Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Enchanted
by Alethea Kontis

ISBN-13: 9-780547-645704
Publication: May 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

It isn’t easy being Sunday’s child, not when you’re the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night, Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland — and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction to this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past – and hers?

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis is like a love story to fairy tales. The original story, which at it’s heart is a remix of The Princess and the Frog fairy tale, manages to include so many shout-outs to other fairy tales that it’s amazing – Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella are very prominent.

Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and she’s a bit more magical than she ever guessed. The daughter of a woodcutter, Sunday lives at home with her father, mother, three of her sisters (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and two of her brothers (Trix and Peter). Spending a lot of her time in the wood, Sunday meets a talking frog – obviously an enchanted man. After a kiss on the head one evening as Sunday leaves to go home, the spell is broken and Prince Rumbold – the frog – returns home. Determined to convince Sunday to love him as a man, even though her family hates his, he throws three elaborate balls. During the nights of celebration magic and plots are running wild and Sunday is in for more adventure than simply falling in love could provide.

At the beginning of the book is the poem that details the personalities of children born on certain days of the week, and each of the Woodcutter girls personify the day of the week they’re named after very well. At first I thought reading about characters named after the days of the week would be slightly confusing (especially because there are so many of them), but Alethea Kontis writes voice very well, and it was easy to keep all the sisters apart. Their emotions, speech and mannerisms are very distinct. Really the main thing regarding the characters I found confusing was their ages. Trix, older than Sunday (whom I’m assuming is in her late teens if not older) often seems to have the maturity of a six-year old. Sunday also says at one point that she never met her oldest brother Jack, so the differences in their ages must be very great, yet the parents do not seem to be old at all. Most of this can be attributed to the faerie elements to the story, I suppose; long lives and youthful appearances.

Prince Rumbold’s scenes at the beginning are quite…choppy? Rumbold is recovering from being a frog, but he’s also seeing things, hearing things, his fairy-godmother Sorrow is doing something to his father the king to keep him young, magic is running wild and it’s all very confusing. The scenes are full of abrupt shifts in places and thought processes, and so much alluding to things that had happened before Rumbold was a frog but that he doesn’t remember, that I was just as confused as he is. The good thing is that things get less confusing very quickly, as his memory returns and the story begins to focus on Rumbold and Sunday, and the three balls. There is a lot of hinting at bad things that happened during the year before Rumbold become a frog that never really get answered, which left me very curious and kind of disappointed since I wanted to know the details. A huge plus in Rumbold’s scenes? Erik and Velius, Rumbold’s guard and cousin, have hilarious banter. They are definitely the comic relief!

The ending of Enchanted by Alethea Kontis is so great. There’s this huge big scene with magic spells, giants, love, sadness and maybe even a happily ever after. And though I found a few parts confusing, or unclear, as a whole the story is a brilliant remix and retake on traditional fairy tales. Alethea Kontis put her own spin on the classics and created a world where anything can, and will, happen. Magic is a way of life in the Prince Rumbold’s kingdom, and Sunday’s life quickly becomes more exciting than she could have ever imagined. It’s the details in the writing that make this world come alive, and I would be happy to read more fairy tale stories set in the same world. I feel there is much more that can be explored!

ARC received from Thomas Allen & Son Ltd. in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Dust City
by Robert Paul Weston

ISBN-13: 9-780670-063963
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

In a city as mean as this, even a big bad wolf should be afraid.

And Henry Whelp is that Big Bad Wolf. Or will be, someday. His dad is doing time for the double murder of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, so everyone assumes crime is in Henry’s blood. For years, he’s kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves on the outskirts of Dust City – a gritty metropolis known for its black-market, mind-altering dust. And the entire population of foxes, ravens, and hominids are hooked. But it’s not just any dust the creatures of this grim underground are slinging and sniffing. It’s fairydust.

When a murder at the Home forces Henry to escape, he begins to suspect his dad may have been framed. With a daring she-wolf named Fiona by his side, Henry travels into the dark alleyways and cavernous tunnels of Dust City. There, he’ll come face to snout with legendary mobster Skinner and his Water Nixie henchmen to discover what really happened to his father in the woods that infamous night…and the shocking truth about fairydust.

I love fairy tales. And Dust City is one unique, modern fairy tale. The story follows Henry, the son of the Big Bad Wolf that killed Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Living in a home for wayward animalia, Henry’s adventure starts with a murder made to look like a suicide. Leaving the home, Henry’s on the run from the police with some help from a she-wolf, Fiona. After some revelations and hints from a father still in prison, Henry goes undercover in the largest Dust ring in the city to try and find out what really happened to the fairies of old, and maybe clear is father’s name. There are encounters with giants, nixies and hominds and a lot of twisty questions along the way.

Dust City is a gritty outlook on the traditional fairy tale, where Fairy Dust is an addictive drug, and the creatures from fairy tales are just as flawed as we are. Even the glorious floating city where the fairies used to live – and is now populated by hominids – is not the happy, shining place many people in Dust City think it is. Beneath everything is a sense of despair and fear. Henry gets dragged into the cover-up of the century, and he manages to hold his own against the most sinister of villains. Perhaps the Big Bad Wolf is so bad after all, and those creatures seen as lesser are in fact just as important as anyone else. Henry certainly is.

For a character who is a large, talking wolf, it was quite easy to forget that fact. There were numerous times that we were reminded of Henry being an actual wolf and I was surprised. But they were never huge hints – they were subtle things worked in to how Henry moves, sees, thinks or acts. Wolfish characterisitcs that shine through in the must mundane moments. I loved it. It allowed the read to connect with Henry as we would any human character in a story, but still allowed us that sense of the unknown, of a fairy tale come to life (as it were). Some evens may have seemed a little too convenient at times, but overall the story flowed well and kept me engaged from captivating beginning to crazy ending. Dust City by Robert Paul Weston is different. It’s different, and intense and so worth the read.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Heart’s Blood
by Juliet Marillier

ISBN-13: 9-780451-462930
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the region in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people. The woods hold a perilous forces whose every whisper threatens doom. And Anluan himself has been crippled by a childhood illness.

Then the young scribe Caitrin appears in Anluan’s garden, admiring the rare plant known as heart’s blood. Retained to sort through entangled family documents, Caitrin brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.

But even as Caitrin brings solace to Anluan, and the promise of something more between them, he remains in thrall to the darkness surrounding Whistling Tor. To free Anluan’s burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life – and their love.

Most of us grew up watching Disney animated movies. I remember going to see Pocahontas, Lion King and Toy Story in theatres. I remember Beauty and the Beast and how much magic the story seemed to hold. I had yet to come across a telling of Beauty and the Beast that left me with such a sense of wonder as Disney’s version – until now, and heart’s Blood.

It’s not even the closest retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s presence is the same. Once I was older and able to understand more than just “singing, talking furniture and a huge, pretty dress”, I could see the romance between Beauty and her beast, and more than the story of a curse and magic, the romance is the real tale. That notion that love can conquer and cure all. But I’m jumping into the middle. Let’s start at the beginning, where all good stories start.

Caitrin is a scribe’s daughter, and practices the craft herself. We first meet her as she is traveling away from her home town after the death of her father. She arrives at Whistling Tor, using the last of her money. As luck would have it, the chieftain of the area is in need of a scribe, but the tales of specters and hauntings on the Tor have kept everyone – including the villagers – away. Braving the journey, Caitrin makes her way to the chieftain’s home (which is pretty much like a castle). There, she meets Anluan, the “beast” chieftain, with crooked arm and leg. Caitrin gains employment and soon finds herself amidst the Host, ghostly figures who inhabit the hill of the Tor, otherworldly people, and Anluan. Whistling Tor is facing invasion from Normans, and Anluan is desperate to control the Host. Caitrin wants nothing more than to ease Anluan’s burdens, and helping to send the Host back to death is the easiest way to do that. But she has more obstacles in her way than she knows, and magic always has a deadline.

Caitrin is wonderful. So strong, level-headed, intelligent and loving; but she has her weaknesses. It’s only as the story progresses that she comes into her incredible strength of character. She learns that she can’t run from what she fears, but rather face it head on and conquer that fear. Caitrin doesn’t shy away from practicing her craft, though it’s considered a man’s work. She’s confident in her abilities and willing to use them. Her voice came through the writing loud and clear, and I feel as if I have known her forever. And then there is Anluan, Beast to her Beauty. Anluan is the young, crippled chieftain of Whistling Tor, and has been through so much heartache in his life. Caitrin is like a breath of fresh air to him. Anluan is gruff, abrupt, prone to mood swings and very anti-social. But he’s constantly aware of his useless arm, and his limp. He’s had to struggle to control the Host for years, and has had little contact with people outside of the few in his household. He has a hard time handling the changes that Caitrin is bringing to Whistling Tor, but his heart is so pure and he wishes for hope. I have such a soft spot for Anluan – he’s the type of character that just makes you want to care for him.

