A Girly Review

december-31-review

Picture taken from Pinterest

I’m not “girly.” Not at all. I mean…well, I do enjoy romantic comedies and books where the protagonists have love interests…but I’m not girly.

That being said, I have no explanation for why I enjoyed The Selection series so much. I was a total fangirl of Kiera Cass’ work. I picked up the first book in the series by accident and by the end of it, I was hooked. I basically poked the requisitions librarian where I worked during college to pre-order the other two books and then I hung out in the YA section and giggled over them with the teenage patrons.

It isn’t that Cass’ writing was spectacular. I did occasionally get annoyed at the repetition or the way she chose to describe something. It isn’t that there was a level of suspense in the first three books. Other people say they were on tenterhooks trying to figure out what would happen to the protagonists, but I was fairly confident about America’s fate. (I’m not referring to the country. That is actually the main girl’s name.) The storyline isn’t really all that complex, and yet it captivated me from the first chapter. I really had to wrack my brain for the reason why it was so appealing to me. I really think it was the way that Cass intertwined the selection and the lives of the protagonists with the turmoil that was prevalent in the kingdom. It was the contrast and the connections of these two storylines, causing me to giggle and gasp in turn, that kept me on the edge of my chair.

That’s why my ears immediately pricked up when I heard she was extending the series by another two books, but I didn’t run to the library. It took me over a year to actually check the next book out, but I am soooo glad I did! I almost finished it in one sitting. I’m probably not the only one who was a little hesitant to read the continuing story. Trust me. If you enjoyed the first three books, you need to continue the series.


Summary–no major spoilers

While the fate of the protagonists seemed clear to me in the first three books, Cass really stepped up the suspense in her fourth and fifth book.

The story jumps twenty or so years into the future and centers around America’s daughter and the heir to the throne, Eadlyn Schreave. The country has never had a female heir to the throne before. That coupled with the unrest between the recent removal of a strict social class system, means that the turmoil in the kingdom is still very much alive. In order to release some tension and turn the public eye away from these matters, Eadlyn’s father asks her to hold her own selection. This is a combination between The Bachelor and an arranged marriage where a group of boys from throughout the kingdom are given the chance to vie for the princess’ heart. While Eadlyn enters the selection with her head held high, she has serious doubts that she will find her true love. Her station demands that she finds a suitable husband, but her carefully walled off heart is pulling her in a million different directions? Will she choose her heart or her people, or perhaps both?


I give this series an enthusiastic 8.5 stars. I hesitate to give it more because of the reasons I mentioned earlier, but I feel I can give it no less.

Females of all ages will be able to find something in common with America Eadlyn. I think that Eadlyn’s story was especially compelling. Then again, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the first three books in the series and America’s story was compelling in different ways. In America, we see a girl pulled up from a lower caste and given the chance to see her world in a new light while being the voice of her family to those above her station. In Eadlyn, we see a girl shouldered with the burden of an entire kingdom since birth who has to allow herself to lower her walls to not just to her family or one boy, but to everyone in her life. And behind it all, we see the backdrop of an oppressed people who, even though they escape the clutches of a corrupt monarchy, must learn to grow themselves.

I have heard rumors that Cass’ story might be turned into a short television series for years. I’m still waiting eagerly to hear if this is true. I think her characters would pop off the screen! Love and betrayal, rebellion and death, teenagers and drama – what more could you want out of a YA dystopian romance comedy…series.

If I really like a story or an author, I find it easy to overlook what I would consider bad writing or annoying writing quirks. This is one of those cases. It feels an instinctive need to be “girly” without me actually having to go out and be “girly.” What more could you ask for?

Let me know what you think of The Selection series by Kiera Cass. I highly suggest that you finish this series if you haven’t already. I’m not sure if I’ve found them all yet. I’ll keep searching. In the end, you will be far from disappointed.

P.S.  In addition to the core five books, there are apparently also a handful of short stories that fill in the gaps between the different POVs and timelines. I’m not sure I’ve found them all yet, but I’ll keep looking.

