Review: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

15766776Title: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Author: Liesl Shurtliff

Publishing Information: April 9th 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Genre: Middle Grade, Fairy Tales, Retellings, Fantasy, Magic

Series information: Standalone

Format: Hardcover, 272 pages

Source: Borrowed from my local library

Recommended For: Fans of Christopher Healy and Adam Gidwitz, readers looking for a fun and lighthearted read

This novel was positively adorable. You may think you know the story of Rumpelstiltskin, but what of the child who became the man? As in the original tale, names hold power in this debut middle grade novel, a name is someone’s destiny, but who controls it?

This novel is run by its characters, and it’s a good thing too because they were all vibrant and interesting, and altogether enjoyable. Rump was a steller character, it was so easy to root for him throughout the novel and I personally wanted to just pluck him out of the novel, fatten him up, and keep him in my pocket, safe from harm. I have to say that as a reader, I was expecting Rump to turn into the villain that most of us know from childhood tales, as this novel is telling the story of how he became who he is. Instead, Rump is a character I completely sympathized with and it was really refreshing to see him as a sweet and innocent child.

His best friend Red was feisty and I sincerely hope that the author has some plans to tell us her story because that is surely something that I would love to read. The other secondary characters were just as entertaining, though the trolls were by far my favorite. The villains were villainous but not overly so, just enough to make you grind your teeth in frustration and wish you could poke them directly in the eye or something equally appalling.

“Because some things people like to keep to themselves. This has always been my tree, and I don’t want anyone else to know about it. If you tell, I’ll punch your teeth out.”

“It made me feel really special that she would share it with me.”

I just feel as if I need to get this out of the way, what is up with these middle grade novels being so incredibly long?! That isn’t particularly a complaint because I adore them and there is of course no “right” way to write a novel but I can’t tell you how many times I was secretly wishing that the fabulous 400+ page MG I was reading was really only 300 or less.  The point of this mini rant is that Rump was not one of those overly long novels that make you wonder why so many ineffectual details have been included in an already fabulous tale. There are so many middle grade novels out there that feel too long, or on the other end, too juvenile, to entertain an array of readers. Thankfully this is not the case for Rump. Instead, readers are transformed to an entertaining, yet simple setting to watch a detailed yet straightforward plot unfold. This is not a novel that contains twists and turns, but there are enough obstacles that you will find yourself holding out hope that Rump is able to write his own destiny and escape the magic that holds him hostage.

Rump felt just right in the manner that it wasn’t lacking detail or plot in any way, yet it was also enough to undeniably entertain a reader of all ages. Fans of Christopher Healy and Adam Gidwitz will absolutely adore this book. If you are looking for a fun and lighthearted read, pick this one up immediately.

A condensed version of this review can be found at bookalicious.

Review: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy

16248123Title: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

Author: Christopher Healy

Publishing Information: April 30 2013, by Walden Pond Press

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Humor

Series information: Book two The League of Princes

Format: Hardcover, 496 pages

Source: Received an ARC from the publisher

Recommended For: Fans middle grade and fairy tale lovers of all ages

Alas, such fame and recognition only lasts so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening – even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.

One would assume that after saving the bards of the land, the Princes Charming would get some glorious fame. Unfortunately, as we learned in book one of The League of Princes, the bards don’t always get it right. Instead, Frederick and Ella are back to their boring day to day activities, Gustav is still living in the shadow of his older brothers, and Liam is still hiding from his bridezilla. Unfortunately for Liam, Briar Rose is no dummy and it doesn’t take long before she hatches a plan to steal her future husband and in turn, force him to marry her. One would assume that the league (and Ella, of course) would do their best to steal Liam back, but they are thwarted and get imprisoned by Briar, and therefore become stuck helping her steal back a magical sword from the child king, Deeb Rauber. Thus begins the tale of how the League of Princes (and Ella, and then later, Lila) embark on a journey to storm the castle.

