Fairy Tale Friday: Cinder

Cinder is written by Marissa Meyer. It was published in 2012 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles. Meyer’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for.”

Thoughts:

This book is the perfect blend of science fiction and fairytale. The recognizable elements of the Cinderella fairy tale made me enjoy the science fiction elements even more as I looked forward to how Meyer would adapt the former to the latter. The science fiction element is also just plain good for YA, and it also reads slightly dystopian.

While the mystery behind Cinder is glaringly obvious, it doesn’t take away too much from the plot as a whole. In fact, it probably adds a little to the overall tension and anticipation of the novel as a whole. A lot of the thrill comes from wondering when, and where, Cinder will find out what the reader already knows, and what her reaction will be.

I also enjoyed the small bits of political shenanigans that went on, especially Kai’s decision at the end to give up Cinder in return for the peace of his empire. Granted, that peace won’t last very long, but Kai at least is thinking like a ruler and not a love-struck teenager.

This is definitely not a strict adaptation of Cinderella, but it doesn’t need to be. Meyer is simply using the fairy tale as a framework for her science fiction world, and she does it admirably.

However, I honestly think this book would have been better as a stand-alone novel. The threat of the plague itself is enough of a tension-builder to sustain the plot without the added arc of the Lunars, and Cinderella’s cyborg status would have allowed for the much-used YA theme of “accept yourself as you are” to be front and center. I suppose, though, that a stand-alone would have been more generic since I can picture what it would be like.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Cinder’s eye caught on something—a dark spot below Peony’s collarbone, visible just above the collar of her shirt. “Hold still,” she said, reaching forward.

Peony did the opposite, panicking and swiping at phantoms on her chest. “What? What is it? A bug? A spider?”

“I said, hold still!” Cinder grabbed Peony by the wrist, swiped at the spot—and froze.

Dropping Peony’s arm, she stumbled back.

“What? What is it?” Peony tugged on her shirt, trying to see, but then spotted another spot on the back of her hand.

She looked up at Cinder, blood draining from her face. “A…a rash?” she said. “From the car?”

Cinder gulped and neared her with hesitant footsteps, holding her breath. She reached again for Peony’s collarbone and pulled the fabric of her shirt down, revealing the entire spot in the moonlight. A splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple.

Her fingers trembled. She pulled way, meeting Peony’s gaze.

Peony screamed.

~Meyer 48-49

“You were eleven when you had your operation, correct?”

The question was not what she’d been expecting. “Yes…”

“And before that, you don’t remember anything?”

“Nothing. What does this have to do with—”

“But your adoptive parents? Surely they must have told you something about your childhood? Your background?”

Her right palm began to sweat. “My stepfather died not long after the accident, and Adri doesn’t like to talk about it, if she even knows anything. Adopting me wasn’t exactly her idea.”

“Do you know anything about your biological parents?”

~Meyer 175

Overall Review:

Cinder is a very good start to a quartet of science fiction-adapted fairy tales. The fairy tale elements mesh well with Meyer’s world, and are tweaked just enough so that they are both plausible for the world and recognizable to the reader. I think a stand-alone Cinder would have been fantastic, but series Cinder is quite good as is.

You can buy this here: Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles

Dragon’s Breath: “A Sword’s Name Shouldn’t Be Friendly”

Dragon’s Breath is written by E. D. Baker. It was published in 2003 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to The Frog Princess. Baker’s website can be found here.

Summary:

“Princess Emeralda (or Emma, as she is known) is just discovering her own talents—and lack of talents—for magic when her mother has a desperate request: their beautiful country of Greater Greensward is being invaded, and Emma must get her aunt Grassina to start protecting the kingdom with magic, or everything will be lost.

A simple search to reverse an old spell becomes an epic quest as Emma and Prince Eadric, her formerly froggy friend, defy the wily witches and wizards of the magical world.

From the bottom of the fishbowl sea, to the Dragon Olympics, to her own castle and her unpredictable family members, Emma proves she is a witch very much worthy of her inherited powers.”

Thoughts:

This book is even funnier than The Frog Princess, and has tons of nods to fairy tales and other fantastic elements. My favorite part of the book was the interaction with the dragons, although seeing Emma come into her powers and start winning at everything is pretty satisfying, too.

