Bearly a Lady: A Novella Review

Zelda had made peace (mostly) with transforming into a werebear once a month. Luckily she has her amazing vampire roommate and her dream job at a fashion magazine to balance that out. Then, of course, there’s her excellent wardrobe–if only more of it was werebear sized!

Things get complicated when Zelda has to juggle a date with with her high school crush Jake (alpha werewolf of Kensington) and the charms of Benedict the fae nobleman (and nephew of her boss) that she’s been assigned to bodyguard for two whole weeks. Then there’s Janine, Zelda’s longtime crush at work and maybe the one who could take Zelda’s almost perfect life to completely excellent in Bearly a Lady (2017) by Cassandra Khaw.

Khaw offers a frothy homage to chick lit and fantasy in this charmingly cute novella (part of the Book Smugglers Novella Initiative). Zelda’s first person narration is breezy, fun, and just the slightest bit madcap as her life goes from fairly mundane (for a werebear) to bearly (pun intended!) under control. Set over the course of a tumultuous week for Zelda Bearly a Lady offers a contained story with some fascinating world building.

I won’t give away too much about the OTP here but Zelda’s chemistry with her love interests throughout this novella is off the charts. After you finish the story, be sure to read Khaw’s short essay on her inspiration and influences. It’s a great take on how this author, previously known more for her horror efforts, turned her attention to chick lit and something a bit lighter.

Bearly a Lady is a lighthearted novella filled with an inclusive cast of characters, comedy and romance–highly recommended for anyone seeking a much-needed dose of escapism in these trying times.

I have been promised cuteness and werebears and vampires in this novella by Cassandra Khaw (from Book Smugglers Publishing). Based on the cover I am not disappointed! Excited to have this as my next read. 💗 Zelda had made peace (mostly) with transforming into a werebear once a month. Luckily she has her amazing vampire roommate and her dream job at a fashion magazine to balance that out. 💗 Things get complicated when Zelda is juggling a date with with her high school crush Jake (alpha werewolf of Kensington) and the charms of Benedict the fae nobleman (and nephew of her boss) that she's been assigned to bodyguard for two whole weeks. Then there's Janine, Zelda's longtime crush at work and maybe the one who could take Zelda's almost perfect life to completely excellent. 💗 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #bspnovella #novella #werebear #fantasy #cassandrakhaw

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

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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, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, 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, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Toads & Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

The Perilous Gard: A (classic) Review

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie PopeEngland, 1558. Kate Sutton is serving as lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth when a disastrous letter from Kate’s sister changes everything. Exiled by Queen Mary Tudor, Kate is sent to a distant castle called the Perilous Gard.

The Perilous Gard and the surrounding Elvenwood are steeped in mystery. Villagers fear the inhabitants of the castle and the castle staff refuse to explain why to Kate. The master of the castle, Sir Geoffrey Heron, offers even less in the way of answers as he is keen to be as far from the Gard as often as possible.

Sir Geoffrey’s brooding brother, Christopher, soon becomes Kate’s unlikely source for information. As Kate learns more about the castle and surrounding grounds, she begins to realize the Perilous Gard is hiding a secret–one that could change Christopher’s life. But secrets are dangerous things and trying to get to the truth surrounding her new home could lead to things far worse for Kate than mere exile in The Perilous Gard (1974) by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

The Perilous Gard was a Newbery Honor title in 1975. It is a retelling of Tam Lin.

The Perilous Gard is a perfect blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Kate’s story is very grounded in the reality of life in 1558 England, a period that Pope brings to life with carefully detailed prose and obviously thorough research. The story of Tam Lin is turned on its head here as fairies and Druid customs converge in a story of secrets, peril and human sacrifice.

Kate is an excellent heroine. She is pragmatic, stubborn and loyal to a fault. She refuses to let circumstances (or even dangerous fairies) stop her from doing what is necessary. She is also one of the most level-headed characters you are likely to meet.

Tam Lin, of course, centers heavily on a love story as a maiden tries to save her lover from the fairies who have laid claim to him. While there is still romance here, it is refreshingly honest and realistic. Kate and Christopher are rash and often quite thoughtless. At first they do not understand let alone like each other. Yes during unexpected time together, it becomes obvious that there might be (maybe should be) more to their relationship as this unlikely pair becomes fast friends.