I have to say, if The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom focused mainly on the Princes Charming, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle was very much led by the villains, and I’m not complaining! We see much more from the villains in this sequel and this reader is overjoyed by the complexity of the characters found in Storming the Castle, you guys know I love me some layered characters! Deeb Rauber is back again and he is just as childish and ruthless as he was in the first installment of the series. His character reminds the reader that as we grow, many of us lose our imagination that would enable us to make a torture chamber equipped with a spitball moistener. Briar Rose is just as prickly as she was in book one, but the reader is able to see a different side to her, one that makes your head tilt a bit and wonder if there is more to the spoiled brat than meets the eye. I was actually ecstatic to find that she was included in so many of the shenanigans that went on throughout the novel. My favorite, “villain,” (though he will argue that Bounty Hunting is a legitimate profession) was definitely Ruffian the Blue. I was really unsure of his motives at moments throughout the novel, but I found that every time he was on the page that he stole my heart a little. Perhaps it was the way he helped save Lila, or more probable, the way he argued his absolute need for his cowl.

Briar rubbed the fabric of Ruffian’s cowl between her thumb and forefinger. “Why aren’t you wearing a cloak? I wanted a henchman draped in a mysterious cloak.”
“How could the name of the garment possibly make a difference?” Ruffian asked.
“It sounds scarier,” Briar said. “‘Cowl’ is the least terrifying word I’ve ever heard.”
“Oh, I disagree,” Duncan added. “It makes me think of cow-owls. And those are horrifying. MOO-WHO! MOO-WHO!”

Other fantastic characters that had a bit more limelight were Snow White, Rapunzel, and Lila. You may remember that one thing I had hoped from this novel was that Mr. Healy would provide us with some more Rapunzel, and I am so glad to say that he didn’t disappoint. Rapunzel was as sweet and helpful as ever, and Snow White was adorably naive and loving, especially when sharing a scene with her just as lovable husband, Duncan. Lila, on the other hand, was daring, adventurous, and full of spirit, she was really like a younger, and equally amazing version of Ella. In few words, I loved her. The Princes Charming all had their own issues to handle and it was wonderful to watch as they grew and worked on themselves through the novel. I was very happy with the growth we saw in Gustav and found him particularly charming in a way that I somehow missed in the first book. One thing I can say for sure is that each of the Princes Charming holds their own in their own way and though they each carry their own unique baggage qualities, they all come together to form one spectacular group.

No one will be surprised to hear that I adored this novel, I was surprised at how Christopher Healy managed to again make me feel such a range of emotions, the most of which made me laugh out loud while reading. I won’t say that I was dissatisfied with the ending, rather that I had hoped for things to be tied up a bit differently. I can only assume that Mr. Healy plans to extend this series and eventually give the readers what they need in the form of a big ‘ol wedding. No, I won’t tell you who I’m rooting for! In short, everyone should read this series, I find it hard to not fall to my knees and thank the author for again delivering a book that made me feel like a kid again!

Review: In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

Title: In a Glass Grimmly

Author: Adam Gidwitz

Publishing Information: September 27, 2012, Dutton Children’s Books

Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

Series information: Companion novel to A Tale Dark and Grimm

Format: Paperback, 312 pages

Source: ARC from the publisher (BEA 2012)

Recommended For: Fans of fairytales, and fairy tale rewrites, anyone looking for a fun read

 Take caution ahead—

Oversize plant life, eerie amphibious royalty, and fear-inducing creatures abound.

Lest you enter with dread.

Follow Jack and Jill as they enter startling new landscapes that may (or may not) be scary, bloody, terrifying, and altogether true.

Step lively, dear reader . . .

Happily ever after isn’t cutting it anymore. 

