The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons by Barbara Mariconda

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons, by Barbara Mariconda, was published in 2012 by Katherine Tegen.

An enchanted flute that vibrates when danger is near, sparkling mist that unlocks a drawer of family secrets, and a bookcase that expands to conceal her hiding place—these are the bits of magic Lucy P. Simmons has experienced since her parents drowned at sea. The magic is helping Lucy keep her house—Father’s beloved “ship on shore”—out of the hands of her greedy uncle Victor. Lucy thinks the magic is coming from Marni, a mysterious woman who seems to be one with the sea itself…and who bears a striking resemblance to the mythical siren in the painting in Father’s study. Together, Lucy and Marni devise a plan to stop Uncle Victor’s conniving ways. In the process, Lucy makes unexpected friends and discovers that courage may be the most powerful magic of all. But will it be enough to prevail in the face of her evil uncle?

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I think some of it is very beautiful. The descriptions of magic and the emphasis on the sea and sailing are some of the better prose in the book. The visual image of the house’s transformation at the end is striking. I also really like the cover art and the little glimpses of alternate-America (or, I guess, magic America). And it’s a good story, for the most part, although I thought Uncle Victor was over-the-top.

On the other hand, I felt that this book was incomplete. Is there supposed to be a second book? A number of things were left unresolved, such as who Marni is and the mystery of Lucy’s Aunt Pru. It also ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, which gave me the feeling that Lucy’s adventures hadn’t even started—that what I had been reading was just a precursor. I also felt the title didn’t quite fit, since the end of the book shows that Lucy is just starting her voyage. I suppose the title could mean a metaphorical voyage rather than a literal one.

I also felt as if the magic and the flute could have been much better explained. Why was the magic there? Was it attached to the flute? Why did it want to protect the house? What’s up with that song Lucy was singing, the one with no words? I initially thought the book would be about Lucy finding the words to the song that was mentioned so many times as not having any lyrics. But I guess not, since apparently that wasn’t important at all. Or maybe it will be, in the future, if there’s another book?

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

I picked up the ivory-handled magnifying glass from Father’s desk and approached the painting. With trembling hands I held the glass up, and the circle behind it sprang into view, increasing impressively in both size and detail.

The wavy-edged imaged in the glass fairly sparkled as it tripled in size. And I stared at the siren in the moonlit sea approaching the ship, her silvery hair streaming out behind her.

I shook my head and stepped away from the painting. Perhaps my imagination was getting the better of me, but the siren in the painting and the woman on the path could have been one and the same.

Overall Review:

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons has some beautiful imagery and prose in parts, but in others it’s clumsy or over-the-top. I thought it was a good story, with some nice detail and a nice dash of originality, but it felt incomplete when it ended. There were too many unresolved questions, such as the issue with Marni, and I finished the book thinking that I had only read the prologue.

You can buy this here: The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons

The Alchemist’s Theorem by Margaret R. Chiavetta

Disclaimer: The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise, by Margaret Chiavetta, was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Mendel, an eccentric boy with an autistic nature, and the master alchemist Sir Duffy set out on a series of quests with their many weird and endearing creature companions like Esther the snake-ish gusselsnuff, and Gooder the fat, lazy, carnivorous horse. These determined travelers must venture across the continent of Terra Copia, an exotic land where the plants and animals in one forest are completely different from the next. It is up to them to safeguard secrets and dangerous artifacts from many enemies such as agents from the Academy of Advanced Disciplines, venomous pixies, and a mysterious pale stranger. If they fail, a terrifying curse will return to their land.

The Alchemist’s Theorem is one of those books that gets better as it goes along. It starts off by shouting “Fantasy world! New things! Here’s how stuff works!” and infodumping a colossal amount in one of the longest first chapters I’ve ever read. Then it starts to level out a little and incorporates the worldbuilding more smoothly into the material, although the chapters remain of mammoth proportion. Since the chapters are so long, the book itself seems incredibly short, with most of the action crammed into the last two chapters.

It’s a clunky thing overall in terms of pacing and worldbuilding (and why are horses called horses and cats called cats, but everything else has a different name? Even the other non-fantasy animals, like elephants, are not called “elephants”), but there’s something endearing about The Alchemist’s Theorem. While I felt that the writing could be much improved, especially in the descriptions, the characters were memorable and I liked the decision to make the main character autistic, since children’s and middle grade books as a whole desperately need more physically and/or mentally disabled/deficient protagonists. I won’t say that the characterization was perfect, but I at least liked the idea of what Chiavetta was going for.

There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement, but The Alchemist’s Theorem was engaging and Mendel was a loveable boy who I wanted to hug throughout the book. The reveal of the identity of the Great Lady was well done, as I wasn’t expecting it, and I see lots of potential for both the series as the whole and for Chiavetta as a writer.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: Some violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

You can buy this here: The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise & paperbacks can be ordered wholesale through Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Where She Belongs by Johnnie Alexander

Disclaimer: Where She Belongs, by Johnnie Alexander, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Shelby Kincaid is ready to move forward after the death of her husband left her devastated. With high hopes for the future, she longs to purchase her family’s homestead, Misty Willow, so she can raise her young daughters in the only place she ever truly belonged. She plans to transform the abandoned house into the perfect home of her memories. But she has her work cut out for her. AJ Sullivan never wanted Shelby’s family homestead in the first place. His grandfather left it to him as punishment for not following his wishes, and he’s let it fall into ruin. AJ’s more than happy to unload it to this spitfire of a woman. But even after angry exchanges over the state of the house, je can’t get her off his mind.

My main problem with Where She Belongs is that it suffers from a bad case of “takes too long to get to the point.” I had to wait through around ten chapters for one character to find out something I had figured out the moment two other characters appeared on screen; then I had to sit through several more as more characters plodded along in their ignorance until, finally, they caught up to where I was and found out what I already knew.

So, yes, the plot was slow as molasses, but parts of it were interesting. I liked the tension between the two families at the beginning of the novel, though it fell flat for me by the end when I was sick of waiting for the characters to catch up to me. I thought the romance was more original than some, though the hot-and-cold, “She’s so beautiful when she’s angry” stuff is annoying. And I am very tired of all the similar-sounding, similar-acting female protagonists that have been in the review copies I’ve read. I’d like to read something beyond the spirited, witty-comebacks-always-at-hand, super put-together female who the handsome, usually in almost every way perfect man falls for.

I will say, though, that I thought Brett’s character was the best part of Where She Belongs. It’s almost too much of a “This woman changed me forever” type-plot, but it works well, and it makes Brett even more interesting than AJ. He also goes through much more change and development than AJ, who seems even more one-note after Brett’s schemes, apologies, and then overall turn-around. He’s piqued my curiosity—maybe even enough to read the sequel.

My rating: 2/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: Where She Belongs

The Opal Crown by Jenny Lundquist

The Opal Crown, by Jenny Lundquist, was published in 2014 by Running Press. It is the sequel to The Princess in the Opal Mask.

Spoilers for The Princess in the Opal Mask.

A year after her betrothal to the Kyrenican prince, no one has suspected that Princess Wilha has been a decoy—and that Elara, her secret twin sister, has been pretending to be Wilha all along. Back in Galandria, their kingdom is deteriorating, and returning home could bring peace—or add fuel to the slow-burning fire. When their father, the king, mysteriously dies and Elara and Wilha’s younger brother, Andrei, claims the Galandrian throne, he reveals the girls’ deception. Viewed as traitors, they realize they are now fighting for their lives—and for their country.

So, when I read The Princess in the Opal Mask, I wanted Wilha to be more assertive in the sequel. And oh, boy, is she! Wilha does some amazing things in The Opal Crown and is exactly the sort of protagonist I like: not domineering or stubborn (like Elara), but subtly strong, overcoming her weaknesses and becoming stronger because of it. Quiet strong.

