UnEnchanted (An Unfortunate Fairy Tale #1)

Unenchanted

Unenchanted  by Chandra Hahn was the latest book on my reading list.

Mina Grime is a quiet, clumsy, unpopular, and extraordinarily unlucky teenage girl drifting through high school trying not to get noticed.  With her family barely squeaking by, Mina doesn’t have a cell phone and her means of transportation is a rusty old bicycle.

When she goes on a class field-trip to a nearby bakery, everything changes. When Mina saves the most popular (handsome, rich, nice) boy from a freak-accident, she is thrust into the limelight.  Her new fame, and her mother’s reaction to it, reveals that Mina is the victim of an old family curse.  The Grimm brothers – for Mina is a Grimm not a Grime – made a deal with the fae that trapped them, and all their descendants, into a race to complete the Story.  Mina must finish ALL the tales, before she becomes the Story’s next victim.

What a unique idea!  Mina is forced to live through all the 200+ Grimm tales before she can free herself (and the rest of her family) from the Grimm curse.  This is a very TALL order, given the sheer volume of tales.  Plus the fact that many of them have decidedly unhappy endings. (No one in her family has managed to complete the tales yet).

I had a really hard time deciding whether I actually liked Mina or not.  She is somewhat of a stereotypical teenage girl – filled with unrequited teenage lust (a crush on the most popular boy) as well as over-blown teenage angst/drama.  I always hope for a strong female character, and for most of the book Mina was very disappointing in that regard.  Yes, she saved Brody (the popular guy) but her numerous overreactions and copious tears really didn’t sell me on her personality or her gumption.  She’s all like “Yeah! I’ll defeat the story!” but then when faced with anything she turns into a crying “Oh, someone save me!” pathetic and passive doll.  I was very concerned.  She redeems herself a teensy bit by figuring out that maybe SHE should DO something to save HERSELF by the end, but it was a passing and very short moment followed quickly by tears.  (Admittedly I sort of sympathized with those tears, but seriously she was a fountain for most of the book so they annoyed me more than they stirred sympathy in me).

So I guess the answer is: I didn’t really like her most of the time.

I did like the idea of mashing up and modernizing a bunch of fairy tales, and I still think that holds merit as a plot line.  Given the fact that she (spoiler) finished only THREE tales, I’m not so sure that she’s going to get through the Story. There are sequels, and I’ll be willing to give them a try to see if Mina turns from being a quivering lump of no-action jelly into a strong character who can actually get stuff done.

3.5/5 on this one. (Which is too bad, since I really enjoyed other Chandra Hahn books I’ve read, like The Iron Butterfly).

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The Will of the Empress

The will of the empress

Tamora Pierce is one of my go-to authors when I’m not feeling well or when I just want a good comfort read.  I often have trouble stopping at just one of her books and tend to jump around which series I pick.  This week I decided to re-read Battle Magic  which I have already reviewed here, and it prompted to me to re-read The Will of the Empress  because Briar is one of my favourite characters ever and I wanted more of him.

Full disclosure: I love this book and this is one of multiple re-reads.

Brief history (you can skip if you read my Battle Magic post, since I also review the order there and probably in more depth):

The Circle of Magic - Series featuring young ambient mages Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar.  Each book focuses on a different character, as they learn their own craft and become irreversibly bound together.

The Circle Opens - After earning their mage medallions, Tris, Daja and Briar head off in different directions to continue their learning and to gain some worldly travel experience.  Each of the four (including Sandry, who stays home) has a book outlining their experiences with taking their own students, as well as dealing with various troubles (e.g. an arson, murder, and grown-up life).

The Will of The Empress – Instead of four separate novels, this is a single book that takes place after Tris, Daja and Briar return home. Now adults, they are no longer the care-free children who had no qualms about romping through each others minds without caution.  No longer willing to unite in their magical bond, the four are at odds and the circle seems broken.  Sandry’s duties as an heiress bring her home to Namorn, with her “siblings” to accompany and protect her.

This is a beautifully written book.

  • Each character is dealing with their own difficulties – stubbornly alone – which reflect not just fiction but the real world (although not maybe the modern real world in all cases).
    • Sandry is butting heads with the expectations of being an heiress – she wants to be more than just “fit to be married” and is determined not to let her cousin the Empress trap her into a lifestyle she would detest.
    • Tris is afraid of professional jealousy, after mastering rare and extremely difficult magics.  After several negative reactions, she hopes to keep her new abilities to herself.
    • Daja wants to put the past behind her – including the events which occurred during her “Circle Opens” book (Cold Fire).  After a homecoming that felt all wrong, she is determined not to be alone and adrift, or depend on the charity of others.  This book also gives Daja her first experience with love – unexpected but very sweet.
    • Briar is still recovering from being in a war (see Battle Magic) and doesn’t want to share his experiences with his sisters – or seem weak because of how they haunt him.
  • There are also some lovely extra characters:
    • Berenene – the Empress – whose will is strong.  She likes surrounding herself with fiery and handsome young men, but she will not bow to marriage.  A strong, independent and crafty ruler, she wants to keep Sandry in Namorn.  You see enough sides of her to understand her even if you don’t exactly like or sympathize with her.
    • Zhegorz – a crazy man who Daja actually helped rescue in Cold Fire  and who shows up again in this one.
  • There is power and politics at play – wrapped up in subtle maneuvers.  It’s fun to watch the strong personalities butt heads.
  • Of course there is magic!  The four main characters (Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar) are ambient mages, meaning their magic comes from every-day things. Sandry is a thread mage, Tris is a weather mage, Daja is a smith mage, and Briar is a plant mage.  It’s a pleasure to watch them grow into their powers and to see what unique things they are able to do with their gifts.
  • At the heart of this book, it’s about friendship and growing up.

Of course this is a 5/5, and I guarantee it’s not the last time I’ll pick it up!

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Phoenix and Ashes

Phoenix and Ashes

Sometimes you just need a good, distracting book that you can lose yourself in.  That’s what this one was for me.  It’s not the first time I’ve read Phoenix and Ashes  but I needed something the was familiar but still gripping.  This book, by Mercedes Lackey, has all the elements I enjoy – historical fiction, a fairy tale, magic, a love story, a strong female character, and a happy ending.  The WWI-era setting highlights the divisions between social class, and the changes that “the great war” wrought on British society.

In this re-telling of Cinderella, Eleanor’s hopes and dreams are shattered when her father dies, leaving her in the thrall of his evil new wife, who quickly binds Eleanor to her will and imposes menial slavery on the girl.  Instead of a life at Oxford filled with learning, Eleanor has a life of hard work filled with laundry.

But Eleanor is coming into her own powers and if she can learn enough she might just be able to escape Allison’s clutches, with the help of her godmother, a friendly local witch who helps start her magical education.

Eleanor watches as Allison and her girls set their sights on Reggie – a war-hero who is on medical leave (recovering from a knee injury and “shell-shock”).  Eleanor and Reggie are drawn together by circumstance and then friendship.   Can Eleanor find an Air-master to help her and Reggie get over his crippling fear before it’s too late?

At first, I have to admit, Eleanor rubbed me the wrong way.  For the first few chapters she always annoys me, because all she does is wallow in the misery of her situation.  But then her fiery personality kicks in and she becomes a determined and much more likeable character.  By the end of the book I always really love her.

Reggie I liked from the start.  He provides an interesting insight into the experiences of the WWI soldiers  (even though this is clearly fiction I’m sure much of his description of the trenches runs true). I appreciate his thoughts on the senselessness of the war, and his horror around the casual way droves of men were sent over to die, with the outdated notion that all that was needed was “one big push”.  It is also an interesting look at shell-sock (PTSD), which was unfortunately considered “malingering” by many old-fashioned folk during that time.

Of course I LOVE that this is an adaptation of Cinderella, with twists.  In this one, the stepmother and stepsisters have no redeeming qualities – they are very clear-cut stereotypes of the “evil” step-family.  There’s enough other nuance in the way the book looks at the great war that this depiction is appropriate for the story. And sometimes it’s nice to have a clear-cut hero!

5/5

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Wildwood Dancing

Wildwood Dancing

I was SO excited to read this book by Juliet Marillier, since I LOVE the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  The cover looked so good:

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love. (Goodreads)

But Ugh.  I was so disappointed!  Seriously, crushed.  MULTIPLE fairy tales weaved into one – you’d think it would be a recipe for success!

Jena annoyed me. She was too testy and for someone who was supposed to be smart and caring I felt like she was a nagging hen who was too wrapped up in her own head to be of any real use to anyone. And Tati drove me crazy. CRAZY.  She was so passive – the opposite of a strong character. I just wanted to shake her into action!

I spent the whole book wanting to like the girls but being constantly irritated by their personalities and their DUMB CHOICES.

The story had so much promise but it crashed and burned. It was tedious and dwelt too much on trivial details, the annoying management (or mismanagement) of the household by Jena, and Jena’s arguments/fury over Cezar.  The book was slow and the characters did not develop … I just wanted to pull my hair out.

1.5/5

 

 

 

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Filed under Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult Books

Hero (Woodcutter Sisters #2)

Hero

I was super excited to get my hands on Hero after reading Alethea Kontis’s preceding book: Enchanted. So fun!

Saturday Woodcutter grudgingly claims to be the “normal” woodcutter sister (though her Destiny makes her invulnerable to injury … until she fulfills it).  When mama is called away, and Trix tricks them, Saturday accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard.  After a short stay on a pirate ship, Saturday is kidnapped and taken to the top of the world.  The witch who lives there siphons magic off of the sleeping dragon – a delicate balance that could be deadly to disrupt.  Unfortunately that witch is also intent on opening a portal that would destroy the world.  Can Saturday save the world – and save herself and new-found friends before it’s too late?

I’m not sure if I read this too quickly or was too tired to read it properly, but as with Enchanted there were a few times when the story took a leap … and I just did not follow.  I had to go back and re-read sections to understand what the heck was going on – and even then I still felt that there were some really large leaps that could have benefited from some better segues.

The book also felt like it was trying to jam in a few too many story lines – which I am sure will become clear and all tied in together once the other books were out, but because of that it felt just a little bit disjointed.

That being said, I did love Saturday – a stubborn, no-nonsense sturdy kind of woman who takes after her mama more than I think she’d care to admit.

Peregrine, who is the quirky love-interest (cursed to pose as the witch’s daughter) and Betwixt add a few fun personalities to the mix.  Of course there is a romance!

This is a good adventure story, and a nice complement to the first book in the series. I did really enjoy it – although I identified with Sunday Woodcutter a little bit more so it didn’t quite live up to the first. Close enough though!

4/5

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Filed under Adventure, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Books

Champion

Champion

I feel like its been a while since I’ve been able to read a series consecutively without other books in between.  Although there WAS a gap between Legend and Prodigy, I was able to pick up Champion to finish off the series right away.  What a difference – coming fresh off the high of a great book and straight into another!

Champion is the third (and final) Legend novel by Marie Lu and it was a fantastic ending to the series – in keeping with the suspense of the last book that’s for sure!

Day and June are back in the Republic and each doing their part to bolster the new Elector and the country.  June is working as Princeps-Elect, which keeps her busy, while Day accompanies his brother to San Francisco for their excellent doctors.

A peace treaty between the Colonies and the Republic looks promising – until an outbreak of the plague in the Colonies brings war back to the borders.  Day has already sacrificed so much, and the key to the cure may be one sacrifice Day is not willing to make.

Can the Republic find a cure in time – before the Colonies win the war, once and for all?

I really appreciate the shifting perspective in these books – one chapter will be of Day and the next of June.  I feel like you see them grow as people as they struggle with both the demons of their pasts and with their uncertain future.

June is one of those kick-ass strong female characters.  Sure, she’s got some flaws, and she has some very real feelings but I love that’s she’s smart, tough, and ultimately selfless.

Day is also a great character.  He’s dealing with so many conflicting emotions – fear, passion, love, anger.  Yes he’s a bit cocky, but you don’t grudge him for it. He’s noble and moral and maybe a little bit selfish in a totally understandable way.

I didn’t really expect the direction the book took, and although I was surprised that the ending turned out the way it did I was SO GLAD.

YES I am a fan of happy endings.  Even though it didn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the book, I loved it anyway!!!

5/5

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Filed under Dystopian, Romance, Young Adult Books

Happy Canada Day!

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July 1, 2014 · 11:13 am