It’s easy to think that a book from 1974–an arguable classic–would feel stale or stilted. Instead The Perilous Gard writing draws readers in and creates an all-consuming story that is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, fantasy and fairy tale retellings, this book also has strong crossover potential for readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Beauty by Robin McKinley,The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Winterspell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Winterspell by Claire LegrandNew York City, 1899. Clara Stole’s mother has been dead for a year. Without the guiding goodness of her mother, Clara lives in fear of the greed and corruption that grip New York City and the Concordia syndicate that rules it with a firm and corrupt hand with her father as their mayor and figurehead.

Thanks to her godfather, Drosselmeyer, Clara is well trained in self-defense. But blending into shadows, picking locks and throwing a punch are little help when the mere thought of confronting the dangerous leaders of Concordia fills Clara with crippling dread. Despite her perceived weakness, Clara is determined to find out the truth behind her mother’s murder. But in uncovering that truth, Clara also finds shocking secrets about her own life.

On Christmas Eve Clara’s house is attacked and her father abducted by mysterious creatures not of this world. To rescue her father and keep her family safe, Clara will have to follow the creatures to Cane–a distant land ravaged by magic and strife–with only Nicholas, cursed prince of Cane, for help.

Clara needs Nicholas and therefore must work him but the prince has secrets and an agenda of his own–one that may do Clara more harm than good. With time running out as she moves through Cane’s ruthless landscape, Clara realizes she can trust no one but herself if she hopes to leave Cane alive in Winterspell (2014) by Claire Legrand.

Winterspell is Legrand’s first young adult novel. Readers can also pick up a companion prequel novella called Summerfall. An extended epilogue called Homecoming can be found on Legrand’s website.

Legrand delivers a sumptuous, rich fantasy in this dark retelling of The NutcrackerWinterspell stays true to the source material (even including epigraphs from the original story at the start of each section) while also pushing the plot in unexpected directions in this story about magic gone wrong, war and the strength that comes from realizing your own power.

While Clara knows she is strong and capable she is also hampered by her own fears and doubts as much as by the trappings of being a young woman of privilege in 1890s New York. Clara is terrified of her own strength (and her inability to use it at crucial moments), her own body, and especially her own sexuality. As much as this story is about magic and action, it is equally about Clara’s sexual awakening as she learns to embrace all aspects of her self even those society tells her she should hide away.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that brings the world of Cane monstrously to life. Endpapers provide a detailed map of Cane (illustrated by Catherine Scully) while Legrand’s prose evokes the fearful cold and danger lurking around every corner.

The interplay between Clara and Nicholas adds another dimension to this story. Both characters rightfully have a healthy suspicion of each other but also an undeniable physical attraction. There is a delicious slow burn as these characters circle each other. This distrust and attraction coalesces into a thoughtful treatment of consent that works on many levels throughout the story.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that operates in the grey areas between good and evil. With brutal heroes and sympathetic villains this is a multifaceted story sure to appeal to fantasy readers and fans of unconventional retellings.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Winterspell by Danielle Paige, Jackaby by William Ritter, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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.

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The Darkest Part of the Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But in all the stories, you have a single chance; and if you miss it, then it’s gone. The door isn’t there when you go back to look. There is no second invitation to the ball”

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackHazel has always known that life in Fairfold is different from the glass coffin that houses a sleeping prince to the strange things that are known to happen to tourists. She has always known that the fairies that live around Fairfold can be as lethal as they are charming; that they will just as soon kill a human as they will bargain with one.

Even then, knowing the dangers, Hazel finds herself drawn to the dark things that lurk outside of Fairfold. With a sword and her brother Ben by her side, Hazel hoped once to become a knight and hunt the monsters that lurked in the Fairfold woods. But Ben put a stop to that.

Seven years ago Hazel made a bargain to try and fix things. To get back the life she thought she wanted. But that fell apart as well.

Now Hazel kisses boys with wild abandon and has fun, hoping to shore up enough in reserve for the day it all might be lost to her. But the payment for Hazel’s bargain is coming due and time is running out for regrets or preparation.

That is until the coffin in the woods is broken and the prince, who has been there for as long as anyone can remember, disappears. Until Hazel wakes up in her bed surrounded by dirt and pieces of broken glass with no idea how to fix anything in The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015) by Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a fresh-faced fairy story where the fairies are as as entrancing as they are dangerous. Black once again delivers a thoughtful, intricate story of magic and identity in this smartly modern tale.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes traditional fairy tale tropes (not to mention gender roles) and turns them on their heads as this story infuses familiar lore with new twists and turns. Hazel, in particular, is a stunningly authentic and multi-faceted heroine. She is flawed and impulsive. She is genuine and kind. This story expertly negotiates exactly what agency and identity really mean not just for a girl in a small town but also for a girl with a self-proclaimed charge of saving that town.

There are other relationships in this story that are equally well done. Hazel and Ben come to understand each other as equals and family for perhaps the first time while both also come to terms with a less-than-idyllic upbringing. There is romance for both Hazel and Ben in unlikely places.

This novel also wonderfully examines the nature of family and the ramifications that come when people decide to choose their own–even if it is just for a time. Throughout the quests, the adventures, and the reconciliations, Hazel remains firmly grounded at the center of this plot. Her growth, particularly in the second half of the novel, is phenomenal as the narrative explores what it means to truly know oneself and trust oneself after years of doubt.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a wonderful fantasy but where it really shines is as the sensational story of a girl who not only finds her place in the world but also finds herself when she chooses to face the darkness in herself as well as in the forest.

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Beauty by Robin McKinley, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Princess of Thorns: A Review

 “Once upon a time there lived a prince and princess with no happy ever after . . . “

Princess of Thorns by Stacey JayIn the kingdom of Norvere, two briar-born children are forced into hiding when their father is murdered and their mother–the Sleeping Beauty–is imprisoned by the ogre queen. Eventually Aurora and Jor escape. Thanks to her mother, Aurora is blessed with enhanced strength, a brave spirit, a merciful mind, and a heart no man she loves will dare defy. It will take Aurora nearly ten years to understand the full weight of that; to understand that fairy blessings can be gifts as easily as they can be curses.

The immortal king of Kanvasola cursed his eleven sons so that no heir might live to challenge his claim to the throne. But the immortal king found a gentle witch who doomed the sons to change into swans on their eighteenth birthday instead of death. As the years passed, ten sons were transformed. The eleventh, Niklaas, hopes to break the spell and change his fate by journeying to Norvere to find and marry the princess Aurora.

When her brother is captured by the ogre queen, Aurora disguises herself as a boy to try to raise an army and reclaim her kingdom before it’s too late. Niklaas agrees to help, thinking it will bring him closer to Aurora and the end of his own curse.

It will take trust and sacrifice from both prince and princess if they hope to save Norvere and rescue Aurora’s brother before all is lost. With so much at stake, Aurora and Niklaas will have to try to survive before they can even consider their happy ending in Princess of Thorns (2014) by Stacey Jay.

Dual narration from Aurora and Niklaas offer a balanced story in this action-packed high fantasy fairy tale that references the stories of “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Swan Princess.” Jay takes both stories in unexpected directions as Aurora and Niklaas embark on a cross-country journey to try and save Aurora’s brother Jor.

In addition to action and humor, Princess of Thorns is a fantasy with feminist elements as Aurora struggles to reconcile who she is (capable, single-minded, strong) with what is typically expected of a princess. Niklaas faces similar moments of doubt and confusion in his narration. While both characters begin the story flawed–Niklaas’ views are often primitive or reductive while Aurora is painfully reckless–their growth is obvious over the course of the narrative. Even knowing more than both narrators, readers will find a few satisfying surprises here–particularly in the final act.

Brief scenes from the ogre queen Ekeeta’s perspective add another layer to this story and make Ekeeta a complex character of her own rather than merely a stock villain. Although there is often a fundamental lack of communication between the two protagonists, it is a plot device that is used well throughout the story in combination with the alternating narration to create a story that is an absolute page-turner.

Working within the confines of both Aurora and Niklaas’s curses, Jay offers a thoughtful story with as much external plot as there is internal character development. With magic, adventure and romance Princess of Thorns is a story that is as enchanting as any fairy tale.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Hero by Alethea Kontis, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor