Kind of a Big Deal: A Review

Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon HaleJosie Pie was a big deal in high school. She was always the lead in school productions, her teachers always said she was destined for greatness. Which is why it made so much sense when Josie dropped out of high school to be a star.

Now, almost a year later, Josie is starting to wonder if she made the right choice. Turns out hitting it big on Broadway isn’t as easy as hitting it big in high school. After a series of failed auditions Josie is starting to wonder if she was ever star material. It certainly doesn’t feel that way while she words as a nanny.

Josie keeps in touch with her best friend, her boyfriend, and her mom. But there’s only so much you can talk about without admitting massive failure (and mounting credit card debt).

When Josie and her charge find a cozy bookstore, Josie receives a pair of special glasses that transport her into her current read. Literally. In the books she can save the day in a post-apocalyptic world, fall in love in a rom-com, and more.

Living out these fantasies is the best thing that’s happened to Josie in a while. But the longer she stays inside the stories, the harder it is to remember why she should come back to her own life in Kind of a Big Deal (2020) by Shannon Hale.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hale’s latest YA novel is a genre mashup. Framed by Josie’s contemporary coming of age story, Hale also plays with conventions in dystopian sci-fi, romantic comedies, and historical fiction (genres Hale has by and large tackled previously in her extensive backlist).

Kind of a Big Deal takes on a lot using these genre adventures to help Josie get a handle on her own life. Unfortunately, the stories within this story are often more compelling than Josie’s real life leaving Josie and her friends feeling one dimensional throughout. Stilted dialog and a premise that pushes the limits of plausibility (particularly with eighteen-year-old Josie being solely in charge of a seven-year-old girl while her mother works out of the country) further undermine this otherwise novel premise.

Kind of a Big Deal is a unique take on losing yourself in a good book. The story reads young and might have worked better for a middle grade audience or radically rewritten with older characters for an adult novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven genre studies.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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

Book of a Thousand Days: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon HaleDashti, a “mucker” alone in the world, promises her lady that she won’t abandon her on the day they meet. Used to a nomadic life on the steppes, Dashti doesn’t know what she is agreeing to when she and Lady Saren are sealed in a tower for seven years after the lady refuses to marry a man who terrifies her.

Alone with seven years’ worth of supplies and their thoughts, Dashti begins to write of their time in the tower. She expects the darkness and the loneliness and even her lady’s erratic behavior. She does not expect to have to talk to two suitors on her lady’s behalf. Nor can she imagine the havoc both will wreak on both Dashti’s and Lady Saren’s lives.

When supplies begin to run low and Dashti wonders how much longer they can survive, this supposedly common girl will have to summon uncommon strength and ingenuity to save herself and Saren in Book of a Thousand Days (2007) by Shannon Hale.

Book of a Thousand Days is a retelling of the fairy tale “Maid Maleen” originally told by the Brothers Grimm. It is also reminiscent of Hale’s earlier novel Princess Academy in the best possible way.

The novel is written as Dashti’s book of thoughts with diary-like entries for various days. Book of a Thousand Days is also delightfully illustrated throughout. Dashti’s narration is frank and filled with thoughtful observations as she contemplates her captivity as well as her lowly station compared to Lady Saren who is gentry descended from the Ancestors.

Hale’s novel is set in a fictional world comprising the Eight Realms (as seen in a map at the beginning) which are loosely inspired by medieval Mongolia. Although much of the novel takes place in a tower, Hale still brings the landscape and culture of Dashti’s world to life as she create a unique culture filled with magic, mystery and music.

Dashti is a fantastic heroine who is as pragmatic as she is optimistic. Her resilience throughout the novel and her confidence–even when facing moments of doubt and great obstacles–are inspiring. Hale expertly showcases her growth throughout the novel and, by extension, Saren’s own attempts to become more than an idle Gentry lady.

Book of a Thousand Days is a sweet story filled with adventure and romance that will appeal to readers of all ages. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, The Reader by Traci Chee, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Soundless by Richelle Mead, The Kiss of Deception by Marie E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Rapunzel’s Revenge: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel/Comic Book) Review

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan HaleOnce upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl named Rapunzel.