I also like the elements introduced in the books that pave the way for a sequel. In the first book, it was the introduction to Haywood, which naturally leads to this book being about breaking his curse. Then Grassina gets cursed, so the next book will naturally lead to Emma breaking that curse (Baker does this with The Wide-Awake Princess, too).

Emma has a sort of “Should I or shouldn’t I” when it comes to Eadric, which I think is a great change over the usual “And they all lived happily ever after.” I mean, it’s pretty obvious that Emma and Eadric will live happily ever after, but for once we’re seeing the journey to it.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Eadric had waited for me at the water’s edge. He was frowning, and I knew he wasn’t in a good mood. “Grassina was right when she said you should work on your spells. What were you thinking of with that last one? Winged creature? You could have called up anything from a gnat to a dragon!”

“I was trying to call a bird.”

“Some bird!” he said.

“At least I tried! I didn’t see you doing anything to save us.”

~Baker 55

“Sword, what’s your name?”

Light flashed on the blade as it began to sing.

My name is Ferdinand,

But you can call me Ferdy.

I’ve been told I sing too much,

I am a little wordy.

“My sword’s name is Ferdy? What kind of name is that for a sword?”

“I think it’s a nice name,” said Li’l. It’s kind of friendly.”

“A sword’s name shouldn’t be friendly! It should be elegant and powerful, a strong name for a strong weapon!”

~Baker 179

 Overall Review:

Dragon’s Breath is quite a charming book, and in many ways improves upon The Frog Princess simply by making everything bigger, in a sense. Ralf the dragon was adorable, and Emma had some truly awesome moments both pre- and post-Green Witch. What happened to Grassina is a bit sad, but sure to come out all right in the next book, which is obviously going to be about breaking that curse.

You can buy this here: Dragon’s Breath (Tales of the Frog Princess)

Princess Academy: The Title Makes It Sound Worse Than It Is

Princess Academy is written by Shannon Hale. It was published in 2005 by Bloomsbury. Hale’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s family pounds a living from the stone of the mountain itself. But Miri’s life will change forever when word comes that her small village is the home of the future princess. All eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life. At the school, Miri finds herself confronting bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen. Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates—and the future of their beloved village.”

Thoughts:

This wasn’t nearly as The Selection-esque as I feared. The girls are really getting educated, something that wasn’t previously available to them, and it makes all of them better able to help their village. The focus of the story isn’t so much on the competition itself as on family and relationships. It’s quite a wonderful story about those two things, really. Miri is a delightful protagonist—quietly unsure of herself, yet not outwardly angsting over her insecurities. Since she doesn’t speak much of her inner feelings, a lot of misunderstanding goes on, which also highlights the importance of communication.

I loved the quarry-speak “magic.” I loved it when Olana is testing them and the girls keep giving each other the answers. Also, the best line in the book is: “These girls are creepy.” Yes. Yes, they are. Creepy awesome, that is.

Peder and Miri’s relationship was so cute. I admit, at one point I thought that Hale was going to go with the obvious “the winner will be the protagonist and she will get the prince” (ala The Selection), but she doesn’t. Like I said, this book is about family and relationships, not fighting for the prince.

The only quibble I have is that it was a trifle convenient with Britta’s situation. But again, the focus was more on Mount Eskel than the prince, and Britta just makes that focus stand out even more.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Be warned that you will not easily meet my expectations,” said Olana. “I have very real doubts that mountain girls are capable of measuring up to other Danlanders. Your brains are naturally smaller, I’ve heard. Perhaps due to the thin mountain air?”

Miri glowered. Even if Olana’s promises were true, Miri would not want to marry a lowlander, a person who despised her and the mountain. Prince or no, he would be like Olana, like Enrik and the traders, like the chief delegate frowning at the sight of the mountain folk and all too eager to get back into his carriage and drive away.

She rubbed her eyes, and the clay on her fingers got under her lids and made them sting. She was tired of lowlanders belittling her and tired of wondering if they were right. She was going to show Olana that she was as smart as any Danlander. She was going to be academy princess.

~Hale 61

Miri sang the memory into the earth—the fly drumming on the window, Olana declaring the years, the class repeating. Perhaps Gerti had noticed the fly, too. Perhaps with that nudge, the memory would come forward for her and the sound of those years fall from her mind to her tongue. Miri’s vision shivered, her thoughts clicked, that moment painted itself in full color in her mind, but Gerti’s face did not change. Miri tried again, her quarry-speech song roaring inside her.

“If you haven’t remembered by now, Gerti, you won’t,” said Olana. “Now then, Liana, please name—”

“Two hundred and…” Gerti looked up. She appeared to be trying to taste something peculiar or identify a distant smell. “Two hundred and twelve to two hundred and, uh, seventy. Seventy-six, I mean, seventy-six.”

~Hale 188

Overall Review:

Princess Academy is not as much about the competition as I feared, but about family, relationships, and communication. It’s a delightful book with a delightful protagonist who both saves the day and helps her friends to save the day, too.

You can buy this here: Princess Academy

Wednesdays in the Tower: “You’re Not A Roc”

Wednesdays in the Tower is written by Jessica Day George. It was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle. George’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Wednesday at Castle Glower is an ordinary, ho-hum sort of day. No new hallways, no extra turrets, no sudden changes. At least according to Princess Celie, who knows the Castle better than anyone. So Celie is surprised when, one Wednesday, she happens upon a new tower, with a new room, and a giant orange egg hidden inside.

Celie doesn’t know what to do, and neither does her brother Bran, the new Royal Wizard. But the Castle knows. As staircases spring up and doorways disappear, the Castle’s plan becomes clear: Celie is to care for the egg and whatever creature it hatches! Of course, she hadn’t bargained for a pet, and this one will prove tricky, once Celie and her siblings realize what else the Castle is hiding….”

Thoughts:

More Castle Glower! More Celie! More fun! I love how George mixes the fun and humor with a pretty complex plot; it reminds me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones’s style. This plot goes into detail what was only glanced over in the first book, namely the origins of Castle Glower, and opened up the world in a nice way.

I have to say, the plot sort of blindsided me a bit. I wasn’t expecting griffins, or the Glorious Arkower, or the bit at the end. It was great, but unexpected. In a good way, though.

Speaking of griffins, Celie’s attempts to hide Rufus and her shock when Rolf just walks right by the door where Rufus is hidden were hilarious. I love the rapport between the siblings, and Lulath’s language is so much fun to read. These are some really great, memorable characters that George has created. And of course, who could forget the Castle?

Flat Squirrel. Chortle.

However, I’m not sure I like this book as much as the first. I’m still a bit blindsided by the plot, I think, and confused about what happened at the end. And there was a cliffhanger, sigh.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

The egg simply exploded, shards flying everywhere, as Celie cowered, her arms protecting her face. When it was done, she lowered her arms and looked at the wet, crying, and terribly hideous creature in the nest.

“You’re not a roc,” she said uncertainly.

The creature stumbled toward the sound of her voice, screeching. It tripped over its long lion’s tail and fell on its eagle face, wings entangled in its claws.

“What am I going to do with a griffin?” Celie wailed.

~George 17

“You are all the best of Grathian speakers,” Lulath enthused, spreading his arms wide.

Celie snapped her attention back to Lulath, who had just finished helping them through the last page of the Grathian primer they’d been studying. He looked like he was near tears, and his dogs, sensing his emotion, were prancing in circles around his feet.

“I never thought, that here in the Castle of Glower, I would have so many, many of friends who would come to a learning of my language!”

~George 129-130

Overall Review:

Same great cast of characters as the first book, same fun shenanigans and dialogue. The Glorious Arkower part of the plot really threw me off, and I’m still wondering if I like it or not. However, the plot really opens up the world that George created, which is a good thing.

You can buy this here: Wednesdays in the Tower

Spirit Animals: Wild Born: The Cover Is Cool, But That’s About It

Spirit Animals: Wild Born is written by Brandon Mull. It was published in 2013 by Scholastic. This is a book series a la The 39 Clues, with different authors writing each book. The website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“In the world of Erdas, four children are about to discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that gives great powers to both. Separated by vast distances, Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan each see a flash of light…and then the animals emerge.

Wolf, leopard, panda, falcon. Each of the children has summoned a beast from legend. Now their fate is set. The four new heroes and their animals must band together on a dangerous quest. A dark force from the past is rising, and only they have the power to stop it.”

Thoughts:

An interesting book overall. I liked the concept of the animals. Rollan was probably my favorite character; he was the sarcastic comic relief of the book. Also, it amused me that Abeke probably learned more about her spirit animal during her time with the bad guys than the other three did with the good guys.