It’s no question that I loved A Tale Dark and Grimm, it was one of my favorite reads of 2011 and I recommend it every possible chance that I get.  So imagine my surprise as I am stalking the Penguin booth at BEA and I see a HUGE poster showcasing the cover with artwork that looked suspiciously like that on the cover of A Tale Dark and Grimm. I stop in my tracks and my mouth hits the ground “HEIDI!” I scream, “DID YOU KNOW THERE IS A NEW GIDWITZ BOOK?!” People stared, I was nicely pushed along in the crowd and Heidi was all “Duh they are giving away ARCS on Thursday.” (Except a lot sweeter and more Heidi-like) so we did our best and FAILED to obtain one in the end. However, my awesome boss knows that I am slightly obsessed so when she obtained a copy for summer reading prizes she pressed it into my hands lovingly and said, “Go forth, and read to your heart’s desire.” And I did.

Like A Tale Dark and Grimm, this story focuses on two children who leave their homes due to humility and lack of positive parenting. They are joined by a frog, who has a story of his own to tell, and they all set out on some pretty interesting adventures. Through these adventures the story of Jack (and Jill) and the beanstalk are told, as well as Jack Jill the Giant Killer and we learn just how Jack broke his crown after tumbling (very far) down. There is also a pretty sinister mermaid story, which I utterly adored, some rather hungry goblins and an absolutely loveable yet terrifying salamander named Eidechse von Feuer, der Menschenfleischfressende, or Eddie, for short.

The hilarious narrator was back again to help sooth us through those tough moments and more importantly, to help explain what goblins really look like and not just what we think they look like due to the desensitization of video games. This brought a sense of humor to the already interesting and somewhat dark storylines that I really loved.

For those of you who enjoyed A Tale Dark and Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly does not disappoint. For those of you wondering if this is the book for you I urge you to give it a try, it was interesting, witty and all around fun. It was a joy to read and I thoroughly hope Adam Gidwitz continues writing these twisted tales as he really does a phenomenal job.

Review: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

Title: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Author: Christopher Healy

Publishing Information: May 1 2012, by Walden Pond Press

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Humor

Series information: Book one in a planned series

Format: Hardcover, 436 pages

Source: Borrowed from my local library

Recommended For: Fans middle grade and fairy tale lovers of all ages

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be. (Via Goodreads)

When you’re a child, you start reading books for the entertainment. You want to get away from the real world and feel elation over the adventure. That is what this book did for me; it made me remember how fun it is to read.

I for one have always wondered why every king and queen in fairytale land named their son Charming. It turns out, they didn’t. In fact, these princes all have their own unique name and story, though you’d never know it due to those pesky bards! The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom focuses on four separate Princes Charming: Prince Frederic (He met Cinderella Ella at a ball), Prince Gustav (He saved was saved by a gal named Rapunzel), Prince Liam (He kissed a princess named Briar Rose and woke her up from a really long nap), and Prince Duncan (He and Snow White are rather perfect for one another). The princes have their own quirks and are vastly different though they find themselves thrown together in a quest that will save all of their kingdoms and teach them all what it means to become heroes of their own tale.

Life between the princes and princesses is not what any of them had anticipated it would be…

Ella wants adventure and life with Frederic is not at all what she had imagined it would be when she met him that night at the ball. While Ella would rather travel and explore, Frederic is much happier having a quiet picnic on his grounds – on a blanket of course, one must keep clean – or quietly admiring art in the safety of his castle, this difference in personality leads Ella to go off on her own, leaving Frederic to his safe, (somewhat boring) life.

Gustav often acts before thinking and therefore his mission of rescuing Rapunzel from her tower didn’t go as planned and she ended up leaving on her own, finding him wandering the forest, and rescuing him. As you can imagine, this is a rather sore subject for someone who believes himself to be quite the manly hero so he takes off to search for some adventure of his own and a way to make a name for himself, away from Rapunzel and his sixteen older brothers.

Liam, though arrogant, is really a bit more like the Prince Charming from the original tales. He is handsome, brave and well, princely. Unfortunately, when Prince Liam first rescued Briar Rose, he did not anticipate that she would be spoiled, selfish and an all-together mean person. This led to a rather awkward conversation in which Liam refused to marry Briar Rose and she threw a royal fit and vowed that she would marry him while he stood in shackles if need be. He promptly (and intelligently, in my opinion) put as much distance possible between himself and the princess.

Finally, Prince Duncan and Snow White are married and are quite happy for the most part. However, Duncan is rather quirky and sometimes Snow just needs some quiet time so she asks Duncan to “Go do something else” without her. He then blows Snow a kiss, leaves for a walk and becomes hopelessly lost. Lucky for him (and he will be the first to tell you just how lucky he is) he is found a few days later by Frederic and Gustav who are on their way to “rescue” Ella. Personally, I loved Duncan beyond reason. His antics and outbursts had me laughing out loud. He is definitely one of the sweetest characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about.

“Wild card, got it,” Duncan said. “Just like in Crazy Eights. I can be a diamond; I can be a spade. Whatever you need me to be, I’m that thing. That is so me.”

Both the princes and princesses are fabulous, though I hope we hear more from Rapunzel in book two and I greatly appreciated their vast differences and limitations that made them all stand out. The villains were also fantastic; I have a rather soft spot for a witch who uses a thesaurus spell so that she can insult people more creatively! The dwarves (not dwarfs) provide some snarky fun and the trolls are vastly misunderstood creatures.

This book made me insanely happy. It made me remember what it was like to curl up with my first Wizard of Oz book as a child. It made me smile, giggle and laugh out loud, a feat that few books are able to accomplish. But most of all, it helped me realize that I really do have a soft spot for Middle Grade novels. Thank you, Mr. Healy, for reminding me what it feels like to fall in love with reading for the first time.

As an aside: There isn’t one thing I would change about this novel. On top of having a lyrical and phenomenal story, the illustrations were a wonderful compliment to the tale. Also, I am definitely not a person who longs for books to be made into movies. In fact, I rather hate when it happens. However, this book was different. According to Christopher Healy’s website, it has been announced that 20th Century Fox Animation has optioned the film rights to The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. I am thrilled and can’t wait to see where this goes!

For fun extras on the heroes and to find out what they’re up to next, check out Christopher Healy’s blog or twitter.

Review: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Title: The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Author: Chris Colfer

Publishing Information: July 17, 2012, Little Brown Young Readers

Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

Series information: Book one in a planned series

Format: Paperback, 438 pages

Source: ARC from the publisher (BEA 2012)

Recommended For: Lovers of fairy tales and retellings

Alex and Conner are doing their best to get by. Having recently lost their father to an accident, the twins live with their overworked mother in a small rental home and rely on one another for comfort. Alex is an overachiever, the teacher’s pet and the logical one of the two, whereas Conner is the comedian, and the more impulsive twin. Both children hold memories of their father close and look upon his stories when they need comfort. On their twelfth birthday, their grandmother comes to visit and brings her very old, very special storybook for them as a present. This book opens up a different world for the children in which the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about are real. The only problem here is that, not only are the heroes and princesses real, but also the Evil Queen and big bad wolves are real as well. These well known villains are on a hunt to find items for a wishing spell; the same items that the twins are hunting in order to wish themselves back home to their mother. Through this quest the twins meet a very pregnant Cinderella, a very vain Red Riding Hood, a few Kings Charming, and a host of other well known fantastical characters.

Anyone who knows me know that I love a good retelling and apparently the publisher was describing this one as “The Chronicles of Narnia meets Shrek.” Besides the falling through a wardrobe book to a fairy tale land, this book is nothing like Narnia. It would be easy to compare this to the numerous retellings out there today and I’ll admit that as I was reading I was thinking of the ways the book reminded me of Once Upon a Time, The 10th Kingdom, and yes, Shrek. However, while Chris Colfer was reminding me of all of the things I love about these former retellings, he was also showing me something different. New sides of old characters, surprisingly romantic interludes and a new kickass heroine.

