Book Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Book: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Published July 2020 by Bloomsbury YA|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairy Tale Re-Telling

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew…

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

I really liked Cinderella Is Dead, and I’m really glad I read it!

This is a very unique take on the Cinderella story.  Centuries after the death of Cinderlla, and Lille is a horrible place to live, especially where women and girls are concerned.  They’re abused and at the mercy of men, and it’s up to Sophia and Constance to take down Prince Charming so all women can have better lives.

I was not expecting Prince Charming to be so horrible, but he was.  He executed a seamstress, accusing her of helping Sophia leave because all Sophia did was stop in her shop.  Prince Charming is definitely the villain in this story, and Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters were part of the resistance against Prince Charming.  Centuries later, they’re still fighting against a man who uses the souls of young women to stay alive.

Also cool was the take on the fairy godmother- she’s a witch, the mother of Prince Charming, and the reason he’s still in power.  But she’s also the reason he was able to not be in power.  So even though we thought she was on our side, only to see that she wasn’t, she still did the right thing, and helped break the curse on this really tiny town.

I like that we questioned the version of the story we got, and I loved that the version put out by the palace had nods to the original fairy tale, and not the Disney movie.  Which I love, don’t get me wrong, but this story was dark, and I’m glad it used some of the original story.  By the end of the book, we learn so much about what happened to Cinderella both before and after her marriage to Prince Charming, and it really makes you think about the stories we’re told.

What really happened is so completely different than the story the palace puts out, and there are some pretty big differences between the two.  I am glad that we get the real story, and that it’s the one that everyone knows as well.  They have a lot of work ahead of them, but they’re definitely on the right path.

I liked Sophie, and I felt really bad for her.  Her parents didn’t seem accepting of who she was, and I get that her world is not accepting of anyone who is part of the LGBT community.  We see it with her, her best friend and another character that we meet.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but he was willing to make a run for it with Sophia, and try to have a better life somewhere else.

With her best friend in particular, it was hard to tell if she felt the same way, but couldn’t reciprocate because she was worried about what would happen to her and her family.  Maybe she didn’t feel the same way towards Sophia.  Either way, her eventual husband was this horrible, abusive man, and it’s sad that they had to live in a world like that.  No one should have to live like that, and I’m glad that Sophia and Constance were able to change things.  They made it very clear that things were going to change, and that there will be consequences.

4 stars.  I really liked Cinderella Is Dead, and it’s such a different but really cool take on a story we all know.

Book Review: The Gravity Of Us by Phil Stamper

Book: The Gravity Of Us by Phil Stamper

Published February 2020 by Bloomsbury UK|352 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

In this smart, heart-warming YA debut perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, two teens find love when their lives are uprooted for their parents’ involvement in a NASA mission to Mars.

Cal wants to be a journalist, and he’s already well underway with almost half a million followers on his FlashFame app and an upcoming internship at Buzzfeed. But his plans are derailed when his pilot father is selected for a highly-publicized NASA mission to Mars. Within days, Cal and his parents leave Brooklyn for hot and humid Houston.

With the entire nation desperate for any new information about the astronauts, Cal finds himself thrust in the middle of a media circus. Suddenly his life is more like a reality TV show, with his constantly bickering parents struggling with their roles as the “perfect American family.”

And then Cal meets Leon, whose mother is another astronaut on the mission, and he finds himself falling head over heels–and fast. They become an oasis for each other amid the craziness of this whole experience. As their relationship grows, so does the frenzy surrounding the Mars mission, and when secrets are revealed about ulterior motives of the program, Cal must find a way to get to the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

I really liked The Gravity Of Us!  I was intrigued, of course, but also not sure if I would like it.  I am so glad I picked this book up!

I really liked Cal, and what I felt for him.  Especially with everything that happened with Kiera, who seemed so cool at first.  But she ended up not being as cool as I thought she would be, and what she did was pretty horrible.  And his life changed because of his dad’s desire to be an astronaut.  Who didn’t want to be an astronaut as a kid, though?

Life definitely wasn’t perfect in Houston, and not how reality t.v. made it seem.  He made fast friends with Leo and Kat, and overall, I liked seeing how the whole community came together to make the Mars mission happen.  There were a lot of ups and downs, of course, and Star Watch really took things out of context.  That wasn’t surprising at all, and it felt very realistic.  I loved how Cal stood up for Mrs. Bannon, and that overall, he wanted people to see things how they really were.  I’d definitely follow Cal, if he were a real person.

I loved that it was about keeping NASA funded and getting to Mars!  I don’t pay attention to NASA enough, but with reading this book, I felt really excited that they got to see people travel to Mars!  I can’t help but wonder if that’s what it was like when we went to the moon decades ago.

I really liked seeing that Cal’s family wasn’t perfect.  Leo’s family wasn’t perfect either, but I felt like this book really highlighted that things aren’t what they seem, and that we put people on a pedestal only to tear them down.  It was sad that this mission almost lost funding because of some things that came out about this particular mission.

