ARC: Snow White

This graphic novel set in the Jazz Age is a beautiful but generic Snow White retelling. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC Roundup, Part 2

More recent ARCs--this time, ones I actually enjoyed. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

Note: I received all of the following ARCs through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As I mentioned in my last ARC roundup, I recently went on a kick of NetGalley requests. The last roundup was full of meh books, but this one consists of books I actually enjoyed. Check out these recent releases! (All of the following summaries are taken from NetGalley.)

A Thousand Nights

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Although I do sometimes enjoy a good fairy tale retelling, sometimes they just don’t catch my interest. This story is a retelling of the Scheherazade myth, which would seem to be a book lover’s dream come true. A thousand nights of stories, told to save a young bride from certain death? Awesome, right?

Unfortunately, in this version of the story, we don’t really get to hear a lot of stories from our main character. Instead, she begins to have magical powers that she can use to see events which are occurring in another place or time, and even the ability to influence these events. She is fighting against dark, demonic powers that she doesn’t even understand, in a desperate bid to save her own life and the lives of the girls in her land.

I found this book interesting while I was reading it, but I didn’t think much about it once I put the book down. Look into it if you’re much more into fairy tale retellings than I am.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Spinning Starlight

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men shows up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word, and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back? Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans fuses all the heart of the classic tale with a stunning, imaginative world in which a star-crossed family fights for its very survival.

On the other hand, this is a fairy tale retelling I can get behind (even though I’m not at all familiar with the story of the Wild Swans). Set in a futuristic world full of incredible technology, this book explores the life of the most influential teenage girl in the seven realms and what happens when she is suddenly transported to a world she never even knew existed.

Torn between her need to help her brothers and her growing love for Tiav, Liddi must decide how much truth she can tell her new friends–all without the use of her voice. She has to overcome her lifelong inability to live up to her brothers’ genius and the revelation that her parents manipulated her genes, all while coping with her new and disorienting surroundings. Recommended for those who like their science fiction light on the science.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Gone but Knot Forgotten

Sorting through the estate of a wealthy recluse may sound like a fascinating task, but when the skeletons in the closets turn out to be real, Martha and her quilting pals wish they’d stuck to basting and batting. . .

Martha Rose is stunned when she hears that her best friend from high school has passed away. Her shock doubles when she learns that Harriet Oliver made her the executor of her estate. But when investigators determine that Harriet was murdered, Martha recruits her fellow quilters to help find the culprit. She’s mastered the art of piecing together blocks to create intricate quilts, but piecing together her friend’s murder will prove far more challenging. . .

I have to admit, sometimes I love a good cozy mystery. And while this mystery was nothing mind blowing, I’ve read enough terrible cozy mysteries to know that this one was very well written. Martha is an interesting, curious character, but she’s never so reckless or irritating that I had to roll my eyes at her. Her quilting buddies are likewise upbeat, fun characters who may not be fully fleshed out, but at least they aren’t stereotypes.

Martha’s investigation of her high school friend’s death held my interest until the end. Though the solution wasn’t shocking, I didn’t find it too predictable. Definitely an enjoyable read for cozy mystery fans like myself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1926

A review of the 1926 Newbery medal winner. | A book review from newberyandbeyond.com
.

Medal Winner: Shen of the Sea

A series of fascinating Chinese stories, strong in humor and rich in Chinese wisdom, in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought. (Summary via Amazon.com)

This very short Amazon summary is close to the only information I could find about this Newbery winner. I read it as a child, so I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but even on the basis of this short review, I wish I did! My note to self from when I read the book says, “Very fun, short Chinese folk tales.” Maybe I should reread this one! It sounds great, but I remember close to nothing about it. I do remember that of all the Newbery short story/folk tale collections, this was my favorite. Let me know your thoughts if you read this one!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

My First Graphic Novels!

My first graphic novels are by one of my favorite authors--Shannon Hale--and are a Wild West, steampunk retelling of famous fairy tales. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, both written by Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors), were my first graphic novels.  I had been hesitant to dive into the world of graphic novels, finding it a little intimidating, so I decided to start with someone I trusted to write a compelling story, pictures or no.

I was not disappointed.  These books combine cute artwork with fun fairy tale retellings.  They’re simple but fun, a good intro to graphic novels, especially for kids.

Rapunzel’s Revenge is the first of the pair.  It’s a Wild West themed retelling, combining many fairy tales (the focus, of course, is on the Rapunzel tale).  Rapunzel is a spunky girl, forced by her witch mother to live in a magical forest for years on end, where both the tree she is trapped in and her hair grow at an astonishing rate.  Rapunzel uses her hair as a lasso when she finally gets free and starts seeking justice, which is hilarious and awesome.  She runs into Jack (as in Jack and the beanstalk) along the way, and despite his shady past, he and Rapunzel team up and kick butt.

My first graphic novels are by one of my favorite authors--Shannon Hale--and are a Wild West, steampunk retelling of famous fairy tales. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

In Calamity Jack, Jack is the star (obviously), and Rapunzel becomes the sidekick.  The story moves from the Wild West setting to a steampunk city.  It reveals Jack’s backstory, and it involves plenty of magical creatures (brownies, jabberwock, etc.).  Jack and Rapunzel must once again fight for justice, this time in a corrupt city that is taking over citizens’ businesses and livelihoods.

Both of these books are cute, fun, and a great introduction to graphic novels.  Whether you’re a Shannon Hale fan, or just looking for a way to get yourself or your child interested in graphic novels, check out these books!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Book of a Thousand Days

Shannon Hale's retelling of this Asian fairy tale is characteristic--flawed but likeable female characters and dark-edged magic. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

This book by Shannon Hale (author and Twitter-er extraordinaire whose books I’ve been working my way through recently) is a retelling of an Asian fairy tale.  It’s similar to Rapunzel in that a young girl gets locked in a tower, but this time she has a maid with her.  The maid’s name is Dashti.  She’s a mucker, one of the very lower classes, but she doesn’t mind.  She venerates gentry, however, so when she finds out that Lady Saren’s father is going to lock her in a tower until she agrees to marry the husband he has selected for her, Dashti volunteers to be locked in with her.

The book of a thousand days is Dashti’s journal, which she means to be a record of their years in the tower.  But things don’t go as planned.  Eventually, on the brink of starvation, Dashti and Lady Saren make their escape–and find that everything has changed in their world.

First, let’s talk about the characters, and why Shannon Hale is such a wonderful writer.  Hale’s characters have a way of stubbornly attaching themselves to you.  She writes fantastically flawed female characters, neither totally beautiful nor incredibly sweet nor bulletproof.  Dashti grew up in the dirt and hunger of poverty, but she was happy.  Her mother cared for her and taught her the healing songs that the muckers know, which reminded me of the linder speak from the Princess Academy books.  Even with her mother gone and with a terrible birthmark across her face, Dashti does the best she can to serve her country, but she’s not always happy about it.  Lady Saren can be a pain, and despite Dashti’s veneration for the upper class, she finds herself having to take charge in their awful circumstances.

This book, like The Goose Girl, can be dark–the burned skulls in the city really stuck with me.  But the magic still shines through the darkness.  It’s a fitting addition to my collection of Shannon Hale books, and my respect for her plots and characters continues to grow.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Goose Girl

This book by Shannon Hale is a dark retelling of the goose girl fairy tale. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

Shannon Hale is the writer of Newbery books such as Princess Academy, a book which I loved (and for which the sequel was also pretty fantastic) and which was much less intense than this book was.  The Goose Girl was Hale’s first book, but you’d never know it.

In The Goose Girl, Ani is Crown Princess of a kingdom she never wanted to rule.  Ani has the power to learn animal languages, a skill which is looked upon with apprehension, but her mother and lady-in-waiting have the skill of people speaking, and Ani feels forced into doing whatever they say.  When Ani’s father dies, her mother sends her to marry the prince of Bayern, the neighboring country, and Ani reluctantly gives up her title and her home to marry someone she has never met.  Along the way, Ani is betrayed, and she must flee through the woods of Bayern and become a goose girl, using her talents to keep the birds in line.  Ani is constantly looking for a way to throw out the imposter and regain her rightful place as royalty, but she finds herself more and more drawn to the simple life she leads and the rough people she works with.

One thing I loved about this book is that Ani’s transition from royalty to outdoor worker is not smooth.  She takes things for granted; she is soft.  She assumes rights that are not hers, simply because she is used to being waited on hand and foot.  I always find it a little irritating when cast-out royalty automatically knows how to cook, clean, and do hard work without any training.  Like, you’re rich, famous, beautiful, and have a title; you’ve never done a day of work in your life.  How are you perfect at that, too??

Ani’s struggles are real, and her battle to get back to her rightful place is painful to read.  There is violence, fear, and death, and Ani has to find her own way, with no strong-willed person to tell her what to do.  This book reminded me of Ella Enchanted, but with a darker edge.  It was hard for me to classify–it’s just barely too simplistic to be labelled adult fiction, but some of the events which occur are so dark that I wasn’t sure I could be reading a YA fairy tale adaptation.

If you’re a fan of Shannon Hale, you need to check out her first book.  It’s the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a stand alone, too.  I’m still debating if I want to finish the series, but I did enjoy The Goose Girl.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder and Scarlet

I'm finally getting around to reading the Lunar Chronicles series. It was worth the wait--mostly. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
.

I’m *finally* getting around to reading this series, after my writer friend and my book-loving sister both recommended it to me several months ago.  So far I’ve read the first two books, and I’m totally into it.  With a few caveats, that is.  (Please note–the review for Scarlet contains spoilers for Cinder.)

Cinder

My main problem with this book is that by page 115, I knew what the plot twist was going to be.  The story was a bit predictable, and I wanted more from Cinder based on how many good things I’d heard about it.  But that didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and the characters.

Cinder is a futuristic dystopian fairy tale retelling set in Asia, in which Cinderella is a cyborg, immune to the deadly plague that is sweeping the world and good at mechanics.  Cinder does her best to hide her cyborg parts, as there is a lot of prejudice against cyborgs.  They are looked down on and forced to be guinea pigs for the plague antidote–as they have already had a second chance at life, many people see that as only fair.

