Princess of the Midnight Ball: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day GeorgeGalen is a soldier returning from war. At only nineteen he has been on the battleground most of his life. He is world-weary and eager to return to Westfalin and try his hand at civilian life now that the war is over.

Rose is one of the twelve princesses of Westfalin cursed to dance each night for the King Under Stone where they wear out their dancing slippers every evening. Unable to speak out about their nightly activities or defy the King Under Stone, Rose and her sisters suffer in silence.

Many princes try to discover where the princesses go each night. All of them fail.

As the stakes grow higher, Rose and Galen will have to work together to break the curse and save Westfalin from threats found both underground and above in Princess of the Midnight Ball (2009) by Jessica Day George.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is the first book in George’s trilogy of companion novels following the princesses of Westfalin. It is also a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairytale.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is written in the third person and alternates between Galen and Rose’s points of view to create two protagonists who are very authentic instead of relying on character archetypes. George also flips several standard fairytale tropes upside down with her refreshing and well-rounded characters. Galen is levelheaded and cautious while still having enough charm to rival any prince. He also knits his own socks. Rose is clever, sharp and decidedly proactive as she works independently of Galen to try and save her sisters.

Together Galen and Rose are unstoppable as they face faeries, curses and other ills besides in their efforts to break the curse and save Westfalin. Despite having numerous secondary characters–just with all of Rose’s sisters!–George manages to present concise snapshot descriptions for each character without bogging down the narrative. This story can also appeal to a broad age range as it’s thin on gore or violence with a lighter tone overall.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a delightful retelling that stays true to the source material while also adding original touches and memorable characters. A thrilling plot, sweet romance and genuinely scary villains make for a winning combination in this reinvented fairytale.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Toads & Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Lady Thief: A Review

*Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet. As such, this review has major spoilers for the first book.*

Lady Thief by A. C. GaughenScarlet thought she escaped her past when she joined Robin Hood and his band to protect the people of Nottingham. That was before the thief taker Gisbourne arrived to capture Robin and his band. Before Scarlet was forced to marry Gisbourne in a gambit to save everyone she cares about.

Now, Scarlet is irrevocably tied to Gisbourne even as she sits in hiding with Robin, John and Much. Rob’s time in the Nottingham dungeon has left him scarred and broken. The entire band seems on the verge of collapse when Gisbourne returns with a shocking offer for Scarlet that has the potential to change everything.

When Prince John and the royal court arrive in Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, Scarlet is drawn into a game of politics and secrets where losing could be deadly in Lady Thief (2014) by A. C. Gaughen.

Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet.

While Scarlet is an excellent introduction to Nottingham and Gaughen’s version of Robin Hood, Lady Thief moves the series in new directions as the story prepares for the conclusion of the trilogy. Lady Thief brings Scarlet back to the courtly life she abhors and offers quite a few surprises and promises of more to come before the trilogy concludes with Lion Heart.

Lady Thief also introduces an especially frightening villain in Prince John. I won’t get into details here because it’s a spoiler, but some of what Prince John inflicts on Scarlet is so horrifying that I almost didn’t finish this book. (A year ago, I would NOT have finished this book, if we’re being honest.)

It’s fascinating to see more of court life and, horrible person that I am, I am quite fond of Gisbourne so I enjoyed seeing a slightly different side to him here. Lady Thief still has a lot of action as Rob and the band scramble to keep Prince John from appointing another horrible sheriff. Now that Rob and Scarlet have made their feelings about each other clear, readers also get a bit more romance along with the expected action and suspense.

This book focuses more firmly on Scarlet and her character. Instead of just doing what she has to in order to survive, Scarlet is now forced to consider not just what she is willing to sacrifice but also what she is willing to become in order to protect Nottingham and those she loves.

Lady Thief is a thrilling, fast-paced novel with a gut-wrenching ending that will leave readers anxious to get book three in their hands. Recommended for fans of Robin Hood and historical fiction with a twist. Not recommended for squeamish readers who prefer to avoid violence and gore.

Initially, I was going to end my review here. That was when I still had plans to read Lion Heart. Since then, I’ve taken a hard look at things and decided it was best for me to part ways with this series. My reasons are personal and spoilery but here they are: Basically Lady Thief came really close to giving me a breakdown. I did not handle it well when Scarlet’s fingers are cut off. It is never a favorite thing for me to read but it felt particularly visceral here to the point that for hours after reading about it, I had to talk through everything with Kayla. It brought back every bad memory I have of relatives who were sick and relatives who died and, honestly, I felt physically ill while I forced myself to finish the book. Will other people feel that way or have such a violent reaction? Probably not. But the more I thought about Lady Thief the more I felt like the book had betrayed me and the more I realized I could not continue with the series.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Scarlet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

ScarletUS.inddHiding from a past she’d prefer to forget, Scarlet disguises herself as a boy named Will Scarlet to avoid unwanted attention. The only thing anyone really needs to know about Scarlet is that she is a skilled thief. She is also better than most when it comes to throwing a knife and fiercely dedicated to Robin Hood’s band–although she would never admit it to Rob, Much or John.

