Ella Enchanted

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At Ella’s birth, an imprudent young fairy bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. But instead of making her docile, the fairy’s curse makes Ella a bit of a rebel. When her beloved mother dies, Ella must keep herself safe from her selfish and greedy father, her mean-spirited stepsisters, and the things the curse could make her do. Ella sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery which includes fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

My Review

I had a lot of time in a car last week so I brought one of my all time favorite books to keep me entertained. I hadn’t read Ella Enchanted for probably 10 years and it was definitely time for a reread.

I loved it once again. I was wrapped up in the characters and the story just as much as the first time I read it. It’s an easy read without complicated language so my 5, 7, and 9 year old daughters loved listening to me read it aloud, but it’s written intelligently and beautifully so that I was engaged just as much as the kids.

I love the way the elements of the Cinderella story are presented in a way that they fit together better and make a more fulfilling story than the original fairytale. Even though it’s a retelling it’s fresh and feels completely new. The romance between Ella and the prince is developed well, is believable, and brings such warm fuzzies.

This wasn’t my first reading of this book and it definitely won’t be the last.
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Age Recommendation: This is an award-winning children’s book and will be enjoyed by all ages. As I said, even my 5 year old enjoyed it as a read aloud, though I think my 9 year old certainly understood the themes better. So I would say this book is best for 9 and older.

Appropriateness: This one is squeaky clean. Nothing crass or crude, though some younger readers may feel emotional over the death of Ella’s mother and the injustices that she is subjected to.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked Ella Enchanted you should also read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, Goose Girl and The Princess Academy both by Shannon Hale, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt.

 

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Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet AgainUntil We Meet Again by Renee Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

The last thing 17 year old Cassandra wants to do is spend her summer marooned with her mother and stepfather in a snooty Massachusetts shore town. But when a dreamy stranger shows up on their private beach claiming it’s his own—and that the year is 1925—she is swept into a mystery a hundred years in the making.

As she searches for answers in the present, Cassandra discovers a truth that puts their growing love—and Lawrence’s life—into jeopardy. Desperate to save him, Cassandra must find a way to change history…or risk losing Lawrence forever.

My Review

Until We Meet Again was exactly the type of book I was in the mood for when I picked it up. It’s not a literary masterpiece or anything, but it was entertaining and engaging, easy to read, and well-written. It is a young adult romance novel and it doesn’t claim or try to be anything else. It simply does a great job of being exactly what it’s meant to be.

I enjoyed the wit of the main character and her totally realistic teenage thought processes and motivations. I liked Cassandra right away even with her teenage angst because she was smart and funny, and despite her poor choices her motivations were not cruel or mean. She was pretty relatable.

I didn’t relate to or connect with Lawrence as a character quite as much. He actually seemed like a bit of a player, especially at first, but he was nice enough, and the interaction with Cassandra was fun, cute, and had plenty of romantic tension, so I was still able to get wrapped up in the story.

The only real problem I had with the book was that I wanted more. I would have liked an epilogue maybe 6 months to a year later. I would have loved to know how Cassandra had changed because of her relationship with Lawrence and what choices she made for her future.

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Age Recommendation: 14 and older. Probably would appeal to girls most.

Appropriateness: There is lots of kissing, and some eluding to greater intimacy than that, but nothing is told in graphic detail.  I thought it was tastefully and subtly done.

Other Book Recommendations:  If you liked Until We Meet Again you might also like Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy and Goose Girl both by Shannon Hale, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Golden by Cameron Dokey, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

 

The Winner’s Trilogy, books 1 & 2

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
AND

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary of The Winner’s Curse (from Goodreads)

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Book 2, The Winner’s Crime follows Lady Kestrel and Arin as they continue to decipher if they can trust each other, and if they can trust themselves. Their skills in deceit both help and hurt as they try to uncover a shocking secret affecting both their countries.

My Review

I haven’t been so wrapped up in a series since the Hunger Games. I did not want to put these books down. Only necessities like feeding myself or my children could tear me away. It’s just a good thing that I had the sequel on hand and could start it immediately after finishing book 1. But I have now finished book 2, and book 3 hasn’t been released yet!!! Goodreads shows the expected publication date as March 1st. I HATE waiting.

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime are part of the Winner’s Trilogy. They are the perfect combination of action, intrigue, romance, and engaging prose. I enjoy the excitement, and fairly “clean” and innocent romances of YA fiction, especially when I am looking to just get lost in a story for awhile, but these books surpassed that basic entertainment value and became enthralling. They have all of the thrill of forbidden love, and palpable chemistry between the main characters; then add to that a unique world, and thought-provoking moral and philosophical situations and you get a captivating story.

The setting for these books is NOT a dystopian future, as is so popular in YA fiction these days. The world is completely a fictional one, but there are similarities to our world’s history, particularly to the days of Roman conquerings and enslavements. It is original and refreshing, and presented and described well. It feels as if it could be real.

But let’s get to what really sets these books apart for me. Never have I read a story with so much deceit, lies, half-truths, conspiracy, and stratagem on the parts of both the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” These are smart characters that have had to learn the ways of war, secrecy, stealth, disguise, in order to survive their world. Now they have to face situations that challenge everything they thought they knew and everything they thought they were committed to. I loved the believability of their reasoning, thought-processes as they were forced to examine themselves and their world. And even as the plot becomes more and more intricate the conclusions of the characters stay completely plausible and consistent within the characters motivations and knowledge.

The Winner’s world is one of “grays.” You see multiple sides to every issue and watch as characters try to do the best they can to make choices they can live with amidst a culture and civilization that makes it impossible for all sides to live the way they want. Even when unpleasant events occur because of the choice of one of the “good guys” you can completely see the logic and reasoning behind that choice and why they are still a “good guy” despite the bad things that happened. Definitely makes me glad I am not in the business of politics, war, or revolutions. Though I hope the leaders in those fields in our world are as careful and considerate with their decisions as the characters in these books.

I enjoyed the writing as well. It’s easy and fast to read, just as I like it when I’m completely caught up in a book, but there is also depth and beauty to the ideas and presentation that goes beyond your average entertainment read. These are not literary classics, by any means. This is simply a YA romance series, but it’s one that I am totally loving.

So, I say, “Well done Marie Rutkoski. Now hurry up and finish the third book!!!!”

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Age Recommendation: The are intricacies in the plot as well as moral implications that make these books for 15 and older in my opinion.

Appropriateness: There is deceit, war, murder, torture, and romance described, but none in gory detail so I wasn’t grossed out or disturbed. These could be interesting book club reads as they would give much to discuss about the choices of the characters, whether they are good or bad, justified or not, and whether you would act the same way. The state of the world also provides great discussion material – how is our world the same and different? How do we avoid the problems they are facing? How have we overcome some of these struggles? Are we heading for more?

Book Recommendations: If you like The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime you should read The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, The Books of Bayern Series by Shannon Hale, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Graceling by Kristin Cashore

 

Blackmoore

BlackmooreBlackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was in the mood for something on the lighter side when I picked up Blackmoore at the library. I read Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson a few years ago and enjoyed the romance and twists and turns of the story. It was clean but with plenty of passion and the writing was not annoyingly cliche or dumbed-down. In fact it was quite good for this genre. So I had high hopes for Blackmoore.

All of the same positive elements of Edenbrooke were there and I liked the book overall, but there were some aspects that I struggled with. My biggest issue – pacing. The characters were likable and the plot felt unique which is a pretty remarkable feat in the regency/romance genre, but the rate at which the plot was revealed and the conflict resolved was completely skewed. It’s pretty obvious from the start that there is romantic attachment between Kate Worthington and Henry Delafield and it’s also clear that some kind of drama has occurred to keep Kate from being open to her love for Henry. The author has created the suspense in the plot by gradually revealing the secrets behind these impediments. Unfortunately, the timing of the revelations were so frustrating!

For 150 pages we get tiny glimpses into the issues; there was some kind of scandal involving Kate’s sister, her mother is shameful and completely inappropriate in her behavior, and Henry’s mother disapproves of an attachment for these reasons and others that are barely hinted at. We know something major happened to Kate years ago that triggered some major changes in her feelings about herself, her future, and her relationship with Henry. But for 150 pages that’s all we know. We are teased over and over with minuscule references to these major and crucial plot developments, but nothing is actually developed. I guess that’s not completely true – we do get some insight into how Kate and Henry’s relationship has developed, but then we hit a brick wall as soon as we approach any point where the conflict began.

I get that pacing and suspense are desired story elements. I get that revealing details slowly is a good writing technique, but after reading this book I know there is such a thing as too little and too slow. I wasn’t really into the book until about 125 pages in because there were too many secrets and I wasn’t being let in on any of them. It was like being on the outside of an inside joke. Annoying. At one point there is mention that the woodlark is meaningful in Kate and Henry’s relationship, but then that meaning isn’t explained for almost 50 pages. It would have been so much more engaging and less annoying to have just given that explanation at the first reference.

Which leads into the next pacing problem. Once the revelations start at page 149 they come pretty much all at once. After the famine of information through the first half of the book we get 88 pages of flood. There are 7 flashbacks comprising 38 pages. A lot of that could have been revealed in the first half of the book and the plot development would have been more balanced and more engaging. The suspense would have still been there but even more effective. I also wasn’t sold on the whole idea of flashbacks for revealing the information because they all happened at once. If they had been spread more equally throughout the book they would have been more effective and less weird.

Not only was the lack of detail frustrating for me through the first half of the book but it was also a bit confusing. I couldn’t grasp the “vibe” of the book. It was classified as a regency romance so I was expecting romance (obviously) and some drama keeping it from blooming, but without some details surrounding the drama I couldn’t nail down what to expect. There was all this allusion to family drama so I wondered is this going about dysfunctional family? Like ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Wells but in regency times? Then there was all the description of smuggling, haunted moors and estates, and even a naturalist connecting with birding so I thought maybe it was supposed to be channeling more of a ‘Bronte’ vibe. The feel of the book felt incongruous at first without plot details to help.

Once the secretiveness let up things really picked up and I was much more engaged with the characters and engrossed in their developing romance. The writing really is enjoyable for this kind of book. There was some repetitiveness in the name of romantic gestures and observations, but pretty intelligent overall.

I have one more complaint though. After all the time and effort to finally get all of the secrets out, after pages and pages of flashbacks, it ends with a measly half page epilogue. Grrrr! With all of the description of the past and the details about how the relationship began and progressed there should have been more details about the future.

So with all of that in mind I still stay I liked the book. If you are looking for something romantic and light but not so light that it’s a waste of time pick this one up. But maybe pick up Edenbrooke first.

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Age Recommendation: 16 and older. An understanding of regency era culture and social norms definitely helps in understanding the conflict.

Appropriateness: Nothing morally wrong here. No swearing, no sex. It would be a fun book club read. I thought the book club discussion questions in the back were actually quite good as well.

Other Book Recommendations: Of course Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson would be a good choice if you like this one. There are also several books by Sarah M. Eden that you might enjoy. They are a little cheesier, but still fun. I believe her first book is The Kiss of a Stranger. If you are ready to go straight to the source you should give the original Jane Austen books a try.  My favorites are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. I would also recommend Princess Academy and The Goose Girl both by Shannon Hale.