Review: Beauty

Title: Beauty
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: Purchased Kindle version
Availability: May 7, 2013

Summary: Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? — image and summary via Goodreads

Review: What is beauty really? Is it smooth skin, fabulous bone structure, silky hair and bright eyes? Is makeup an essential part of beauty? And above all — what is beauty worth? These are some of the questions that came up for me throughout this fairy tale retelling. Initially when I saw the title, I thought maybe this was a Beauty and the Beast story, but instead, the book is a Snow White story and centers on the importance placed on beauty.

Some of my favorite novels are retellings of fairy tales. Retellings are often excellent because original fairy tales often have very flat characters and are mostly about the plot. Novels allow plenty of time and space for readers to get to know the characters well and see new aspects of the old tales. They feel familiar, but not boring and worn out, since  authors add their own twists to the story or think up unique explanations for events.

In Beauty, Ohlin focuses quite a bit on the glamorous Queen Veda. She doesn’t have a mirror on the wall, but does have a beauty consultant who is an audience for her beauty and acts as a mirror. There are several interesting additions to the story (that I won’t share for fear of spoiling them), but I felt that the characters still were not fully formed and developed. We meet Ana and realize that she doesn’t want to outshine her mother, but other than that and her interest in history, we don’t learn all that much about her. Queen Veda is also very one dimensional. Yes, she is hyper focused on beauty, but that is pretty much all we know about her. It would seem that a fully developed character would also have some positives to note. There are no gray areas here and I found myself looking for them in vain.

I did appreciate the way the book led me to contemplation of beauty and of war. A standout line is “War is what human beings do to each other when their is no morality left.” This was way more of a thinking book than I had anticipated. I just didn’t feel like I got to know the characters all that well.

If fairy tale retellings are your thing, you should borrow it someday, but otherwise, you may want to skip this one. Some other fairy tale retellings I would recommend are Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Beast by Donna Jo Napoli.

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New Releases

Belated happy book birthday to twins! Beauty and Thorn Abbey, both by Nancy Ohlin, were released on May 7th. I’m especially looking forward to reading Beauty since I love anything that reminds me of fairy tales.

beautyBeauty by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? [image and summary via Goodreads]

thorn abbeyThorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss. Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max. Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go… [image and summary via Goodreads]

Annnd happy graphic novel birthday to Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong! This comic has a special place in my heart — I’ve been following the webcomic online, start to finish, and now I don’t know what to do with my life now that the story is over.

nothNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

by Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

First Second Books

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely — until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figure-head in the ugliest class election campaign the school as ever seen. At stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms — but not both. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not! Nothing can possibly go wrong.

[image and summary via Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong]


Review: Shadows Cast by Stars

Shadows Cast by StarsTitle: Shadows Cast by Stars
Author: Catherine Knutsson
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Fantasy; Romance, Steamy
Pages: 456
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Copy: Checked out from library
Availability: June 5, 2012

Summary: Old ways are pitted against new horrors in this compellingly crafted dystopian tale about a girl who is both healer and seer. Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument….

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I wish I liked this book more.

As a moving-to-a-new-town book, Shadows Cast by Stars is serviceable. Cass’s struggles to fit in with the people on the Island—including wanted and unwanted attention from boys—make for some interesting character dynamics and conflict. I particularly enjoyed Cass’s scenes with Madda and her (sort-of) friendship with Helen. The women are the most memorable characters in the novel, though the boys don’t give them much competition in that regard (more on this in a bit).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested in Cass’s relationship with Bran. They fall for each other far too quickly for my taste, and their relationship crosses off most of the plot devices for romances (down to an ex-girlfriend stealing a kiss in such a way that the heroine thinks the boyfriend is cheating on her). It doesn’t help that Bran spends large chunks of the story away from Cass, so they end up hitting their relationship milestones really quickly compared to how many hours they actually spend together on-screen.

