April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

Ash & Bramble // by Sarah Prineas


//published 2015//

Pin remembers nothing.  Her past life is a blank.  Her current life is being a Seamstress for the Godmother.  Despite not remembering her past, Pin is convinced that she has one and is determined to escape the fortress ruled by the Godmother.  But for Pin, escape is just the beginning of her problems.

This was a twisty fairy tale retelling, and I really liked the concept.  The Godmother has a castle full of slaves she’s stolen from their homes, wiping their memories so they don’t remember their pasts.  She forces them to work for her – as Seamstresses, Candlemakers, Cooks, Spinners, etc.  It turns out that the reason she has these slaves is so they can create the items she needs for the fairy tales she is living – except the main players in those fairy tales are also being forced into the Story against their wills.

Pin’s determination to fight back against the Godmother and the Story is great.  She works with a Shoemaker (/love interest), and throughout the book they instigate a rebellion against the Godmother, even as the Story is trying to force them into its Happily Ever After.

But despite a great concept and some decent storytelling, there were still several moments where things just didn’t really make a lot of sense to me.  The love triangle (of sorts) felt very contrived, and I had some issues with the the villain situation, which I’ll discuss in the spoiler section below.

Still, I was leaning towards a 4/5 read until, literally, the very last page.  It was at that moment that I realized that what had been bothering me about this story was really its overall message – this concept that while you may find love and some brief moments of happiness, “happily ever after” is really just a fairy tale that you can never hope to achieve.  And I guess I think that’s wrong – although maybe that’s because I don’t think that “happily ever after” means “zero problems for the rest of your life.”  I think that “happily ever after” is the moment in your life when you are comfortable and content with who you are, and while you will continue to work to improve and learn throughout whatever time remains to you, that overall sense of contentment and peace stays with you, whether you are single or a couple.

So to me, being told (and telling the YA audience of this tale) that happily ever after is unattainable – all love fades after a time – there will always be more hard times than good times – any sense that you are having a happy ending means you’ve been tricked into complacency – well, I found it borderline offensive.

In the end, 3/5.  There is a loose sequel to this book, apparently, set fifty years after this story’s conclusion, and I think that I will read it, because much of this writing was good and the concept was really well done overall.  But the message, combined with the villain scenario, ended up aggravating me too much to bump this book up another level.

Spoilers concerning “the bad guy” – and that aggravating last page – below the cut (although I honestly don’t think they are spoilers that would destroy the fun of reading the story) –

Continue reading

Zel // by Donna Jo Napoli

This retelling of Rapunzel was probably one of the strangest, creepiest, most bizarre fairy tale retellings I have found in a long time.  1/5 for me – I don’t like books that leave me feeling as though I’ve wasted my time and will probably have weird dreams.  Honestly, this whole book read like a weird dream.

Napoli places her tale on a Swiss alm in the mid-1500’s.  Zel, a bright and happy young girl of around twelve, lives with her mother on their small holding, where they grow a garden, raise a couple of goats and rabbits, and only go to town twice a year.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between Zel, her mother, and Konrad (the love interest), although only Mother’s is in first person.  During one of their trips to town, Zel meets Konrad, and he is smitten with her.  This disturbs Mother, who wants Zel’s affection all for herself.  Mother tells Zel that someone wants to kill Zel, and that she must be locked up for her own safety while Mother finds the enemy.  She imprisons Zel in a stone tower.

This story made ZERO sense to me.  The original fairy tale was far more coherent than this book was, and a lot less creepy, and that’s saying something, because Rapunzel always seemed like a dumb story to me, and was creepy as all get-out.  Instead of clarifying the story and making the characters more personable, Napoli creates a situation that makes even less sense, with characters who seemed even more weird and puppet-like than the originals.

I think a big part of why the story didn’t go anywhere was that Zel is only about twelve, and Konrad about fourteen, when they meet.  And even though I understand that in mid-1500’s Switzerland, youths were married as soon as they reached puberty, I couldn’t buy into the fact that they fell in love at first sight, and that Konrad, after a five-minute conversation with Zel, then proceeds to devote the next several years to doing nothing but searching for her.  And would Konrad’s parents really just be like, “Oh, okay, you found this peasant girl that you met for five minutes and are convinced she’s the one so you’re going to do nothing except ride your horse around in the woods for the next couple of years?  Sounds great!  Here’s some lunch!”  I just couldn’t believe that aspect at all.  I had no connection to this driving force of the story.

