Category Archives: fantasy
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Published: June 7th 2016 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 512 pages
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, magic, shapeshifters, royal drama
Rating: 4.5 stars
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Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
I was prepared to give My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows a pass when I first heard of it. I usually find period historical royal drama books dull and pretty cringe worthy. Then a copy of My Lady Jane arrived in the June Owl Crate subscription box and I figured since I had it, I should give it a read. I’m glad I did. I expected something stuffy and sluggish but My Lady Jane is a hilarious, clever reinventing of English history with a heavy helping of magical highjacks. It was so much better than I could have anticipated.
Ah, the Tudors. Never a more dysfunctional royal family will you find. In case you need a refresher, this is the period of time where Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church just so he could marry 6 different women. (His wives kept ending up dead, for some reason.) His son Edward VI, by Jane Seymour (wife #3), was brought up a Protestant, while his half-sister Mary, by Catherine of Aragon (wife #1), was brought up a Catholic. Both were struggling for control of the English throne. It is into this political stew pot that our story unfolds. Our authors take the religious tensions of the day and switch them over to a magical prejudice system between shapeshifters, the Edians, and those who despise them, the Verity. Our story is set in 1553, just as young King Edward was about to die from tuberculosis (as history tells us). Only Edward doesn’t die, much to everyone’s frustration. Throw in a royal coup d’état, other dastardly plots, and a horse and you have My Lady Jane in a nutshell.
For the amount of political drama that is the setting, My Lady Jane is a silly historical comedy full of puns and mockery of the sexist attitudes and ridiculous social graces of the time period. It’s funny and tongue-in-cheek. It’s entertaining. My Lady Jane is the type of easy, undemanding book that you can relax with. The romantic relationships, especially between Jane and G, are done spectacularly, with a believable evolution. The humor is clever and sarcastic. It is the exact tone I love to read. The characters are interesting. I especially like Jane. I really identify with her. She has so much book smarts but it’s hard to translate that usefully into the real world. The plot is well-written and the blending of history and fantasy is splendid.
My only real complaint is that it jumps between three POV’s, making it slightly irritating when we switch over to another person and have to backtrack to cover what was happening to them during a time period we’ve already covered from a different POV. I find changing POV’s incredibly jarring to the reading experience, making it hard to really settle into the flow of the narrative. However, I would have never guessed there were three authors. The writing style doesn’t change throughout the book and the tone never shifts. Our authors blended seamlessly together. I have to assume they wrote different parts but you could never tell. There are some portions that drag but the action picks up quickly. I was pleasantly surprised by how NOT annoying the romances were. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows is a fun, witty rump through Tudor history turned on its head that I recommend anybody looking for a good chuckle and some sweet romance should read.
“Aerity…” Her father paused as if the words he was forming pained him. “I must ask you to sacrifice the promise of love for the sake of our kingdom.”
She could only stare back, frozen.
When a strange beast terrorizes the kingdom of Lochlanach, fear stirs revolt. In an act of desperation, a proclamation is sent to all of Eurona—kill the creature and win the ultimate prize: the daughter of King Lochson’s hand in marriage.
Princess Aerity knows her duty to the kingdom but cannot bear the idea of marrying a stranger…until a brooding local hunter, Paxton Seabolt, catches her attention. There’s no denying the unspoken lure between them…or his mysterious resentment.
Paxton is not the marrying type. Nor does he care much for spoiled royals and their arcane laws. He’s determined to keep his focus on the task at hand—ridding the kingdom of the beast—but the princess continues to surprise him, and the perilous secrets he’s buried begin to surface.
Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale “The Singing Bone,” New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a dark fantasy filled with rugged hunters, romantic tension, and a princess willing to risk all to save her kingdom.