I have three major complaints with the book, and the first is a matter of expectations. Based on the summary, I was expecting there to be a lot more time invested in exploring this particular disease-ridden world. I wanted to see the cultural, social, and legal ramifications of a world where the government is totally okay with draining people of all their blood in order to stop the spread of Plague. The premise promised me all sorts of interesting possibilities, from a black market for blood to exploitation to national testing and IDs.

I got none of that. The most I got was a chip in all the Corridor citizens’ wrists which let them…connect to the internet? The details are supremely fuzzy and leave more questions than answers: Why doesn’t the government keep better tabs on the people who are the only cure for the Plague? How could our heroes possibly have had time to run when a new plague outbreak occurs? Why isn’t there some kind of set-up where everyone immune to the Plague donates plasma/blood/etc. every [X] days, gets paid handsomely for it, and then the government distributes those vaccines/cures to the people who can afford to get them? Do the antibodies in Others’ blood grant immunity like a vaccine or is it more of a medicine given once the illness has been contracted? Does this government really think it’s an awesome long-term solution to execute the only people immune to the Plague? What is the government going to do when they’ve “overhunted” to extinction?

My second complaint is that many of the characters in the book feel distressingly shallow. Paul spends the entirety of the book as an enigma, and once they get to the Island, Cass spends more time with Bran than him. Neither Cass nor Paul seem to care much about getting ripped out of their lives—the closest we get to them missing anything is when Cass asks her dad if the Island has a school system. (As far as I remember, this never gets answered.) Neither Cass nor Paul apparently had any friends or even extended family in their previous lives. There was one attempt to humanize Avalon, which fell flat for me, Cedar was creepy and probably triggery, and Grace was creepy with a side order of broken. Much of the time these characters (except for Madda and Ms. Adelaide) simply didn’t seem to live in the world they inhabited.

My third complaint is that the culture of the Island felt really off to me. I’ll be the first to admit that my experience with literature starring or written by native people is pretty limited, but even I was able to pick up on many of the problematic bits that Debbie Reese identified. The mixture of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend didn’t mesh well with the story and were distracting (minor) players in the narrative. Frankly, I would have much preferred that they weren’t included at all.

Recommendation: Just skip it, unfortunately. While there are a lot of interesting ideas in the story, they got all tangled up around each other.

Mini-review: A Match Made in Heaven

cover27644-mediumTitle: A Match Made in Heaven
Author: Trina Robbins
Illustrator: Xian Nu Studio & Yuko Ota
Pages: 128
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, graphic novel, romance
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Aspiring comic book artist Morning Glory Conroy already has too much to juggle at her San Francisco high school–mean girls, inconsiderate cliques, wannabe gangbangers–without the complication of falling for new student Gabriel. Glory’s best friend, Julia, was interested in him first, and if it weren’t for Julia’s deteriorating home life, Glory wouldn’t have had a chance to get Gabriel to herself. But does he count as a real boyfriend if his overbearing guardian forbids even kissing? Soon Gabriel is pushing Glory to show her work at art events, and the new relationship starts taking Glory away from her bff just when Julia needs her. Glory is in for a startling revelation when she discovers not only Gabriel’s true identity, but also that of his mischievous cousin Luci, who trails their every move just to cause trouble. Can Glory and Gabriel keep their relationship aloft when the heavens themselves seem to be against it?
image and summary from Goodreads

Review: Glory and her friends kept me giggling and smiling. This was definitely light-hearted with a bit of quirkiness too. In one scene, readers are even treated to a paper doll type of layout with an attractive young man in his boxers. The illustrations were a lot of fun — especially since Glory’s comics are mixed in and they are a different style than the main storyline. Several startling action scenes are scattered about to keep you alert. I loved it. If you need a laugh or a quick read, this would be the perfect fit.

Recommendation: Get it soon. It would be just the thing when you need a bit of relaxation.

Review: Tiger Lily

Title: Tiger Lilytigerlily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 292
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: Paperback available July 2nd. (Hardcover on shelves now!)

Summary: Before Neverland faded into myth, it was a remote and dangerous island filled with deadly mermaids, psychotic pirates, and watchful faeries. And before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair . . . Tiger Lily.

When fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily meets the alluring teenage Peter deep in the forbidden woods, the two form a bond that’s impossible to break, but also impossible to hold on to. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. With her betrothal to another man and deadly enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies lurk inside even the most loyal and loving heart. (image via Goodreads, summary via Amazon)

Review: It was a chilly afternoon when I discovered Tiger Lily, a re-telling of the classical Peter Pan. I was excited to read the book, especially knowing that the novel would focus on Tiger Lily’s, a character who is often treated with  disrespect. I found the concept to be unique, interesting and worthy of my time. I thought Anderson’s decision to re-tell Peter Pan from a different perspective, one from a character of color, was a bold move. I applauded her, in fact.

And then I read the novel. I wish I could say that Tiger Lily lived up to my expectations. I wish I could say that Anderson treated the voice of a character of color with sensitivity and distinction. I wish a lot of things, but unfortunately the novel I imagined, is not the novel that I actually read.

Anderson had a wonderful opportunity to give voice to one of classical literature’s most misunderstood characters and instead of narrating her novel from Tiger Lily’s point of view, she choose to use Tinkerbell. Now, I love Tinkerbell, do not get me wrong, but the emotional impact of Tiger Lily’s story would have stronger if the reader was in her head during the entire novel. Anderson explains that Tinkerbell is able to understand Tiger Lily’s thoughts because the little fairy empathetic and can read the changes of the heart and mind. Interesting concept, unfortunately, this makes Tinkerbell an unreliable narrator. Because the reader cannot trust Tinkerbell, our perception of Tiger Lily and the decisions she makes is warped.

Tinkerbell makes many assumptions about Tiger Lily and is often unsure of her motives, especially when Tiger Lily makes a very out of character decision in regards to Peter. I feel that if the reader was privy to Tiger Lily’s thoughts in that moment, understood her motivation, I wouldn’t have been angry at the character. Instead, I felt like some of the choices Tiger Lily makes is for convenience of the story and not very true to the character – solely because of Tinkerbell’s narration.

Choosing to use Tinkerbell as the narrator, instead of Tiger Lily, also brings up the very fact that another character of color’s voice was muted. This simple fact makes me quite angry. In 2013 when the call for more diversity in YA literature by readers and authors is getting louder, to have the opportunity to write outside of one’s comfort zone and write a strong character of color, but don’t, is heartbreaking. Anderson had a wonderful opportunity to push her own personal writing boundaries, to give voice to a people not usually heard from and she chose to not take it. Instead, the novel often times feels like a National Geographic special where the colonists are observing the natives and making assumptions based on the people’s actions. Tiger Lily did not end up being a distinct character and ended up being more of a stereotype/stock character.

Despite using Tinkerbell as the narrator, Tiger Lily is still an entertaining read. Anderson does create a world that fits into our previous knowledge of Neverland, while being different and wholelly her own. Her Captain Hook and Mr. Smee are not entirely one note characters, and she does turn Wendy into a character that one loves to despise. To me, Anderson has an unfinished story here and while Tiger Lily is good, Anderson needed to go the extra mile to make it great.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.

Mini-review: Cat Girl’s Day Off

cat girlTitle: Cat Girl’s Day Off
Author: Kimberly Pauley
Pages: 331
Genre: fantasy, mystery
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: library (the love of my life)
Availability: April 1, 2012

Summary: Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. And Nat? She can talk to cats. Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago and on and off movie sets. (image and summary via Goodreads)

Review: I recently reread Cat Girl’s Day Off and I’m glad I did. The fact that the main character Nat Ng’s Talent is talking to cats already makes the book pretty awesome. On top of that, the book features three good friends (Nat, Oscar, and Melly) solving the mystery together — I’m a total sucker for stories with heartwarming friendship. The fast paced story, loveable characters, and hilarious dialogue make for a light, fun read.

Recommendation: Definitely read it if you get the chance or need something to brighten your day.