Tag Archives: retellings

ARC Review – Mighty Jack (Mighty Jack #1) by Ben Hatke

25648247Title: Mighty Jack (Mighty Jack #1)

Author: Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this book!

Sam’s Review:

I am mad at myself for putting this book off. Why? Because it was one I was crazy excited to get my hands on and then life took over and it fell by the wayside. I say this given that in a lot of ways this is how Mighty Jack begins. Jack wants to sleep in, he wants to be able to get a job to help support his mother who is already working two jobs to support the family, and he has an autistic sister, Maddy, who doesn’t speak. This beginning proves my point about life trying to escape past you.

However, in true Ben Hatke form, this is a wonderful friendship oriented story, retelling the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. I’ll admit, as a child I never really liked that story, and often found it to be a frustrating narrative for one thing. However, there is something so fresh about Hatke’s take on the story that it makes up for my distaste of the original tale. It is so easy to love the characters in this story: Jack, Lilly, Maddy, their mother, and they are characters that Hatke does a great job providing empathy towards. I really, in particular, loved Maddy’s portrayal, and after the cliffhanger of an ending at this book, I NEED to see what will happen next.

This is a great start to a series, and Ben Hatke’s artwork continues to be so vibrant and delightful that I always enjoy my time with his books. There is a lot of great commentary and ideas in Mighty Jack and I can’t wait to see where the next book goes. There’s so much to love in Ben Hatke’s stories, and he does a good job of showing us how strong humans can be when they are faced with crisis. I really loved this story, and definitely check out if you love fairy tale retellings or just awesome comics.

Blog Tour – Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (Review and Q&A)

Raincoast has once again invited me to participate in one of their fantastic blog tours. Let me tell you guys — Vassa in the Night is a real weird, quirky, gem of a book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed my time reading it. If you don’t mind your fantasy novels being a bit unpredictable and a little crazy, then you need this book in your life.

As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for arranging the blog tour, sending me a copy of the book and being all round amazing people. Also huge thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my Q&A question!


22065080Title: Vassa in the Night

Author: Sarah Porter

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Sam’s Review:

Vassa in the Night is one of those books that sets a very distinctive tone for its readers right off the bat: in a world where dark magic encompasses Brooklyn, lives Vassa, a young woman who ends up on a quest for light bulbs, and ends up on an extraordinary journey to find home. In a lot of ways, many of us have read a story like Vassa in the Night before, but this book shines in a way that really captured my attention through start to finish.

First off, the world-building in this book is delightfully and vibrant. Porter does an amazing job illustrating Vassa’s world, the people who inhabit it, and provides so much vivid imagery of what surrounds Vassa in her adventures. Furthermore, the book has such fantastic characters who are wonderful to grow alongside with in the story. My personal favourite character was Erg, but I am a sucker for creepy talking dolls (in that they generally give me nightmares every time). But serious, Erg is funny, cheeky, and she gets some of the best lines in the whole story. She makes for a great companion to Vassa in the story, and I loved their relationship. I also adored Vassa as a character and thought she got a lot of great growth in the story, and she’s simply lovable, flaws and all.

I think the only thing I struggled with in terms of this novel was the ending. I felt the ending wrapped up everything a bit too conveniently, and found the ending didn’t have as strong a finish as I would have liked. However, I do love where the ending was going, the way it built up, and the way it was written. I think Sarah Porter has really wonderful ideas, and I do think her writing does a fantastic job reflecting a lot of where she wants her stories to go.

I loved my time with Vassa in the Night, and I am sad that my time with these characters and this world is over. While I don’t hope for a sequel, this is one of those books that I feel can be easily recommended for lovers of fantasy and retellings. I wish I had been more familiar with the story this was retelling, but I also loved how much I loved going into this story completely blind as well. Definitely check out Vassa in the Night, as it’s one of those standalone fantasy adventures that feels like a wonderful journey. Plus it’s weird and delightful, and crazy. Read this book.


Q&A With Sarah Porter!

