September Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Still working on September reads – life continues to be crazy at the orchard. Apples everywhere!!!

Hunted by Megan Spooner – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a book that it seemed like I should have liked more than I did. A somewhat Beauty & the Beast retelling set in a Russia-ish country with lots of snow and atmosphere and a likable main character. But somehow I just didn’t find this book magic. I think part of it is because of this weird thing in the epilogue where the author is basically like, “Oh, they didn’t actually get married, they just like living together and why would they get married?” It was presented very strangely, and especially considering the time period/culture in which this story is set it came across as a very jarring and odd way to end the story.

My sister read this one as well, and when we were discussing it, she hit the nail on the head – throughout the story, the main character is looking for some sort of truth/purpose… and she never actually really finds it. As a Christian, I think that truth and purpose can be known, but Spooner’s conclusion seemed to basically be that the best we can hope for is to be somewhat happy (and apparently maybe find someone to live with that we mostly like). The entire background philosophy of this book just didn’t really jive with my personal philosophy, so I didn’t get along with this story the way I wanted to.

I’m making it sound pretty negative, but I actually did enjoy this book while I was reading it, and there’s a lot of good story here. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, you’ll probably like this one, but for me it definitely didn’t fall into the “instant classic” category.

Secret Water by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1939//

I love these books so hard, even if they are making me feel discontent with my own childhood, which I used to think was perfect. But was it really perfect?? MY parents never dropped me off on an island with my siblings and a pile of supplies and a sailboat, leaving us to explore our surroundings for a week! I mean, seriously. Did they even love me??

The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

I thought I had read all of Christie’s mysteries, but this one didn’t seem even remotely familiar to me. A collection of short stories, the main character is really an elderly man named Mr. Satterthwaite. In each story, Mr. Quin appears (usually mysteriously) and helps Mr. Satterthwaite think through a situation and solve a mystery, sometimes a cold case. While these weren’t my favorite Christie stories by any means, they were still enjoyable and engaging to read. The reader is left with the impression that Mr. Quin may be some type of supernatural being, but I honestly appreciated the fact that Christie never addressed it or tried to explain him. Mr. Quin just was. While I wouldn’t start with this one if you’ve never read Christie, if you already enjoy her stories you’ll probably find these engaging as well.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – 4*

//published 2020//

This book was a retelling of The Goose Girl, and was overall well done. The main character (who becomes known as Thorn) was a bit too passive for my taste – things tended to happen to her throughout the story. Also, if you’ve read the original fairytale you know the fate of Falada, yet I felt like I really got to know Falada in this story, so I kept hoping that fate wouldn’t occur… but it did. I was SO sad.

While this wasn’t one I see myself reading again and again, I enjoyed it as a one-off read and definitely recommend it, especially if you’re into fairytale variations like I am.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff – 2.5*

//published 1998//

This was one of my traveling book club books for September, and I somewhat struggled to get through it. The set-up is interesting: Claire is a being known as a Keeper – technically human (ish) but with, well, cosmic powers that enable them to keep the dark side from breaking through into our realm. (It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, so that may not be exactly correct, but close enough.) Keepers are “summoned” simply by the draw of the need, so Claire finds herself in a small B&B in southern Ontario and ends up stuck there, guarding a literal portal to hell and trying to figure out how to close it again.

There were aspects of this book – like the talking cat – that I really enjoyed, but for a book that includes a portal to hell, it was puh-retty slow moving. Claire spends most of her time thinking about how amazing she is because she’s a Keeper, trying not to flirt with the guy who works as the B&B because he’s too young for her (he’s like 20 and she’s almost 30… again, something like that… and it really did feel uncomfortable, not because of the woman being older, but just because that’s a genuinely large age-gap at those ages, and Claire’s interest in this guy was almost purely physical, so it was all about her thinking how hot he was followed by “oh he’s too young for me” which really just emphasized how uncomfortable the entire thing was), and trying not to flirt with the other guy because he’s actually a ghost (except apparently Keepers literally can give ghosts a physical form for just a short period of time… just so they can have sex with them??? This also just came across as bizarre and uncomfortable rather than funny like it seemed like the author was trying to do). So not only was I stuck reading about a love triangle, I was stuck reading about a love triangle where all the people in it were extremely cringey and weird. Plus, I just never did end up liking Claire, who was really stuck on herself.

Way too many things were left unexplained or just didn’t make sense (sometimes Claire can just manipulate the physical world to do whatever she wants, but then things will happen and she’ll act like she can’t fix them or change them, and I just never could understand what the rules were, or even if there were rules), and the “romantic” interactions between Claire and the two guys were just ugh. While this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it most certainly did not inspire me to continue with the series.

July Minireviews – Part 1

Hey friends!!  Here I am with book reviews in July for books I actually read in July!!  Will wonders never cease!

Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene – 3*

//published 2018//

For a week or two in early July I was trying the thing where I read multiple books at once.  It worked at the time to get through a few books I was struggling to finish (“rewarding” myself with chapters from the books I actually like weirdly helps me haha), but I’ve noticed that when I do this thing where I read one chapter at a time and then read a chapter from the next book, and then a chapter from the next book, I frequently end up finishing books I would normally just bail on.  Amber & Dusk was a great example.  This book was DEADLY slow.  Like, indescribably slow.  Literally NOTHING was happening except for the main character whining.  But part of me didn’t completely notice because I was only reading one or two of the very short chapters at a time.  But I got about 2/3 through this book and suddenly thought, What has actually happened in this story, anyway?!  And the answer was… basically nothing!  The last handful of chapters were suddenly jammed with action, incredibly rushed, didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and then suddenly the book was over?!  I was, frankly, incredibly underwhelmed by this story.  The world-building itself was also very weak, I never really got any sense of where they were or what life was like for regular people.  This whole “overthrow the evil ruler” bit was… okay?  I guess?  But there is literally no real direction on what’s going to happen once she’s gone, and I wasn’t particularly impressed with the queen’s replacement, who spent basically the entire book whining and complaining about how she “deserved” so much more from life… not exactly qualities I look for in a rebel leader.  So.  Whatever.  Originally I went ahead and checked the sequel out of the library thinking I would just see what happened, but when that book actually got here I realized I literally didn’t care, so I just sent it back.  Three stars is somewhat generous, but I mean I did actually finish the book, and there were a few characters that I liked, and moments of creativity, so I decided to round up a little.

Finding Home by Irene Hannon – 4*

//published 2012//

This one is a loose sequel to Seaside Reunionand since I happened to own both, I went ahead and read this one.  Set in the same town with some overlapping characters, Finding Home was a perfectly happy little romance, even if it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking.  Honestly, I didn’t take any notes on this one and can’t remember much about it… so, pleasant but forgettable apparently haha

We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1937//

Book Seven of the Swallows & Amazons series did not disappoint in any way.  I’m better than halfway through this series now, and honestly am already thinking about rereading them whenever I’m done.  I love these books!  In this one, the four original Swallows accidentally end up in the North Sea, in a manner that actually feels like it could really have happened.  This one was a bit more action-oriented than some of the others, and even though there was a giant coincidence that helped bring everything together, even the coincidence didn’t feel terribly unlikely, so I was willing to roll with it.  Another absolutely delightful addition to this series.

As a side note, I’m only missing one book to complete my set of Jonathan Cape editions.  I absolutely love these hardcovers – they are a pleasure to read and have the most delightful endpaper maps!!

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1929//

This was a reread for me, but it’s one of my favorites.  It’s a little over-the-top, but that’s part of the reason that I love it.  A loose sequel to The Secret of Chimneysseveral of the characters overlap, including the intrepid Bundle, who makes a lovely, no-nonsense heroine.  This is more of a spy thriller than a straight mystery, so if you don’t like Christie’s campier style, this one isn’t for you.  However, I found it to be an absolutely delight – her humor is so strong throughout this one that it almost feels like a Wodehouse!