One thing I loved even more than the characters in this novel was the different worlds that the author created. I’m a big fan of epic world building and Colfer penned the settings in a way that made it easy to see in my mind. When Conner asked, “What’s up with all the glitter?” while in the Fairy Kingdom, I really saw it sparkling. When the twins traveled to the Thornbush Pit, I felt myself cringing away as if I was the one who had to venture to the bottom. The only thing missing from this element was a good, detailed map of the kingdoms. I actually drew one for myself so I could keep track of where the twins were headed. (No judgy!)

I’ll be honest, I was wary going into this story. I know many of you had the same thought in your mind when you saw that the author of this novel was a well-known tv actor. To be quite honest, had I not received an ARC of this novel I might not have picked it up for a number of reasons. But let me tell you something, I am so glad that I did. I am beyond thrilled with this story and really rather impressed at Mr. Chris Colfer. Bravo, Kurt! Take that NYADA!

This excerpt provides the reader with a glimpse at the twins and their personalities. Primarily Conner and his humorous jibes toward his sister:

“Grazing around a perfect little stream ahead of them, to their amazement, was a herd of unicorns. They were beautiful: white with silver horns, silver hooves, and silver manes.

Conner’s forehead wrinkled, and his mouth dropped open. ‘Oh, jeez,’ he said. ‘That’s the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever seen in my life!’

‘I want to pet one!’ Alex said, and ran toward them.

‘Alex, be careful!’ Conner said. ‘They could have rabies!’

‘Unicorns don’t have rabies, Conner!’ Alex said.

You don’t know where those horns have been!’ Conner called out.

Alex walked up to the herd, slowing her pace so she wouldn’t spook them. They were so majestic and graceful, she just had to stop and admire them for a moment. One saw her and walked toward her…” (Page 262.)

This story was far from perfect but there were parts that made me laugh out loud, parts that made me a little misty eyed and parts that made me marvel at the level of angst, love and devotion in a middle grade novel. I highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

Review: On The Day I Died by Candace Fleming

Title: One the Day I Died

Author: Candace Fleming

Publishing Information: July 10th 2012 by Schwartz & Wade

Genre: Middle Grade, Short Stories, Parnormal, Ghost Stories

Series information: Standalone

Format: Hardcover, 208 pages

Source: Received an ARC from the publisher

Recommended For: Any lover of not so scary ghost stories

The phenomenally versatile, award-winning author, Candace Fleming, gives teen and older tween readers ten ghost stories sure to send chills up their spines. Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes place during a different time period from the 1860’s to the present, and ends with the narrator’s death. Some teens die heroically, others ironically, but all due to supernatural causes. Readers will meet walking corpses and witness demonic posession, all against the backdrop of Chicago’s rich history—the Great Depression, the World’s Fair, Al Capone and his fellow gangsters.
I am not a huge fan of short stories but I am definitely a huge fan of GHOST STORIES! I was so excited to receive this advance copy from Netgalley because it looked and sounded extremely creepy and I was not disappointed!

The story opens with a boy named Mike who is racing to get home by curfew. As he is coming to the bridge he sees a mysterious looking girl standing in the middle of the road (sound familiar, anyone?) he becomes intrigued and decides to give her a ride home. Suddenly, she disappears, leaving nothing behind but her shoes. Being that she has just told him exactly where she lives he decides to drive her shoes home to make sure she got in okay. An old woman opens the girl’s front door and explains to Mike that her daughter has been dead for almost fifty years and every year on the anniversary of her death she obtains a ride from someone driving over the bridge and requests that her shoes be placed on her grave in White Cemetary, a cemetery dedicated solely to teens who have died before their time. Mike ventures to the cemetery and finds the girl, along with many others who wish to tell their tale. Each story is intriguing and many are oozing with supernatural elements that really raise the hair on the back of your neck.

