Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay: Review

I am a sucker for fairy tale retellings, remakes, knockoffs, etc. honestly they don’t even have to sound that good to appeal to me. Of course, reading them indiscriminately as I do I’ve inevitably run into some real disappointments before, but this wasn’t one of them.

As you might guess by the title Princess of Thorns is about Sleeping Beauty, or rather, Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, Aurora. As with many other books like this one Stacey Jay puts a dark twist on the tale, which always makes for some interesting reading, but I think the thing that really made this novel enjoyable for me was the world building that Jay put behind her Sleeping Beauty tale.

*some spoilers follow* In Jay’s version of events Sleeping Beauty was blessed by the faeries to be beautiful etc. and then put into her enchanted sleep. She was, of course, rescued by a handsome prince, who’s stepmother happened to be a troll. Unfortunately, Prince Charming wasn’t so charming and apparently he was stepping out on Sleeping Beauty despite the fact that they had two children together, their daughter Aurora and their son Jor. Of course, Sleeping Beauty doesn’t pick up on this until pretty late in the game because her handsome prince is keeping her and the children hidden away to protect them from his previously mentioned troll stepmother, but Sleeping Beauty becomes suspicious and takes her children to the capital to find out just what her husband is up to, only to show up just in time for the troll queen and her priest brother to overthrow the thrown and enslave the human population, all in an effort to fulfill a prophecy that a briar born child would help usher in the age of troll heaven, or something like that. Now guess who the briar born children are? That’s right. Aurora and her brother are the only two briar born children left.

When the trolls take over they plan to kill Sleeping Beauty and keep her children prisoners until the time comes for the prophecy to be fulfilled. But Sleeping Beauty has other plans. From her own experience she knows that fairy blessings nearely always come with a hidden curse, that’s why she wouldn’t allow the faeries to bless her children when they were born. But, locked in the troll queens dungeon she makes a hard choice. She gives up her fairy blessings, instead using their magic to bless her daughter with warriors gifts so that someday she can take back the kingdom. With the help of a wishy-washy palace guard Aurora and Jor are smuggled out of the palace to be raised by the faeries until they can take their kingdom back.

This is where the bulk of the story takes place. We jump back in when Aurora is seventeen, and she’s on a mission. Her little brother has been captured by the troll queen and she has to get him back because the time of the prophecy is almost upon them. But she can’t do it alone. Even fairy blessed as she is she’ll need the help of the handsome prince Nicklaas. Nicklaas is wrapped up in his own quest, a quest to find a princess to help him break a family curse. Naturally he wants Aurora to marry him, only a case of mistaken identity has him thinking that she’s actually her brother Jor. Naturally a series of hilarious, though somewhat predictable, adventures ensue as Nicklaas tries to get “Jor” to lead him to Aurora while Aurora uses Nicklaas to try and save her bother. Each is haunted by a curse that they won’t reveal to the other, but each needs the other to save themselves. Of course, because no one can ever just be honest with each other in these teen romances.

Alright, so the best part of this book is definitely the work Jay put into developing her fairy tale backgrounds, and Sleeping Beauty isn’t the only story that we see. Nicklaas and his curse come from another fairy tale (but I’m not gonna tell you which), and we also see stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel if somewhat briefly. I really enjoyed all of the fairy tale elements in the story, and the chemistry between Aurora and Nicklaas was great, but of course this book did have it’s issues.

I was a little bit frustrated with the end of the novel, I won’t say too much about how it ended, but it seemed kind of like a cop out to me. Plus there was the whole issue of it being a bit predictable, not to mention the way things often seemed to work out a bit too perfectly for our hero and heroine. Without going into too much detail one of the things that bothered me most was near the end when Aurora does something stupid and then a whole bunch of self loathing and suffering ensues. It just bothered me because I don’t like it when authors try to force me to sympathize with their characters by making them suffer in unreasonable and unnecessary ways. But that’s a personal thing.