Also from Princess, I found Elara irritating at times, and she really kicked it up in this book. It got to the point where I could barely stand her and wanted her to shut up and give the viewpoint back to Wilha (although she was most annoying in Wilha’s viewpoints, so I was really out of luck). Elara is arrogant and stubborn and thinks she knows better than anyone what to do. At least she realizes that at the end and takes some steps in the right direction, but by that point I was past caring (although I did like her and Stefan better than Wilha and Patric).

I thought The Opal Crown had a much tighter plot than Princess, and there was less “oh, if only this had happened instead!” moments, which was good. The middle dragged a tiny bit, but overall it was nicely paced, with good development. There wasn’t a lot of twists and surprises (and the biggest reveal was one that I thought was already true in the world but apparently I had just misread, so it lacked impact), but I don’t think the book really needed a lot—Lundquist handled everything well enough that it wasn’t noticeable.

The worst parts of the book were Elara’s arrogance and the romance between Wilha and Patric, which I found cheesy. While I liked Wilha better than Elara, I preferred Elara’s romantic subplot to Wilha’s.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“How have my niece and nephew been treating you?” he asks.

“Did you know?” I say, ignoring his question.

“Did I know what?”

“That Lord Murcendor had returned to Allegria.”

He pauses. “Yes, I did.”

“How could you? You know what happened that night. What he tried to do. What he would have done to her if—”

“Her?” Lord Royce seems genuinely surprised. “I was under the impression it was you who was posing as the Masked Princess on the night of the masquerade.”

Overall Review:

The Opal Crown makes Wilha more awesome, but Elara more annoying. Yet a lot of the flaws I saw in the first book were smoothed out in this one, making for an enjoyable, suspenseful read that only dragged in the middle a little. My misreading or misremembering of certain things from the first book made some of the plot reveals more confusing than surprising, but overall, I found this book an improvement over the first.

You can buy this here: The Opal Crown

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage.

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing so far! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia has become mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners. Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a school trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot—one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot—and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

I love the way this book balances on the edge between “serious” and “so not taking itself seriously.” Etiquette & Espionage was charmingly (and surprisingly) droll, and Curtsies & Conspiracies continues that trend with some serious character development in between the shenanigans and ladies fainting.

Speaking of ladies fainting, let me say how much I love that Carriger is portraying awesome ladies as ladies, not as male mimics. Vieve is the exception to that, but all the other girls at the finishing school are learning to be awesome through tea serving, fainting, and sewing. It just goes to show that females don’t have to mimic what men do to be capable and amazing and strong.

I absolutely loved the final part of the book where Sophronia, Sidheag and Soap infiltrate the vampire hive using all the skills that they learned at the finishing school to win the day. Controlling the situation through confusion has always been a favorite trope of mine to read, and it was particularly awesome in this book which is full of delightful confusion everywhere.

However, as with the first book, I’m still unsure as to what Picklemen are. Some sort of supernatural creature? A secret group? Did I just miss the explanation in the first book? My confusion over who these guys are put a slight damper on the otherwise lovely book.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: There’s one part where Sidheag explains the male anatomy to the other girls. It’s played for laughs, but still deserving of a warning.

Genre: Steampunk, Young Adult

“Henri Giffard is scheduled to float, from France, in the very first transcontinental dirigible!”

This was of little consequence. After all, they spent all day every day floating about in an overlarge dirigible. Sophronia waited to be impressed.

“And he has said he will do it in under an hour using aether currents.”

This was met with pure shock. Even some of the boys looked surprised.

Float inside the aetherospehre? Inside the currents that swirled above the air itself? Unheard of!

“Those with the scientific know-how”—Mademoiselle Geraldine gestured at Professors Shrimpdittle and Lefoux—“tell me that he is most likely to succeed due to some exciting new valve technology. It is deemed that such a monumental historical occurrence is worth uprooting our entire establishment to witness in person.”

Sophronia was caught up in the metaphor of uprooting a floating school.

Overall Review:

Curtsies & Conspiracies continues the serious-but-so-not-serious tone of the first book, coupling that with fun shenanigans and an overall wit that really makes the book (and the series) shine. I love the girls’ obsessions with being proper while contemplating how many foxgloves it takes to kill a dinner party. However, I’m still confused about those darn Picklemen.

