for a book trying to sell a series of Mattel dolls, it really is quality stuff. I would recommend it for readers who enjoy light fairy tale retellings and fantasy books with a modern touch.

Unique Retellings of “Snow White” for Fairy Tale Fans

Unique retellings of Snow White

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

Snow White Lucks Out by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Snow White knows that her friends no longer trust her now that they have discovered her stepmother Ms.Wicked is a member of the E.V.I.L. Society.  Still, she has so many luck charms that she simply has to trust everything will turn out all right.  But when her favorite lucky charm goes missing, will she have the strength to stand up to her stepmother?

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Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

In this companion book to Ella Enchanted, Aza has a beautiful voice, but certainly not the most beautiful face in the land.  Will magic be able to make her pretty and help her win the princes of her dreams?

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Snow: A Retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Tracy Lynn

A more modern interpretation in which Jessica/Snow flees to the “jungle” of London when she realizes her stepmother hates her–and unexpectedly finds a strong group of friends.

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Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

A space adventure retelling of “Snow White,” in which coder Essie, who has been lying low on a periphery planet. finds herself dragged into a war she wants nothing to do with.

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Fairest by Marissa Meyer

This prequel novella to Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles series is a villain origin story that subtly shows how the Lunar queen came to be so cold.

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8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown Eighth Dwarf by Michael Mullin

A creative verse retelling that introduces readers to the unknown eighth dwarf Creepy.  The other dwarves have locked Creepy in the basement, but it may be up to him to finally save Snow White. 

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Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Yolen updates the story and sets it in a modern Appalachia.  The retelling is unique in its focus on the father and stepmother.

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Nameless by Lili St. Crow

The first in the Tales of Beauty and Madness series comes out April 2013.  The book tells the story of Cami, a human girl who cannot remember her past, who was adopted by the Family when they found her trembling on the streets as a child.  Now a teenager, Cami is beginning to discover more of her own story.  But will discovering her identify convince her she belongs someone other than with the Family who raised her?

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Black as Night by Regina Doman

An exciting retelling set in the South Bronx.  Blanche has run away from home and is hiding from someone who means her harm.  She finds refuge with seven friars who help unravel a deadly plot.


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