Anyway, this book was a really quick read. I picked it up on a Saturday and finished it within about six or eight hours I think. It’s not a perfect novel, but it was fun to read, kept me engaged, and, in the end, I was pretty satisfied with it. If you’re looking for something challenging this probably isn’t the book for you, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re just looking for a fun read, or if you’re  sucker for fairy tales like me. 4/5 stars for this one.


Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die series book 3): Review

(Spoiler warning, but nothing too serious)

First off, I have to say that I’m pretty upset. I thought this series was only a trilogy, not sure why. I mean there were three book on the shelf at the store, I bought the three books, and I expected that to be the end of it. Anyway, this has definitely happened to me before, and I should really learn to start googling these things before I start a series, but I never learn. The point though, is that I’m pretty mad the series isn’t over yet.

If you’ve read my reviews of the first two books in the series you know that my feelings have been mixed. This book pretty much had all of the same problems as the previous two. I’m not going to rehash all of it, but basically the ideas and plot behind the story are interesting and have a lot of potential, but the execution of the story comes across really shallow. On the bright side, sitting here at the end of book three I feel like some of the main characters are finally starting to feel more genuine to me. Of course, it shouldn’t have taken three books for me to start feeling this way. If I were to compare this series to a movie I’d say it’s one of those action thrillers that has a plot, and it follows the plot, but you can tell that it was written specifically to allow for as many explosions, car chases, and gory fight scenes as possible, all at the expense of character development and cohesiveness.

So one reason why I’m upset that this series didn’t end with the third book is because it definitely could have. In fact, it very nearly did. The original aim of the series was pretty much completed in this book, but, surprise, something new happened, a new bad guy made himself known, and now the series goes on. This is something that often bothers me. I don’t like it when a story drags on after its natural conclusion. I mean, yes, I am totally fine with heroes facing more than one villain, and with multiple story arches, and things like that. But there’s a good way to do that, and there’s deciding to throw a new bad guy in at the end just to keep the series going. This series definitely seems like the latter to me. Possibly I would feel differently if I had known that the series went on past the third book, but I don’t think so. The series was set up with a very clear goal, an obvious conclusion, and I really think it should have ended there instead being dragged out.

On the other hand, things are getting really interesting over in OZ. That actually just makes me more angry because I really want to be finished with this series but now I’m to invested and really want to know what happens next. I guess that’s a positive though.

Alright, this third book in the series earns a grudging 3.5/5 from me. The plot is definitely getting interesting at this point, but mostly I’m just glad that the characters are starting to come into their own. This series is worth it if you’re willing to stick it out through all of the shallow characterization and plot devices to get to the interesting stuff.


Don’t Close Your Eyes (Wake trilogy collection) by Lisa McMann: Review

I got this series for about five bucks from a Half Priced Books when I visited Texas a while ago. I’d never heard of it before, but the story sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try.

Any spoilers will be fairly minor.

The protagonist of this series is Janie Hannagan, a girl cursed to be unwillingly sucked into other peoples dreams. Janie doesn’t know where she got this curse from (because that’s how she thinks of it, as a curse), but she knows that it will always prevent her from having a normal life. How can she be normal when a classmate falling asleep during study hall pulls her into murderous nightmares and sends her body into seizure like spasms? And if that weren’t enough to make her an outsider, her abysmal home life would probably do the job. Nevertheless, Janie is determined to improve her life. She works hard at school and her job so that she can take care of her mother and save money for college. The series follows Janie as her life begins to change after she starts getting sucked into the horrific nightmares of a boy in her school, Cabel, who has a lot of his own problems to deal with.

This series was pretty predictable, but it did have a lot of good elements. I really enjoyed the relationship between Janie and Cabel, although I did get a bit worried in the second book when I thought Cabel might be turning into a psycho stalker boyfriend. I find that I tend to get tired of YA romances because the relationships always seem to go through the same kinds of drama, and after a while it just gets frustrating and boring. But in this series I thought that Janie and Cabel’s relationship was mature and avoided a lot of the typical drama that I get so tired of, though it did certainly have its own unique kind of drama at times.