At the end of the book, the author provides some background evidence for each story and the real life inspirations for the characters and their untimely deaths. Though this book was showcased as a middle grade novel and I can’t say that I was ever actually scared while reading it, I was definitely freaked out in the best possible way. The author caters to different needs for the reader. For example, some readers will appreciate the “back from the dead” stereotype where I ADORED Scott’s story. His story was set in a mental hospital and I am slightly obsessed with anything supernatural relating to mental asylums. For some reason it just creeps me out in this magnificent way that has me craving more. Another fun story was based on the legendary “Monkey’s Paw.” There are few people who haven’t heard one version of this fable (or who haven’t seen The Simpsons Halloween Special) and Candace Fleming provided a really interesting new twist. When explaining where she obtained her inspiration she stated that she always wondered what happened to the monkey’s paw at the end of the story and she always imagined it ended up in a garage sale somewhere, which is exactly where her story picks up.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, the stories were just the right amount of creepy to keep me wanting more and I think that any lover of ghost stories will appreciate the different worlds that Candace Fleming creates.

Review: Storybound by Marissa Burt

Title: Storybound

Author: Marissa Burt

Publishing Information: April 3rd 2012 by Harper Collins Children’s

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure

Series information: Book 1

Format: Hardcover, 416 pages

Source: Received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Recommended For: Readers who enjoyed Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, or those looking for a story that reminds them about all of the things that they love about fairy tales.

In the land of Story, children go to school to learn to be characters: a perfect Hero, a trusty Sidekick, even the most dastardly Villain. They take classes on Outdoor Experiential Questing and Backstory, while adults search for full-time character work in stories written just for them.

In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story.

But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself…

Be prepared for a review where I squash any negativity regarding this book and sing its praises at the top of my metaphorical mountain!

Una is a child who doesn’t quite fit in. In fact, she feels as if she is an invisible being who even her teachers don’t see. That’s why she hides in the basement; she goes to her quiet corner and reads books that take her away from the drudgery of her daily life. That is, until the day that she finds a book entitled “The Tale of Una Fairchild,” which literally takes her away to the land of Story where she has been Written In to a young man’s final exam in which he must battle dragons and save the damsels in distress. It is after talking to Peter that Una realizes that she has been Written In to the land of Story, something that has not happened in a very long time, and something that can certainly mean danger or even death for poor Una.

As the story progresses, Una learns a little more about the land of Story and the characters that dwell there. She learns that there are significant differences between those labeled as villains and those who are actually villainous. Most importantly, she learns that she is not invisible but a very important part of this world that she has inadvertently traveled to.

I first added this novel to my “to-read” list because I knew it was a good choice for my debut author challenge, though I have to say that it is no question I would have picked this book up otherwise. I am not a lover of MG novels, though I have fallen in love with one or two, but I was so impressed by this story and the way it crossed the lines that usually define a novel. I want to first touch upon some issues other readers have had with this book. I have read many reviews stating that the book was “too long” to be a middle grade novel, that the point of view changes were too confusing and that readers were disappointed that we didn’t meet fairy tale characters that we knew but were introduced to fairy tale characters in training. First, yes the book is 400 pages long, but it is not at all a “long” book. I did not once find the book dragging or wish for more action. People of all ages can read and love these books, like books that came before (Goblet of Fire, anyone?) this book is one that can bridge the ages and be enjoyed by many readers despite how “long” it is. Second, the point of view changes did not bother me, at all. The author did not start a new chapter with a name so that the reader knew before starting the first sentence who was speaking, but within the first sentence of the paragraph it was easy to see whose point of view it was. It’s called close reading, people! Finally, its no question that I LOVE LOVE LOVE retellings and the whole modern character in a fairy tale world (see: Once Upon a Time) but the blurb of this story specifically says that the children are learning how to be fairy tale characters, not one thing about how she is transported to the land of Story and meets Cinderella! Okay, rage over, let’s move on to the awesome parts…

