Malin’s #CBR5 Review #150: Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel lives in a remote cottage in the mountains with Mother. The only time she sees other people is twice a year, when they go to Market in the nearest town, quite some distance away. While Zel finds the people, bustle and excitement of town life exhilarating, Mother insists that they have everything that they need in their little home, and warns her daughter away from strangers. Yet Zel dreams of a different life, of some day having a husband and children and a home of her own. Just before her thirteenth birthday, she meets a beautiful young man with a spirited horse, and she can’t seem to get him out of her mind.

Konrad, the young count, is also unable to forget the young girl he met in the marketplace, and who seemed to almost magically calm his horse. Even when his parents try to arrange suitable marriages for him with lovely young maidens, he refuses, riding around the countryside trying to find out where the mysterious Zel can be found.

Mother grows anxious and worried when Zel mentions the pretty young man, and claims that there are bad people out there who want to harm them. She takes Zel to an abandoned tower, a fair distance from even their remote cottage, and before Zel realises entirely what is going on, she is trapped high above ground, with no way of escaping, with Mother on the ground, saying she will keep the bad people away. Zel’s hair starts growing at a furious rate, until she can pull Mother in and out of the tower with it. Lonely and distressed, the young girl dreams about the young man, and tries to while away the months and years of her imprisonment. She’s fairly sure she’s gone entirely mad, when one day there is a call for her to let down her hair, and count Konrad climbs in instead of Mother.

This is a short read, and an interesting retelling of the story of Rapunzel. Some of the chapters are narrated in third person, and show Zel and Konrad’s point of views. The ones from Mother’s POV are in first person, making her account the most personal of the three, and making the reader empathise more with her, even as she’s the nominal villain of the story. The witch who forced a young couple to give away their child in return for the Rapunzel salad they had stolen from her garden, who locks the girl in a tall tower to keep her away from all others – Mother is more than this here. A frustrated and intelligent woman given a tempting choice, incredible power over all growing things in return for a soul she might not even believe she has, who finds herself barren and alone, willing to do anything to gain a child, and who loves that child so much that she’s determined to do anything to keep her, even if it means making the girl possibly hate her. Mother can’t bear to lose her beloved daughter, but when it becomes clear that she may have caused her more harm than good, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure her daughter’s eventual happiness.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #112: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack are best friends and live just down the street from one another. Until recently, they didn’t go to the same school, but after Hazel’s dad moved away, she had to change schools and now she’s in the classroom across the hall from Jack. Hazel doesn’t really fit in at school. None of the other kids were adopted from India and look completely different from their mum and dad. She only really feels like she completely belongs when she’s with Jack, and when he’s off playing with the other boys, she feels desperately alone.

Of course, there are worse things than your dad leaving your mum and you to manage by yourselves or your friend occasionally playing with others. Your mum could still be there, listless and uncaring, empty-seeming and no longer noticing much of anything, like Jack’s mum. Maybe that’s why he changes completely one day – becoming mean and distant the day after he had an accident in the school yard, when something seemed to pierce him in the eye? Suddenly he just wants to play with the boys, and ignores Hazel completely. Then he disappears. His parents say he’s off taking care of his elderly aunt Bernice, but Hazel’s known Jack her entire life – he doesn’t have an aunt Bernice. One of the other boys mentions having seen Jack going into the woods, with a tall, icily beautiful, fur-clad woman, like the White Witch of Narnia. But witches aren’t real, are they? Hazel knows that she needs to rescue her best friend, even if it means going off into terrible danger.

More on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #100: The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand

Jolie Manon’s father was one of the very top chefs of France, before his restaurant lost it’s third Michelin star, and he had a stroke. Now Jolie is trying to coax him back into greatness, with a cookbook featuring several of his most famous recipes, although her father is cranky and despondent and refuses to be seen in public. Of course, she can’t tell her father that they’re being sued, by his former employee, now a star chef in his own right. Jolie needs to go to the Côte d’Azur to negotiate some sort of compromise. She’s worried that news of the lawsuit is going to make her father have a relapse.

Gabriel Delange has a three star restaurant in Provence, but still can’t believe that his old nemesis, Pierre Manon, has the gall to publish a cook book where at least a third of the recipes were invented by Gabriel, while he worked himself nearly to death to secure Manon the coveted third star, sacrificing his health and losing his girlfriend. Gabriel is furious to realise that Manon won’t even face him personally, but sends his youngest daughter to negotiate. He’s shocked to realise that his old nemesis had a stroke, but still can’t forgive him. He knows that if he forces the issue, the old man may get sicker. Maybe he can blackmail the beautiful daughter into making a deal on her father’s behalf?