You can buy this here: Curtsies & Conspiracies

Hannah’s Choice by Jan Drexler

Disclaimer: Hannah’s Choice, by Jan Drexler, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Hannah Yoder loves her quiet life on the banks of Conestoga Creek. In 1842, this corner of Lancaster County is settled and peaceful—yet problems lurk beneath the placid façade. Hannah strives to be the one person who and bind the threads of her family together in spite of her father’s worries, her mother’s depression, and her sister’s rebellious ways. But her world threatens to unravel. When two young men seek her hand in marriage—one offering the home she craves and the other promising the adventure of following God’s call west—Hannah must make a choice. Will she stay true to the faith of her family or defy her father and abandon her community.

I found the dynamic and relationships in Hannah’s Choice very interesting, and somewhat unique from what I’ve read in the genre. Drexler seemed much more concerned with accurately depicting the Amish lifestyle than pushing some sort of hidden Christian message applicable to today. The “should we or shouldn’t we help the slaves” conflict between Hannah and Adam was fascinating to me, not least of which because while I mostly agreed more with Adam, I could see Hannah’s point, too, and understand why she thought that way.

I also thought it interesting that both potential love interests were flawed in some major way. Usually in Christian romances the love interest(s) are near-perfect paragons of humanity, so it was a refreshing (and realistic) change of pace to have two men who made some pretty serious mistakes in terms of relationships. In fact, for a moment I thought Drexler was going to make Hannah marry no one because both love interests were not up to par for a healthy relationship, but then it turned around.

I did find some aspects of the novel jarring, such as the abruptness of what happens to Liesbet and the very quick turnaround afterwards, almost as if it never happened, and the pacing was jerky and uneven, but overall I thought Hannah’s Choice quite good, if only for the character uniqueness of the romance and the attention to Amish beliefs.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: Some small violence.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: Hannah’s Choice

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2015 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Cress.

Spoilers for the Lunar Chronicles.

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

I loved the first three Lunar Chronicle books and I could hardly wait to start reading Winter. Unfortunately, though, Winter was a huge disappointment. The thing I enjoyed most about the first three Lunar Chronicle books was the devotion to and adaptation of the respective fairy tale without neglecting or skimping on original plot. Yet in Winter, the fairy tale was almost non-existent and hardly imaginative. Winter felt like a side character in her own novel due to the amount of time devoted to Cinder & Friends and their takeover of Luna. A better idea, in my opinion, would have been, if not to leave Winter out entirely, at least not make her Snow White and try to dedicate an entire book to her.

There were far too many viewpoint characters and far too much jumping around, and poor Winter’s plot really suffered because of it. Jacin had no personality and I could not have cared less about his romance with Winter. Again, it would have been far better not to have tied Winter with Snow White—a lot could have been cut out of the book that would have given it a needed trim and then there wouldn’t have been such a sad little Snow White retelling.

Other problems I had with Winter: I loved Cress and Thorne in Cress, but it bothered me to no end that he basically admitted he was just the type of guy who flirted with other girls and that Cress would have to deal with it. He didn’t say that, exactly, but it was very much implied. I’m sorry, but no.

Another problem I had was the tediousness of the plot as a whole. Winter is a whopping 800+ pages long, and boy, does the plot drag in places—especially the parts where one of the team gets caught again and then escapes again and then someone else gets manipulated by a Lunar again and then Cinder has to try to snatch them back/kill the thaumaturge again. After about the third iteration I was sick and tired of the characters committing the same mistakes and repeating the same process over and over.

The last problem I’ll talk about here is the whole Levana reveal as a whole. I didn’t actually read Fairest, the prequel that reveals some of Levana’s backstory, and maybe I missed out on something, but it really bothered me that at the end of it all, the thing that was revealed to be the crowning piece of evil on top of her evil head was that Levana had been using her glamour to hide her burn scars. The whole “she’s not just evil, she’s also UGLY AND SCARRED” vibe is just wrong on so many levels. Then Cinder has a “aw, poor thing” moment and out of everything that she could have felt pity about—such as Levana’s terrible childhood or the fact that the reason Levana is so sociopathic is because she’s never had a healthy relationship in her life and doesn’t understand how to do anything except manipulate people—it’s because Levana is burned. And it wasn’t a “what a traumatic thing that happened to you that was caused by your own family, I’m so sorry” pity thought, it was a “aw, poor thing, you’re so ugly” pity thought, which made Cinder seem more like the 30% machine she is and not the 70% human.

