3 star, YA

Review: Spindle by E. K. Johnston

Image result for spindle e k johnstonIt has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains. There the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled – and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.


3 Drink Me Potions


The world is made safe by a woman, yes, but it is a very big world.

Spindle is a dramatic retelling of one of the oldest classics: Sleeping Beauty. However, it is not merely the same characters given different names and guises; a whole new world is created to bring a much different life to the story. Despite its fairytale origins, this book actually has many more mature themes compared to the Disney version, but nevertheless it had all the nostalgic value of the original story.

At first, the story was a little bit hard to follow. The theme is completely different: a cursed baby princess forced spinners in her country to leave due to a plague that attacks spinners specifically. The demons feed off of skill and the making of things, and spinning was chosen as the cursed skill that will ultimately let the demon take over the princess. If you are already confused at what I mean, that is exactly how I felt.

Since the people were cursed to not spin, the King and Queen banned spinning in their whole kingdom, and this led to the massive bonfire of spindles in the city – sound familiar? This is where I finally started to realize that this was the fairytale that I knew and loved (perhaps I should have realized from the title). The final straw was of course this “birthday party” of the Little Rose (the princess – another clue I missed), where magical guardians came bearing gifts, and before the last gift was given, the demon came and cursed the child. The last, and of course the weakest, guardian was left with the task of giving her the princess a small reprieve from the curse. The demon cursed the child to be taken over when she learned to spin, and the guardian gave her the “gift” of sleep if she reached for the spindle. Ding ding ding! Princess Aurora, is that you? Why yes, yes it is.

However, this is not your typical useless princess waiting for her prince to come. As one of the main characters, the Little Rose is a fierce and courageous young lady who embarks on a dangerous journey to break the curse with four new friends – ex-spinners looking to break the curse on their family and country. While Princess Aurora was given the gift of beauty and song, the Little Rose was given much more interesting and dare I say, useful gifts such as the discernment of truth.

The Little Rose was only five years old when her parents ruined my mother and brought ruination to my own life.

Spindle initially follows the journey of a young boy named Yashaa who is the son of an ex-court spinner. With his mother’s position being close to the princess, Yashaa once lived in the castle before the demon came and drove all spinners out of the land. This leads Yashaa to have an inborn hatred for the princess for being the cause of their damnation. Due to the King and Queen banning spinning and exiling all those who practiced to protect their daughter, this left many homeless and bitter. Those who spin in the land are cursed to have a worsening cough until their last breath, such is the demon’s curse.

Yashaa and his friends embark on a journey to save all the spinners and to break the curse on the land. Eventually they meet the princess, who is not at all as they expect. Together they run away and wander through the desert to look for a way to break the curse. All seems hopeless: the Little Rose has the choice of being taken over by a demon or eternal sleep. Romance develops as the journey continues and all the tensions start building as the demon begins to hunt for the lost princess. Will they be able to find a way to break the curse in time, or will eternal sleep be the fate for the Little Rose?

Overall Recommendation:
Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite fairytales. The elements of magic and a powerful evil villain in Maleficent really enraptured me as a child. As a much older child now, I appreciated the more mature elements of this retelling, especially where the princess is not just some damsel in distress. The whole premise is completely new, and therefore may be hard to catch on. But for me, who loves any fairytale retelling, there was at least that element that I loved. I would say I enjoyed the nostalgia that came with the realization of what the story meant, but it was definitely a little bit more difficult to follow sometimes. Give it a try though, if you enjoyed Sleeping Beauty as much as I did.

 

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4.5 star, YA

Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

broken things -lauren oliverIt’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


**Broken Things comes out October 2, 2018**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

The problem with fairy tales isn’t that they don’t exist. It’s that they do exist, but only for some people.

I’ve been in a book slump for a while (actually, for quite a bit of this year, really), but Broken Things has definitely been a wild journey that spun me breathlessly through the lives of our protagonists, Brynn and Mia.

While I love a good thriller/mystery, what sets this novel apart in its genre is also the element of a story within a story. The girls were accused 5 years ago of murdering their best friend in the exact same way that was depicted in the fan fic sequel they were writing on an imaginary place called Lovelorn. Already sounds kinda good, doesn’t it?

The pacing was just the right amount. Alternating between Mia and Brynn’s POV – both in the present and in the past around the time of the murder – the pieces of what happened that day slowly unfolds while we try to understand who these girls are now in the aftermath of what happened. The town gave them a name: the Monsters of Brickhouse Lane. And the question that haunted me sometimes while reading this was this: did one of them actually do it and earn that name? Or are they really victims?

As mysteries go, it was the perfect blend of slowly unfolding clues and unique character story arcs to fill the in-between. And oh boy, were there some amazing characters here. I felt I knew Brynn and Mia by the end of it. Brynn, the girl who wants to appear all strong and tough on the outside but really was tired of the world calling her a monster. Mia, the dancer whose thoughts were in beautiful dance moves and poses, struggled to find the right words sometimes but in doing so showcased her underlying strength all this time.

Supporting characters such as Mia’s best friend eccentric Abby and Brynn’s cousin Wade who was dead set on proving her innocence were just the icing on top of the cake. Romance was interweaved into the story yet I found it wasn’t the most important thing. So I was VERY glad for its presence but happy it was kept more on the sidelines to allow the focus on the heart of the mystery.

And the world building of Lovelorn.

Oh my.

In between chapters, there were gorgeously written excerpts of the original story the girls loved, Return to Lovelorn as well as the sequel they wrote in the past. For a contemporary story, this felt like it had something lovely to add for fantasy lovers. Like it’s the best of both worlds put into one.

And the beautiful prose doesn’t just stop at these story excerpts. Lauren Oliver has outdone herself in her writing. I’ve read her past books before (and not all of them were particularly amazing) but I just really couldn’t put this book down largely in part ’cause of how she worded ideas or even the mundane events happening with Brynn and Mia.

So that is where I’ll end this review with. If this were a list to check off, then Broken Things definitely has it all: a gorgeous air of mystery/suspense, good pacing, realistic and fun characters that felt 3-dimensional, and beautiful prose.

And that ending was definitely perfect. You’ll know what I mean.

All these people, these hundreds of thousands of people, have stories. Fascinating, ever-unwinding stories. I am just one of them. And I am still midsentence.

Overall Recommendation:
Broken Things ties together elements that make for an exceptional mystery, whether in YA or otherwise. With good pacing and unique characters, there was always this air of intrigue hanging over me as I wonder who really killed Brynn and Mia’s best friend all those years ago. Beautiful prose by the one and only Lauren Oliver catapults us quickly to an ending that explodes with a culprit we may not have guessed, and it leaves me wanting more from these characters and the world of Lovelorn within their story. You definitely should check it out!

4 star, YA

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Series: Dumplin’ #1

dumplin -julie murphySelf-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.


4 Drink Me Potions


[The song] is catchy and everyone knows the words, but to me, it’s this reminder that no matter who you are, there will always be someone prettier or smarter or thinner. Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we’re all chasing.


Dumplin’ is that book about an atypical heroine you may think of based on the synopsis, but with way more heart and less cheese-y fluffiness than I had pegged it to be.

This book – and my thoughts on it – can be summarized in a few points.

1) Will’s voice as the protagonist was the perfect balance that didn’t overly make me want to sympathize with her yet also showed her vulnerabilities.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes reading stories about girls who are fat does neither of those things. They either lose weight and “get better” and we get to feel “happy” for them or they embrace themselves in such a way that I’m not sure is fully realistic either. This wasn’t the case here and that was surprising. I cheered her on when she was happy with her body and who she was, and was sad with her when she let her doubts get in the way of everything she could aspire to be.

2) The romance wasn’t the highlight.

Wait, what? That can’t be right. I’m saying I didn’t want the romance to be heavily laid on?
You betcha. I frankly didn’t really love Bo. He’s your average good looking guy who was a jerk (to someone else in the past) but now is all romantic and sweet ’cause he’s fallen hard – somehow, and no, we’re not given a reason why – for Will. He seemed too 2-dimensional for such a 3-dimensional girl. SO yeah, I’m quite happy that it wasn’t the focus, especially for the latter half of the book. (I’m sorry, romance fans!)

But don’t get me wrong. It was still sweet. For all of you who really look forward to this.

There’s some kind of peace that comes with knowing that for every person who is waiting to be found, there’s someone out there searching.


3) The ending was abrupt – but in a good way.

I know, how is that a good thing? Well, to me it left things a bit more ambiguous. Like how life is generally. It isn’t always tied up in a nice bow where all the family drama is solved immediately with a deep heart-to-heart talk or couples throwing themselves at each other in happiness after resolving the romantic tensions between them. (Yes, you can see that I’m feeling rather jaded at the moment towards love). I liked that it ended on a good note but without tying up all the loose threads completely.

4) Heartfelt messages for the win! Or life lessons, if that’s what you wanna call them

“Maybe Lucy wasn’t supposed to be your compass forever. Maybe she was there for you just long enough so you could learn how to be your own compass and find your own way.”


Losing her aunt Lucy was a major theme in this book as Will always felt closer to her due to their similar body size. But this isn’t one of those books where the death of a loved one is driving our protagonist crazy with grief or other kinds of pain. Yes, it’s present and it flares up on some days but it’s not just a plot device. It felt real with the lessons Will was able to draw from all the things she remembered and learned anew about her even after death.

5) Girl power!

This story is all about friendships. Will’s ups and downs with her bestie Ellen took a big chunk of this book. If you know what it feels to have someone you’ve just known and gone through so much crap with, this is how it should be portrayed. But aside from lifelong friends, the new ones Will gains in her journey to the pageant was great. I kinda wish there was less of Bo in these pages and more of these girls. They were atypical secondary characters. Not necessarily your characteristic beauties or smarties or sporties. Just…people who want to fit in but others have deemed them OTHER. I loved them, and I love Julie Murphy for creating a story where girls can support each other, even if it’s a bit unwilling at first.

Aside from these things, my only complaint was the slow pacing of the story in the beginning. You know she’s gonna enter a pageant and show everyone that just ’cause she’s fat doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to do this. I adore Will for this. But yeah, it was slow going at first, for at least the first half. I wouldn’t say I breezed through this book at all. Other than that, Dumplin’ holds a lot of good messages that warms my heart at the end of the day.

Overall Recommendation:
Dumplin’ features a cast of atypical girls at the heart of the story, and it’s like no other book I’ve read with fat girls in a starring role. While tugging at our heartstrings in sympathy, it doesn’t just stop there. This is a story of embracing who you are – no matter what size, shape or form – and the courage to be your true self and truly be comfortable with it. The girl friendships gained along the way were empowering. The romance was doable although I could’ve gone without it. Overall, a more remarkable book than I had initially boxed it in. And boy, am I glad for that.