Deerskin
Adult / March 2, 2018

Author: Robin McKinley. Summary: The only daughter of a beloved king and queen, Princess Lissar has grown up in the shadow of her parent’s infinite adoration for each other—an infatuation so great that it could only be broken by the queen’s unexpected passing. As Lissar reaches womanhood, it becomes clear to everyone in the kingdom that she has inherited her late mother’s breathtaking beauty. But on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Lissar’s exquisite looks become a curse… Betrayed and abused, Lissar is forced to flee her home to escape her father’s madness. With her loyal dog Ash at her side, Lissar finds refuge in the mountains where she has the chance to heal and start anew. And as she unlocks a door to a world of magic, Lissar finds the key to her survival and begins an adventure beyond her wildest dreams. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I’m not familiar with the fairy tale (Donkeyskin) this springs from, but long before I got to the end and saw the author’s note I knew the story was a fairy-tale. From the fairy-tale epitaphs like “the fairest woman in seven kingdoms” to the dreamy prose, from the conscious tropes to the startling…

The Language of Thorns
Young Adult / January 6, 2018

Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Author: Leia Bardugo. Summary: Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns. Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Oh, this is very pretty. Each fairytale echoes an older, familiar tale, but they’re not retellings. Some of them are set before the story they echo, or after, and some of them just say what if. What if the girl realized that three impossible missions is an uncertain way to choose a husband, and said no? What if the stepmother wasn’t always evil, but assumptions were made and real culprits overlooked? What if the characters looked and saw the truth of life and didn’t believe in happily-ever-after, but still found a happily-right-now? Leigh Bardugo is intimately familiar with fairy tales, with their language and their rules, with their heroes and their villains, with their slide from whimsical to bloody and back again. Anyone can craft a clever what-if twist, can claim to re-write…

Bite Sized Reviews
Uncategorized / October 17, 2017

Not all the books I read go into reviews, for varying reasons. Because I didn’t finish them; because it would be too much work and I’m feeling lazy; because they’re just not worth it. More often than not, though, those reasons have to do with the Content Review portion, and not with my thoughts (unless it was just so bland I didn’t have any thoughts). So, I thought I’d try out a new feature: bite sized reviews. Titles that didn’t make it into normal full-info reviews, and my thoughts on them.  These Children Who Come At You With Knives, by Jim Knipfel. The best comparison that comes to mind is Douglas Adams gone wrong. If you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – or any of his books, really – you’re familiar with the random chaotic humor and odd juxtapositions. I think these ‘fairytales’ were aiming for something of the sort, but it’s a much cruder humor, and not nearly as effective. In the end, though, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has bleak, cynical undertones, despite the humor. It says quietly there’s nobody Out There after all, and it doesn’t really matter what you do, because everything is chance and nothing…

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Middle Grade / Juvenile / August 31, 2017

Author: Gail Carson Levine. Summary: Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly. But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny. (Published summary) My Thoughts: Given that I’ve loved Gail Carson Levine’s other works, I was very disappointed. This didn’t work at all for me. It’s not just a ‘teaching story’, that’s blatantly focused on particular issues (racism and prejudice) and putting forth morals about them instead of telling a compelling story that leaves the reader with new thoughts on those issues. No, it’s also a teaching story that, unwittingly I’m sure, brushes away the very points it’s trying to make. Peregrine, the main character, spends a lot of the book first overcoming her own prejudice…

Red Rider’s Hood
Young Adult / August 16, 2017

Dark Fusion #2. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: In this second entry in Neal Shusterman’s Dark Fusion series, he twists the familiar fairy tale “Red Riding Hood” into a brooding story about a city plagued by gangs. Red, a boy famous for cruising around in a bloodcolored Mustang, takes on the Wolves after they rob his grandmother. He decides to beat them by joining them, to learn their weaknesses. After a while, however, he finds himself drawn to the pack. At the next full moon, will Red take up their murderous ways, or will he take them down? (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Quite a creepy little retelling of Red Riding Hood. I like the distance achieved, where the story is obviously fairy-tale based but far enough away to be its own story, and I think Shusterman did a good job with the rather dark, gritty city setting and atmosphere. Not sure I agree with the main character’s choices, but it’s not a story where the right/wrong sides are pinned down hard and fast – it’s fairly open-ended for the reader to decide. (Note that the Dark Fusion series is more a grouping than a series… no need to read the books…

Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix. Summary:  The last thing she needs is a prince. The first thing she needs is some magic. Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own. Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low. My Thoughts: It was funny for the first chapter or so, but then it got just a little bit bland. Everything was just a little too humorous and stylized for my taste, although I realize that the author did it on purpose, and the message was a little too blatant. Mostly, it felt too much like middle-grade magic, not like Garth Nix fantasy. However, the message was good, even…

As Old as Time
Young Adult / June 7, 2017

A Twisted Tale #3. Author: Liz Braswell. Summary:  What if Belle’s mother cursed the Beast? Belle is a lot of things: smart, resourceful, restless. She longs to escape her poor provincial town for good. She wants to explore the world, despite her father’s reluctance to leave their little cottage in case Belle’s mother returns—a mother she barely remembers. Belle also happens to be the captive of a terrifying, angry beast. And that is her primary concern. But Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose, intriguing images flood her mind—images of the mother she believed she would never see again. Stranger still, she sees that her mother is none other than the beautiful Enchantress who cursed the Beast, his castle, and all its inhabitants. Shocked and confused, Belle and the Beast must work together to unravel a dark mystery about their families that is twenty-one years in the making. My Thoughts: The prose was fairly mediocre, but I really liked the changes the author made to the Beauty and the Beast story. It’s not an easy one to pull off as a good retelling; weird enough that outside of the fairy-tale context often doesn’t work at all. But the background she built…

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Middle Grade / Juvenile / June 6, 2017

Author: Kelly Barnhill. Summary: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known….

The Silver Trumpet
Middle Grade / Juvenile / May 31, 2017

Author: Owen Barfield. Summary: In this delightful fantasy of kings and queens, a magical Silver Trumpet, a jester dwarf, and castle intrigues, English author Owen Barfield has created an enduring tale to captivate the imaginations of all readers. (Goodreads Summary) My Thoughts: Really, a lovely fairy tale in the old style. A handful of interesting metaphors for older readers to discuss, but nothing that tangles the story up or leaves it moralistic or boring. Content Review: Sexual Content: None. Language: One instance of ‘demme’. Violence: One character is killed by fright. There are two instances of planned mob-violence, but both times it is stopped.

The Wish Granter
Young Adult / May 17, 2017

Ravenspire #2. Author: C.J. Redwine. Summary: The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop. Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown. So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself. But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul. (Published…