I’m going to start screaming and I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop. I really wanted to love The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins but it commits one of my biggest pet peeves in the YA genre. Nothing drives me up the wall like a male love interest who is an asshole to the female main character but the girl still has feelings for him because, oh my god!, he’s just the hottest thing ever! This type of bullshit belittles women and I hate it. No woman should put up with any type of abuse and the fact that this type of trope relationship is used so much in YA books frankly sickens me. I don’t care how handsome, how mysterious, or how fuckable a man is, if he’s a jerk, for whatever reason, that is it. Knee to the nuts, drop dead you asshole. Crap like this just perpetuates the idea that men can do whatever they want and women should just accept it and not complain and, gag me, even find it appealing. #notromantic #notsexy #stopit
Beyond that, The Great Hunt is bland and a slog to get through. It is repetitive and dull. We all know where the story is going and Higgins’ attempt to use sexual tension between freaking everyone to spice things up is just painful. The more interesting characters are kind of underdeveloped. I would have loved to see more about the Amazonian like Zandalee but they drop out of the story just when it could have gotten interesting. Aerity, our resident princess and prize, is lackluster. There is some attempt to make her interesting but it just comes across as weird. The king, Aerity’s father, fell in love and married a commoner, a circus performer. When she has children… she teaches them circus tricks? (It’s Cirque du Soleil in Scotland!) Aerity’s little sister, Vixie, does horseback tricks and Aerity does aerial gymnastics. It was just off putting and out of place. It’s used as a plot device at the end to allow Aerity to do her part to kill the beast but, honestly, it wasn’t needed.
Every man in this story is an asshole and the ones who aren’t, are background noise. This book is plagued by cardboard characters and predictable plot. It had an interesting concept but I was expecting more. I did enjoy some of the world building. I always find magical systems in fantasy books interesting and Higgins’ Lashed were a fun concept. But most of the book is spent languishing around the castle and I never feel the urgency of the threat of the beast or any of the dark atmosphere we were teased with in the blurb. What little action there is, is short lived and then we return to the castle so our characters can wallow in their emotions and lust. The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins had some potential but was derailed by slow pace and irritating romance tropes.
For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.
In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.
Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque – as well as the glimmers of goodness – buried deep within the soul.
Have you ever felt like you’re are just too dumb to understand a book? The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert made me feel like that. The first half was interesting. A disfigured recluse, Morgan, suddenly finds his home full of mysterious children, who come to him in ways he can’t quite figure out. They offer Morgan acceptance through their innocence and a connection to the world beyond his estate and the high walls that surround it. But the children are peculiar and seem to have an objective that Morgan cannot figure out. They do not act as he thinks children should act and have an uncanny ability to know when their noise is not wanted and when danger is near. Then the story takes a sharp left into weirdville and lost me.
The Children’s Home had a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I really loved Morgan. He is an interesting main character. He drifts through the house like a ghost until events force him to reattach to the world. The kids are creepy. We’re not sure if they are or aren’t a product of Morgan’s lonely imagination. It has a gothic setting in a world apparently ravaged by some disaster or war, a world we’re not sure still exists outside the estate’s walls. There was a period where I thought the world had ended and Morgan was the last person alive, everyone in the manor a product of his mind. The tense and eerie atmosphere is chilling and a delight. But the second half is incomprehensible.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the second half is supposed to mean. Is there a wider meaning to the vague World War 2 gas chamber reference? Is it commentary on how we are (literally in this case) sucking the life out of the younger generations just to keep functioning as a society? Is there something with parallel universes going on that is in no way explained at all? Is David some sort of messiah? Are the children some work of a magical source? As Morgan asked himself many times in the story, who are these children?
The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert has some compelling and violent imagery. The events are unsettling and memorable. It is a sinister gothic horror but lacks resolution into a satisfying whole. The reader becomes impatient with the children’s evasiveness and we have no resolution by the end. We are left just as clueless as we started. We are given no context during the story and learn no details of the state of the world or the source or purpose of the puzzling children. In all, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert left me confused and unsettled, wondering, like the characters, if I had somehow missed the point.
Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup
Published: March 12th 2013 by Candlewick Press
Format: Paper Book
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Fairytale, Princess, Magic, Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Princess Adela is not a typical princess. She’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly graceful, and she’d rather spend her days digging new plots for her garden than listening to teatime gossip. But when her friend Garth is invited to a garden party hosted by Lady Hortensia — whose beauty is said to be rivaled only by the loveliness of her gardens — Adela can’t resist coming along, even if it means stuffing herself into a too-tight dress and donning impractical shoes. But the moment Adela sets eyes on Hortensia’s garden, she knows something is amiss. Every single flower is in bloom — in the middle of October! Not only that, there is a talking magpie flitting about the garden and stealing the guests’ jewels. Is it possible that Hortensia is a witch and the magpie an enchanted prince? And what of the flowers themselves? Will Adela get to the root of the mystery and nip trouble in the bud before it’s too late?
The little kid in me always gets excited when I pick up a new princess book. It’s the same part of me that still smiles when I see Ariel singing in her cave of treasures or Belle dancing around that huge library. Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup is one such cute and nostalgic tale. This is a good old fairytale complete with princess and evil witch. As is the trend these days, the princess in this tale is a little ordinary, a little plain, and very un-princess like in her love of gardening. Most princess stories go this route in an effort to make their characters standout and take on the ‘not like ordinary girls’ vibe that authors think will make their princess unique. Adela is pretty standard in the anti-princess trope and I didn’t find her too remarkable in her role.
Honestly, I found the supporting characters more interesting. I liked how Kladstrup has Garth and pretty lady-in-waiting Marguerite fall in love at first sight, two good-looking people coming together. I thought it poked fun at the silly princess and prince relationship we often see in fairytales, even if one of them was just a gardener. However, the romance between Adela and Krazo was not any better. I found it shallow and without basis, since he spends most of the book as a magpie and a selfish one at that. Instant-love is typical for fairytales and kind of comes with the territory. The magic is creepy and Hortensia is a great villain. So much so that I wished to have seen more of her. She was a little under developed but she made an appealing antagonist for our princess. The garden with its guarding rose tree and unnerving flowers-who-are-really-not was an intriguing setting.
Overall, the characters were interesting and likeable. The plot is mildly clever but simple and not particularly spellbinding. The setting is great. It’s very well written without slow parts and I was never bored or impatient with events. Some people might find that the ending dragged on, tying up loose ends after the main action has ended, but I really liked this part. Often my complaint is that fairytales chop the ending off and don’t really resolve anything. This book continued with the story after the witch was defeated and gave us a proper happily ever after. Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup was an enjoyable and adorable story that teaches us the value of being beautiful on the inside and that one can always redeem themselves if they truly want to. I much recommend it for a quick, light read.
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Published: Published July 14th 2015 by Disney•Hyperion
Format: Paper Book
Length: 299 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal
Rating: 3.5 stars
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Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.
But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.
Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.
There was a lot of excited chatter when Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty came out this summer. Frist of all, gorgeous cover. This is one of my favorite covers from this year. Second of all, the story is set at Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina. I love that place. I’ve only visited once when I was a little kid but I wish I could go back as an adult so I could appreciate it probably. It’s a gorgeous house and land. This isn’t a complicated story and it’s fairly predictable but it is cute and fun. There are some pacing problems and a fair amount of “special snowflake syndrome” but this might not matter to a younger reader. I do have one massive problem with Serafina and the Black Cloak but I’ll save that for last.
Serafina and the Black Cloak is a mix of fantasy and mystery. Children are disappearing at the Biltmore Estate and an evil man in a black cloak is prowling the grounds. Thankfully, the evildoer is not the only one on the prowl. Serafina’s secret was obvious and I felt like I could have stopped reading in the middle and not missed a thing. I started skimming parts and for a shorter book, this is not good. If you’ve got a short book then you want to make every single part important and gripping. Serafina gets lost in the woods in the first half and that takes up more pages than it should. Then the plot is sort of meandering after that.