It’s a small book, but Mull manages to put in a lot of set-up and areas for character development (Meilin….). There’s also quite a lot of worldbuilding, and it’s explained and incorporated pretty well.

That cover art is majestic.

However, I feel that books like this suffer a bit for too-fast development and pacing. They churn out a lot of these books in a short amount of time and so the quality drops, in my opinion. Mull did a good job handling it, but I felt that a longer book, with the capability of a slower pace, would have been better.

I liked the concept of the animals, but nothing special really stood out to me. It was just overall “meh.”

Also, fantasies need to stop calling the “English” of the book “Common.” And pointing out that their characters are speaking it.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: A bit of violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Now the largest wolf he had ever seen stood before him, head held high. It was a remarkable creature—long-limbed, well fed, with the most luxurious coat of gray-white fur Conor could have imagined. He took in large paws, keen claws, savage teeth, and striking cobalt-blue eyes.

Blue eyes?

In the history of Erdas, only one wolf had such deep blue eyes.

Conor glanced at the Euran flag hanging from the earl’s grandstand. Briggan the Wolf, patron beast of Era, stood depicted upon a rich blue banner, eyes shrewd and piercing.

~Mull 10-11

“I’m Tarik,” the Greencloak said. “I take it you’re Rollan?”

“I was trying to keep a low profile,” Rollan said. “How could you tell? It was the falcon, wasn’t it?”

“Meilin, Conor, I would like you to meet Rollan,” Tarik said. “He was born and raised here in Amaya. Just as you two summoned Jhi and Briggan, he called Essix.”

The wolf padded forward and the falcon fluttered down to stand before it. The panda moved in close as well, and Essix gave a soft screech. The three animals cautiously investigated each other.

~Mull 71-72

Overall Review:

An interesting concept, with cool animals and pretty decent worldbuilding, but overall, I thought there was too much going on, too fast, and the pace sort of ruined the experience for me. I didn’t hate it but it didn’t wow me, either.

You can buy this here: Spirit Animals: Book 1: Wild Born

Fairy Tale Friday: The Fairest Beauty

The Fairest Beauty is written by Melanie Dickerson. It was published in 2012 by Zondervan. Dickerson’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents, Rose and Wilhelm, by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry; the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.”

What I Liked:

This is a fairy tale retelling (Snow White) set in 1400s Germany with Christian overtones, and it is actually pretty decent, for the most part. I really enjoyed Dickerson’s “modernization” (medieval-ization?) of the seven dwarves, and overall the fairy tale of Snow White is easy to see, and yet distinct from its origins. Dickerson handled both the fairy tale and the setting very well, with emphasis on the penchant of royalty to be betrothed while they are young, the impropriety of a man and a woman being alone together, and the frequency of monasteries and places like the Cottage of the Seven for travelers to rest.

While I didn’t much like Sophie, I did like what her character insinuated. I thought it was nicely tied with the Christian themes, overall.

I really wanted to like this book, especially because of the Christian themes, but I just couldn’t. Sophie is way too perfect; her reaction to finding out Gabe is betrothed is not jealousy or hurt, but instead an “Oh, good, he deserves to be happy” moment. She perfectly understands other people’s motivations and is perfectly understanding to their actions. Neither she nor Gabe have any obvious flaws, and although Gabe mentions that he has changed since meeting Sophie, there wasn’t enough background given to really get a good sense of character development.

The romance is obvious, cliché, and mediocre, and it takes up way too much of the story. In fact, I think it sort of prevents Dickerson from really making her retelling of Snow White shine. I was happy, even impressed, with the retelling up until the duchess comes to the cottage, and then I felt that Dickerson sets aside the fairy tale to show us more symbolism and perpetuate the romance angst between Gabe and Sophie, even though it’s not necessary because you know from the beginning of the book that there is no way they aren’t getting together. I mean, I liked the symbolism, but it was a bit heavy-handed, and it’s at that point where Dickerson completely departs from the source material.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“I don’t even know if you are the duke’s daughter. If you are, then I’m here to help you. If you don’t believe me…” He let his voice trail off.

“If I did believe you—which would be the height of foolishness—can you explain how you plan to get away from the duchess without her killing us both?” The awful truth was Sophie desperately wanted to believe him. To be wanted, to belong to someone, to be betrothed…it filled her chest with the most delightful warmth and light.