Cal worked so hard to make things right, and it really made me believe in this mission and what they were trying to do.  There were so many people involved in making this happen, and I didn’t want anyone to lose their dream or their job because of some pretty terrible people.

I thought the romance was really cute, and I like Leo and Cal together.  I really hope it works out for them and that Leo figures out what he wants to do.  I’m also hoping things work for Cal, and that he gets to be the journalist he wants to be.

4 stars.  I really liked The Gravity Of Us, and I really recommend it, especially if you like cute romances or space!

Audio Book Review: We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia, Narrated by Kyla Garcia

Book: We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia, Narrated by Kyla Garcia

Published February 2019 by HarperAudio|Length: 9 hours, 54 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: We Set The Dark On Fire #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

I liked We Set The Dark On Fire!  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, but I definitely have some mixed feelings.

I’d say it’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Belles meets Girls Of Paper And Fire.  I’d say it’s more Handmaid’s Tale than any of the other two books I mentioned, but I think it reminded me of The Belles and Girls Of Paper And Fire because of girls chosen to do be something, and getting trained to it.  Plus the whole forbidden romance you see in Girls Of Paper And Fire.

I really felt for Dani, and what she was trying to protect.  She has to make a lot of hard choices, but I did find myself wishing that we had more with her parents.  I know she wanted to protect her secret, that her parents gave up everything so she could do better, but I never really felt like that was in danger of being revealed.  I felt like her joining the Resistance, and her falling in love with Carmen was more at stake than sacrificing what her parents did.

I really wanted to know more about the school she went to, and how it was decided who was Primero and who was Segundo.  I really wanted to know that.  It was easy enough with Handmaid’s Tale- Handmaidens were the ones who could still bear children, while wives sometimes could not.  But I wasn’t sure how it decided- if it was explained, I clearly missed it.

So, I did listen to the audio book, which I think didn’t help with the world building.  The narrator, Kyla Garcia was really great, and she did an awesome job narrating.  I loved her narration of Joyride by Anna Banks, but having finished this one, I don’t think it completely worked on audio.  At least for me.  There were details, like who was Primero and who was Segundo that were either left out, or completely forgettable.  There were quotes from the guide that the Medio School For Girls had, and they were completely forgettable as well.  I didn’t mind them, but for audio, it didn’t work.

And there was this story at the beginning of the book that explained how the world came to be.  I liked it, but by the end of the book, I had completely forgotten what it was about.  I think that’s what made me think of The Belles.

The idea was interesting, and I liked a Handmaid’s Tale-type story in a fantasy setting.  It’s not at all a Handmaid’s Tale re-telling but it was the only thing I could think of the entire time I was reading this book.  That is partly why I picked this book up, and I did like it.  The world and characters are interesting, and I do want to know where the story is headed.  I think this is the one time that a comparison to another book is dead-on.

I didn’t really care about Carmen, but I did like Dani.  I can’t say I’m surprised by some of the things that happened between them, but I did want to keep listening to see if any of my guesses were right.  It was fairly predictable, but I didn’t mind.  I liked the overall story enough that I didn’t mind the predictability.

3 stars.  If you love the Handmaid’s Tale, you really like this book.  It reminded me way too much of the Handmaid’s Tale for me to love this book, and it’s similarity to it made it hard to see it as a separate book.  Still, I liked the world and the story enough that I want to know what happens next.

Book Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Book: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Published January 2018 by Swoon Reads|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: NA Contemporary

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

I really liked this one!  I didn’t love, and I was expecting a different story than the one described, but I still really liked it.

I was interested in this one because it features an asexual main character.  It’s rare to see that in a book, and I thought Kann did a great job at describing what it was like for Alice as she had to navigate relationships.  It rang true, and it didn’t define Alice, but it was still a big part of who she was.  It wasn’t something other people understood, particularly the people she dated, and it made me sad that it was something people didn’t understand.  I wasn’t surprised, but it still made me sad that her girlfriend thought Alice didn’t care about her because she didn’t want to have sex her.

I didn’t care for her friend Feenie, and it seemed like Alice was definitely the third wheel.  I don’t know that she necessarily intentionally left Alice out, but she didn’t seem to like that Alice had other people in her life.  And yet, there were a few times were Feenie and Ryan wanted to have a “family” night and then they ended up leaving her to do their own thing.  Feenie seemed all over the place, and it was hard to like her.  The one thing I did like, though, was that Feenie wanting to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom wasn’t seen as a bad thing, and it was the right choice for her.

I did like her friend Ryan and I liked Takumi as well.  Ryan was an awesome friend, and he was there when Feenie wasn’t.  I liked Takumi as well, though he wasn’t one of my favorites.

As for Alice, I loved her interest in interior design and pop culture.  I wasn’t expecting her to want to be an interior designer, but I hope it works out for her.  To be honest, I expected her potential career path be in the library or something with pop culture.  She definitely struggled with what her parents wanted her to do, and I liked seeing her struggle with how to pay for everything once they told her they would stop paying for college because she didn’t want to go to law school.  It felt very real, and it’s something I think a lot of people could relate to.