Mother, who is, of course, the witch, also doesn’t make any sense, despite Napoli’s  backstory.  She made a bargain with demons so she could get a baby?  She stole Zel from her rightful parents?  She can control plants and make them grow?  So if she can make the tree grow to lift Zel into the tower, and make it grow so that she (the witch) can access the tower, why does she make Zel’s hair grow?  Why doesn’t she just use the tree all the time?  If she loves Zel so much and wants to do nothing but spend time with her, why does she lock Zel in a tower and only visit her for one hour every day?  Why doesn’t she just move them into an even more isolated cottage and they can both live there?  After all, she can control plants growing, so she could just grow a hedge around their house?????

Then Napoli skips like two or three years of life, and now we jump ahead to where Zel has literally lost her mind because she’s been locked in the tower, and isn’t that just a joy?  She cuts herself and scrapes herself on the stones, she sits around naked, her thoughts are scattered and completely creepy.

But she wears no skirts now.  Zel laughs and spit flies from her mouth.  It falls on her bare shoulder.  On one arm.  On the other.  On her breasts, her ribs, her stomach.  And now she is out of spit.

She looks at her bucket of feces and urine against the rounded wall.  Each month she leaks blood into that  bucket.  She takes the bucket and dumps it out the south window where the sun enters now.  But she does not stand a second too long in the light.  The sun’s seduction has to be planned against.  The sun tries to make her believe in colors.

What. The. Heck.

And it gets even weirder.  I’ll spare you.

The worst part about this book?  It’s a children’s book.  In the children’s section of the library.  And it’s 100% inappropriate for children.  I wouldn’t let a twelve-year-old touch this book.  It’s gross and it’s weird, and it has absolutely no message.  No story.  Nothing to take away.  And I’m not saying that it’s YA.  It actually was in the Juvenile section.  J FICTION Napoli.  For real.  Ick.

Oh, and also, Konrad of course finds her, climbs up her hair, and has sex with her.  Excuse me?  In a children’s book??  Especially since Konrad realizes that she’s mentally deranged, but then has sex with her anyway?  That’s a lovely lesson for young readers.

Konrad is insatiable.  His hands press along Zel’s hairline and temples, around the shells of her ears.  They follow the crest of her throat and circle the thin stalk of her neck, ever knowing.  He undresses her with trembling insistence.  His mouth finds her perfect.  He believes he tastes the heady maturity of ripe plums; the bitter edge of small, round lettuce leaves; the sweetness of fresh milk. He believes he might die, he might burst like the constellation of Perseus in August – a shower of shooting stars – but for her call, her cry, the knowledge that she needs him as much as he needs her.  The years of deprivation hone the afternoon, the evening, the night.

He lies beside her now.  Beside his true love.  She is a miracle; she is a woman, yet so much of what she says is childlike.  She is without guile.  Konrad knows that Zel has been gravely harmed.  Her talk is disjointed; at times she raves.  And her hair.  No earthly force could make her hair grow so long in two years, in twenty years, in a lifetime.  Zel has suffered under an evil power.  Konrad knows as well, he knows with more conviction than he’s ever known anything else in his life, that their love will restore her, their love will triumph over whatever wickedness the world holds.

So yes.  What I want is for fourteen-year-olds to think that it’s okay to sleep with someone you barely know, even if they don’t really understand what sex means, because “love” fixes everything magically.  What.  Even.  Gah.

Even the end is stupid.  Supposedly, Mother made a deal with these demons yadda yadda and they get her soul.  But when she dies, she somehow magically becomes a part of Zel’s soul instead?  Or something?  I don’t even know.  I only finished this book because it was a very fast read, and because I just couldn’t believe that this was it.  But it was.

Absolutely dreadful, 1/5 (0/5 really), and one of those books that I feel like I should throw in the trash instead of returning to the library where it may lure some other unsuspecting soul into reading it.


//by Cameron Dokey//published 2006//

Alright, first off, I’m sorry but my computer is being kind of stupid and not letting me post an image of this book so.  You’ll either have to use your imaginations or look it up.  ;-)

Anyway, Golden is a title in a series of books that are all retellings of various fairy tales. They aren’t connected in any way, and are written by several different authors, so you can read them in any order you like.  I had read Golden before many years ago, but really couldn’t remember anything about it at all, so it felt like a completely new read.