First, the plot is brilliant. I love my fairy tale retellings as much as the next gal but it was so refreshing to read this story about students who are learning how to be characters in a story! I was laughing out loud with Una as she tried to perfect her villain laugh for her exam and desperately wishing I could have been part of this world. Honestly? Haven’t yearned this much since I didn’t get my Hogwarts letter all those years ago, might still be a little bitter about that one…but anyway, the plot twists and adventure were found on every page and really kept me wanting to know what happened next. The little plot twist at the end was really amazing and I actually didn’t see it coming which makes me so happy!

The characters are all so loveable (or easily hated, I guess) and the book only made me want more from each one. I loved how the villains in this story were written in a way that made me sympathize with their predicaments and how Snow was portrayed as this snotty “Lady” but really she was just a scorned and sad daughter who wanted someone to love her. Obviously I loved Sam because well, he was a cat..but also because he was snarky and portrayed all the best cat-like qualities. Una and Peter we both very sweet and in a word, good which made me really see the differences between Peter and Endeavor Truepenny, I seriously look forward to seeing more from this character in book two.

Though I don’t usually do this, there were many lines that stood out for me in this novel and I want to share them..

“It became Una’s habit, on days that she felt especially invisible, to retire to the basement of the school library. Most students stayed on the main floor, grouped together at sunny tables, giggling over their math problems and English homework. But Una preferred the lower level, where she could sit undisturbed except for the odd student scurrying down to get some reference book needed for a research paper. She would tuck into her favorite desk underneath one of the high basement windows – half daydreaming, half reading – while the minutes flew by and she wondered what it would be like to live a different life.” – Page 2 of Storybound, completely reminiscent of myself when I was a child.
“She turned to go, but Horace pushed in front of her. ‘Ladies last,’ he said.

She took the toe of her boot and knocked the outside of his left foot in toward the right. It was just enough to throw him off balance, and he stumbled to the side. ‘But then, I’m not much of a Lady,’ she said as she pushed ahead of him.” – Page 314 of Storybound, this part encompasses all that I love about Una as a character, it made me smile and high five the book.

From page two this story drew me in. Marissa Burt writes a fantastic and beautiful narrative. I highly recommend it to those who enjoyed Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, or those looking for a story that reminds them about all of the things that they love about fairy tales.

Review: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Title: Dealing with Dragons

Publishing Information: September 18, 1990 by Sandpiper

Format: Hardcover, 212 pages

Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart…and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon…and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.

Title: Searching For Dragons

Publishing Information: November 1, 2002 by Sandpiper

Format: Hardcover, 242 pages

Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper, meets her match in the not-quite-kingly Mendanbar. With the aid of a broken-down magic carpet and a leaky magical sword, the two tackle a series of dragon-nappings.

Title: Calling on Dragons

Publishing Information: March 1, 2003 by Sandpiper

Format: Hardcover, 244 pages

Those wicked wizards are back–and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They intend to take over the Enchanted Forest once and for all…unless Cimorene finds a way to stop them. And some people think being queen is easy.

Title: Talking to Dragons

Publishing Information: March 1, 2003 by Sandpiper

Format: Hardcover, 255 pages

One day, Daystar’s mom, Cimorene, hands him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house. Daystar doesn’t know what he is supposed to do with the magic sword, but knowing Cimorene, he’s sure it must involve a dragon or two!

The characters in these books are hilarious and awesome. Cimorene is tired of being a princess, so she decides to move in with dragons and fight off her own knights who try to rescue her. As a teen (okay and still today) this was awesome to me, I would have loved to live with dragons and have a hidden dragon treasure room full of old books! Morwen is the no nonsense witch with a house full of cats that only she can understand – except they really talk back to her, not to be confused with people like me who only pretend to have conversations with their cats. Moving on, there are of course, dragons!! Sweet ones, scary ones, allergic ones and some who have rather abrasive attitudes but overall they are big-hearted and highly entertaining.