I found myself growing impatient. I could see where everything was going, guessed the secrets by about the halfway point, and was pretty much done by that stage. I finished reading that book in case the author wished to surprise us with something different but no such luck. There is a haunting and ominous atmosphere to the setting that I found enjoyable. The characters fill pretty standard roles and feel a little plastic, although some of Serafina’s thoughts on good and evil are well done. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty has a charming and nostalgic feel to it from books I read as a child but falls short of being really great as an adult.
My biggest issue with this book is the beginning. Trigger Warning! I don’t know why some proofreader or editor didn’t turn to Beatty and say “You know your beginning sounds like a pedophile rape scene, right?” Because it totally does. Serafina and the Black Cloak is published by a Disney company and you can’t tell me nobody bought a clue reading that. That scene would seriously trigger a rape survivor. It even made me uncomfortable reading it. A little blond girl being dragged through a dark basement (Please, sir, we aren’t supposed to be down here!), a man with a raspy voice (I won’t hurt you, little darling.), and just everything (The man wraps his arms around the little girl and pulls her to his chest and then shudders.). I seriously can’t believe someone didn’t Nope that hard.
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I won an ARC of Uprooted by Naomi Novik from Goodreads and, to be honest, I put off reading it because of its size. It is 435 pages long. I’m the type of person that believes if you can’t tell a story in under or close to 350 pages, then you need to edit down. Longer books tend to be slow or rambling and drive me crazy. I end up losing my patience and giving up waiting for something interesting to bloody happen. But I was reading such good things from other reviewers that Uprooted piqued my interest and I gave in. And, man, am I glad I did! While Uprooted was a bit slow in places and the Dragon is a jerk without any redeemable characteristics, it wasn’t enough to completely put me off because the rest of the book is just that awesome in my opinion.
You have to understand that my taste for romance in books has soured over the years. So much so that I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a letter opener than read one more young adult book where the male is an asshole for mysterious brooding reasons and the female is a twit merely because of her gender. I’m sick of it. It’s completely put me off of YA books as a whole. But it is also very hard to find the stories that I find entertaining in the adult genre, where the romance is a little more palatable in my opinion. That’s why I was doubly pleased to find that Uprooted was being marketed as an adult genre novel. I saw the light of hope at the end of the dark, annoying romance tunnel.
Agnieszka and the Dragon are complete opposites and while a type of halting, grudging romance does develop between them, it does not take over the book or hinder Agnieszka in any way. The romance between them falls to the background and the main plot with the Wood and the history of the valley and its people takes center stage. There is more focus on the sisterly relationship and loyalty between Agnieszka and Kasia then the budding feelings between Agnieszka and the Dragon. In short, I don’t end up simmering in frustration and impatience because the main female character is so focused on the main male character being a jerk to her that the story stalls while we waste time on poorly contrived emotional angst. Agnieszka does not spend time pining for the Dragon but rather gets on with things. Thank god…
My peeves with this story are that the Dragon (who does have a name but that isn’t revealed until late in the book and so I won’t use it here) is a big old jerk. He has reasons for being a jerk but that just makes him fall into my loathed ‘asshole for mysterious brooding reasons’ category. If the Dragon was more of a driving force in the story, I probably would have liked it less. The beginning interactions between Agnieszka and the Dragon are also a little long and could be tightened up so the pace doesn’t slag. Same thing with Agnieszka and the royal palace and other mages. We all get that something fishy was happening under the surface of political intrigue and court maneuverings but that part could have sped up as well. Uprooted could have gotten a little more editing and been better off for it.