For a story that seems only loosely based on Beauty and the Beast in the beginning, there are many similarities. Caitrin, when she leaves Whistling Tor for a while, takes a mirror with her that allows her to see Anluan at any time. She rushes back to his side when it seems he may die. Anluan – and his family – are under a curse that needs to be broken before Anluan dies without an heir, and instead of the rose playing a significant part in the story we have the herb Heart’s Blood. Rather than the household being changed into animated furniture, there is the Host of spirits. But it’s so much more than the plot points that make this story good. It’s the romance and the interaction between Caitrin and Anluan, it’s the characters themselves and the mystery of the curse. The romance is so soft, so sweet. It grows from friendship, mutual respect and appreciation for each others company. It’s a comfortable love, but burns brightly. The result is such a comfortable, happy feeling by the time you finish the book. It’s beautiful. And the mystery of the curse! The build up and solution, the why and how, was all handled perfectly. The writing style helps; it really reminds you of an old fashioned fairy tale or fantasy. I loved it.

Heart’s Blood is a must read for any fairy tale and fantasy lover. It will stay in your hearts long after you’ve turned the last page.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Sisters Red
by Jackson Pearce

ISBN-13: 9-780316-068680
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris – the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister, Rosie, from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and a blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls’ bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Scarlett’s only friend, Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax. But does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they’ve worked for?

I’m absolutely in love with this book. Sisters Red is a modern re-telling and continuation of the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. If you want some kick-ass heroines, dark werewolves, and romance than Sisters Red will have you glued to your chair until you’ve finished the book.

Sisters Scarlett and Rosie are incredibly close but very different people. Scarlett is the hunter of the family. She’s brave, tough and ruthless towards the Fenris she hunts. Her hunting has left her not only physically scarred, but mentally scarred as well. Hunting is her life. Yes, she loves her sister and her hunting partner Silas, but hunting is in her blood and soul. She’s slightly bitter and more than a little envious/jealous of those girls who live in the dark about the danger surrounding them. Rosie, the younger sister, is also a hunter but nothing like her sister. She’s still relatively innocent (thanks to Scarlett) and finds joy in the simple life outside of hunting the Fenris. She loves her sister, and will do anything to help her, but Rosie grows throughout the book and with Silas’ help realizes she has to live her life for herself, too – not just for her sister. Silas has such an impact on each sister. He’s Scarlett’s rock, her hunting partner. One who has grown up with the hunt like the sisters have. To Rosie, he’s Scarlett’s partner, and her friend – until he becomes so much more than that.

Told in alternating points of view, the storyline for Sisters Red is, for lack of a better word, awesome. Jackson Pearce starts out with the well known tale of Little Red Riding Hood – the wolf arrives at grannies house in the woods. In Jackson’s story, the woodcutter doesn’t arrive on time and Little Red suffers for it. She gives Little Red a sister, and continues the story of what happens after the wolf, or in this case, the werewolf. The story is a darker look at the fairy tale and it works. The writing is engaging and fluid, and the characterization is great. Even without the handy chapter headers detailing the POV switch, I would still have known which sister I was reading about. Their voices are so distinct, and Scarlett is definitely darker than Rosie. There were a few parts detailing how Scarlett views the women they help save that were a little worrisome, but I see it as Scarlett acting out her jealousy toward physically beautiful women (since she sees her scars as highly disfiguring), and she knows she shouldn’t have such thoughts. Everything seems to become darker and more rushed, more anxious, once the sisters and Silas hit the city, and everything spirals down from there. The ending…it’s bittersweet. Definitely fit the story well.

While Sisters Red is an action/adventure story at its base (some of the fight sequences between the three hunters and the Fenris are epic, if not a little unbelievable at times), the real story is the personal interactions of the sisters and Silas. It’s a story about what it means to be family, and being true to yourself. It’s a story of love, loss and new beginnings.

Graphic Novels (6): Grimm Fairy Tales vol. 1

Grimm Fairy Tales vol. 1
by Joe Brusha & Ralph Tedesco

Red Riding Hood is forced to confront the insatiable hunger of a terrifying beast; Cinderella seeks a shocking vengeance for the years of torture she’s endured; Hansel and Gretel realize that the problems they left behind at home are nothing compared to the horror that awaits them on their ill-advised journey; a desperate girl makes a deal with the hideous Rumpelstiltskin only to find out she may lose more than she ever imagined; Sleeping Beauty learns that narcissism can be a very gruesome trait to possess and an envious sister finds her extreme measures to capture the man of her dreams may lead to much worse than just heartbreak from the Robber Bridegroom.