Also, I really don’t like the “machines are just like humans!” plot lines of science fiction.

There’s much more I could say about what disappointed me about Winter—sloppy plot reveals, dangling plot threads, and the deflated tension of Wolf’s transformation when you realize it didn’t even affect him at all and was used mainly as some sort of “I don’t care what you look like, Wolf, I still love you” plot—but I think my disappointment in the book is already clear. There were some things I enjoyed about it, but overall, Winter was a too-long, tedious, all-over-the-place finale and my enjoyment of the series as a whole has decreased because of it.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Winter gasped delightedly and laced her fingers beneath her chin. Everyone spun to her, startled at her presence, which was not uncommon. “Do you think the Earthens brought us gifts, Stepmother?”

Without waiting for a response, she lifted her skirts and trotted toward the cargo, climbing over the uneven stacks of crates and bins until she reached the lower level.

“Winter,” Levana snapped. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for presents!” she called back, giggling.

You can buy this here: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles)

Review Copy: Beyond the Silence by Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse

Disclaimer: Beyond the Silence, by Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Lillian Porter has always wanted to fulfill her mother’s dream of going west, so when she hears about a nanny position in Angels Camp, California, she defies her grandfather and takes a chance on a new future. But she quickly wonders if she made the right choice. Murky rumors swirl around Woodward Colton, her new employer, but the gossip doesn’t match the man Lillian comes to know. Still, something dark did happen in the family’s past. Lillian’s seven-year-old charge hasn’t spoken in over a year. Gently, Lillian tries to coax him out of his shell, hoping he’ll one day feel safe enough to share what scared him. But the Colton olive farm is no longer a safe place. Lillian encounters suspicious characters on their land and mysterious damage done to the farm. When the housekeeper is brutally attacked, the town once gain suspects the worst. Will discovering the truth help Lillian clear the name of the man she has come to love—or will it endanger her even more?

I enjoyed Beyond the Silence when I read it and even after looking back and noticing its flaws, I still think more positively of it than negatively. It was well-crafted, had a few interesting characters, and had more than enough sweetness and light moments to balance out the more grim sections.

All right, so the plot is incredibly predictable, Peterson and Woodhouse reveal the “dark past” of the Colton farm right off the bat and leave almost nothing else a mystery throughout the course of the book; the way they wrote the villain made me almost laugh out loud at one point; and Lillian is entirely too perfect of a character and just beams goodness and sweetness from every pore (which I guess is fine if you like that sort of character), but I still enjoyed the ride even if by the end of the book I was ready for it to be over.

The thing that irritated me the most, though, were the sentence fragments, which I thought were typos at first and then realized that they were being done on purpose. Why anyone would want to write in fragments or think they contribute to writing/description is beyond me. To me, they just break up the flow and make the sentences choppy.

Beyond the Silence is decent, with some small amounts of intrigue and suspense despite Peterson and Woodhouse revealing all their cards at the beginning of the novel. The romance is predictable and boring, but Jimmy and Harry are the highlights of the novel. Harry especially gives the book an Of Mice and Men feel that helps to lift the book out of the mire, and Jimmy’s fear makes sense even if Darwin’s threats and overall villainy feel cardboard and flat most of the time. Enjoyable, but not outstanding or memorable in any way.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: Beyond the Silence

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes, was published in 2003 by Greenwillow Books.

Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends. But they weren’t—and now all that is left are eerie connections between two girls who were in the same grade at school and who both kept the same secret without knowing it. Now Martha can’t stop thinking about Olive. A family summer on Cape Cod should help banish those thoughts; instead, they seep in everywhere. And this year Martha’s routine at her beloved grandmother’s beachside house is complicated by the Manning boys. Jimmy, Tate, Todd, Luke, and Leo. But especially Jimmy. What if, what if, what if, what if? The world can change in a minute.

