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Heartstone by Elle Katherine White ⇉ Pride and Prejudice and Dragons

Monday, January 23, 2017
Quite frankly, it was this gorgeous cover that piqued my interest in this novel. I'm in love with it, and I can't begin to express this love in coherent words. It's beautiful and says so many things about this novel.

I was also interested by the promise of "elements of Jane Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice" (as advertised in the synopsis), but I wasn't prepared a full-blown retelling. That came as a surprise. I wasn't thrilled by how closely this novel follows the original storyline as it made the romance and general plot much too predictable (the author has crafted a fascinating world, and I was hoping to be more surprised by it). That said, there so many other compelling elements of this world that it more than made up for it. (And I can see other readers enjoying the P&P retelling much more than I did.)

Fascinating World Building
My favorite aspect of this novel is the world itself. Elle Katherine White has crafted a fascinating world in which magical creatures are divided among the Shani (friends of humans), the Tekari (who kill humans), and the Idar (indifferent to humans, for the most part). Some of my favorite characters are Shani. (I especially love how the hobgoblins are introduced.) I'd love to talk more about this world, but I'm going to refrain from further comments to avoid spoilers.

Compelling Secondary Characters
Many of the secondary characters are much more likable than their P&P counterparts. It delights me that these characters are given a chance to shine and to show growth (Leyda in particular). One in particular I detested and am happy that he's even more villainized in this classic retelling, though I can't morally support what happens to him in the end.

A Likable, if Bland, Heroine
Aliza Bentaine, our heroine, is a generally likable character. For the most part, Aliza seems smart and capable, and I love her friendship with the hobgoblins (they're delightful little people) and Akarra (now, that's a dragon with a personality). However, there's not much else to her. She doesn't have any dreams for the future as far as I can see, and she spends her time nosying about other peoples' business until she gets caught up with the battle (because: Alistair Dareid). It's the world and her adventures with the others that make this a compelling read.

A Solid Male Lead
Though Alistair is arrogant and prideful, he means well. As a Rider who fights Tekari as an occupation, I'd expect him to be blunt and down to business, so I was fine with him not being all sunshines and rainbows. Aliza's prejudice towards him isn't well developed and seems unfounded after all these nice moments (that is, until everything comes out following the failed proposal). Out of all the characters, Alistair shows the most growth. I would have loved to see his perspective added to the story.

Fast Pacing with Unresolved Storylines
For retelling of such a long novel, Heartstone wasn't long enough to do the whole story justice, especially given all the fantasy elements that are incorporated into the story. I feel like the author is too focused on retelling P&P for much of the novel and forgets to followup on other elements of the novel. The plot moves forward rather quickly, and some storylines fall through. In particular, it's disappointing that the storyline with the mysterious stranger is never fully resolved.

The epic battle at the end also begins and concludes rather abruptly. I wish that the buildup was more gradual and consistent with more hints at the fight to come. It also doesn't help that Aliza misses out on much of it and isn't able to tell us what happens. I would have loved to see another character's view on it, preferably one on the frontlines like Charis (now, that's a character whose backstory and perspective I'd love to see).


QUICKLIST: WHAT I LIKED



  1. Fascinating world building
  2. Compelling secondary characters
  3. Beautiful writing (with some poetic descriptions)
  4. Solid male lead
  5. Gorgeous cover



QUICKLIST: WHAT I DISLIKED



  1. Predictable plot
  2. Flat, one-dimensional characters
  3. Fast pacing
  4. Epic battle not so epic
  5. What happened to Wydrick
  6. Whatever happened to the mysterious stranger?



FINAL THOUGHTS


I wasn't thrilled by how predictable my knowledge of P&P made much of the novel. Furthermore, many of the characters lose opportunity to be more fleshed out given how closely the novel follows the original story. I did love the fantasy elements and wish that more time had been spent building up to the final epic battle (and concluding it). Elle Katherine White has created a compelling world in her debut novel. I am interested in seeing what she sends our way next!

★★★★☆


They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.



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What is your favorite classic retelling?



Publication Info
  • Heartstone by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Published by Harper Voyager
  • On January 17, 2017
  • Genres: Epic FantasyClassic Retelling
  • Pages: 352 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my honest opinions.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackon ⇉ Babies Die and So Does My Heart

Thursday, January 19, 2017



WHAT I LIKED


The characters are real
The characters' talk and mannerisms look like real people in urban communities. I'm a teacher in an urban school district (with a predominantly Hispanic and black population), and it was refreshing to read about teenagers who look and act like my students.

It feels weird to be happy about having real characters. I wish that we had more minority authors and more books with real minority characters whose lives reflect those of living, breathing minorities.

Mary has big dreams
There's a stereotype nowadays that you can't have a baby and pursue your dreams. Mary is pregnant, wants to keep her baby (and take care of him eventually), and she hasn't given up on her dreams of going to college. #rolemodel #respect

It talks about real issues
There are issues on top of issues on top of issues, some of which I've listed in the content section at the end of this review (so no spoilers right now). This novel gets into the heart of urban life, and unfortunately when you have one issue, there's bound to be more. I love how Jackson isn't afraid to get real with us.

It stabs you in the heart while you're down ...and then some
This novel doesn't pull any punches. It packs quite the emotional punch, and it will keep stabbing you in your bleeding heart. You will feel for Mary as the whole universe seems to turn against her. Or you'll hate her too and wonder why the world is such a terrible place. Either way, your world will be shaken.

Welcome to Planet Earth.

There are good people in this world
Allegedly might remind us that the world is a terrible place, but it remembers that there are (a few) good people out there. And that we should fight for the better good for the sake of our children.

(Seeing Mary fight so hard for her baby really made me attached to the little bean.)

What's up with that ending?
After everything this novel put me thought . . . that ending was really crazy and messed up. Mentally (because I don't scream at fictional characters in real life), I was screaming no no no no no nononoononononono). How can you do that to us???

At the same time, I respect—to a certain extent—Jackson's decision to end the novel this way. Because real life doesn't wrap our stories perfectly or top it with a pretty ribbon. In real life, Prince Charming isn't there to sweep us off our feet and carry us away on a white horse (...okay, that's just kidnapping now). Our mothers won't know exactly who to call to give us a happily ever after (except maybe treat us to a girl's day out, but that's a temporary fix).

Therefore, I can be okay with the ending even if I wasn't really happy with it.


WHAT I DISLIKED


Cuss words go off like fireworks
I know I know. I said that I like how the characters talk and act like real people. I'm still not comfortable with the language (and I know for a fact that my students kindly watch their language around me).

Cuss words go off like fireworks in this novel, and they don't stop. If you're not comfortable with a few d**ns, s**ts, and b***hes, then you might want to seriously reconsider this novel because it gets much worse.

This world is filled with terrible people
We learn that there are a few good people (albeit with their own agendas). We also learn that there are many, many more terrible people. It left a bad feeling in my gut. (Really? Really?)

This novel is important because it pulls off the blinds and doesn't put up pretty lace curtains to make us feel better. I still wish that we had a more conclusive outcome in which good could prevail, but it does leave food for thought . . . perhaps there isn't an answer yet, and we're being challenged to go out there and make one.

Fake religion is the new face mask
It's becoming increasingly popular to beat on religion. Not going to lie, it's getting pretty tiring to see stereotypical Bible beaters who act all goody two shoes in front of authority figures but act a different way in private. Some of the best people I know are devout Christians who live out biblical truths.

Note: I recognize that this is a stereotype for a reason, that there really are people like the Bible beater in this novel. It doesn't mean that I agree with it.

What's up with that ending?
The novel introduces us the mystery of what really happened that night and draws us closer and closer to it . . . only to bring us an ending that is questionably an ending.

Mary makes some decisions that unravels everything I thought I knew about her (which might have been the point?) and leaves me wondering what's going to happen to everyone else. It feels like most everyone was set up to fall and that Mary is the only one who's going to be happy with the "final" outcome, whatever it may be.

(And, no, there won't be a sequel; this is a standalone.)


FINAL THOUGHTS


Allegedly brings much-need diversity to the YA book market. I appreciate how Jackson isn't afraid to tackle heavy topics. That said, this isn't a novel to read if you're seeking character growth. The supporting characters end up falling through (or being kicked out of the picture by the MC, who doesn't seem to have any use for anyone who doesn't follow her agenda). The mature content is also a turn-off because of its pervasive, unavoidable nature.

THIS NOVEL IS NOT FOR THE YOUNG OR FAINT OF HEART!!!

★★★☆☆


Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?



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Publication Info
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Published by Katherine Teagan Books 
  • On January 20, 2017
  • Genres: ContemporaryMystery
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series
  • N/A
WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
  • Lots and lots of cussing & language flying around
  • Abortion (mentioned)
  • Domestic abuse & violence
  • Gore
  • Group home
  • Mental illness
  • Murder
  • Psychotic roomies
  • Sex & Sexual Favors
  • Teen pregnancy
  • ...I'm probably missing out on some content. You get the picture.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton ⇉ Delightfully Clever and Family Friendly

Thursday, January 12, 2017
The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton
Published by Knopf on January 19, 2016
Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
Pages: 279 Pages
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★★★



THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.


Review

The Goblin's Puzzle is a delightfully clever read that breaks away from traditional fairy tales to encourage young readers to consider logical questions, fate, slavery, and gender roles. Appropriately, the Afterward teaches young readers about some basic logical concepts that are used in the story (and explains them in light of the story). Yet, it is far from a heavy read. It's funny, light-hearted, and memorable. While it made me think (especially trying to figure out the goblin's puzzle), it was in a way that is appropriate for younger readers as well. I can easily see older readers engaging in this book alongside younger readers through read-a-louds and discussions about the story.

The characters are all engaging and memorable in their own rights. The story alternates between various points of view as appropriate, and there's always a gem waiting to be found and chuckled over in each character's story. There are too many funny lines for me to share, but I hope the first line gives you a taste of what this book has in store for you:

“Bread, left untended, will steal itself, or so people liked to say. But the boy found that sometimes it needed help.”

What I love best about this story, is the wittiness of it all. While there is adventure, dragons, ogres, goblins, a king, a princess, sorcery, to name a few, this isn't your traditional medieval fantasy. In order to survive, a protagonist must outwit the villain before them. Sheer brawn will not slay the dragon. Many of the characters are two-dimensional, but I'm willing to let this because we do have more fleshed out characters in The Goblin's Puzzle.

The boy and Plain Alice rise to the stage as the main protagonists. Many readers will find themselves drawn to Plain Alice and her cleverness, which saves herself and others on multiple occasions. While she wants to be a sage, the council is prejudiced against female sages, and she relentlessly fights this discrimination with impressive determination. (She's also really pretty, going against the stereotype of nerdy, glasses-wearing smart girls). My personal favorite is the boy. Having been raised as a slave, he's hopelessly naive, but he has big hopes and dreams that he hasn't let himself contemplate in the past. His search for answers will make young readers really think about fate and free will, slavery, and justice.

In the end, the goblin's puzzle teaches us that, while our stories may bear similarities to old tales, we must take the initiative in our stories and forge our own paths. As the goblin says, "The past is written in stone, but the future is written in water." The future will come to pass, but our lives still influence its flow.

I very much enjoyed this read and will be saving my copy to share with younger readers.


Series
  • N/A
Content
  • One character is murdered in front of the MC early on (he closes his eyes); towards the end, the MC is indirectly responsible for another character's death. The deaths aren't explicit.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review in return for my honest opinion.

Movie Monday: Doctor Strange

Monday, January 9, 2017



Doctor Strange

Directed by Scott Derrickson
Genre: Superhero
Running time: 115 minutes
Released: 2016
Produced by Marvel Studios

After his career is destroyed, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under his wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.





Once again, Marvel has managed to deliver a solid superhero film. While it certainly had its own charm, however, Doctor Strange lacks the distinct Marvel charm that I’ve grown to love in their other films.

Review: The Crown by Kiera Cass ⇉ Princess Dilemmas: Having Too Many Boys to Love

Thursday, January 5, 2017


The Crown
Kiera Cass

Series: The Selection #5
Genre: YA DystopianRomance
Hardback: 279 Pages
Publication: May 3, 2016
by Harper Teen



When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.


Review

My favorite part about The Selection series is that I can count on the books for a light, fluffy read that doesn't require much thinking. (That said, it's also my least favorite part about the series because of the lost potential to develop the politics, culture, and history of the world.) As a teacher, sometimes I just want to kick back after work with a light read; in fact, many of us know how to appreciate a light read for different reasons (such as a beach read as opposed to a de-stressor). The Selection provides just that.

Getting Out of That Reading Slump: The 2017 Reading Challenge

Friday, December 30, 2016
You'll have noticed that I haven't blogged much for the past year. I started book blogging because I love books and wanted to share the love. As my blog got bigger and I started receiving more books for review, I found that I was getting trapped inside of a genre. Part of it is my bad. I love young adult, and that was what I shared on my blog. Reading book after book in the same genre forced me into a rut, however, as I became increasingly critical of books that tried to catch fire on the latest trend but failed to deliver in quality of writing or execution of plot.

I found joy as a child in browsing the library shelves, where I picked up books that taught me new things. In my early years (elementary to middle school), I didn't restrict myself to the kids section. I read across many genres, including pure nonfiction.

The purpose of this reading challenge is to branch out from my usual reads and revive my childhood joy of reading for the sake of learning new things. This list captures a wide variety of books: there are old books and newer books, books I hadn't heard of before making this list, books of different genres (including ones I don't usually broach), books that seek diversity, and books that I've always wanted to read but never touched.

Credit: The categories for this list come from the Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2017 reading challenge.

Following are the cover images for the books that I plan to read in 2017. Click on them to view the synopsis on Amazon. Below them, I have described the books and my reasons for selecting them in more detail.