The fantasy genre has been growing by leaps and bounds the past couple of years. All you need to do is browse through a list of popular novels and TV shows to see that fantasy is becoming mainstream. And I am so thankful for that. Uprooted is firmly in the fairytale-esque tradition, playing off the whole ‘dragon kidnaps a princess for evil purposes’ story so familiar to us from childhood. But the story is so much more than that. It is so refreshing to see a capable, tenacious heroine in Agnieszka and a story rich in history, detail, and imagery. The malevolent Wood seems to have a life of its own within the story and the sense of creepy, malicious awareness reaches out to send cold chills up the reader’s spine. Everything in Uprooted is so vivid that putting down the book at the end of the day was a physical pain.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik captivated me. It was a touch slow but once the characters returned to the valley to confront the Wood and its far-reaching, evil manipulations and sorrowful past, the story picked up and I could hardly turn pages fast enough. The Wood is a character in itself in the book, much more than the flimsy creations in other fairytale novels. I was amazed by every detail and twist. The story telling in Uprooted is masterful and weaves a brilliant tale with excellent world-building and interesting characters. If you are looking for romance, you might be disappointed. But if you are looking for a fantasy fairytale novel suited toward adults, then Uprooted is definitely for you. Uprooted sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go until the end. Despite its failings, I completely enjoyed it.
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Published: February 3rd 2015 by William Morrow & Company
Format: Paper Book
Length: 354 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Poetry
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Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion.
A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.
I’m not ashamed to admit that Neil Gaiman is my favorite author. Pretty much everything I read from him is gold and so incredibly wonderful. So it pains me to say that I really didn’t like Trigger Warning. I’ve read other short story collections from Gaiman before and loved them, M is for Magic was probably the first thing I ever read from him, but Trigger Warning just wasn’t up to snuff in my opinion.
Short stories take a special talent to write because you have to create a complete tale in a smaller than usual time frame. I know that Gaiman is the master of the unusual and nonsensical but most of the stories in Trigger Warning fell flat for me because they were just too confusing or felt unfinished. ‘The Lunar Labyrinth’ was the worst offender in this regard. There are several pieces of fanfiction that felt especially out of place here. I’m almost certain that I’ve read the Sherlock Holmes piece somewhere before and, unless you’re an actual fan, the Dr. Who story was not particularly interesting and completely out of place with the rest of the tales. There is even a short story of one of Gaiman’s own novels and while ‘Black Dog’ is the type of eerie and dark story I was expecting out of this collection, I feel it would have been better served without the American Gods character. Also, I had to Google ‘Thin White Duke’ to discover Gaiman was talking about David Bowie. There is a big generational gap on that reference.
My favorite stories from the collection were probably ‘Orange’ for its unique format, ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ for being a proper little creepy horror story, and ‘Black Dog’ for its supernatural angle, even if small details from the story escaped me because I haven’t actually read American Gods. Some of the stories were creepy but I wasn’t really enthused with most of them. Trigger Warning came across as simply ‘meh’ for me and didn’t really spark the way so many of Neil Gaiman’s other books have done. It pains me to have to give less than a stellar review for one of Gaiman’s books but this one just didn’t resonate for me and the stories don’t live up to the book’s title.
P.S. There is a story called The Sleeper and the Spindle included in the collection that is, at least I think, part but not all of Gaiman’s Snow White and Sleeping Beauty mashup. I still plan to order the illustrated book soon. So, I’ll edit this if it turns out Trigger Warnings actually has the complete short story. (Although, I hope not. The Sleeper and the Spindle that shows up in Trigger Warning kind of trails off into nothing and leaved so much potential untapped.)
Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.
I always enjoy retellings that focus on secondary characters. I confess I haven’t read Peter Pan but I had seen the Disney movie when I was a child and Tiger Lily was a favorite of mine. So I was curious to see what Jodi Lynn Anderson had done with the Indian princess’s story in her book Tiger Lily. On a whole, I was underwhelmed. The book was slow and uneventful. Nothing much happened. There was no tension or excitement in Tiger Lily and although I enjoyed seeing Neverland fleshed out and a new side to the familiar characters of Peter Pan and Tiger Lily, the rest of it felt very flat.
What I Liked
Tik Tok. Full stop. He’s probably the best character in the whole book. I think this is the first transgendered character I’ve ever seen in young adult fiction before. I loved how the village people just accepted Tik Tok as he was made and then it broke my heart when Phillip and the other missionaries turned their opinion against Tik Tok, after everything the medicine man had done for them. I had a little sniffle when they chopped off his hair.
Pine Sap and Moon Eye. In fact, there were a lot of awesome secondary characters in this book. It’s great to see characters that aren’t perfect physically but are still determined and steadfast. Pine Sap might have a spinal deformity but that only seems to make him an old soul. It was especially poignant when he was dealing with his abusive mother. “I don’t know what else to do but be patient with her.” As if his mother was a whining child and he the adult. I love that. I also love that delicate, shy little Moon Eye got her revenge in the end.
The story is told from the point of view of Tinkerbell, the fairy. It’s very odd but gusty move to make the narrator not one of the main characters. Tinkerbell herself professes to be unimportant and unnoticed by most of the other characters. This makes the times that characters do notice her especially powerful and those times when nothing she does changes the course of events even sadder.
It was awesome to see Neverland fleshed out and presented as an actual place. It’s a magical but logical location. I love reading all the details about the fairies and other Neverland creatures as well as the tribes and pirates.
What I Didn’t Like
The plot. Tiger Lily had all the makings of something awesome; great setting, fantastic characters, but we’re let down with a plot that never really does anything. There could have been adventure and excitement but instead we just have Tiger Lily and Peter being awkward with each other. The book seemed to drag and it’s not even that big of a book.
We really don’t learn a lot about Tiger Lily. While Tinkerbell can sort of see into the minds of other people, we don’t get much explanation for why Tiger Lily acts and feels the ways she does. We never learn where she came from besides Tik Tok finding her in the forest. Yes, we’re told Tiger Lily was bullied and that she’s not like other children but we really don’t have a lot of insight into her. The same goes for Peter. He has the strangest moods but we never get any deeper into him. We’re never given the chance to understand. We’re just left with this little boy who wants his mommy and may be more than a little insane.
Tiger Lily has some of the most diverse and powerful characters I’ve ever seen. It has a readymade setting for all sorts of mayhem and thrills. But we’re left with a flat plot and very little action. It was interesting to see Peter and Tiger Lily kind of grownup a little, into teens in this book. There are no thimble kisses here, folks. Peter smooches Tiger Lily and Wendy on the cheeks and lips several times. This is a less innocent Neverland. The more sexual aspects may upset some people and I’m hearing a few complaints about the narration. It was a little jarring to have Tinkerbell suddenly speaking up in first person in the middle of an otherwise third person narration. In all, I liked Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson but I just couldn’t bring myself to love it.
Tilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.
When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.
Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.
Merrie Haskell’s first book, The Princess Curse, was an excellent middle grade book. So, I was excited when I heard she was publishing another middle grade book, Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Dragons, you say? Yes please! Haskell is known to mix myths and legends into her books and for capable and independent female characters. I was really interested in seeing what Haskell had crafted for us in her new book.
Things I Liked
Secondly, kudos for another capable and independent main female character and this time one that has a physical handicap. Tilda overcomes at lot of obstacles in this book; physical obstacles in the form of her foot, then breaking out of the prison that was her status and truly understanding what she wants. Haskell has a way of writing girls with spirit and determination that I really enjoy. Tilda won’t let anything stand in her way and she fights for what she wants, even if what she wants changes and matures through the book. Even Judith was amazing. She’s strong willed and I love that she snuck off for secret dragon slaying lessons with Parz.
