Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

The Princess Curse--Merrie Haskell
September 2011 by Harper Collins
328 pages--Goodreads

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Sylvania, the prince offers a fabulous reward to anyone who cures the curse that forces the princesses to spend each night dancing to the point of exhaustion. Everyone who tries disappears or falls into an enchanted sleep.

Thirteen-year-old Reveka, a smart, courageous herbalist’s apprentice, decides to attempt to break the curse despite the danger. Unravelling the mystery behind the curse leads Reveka to the Underworld, and to save the princesses, Reveka will have to risk her soul.

The Princess Curse mashes-up  "The 12 Dancing Princesses," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Hades and Persephone" while also telling its own story.  Reveka is an awesome protagonist (even though I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce her name).  Her snarky disrespect is rather funny.  She's likable without being perfect and flawed without being infuriating.  She's practical and capable and just fun to read about.

Some readers have an issue with Reveka's goal of entering a convent, but during the middle ages, convents were on of the few places people could dedicate their lives to something other than just working really hard to stay alive.  A convent would be the only place she could become a master herbalist.  Also, I love how Reveka uses herbology (**SPOILER** and awesome underworld powers) to save the day.   

I wish we could have seen more of the underworld.  And dragons.  The fact that dragons were in this book needed to be more heavily advertised. 

The Princess Curse is a quick, enjoyable, curl up on the couch with cocoa read.  It left me longing for more (sequel? hopefully? write it please!).  This makes the second Christmas in a row I've read a fairy tale retelling.  TRADITION!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel

Skybreaker--Kenneth Oppel
November 2005 by Harper Collins
560 pages--Goodreads

A legendary ghost ship. An incredible treasure. A death-defying adventure.

Forty years ago, the airship Hyperion vanished with untold riches in its hold. Now, accompanied by heiress Kate de Vries and a mysterious gypsy, Matt Cruse is determined to recover the ship and its treasures. But 20,000 feet above the Earth's surface, pursued by those who have hunted the Hyperion since its disappearance, and surrounded by deadly high-altitude life forms, Matt and his companions soon find themselves fighting not only for the Hyperion—but for their very lives.

I really wanted to like Skybreaker, but it just wasn't as good as Airborn.  It was still fun, still exciting, but it had some glaring problems.

Airborn contained some deus ex machina here and there, but Skybreaker took it to a new level.  Oh no!  We're trapped by pirates with no chance of escape.  But wait!  The pirates have been electrocuted by a sky jellyfish.  What?  Again and again, Matt and company got stuck in hopeless situations and then were provided with miraculous escape routes.  I can accept this once or twice in a novel, but it happened too frequently here to ignore.

Matt was really possessive of Kate.  I get that he likes her and that he's hurt by some of her actions, but he took it too far.  He can feel like he's been punched in the gut, but to think to himself, "How dare she?" isn't okay.  He doesn't own her!  If she wants to flirt with other guys, she can.  She's her own person.  She's not even cheating on him since they have no defined relationship.  But no; how dare she.

I wanted to see more of Nadira.  I wanted her to be her awesome gypsy girl self, jumping off buildings and doing other daring things. Instead, she became fuel for a messy love quadrangle and an angst fest from Matt.  

Skybreaker was not as good as the first book, but it was still a fun romp, complete with sky pirates and a bit more steampunky.  It's just so darn compelling. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone--Shannon Hale
August 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
323 pages--Goodreads

Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city is a thrill to Miri. She and her princess academy friends have been brought to Asland to help the future princess Britta prepare for her wedding.There, Miri also has a chance to attend school-at the Queen's Castle. But as Miri befriends students who seem sophisticated and exciting she also learns that they have some frightening plans. Torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends' ideas, between an old love and a new crush, and between her small mountain home and the bustling city, Miri looks to find her own way in this new place.