I also read this one back in 2016, so if you want a few more thoughts, that review can be found here.

Byrony & Roses by T. Kingfisher – 3.5*

//published 2017//

As you may be able to guess from the title, this is a retelling of Beauty & the Beast.  In this version, there is no father – the story opens with Bryony getting lost and finding herself at the castle.  She personally bargains with the Beast to come back and stay with him.  This was an okay version – some of it was interesting and different – I loved the malevolent magic hovering over everything.  However, Bryony adjusted to the fact that the Beast was a Beast basically immediately.  The Beast himself is a victim, rather than someone who needs to learn a lesson, so he doesn’t really have a lot of character development and is always studiously polite and helpful, making it difficult to even picture him as a Beast.  But my biggest beef with this story is that Bryony is obsessed with her garden to an unhealthy degree – as in, when she goes back to visit her sisters, she spends a few hours “fixing” her garden before going in to see her sisters?!?!  Like, oh she’s been gone for weeks and weeks and weeks and has no idea what’s going on with her actual family, but she’s sidetracked by weeds in the garden and decides to take care of them first?!?!?!  And that was not the only instance of her literally thinking that a garden was more important than people.  It felt strange and unnatural, and did not particularly endear me to Bryony – and I say this as someone who really enjoys gardening!

So, in the end, like so many other books I’ve read lately, a perfectly fine one-off read, but not anything that made me want to rush off and see if Kingfisher has written anything else.

Beauty & the Beast // by K.M. Shea // Guest Post

Despite the fact that my sister loves Shea’s books, I still haven’t gotten around to reading them quite yet.  *guilty look*   However, she is rereading them yet again, so I will be posting her guest reviews as they come along.  Mary Rose is my best friend, my sister, and my neighbor, so we hang out together a lot, and ranting and raving about books is kind of a hobby of ours.  :-D  Here is her review – enjoy!

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//published 2013//

Fairytale retellings are my favorite, I’ve read a lot over the years and I have yet to come across a series as perfect as K.M. Shea’s. Her books continually stick to the heart of the story, pulling out the key concepts and factors, strengthening the characters, adding backgrounds that make sense, all while respecting the original tale. She also has kept a good balance of each of her stories being enjoyable stand-alone reads while also weaving them into an interlocked storyline.

This is my fourth re-reading of all her currently available fairytales so I figured it was finally time to write a review for each as I finished them: 

Beauty and the Beast is a comfortable and classic retelling of the tale, original without being overly fantastical in leaving out the needed aspects. Shea shows a respect for understanding the roots of the story and in so doing crafts an enjoyable retelling. 

Severin is cursed (through no particular fault of his own) and can only be saved by falling in love/being fallen in love with. His servants have been cursed along with him but are overwhelmingly loyal. Our heroine, Elle, falls through the roof of his Chateau, breaking her leg, and so has to stay until she is fully healed. This leads to classic fairytale/Hallmark movie story telling in which love slowly unfolds, drama ensues, but in the end everyone is happy and together (as they should be because this is a Fairytale). 

There were quite a few things I appreciated about this story, and since Beauty and the Beast is a popular story to retell, I’d liked to explain some, hopefully without any real spoilers: 

Severin isn’t cursed through any fault of his own. He is a good person with normal faults and pitfalls, but overall isn’t this terrible “beast on the inside” that deserved to be punished. It makes it much easier, for me at least, to understand why his servants would be loyal enough to be cursed along with him, and why they would care for him so deeply from the start. Also this means he doesn’t magically become a Changed Man when he meets Elle, he is simply still who he is, but improves (as everyone does) as he falls in love with her because that is what love does: improve our true selves. 