I absolutely loved this series growing up, it was one of the first series I read as a teen and Patricia C. Wrede and Mercedes Lackey are two of the authors who really started my obsession for reading. These stories are light and fun and filled with everything a fairy tale needs. Patricia C. Wrede is an author who set the standards high for me as a teen and I still use these books as a basis when I am reading authors new to me with related stories, such as, Dragonswood or Seraphina and it is rare that I fall in love with an author’s work as much as I loved these books.Though these books may seem a little juvenile as an adult reader I still love them. The stories are entertaining and every time I read them I still find myself excited to see what will happen next. I still go back and read these books at least once a year and they still entertain me as they did years ago. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in a not so ordinary princess tale filled with dragons, friendships, strong characters and a few sweet romances.

Review: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Title: Wonder Show

Author: Hannah Barnaby

Publishing Information: March 20, 2012  by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Series information: Standalone

Format: Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: Received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Recommended For: Readers looking for a quick story that shows the beauty in the family that you choose, not the family that you’re born into.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and neighbors, allow me to change your lives! Step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show! You’ve read about them in magazines, these so-called human curiosities, this tribe of misfits—now come and see for yourselves. We’ve got a gent as tall as a tree, a lady with a beard, and don’t miss your chance to see the Wild Albinos of Bora Bora! Ask Madame Doula to peer into your future (only two dollars more if you want to know how you’re going to die).

And between these covers behold the greatest act of our display—Portia Remini, the strangest of the menagerie because she’s a ‘normal’ among the freaks, searching for a new beginning on the bally, far away from McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, said she could never leave . . .

Oh, it’s not for the faint of heart folks. If you’re prone to nightmares or you’ve got a weak ticker, you’d best move on. Within these pages lies a tale of abandonment, loss, misfortune for the rich and glory for the poor (and a little murder doesn’t hurt). It’s a story for the ages, but be warned: once you enter the Wonder Show you will never be the same.

I am very grateful to have received an ARC via Netgalley, the book will be published on March 20, 2012.

Story telling is a crucial part of Portia’s life, each night she listens to the stories of her family members and she has a natural talent for weaving stories of her own. Soon Portia’s life is turned upside down when everyone she knows leaves her promising that once they make enough money they will come back for her. Portia is left with her aunt who is not a very pleasant woman and after some time her aunt decides that Portia is too much of a burden so she drops her off at McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls. A man who goes by the name “Mister” owns McGreavey’s and he is a very unpleasant human being. Portia is determined to find her father so she does what she needs to do to gain information. After some traumatic events Portia decides to run away and gets caught up in the life of a misfit.

This book was very enjoyable, Hannah Barnaby does a great job storytelling and the characters were very unique and fun to read about. I was immediately sucked in to Portia’s world and the entire story had a vibrant feel to it. This story wasn’t all happiness though; it was actually quite the opposite. There were very real topics in this story such as abandonment, death and guilt and overall it was rather dark. There were parts that reminded me of the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket that I read a few years back, Count Olaf and Mister definitely share some characteristics. The highlight of Wonder Show was definitely the characters; they were all unique and “curious” in their own way.

My biggest disappointment in this story was that it wasn’t detailed enough, there could have been more to the story and the characters. The “misfits” were all so odd and I would have really enjoyed more of their back-stories and their relationships with Portia. The end of the story was endearing but it felt rushed and I couldn’t understand why it was happening as the relationships between the characters weren’t explored enough and their love for Portia was a little confusing to me. There was also an offhand comment about a ghost who follows Portia around yet it wasn’t explored further at all and I found that very disappointing. I suppose this means my biggest problem was that I wanted more from the novel, which isn’t exactly a negative thing.

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, I think it was a successful debut from Hannah Barnaby and I recommend it to those looking for a quick story that shows the beauty in the family that you choose, not the family that you’re born into.