Scarlet’s efforts to keep herself apart and flee from her past threaten to unravel when a thief taker is summoned to Nottingham. Gisbourne is calculating and ruthless in his hunt for Robin Hood and his band. The consequences if he finds Rob could be dire. For Scarlet, being found by Gisbourne might be fatal.

Torn between her loyalty to the people of Nottingham–including the band–and her need for self-preservation, Scarlet will have to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people she loves in Scarlet (2012) by A. C. Gaughen.

Scarlet is Gaughen’s first novel and the start of a trilogy that continues with Lady Thief and Lion Heart. Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the story in Scarlet is largely self-contained and focuses on what the author refers to as Robin’s early years. The novel is also accompanied by suggested titles for further reading.

Scarlet is an inventive and entertaining Robin Hood retelling in the tradition of The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Gaughen adds new dimensions to this familiar story by casting Will Scarlet as a girl with quite a few secrets and writing the story in Scarlet’s unique dialect.

Filled with adventure and banter, Scarlet remains a surprisingly introspective title as readers learn more about Scarlet’s past and what it costs her to stay in Nottingham and work with Rob. Gaughen keeps the novel carefully focused on Scarlet, Rob, John and Much further emphasizing their strong bonds and exploring the strength of their friendships throughout the novel. There is also a decidedly slow burn of a romance complete with searching looks and misunderstandings.

Although the story will be immediately familiar to Robin Hood fans, unexpected twists keep the story fresh and engaging. Scarlet is an excellent, capable heroine who asks hard questions and saves herself–and her friends–more often than not. She accompanied throughout the story by some of the most honorable and downright likable outlaws readers will ever meet.

Scarlet is a solid historical fiction adventure with humor, romance and non-stop excitement. A must-read for Robin Hood fans of all ages.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Devil You Know: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Devil You Know by Trish DollerArcadia “Cadie” Wells is sick to death of her life in her tiny Florida town with her broken-down father and her four-year-old brother. Cadie is tired of being the de facto caretaker for her family. She is tired of putting what she wants last. Now that high school is over, all she can see ahead of her is an endless stretch of stifling sameness with work and family obligations pulling her down.

Cadie wants something more.

She wants adventure.

She wants a little act of rebellion.

It starts with a campfire party and a cute dress. It turns into a sudden road trip with two unbearably attractive cousins and the exact kind of escape Cadie’s been yearning for. It will end with dangers Cadie never imagined and a dead body in The Devil You Know (2015) by Trish Doller.

The Devil You Know is a sexy and exciting thriller. Doller’s writing is taut with tension as Cadie tries to step outside of her everyday routine with risks that are sometimes shocking even to herself. While this story follows many familiar conventions as Cadie questions who she can trust and the wisdom in falling hard for a handsome stranger, The Devil You Know is not your average thriller.

In this slim novel (256 pages, hardcover), Cadie struggles to reconcile her own wanderlust with the obligations weighing her down. Coming from a small town and a family that is struggling to get by, Cadie is very aware of the limitations on her life. She is also confident in her own ability to achieve more than life in her small town has to offer and also in how much she deserves it.

Cadie is a strong heroine with absolutely the best feminist ideals that are presented as a seamless part of her character. Throughout The Devil You Know Cadie takes ownership of her life and her sexuality in moments that are refreshingly empowering. The chemistry between Cadie and her love interest is palpable with dialog and descriptions that absolutely sizzle.

Although parts of the story veer toward predictable or even contrived, this book is decidedly clever and often entertaining. The Devil You Know is a smart thriller that uses this familiar form to subvert as many conventions as it follows.

Possible Pairings: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Damaged by Amy Reed,  Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Hold Me Like a Breath: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany SchmidtIn a world where organ donation is strictly regulated, Penelope Landlow’s Family helps those who can’t afford to wait for legal organ transplants . . . as long as they can afford to pay black market prices.

With rival families and upstarts jockeying for position, Penelope knows as well as anyone that the Family business is dangerous. With the Organ Act making its way through congress she also knows the Family business is on the verge of a major change.

Thanks to an autoimmune disorder called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) that causes excessive bruising and bleeding, Penelope also knows she’ll never really be a part of the Family business–changes or not.

With her entire family, and even her lifelong crush, convinced that she is far too fragile for the Family business or anything resembling a normal life, Penelope spends her days dreaming of NYC, shopping, watching C-Span, and wandering her family’s lavish estate.

It isn’t enough.

When disaster strikes, Penelope is thrust into a world of secrets and betrayals she is ill-equipped to understand. As she struggles to make sense of her shattered past and shape her own future she’ll also learn that life isn’t always a fairy tale. Sometimes you have to make your own happy ending in Hold Me Like a Breath (2015) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Hold Me Like a Breath is the first book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family trilogy. It is loosely inspired by the story “The Princess and the Pea.”

Penelope is an interesting heroine in that she is spunky while also being painfully naive thanks to her sheltered upbringing. Although she is fragile because of her ITP, Penelope is not easily broken as she demonstrates repeatedly throughout the narrative.

With organized crime, black market organs and murder as part of the plot, Hold Me Like a Breath is not your typical fairy tale romance. Sweet moments of first love are tempered with suspense and action as Penelope tries to make sense of the catastrophe that leaves her alone for the first time.

Hold Me Like a Breath is an engaging mystery and coming-of-age story complete with twists that turn the narrative completely upside down not once but twice. A romantic lead who sees Penelope as a true equal helps move the romance here from saccharine and sweet to rock solid and empowering.

Schmidt blends elements of mystery and romance in this retelling that is as unique as it is exciting. In addition to nods to the source material, this book also builds a world that is developed down to the finest details and includes a diverse cast of characters who readers will look forward to seeing in book two. Hold Me Like a Breath is a clever page-turner with a heroine who learns what it takes to chase her own happily ever after in this sensational start to what is sure to be a marvelous series.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Tiffany!

A Court of Thorns and Roses: A (Rapid Fire) Review

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (2015)

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasI’m not going to bother with a summary here because Sarah J. Maas has already taken the world by storm with her bestselling Throne of Glass series. A Court of Thorns and Roses is the start to a new and highly anticipated series by Maas that blends elements of Tam Lin with Beauty and the Beast in this retelling.

There are two things you should know about me before I get into this review. The first is that I am not a fan of the Throne of Glass series. I read the first book and thought it was okay. Not great and not a series I needed to continue reading. I have much respect and love for Maas as I do for any other who gets people excited about reading but that series just isn’t my bag. When I heard Maas had a new series starting set in a different world, my interest was piqued and I decided I did want to check it out to see if it was more up my alley. (I have since concluded that Maas’ writing style just might not appeal to me personally which does happen.)

What I did not realize when I started reading A Court of Thorns and Roses is that it was also Maas’ new New Adult (NA) series. There are several definitions floating around for what NA means and what NA books look like. In my (limited) research, I’ve concluded that NA books are generally romance novels featuring twenty-something-ish characters. While that is a simplified explanation, it is one that I have found to be largely accurate. I don’t enjoy reading romance novels and as a result have tended to also avoid NA titles. Unfortunately I did not see the marketing keywords marking A Court of Thorns and Roses as NA until after I had read it.

Keeping in mind that A Court of Thorns and Roses is NA, it’s worth noting that some of my issues might stem from the genre rather than the book itself. Often, in my reading, romance novels have relationships predicated on unequal power dynamics. Often, in my reading, romance novels have uneven plots as the story is working harder to fit in romance elements over other aspects of story/plot.

Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Soulprint: A Review

Soulprint by Megan MirandaAlina Chase has been imprisoned her entire life for crimes she didn’t commit. With soul fingerprinting a chilling reality, the world knows that Alina’s soul belongs to the most notorious criminal of her time. Everyone is terrified that if she is free, Alina will do it all again.

Desperate for freedom, Alina jumps at the chance to escape even if it means throwing herself in with people she doesn’t know let alone trust. But freedom has a cost and it might be more than Alina is able to pay.

Everyone wants something from Alina. All Alina wants is to be left alone. On the run and still trying to clear her soul, Alina will have to follow clues left by her former self to a shocking secret if she ever wants to escape in Soulprint (2015) by Megan Miranda.

Miranda once again offers up her trademark blend of science and suspense in this story where reincarnation can have severe consequences. In the midst of Alina’s daring escape and numerous chase sequences, Miranda raises questions about the inevitability of fate and whether certain traits really can transfer from life to life.

Alina is a great heroine. She struggles to be strong and independent while also yearning for the kind of human connection that is impossible when you have been a prisoner your entire life. It is also worth nothing that Alina’s mother is Hispanic–a culture Alina identifies strongly with as she clings to the memories of her mother.

Although some big twists are broadcast early on, Soulprint remains a nail-biting mystery that will keep readers on their toes as they try to follow the clues along with Alina. With a strong cast of characters and just a hint of romance Soulprint is one action-packed story sure to have wide appeal.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Minority Report

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*