Elle is sharp, smart, and quick witted. She’s strong, self reliant, and extremely confident. It is a common theme throughout all of Shea’s books (that I’ve read, which is 90% of them) that she gets female characters right: they are characters, just like everyone else. She does not worry about “gender roles” or “making a statement for the feminists” but instead respects that people are people and allows a character to develop organically regardless of their sex. Elle is no exception. She is still feminine, she still has her own insecurities (as is human), she enjoys using her looks to get at the prince on occasion (well done scene), and she never shies from the fact that she is a woman. HOWEVER, neither does any of that detract from who she is either, because she is strong, focused, determined, and not at all thinking of Severin as a prince who will save her, but merely the love of her life. I appreciate Shea’s writing of women, it will be a common theme in any review I do of her books because she writes women as they aught to be written- not as though they’re struggling against The Man, but as they are: Humans, with pitfalls and strengths, weaknesses and abilities, and it’s so refreshing. And in the end I think we see Elle grow due to her love for Severin as well. 

Love: Shea has the perfect handle on what love truly is. In all the fairytales she underlines it accurately, but in this, the first book, she really sets the tone for what true love is, “You young maidens now days get misty-eyed thinking about true love and the fathomless adoration you will share. It’s not like that. Real love is looking at someone and knowing you wouldn’t mind waking up to their bad breath for the next century, and you are fine with them seeing you before you brush your hair and fix your face for the day. …. Loving a person isn’t a magical, sparkly passion. It’s hard work. It’s putting the other person before yourself. It’s companionship and being able to trust and depend on each other. That loquacious true love everyone spouts about is really finding a partner who will go through the heartbreaks and joys of life with you.” 

In the end this is possibly one of my favorite retellings of Beauty and the Beast, and honestly I give it a 4/5 (only misses being a full five because there’s minor unnecessary drama, like seriously, in real life I feel like there would have been COMMUNICATION, but that’s just me apparently, and honestly it’s not that bad, I just feel like it wasn’t fully accurate to the personalities of the servants at the very least.).

Overall Shea’s fairytales are… simplistic. But in their simplicity they clearly show the depth of each story and its original intent. As a whole the series is definitely a 5/5, please stay tuned for the next review, Wild Swans, a retelling of the Seven Swans. In the mean time- go read Beauty and the Beast by KM Shea! 

Entreat Me // by Grace Draven

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//published 2013//

A while back I found a list on GoodReads or somewhere that had a bunch of retellings of Beauty & the Beast.  I love fairy tale retellings in general, and B&B is a fave.  Entreat Me was one of the titles on the list.

It started with an interesting twist – two Beasts!  Father and son, both cursed by their wife/mother.  Of course, two Beasts means two Beauties.  The half-sisters are very close, but the elder of the two, Louvaen, is several years older than her sister, and has grown up as the mother figure in Cinnia’s life.  Cinnia, the younger sister, is stunningly beautiful, so a lot of Louvaen’s mothering has involved warding off unsuitable suitors.  Their father is a kind but weak man who isn’t very good at business, and when our story starts, has lost all of their money in the latest scam of their unscrupulous neighbor, Jimenin.  Jimenin is a total creep who is more than willing to write off the girls’ father’s debt… if he gives Cinnia to Jimenin for his wife.  Of course Louvaen is 100% against these shenanigans (in fairness, so is her father), but they aren’t really sure what they are going to do instead.

Cinnia insists that she is old enough and strong enough to make her own decisions, and also that her suitor, Gavin, can help them.  Louvaen blows her off, so Cinnia runs off with Gavin back to his home castle.  Turns out that Gavin is one of the Beasts, so when Louvaen shows up at the castle to rescue/check on her sister, she gets a whole lot more than she bargains for.

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I did find a picture of Jenna Coleman as Louvaen, which I totally buy.

All in all, the story started really strong.  Louvaen was a little too abrasive at first, but after Draven convinced us that Louvaen was a strong, independent woman, she toned it down to normal-person levels.  I liked the four main characters – Louvaen, Cinnia, Gavin, and Gavin’s father/Louvaen’s love interest, Ballard.  The other people in Ballard’s castle are also a decent and interesting cast.  Two of the servants are basically background, but the main housekeeper and her lover/Ballard’s personal sorcerer are intriguing.