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Q: When you wrote Vassa in the Night, what were some of the aspects from the original tale that you intended to keep so that they would be recognizable to readers who loved the original story it’s based off of?

SP: Hi Sam, quite a few elements of the original story are in VASSA, though in altered ways.
Vassilissa is sent to the Baba Yaga’s hut to get fire, after her stepsisters
deliberately extinguish all the fire in the house; Vassa is sent to BY’s for light
bulbs. In “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Night is a man all in black on a black horse;
in VASSA, Night rides a black motorcycle. A Baba Yaga’s hut is always surrounded by
human skulls on stakes, with one left empty, just for you; BY’s has severed human heads
encircling the parking lot. The animate hands are also in the original version, though
they don’t really have their own emotions and intentions the way that Dexter and
Sinister do. Vassilissa and Vassa are both given impossible tasks to do, and both are
helped by their magic dolls. So that’s quite a bit!

Some things in VASSA that don’t have a source in Russian folklore include the swans,
Picnic and Pangolin, the faerie party in Babs’s apartment, and a father who was turned
into a dog.

The Water of Life and the Water of Death became the Professor Pepper’s sodas; those
come from a different Russian fairytale, “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.”
Ivan’s brothers murder and dismember him out of envy, and the Gray Wolf uses the magic
waters to bring him back.


As always, huge huge love to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and an equally large thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a question about her latest novel, Vassa in the Night. If you have any interest in retellings, particularly ones that don’t get reimagined very often, make sure you check out this book, which released on September 20th!

And while you are at it, please check out the other tour stops as they will also have snippets of the story, as well as more questions answered by Sarah!

blogtour

ARC Review – Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1) by Rosamund Hodge

28448239Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1)

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched. The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan. Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

I loved this book SO MUCH. I originally went into it with mixed feelings because I wasn’t a fan of the author’s debut, I decided not to read her second book, and I probably wouldn’t have read this one but it just sounded so unique. And I’m so glad that I gave it a shot.

This is a twist on Romeo & Juliet. It takes place in a fictional world where revenants (zombies) have taken over the world and the only people left are three clans that live inside of a city protected by magic walls. And the walls feed off of blood sacrifices. There’s a group of Sisters who tend the walls and one of our MCs, Runajo, is a novice. She’s feisty and has strong ideals about the world that they live in. She’s a member of the same clan as Romeo, who falls in love with Juliet, a member of another clan. Only Juliet isn’t just a girl, but she’s the sword of her clan. Her own purpose is to basically be their trained killer. And Paris is supposed to be her guardian.

Only everything goes horribly wrong.

This book is dark and beautiful. It’s romantic without any actual on page romance (Romeo and Juliet are actually separate for the entire book). It’s atmospheric and full of beautiful world building. I loved the Sisters of Thorn and their twisted rituals. I loved how vicious Juliet was, and how bumbling both Paris and Romeo were. I really loved the relationships and friendships that developed between the characters. The twists and turns and secrets kept me engaged and on my toes. I read most of this book in two sittings.

My only complaint is that the ending is a bit rushed, but thank god there’s a sequel. Because I need it after THAT cliffhanger.

If you’re a fan of Hodge or just a Romeo & Juliet fan, then this book is for you!

ARC Review – Queen of Hearts (Queen of Hearts Saga #1) by Colleen Oakes

26074194Title: Queen of Hearts (Queen of Hearts Saga #1)

Author: Colleen Oakes

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:

Waaaah, I wanted to like this one so much more than I did. In 2009 I watched the TV Mini-series called “Alice” which was a modern remake of Alice in Wonderland. It was weird and twisty and did such an amazing job of playing with the themes of Alice in Wonderland (a story that I never really connected with that much in the past) that when I heard about this I for some reason connected the two in my head and thought that this book was going to be as brilliant as that mini-series.

And this book could have been. I had all of the elements, things were weird and twisted and Wonderland was deliciously creepy. But there was no backstory. No real world building. I felt like the only reason I was able to “see” it the way I was was because I was projecting my own ideas onto it. But when it comes to a fantasy world, even in a re-telling, I need some backstory. Why are things the way they are now, what lead to this current situation? Why should I care? There were things peppered throughout the book that I was grasping at, but nothing that really gave me the answers that I was craving.

Also there were times in this book that it felt like there was a Wonderland checklist that the author was just ticking boxes off. All the characters were there, but some of them seemed a little forced. Part of why I loved that TV mini-series so much was because the surprise of figuring out who was who! In this it was very obvious who was who and what their rolls were and it just fell a little flat for me.

I also wanted a plot. There was kind of this idea that there was something bad going on but the clues were so few and far between that I could never even try to piece them together. There was NO conclusion and nothing was wrapped up, no questions were answered, and everything was just left hanging in such an unsatisfactory way. It wasn’t even a cliffhanger. It’s just like the book cut off and that there should be more, but haha, you have to wait until the next one.

Also I was NOT comfortable with the relationship between the King of Hearts and Princess Dinah. I never felt that his actions were just and most of the time they seemed super random. Also the time jumps were weird and the whole story around the court politics made no sense.

I did enjoy the writing in this, and the descriptions of Wonderland. Wardley was an okay character, but that’s about it. I might pick up the next book just to see how things go, but it’s not going to be a priority. Sadness!

ARC Review – A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1) by Brittany Cavallaro

23272028Title: A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1)

Author: Brittany Cavallaro

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for sending me an ARC of this for review!

River’s Review:

I LOVED this book! I’m going to be honest, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. The idea sounded excellent, but Sherlock stories can always go sideways quickly. I’m a fan of the BBC version and I highly enjoy the newer movies, even some of the older films are okay, but I really dislike the American remake and I’ve had issues with some of the other YA Sherlock remakes. So I went into this with low expectations and was worried it was going to be cringe worthy… and it’s not.

First off I love the writing. I compared it to one of my favorite author’s writing and had a friend look at me with shock because that is some HIGH praise coming from me. I love how posh everything is, how quaintly New England the rest of it is. There are a lot of clever moments in this but it’s not super heavy handed THIS IS SHERLOCK at any time. I also laughed at the James Bond part.

The homage paid to the original Sherlock stories was so well done. I loved the name play, the references to both old and new Sherlock. I also really enjoyed how Holmes and Watson were portrayed. In this book Holmes is a girl, but she’s also very much… a Holmes. I loved the whole backstory that was created for both families and how well it matched with the Watson and Holmes we currently know and love. I really liked how dark Holmes was; and yes she has a drug problem. It is addressed. But I think it’s done will in this book. And the Watsons in this book were great. We get to see not only young Jamie Watson but his father, another Watson, at work here. The way that they interact with Charlotte is both hilarious and spot on to how I’d imagine previous Watsons would react to previous Holmeses.

The mystery in this was really fun too. I didn’t see whodunit coming and thought it was well played. There were moments of shock and moments of deduction and moments of plain good sleuthing.

Everything in this was just so pitch perfect and I really hope we get more!

River’s Quickie Reviews #7

It’s been a long time since I’ve thrown one of these together, but River managed to get a crapton of books from ALAMW 2016, and has been writing some mini reviews for a few of the books she got her hands on. Enjoy some mini-reviews of titles that have either just released or will be coming out later in the year!


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Title: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann (May 3rd 2016 by Greenwillow )

Synopsis: Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross-country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross-country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places.

River’s Review: This is a very fast read. I think I read it in about a half hour? It’s written in verse and the writing is SO gorgeous.

This is the story of a girl who has an abortion. She goes to a catholic school so there’s a lot of religious stuff going on in this book, but it’s not a book about condemning what was done. It’s not a book about a broken girl, just a girl who deals with the consequences of her actions and does what she believes is the right thing. This book isn’t preachy, but it does give a very interesting view on both sides of the debate, and I loved the juxtaposition going on in it.

I also really liked how quiet it was. She doesn’t go crazy and become a broken thing, but she does lose faith in herself and interest in things that were once important. Friends and family show concern, but it’s all very subtle and overall very well done.

This is a great book for a lazy afternoon. Beautiful writing, important content. It was something different and I needed it. 5/5 Stars.


25203675Title: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi  (April 26th 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin)

Synopsis: Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, sixteen-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth. But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger. When she ignores Amar’s plea for patience, her discoveries put more than new love at risk – it threatens the balance of all realms, human and Otherworldly.

River’s Review: Here’s another book that I very much enjoyed but didn’t LOVE. The writing in this is breathtakingly gorgeous and I really enjoyed some of the side characters. But over all I felt a little displaced with the world and the two main characters didn’t do too much for me. I LOVED that it was based on Indian mythology, that’s not something that I’ve run into very much in YA. Kamala the flesh eating horse was hilarious, and I really enjoyed Gupta and his eccentricities. Sadly Maya was a little too gullible at times, but I did enjoy her growth as a woman in the story. Amar was every other brooding bad-good-guy.

The first 100 pages or so of this was slow and boring at times, but around 150 things really picked up and I loved the way that things were reveled and pieced together through Maya’s own personal journey.

I’m very excited to see what more Chokshi writes, because wow does she spin some beautiful tales! 4/5 Stars.


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Title: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter (March 15th 2016 by Philomel Books)

Synopsis: Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms. But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?

River’s Review: So I really liked this but something about the story felt super dated. I couldn’t place the time, and then there were mentions of cell phones and a couple of pop culture references, but overall this felt like it was set in the late 80s or early 90s for some reason.

And the college aspect of this was REALLY weird for me. I didn’t do the whole “freshman” thing when I was in college (I transferred in during my 2nd year) but I don’t remember my college (or any of my friends) having dances (like formals like you do in high school) and the pay phone at the end of the hallway and the very lack of anybody really following up with anything regarding Cassie just seemed really random and strange.

The emotional aspects, the mental health issues in this, and the writing were all really good though. 3/5 Stars.

 

 

ARC Review – A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

21524446Title: A Thousand Nights

Author:  E.K Johnston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada  for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I requested A Thousand Nights. I knew it was a retelling of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, which is a story I admit, I haven’t read too many retellings of. What I loved about this novel was the prose and that is truly what sucked me in from the get go.

Everything about E.K Johnston’s writing comes across slow, methodical, and precise. No one other than Lo-Melkhiin has a name, There’s a real subtle mystery behind that, and yet I was still able to oddly keep track of the various characters in the story. I was intrigued throughout why Johnston did this. I really enjoyed how the narrative was told, especially because we are getting the perspective from a storyteller who is reaccounting her story, and I loved that about this novel. There’s always this bit of me that kept asking if the story was true, embellished, or a bit of both, and yet I didn’t care at the same time. I wanted to see and know what was happening in this world, and I loved the way in which the narrator paints a lot of the story.

There’s a lot to keep you guessing in this story. There’s various perspective changes on Lo-Melkhiin, there’s political intrigue and strife, a war on the verge of outbreak, and family woes that are in need of repair, and it just keeps you going. This book isn’t fast-paced in the slightest, and I think people will hold that against it, but I don’t think slow and thoughtful books are necessarily a bad thing, especially if they are building to an excellent climax, which A Thousand Nights certain does. Do parts drag a bit? Yes, but again, there’s this thoughtful building that just kept me reading. Even if these characters didn’t have names, I still felt connected to them.

I feel like E.K Johnston’s book is going to go under the radar due to another huge ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ retelling, and I do feel that is unfair. The books couldn’t be any more different! But I feel like this one, although a bit more literary in tone, has a lot to offer those who are patience readers and those who love to try and put puzzles together. There’s so much mystery and intrigue here, topped with Johnston’s gorgeous writing. I definitely recommend A Thousand Nights, but be patient with it, as it doesn’t reveal it’s hand right away.