And to be proven a fool will only lead to coldness and pain.

~Dickerson 59

Glancing around at the dust and cobwebs in every nook and corner, the house didn’t look like it had had a good cleaning in months. Perhaps I can help the men with a few things before I leave.

They started their meal in silence, as if the men were afraid of disturbing her. They all had good manners, much better than the servants Sophie was used to eating with.

~Dickerson 177-178

Overall Review:

I was impressed with the Snow White retelling of The Fairest Beauty until the mediocre, typical romance and the perfectness of Sophie became too much for me. I did like the Cottage of the Seven and the setting, and I think I will try to read one more of Dickerson’s fairy tales simply because I liked her take on Snow White, up to a certain point, and want to see what she does with some others.

You can buy this here: The Fairest Beauty

The City of Ember: Wow

The City of Ember is written by Jeanne DuPrau. It was published in 2003 by Random House. DuPrau’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Messengers spend their days outside, running from one corner of the city to the other. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworks laborer, which means she’ll be stuck in tunnels deep underground.

Doon Harrow draws messenger—and asks to trade with Lina! Doon wants to be underground. That’s where the generator is, and Doon has ideas about how to fix it. For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness that surrounds the city at bay. But now the lights are starting to flicker…

When Lina finds fragments of an ancient parchment, she and Doon put the pieces together to discover a message that seems to be the directions out of the city. Is there something beyond the endless darkness? It will take all of Lina and Doon’s bravery and ingenuity to find out—before the lights go out on Ember forever!”

What I Liked:

How I’ve gone so long without reading this book I don’t know. I remember seeing the trailer for the movie a while ago, and it sparked (ha!) my interest then, but apparently not enough to either see the movie or read the book. But now I have, and man…what a great book.

There is so much great significance in the entire premise of the book. Moving from Dark to Light…off the top of my head, I can think of three things to extrapolate from that: ignorance to wisdom, shadows to forms (Plato’s cave), and even the religious sense of death to life, made even more prominent by the appearance of the Believers in the book and Clary’s questions about where life came from.

Loved the realization Lina made that her desire for the colored pencils was a not a good desire to have. It was a selfish desire, and it was a damaging one. I’ll just quote the whole passage here because it’s so great:

“Still, something was wrong with grabbing the good things just because you could. It seemed not only unfair to everyone else but bad for the person who was doing it, somehow. She remembered the hunger she’d felt when Looper showed her the colored pencils. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. She didn’t want to want things that way.”

YES.

It’s a fairly formulaic book, and Lina and Doon aren’t terribly stand-out protagonists, but I loved the symbolism and themes so much that neither of those things bothered me.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Dystopian, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“It knows because it has life in it,” said Clary. “But where does life come from? What is life?”

Lina could see that words were welling up in Clary now; her eyes were bright, her cheeks were rosy.

“Take a lamp, for instance. When you plug it in, it comes alive, in a way. It lights up. That’s because it’s connected to a wire that’s connected to the generator, which is making electricity, though don’t ask me how. But a bean seed isn’t connected to anything. Neither are people. We don’t have plugs and wires that connect us to generators. What makes living things go is inside them somehow.” Her dark eyebrows drew together over her eyes. “What I mean is,” she said finally, “something is going on that we don’t understand. They say the Builders made the city. But who made the Builders? Who made us? I think the answer must be somewhere outside of Ember.”

~DuPrau 68

Finally, he turned to look at Lina. “I think you’re right,” he said. “I think this is important.”

“Oh, I was sure you’d think so!” Lina cried. She was so relieved that her words poured out in a rush. “Because you take things seriously! You told the truth to the mayor on Assignment Day. I didn’t want to believe it, but then came the long blackout, and I knew—I knew things were as bad as you said.” She stopped, breathless. She pointed to a word on the document. “This door,” she said. “It has to be a door that leads out of Ember.”

~DuPrau 125

Overall Review:

I pretty much loved everything about The City of Ember. A wonderful book that’s simple, but beautiful and thought-provoking. I especially loved the dark/light theme and Lina’s thoughts on desire.

You can buy this here: The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember)

The Winner’s Curse: Beautifully Written

The Winner’s Curse is written by Marie Rutkoski. It was published in 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux. Rutkoski’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imaged.”

What I Liked:

So, I usually tend to say if the writing is good or bad in a book that I read, but let me just expand a bit on what, to me, constitutes good writing. I’ve commented in the past on Lauren Oliver’s writing and on Ally Condie’s writing, both of which stood out to me in their respective dystopian trilogies. Rutkoski’s writing was like theirs, in a way, in that it stood out to me, but it wasn’t as beautiful or as poetic. Not in the same way, anyway. It was beautiful for a different reason: because for the first time, I felt as if every sentence had been carefully considered, that every word had been carefully chosen. It’s not a feeling I get at all in other books, and as a result that which would be cheesy in other books is not so at all here. Regardless of anything else in the book, this is a winner because of the writing.

When I first read the summary, I thought, “Oh, no. This is going to be one of those books where the girl falls in love with the enemy and then joins his side after realizing how bad her own side is.” However, Rutkoski mostly manages to avoid that, although she resorts to some pretty formulaic stuff to do it. Kestrel is still on the Valorian side and Arin is still on the Herrani side. They just make it so that the two sides stop fighting each other, at least for now.

I’m very curious to see the direction in which this trilogy goes. I can’t actually see it as a trilogy yet, and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book that makes the story go on for another.

I liked the world that Rutkoski created; very reminiscent of the Roman Empire age (which was her inspiration, according to the author’s note).

My main problem is that YA books always seem to romanticize romance and make the love interest too perfect, and this book follows that trend to a T.  Usually, the rules of the fantasy world set it up so that it’s plausible that a teenager would be more mature than his or her’s real-world counterpart, but there are way too many perfect boyfriends. It just something that stands out to me again and again as I read YA.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, war, a few intense descriptions of kissing.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

The price was now more than Kestrel had in her purse. The auctioneer looked like he barely knew what to do with himself. The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement.

Kestrel’s voice came out flat: “Fifty keystones.”

The sudden, stunned quiet hurt her ears. Jess gasped.

“Sold!” cried the auctioneer. His face was wild with joy. “To Lady Kestrel, for fifty keystones!” He tugged the slave off the block, and it was only then that the youth’s gaze broke away from Kestrel’s. He looked at the sand, so intently that he could have been reading his future there, until the auctioneer prodded him toward the pen.

Kestrel drew in a shaky breath. Her bones felt watery. What had she done?

~Rutkoski 14

“What a stupid thing for you to do. Why did you do that? Why would you do such a stupid thing?”

She thought of his claim that Enai could never have loved her, or if she had, it was a forced love.

“You might not think of me as your friend,” Kestrel told Arin, “but I think of you as mine.”

~Rutkoski 146

Overall Review:

The Winner’s Curse has beautiful writing, the best I’ve read in a while. The plot had turns at every step until I had no idea what was coming next; these weren’t jaw-dropping, shocking twists, but Rutkoski proves that you can do twists without making them twists. I’m curious to see where the next book goes, and it’s sad that I have to wait a year for it.

You can buy this here: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy)

Fairy Tale Friday: The Frog Princess

The Frog Princess is written by E. D. Baker. It was published in 2002 by Bloomsbury. Baker’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Princess Emeralda isn’t exactly an ideal princess. Her laugh sounds like a donkey’s bray rather than tinkling bells, she trips over her own feet more often than she gracefully curtsies, and she hates the young Prince Jorge whom her mother hopes she will marry. But if Emma, (as she is called), ever thought to escape from her frustrating life, she never expected it to happen by kissing a frog!

One kiss from this frog who calls himself Prince Eadric, and Emma’s whole life turns upside down…”

Thoughts:

So, apparently this book inspired the Disney film The Princess and the Frog. By “inspired,” I mean that Disney took the idea of the girl who kisses the frog turning into a frog (instead of the frog turning into a prince) and that’s pretty much it. The two really aren’t alike at all except for that.

I really enjoyed the twist of the kiss turning the girl/princess into a frog. It’s original, a great departure from the modern “Frog Prince” stories (interestingly enough, the original fairy tale had the frog turn back into a prince after the princess throws it against the wall, not through her kissing it), and is quite frankly a lot more interesting. It also allows more room for the princess to get involved in the action.

The characters were fresh (as in refreshing, not saucy) and funny and the world, though familiar in its magic and creatures, was not so familiar as to be boring or unoriginal. I loved the bat Li’l and the snake Fang; really, all the creatures Emma and Eadric run into are great.