Just when I was really starting to get into the story and the curse and everything that was going on, though, all of a sudden there was sex.  A LOT of sex.  Louvaen and Ballard went from a little bit of tension to shagging at every opportunity, and the story went out the window.  Instead, all we got were the two of them either shagging or wishing they were shagging, and it was kind of awkward and weird, and didn’t really feel like it went with the beginning of the story.

After that, the story faltered in credibility.  Instead of leaving the curse/breaking the curse as the main focus of the story, the author dragged the original bad guy who wanted to marry Cinnia back into the mix, which was weird and made the story jump around a lot.  Then, in the end, the curse (of course) gets broken, but it makes absolutely no sense when it does.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH:

Cinnia loves Gavin and Gavin loves Cinnia – not enough to break the spell.  Louvaen loves Ballard and Ballard loves Louvaen – not enough to break the spell.  Gavin refuses to kill his father, even whilst under the thrall of the curse – not enough to break the spell.  So we’re at the end of the big finale and Ballard is still a beast and threatening to kill people and not responding to anyone and the sorcerer promised Ballard that he would kill Ballard if Ballard didn’t get healed up, but Louvaen has the gun, so the sorcerer tells her to shoot Ballard and she does because he’s getting ready to kill Cinnia – and then all of a sudden he turns back into a human?!!??!?!  And we legit never get an explanation for that.  Like, he lives because she only nicked him in the leg (although then we get this entire chapter of him being feverish and almost dying and it’s suuuper boring) but…  why did he change back!?!??!  I was so annoyed that after this whole long thing we never got a freaking reasonable explanation as to why the curse was broken!

END OF SPOILER SECTION

In the end, this was a low 3/5.  It started really interesting and the characters were good, but then the middle really dragged and seriously, what was with all the sex?!  A very poorly executed finish left me feeling pretty ambivalent towards the whole book, and I don’t see myself looking for any of Draven’s other works in the future.

MiniReviews

So I’m sitting here looking at the pile of books I need to review, and I’m thinking to myself that most of them are a bit… unmemorable.  So I think I’m going to take the lazy route and combine some of these 3-star reviews into one post.  I’d like to get a bit caught up on these reviews so I can start reviewing closer to the finish date!

The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth

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//published 2015//

This is one that I read about on Amazon or Goodreads and thought sounded interesting.  The premise is that there is this group of guys who, back when the Spanish conquistadors first started conquering the Americas, discovered an actual fountain of youth.  Since then, they’ve been able to keep themselves alive through the centuries, accumulating wealth and power.  Now, in the modern world, their source of the Water is being threatened and they have to try to find a way to replicate it.  They hire David Robinton, who is basically a scientific genius, to attempt this.  Of course, Robinton has no idea what he is actually getting into.

Meanwhile, the conquistadors have one enemy, someone else who has access to the Water.  Shako is the daughter of the chief of the American Indian clan the Spaniards slaughtered to gain access to the fountain, and she has been haunting their footsteps for the last few hundred years, determined to avenge her people.  Robinton finds himself entangled in the feud, without even a clear understanding as to what the feud is about.

On the whole, The Eternal World was engaging and exciting.  There was a good pace to the story, and Farnsworth does a really good job of muddying the waters concerning who is a bad guy vs. who is a good guy.  He also examines some concepts regarding immortality, money, and power that are thought-provoking and interesting.  The whole idea of something that can instantaneously heal people, and go on to keep them alive indefinitely – on the surface, it sounds brilliant, something that is obviously a good idea.  Robinton believes in the concept wholeheartedly.  His sister died of cancer when she was a little girl, and Robinton has devoted his life to pursuing a medical breakthrough that would prevent such tragedies.  But as the actual practicalities of what such a formula would mean begin to play out, Robinton starts to question everything he has always believed.

For me, what kept this book from pushing up to the 4-star level was the ending, which felt rushed and a little weird, and while it wrapped up most of the physical aspects of the story, never really gave any kind of genuine resolution to all the moral questions it raised.  There was also a lot of violence in this book, and some of it felt gratuitous and unnecessary, like having the one conquistador be this super creepy murdering rapist.

Still, on the whole, it was a decent read, even if its not destined to become one of my favorites.

Any thoughts on any of Farnsworth’s other works?  This one didn’t really inspire me to seek any of his other books out, but if someone had one they especially thought was awesome, I would be willing to give it a try!

Belle by Cameron Dokey

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//published 2008//

This was a fairly average retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  While a pleasant story with nice characters, the “twists” to the tale weren’t really interesting enough to push this book’s star-rating any higher.  I do like Dokey’s writing, though, and it is always nice to have a B&B retelling where Beauty’s family is actually super nice.

As an aside, does anyone else have a favorite Beauty & the Beast retelling?  It’s one of my favorites, and I love seeing all the crazy ways it has been reimagined!

Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl

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//published 2001//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like a lot more than I actually liked it.  Alexandria is a lovely heroine and a nice narrator, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into this story all that much.  Given the gift of beauty, dandruff that turns into gold dust, and tears that turn into diamonds – all because she shared her lunch with an old crone – Alexandria goes from poor and uninteresting to being sought after by the rulers of two neighboring countries.  Locked in a tower for her “protection” until she decides which of them to marry, Alexandria doesn’t really know what she is going to do.  When Alexandria’s geese come to rescue her, her adventures really begin, but it just kind of felt like there wasn’t a lot of point to the story.  It’s always awkward to have an escape with no real plan as to where they are heading, so the whole book felt a little random.  There were a lot of characters that I really liked, and some funny moments, but it wasn’t the type of book that I felt like I should bother reading again.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

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//published 1944//

For this novel, Christie set out to show that humans are human through all the ages – and murder is murder.  Set in Egypt around 2000 B.C., our mystery centers around a family whose patriarch works as a ka-priest, a man who is paid to maintain tombs and perform certain religious ceremonies at different times.  The story begins with Renisenb, a young widow who has returned to her father’s home after the untimely death of her husband.

Christie weaves an excellent mystery here, with suspicion and motivation abounding.  It’s an interesting mystery because there is no detective or person leading an investigation, other than the suspicions of Renisenb’s grandmother.

While I really enjoyed this book, as I do all of Christie’s mysteries, I wasn’t particularly attached to any of the characters, and I had a strong suspicion of the murderer’s identity from the beginning.  Still, a solid read with an interesting setting.

 

Heart’s Blood // by Juliet Marillier

This was a book that I really, really wanted to like, but, in the end, felt quite meh about it – 3/5.

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//published 2009//

The story starts strong, with Caitrin, who tells her own story, fleeing into a dark and creepy countryside and being taken in by nervous and suspicious villagers.  We come to find Caitrin’s story slowly, but it is obvious from the beginning that she is running away from a bad home life and hoping to make her own way as a scribe, a trade she learned from her now-deceased father.

There isn’t much business for a scribe in the wilds, and one begins to wonder why Caitrin would flee there instead of to a city of some sort, but, luckily for her, the lord of the area just so happens to need a scribe for the summer.  The catch?  Everyone is terrified of Lord Anluan, who is cursed and lives on a cursed hill with his demons.  Caitrin decides beggars can’t be choosers and heads up the hill the next day anyway.

The story is a rough retelling of Beauty & the Beast, but lacks many of the basic elements (the fact that Caitrin’s father is dead and has nothing to do with the situation being one).  One of the keys, though, to successfully recapturing the essence of Beauty & the Beast is that Beauty is able to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to love, cherish, and appreciate who he actually is.  (And, actually, Beast does the same for Beauty.)  But in Heart’s Blood, I just never got that feeling.  Yes, Anulan is crippled and not very good looking, and yes, Caitrin falls in love with him – but I never believed the love story.  There were never scenes of Caitrin and Anulan having real conversations, or learning that they both really loved something, or just enjoying each other’s company.  Their conversations always seemed to end in misunderstand or in Anulan getting angry, or whatever.  We went from Caitrin being scared of him and uncomfortable in his presence, to her suddenly not being able to live without him, being “filled with desire”, etc.

Beyond that, the book just went on for too long.  Instead of focusing on Anulan’s home, his curse, the dangers threatening him and his people, we had to deal with this really long section of Caitrin basically “discovering herself” and learning to be strong by going home to face her own problems and get them all taken care of.  Nice sentiment, except it really just threw off the whole groove of the story.  Marillier manages to make it sound like Caitrin going home to face up to an abusive family and claim her rightful inheritance was at the same level of importance and difficulty as Anulan facing an entire invading Norman army while at the same time dealing with a century-old curse.  I am not at any level belittling the suffering and difficulties people face at the hands of abusive relatives, but it just really didn’t fit in with this story, and it really felt like the whole side-story with Caitrin going home was merely being used to add another hundred pages to the book.

Heart’s Blood had its strong moments, with some good characters and intriguing premises, but overall I just couldn’t get behind the love story, which felt stilted and forced.  And since the love story is really the crux of Beauty & the Beast, the whole book ended up a bit meh for me.

Cruel Beauty

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by Rosamund Hodge

published 2014

In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Nyx has known her entire life that she would eventually be wed to the demon who has entrapped her land.  Her father and her aunt have raised her with the knowledge she needs to defeat this demon and free their world.  I love a good B&B retelling, and I liked the darker edge this story had.  The whole idea of Beauty being an assassin sounded pretty cool to me.   However, in the end, I found no one likable in this entire story, and thus was completely detached from what would happen to them.

Nyx tells the story, thankfully in past tense.  The problem is, Nyx goes out of her way to make us dislike her, emphasizing her negative qualities, dwelling on the bitterness she feels about her mother’s death, her father’s promise to wed her to the demon, her destiny to kill said demon, and a host of other things.  Nyx is a pretty bitter person, and it just doesn’t make for interesting reading, especially combined with her whining about how she knows she’s bitter but she just can’t help it!

Then Nyx heads off to the Beast’s castle, and we meet the demon, Ignifex, who is more a charming rake (actually reminded me of some Georgette Heyer characters lol) than a horrific demon.  Nyx feels an immediate attraction to Ignifex, which she calls “love” but is obviously mere lust because all she knows about him are the horrible things she’s been told.  At the same time, she also falls in love/lust with Ignifex’s servant-shadow, Shade, who can only take on a solid form in the darkness (although that seems a loose rule later in the book).   The whole story devolves into a rather dreadful love triangle comprised of bitter/conflicted/annoying Nyx, dashing/devil-may-care/roguish Ignifex, and mysterious/martyr-attitude/pitiful-yet-mysterious-attractive Shade.

Woven into the story are numerous references to Greek/Roman gods/myths, that added more confusion rather than clarification to the current tale, especially since I couldn’t tell if Ignifex was supposed to be another god, or if he was just mixed in for fun.

But it was the love triangle that irritated me the most.  First, Nyx is attracted to Ignifex.  Then, disgusted with the idea that she can feel any draw towards her enemy, she falls for Shade, the poor shadow-slave.  She smooches him a few times (at their first meeting, of course), and decides she must be in love with him.  Then she starts hanging out more with Ignifex and really likes him a lot.  A series of events and Shade does something that makes Nyx not trust  him, so Ignifex suddenly just locks him up, then he and Nyx start shagging and everything is all love and rainbows…????

I don’t know.  The whole story was choppy and confusing with flat characters.  I just couldn’t get behind Nyx as a person, and I didn’t like either of the guys either (or Nyx’s father, or aunt, or sister…), so while I continued to plow through the story until its end, it was a very meh read for me, 2/5.  I guess what irritated me the most is what irritates me the most about books that irritate me – I hate it when the characters are stagnant.  At the end, I didn’t feel as though anyone had grown has a person or learned anything from their trials and adventures, which is, to me, the entire point of writing a story.