Grimm Fairy Tales vol. 1 includes the first six issues of the series. Each one deals with a different fairy tale, and the artists differ for each one, which gives each tale its own unique look and feel. The stories have an overarching character to tie them all together – she finds people who can benefit from her tellings of the fairy tales, but these are tellings like we’ve rarely heard before. Each tale is told with a darker intent; the message behind the fairy tale is made inherently creepy in order to turn a person away from the same path. Unlike Disney who took the original creepy, sad, or depressing fairy tales and gave them happy endings, the Grimm Fairy Tales are just that – grim. Even the fairy tales that were always lighter in nature are twisted; the stories keep the basic roots and premise of the original fairy tale but make them worse than they ever were.

There is definitely merit in already knowing the story being re-told. I had never heard the Robber Bridegroom fairy tale, so I had no idea where the story was leading. For ones like Litte Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, I could easily guess what the “warning” in the story would be. But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the tale because I didn’t know the outcome, in fact I liked having a completely new fairy tale to read (and the warnings are still pretty easy to guess). What I liked about the ones I did know, was seeing how the writers turned the story around to suit their darker intent. I’m definitely excited to see where the following volumes take the storyline!

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Midnight Ball
by Jessica Day George

ISBN-13: 9-781599-904559
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!

As the crown princess, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers, and dances at party after party in their father’s palace. But their evenings do not end when the guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone’s palace. There, the girls are cursed to dance each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill.

Many princes have tried – and failed – to break the spell. But then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse, they’ll need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles, and, of course, true love.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a fantastic retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Cursed to dance at night for the King Under Stone, Rose and her sisters despair of ever breaking the curse. Soon their country is thrown into turmoil and cries of witchcraft when the plight of the princesses becomes known. Only Galen, a soldier recently returned home and working in the palace gardens, has the strength of will – and heart – to discover a way to save the twelve sisters from their fate.

I adore Galen. He’s such a nice boy! He has known only war; being born to a career soldier and his wife, Galen has been on the front lines from an extremely young age. An orphan, he travels to the capitol city in order to find the rest of his mother’s family. Once there, he takes a position helping his uncle in the palace gardens. Galen is extremely polite, loyal and hard working. He respects his aunt and uncle, and doesn’t disregard the youngest princesses just because of their age. He always tries to cheer them up and keep them (all) safe. The twelve princesses are named after flowers. It’s a little confusing keeping them straight all the time (besides the oldest and the youngest ones), but Rose is the main princess to know. Rose is the oldest, and deeply cares for her siblings. She’s very refined and poised, and has a protective streak a mile wide. She would do anything to keep her sisters safe (and she does). Rose can keep her head in a tough situation and has strength to spare.

The flow of the action and storyline was done very well. I was never bored, but neither was I overwhelmed with information and activity. The mysteries of the plot begin to build right away with the Queen visiting the King Under Stone and when Galen meets a strange woman on the side of the road. Add in the fact that the princesses are cursed to never speak of their plight to anyone. The reader receives more information than the characters, so it’s not quite a mystery. Instead you find yourself wishing that Galen could hear you and just see what’s in front of his face (obvious details to us, but not to him). The idea isn’t so much to find out what’s wrong with the princesses, but how Galen is going to save them from dancing every night. Right up until the end you can’t be sure if he will succeed or not, and the last few action scenes are wicked.

Even though it’s based on a fairy tale, Princess of the Midnight Ball is set in a time period that seems to be a mash-up of a real time and place. The countries resemble Germany, Belgium, Rome etc., and it is close to the start of the inquisition – the witch hunts that swept through Europe. The story had that traditional fairy tale feel to it, but the setting made it just a little bit more familiar. Princess of the Midnight Ball is a masterful adventure full of magic, love and chivalry, proving that even the worst events can lead to happy endings.

Sisters Red release day!

Today is the OFFICIAL release day for Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce!

I was lucky enough to have my local bookstore recieve 2 copies a couple weeks ago, and get there quick enough to grab one. As today is the official release date, I’ll be spending it reading the book and following Twitter obsessively as @JacksonPearce spends the day giving away prizes to those using the #sistersred hash tag.

Although I may be spending the day reading, I’m holding off until Fairy Tale week in August before posting my review. I’ll definitely tweet if I loved it or not, though 🙂