See what I thought about this creative modern re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #67: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella lives in a fairytale world, where there are ogres, giants, fairies and magic. When she is born, poor Ella is given the gift of obedience by a very misguided fairy, who refuses to take it back, even after the appalled pleading of Ella’s mother and fairy godmother. Lucinda the Fairy is of the opinion that this is a wonderful gift to bestow on a child, and so Ella grows up having to obey any direct order given to her, and knowing that if someone were to ask her to chop off her own head, she’d have to obey. Luckily, the only ones who actually know the truth about Ella’s “gift” are her mother, and the loyal cook. Ella also learns to be creative in the ways in which she obeys any orders. If asked to fetch something, she might throw it at the person, or when asked to hold something, she might march around with the object, forcing the other person to follow her around in order to get to it.

I foolishly didn’t read this book for years and years, basing my opinion of the story on the film, starring Anne Hathaway. I was very dumb to do so. Read the rest of my review on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #48: Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

Another fairy tale retelling, this one is set in Elizabethan England, in a town not too far from London, where the Widow Arden lives with her two pretty daughters, Blanche and Rosamund. Mrs. Arden is a wise woman, who has taught her daughters some of her healing arts. Sometimes the girls have to cross the invisible border to the realm of Faerie to collect more unusual herbs and plants. John Dee, famous occultist and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, also lives in town. The book is set in the 1580s, when Dee was working with Edward Kelley and experimenting with alchemy and investigations into the paranormal.

As well as the widow and her daughters, and John Dee and Edward Kelley, the major players are the Queen of Faerie’s two half-mortal sons. Hugh, the eldest, is quite content to stay put with his mother and her subjects, having pretty much forsaken his human side. His younger brother John, who was actually baptised as a baby, is much more restless, and feels compelled to return to the mortal realm, but returns home around Halloween and May Day. Some of the fairies at the court are displeased by the close connection between the Faerie and human world, and are hatching a plot to get rid of John. They manage to manipulate a spell Dee and Kelley are casting, but something goes wrong, and Hugh is hit instead. Soon he is turning into a giant bear, and his mother has no choice but to expel him from Faerie. John promises not to rest until he has restored his brother. More on my blog.

denestake’s CBR5 #2: Cinderella’s Secret Diary: Lost

We often dismiss the young adult genre as being filled with a lot of trash and cliches, but I believe that being able to write a good YA novel is an underappreciated art. Some of the books that I call my Favorites of All Time are from this genre. If it’s written well, and is able to posit some great ideas, these books can go on to shape young people’s minds. The Golden Compass (and the entire Dark Material trilogy, for that matter) was an eye-opening experience that made me realize that adults might not always have your best interests at heart, or they think they do, but they really don’t know what they are doing. 

Of course, we can’t hold Phillip Pullman’s masterpiece up as a yardstick for every YA novel, because if we do, then everything else basically pales in comparison. But there are other enjoyable and important YA novels of a much smaller scale that I hold dear to my heart. The Giver by Lois Lowry, everything Roald Dahl has written (The Witches scared the shit out of me as a kid), The Girl with Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (This one is not amazing and not a classic, but as a kid, it really spoke to me). 
And herein I arrive at my point: One does not have to aim for the stars to be a great YA writer but one should not condescend to your young readers either. 
And for Ron Vitale’s Cinderella’s Secret Diary: Lost, the mark was missed on several counts. This was provided to CBR5 readers as a free e-read, which I am so appreciative for. I can only imagine what it’s like to be writer — it actually gives me a bit of a panic attack to think about putting my work out there in to the masses to judge and criticize… gah, panic attack. (Yes, I am a reporter for a daily newspaper, but that’s totally different.) But we’re encouraged to blog about these free e-reads, and also told to write how we really feel so… here goes. 

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #47: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Rebecca, or Becca, is the youngest of three sisters, and has always been captivated by her grandmother Gemma’s unusual version of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty. Even after her older sisters got sick of hearing it, she would ask her grandmother to tell it. So when her grandmother claims to actually have been Briar Rose on her deathbed, making Becca promise to find out the truth about her family background and the castle she came from, the rest of the family, especially her sisters, are scornful and disbelieving. As Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, she realises that no one in the family really knew who Gemma was, or where she came from.

Aided by the handsome editor at the independent newspaper where she works, Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, and the claims that her story of Briar Rose is true. Her quest to find her family’s origins take her to first through refugee records in the US, then to Europe, and Poland, and the remains of the concentration camps of the Second World War. More on my blog.

pyrajane writes a Bonus Review! Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge, Illustrated by Andrea Dezso

This one is too short to count towards my 52, but I really liked it and want to share the love.  If you enjoy folklore and fairy tales and like when the tales are retold, you should grab this one.  It’s a super quick read and worth your time.

lies-knives-girls-in-red-dressesThere are twenty two stories here, including Rapunzel, the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Hansel and Gretel, the Ugly Duckling, Rumpelstiltskin, Red Riding Hood, and the Princess with that damned pea.

The tales are told as short poems without much introduction.  We know who Cinderella is, so when we hear the aftermath from the stepsisters’ point of view, we don’t need to hear all that crap about the ball again.

To make these stories all the more sweet is the amazing mix between Once Upon and Time and Modern Time.

Cinderella’s stepsisters have surgery instead of their mother hacking off their toes.

Rapunzel’s mother talks about her three times a week therapy appointments.  The prince meets other princes in rehab while he waits for his eyes to heal.

The Little Match Girl is selling her CDs on the corner.  The cops find her dead, but what are you going to do?

Read the rest of my review over on my blog, where I gush about the illustrator as well as the writing.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #7: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Not long ago I sang the praises of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder which reimaginied one classic fairy tale into a sci-fi setting. Last month, Meyer continued her rebooting process with Scarlet. If one classic fairy tale heroine was intriguing, two should be down right exhilarating. But, as often happens in these situations,  adding another character to the mix requires splitting attention between two different story lines, unless both stories are equally compelling you’re bound for a let down.

Meyer’s stand in for Cinderella (the Chinese cyborg mechanic Linh Cinder) continues to be an intriguing heroine: complex, conflicted, and curious about how to make her way through the world. Now aware of her true parentage (a spoiler from the first book I won’t divulge here) she teams up with a renegade pilot named Carswell Thorne, a literary equivalent of Firefly‘s Mal Reynolds or Star Wars’ Han Solo, who easily rates as the best addition to the plot. But Cinder drifts through most of the story without purpose, splitting pages with a French farmer, Scarlet Benoit, who has packed up her red hoodie (get it?) to find her kidnapped grandmother in Paris. Scarlet’s interesting enough, but she’s saddled with a partner named Wolf who seems neither that heroic, villainous or even all that interesting. Their chemistry is underwhelming, dousing whatever thrill you might find in an underground rebellion about the French country side.

The triumph of Cinder allowed Meyer to set the stage for a much larger series. One that pits Cinder against a wicked queen (reimaginings have to keep those original elements after all). In that sense Scarlet merely puts some more pieces in place to set up for greater drama in the (already announced) third and fourth books. One can only hope that as more pieces appear on Meyer’s board, that she finds ways to make them all as compelling as our main heroine.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #25: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet-cover-BIGThe next time I decide to start a series just as book one is published, will somebody please come find me and slap me in the face? It would be much appreciated.

And I’m not just talking about the annoyance of having to wait a year in between books, although I hate that pretty much a lot. I’m also talking about the high probability that the series you are reading is less satisfying to read spread out over a period of years rather binged on in a couple of frenzied weeks (or if it’s really, good, days) like I prefer to do. For series I really love, this isn’t as much of a problem, because I’ll just go back and re-read the previous books, but for series I just like (i.e. these here Lunar Chronicles), the characters and storylines are diminished in the waiting. I lose my emotional connection to the story and I forget crucial plot threads. And I just don’t have time to re-read, dammit.

All of that is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Scarlet, because I did. It’s actually a really good second book, especially after having read a bunch of dud second books lately. (Disappointing second books in a series, included but not limited to: Requiem, Insurgent, Prodigy, Crossed, etc.)

When I first read Cinder last year, I didn’t realize that each book would be loosely based on a different fairy-tale. I was a bit worried that adding new protagonists to the series would take away from Cinder’s story, but the alternating narrative in my opinion actually energized the story. Cinder was a bit flabby in parts, whereas Scarlet was more streamlined. Scarlet, the character, is Meyer’s answer to Little Red Riding Hood. The way Meyer adapts the story is actually really neat (I think she did a much better job with RRH than she did with Cinderella). In Meyer’s version, Little Red is a young girl named Scarlet living in future France with her grandmother, who is a farmer. Only, her grandmother has gone missing and there is something very weird going on that Scarlet is unaware of. I was also worried going in that Cinder’s and Scarlet’s stories would be awkwardly forced together, but they’re not. It all feels organic, and when the two narratives inevitably meet up, it’s pretty great.

I did have some minor issues with this one (as much as I liked Wolf as a character, it’s getting a bit old that every YA novel now has to hae a love story — though, I suppose this comes with the fairy-tale territory; also, the trajectory of Scarlet and Wolf’s relationship was a bit predictable, if enjoyable), but overall, it was just a really fun read. I love the fairy-tale angle. I love the brightly colored sci-fi future Meyer has created. And I’m really excited about books three and four (which will apparently be based on Rapunzel and Snow White, respectively).