Stolen from her parents by a vengeful witch, Rapunzel grew up in a world of privilege and perfection except for the wall all around her home begging to be climbed.

On the other side of the wall, Rapunzel finds out the truth about her life and its lies.

She is trapped in a tower and she does escape. A gallant prince has nothing to do with it. But her mile-long braids-turned-lassos might.

Now that she’s free and knows the truth, Rapunzel has one thing on her mind. With the help of her big talking, man with a plan, sidekick Jack (yes, that Jack . . . the one with the beanstalk, yup) Rapunzel is ready to right some wrongs in Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (husband and wife) and illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation).

Find it on Bookshop.

Like a lot of readers, Rapunzel’s Revenge had me as soon as I heard about the premise. A feminist retelling of a classic fairy tale set in the American Old West? What’s not to love?

Some readers might be surprised by the depth of both the illustrations and the text or put off by the comic book styling. Yes, the book is geared more toward tweens and older children, but there is nothing wrong with that. And don’t let the comic book panels fool you, this is a humdinger of a book rich with enough detail and subtext to keep even the most advance readers busy (while the interplay of text and images can help readers on the other end of the spectrum).

There is an obvious juxtaposition between what Rapunzel narrates in what can only be called a “voice over” of the story and what she actually shows us.  (For an example see the section on page 34 and 35 describing Rapunzel’s triumphant escape.) This interplay adds a level or humor and depth to the story that, amazingly, can only come from a comic book format.

Nathan Hale spent more than a year creating the artwork for this book and it shows. Each panel is intricately drawn out so that the story jumps off the page. If you think the cover looks good, wait until you start reading the story.

Rapunzel is charming, Jack’s fast-talking humor make him easy to love, and the setting itself is so original that it’s easy to forget you might have met these characters before. Sometimes retellings of classic tales get it wrong. They’re completely off-base and make no sense or just a dry, pale, rehash of the original. Rapunzel’s Revenge is one that gets everything right.

Punzie and Jack’s adventures continue in Calamity Jack.

Possible Pairings: The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne and Giselle Potter, Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monks, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin

Princess Academy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Princess Academy by Shannon HaleFourteen-year-old Miri wants a lot of things. She wants to be useful to her family. She wants to be taller and stronger. She wants desperately to work in the quarry and understand quarry speak the way everyone else on Mount Eskel does.

What Miri doesn’t want is to be a princess. At least, she doesn’t think she does.

There isn’t much room on Mount Eskel for princesses anyway. The mountain landscape is as beautiful as the linder stone the villagers mine for their livelihood but life there is hard. Lowland traders come to buy the mined linder, but it’s barely enough to secure food for the winter.

Be that as it may, the lowlander priests of the creator god read the omens and divined that Mount Eskel is the home of the Danland Prince’s future bride.

An academy is quickly established for the eligible girls to learn to be proper princesses. At the academy the girls will learn the finer points of commerce, politics, negotiation and the art of conversation. Poise, dancing, and etiquette will also be on the table among other things.

None of which interests Miri one bit. She doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to stay on Mount Eskel with her family. Except . . . Wouldn’t she prove how valuable she really is if she becomes princess?

It doesn’t take long for the other girls to have similar thoughts and competition soon becomes fierce. Miri is determined to prove herself but it might not take a tiara and a fine gown to do that, it might take a little thing called pluck in Princess Academy (2005) by Shannon Hale–a Newbery Honor book in 2006.

Despite what the title might suggest, Princess Academy is anything but girly. Miri and her friends are some of the toughest, most resilient characters around. The academy itself is also more than comportment and pretty dresses. There are arguments, bandits, and a very scary and very dark closet. No one said it would be easy becoming a princess.

Princess Academy is an honest, often funny book about learning that it takes more than physical strength to make a person strong. Miri is a real girl struggling to make sense of what it means to be a young woman instead of a girl while trying to make sense of what it might mean to be a princess. It is delightful to watch Miri’s world open up as she realizes there can be more to her life than Mount Eskel and see what this smart, brave character does with that knowledge.

Hale’s writing is snappy and engaging. Miri’s internal struggle with her desire to be a princess and her ties to Mount Eskel feel so real that most readers will not be able to guess  Miri’s true desires until the very end (let alone which girl will become the princess!).

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede