A Curse So Dark and Lonely

cursesodarkby Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “There is blood under my fingernails.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 29, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some inferences to sex and lots of violence. It’ll be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I bet a 7/8th grader who wants to tackle this might really enjoy it.

Rhen is the crown prince of Everfall, but 5 years ago he made the worst decision of his life: he slept with, and then rejected, an enchantress. She (because she can) put a curse on him: at the end of every season (spring, summer, etc.) he will turn into a monster for a length of time. He has to find True Love to break the curse.

(If this sounds like Beauty and the Beast, you’re right.)

Harper lives in DC, and her family has fallen up on hard times. Her mother’s terminal illness has sucked the family finances dry, and so her father turned to loan sharks and other shady characters for money. And then he split, leaving Harper and her older brother Jake to clean up the mess. That is, until she’s inadvertently kidnapped (she wasn’t the intended target; in fact, she tried to stop the original kidnapping) by Rhen’s captain of the guard, Grey. And then she finds herself in Everfall.

There was so much to love in this book. The nods to the original fairy tale. The banter between Rhen and Harper. Harper’s fierceness (she’s not a warrior, but she cares about people and she’s willing to defend them). Rhen has a painful backstory, and Grey is an amazing foil. And the enchantress? Is wonderfully, justifiably awful.

It pulled me in on page one, and didn’t let me go until I finished. The only complaint I have? That it wasn’t a stand-alone (it could have been), but instead left a thread open for a sequel (which I will probably read).

Still. It was excellent.

 

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Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik
First sentence: “The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”
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Content: There is some domestic violence and other violence as well as some more mature themes. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore. 

If you’ve read Novik’s Uprooted, then you know what you’re in for with this book. (If you haven’t read Uprooted, why not?) 

This takes place in much of the same place that Uprooted does: a vaguely Eastern-European/Russian country. We follow the story of Miryem, the daughter of an inept Jewish money lender, who decides to take on the family business for herself. She becomes successful enough that it captures the attention of the Staryk, a viscous race of faerie who, during the winter, stole from the humans, goods, yes, but often money. She is tasked with turning silver into gold — which she does — and as a “reward” is kidnapped and taken to the Staryk kingdom. 

So, yes: shades of Rumplestiltskin, but the inferences go deeper. There is playing with names and the importance of them (everyone who reads a lot of fantasy knows that one’s true name is to be kept close because there is magical power in them). But, there’s also a demon and quite a few very very smart women who are willing and able to play the system to get what’s not only best for them, but also for the country. 

My only real complaint is the shifting narrative — but that’s just because I’m in the middle of the Cybils, and it seems like there’s a lot of shifting narrative books out there and I’m a bit over it. I love the way Novik plays with fairy tales, meshing them with religion and folklore to create something wholly her own. 

Excellent. 

Blanca & Roja

by Anna-Marie McLemore
First sentence: “Everyone has their own way of telling our story.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  There are some references to sex and some swearing (including a few f-bombs). It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the library.

For their whole lives, the del Cisne sisters — Blanca and Roja — have known that one of them would live and one of them would be turned to a swan.

All their lives, Blanca and Roja — named so because Blanca was blond and fair, and Roja had red hair and darker skin — tried to thwart the swans. They weren’t going to be divided, one of them was not going to be left behind. Then, the swans came. And behind them, two boys: Page and Barclay. 

One part fairy tale retelling (Snow White and Rose Red) and one part love story, Blanca & Roja is incredibly lyrical. I love the way McLemore writes, with spare chapters and magical language. I loved the way she used the fairy tales, and the way she was exploring the consequences of racism and white preference. It was a fascinating story, incredibly well-told, and thoroughly enjoyable!

West

by Edith Pattou
First sentence: “I had placed the box, the one etched with the runes that contained the story of Rose and her white bear, in a quiet corner of my library.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: East
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 23, 2018
Content: There are some intense moments, and the main character is married with a baby, so it may not interest younger readers much. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

When I finished this — and don’t get me wrong: I loved it — I thought, “Well, that’s the best unnecessary sequel I’ve ever read.”  See: East (which I also loved) ended satisfyingly. Rose and the White Bear (spoilers, if you haven’t read it or don’t know the fairy tale) got their happily ever after. There was, really, no need for there to ever be a sequel.

And yet, here we are.

It’s two years after the end of East, and Rose and Charles are happy. They have an adopted daughter, Estelle, and a baby, temporarily named Winn. They have a good life in Fransk. Then they decide to go visit Rose’s parents, traveling separately, and Charles never makes it. Word comes that he died in a huge storm. But Rose determines that, no, he’s still alive, and her old arch-enemies, the Trolls, are behind it. So she takes off — leaving Estelle and Winn in the care of her family — to rescue her White Bear. Again.

It really was an enjoyable read, but I just couldn’t shake the whole unnecessary side of it. Why did Rose need to go again? I understand wanting to revisit this world that Pattou created, but I really didn’t need a rehashing of Rose’s story. It it, instead, had followed Neddy (which it did, for a bit, and I really liked those parts) or Estelle (and made it a really young adult book, rather than this weird feels-like-a-young-adult-but-the-main-character-is-an-adult book) I might have liked it more. Pattou couldn’t have even come up with a new antagonist; she had to resurrect the Troll Queen again. So, yeah, while Pattou’s writing is lovely, and the story is nice enough, it’s really all… unnecessary.

Though I suppose there will be fans who are grateful for it.

Sea Witch

by Sarah Henning
First sentence: “Two small pairs of boots echoed on the afternoon cobblestones — one pair in a sprint, the other in a stumble and slide.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some intense action, and a few violent moments. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

In this small Danish sea town, Evie is a bit of an outcast. The daughter of a fisherman, she grew up best friends with Prince Nik and their mutual friend, Anna. It was tolerated when they were little, but after Anna’s death by drowning, Evie and Nik’s friendship was really frowned upon, and Evie felt the disapproval even more. Especially since she felt she was to blame for Anna’s death. So when a girl — Annemette — shows up out of the blue on the eve of the towns festival, Evie grasps it as her chance at redemption. Especially since Annemette looks and sounds exactly like Anna.

But Evie finds out that things aren’t exactly as they seem, and by that time, it’s too late to stop what has already been put in motion.

I’ve been telling people that what Wicked is to Wizard of Oz, this is to The Little Mermaid. It’s essentially the origin story of the Sea Witch character in the Andersen fairy tale. But, it’s also a re-telling of that fable (with a bit of Disney thrown in as well), and Henning does it extremely well. I haven’t read the original tale in years, but I adored the way Henning wove in the familiar parts of the tale while giving us something completely new. I liked Evie’s internal conflict with her magic and her commitment to her friend, and I loved the nice twist at the end (which I kind of saw coming but was much, much more than I ever expected). The romance is nice, though it’s not really the focus of the story. The friendship between Evie and Anna (shown mostly through a series of flashbacks throughout the book) is, which I also appreciated. It was just a compelling story, all around.

If you like fairy tale retellings, definitely pick this one up.

Bob

by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
First sentence: “I feel bad that I can’t remember anything about Gran Nicholas’s house.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s written perfectly for the younger age group. It is in the middle grade  section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Livy hasn’t been to her grandmother’s house in Australia in five years, when she was five years old. She doesn’t remember much from the last time she was there: not the room or the toys or the landscape, and especially not the green creature in the closet. Bob (the green creature in the closet) remembers Livy though. She told him to stay put, which he did. For five years. In the closet. But now that Livy’s here, he’s sure she can help him find his way home again.

Bob (the book not the character) is a charming little story about friendship and growing up, but also home and family. And it’s a delightful twist on fairy tales. In Mass’ and Stead’s hands, it’s not saccharine, but simple and sweet and tender.  Livy was more complex than I expected, pulled between her childhood self and a desire to be “older” and the responsibility of being a big sister. And Bob was charming and delightfully innocent. I liked that the fairy tale had rules: even though they were never spelled out in the book, Mass and Stead were consistent with who could and could not see Bob. It was incredibly well done, and a delightful read. .

 

Audio book: The Wolf Hour

by Sarah Lewis Holmes
Read by David de Vries; Thérèse Plummer
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is violence, though none of it is graphic. There are some biggish words, as well. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Magia lives on the edge of the Puszcza — a huge, dark, magical forest — with her woodcutter father, mother, and siblings. Her mother has big dreams for everyone: Magia’s sister is going to be a healer, her brother a solder. And her mother wants Magia to be a singer. Except Magia wants to be a woodcutter like her father. But, she’s a good daughter, so she goes to music lessons with Miss Grand… and gets stuck in a story. And not a happy one at that.

I really liked this play and mashing of the Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales. Actually, what I think I liked was the narration by deVries and Plummer. I loved listening to this one; it had the feel of an oral tale, and I loved how deVries and Plummer interpreted the text. Their narration kept me engaged with a text that I probably would have dismissed otherwise. But, because of that, I stuck through it. And while I wondered if there would be a happy  (or even hopeful) ending because Holmes kept the tension in the story going for a lot longer than I expected, it all does resolve well. Which was a nice touch.

In the end: surprisingly good.