As an aside, several months ago I read another retelling of Beauty & the Beast that was much better – beautiful writing, engaging characters, a fresh plot – if you’re looking for a good retelling, I would definitely recommend Of Beast & Beauty instead, as it actually  has a point and character development.

Of Beast & Beauty

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by Stacey Jay

Published 2013

So a while back I stumbled upon a list of Beauty & the Beast retellings.  It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, and I’m always up for a good shake-up of the story.  I love seeing how the core elements of the story can be recycled into something completely new.

Of Beast & Beauty takes place on a different planet, and there’s a mild sci-fi feel to the whole tale, but even someone who is not usually huge sci-fi fan (me!) can still find this an enjoyable book.  I honestly had low expectations going in, as many modern YA books have left me feeling completely confused and depressed, but Of Beast & Beauty was actually an intriguing and enjoyable read.

I was leery at first.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s this recent spate of first-person present-tense narratives.  ARGH!  They drive me CRAZY.  It’s such an awkward, stilted way to tell a story, and it generally involves a ridiculous amount of introspection (I wonder if he is here on purpose, or if mere coincidence has brought him to this place at this hour.  Does he realize that I cherish every hair on his head, and yearn for him to take me in his arms?  Does he realize that I’ve eaten onions for lunch?  I silently curse the onions as he draws closer.  He stops and looks at me, and I can feel his gaze burning through me, but all I can think about are the onions.)  Just.  No.  Why.  Please.  Stop.  Honestly, seeing the FPPT narrative appear in a book is often enough to make me not read past the first page.

But something about Of Beast & Beauty grabbed me anyway, and kept me reading past that first page, despite the FPPT.  For once, and I say that without exaggeration because I can’t think of a single other book that made this work, I actually enjoyed the first-person present-tense narrative.  In part, I think it worked because the narrative rotated between three different characters, each with a distinct voice, which allowed the story to progress even when nothing was happening to one character.  Part of the reason that first-person narrative is so limiting when it’s combined with present tense is that the narrator can literally only tell us what is happening to herself right then, at that very second.  By allowing the narrative to move around, Jay enabled the story to continue moving, even when one character was just hanging around in a jail cell or a tower – something is always happening to move the story along, and Jay was able to effectively shift the narrative to follow the story.

Something about the language in this book I loved – I can’t really explain it.  It was almost a poetic book, even though it wasn’t.  The epilogue, for instance, was beautiful in its entirety, but I especially loved this (mild spoiler, but really, you ought to be able to figure out whose going to end up winning) –

On the night their souls slipped away … the Summer Star split down the middle, leaving two stars in its place.

One was as white and pale as Queen Isra’s skin when she was a girl, the other a luminous orange like King Gem’s scales when he sat before a fire.  They were celebrated and named Beauty and Beast, but none of the king or queen’s people would ever say which star was which.  They would only look kindly on the stranger who asked and say, “Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.”

This was a  book that wrestled with the ideas of beauty and prejudice and sacrifice, and did it well.  I really enjoyed the way that both the protagonists were equally prejudiced against each other in the beginning (which was really emphasized with the dual narrative) – watching them learn to trust was a good story.

For me, the weak part was the sort of evil goddess/witch/person/spirit – I use so many nouns because we don’t really know what she/it was or what really happened to her/it…  everything got kinda vague at the end and Yay!  Happy ending!  Epilogue! – there was some resolution with the characters, but not really with that aspect.

Also, someone dies in the end and I found it completely unnecessary and annoying because it felt more like Jay just didn’t really know what to do with him, so she killed him off instead of figuring out how he would be able to fit into the new order of things.  I personally felt like this character would have been a real asset in the future of the world, and that killing him was just lazy writing, but that’s just me.

Overall, this book was a solid and surprising 4/5.  An intriguing blend of fairy tale, sci-fi, and YA, this book was enjoyable when I wasn’t really expecting it to be, and the first time I’ve ever thoroughly embraced the dreaded first-person present-tense narrative style.