While this is a stand-alone book, there are apparently a lot more books in the series and I’m looking forward to seeing where Baker takes Emma and Eadric next.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Fairy Tale

Passages/Quotes:

“Gross! Yuck!” I said, then spit until my mouth was dry.

“Good, huh?” asked Frog.

“Good? It was disgusting!” I wiped my tongue with my fingers trying to get rid of the taste.

“Be honest, now. What did it taste like?”

“Horrible!”

“Really?”

“Well,” I said reluctantly, “the plum was sour, but the fly was kind of sweet.”

“Ah-hah!” said Frog. “I knew you’d like it!”

~Baker 43

“You are the essence of beauty,” he began, his eyes raised adoringly to the nymph’s face. “You are my sun, my moon, my stars.”

“You’re a frog,” she said, noticing him at last. “I don’t talk to frogs.”

“I’m not just a frog.”

“You look like a frog to me,” she said, the tiniest frown wrinkling her flawless brow.

~Baker 123

Overall Review:

A delightful book all around. I love the twist on the original story, and Emma’s adventures with Eadric are fun and familiar and lend a type of charm to the whole book. Baker is quickly becoming my new favorite queen of fairy tales.

You can buy this here: The Frog Princess (Tales of the Frog Princess)

Handbook for Dragon Slayers: Books Are Totally Judged By Their Covers

Handbook for Dragon Slayers is written by Merrie Haskell. It was published in 2013 by HarperCollins. Haskell’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“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.”

What I Liked:

Right on the heels of a “rebellious” princess story that I actually liked comes another one! Tilda is rebellious not because it just seems to come naturally with the role of princess, but because a.) she’s afraid of what her people think about her and b.) she’s afraid that she can’t rule her people well. Give me that over random, no development, “I could never live that way!” statements any day. To make things even better, she recognizes that she has a duty, and she places that duty over her own feelings which she realizes were selfish, anyway. YES.

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was the cover art. If there’s any genre that does cover arts pretty well, it’s fantasy MG/YA. The cover art for this book is what got me to read it (and the interesting title).

Boethius is mentioned in this book! So is Plato! I’d never thought I’d ever see those two referenced in any MG/YA book, much less a fantasy one. But the world is pretty much a mythical old England, with references to those two philosophers plus mythology like the Wild Hunt and, of course, dragons.

I loved how over the course of the book that Tilda keeps running into people that are villains (or that she thinks are villains), but then realizes soon after that there are bigger villains then them. Hermannus, who is not a villain at all; Ivo, who is a minor villain; and Egin, who is the biggest villain. Although, perhaps the biggest villain in the book is Tilda herself, who starts out profoundly selfish and ignorant and then learns some great things about what ignorance does and is along the way (see my review of Black Beauty for additional joy over the dangers of ignorance).

What I Didn’t Like:

For all the great things in this book, I didn’t much care for the “main” theme, although I’m not sure whether it was the delivery of the theme or the actual theme itself. It seemed too simple of a theme for this type of book. But the emphasis on evil dragons versus evil humans was great.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: A bit of violence and scary images.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

I felt the ice mask descend on my face, and the bands of iron wrap around my heart once more. Alder Brook didn’t love me, and I didn’t love them. If they truly didn’t want me to be their princess…

“You can have it,” I said dully.

I’d caught him off guard. “What?”

I swallowed against the weird lump in my throat—part anger, part a hundred other feelings I couldn’t even name. “Yes. Alder Brooke is yours. They hate me. They think I’m cursed….So. Take it.”

~Haskell 45

“All right then,” I said, and patted the silver mare. “How do you feel about the name Joyeuse, my dear?”

The mare snorted a little, and the earth suddenly moved up, down, and sideways rapidly. “What just happened?” I asked.

Parz and Judith were staring at me. Or rather, at my horse.

“I think your horse just danced,” Judith said.

I tried not to look smug as I patted the mare again. “Joyeuse is clever like that.”

~Haskell 135

Overall Review:

A book about a princess that I can actually fully get behind instead of partly hating the overused rebellious trope! Also made doubly awesome by the mentions of Boethius and Plato, and there are some great messages about ignorance and selfishness too. Plus, the cover art is gorgeous.

You can buy this here: Handbook for Dragon Slayers

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