In Dokey’s version, Rapunzel’s mother rejects her child and allows the enchantress to have her baby.  Rapunzel, who narrates the story, grows up with Melisande and works with her on their small farm.  It is a rather simple tale, as good fairy tales are, but with a depth to the telling that leaves the story resonating with you later.

It might have been better if I had been deliberately unkind.  A will to be unkind is like a sickness.  It can be healed or driven out.  But to be unkind because you are thoughtless is the worst kind of blindness: difficult to cure because you cannot see the fault even as you commit it.

This is a book I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy fairy tales.  Golden was a comfortable 4/5.  While not a long or complicated book, the very simplicity of the story gives it depth.

Cruel Beauty


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



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.

Black as Night

by Regina Doman

Published 2004

So my sister really wanted to borrow this book before it was due at the library, and she spirited it away before I had a chance to take a picture…

At any rate, this is the sequel to The Shadow of the Bearand, like the first book, is the retelling of a fairy tale – except set in modern times, without magic.  In Black as Night, Doman tells the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I was more than a little impressed at how she capture all the basic tenants of the story even though she didn’t have magic, a witch, or dwarfs.

Doman seems to understand what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale, and thus her stories are unmistakably fairy tales.  Black as Night was fairly believable.  The story was well-paced and engaging.  In this particular instance, dumping us into the middle of the story and then feeding us bits of the back-story as necessary really worked (sometimes it’s just confusing), as it definitely added to the confusion and terror that Blanche (the heroine) was feeling.

I think that the scariest part of this story was the same as it was with The Shadow of the Bear – injustice.  That Blanche, though completely innocent, could be so completely framed, was terrifying.  That those whom she should have been able to trust now suspect her, leaving her friendless and alone – that really fit the essence of the story of Snow White.

As I mentioned when reviewing The Shadow of the Bear, Doman is unashamedly Catholic, and her characters are as well.  This is a major part of the story, but it works.  Anyone who has truly come to grips with their religion knows that it is a huge part of who you are; the Catholicism of Blanche and some of the other characters is an intrinsic part of who they are, and without that aspect, much of their motivation, hope, encouragement, and yes, even frustration and despair, would be lacking.

While I think that the book will read fine for someone who is not particularly religious, it may still make someone who believes differently uncomfortable.  For me (a protestant Christian), the only confusing part were moments where Doman assumed that her readers were Catholic and thus would completely understand what was going on.  It wasn’t usually difficult to follow, but, for instance, she seems to assume that the reader will know the difference between a friar and a monk.  It’s a sort of running joke throughout the book where someone says something about a monk, and one of the friars points out that they’re actually friars.  I had no idea that there even was a difference, and finally had to look it up.  It seems as though it would have been just as easy to, the first time it was mentioned, actually tell the readers – something along the lines of, “Oh, we’re not monks – our focus is on serving those around us, rather than living a cloistered life – we’re friars.”

A large part of this story is Blanche not knowing if she is going crazy or not, and Doman gives us that very well – wasn’t even sure whether or not Blanche was going crazy.  Even though at times it felt a little over-the-top, Blanche’s paranoia and fears were very real.

This book was longer than The Shadow of the Bear, and in some ways it felt too long.  I can’t say exactly where it dragged, but it did, a bit.  It was a book that, when I was actually reading it, I didn’t want to put down, but when I wasn’t reading it, I didn’t feel inspired to pick back up.

In short, it was a gripping read, but could have lost some pages without losing too much story.  It was intense, well-written, an excellent fairy tale, though perhaps overly religious for some.  However, I definitely recommend it as a sequel to The Shadow of the Bear (they really need to be read in order).

The Goose Girl


by Shannon Hale

Published 2003

So I read this book several years ago, and just checked it back out for a reread.  I usually enjoy Hale’s books, and I hadn’t read this series since she wrote the fourth book (Forest Born).  Also, The Goose Girl has always been a fairy tale that fascinated me, and I’m not sure why.  Something weirdly creepy about the dead horse’s talking head, and the fact that the villain was killed by being dragged around naked in a barrel spiked with nails.  The story is just so bizarre.

Hale does an excellent job in the retelling, making all of the weirdest parts make sense, and creating a very understandable and lovable heroine out of Isi.  The friends that she makes are also wonderful and happy.  Still, the story retains a little bit of that dark side of the original story, although I’m not sure I can lay a finger on exactly why or how.  It’s an intense story that is woven together wonderfully.

Overall, a 4/5, and a recommended read for anyone who enjoys fairy tales.