The thing I appreciated most about this novel was McMann’s writing style. I don’t know if it will make sense explaining it, but in particular I enjoyed the way McMann sometimes states actions. Her way of writing took a lot of the excess drama out, and I especially liked it when she would turn emotions into statements of action. It worked really well in that it conveyed the characters emotions in a powerful and simplified way, especially because she didn’t overuse it.

The formatting of the series was pretty different from anything else I’ve read. I’ve read other novels were sections are dated or things like that, but these novels are not only dated but also split up into time coded sections. I understand why McMann did it that way, and it did work petty well, but it was also a bit frustrating at times because I would constantly find myself feeling like I needed to look back to see how much time had passed between this section and the last section and whatnot.

Of the three books in the series the second was definitely my favorite, and the third one was a bit of a let down as a conclusion. I understand what McMann was trying to do in Gone, the third in the collection, but I don’t think it was the best way to go. The idea, without giving too much away, is basically that Janie has to make a decision regarding the use of her ability. She has two paths she can take and neither of them is particularly good, the whole of the third book is basically her trying to make a decision while loose ends are tied up and questions left from the previous two novels are answered. If it were just left at that I probably wouldn’t have had a problem with it, it still would have been a bit of a let down after the excitement of the second book, but I would have been okay with it. The problem is that at the very end of the book McMann throws in some last minute information that completely changes Janie’s choices and decision. It read a lot like a cop-out to me. The worst thing though was that you could see it coming almost from the beginning of the book. It was pretty obvious to me what was going to happen, and I had a hard time believing that Janie couldn’t see it until the very end. Plus, knowing how things were going to go cheapened Janie’s struggle, I couldn’t bring myself to really care how hard a time she was having trying to figure out what to do when I knew it was all pointless and going to get thrown out in the end anyway.

In the end, this series was probably worth the five dollars I paid for it, but it’s not one I’ll ever read again. It was a really quick read and I enjoyed it, although the characters dealt with some pretty heavy emotional drama at times so I wouldn’t classify this as a ‘light’ read. Would I recommend this series? Yeah, it’s good enough to read, but to be honest there’s better stuff out there. I can’t rate this above a 2.5/5 stars, which is weird to me because I did enjoy it, and there were a lot of good things about it. I don’t know, I think the ending just kind of disappointed me, I feel like there was a lot more that could have been done with it.


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die series, book 1): Review

There may be some minor spoilers in this post.

I’m a sucker for stories like this that take classics and make them into a modern, and often darker, version. I usually go more for fairy tale retellings rather than things like this, but when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble I couldn’t resist. As you can probably tell from the title, this series is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, or, well, more of a sequel really. The premise is that after the end of the story that we all know Dorothy finds herself discontent back in her boring old life in Kansas. In some mysterious event as yet unexplained in the book she manages to get back to Oz, and that’s when things go terribly wrong. Dorothy, drunk on magical power and hailed as a hero by the people of Oz, has taken over the magical realm, draining it of all magic for her own personal use and enslaving its people. Interesting premise right? Right.

When constructing the backstory for this book Paige created a lot of compelling material for herself. Unfortunately, as I all to often find in the YA genre, she fails to make full use of it. Amy, Paige’s protagonist, like Dorothy, is a relatively ordinary girl from Kansas, though one with a significant amount of teenage angst built up from her terrible home and school life. Also like Dorothy, she gets swept off to Oz by a tornado. For reasons that still have not been made clear at the end of  first book in the series this means that she is the only one who can bring Dorothy down and return Oz to the beautiful and happy place that it was before.

Like I said, pretty good premise, and one that I was excited about, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that it wouldn’t be all I hoped. I felt that the beginning of the novel was rushed, like Paige was trying to get Amy to Oz as fast possible without making sure that the reader got to know Amy and get invested in her struggles before thrusting her into them headfirst. That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the novel. In contrast, however, I also started to feel like Paige was trying way to hard to get me to understand and sympathize with Amy. I completely understand (and enjoy when it’s done well) that angst and self discovery are pretty much staples of the YA genre, but in this novel I never really felt Amy’s struggles and emotional turmoil were real. Her struggle to find her own identity felt forced (and I mean literally, there were literally characters in the novel that were trying to force her to figure out who she was), and I felt like her emotional drama was devalued simply from being harped on too much. Through a large section of the novel, and at various other points throughout, it felt like the plot was being moved along only by her emotional outbursts, and, at the same time, the events of the plot were tailor made to  force these emotional outbursts. Like every time the plot was in danger of stalling or getting bogged down something would happen to push Amy over the edge causing her to achieve whatever thing she needed to achieve in order for the story to move on. While the character’s development should absolutely help move and shape the plot and vise versa in this particular novel the two are not working well together.

The thing that bothered me most about the book as a whole is that Amy seems to have that mysterious power that so many protagonists in the past have had, the power of “just knowing.” I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “somehow I just knew” appeared in this novel, mostly because I didn’t count, but it was a lot. Basically it felt like Amy never had to struggle to learn or understand anything, anytime she was confronted with a questionable situation where she might reasonably be uncertain she would “somehow just know” how to interpret such and such, or that such and such person could be trusted, or that this thing or that was the right thing to do. It cheapened her journey and her authenticity as a person. Granted, there are magical powers in Paige’s Oz and possibly this could explain Amy’s sixth sense, but there is never any indication that this is the case.

Okay, so after all that about the bad stuff about this novel you’re probably thinking I didn’t enjoy it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was disappointed by Dorothy Must Die because I had expected it to amount to much more than it did, but, at the same time, there is a lot about it that was really interesting and that I really enjoyed. For example, the backstory that has brought Oz to this point, as well as the way beloved characters have become twisted into something dark, though still somehow recognizable and believable as themselves, was very well done and one of the best parts of the book. Additionally there were a lot of magical elements in Oz that I found refreshing and unique. I find that I really want to know what exactly brought all of these characters to the point that they’re at, what turned them, in some cases, so evil. And there are characters whose backgrounds and secrets I’m eager to have revealed. By the end of the novel I felt like Amy was becoming more complete as a character and I was becoming more invested in her.

I’m impressed by the Oz that Paige created here, and having, I confess, only seen the movie and never read the original, I wonder how much of it’s completely new and how much she drew from the original story. I can’t help but think that maybe there are subtleties in the novel that I am missing because I don’t understand their origins. If nothing else this novel has convinced me to finally read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I will be continuing with this series. The first book left off with quite a cliff hanger that I’d like to see resolved, and, after finishing the novel, I too am convinced Dorothy really must die. I’ll give this a 3/5 and recommend that you read it if you’re looking for something not great, but fun and delightfully wicked.


Traveler by L.E. DeLano: Review

Where to start? I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. It took me a while to get into it and it wasn’t until the last few chapters that I really got invested.

There may be some minor spoilers to follow so beware.

Traveler caught my interest partly by its title (I love traveling so the title immediately caught my eye), and partly by the concept behind story. The novel follows Jessa as she meets the mysterious Finn and learns that the reality she exists in is only one of thousands  of realities (or more), and she’s one of the talented few who has the ability to use mirrors to travel between realities and influence events, thus her title as Traveler.

The concept behind this is pretty good, but I found through most of the book that it was not explored to it’s utmost potential. I felt like there were a lot of aspects and possibilities behind the mythology of Travelers, as well as the mysterious Dreamers who direct their activities, that DeLano left unexplored, and that was only one of my frustrations with the book. The two biggest things that bothered me throughout were the use of so many YA tropes, and Jessa’s apparent complete lack of curiosity.