I thought Tilda’s disability was well handled. Her clubfoot constantly pains her and separates her from others, so much so that her own people scorn her, but Tilda chooses to not let her deformity control her. It does have an influence on her, as she sees herself and how she thinks other people see her, but she strives to not let it define her. I also like how there was no magical fix for her at the end and how she accepts herself just as she is and realizes how important she is to Alder Brook and her friends. It took the loss of their princess to realize how much they really value her and Tilda the same for Alder Brook. There was no magical hand wave to get rid of the unpleasant bits to make Tilda ‘perfect’ and that really made me enjoy the character more.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers is just the type of adventurous, original middle grade book I adore. The slight love triangle is background to the main plot that includes dragons, evil knights, and magical horses. It’s exciting and you don’t want to put the book down.
Things I Didn’t Like
I didn’t recognize the myths Haskell used in Handbook for Dragon Slayers. The metal horses are obviously from some myth but it’s one I’m not readily familiar with the way The Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Persephone myths were in The Princess Curse. It took away some of the shine. I also can’t help but think that the target audience, young children, would be even more confused. They’re not going to have the first clue of what The Wild Hunt is and will probably just think it’s made-up, which is a shame.
Speaking of The Wild Hunt, Haskell goes through the trouble of making the lead horsewoman intimidating and scary and then does very little with them. The main villain is a power hungry delusional knight who really should know better than to try and entrap the Fey. It never ends well for the human. I was a little disappointed at the end when The Wild Hunt returned and then everything is hand waved away and is now hunky-dory.
The elements of Handbook for Dragon Slayers are practically tailor fit to make me gush. It’s the type of adventure that makes me feel like a kid again, rushing around the backyard with a princess crown and a plastic sword I’d stolen from my older brother. (Yes, I was one of those little girls. I was determined to be both a princess and a knight and no amount of teasing from my brother and his friends would change my mind.) Tilda was the perfect unconventional hero and her journey to self-acceptance was smart and fun. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell was a good second book and I very much enjoyed it.
In the darkest places, even love is deadly.
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.
I assume that you have a least heard of the story of The Island of Doctor Moreau, if not seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. At this point, the “island full of monsters” plot is a familiar cliché. It’s been pretty well assimilated into our culture. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd is a retelling of that story only now with added hormonal teenage girl. There is a supernatural twist to the story at the end that was surprising and the characters are well formed and not too annoying but I still found myself with some disappointed feelings as a whole. It comes from my basic annoyance with the main female character in young adult books. I loved The Island of Doctor Moreau and I can’t accept that story being diluted by, I’m sorry to say, some dumb girl running around.
What I Liked
It’s very well written. There were times where I was on the edge of my seat with suspense and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. The tension on the island could have been cut by a knife and the reader really feels that. The horror and gore has quite a punch. When the story gets going, it really goes and it’s intense. (Of course, the problem is when it stops going.)
We have some truly awesome secondary characters in this book. My favorites are Alice, who Montgomery sees as a kind-of daughter but whom Alice loves romantically, and Ajax/Jaguar, who personifies the dual nature of human and animal and the nature of humanity and self-awareness.
What I Didn’t Like
The book is a little overlong. Most notably, the chapters on the boat sailing to the island and then when Juliet and Edward are running willy-nilly around the island in the dark after Juliet saw her father and Montgomery preforming their experiments in the red shed. The middle part of the book felt a little wandering. Juliet’s inner rambling does not help. The pacing is too slow.
I normally love retellings but I felt the introduction of Juliet into The Island of Doctor Moreau was a disservice to the story. In the original book, there is no female main character on the island, let alone the daughter of the infamous doctor. Frankly, the most interesting part to the book was the beginning when Juliet was still in London. The London chapters had a great macabre atmosphere that really pulled me in. Perhaps I just like gothic historical fiction better. It started out great but then got bogged down with a slow plot and being too focused on the romance rather than the action. It takes a lot of skill to write a retelling of a popular story correctly and while I think The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd was a good result, I don’t think it was an improvement.
I’ve taken a glance at the sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, and it looks to be even better than The Madman’s Daughter. I hope that since it looks like the sequel is set in London that we can recapture the macabre and darkly gothic feel that the first few chapters of The Madman’s Daughter had.