Liz Braswell Trilogy Review

So remember when I said that Fairy Tale Week would keep going on in my heart…

Well I didn’t go to the library last week looking for a fairy tale, but I just couldn’t resist “Once Upon a Dream” when I saw it on the shelf. To my delight, it was the second book in Liz Braswell’s trilogy based on retellings of classic Disney tales:

  1. A Whole New World
  2. Once Upon a Dream
  3. As Old as Time

I’ll give you one guess as to which fairy tales she chose.

I’m in the middle of the last book right now and I can confidently say that I’m enjoying her fresh take on my favorite Disney movie…but I don’t think she’s going to be my new favorite author. I would give her series a 7.


The twists and turns that Braswell adds to these three stories adds fresh magic to them. However, I feel like I’m having to work too hard to find that magic. There are just too many little author tendencies that I’m not fond of (repetition, tell don’t show, etc.).

I enjoy doing the work of a reader and bringing the story to life in my mind, but it’s a lot easier to do if the author isn’t cramming too many words in there.

But, in the case of Braswell’s first two stories, it was worth it to see her ideas played out. I think it’s really going to be worth it to see where she takes “As Old as Time.” I guess I have no right to complain after saying that.

This series might not be your cup of tea. Ask yourself if you are willing to put in the work, if you like fairy tales and Disney, and if you’re willing to see those classic tales cracked wide open.


*****Beware: Spoiler Alerts*****

Here’s a run down of the books in case you’re thinking of picking them up for yourselves:

“A Whole New World”: Aladdin and Jasmine still meet and Aladdin still travels to the cave of wonders. But what happens if Aladdin was trapped in the Cave of Wonders and Jafar got the lamp? What happens if the people are willing to follow Jafar because he provides for them when Jasmine’s father did not? Things just got very complicated.

The thing that  really baffles me is why Braswell chose to write this story first. I liked the character histories that she filled in, but I don’t feel like the main story line really fit right. It was a nice idea, but it was too much of a change.

“Once Upon a Dream”: The first part of the story happens as we remember it…but Aurora doesn’t remember it that way. She has no idea that her parents aren’t bad, that the trio of fairies who raised her aren’t evil, that Maleficent isn’t her savior, who the Prince is…or that she’s asleep in a dream world. Things just got very complicated.

This book has to be my favorite in the series so far. I never even stopped to wonder if anything was going on in the princess’ head after she pricked her thumb on that thimble. I can really see Braswell’s dream world as a canon idea. It’s a good balance between Disney’s story and hers, and between wonderfully magical and completely creepy.

“As Old as Time”: Belle has no memories of her mother…and neither does anyone else. Her life comes to a crashing halt when she is trapped inside a magical castle with the Prince-Beast that her mother cursed years ago. Can they find Belle’s mother before they’re trapped forever? Things just got very complicated.

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I can already tell that this one is Braswell’s most complicated work. I feel like she was finally able to achieve a tight connection between the story we know well, her own twists, and the character backgrounds that she created. I hesitate to say that I had more fun learning about Belle’s parents than her own story…but that might have been what Braswell was intending to happen.


So there’s my two cents. I’m going to go finish the last book now, and then I’m going to go watch some Disney movies to recapture the real stories of my childhood.

Feel free to share any other opinions you have on Braswell’s series if you’ve read her books.

Harry Potter Book #8…Um, no

 

I refused to let myself rush through this book or reviewing it. Also, I tried to keep myself away from big spoilers to try to keep my mind focused in the present. I need to warn you that there will be a lot of spoilers in this review. Now here are my thoughts…

I don’t agree with everyone who has tried reading and rating J.K. Rowling’s latest published work as a book.

As a story, regardless of its format, I would give “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” a 9!

I’m very fortunate that my first thought when I start reading a book is that I need to read out loud. I don’t know when I started to read books out loud, but it has given me a new appreciation of the art of crafting a novel.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” only makes sense to me when I read it out loud, because that’s how it is meant to be enjoyed. If you didn’t enjoy it the first time you read it, try reading it again in a quiet place where you can give voice to the characters. 

Also, I didn’t start reading “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” because I wanted an eight Harry Potter book, and I’m so glad that it isn’t. The 7th Harry Potter book marked the end of an era. No matter what else J.K. Rowling might add to the Wizarding World (and I hope she does keep returning to it), that story line is done. Finished. Complete.

You will not be able to appreciate this latest installment in J.K. Rowling’s world if you look to it as a new ending to Harry Potter’s story. This is not Harry’s story. It is Albus’ and Scorpius’. Yes, Harry’s struggles as a parent are featured, but he’s not the same character that you remember.

Putting that all aside, I found myself drawn into this new story. I would say that the one thing I would have changed is the absence of certain beloved characters. I would really have liked to see more of the Weasleys, especially Molly and George, or at least know where they are now. I felt the absence of Teddy Lupin very prominently. You know who I also missed terribly, but who I’ve heard no one include in this list: Hagrid!

*Deep breaths*

However, I wasn’t upset that Albus and Scorpius stole most of the spotlight. I think their story was worth telling.

**********WARNING: Spoilers from this point on!!!**********

As a lifelong Harry Potter lover, here is the summary I would give to other fans:

Almost two decades after Harry defeats Voldemort, he is struggling with a new problem: how to be a good father. His second son, Albus, is having a hard time shouldering the celebrityhood that being Harry Potter’s son gives him, especially since he doesn’t see anything special in himself. However, he finds companionship in the most unlikely of places when he meets Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy.

Being Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy’s sons gives Albus and Scorpius a different perspective on their father’s accomplishments. Both young Slytherins just want a chance to be appreciated for who they are. When Albus gets the chance to try to right a wrong that he blames on his father – the death of Cedric Diggory – he takes it. Along with best friend, he travels back in time to make his own mistakes and a name for himself.

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The love I felt when I saw grownup Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny stand together was real, and nothing can ever replace that image in my heart. However, I was surprised by the equally strong feeling of love that I felt when I saw a Potter and a Malfoy stand together. I never thought I would see that day. They’re friendship is marvelous.

I love the spin that J.K. Rowling and the other script writers put on the Wizarding World that I thought I knew too well. I really want to know what idea they started with. Was it the image of Albus standing next to his dad or a young Malfoy redeeming the family name, or was it perhaps Cedric Diggory alive or a future ruled by Voldemort. Which idea sparked everything and what was the one idea that never changed. I know from experience that initial ideas change as the story continues, but there is usually one scene that everything revolves around.

I think the answer might shock us all.

The scene transitions were a little hard to follow, even reading out loud, but I didn’t need them to sense the story coming to a climax. When the trio ended up in Godric’s Hollow…*chills*. I just can’t talk about that night. I was right there with Harry. I couldn’t believe that we all had to relieve that.

And the ending was perfect. No, everything wasn’t fine right away…but a promise of “better” was left hanging in the air.

I’d also like to take the time to applaud J.K. Rowling’s character development once again. I didn’t feel any surprise when I met the older Harry Potter and his friends, but what I did see was better than I could have imagined: Hermione using her knowledge for good; Ron is still a loyal goofball and he puts his wife and family about everything else; Harry isn’t a perfect father, or Auror, but he is never willing to give up; Ginny hasn’t lost any of her fire and keeps her family in check; Malfoy has continued to have a hard life but he does everything he can to protect his son and put his past behind him; McGonagall has kept her promise to protect the children at Hogwarts, even against their own parents; AND Dumbledore is still trying to help advise Harry.

The young protégés in this story were even more well developed. They each deserve to be seen in their own light, however, I couldn’t help but pick up on the similarities that they shared with the group as a whole.

Scorpius is a talented nerd (no offense, power to the nerds) like Hermione but he shares characteristics with Ron, namely the fact that he’s a klutz and naturally cautious.

Rose is redoubtably her mother’s girl, but her quidditch prowess does suggest some other personality influences. As hard as it is, I would also like to point out that her self-righteous, prideful behavior in the beginning resembles a young Draco.

Delphi is charming and deceptive like her father…I guess I don’t really see much else there. 

What can I say about Albus? I would venture to say that he’s more like his father than even his own parents can admit. He has a tendency for getting himself and others into trouble, but he also goes to extreme lengths to protect others. Yes, he might have taken the fate of the entire world on his own shoulders, but he shouldered them well. Ginny’s fire and determination also reside within him. Yep 🙂 . Albus is the perfect combination of Harry and Ginny! You might not see it at first, but believe me, you’ll get there.

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Most shocking reveal: The trolley witch…I mean, honestly, what in the world were they thinking?! I’m not going to ruin this scene if you haven’t read “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” Just be prepared to learn the truth about the sweet, old, jolly trolly witch.

One scene I could do with: I think that I wouldn’t mind too much if Dumbledore (in painting form) hadn’t have made an appearance. For some reason, I really didn’t enjoy the scenes where Dumbledore and Harry talk, but I might feel differently if I could see that meltdown scene in person.

Favorite new character: It’s a tough choice, but I have to go with Scorpius. He’s so smart, and yet invisible. Everyone at least knew Hermione was the one to beat. I don’t think people even know how talented Scorpius is. That, coupled with his klutzy attempts to talk to Rose and his unfaltering loyalty to his best friend have endeared me to him.

What I missed the most: Still Hagrid! How, seriously how, could JK. Rowling have let us return to Hogwarts and not have let us see meet an older Hagrid. Am I the only one who can picture Albus and Scorpius drinking tea around Hagrid’s kitchen table? I know that he wasn’t entirely forgotten, but flashbacks just aren’t the same thing.

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So, as a whole, I loved “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” I think it’s a combination of J.K. Rowling’s imaginations, the visions of her collaborators, and the hope/love of Rowling’s steadfast fan base. This glimpse into the Wizarding World after Voldemort is defeated, as well as the new perspective into the events in the original Harry Potter series and Harry’s childhood. There’s no doubt that, as a lot of people have said, this story is something different entirely. It’s a play, which means that it’s built on character interaction and dialogue rather than the superior foreshadowing, plot development, world building, etc. that J.K. Rowling built up over her seven book series.

And yet I’m okay with that. It’s not the eight book in the series! It’s a play set nineteen years in the future. Of course it doesn’t read just like the books. As I said at the beginning, I realized that a long time ago. I don’t care. It’s still good!

My heart still resides with the Wizarding World of my own childhood, but Albus, Scorpius, and even Rose have weaseled their way in, too. Now we’re all one big happy family 🙂 .

I just hope there’s room for a certain Newt as well!

The Pilgrim’s Progress: Revisited

Steven James’ “Quest for Celestia” is a wonderfully imaginative re-imagined version of John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

The hero, Kadin, aka the new Christian, sets out on a quest for the salvation and new life that can be found in the kingdom of Celeste, aka Heaven. It is an allegorical story of the journey or struggle that Christians take throughout their lives.

The great thing about James’ book is that it comes across as a fantasy story. I would not have made the connection with “The Pilgrim’s Progress” on my own. Knowing that allegorical meaning behind the story adds another layer on top, but the story stands by itself.

It was hard for me to get through the first few chapters before Kadin set out on his quest. It might have been the stiff, formal POV or the pacing. However, I knew that everything would probably pick up once the Hero accepted the Call to Adventure.

And boy was I right! I couldn’t seem to put this book down. Every turn was filled with a new adventure: from a swamp that tried to swallow Kadin whole,  to huntsmen that tried to trap the new believer and a dragon that stood in his path. Despite everything that was happening externally, I knew that the most change was happening internally. The doubts, sins, and hangups that the main characters had to deal with were so real.

If I had to stop to think about it, I could see allegorical cliches start to pop up. That was what the original Pilgrim’s Progess was all about, after all. Just because I felt an emotional connection to Kadin’s journey doesn’t mean I believe everyone will. When taken as a whole though, the protagonist’s adventures blends together into one nice, neat quest for freedom that can be interpreted on several different levels. With this understanding in mind, James didn’t have to work hard to keep me interested. The characters took on a life of their own and I found myself fighting for freedom alongside them.

I would be remiss to not mention that my need for romance did not go unfulfilled. I assume that James added Kadin’s female traveling companion and counterpart, as a way to modernize the tale and reach our to female readers. I don’t care. It was a good move. When the two finally reach the City of Celeste and the King smiles as they dance together in his presence…*FEELS.* I’m not talking romantic comedy butterflies. I’m talking tingles in the heart that almost hurt and make me stop to contemplate the covenant, aka marriage, that I recently entered into in a new light.

Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was deeply meaningful, but definitely higher-end. I didn’t read it for fun, but for perspective. I would venture to say that “Quest for Celestia” is also meaningful and a good substitute for young readers who can’t quite follow the original tale…or those who are truly young at heart. Take this book with a grain of salt, knowing that you will have to view it on different levels to truly find value in it. If you’re not willing to do the work, then you probably won’t enjoy either work of allegory.

“Quest for Celestia” isn’t for everyone. However, if I had young readers in my family, this would be on the list of books that I share with them and then discuss. I think of this as a Ted Dekker novel for young children. In that respect, it’s top notch.

I give this book 7 stars!

 

Where do I sign up for my golden kefta?

*Disclaimer: This review includes major spoilers. And, of course, you should take my opinions with a grain of salt. I don’t pretend to be the end all, be all for YA books. This is just what I thought of the book.

I promised a review for the series that has been hailed for years to be “the next Harry Potter.”

This is not because it resembles the Harry Potter series. True, I did see several similar themes and archetypes between the two. The tone of this series is very similar to the tone in the last three Harry Potter books, after Voldemort’s return. I could write down an analysis of all of the similarities between these two series, from the self-sacrificing hero to the battle between light and darkness, but I don’t really want to do that. The similarities I see between these two series are just what I said earlier – themes, base archetypes. If you are looking for a series that has those basic similarities to J.K. Rowling’s books, fine, you’ve found one. But they are just as present in many other series.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I really dislike calling anything “the next Harry Potter” or the next “Lord of the Rings” or the next whatever. An author’s work should have a chance to stand on its own. Therefore, this review will only feature the Grisha Trilogy.

I really enjoyed this series. I didn’t know what I was walking into, but I’m pretty happy with this series. That’s why I’m giving it 9 stars.

First of all, I just really want to be able to stand in a crowd of YA book lovers and start a slow clap for this amazing author who took fantasy and dystopia, two genres which have been mixed together before, and then created something that feels truly unique.

How did she do this? It’s mind-blowingly simple, and yet I didn’t even see it coming.

Her setting was ancient Russia. I’ve never read a YA dystopian book that is based in Russia, and based off of other people’s reactions to this series, neither has anyone else. That opened the door to so many possibilities.

A unique setting might have been enough to carry the first book in the trilogy all the way to the top of the New York Best Seller’s List. Bardugo took it the extra mile, and I love her for that. She didn’t just place her characters in Russia. She created her own fantasy world on top of that. I am very impressed with her world building abilities. I don’t know where Russia ends and her world begins, but I don’t really care. The language, the people, the buildings, the clothes, the food, the weapons – all amazing and all entirely her own. It was seamless. Anyone trying to recreate her complex world on screen will have their work cut out for them.

***Here is where I would have placed a condensed summary of all three books, but that would have meant tying all three books together and giving away spoilers. In light of that, I will only provide a summary of the first book in the trilogy, Shadow and Bone:

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Orphan Alina Starkov is raised with a group of other orphaned children in Keramzin. When she is old enough, she is conscripted into the First Army with her best friend, Mal Oretsev. When their regiment is attacked out on the Fold, the supernatural darkness that cuts Ravka in two, she calls forth a power that she didn’t even know she had. The Darkling, the leader of the Grisha, people who wield the Small Science, soon learns of her skills. Alina is separated from Mal and sent to train with the other Grisha. As her power grows, she has to decide who she can and cannot trust. Will she let the Darkling use his power for his own schemes or will she rise up and claim her own place as the Sun Summoner?