When I heard that Shannon Hale was publishing Palace of Stone, my first thought was "No; Princess Academy's story is complete.  It does not need a sequel.  A sequel would diminish the story that already exists."  I still hold that position, but Palace of Stone isn't a sequel, weird as that sounds.  Yes, it takes place in the same world with the same characters, but it's not a sequel.  Rather than stretching the Mount Eskel story beyond what it has material for, Palace of Stone is its own story.  Hale explores new situations and new locations while holding onto the characters and spirit we love from the first book.

The political situation is excellently crafted.  Hale poses complicated situations that I think her younger readers will miss the nuances of, but I love them.  We Americans tend to be a overly gung-ho in support of revolutions, but Hale asks the hard questions.  Is it better to support the stability of a bad ruler while some people starve, or to incite rebellion which may improve things or may lead to complete anarchy and widespread starvation and violence?  This part of the plot is wrapped up a bit too easily and neatly, but Miri faces the issue's complexity enough that I'll take it.

Hale even makes a love triangle work!  This is no "Team Edward/Team Jacob" clone thrown in to garner sales from angsty teenage girls or to cover up lack of substance elsewhere in the plot. The triangle is used more as an external representation of Miri's torn allegiance between the familiarity of home and the excitement of new experiences in Asland, which is a much more interesting tension than a romantic one.

I love the characters; I love the world; I love the plot;  I love Hale's writing style.  Palace of Stone was exactly what I needed after a massive disappointment from a different book.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends with Boys--Faith Erin Hicks
February 2012 by First Second
220 pages--Goodreads

After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It's pretty terrifying.

Maggie's big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn't been the same.

Besides her brothers, Maggie's never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don't have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures.

Missing mothers...distant brothers...high friends... It's a lot to deal with. But there's just one more thing.


Friends with Boys is an excellent graphic novel about growing up. I can't really narrow the subject down more than that; it deals with friends and crushes and enemies and fathers and siblings and twins and mothers and fitting in and standing out and moving on and dealing with loss and new beginnings. For such a short novel, there was so much going on. Hicks perfectly captured the feel of high school: the isolation, the friendships, the crap "friends" put each other through.

I loved the illustration style. It fit perfectly with the story Hicks told and was deceptively simple. The illustrations were fun and quirky sometimes and deep and poignant at others. Hicks says so much with so little.

The ghost story was weaved in well. It wasn't over the top, as it easily could have been. It served as a way for Maggie to process and cope with all the stuff going on in her life, particularly her mom's abandonment of the family.

I picked up <i>Friends with Boys</i> expecting a quick, fun, fluffy contemporary story. It was fun, but it was also surprisingly deep. And as a bonus, one of my most reluctant readers loved it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Enchanted--Alethea Kontis
May 2012 by Harcourt's Children's Books
308 pages--Goodreads

It isn't easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past - and hers?

I loved all the references to well known and less known fairy tales, but Enchanted  wasn't as strong a retelling as I had hoped.  

First, there was the instalove.  It just didn't work, even for a fairy tale.  Retellings are a way to explore things that are skimmed over in the original tale, particularly the romance.  For me, retellings have to expand on the romance and have the characters more realistically fall in love over a longer span of time, at least a little bit.  Instead, Sunday kept love-at-first-sighting.  And she just wasn't smart in some scenes.  Really, Sunday.  You wake up in a dress that is not yours in a place you've never been before in the arms of a man who was not there when you passed out, and you're not at all worried?  Not even a little bit?  Not even when you first wake up before you get your bearings and realize it's the prince?  Really?  Come on!  You should freak out at least a little bit.  And Rumbold, you took too many liberties in that scene.

That wasn't the only aspect of the story that wasn't fully developed.  The climax was rushed.  So many fairy tales were pushed into that one scene that I wasn't sure exactly what was going on.  And why was the family suddenly okay with Wednesday and Sunday involving themselves with the royal family?  Weren't they supposed to hate them?  

I did like the scene where Sunday and her father swapped stories.  Honestly, Papa needed to be a bigger part of the story.  Familial relationships are sadly neglected in these types of stories.  I would have loved to see more of the father-daughter relationship.  And there should have been more Saturday.

In the end, I think Enchanted's biggest problem was trying to tell to much story in not enough time.  It wasn't the retelling for me.


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