Characters aside, I had a hard time with Cutie Code.  It comes up a lot, especially at the beginning of the book, and then it sort of fizzles out.  It was odd to me, especially because the scale and what each color means was never clearly defined.  I was expecting a graphic or something, explaining it in more detail, and that never happened.  I would have be fine had it not been in there.

I think I was expecting a different story, and I’m not sure why.  I mean, the blurb isn’t wrong, but I was also bored, and it felt like the book was missing something.  What that is, I honestly have no idea.

That being said, this book seemed more like New Adult than YA to me.  And it was nice reading about a college-aged character that wasn’t completely focused on sex and romance.  There was romance, but there was a nice balance between dating and navigating life on your own.  It’s what I want from NA, and I feel like a book like this is pretty rare.   Or at least uncommon.

4 stars.  I didn’t love this book, obviously, but there were a lot of things I really liked.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

Book Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

Published November 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Girls Of Paper And Fire #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

I absolutely loved this book!  I wasn’t sure about it at first but I ended up loving it, and while it’s not my favorite book from this year, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

One thing I wanted to start off with is the trigger warning for sexual abuse and violence.  I loved that this book had one at the beginning, but I feel like it could have been slightly more obvious.  Still, I’m glad it’s there but keep that in mind if you decide to pick up this book.

I thought Ngan handled both very delicately and respectfully.  You really felt for Lei and the other girls as they were taken from their homes, and given to the king.  The world Lei lives in, particularly once she goes to the palace seems beautiful, but danger lurks beneath the beauty, and she has to do things she doesn’t want to do.  She says no, but is ultimately punished for that.  It’s haunting, and even though Lei’s world is not real, quite a bit of the book is all too real.  The way the king uses fear and power to control the Paper Girls, and they are seen as nothing but objects.  It broke my heart to see what they had to go through, but I also loved that there was hope that things would change.

I loved Wren, and though she’s not the main character, she really was my favorite character.  I just loved her story and everything about her.  It took some time to warm up to Lei, but I ended up really liking her.  And Aoki was really interesting as well.

I also loved the world.  The author drew from her life growing up in Malaysia, and everything was so vivid.  I wish we saw more of the world that Lei lives in, but we’ll have to wait until the next book, because we’re limited to just a few places in this book.

5 stars.  I loved this book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you like diverse books and fantasy!

Book Review: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Book: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Published October 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel was just okay.  I wanted to like it more, and there were some things I liked, but it wasn’t enough to actually get me to like it.

I did like seeing Leila get involved with the school play, and that her classmates aren’t who Leila thought they were.  I was glad she got to know some of them, and that she started to find her place at school.  I liked seeing her struggle with fitting in, and how different she felt from her other classmates.  It made it easy to relate to Leila, and I could picture it really well.  I also get why

I didn’t care for Saskia, who was cruel and manipulative.  I can’t say I’m surprised by how she acted, especially with everything that happened towards the end of the book.  And I don’t know if it’s just me, but it felt like something out of Mean Girls.  Why, I don’t know, but that was the vibe I got from that one scene in particular.

I didn’t get why she had so many issues with her sister- it seemed like it was the fact that her sister was doing everything she was supposed to and Leila wasn’t.  Her sister turned out to be pretty cool, and I wish there was more depth with why Leila didn’t care for her sister.  Also, I’m an only child, so I don’t completely get the sibling dynamic.

It was pretty short, and I feel like it could have been a little bit longer.  It was a little bit younger than I thought it would be.  At the very least, it read young, and I thought it would have worked pretty well as a middle grade novel.

2 stars.  This book wasn’t for me, but I can see why people love it.

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Published June 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books|513 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: Guide #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I liked this one!  Gentleman’s Guide was my YA book club’s most recent pick, and even though I’ve seen it around, I never felt compelled to pick it up before.

It was a fun read, and something about the book made me think of My Lady Jane.  I think the humor and writing style is what reminded me of My Lady Jane.  And considering the length, it did go pretty fast.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Monty, though I did like Felicity and Percy. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite between the two…but for some reason, I am leaning more towards Felicity.  I’m not sure if I like this book (or Felicity) enough that I’d pick up the next book (which is apparently going to focus on Felicity) but who knows.  Maybe I’ll pick it up one day.

I did like the author’s note at the end, where she talked more about the tour of Europe and some of the other things we see in the book, like race and epilepsy.  I did think that she only scratched the surface with some of the things we see, like how Percy’s treated because of his epilepsy and his race, and how Felicity wants more education, but can’t because it isn’t expected of women during the time period.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what else to say about Gentleman’s Guide.  It was fun and entertaining, and a light read, which is something you need sometimes.  Maybe I wasn’t in much of a reading mood when I read it, because I did have a stretch where I didn’t really want to pick up a book, or maybe it was just the book.  I can see why people love it, but I can also see why people might not.

3 stars.  I really wish I had more to say about Gentleman’s Guide, but I don’t.  It was enjoyable, and while I wasn’t a fan of Monty, I did like Felicity and Percy.