There are a lot of things in this novel that you will have seen before. For instance the ‘girl meets mysterious guy, to whom she is mysteriously attracted, only to learn that she has a mysterious power that she has to use to save the world’ trope so often seen in YA fiction these days. The premise of the story kept me reading even though I was almost instantly frustrated with the book, and I am glad that I stuck it out because the ending finally caught my interest. Although I still think there is a lot of work to be done to make this a really top notch series, I will seek out the sequel whenever it should be published, which won’t be for some time

As far as protagonists go Jessa isn’t exactly the most original. In fact, thinking back now I can’t think of any aspect of the character that really hooked me, or that I found particularly interesting, the only thing that makes Jessa’s story worth reading is the circumstances of her life. But the thing about her that frustrated me most was that she never seemed to ask any questions. As Jessa began to learn about her role as a Traveler there were so many questions that she should have asked but didn’t, or at least not for a long time after I felt they should have been asked. True, most of the questions that I wondered about eventually got answered, but I feel that someone in Jessa’s position should have tried to find the answers much sooner rather than just waiting for them to be handed out to her when they were convenient. Honestly, I spent a good portion of the novel thinking that the concept of Travelers and alternate realities was woefully underdeveloped and the reason my questions weren’t being answered was because the author didn’t even know the answers. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, but it definitely colored my perception of the novel most of the way through. I don’t want to give any serious spoilers, but lets just say that these weren’t questions that might just not have occurred to Jessa but questions that, without the answers to them, her role as a Traveler makes absolutely no sense.

Ok, so that was a lot of bad stuff about the novel, but there is good stuff too, I promise. The alternate reality concept really is very interesting and has a lot of potential. Delano explores a few different realities during this first book in the series and they are quite interesting. By the end of the book I actually was starting to get invested in the characters and what would happen to them, but, to be perfectly honest, the best part of this book was the way it ended. Delano has set up a lot of potential for following books in which his mythology, multiverse, and characters will have a lot of room for exploration and development. So, I would not recommend this book in and of itself, but, as the start too a potentially good series, I would suggest giving it a try, though you might wait a while for the next book in the series to come out before trying it. All in all a 2/5 with potential for the future.


The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White: Review

This is one of those books that I looked at for about half a minute at the library, liked the cover, was interested enough by the blurb, and decided to take home with me. The plot is basically thus: Isadora is the mortal daughter of immortal Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. She is disillusioned by her relationship with her powerful mother, feels unwanted by the god of the dead, aka her father, and thus moves to San Diego to live with her mortal brother, son of same immortal gods. Of course, there is also some dark threat looming over the whole family of gods at the same time that all of this is happening. The book is a combination of, angst-ridden-teen comes-to-understand-her-complicated-family and normal-teen-immersed-in-supernatural-world-saves-all-the-supernatural-beings, plus a little romance splashed in.

I did enjoy this book, it was a fast, fun read, with some angst, some romance, and some good friendships. But I have a lot of problems with it. The biggest of these is that even when Isadora finally comes to understand her immortal mother and accepts their relationship for what it is THEY NEVER ACTUALLY ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUE BETWEEN THEM AND IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL! And that bugs me, in case the all caps didn’t get that across. The best part of this book is the way that Kiersten White makes ancient gods comes to life with real and interesting personalities, mostly through the medium of Isadora who has a lot of fun stories and anecdotes about her immortal relatives. The details she gives to the gods personalities and the way she shapes their modern day relationships based on their ancient pasts is really interesting and those parts were my favorites of the novel.

I said that this book was a fun, quick read, but it’s quick because everything is rushed. I had a hard time believing Isadora’s transformations and revelations. She hardly seems to struggle, and when she does struggle it’s pointed out so blatantly that it doesn’t feel like she’s really working for it. In short, the emotion of the novel feels forced.

In my ideal world this novel would be rewritten to develop the characters more fully, to give more room for exploring a modern family of immortal beings and getting more in depth into the mythology and magic that allows the book to function, and it would deal with several issues and question that I found were never resolved nor answered to my satisfaction. All in all I’d give this book a 3/5.