Throughout the book, the POV switches between Cinder and Prince Kai.  Cinder meets the prince well before the ball when he hires her to fix one of his robots (nope, can’t remember the word they use in the book, so I’m going with robot).  Prince Kai, whose father is on the brink of death from the plague, is carrying the weight of a potential war with the Lunar people on his shoulders–a people who can brainwash others by manipulating their brain waves, and whose evil queen will only be satisfied when she can marry Prince Kai and begin to take over the earth.

This book is an easy read.  The descriptions of this futuristic, dystopian world create the setting without being overly detailed or intrusive.  Little details tie the story to the original Cinderella–like Cinder’s tiny cyborg foot, and the orange car she takes to the ball.  The writing is interesting and snappy, and the internal fight at the end made it all worth it.  (And I must say, I *love* the lie detector in Cinder’s retinal display.  It was my favorite cyborg modification.)  On the whole, despite some predictability in the plot twists, I really enjoyed the characters and the setting.  I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

Scarlet

Unfortunately, I disliked this book a lot more than Cinder, mainly because I didn’t connect with Scarlet’s character at all.  Her story is, of course, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and unlike Cinder’s retelling, this one is a lot more heavy-handed.  Scarlet herself is a lot more stereotypical than Cinder was–she’s just a girl living in the French countryside with her grandmother, who is impulsive and gets into a rescue mission with a mysterious, possibly dangerous man she barely knows.  Her romance (with this mysterious man, of course) was well built up, but very tortured souls and a little Twilight.  Not nearly as satisfying as Cinder’s short-lived romance with Kai.

I like Cinder so much more than Scarlet–I’m really glad Cinder is in this book.  Sections of the book alternate between telling Scarlet’s story and filling us in on what Cinder is doing.  Cinder, who was (*spoiler for book 1*) put in jail at the end of the last book, breaks out with the help of another inmate, who fortunately owns a ship they use to get away.  I love seeing Cinder’s struggle with her new-found Lunar powers–she uses them, but she hates how easy it is for her.  Plus, Cinder’s memories coming back = awesome!  Overall, her sections are much stronger and more interesting than Scarlet’s, and I found myself wishing this book was mostly about Cinder, rather than Scarlet.

Unlike the last book, there was one twist in Scarlet I didn’t see coming, and it made me gasp out loud.  Loved it!  Despite the flaws in both of these books, they really are interesting, fun reads, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next two books.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Flappers and Fairy Tales: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Twelve sisters escape through dancing, although their controlling father and the laws of the Roaring Twenties constantly threaten to keep them from finding true freedom. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

Christmas is finally here, and the New Year is just around the corner.  If you’re looking for a magical, beautiful book to help you while away the lazy days (or if you need an excuse to escape from your family for a while), you must check out The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.

This book by Genevieve Valentine is a retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in the Roaring Twenties.  The Jazz Age atmosphere is incredible–full of speakeasies, the Charleston, and sequins galore.  Jo is the oldest of twelve sisters, born to Joseph Hamilton and his submissive wife.  With twelve daughters and no male heir, Hamilton locks up his daughters in the upper floors of his huge Fifth Avenue town house, where they pass their lives, sheltered from the outside world.  When Jo (called the General by her half-respectful, half-resentful siblings) realizes she is losing her sisters, she gives them as much freedom as she can offer: A few nights a week, Jo takes the girls to a speakeasy where they can dance the night away, drinking champagne and watching men fall in love with them.  As the younger girls grow older, their numbers swell, and the group of girls becomes known for their impeccable dance skills and their cold hearts.  Jo has cautioned all the girls to never give their names to anyone they meet, and anyone who falls behind because of a broken heart gets left behind.

For years, the girls receive tastes of freedom as they dance, but one day, Jo is summoned to her father’s office to hear the horrible news: Each daughter will now be married off as pure, unspoiled goods.  Frantic, Jo scrambles to keep her sisters in line, even as they resent her domineering attitude and Jo begins to wonder if she has become her father’s tool after all.

I could go on and on about this story (and I did, to my husband, which he is used to by now), but really, you just need to read it.  It is truly magical, and not in the Disney World kind of way.  This book is dark.  The girls’ father is distant and controlling–some of the girls have never even met him, and even Jo has never seen the front door of the house she has lived in all her life.  Their freedom comes only under cover of night and is fraught with the danger of police raids and heartbreaks.  Jo does her best to care for her sisters, but she knows she’s losing their affection and loyalty by constantly being the demanding General.  The writing sparkles just like the sequins of the dancers (I looooved the parenthetical comments and explanations).  Although a few of the sisters are, of necessity, better fleshed-out than others, each sister has an individual personality and desires for her life.  The story is fantastic–I finished it in three hours.  Take my word for it: You must read this book.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Have you read any must-read books this year?  Let me know so I can add them to my holiday list!

Scroll To Top
%d bloggers like this: