Book Review: Stray by Elissa Sussman

Book Review: Stray by Elissa SussmanStray by Elissa Sussman
Series: Four Sisters #1
Published: October 7, 2014
384 pages
Genres: Fairy Tale, Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.

When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.

But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.

After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?
3 Stars

After reading the acknowledgements by the author, I could see the Into the Woods inspiration.  Stray follows the sappy fairy tale stereotype and gives it a darker undertone especially about it’s control towards women. If you kept Cinderella almost the same but made it slightly darker with forbidden magic you might have something like Stray.

This fairy tale was all about controlling women and how they aren’t valued in this world even though they are technically powerful.  I know it was supposed to be a satire but sometimes it was difficult to read about the extreme rules for them all towards the goal of getting married.  The girls act ridiculous and when one of them eats before going to a ball I couldn’t get the image of Scarlet O’Hara reluctantly stuffing her face and wondering why you have to be so ridiculous just to catch a husband.

The world building just wasn’t very strong.  While I liked the plot, it felt hard to imagine the world because it was a little confusing.  The biggest problem for me, though, was the question of why these girls would even put up with all these crazy restrictions or where they came from in the first place.  That thought pulled me out of the story a lot because it was never really answered very well.

The writing was ok for the most part.  A few cheesy lines here and there with the cliche “breath she didn’t know she was holding.”  I’m so glad she figured it out in time or she might have died.  And my favorite “Suddenly” was in there more than I prefer. But it had some good writing too.  Just not terribly consistent.  I liked the characters and their relationships. The villain gives speeches about having fun with the poor, powerless protagonist and it made me roll my eyes.

I didn’t like the beginning.  It throws me into an action scene right away but I’m not sure why I should care yet.  I’m not a fan of when authors do that.

And to be very, very nitpicky – she doesn’t use the term “artless” like I’m used to Jane Austen using it and it irked me.

Overall, it was a different take on fairy tales that had an interesting plot but the world building wasn’t my favorite.

Content Rating: Medium, for some violence.  The language was pretty mild if there was any.  It’s been a while since I read it so I don’t remember for sure.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, Harper Collins, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review.  

About Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman is a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater.

Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil.

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
251 pages
Genres: Classic, Romance
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
5 Stars

Northerner Abbey might be my favorite Jane Austen novel.  One of the main reasons is because Catherine is my new favorite heroine.  She’s a tom boy and she treats her life like it’s a fictional novel.  Catherine is the kind of person that would yell “plot twist!” at an unfortunate event in her life.  I aspire to be this way.  It’s the kind of attitude I try to have when, say, I go to the ER because I’ve been awake and in pain and on Google and have convinced myself that I have appendicitis when all I really have is severe constipation and get sent home from the ER with a laxative.  Again.  See, in a novel that’s freakin’ hilarious.  In real life it sucks paying $200 for a laxative.  Catherine has quite the imagination and I want to be her in every way.

Also, could someone explain to me how Jane Austen can just tell her stories and backgrounds in an info-dumping way but keep my attention completely because she makes it fun and visual and easy to imagine?  Jane Austen has this biting honesty that is delightful to read even though her books are old.  Don’t dismiss Jane Austen.  She writes the truth.  Don’t tell me you’ve never met a person like this:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (p. 7)

And I love, love, love the two ladies who are constantly talking at each other but never have an actual conversation because one talks about her kids and one talks about clothes.  Jane Austen doesn’t really show many of these conversations but I can totally imagine them.  As much as Catherine is living in a fictional novel, her friend Isabella is overdramatic because she’s got the lead role in this play called life.  Isabella is clingy and scheming.  I think Jane Austen didn’t mind scheming but I think she hated it when it was obvious.  Jane Austen is the queen of sarcasm, irony and relatable characters.

Book shaming has been around since the 1800s and Jane Austen is having none of it.  Catherine loves reading novels but is also ashamed that she reads “only novels.”  Jane Austen has this to say about mere novels:

… in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed …

-Jane Austen,  Northanger Abbey (p. 23).

Overall, I loved this novel and if you haven’t read it, fix that immediately.

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Jane Austen

CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hires

She was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer.

Visit her grave

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana PeterfreundAmong the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #0.5
Published: June 4, 2012
60 pages
Genres: Dystopian, Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Before Kai joined the Cloud Fleet, he wandered… AMONG THE NAMELESS STARS

Four years before the events of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, the servant Kai left the North Estate, the only home he’d ever known, and Elliot North, the only girl he ever loved, in search of a better life. But the journey was not an easy one.

Featuring narrow escapes, thrilling boat races and at least one deadly volcanic wasteland.
2 Stars

Among the Nameless Stars was a prequel novella for one of my favorite novels, For Darkness Shows the Stars.  The writing in this novella didn’t seem to be the same quality that I loved in the novel.  The story was ok but not terribly interesting.  I feel like if there’s going to be a prequel it should be about something mind-blowing or amazing and the simple plot about the boat race was not enough to keep my attention.  I just didn’t see the point of this novella.  I didn’t get any new insights into the story.  It fills in details about Kai but I already knew where the plot was going.  It might be that it’s just been too long since I’ve read For Darkness Shows the Stars that made it feel like I didn’t learn anything new or interesting.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of this prequel, you should definitely still check out For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Content RatingMild, for very brief non-graphic mentions of abuse.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Diana Peterfreund

diana peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund has published eight novels for adults and teens, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), and For Darkness Shows the Stars, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about popular children’s literature. Diana lives in Washington D.C., with her family.

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Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Series: Anna and the French Kiss #1
Published: December 2, 2010
372 pages
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Can Anna find love in the City of Light?
Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year. But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's waiting for?
3 Stars

Anna and the French Kiss was a cute teen romance with delightful writing.  There was lots of drama which is very realistic to what teen relationships are really like. So what are teen relationships really like? Hint: they lack communication and have lots of drama.  The couple in this book fights a lot which I found kind of funny and adorable.  The thing that kept me from completely loving this book was I felt like there was a little too much drama.  It gave me mild anxiety while reading it.

I couldn’t get enough of the cast of characters.  Anna’s father is a an author who is more or less Nicholas Sparks but with the personality of Gilderoy Lockhart – complete with fake white smile, purple shirt, and hair that blows dramatically in the wind.  Anna is sent to a boarding school in Paris that has “suspiciously fresh (pg 21)” food.  That made me laugh since American schools have food that looks suspiciously not like food at all.  Anna has a best friend who loves obscure words and I think she needs to be my best friend, too.

My favorite thing about this book was that Anna wanted to be a professional movie critic so she wrote a movie review blog.  She didn’t want to be a director or a screen writer.  I loved the way she described what it’s like to write a movie review.

“Why do you need to practice [writing movie reviews]?  It’s not like it’s hard or something.” [said Dave.]

“Yeah? I’d like to see you write a six-hundred-word review about one. ‘I liked it.  It was cool. There were explosions.'” [Anna said.]

– Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss pg 122

I relate to her so much! It IS hard to write reviews.  I want to be just like Anna but a professional book reviewer.  I also found that quote ironic since I knew I was going to review this book the way Anna reviews movies.

I really enjoyed the writing in Anna and the French Kiss.  The dialogue is fun.  We get to know Anna’s backstory when touring her room and looking at interesting photos.  Here is an example of some awesome writing right here.

Bin after bin of macarons in every flavor and color imaginable. … And then I notice cinnamon and hazelnut praline, and I just want to die right there.  Crawl over the counter and crunch my fingers through their delicate crusts and lick out the fragrant fillings until I can no longer breathe.

– Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss, pg 158

Overall, it was a cute teen romance with great characters.  I just wish there had been less drama.

Content Rating: Medium, for strong language (about 3 or 4 f-words) and teen drinking (although it isn’t glamorized)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Stephanie Perkins

Stepanie Perkins

Well, hello! I'm Stephanie Perkins, and I write novels for teens (and for adults who aren't afraid to admit that teen books are awesome). I was born in South Carolina, raised in Arizona, attended universities in San Francisco and Atlanta, and now I live in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.

My best friend is my husband Jarrod. Our house is almost a hundred years old, and every room is painted a different color of the rainbow. We share it with a cat named Mr. Tumnus.

I've always worked with books—first as a bookseller, then as a librarian, and now as a novelist. On weekdays, you'll find me at my desk, typing away, downing cups of coffee and tea. On the weekend, you'll find me at the movies, waiting for the actors to kiss. I believe all novels and films should have more kissing.

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Book Review: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Book Review: Rump by Liesl ShurtliffRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
Published: April 9, 2013
272 pages
Genres: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade, Retelling
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.
4 Stars

Rump is a fun, humorous retelling of a traditional fairy tale that we all know, Rumplestiltskin.  The writing was charming.  The characters were funny and interesting.  Here’s a little demonstration of both the delightful writing and the great main character, Rump, who wrote this poem.

Home is a place to get out of the rain

It cradles the hurt and mends the pain

And no one cares about your name

Or the height of your head

Or the size of your brain

– Liesl Shurtliff, Rump, pg 8

This book was written before Once Upon a Time came out, but I can’t help comparing the two since they are both intelligent retellings.  There’s a scene in this book where Red is talking about the consequences of magic and I couldn’t help but hear my favorite character, Rumplestitlskin from Once Upon a Time, say “All magic comes with a price!”  Another similarity to Once Upon a Time is the ability of this story to get us to empathize with the “villain.”  I was really impressed that Liesl Shurtliff was able to keep the plot so close to the traditional fairy tale but give us back story and motivations in a way that made me see the story in a new light and not see Rump as the bad guy. It also kind of felt like a prequel because of the back story about his parents that the author went into.

Rump has a beautiful message about the importance of names and labels and our destiny.  It’s a story about not only learning from your own mistakes but the mistakes of others.

My one and only (and very small) complaint is that it felt like it ended very quickly.

Overall, it was a charming fairy tell retelling about finding your destiny that will appeal to everyone – especially if you are a Once Upon a Time fan.

Content Rating: Everyone.  There is some very mild potty humor.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.

About Liesl Shurtliff

Liesl Shurtliff

Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Just like Rump, Liesl was shy about her name, growing up. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!
Before she became a writer, Liesl graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, dance, and theater. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and three young children, where she still dreams of the mountains. Rump is her first novel.