Henkes captures the awkward adolescent stage of girls so perfectly in this book. Martha is overdramatic, switches between hating, loving, and being embarrassed by her parents at a drop of the hat, and has butterflies over an older boy who pays attention to her. She hates change and at the same time craves it.

I think what I liked most about Olive’s Ocean was Martha’s thoughts. Perhaps it was the budding writer in her, but she thought deeply about things, especially Olive, and many of her actions were the result of her deep thinking. I enjoyed the glimpse of a young girl thinking through things, looking at the world around her and thinking about it, examining relationships and people. It’s a very thoughtful book, all around.

Still not a fan of preteen love, but at least it was really well done here, and mostly I thought it was cute. So, kudos to Henkes for making me not hate it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: This book was apparently challenged because of sexual content. The only sexual content in this book is the word “sex.”

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“I want to be a writer,” she announced slowly and softly, “unlike Dad. But it’s a secret,” she added quickly, her voice rising, indicating importance.

Godbee tripped the brim of her straw hat back. “How wonderful,” she whispered. “That’s great. A writer.”

Martha widened her eyes at the sea and blinked. Telling someone made it seem real. She nibbled on her bottom lip, holding back a smile.

“I didn’t even bring books to read this year,” said Martha. “So I can write.”

“My,” said Godbee. “That’s serious.”

Overall Review:

Olive’s Ocean is a very thoughtful book, and I enjoyed both Martha’s deep thoughts and Henkes’s spot-on portrayal of an adolescent girl with all her drama and mood swings. The crush/love aspect of it was cute enough that I didn’t mind it all that much, and even though Henkes has some interesting ways to describe things, I still thought it was a delightful book.

You can buy this here: Olive’s Ocean

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2015 by HarperTeen.

A prince. A ball. A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight. The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after. But it is not the true Story. A dark fortress. A past forgotten. A life of servitude. No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems like freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

Ash & Bramble is strange, but it’s a wonderfully unique, refreshing fairy tale retelling. In fact, Prineas creates a world where all the villain does is recreate fairy tales, with as many retellings as a rebellious people attempting to overthrow a powerful force can manage. And yes, it does start out strange, but once Pin gets to the city and begins her “Cinderella story,” things get less strange and more interesting.

However, I would have liked the book better if it didn’t have the awful “girl falls in love with first boy she meets” plot as well as the “girl is obviously someone important, probably the person or relative of the person who tried to thwart the villain” plot. Pin and Shoe’s romance begins impossibly fast and mostly consists of “oh man his hands are so warm I love him.” The fact that he’s also the only male around at first makes it worse. And Pin is obviously Super Special and so the story is not really about “ordinary girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale” but about “magical girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale because she’s magical and can do that.” It’s lessened slightly because of Shoe, who is not magical and yet does some storybreaking of his own, but I wish Pin had been some average, ordinary girl rather than who she turned out to be.

Kudos to Prineas, who succeeded in making Ash & Bramble a refreshing retelling of Cinderella, and a refreshing fairy tale retelling in general, despite its initial strangeness and the awkwardness of switching points of view every chapter. However, the romance and some of the plot archetypes irritated me, to the point where I can neither A+, two-thumbs-up recommend the book nor tell you to stay away from it.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Young Adult

“What is that?” Shoe asks at my shoulder.

With anyone else, I would hide it, but for him I open my hand; the thimble gleams silver on my palm.
“It’s from the Before,” I whisper.

His eyes widen as he stares down at it; then he looks soberly at me, and I feel as if I could fall into his green eyes, into the promise of the forest outside. My knees wobble and I clench my hand around the thimble. He takes my arms, steadying me, and for just a moment my faint flame kindles to his; between us, the thimble burns with a sudden flash of light that leaks from between my fingers. Suddenly I can feel how strange the thimble is—its power, its potential.

He closes his hand over mine. “Keep it hidden,” he says, his voice ragged.

You can buy this book here: Ash & Bramble