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The characters and their stories were all amazing. Alina is a teenage girl, so you know her emotions were constantly creating whirlwinds that affected her decisions and her attitude…and yet I found myself going along with everything that was happening. That means not only were the characters real to me, but I truly cared for them.

I would like to say that I am torn between the three men in Alina’s life. I enjoy a little romance in books, and I really like the fact that Bardugo decided to not go with a love triangle, but three love interests in the same room kind of got a little stifling for me. This was a really complicated love rectangle where each love interest could offer something different to Alina.

I just didn’t know whereto turn my head, but I got the feeling that Alina’s love life really wasn’t the big focus in the story. It was certainly there and, especially in the last book, it affected a great deal of Alina’s fight, but other themes were allowed to take center stage. I think that was masterfully done.  I really didn’t know what was going to happen with the love interests until the series ended. I won’t tell you the final outcome, just that I approve where Bardugo leaves each of them.

I know I wasn’t going to talk about other books, but I do want to interject that I loved the way Bardugo showed light versus dark in this series. Most dystopian novels feature a metaphorical battle between good and evil, but I’ve always been fascinated with books that aren’t afraid to show a very literal and physical battle. I mean, come on, The Darkling vs. the Sun Summoner – what could get more literal than that? (That’s not a rhetorical question. Please point me towards more books that feature that.) Bardugo took a risk when she showed the bringer of Light being drawn to the bringer of Darkness. I shook my head at first, but there was realistic edge to the way that Alina found herself constantly drawn to darkness. The fact that I got to see this in her mind, her heart, and her hands at the same time was ammmmazing!

The last thing I would like to bring up is that I truly didn’t know what was going to happen in the end. There were multiple bad guys, multiple love interests, multiple plans for Ravka’s salvation…Bardugo kept dangling one path in front of me and just when I reached out my hand to grasp it…the page would turn and it’d be gone. All of these things combined with the new, exotic setting created an amazing story. Alina and Nikolai stole my heart and…oops did I say Nikolai, I meant Mal…I mean Aleksander!

(Anyway 🙂 I really do like the romance.)

******Beware spoilers below!!!******

I find that I wouldn’t have minded terribly if Alina didn’t make it to the end. I had a fit when another well-known YA dystopian author turned her main character into a martyr (bonus points if you know the author and series I’m talking about), but I’ve grown a lot since then. It’s not that I don’t love Bardugo’s characters. I love them a little too much and I wanted what was best for them at the end. I’m super happy about who was left standing at the end of the series, but a martyr’s death would have been fine, too.

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I’m already anxious to see what else Leigh Bardugo has planned for her characters. I hear that she is working on a sequel trilogy. In the meantime, I’m going to try to find the collection of her short stories set in Ravka. I suggest you do the same!

Just promise me one thing…Give the Grisha trilogy a try if you haven’t read it yet, but please don’t compare it to Harry Potter or anything else. Trust me, you’ll like it a whole lot better that way 🙂 . After all, can anything truly beat Harry Potter?

Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought of it. Is my analysis well-earned? I have a long reading and writing list, but I’m super open to book suggestions. Let me know if you’ve ever come across anything like this series before.

Goodreads link to all of Leigh Bardugo’s work: https://www.goodreads.com/series/69714-the-grisha

Mistress Potioneer: A Quirky *Original* Heroine

*Disclaimer: This post does include a synopsis of the book, but no major information is given away. And, of course, you should take my opinions with a grain of salt. I don’t pretend to be the end all, be all for YA books. This is just what I thought of the book.

Is there anything worse than finishing a novel, realizing that you may have just found an amazingly talented author – maybe even one of your new favorite authors, and then realizing that they’ve passed away?

Yes, maybe the fact that my first thought when I found that out was, You mean I’ll never be able to read the sequel?, instead of, Wow, that’s awful. I’m so sorry for her family’s loss.

And yet, the only way that Bridget Zinn’s countless fans can really do to support her memory is to appreciate her work. She had a book in her when she was diagnosed with cancer. She got the book out, but she never saw it published. To me, that’s amazing and heart wrenching. And so I want to throw my thoughts and prayers in with the rest of her fans today.


Now on to business…

The score I have to give this book has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with the book……9! My B&N pile finally produced a 9! Zinn’s world is awesome! I would sign the contract to write the screenplay for this book in a heartbeat if I could, or pull my savings with other fans in order to get any surviving notes for a sequel.

I don’t even know where to begin with Poison.

Maybe with the reason why I didn’t give it a perfect 10. There was one scene that just put a wrench in the adrenaline coursing through the tale. Kyra came face to face with the person she was pursuing, someone she believed to be highly dangerous, and then, without her even trying to reach for her weapons, she just accepts that her target isn’t a threat anymore. I just couldn’t believe that the one moment I had been looking forward to from the first chapter was just so rushed and non-actiony.

Zinn quickly recovered, however, and her heroine was soon rushed back into the thick of danger with her new ally. Two chapters later, I’d forgotten all about that wrench.

That’s why I can stand here now and champion Kyra as a different heroine, a quirky heroine. Zinn’s book reminds me of one of my cherished childhood books: Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Farris. Sadly, I haven’t been able to procure a copy of Farris’ book, but Zinn’s book is already up on my shelf.

Young Kyra, the mistress potioneer, is faced with an impossible task. She has to save the kingdom by tracking down and killing her best friend, the princess, before she destroys the kingdom. The problem is that no one believes her after her first failed assassination attempt. Now all she has left is her bag full of potions, her determination…and her magical pet pig.

Zinn’s website claims that she wanted to see a YA book that was filled with happiness and laughter, and that’s exactly what Potions is all about. In a shelf full of dystopian novels, Poison shines like a beam of sunshine.

A truly original beam of sunshine I might add. I would really like to see master potioneers grow in today’s pop culture. Who would have ever thought that all a girl needed to survive was a bag full of potions? Kyra’s allies are as multi-layered, and origional, as she is and they each come with their own secrets, but none are formidible as this one teenage girl. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a book that I thought really added to the pool of author’s tricks rather than stole from it. This is one of those books ❤ .

Also, Zinn’s storytelling style is something to be admired. She starts her story in medias res–in the middle of Kyra’s story–and then slowly works in her backstory in brief flashes of memory as the would-be assassin moves forward. No memory or detail, no matter how silly, feels out of place when all is said and done. After the final surprises and memories are doled out, the story arc has come full circle. It’s truly masterful.

This book will literally keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will give you laughter instead of nightmares.

So there’s nothing left but to commend this book to y’all one more time and do my SHELF SHELF SHELF Happy dance…only slightly tainted due to the fact that I will never see a sequel.

P.S. I’m working on a trilogy right now that I recently heard called the “new Harry Potter.” I wish people would stop saying that. Let Harry Potter be Harry Potter and just start looking for the new bestselling YA book. I would normally just nod my head and walk on, but I remember this book being so popular at my library that even though I had access to all the books behind the desk, I was never able to get my hands on the first book in the series long enough to check it out. I’m not going to tell you what it is until I finish all three books…and I’ve hit snag in the road since the second book is already checked out. Of course I have something sitting by my bedside table for those moments I just need to read, but I’m going to save my next review for this new series. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait! 😉 (If someone can guess what it is, I’ll cave quite easily.)

A Major Rule Breaker!

*Disclaimer: This review includes major spoilers. And, of course, you should take my opinions with a grain of salt. I don’t pretend to be the end all, be all for YA books. This is just what I thought of the book.

The first book I picked off my to-read pile was a solid 7.

This next one would have been a 6 or a 7…but now I can’t give it anything above a 5.5. And that’s being generous. I’ll tell you why…

I recently read “The False Prince” by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I recognized the title off an old to-read list.

I was surprised when I first opened it up. I wouldn’t really call “The False Prince” a YA  book. It’s really a “middle” book, meaning I would have loved reading it in middle school. You know what I’m talking about: shorter sentences, simple vocabulary, a smaller world, and short chapters. (2-3 of these chapters could actually fit within one of the chapters in one of my normal level books.)

After I got over this initial shock, it was actually a refreshing change. I’m not going to apologize for reading and (mostly) enjoying a “middle” level book. It’s a rather simple and unimposing book, but the story is still interesting.

Here’s the rundown (**I can’t make my point without spoilers, so here’s your second warning!):

“The False Prince” is the story of orphan Sage who, along with a group of other orphaned boys, is “bought” by a noble man named Conner. Conner trains them to be gentlemen, promising that, by the time he’s done with them, they will be able to pass for the missing Prince himself. (Ominous music plays)

The other boys seem eager to go along with Conner’s plan to impersonate the royal heir to the throne. Sage is the only one who refuses to be used by Conner and genuinely doesn’t want the crown. He is an ornery, rebellious, sarcastic, untrusting and untrustworthy little thief, and it seems like he might be keeping some secrets from Conner.

Sage intrigued me from the beginning. He seemed to be the epitome of a false hero. I enjoyed reading about him just to see what other tricks he had up his sleeve. I had a few inklings that he was keeping some part of his past a secret from everyone else, but I was content to watch his story unfold slowly as I got a sense of who he was…The author had other ideas.

I was breathing in Sage’s story, fully prepared to rush through the last half of the book and run out to find the sequel, when I got to chapter 42.

Chapters 42-43 killed the book for me.

Nielsen did something that just made me want to cry. He broke what I believe to be a major rule. He was on a roll, the story was heading up the arc towards the climax, Conner and Sage were about the set off for the palace, and then Nielsen paused for backstory. He just paused everything to give away the entire tale of what happened to the prince, and it wasn’t even important at the time.

If you have some complicated backstory for a character, you should really include a prologue or dole it out in suspenseful and informative chunks. Make the telling of the backstory crucial to the plot. Don’t pause and leave the characters hanging at a critical moment to tell us someone’s  backstory.

I mean, I had already guessed that Sage wasn’t who he claimed to be, but you don’t give your readers that little to go on and then just pause everything right before the climax to explain every little detail of what really happened to the protagonist before the book even began.

That’s something I would have expected in a detective novel. Everyone knows that the detective comes out at the 2nd of the story and explains, in painstaking detail, how the butler killed Mrs. Norris in the library with a crowbar. How? Because Sherlock Holmes tracked his laundry down with a piece of lint and used the key left in one of the coats that, judging by the type and extent of rust, led him to a safe buried in the bottom of the lake. But why? Because 10 years ago, Mrs. Norris told her niece to refuse the butler’s advances and he never got over the affront. And here is the secret diary to prove it!

That’s what you’d expect right? That Sherlock would make everything come together? You might have started picking up the pieces yourself, but you would never have gotten the whole picture if he didn’t tell you every little thing that started the domino effect that led to this murder. That’s the climax of virtually every detective novel.

Well this isn’t a detective novel! I didn’t need all of that, and I didn’t want it. You might be thinking, Well that doesn’t sound so bad. Trust me, do not read this book unless you want to be disappointed.

The one good thing I can say at this point is that at least Nielsen didn’t try to go for a Disney Anastasia twist: the prince was running and he hit his head and forgot everything, but now he has suddenly regained his memory! I would have been delighted at the originality of this author’s idea, if he had presented it correctly. This was just lazy writing.

Maybe I’m overestimating younger readers, but even they could have been able to figure it out if given the chance.

I guess the only way to describe my feelings towards this book and author is that I feel betrayed. You won’t understand if you don’t love books. If you do, I urge you to be careful when picking up one of Nielsen’s books. I wouldn’t want to come across the same surprise in another one of his books.

Confession, I stared at “The False Prince” for a few days after reading those chapters, but I did eventually pick it back up. I wanted to see how Sage’s story ended. Nielsen could have made this a stand alone novel. The climax was suspenseful. The ending was strong. The final twists and turns were wonderful. And, most important, the little facets and surprises that surrounded each of the well-rounded characters were still polished to a shine.

I could have really liked this book. I might have even put it on my shelf, if I didn’t feel so betrayed.

Okay, rant over. Have anyone else read this book or anything else by Nielsen? What did you think?

Have you ever been disappointed be a book you read?