Review: “Charm” (A Cinderella Reverse Fairytale Book 1) by J.A. Armitage

Charm (reverse Fairytales) (Volume 1)

A review by Vanessa

What’s a girl to do when she suddenly finds herself the heir to a kingdom, in need of a husband and totally devoid of any romantic entanglements? First, she must mourn the loss of her older sister, and then she needs to take dancing and etiquette lessons fit for a Queen. The ball meant for Princess Charmaine’s older sister to find a husband among 100 applicants is still going to happen but Charmaine is going to have to do the dancing and the picking. It’s the last thing she ever wanted, especially since she sucks at dancing, but when she wanders down to the kitchen for a late dinner she finds help in the form of handsome, downtrodden, dishwasher named Cynder. He just happens to know how to dance, and he does magic. Romance isn’t something she can have with him, because he is a servant and a mage, but she just can’t help it. Cynder opens her eyes to so much, including love, and the tense state of the kingdom surrounding the subhuman treatment of magic users. But Charmaine needs to pick five potentials out of the 100, and over the next months, narrow it down to one. But when chaos erupts at the ball, and the magic users make it known how unhappy they are, things might just not go according to plan.

This book definitely had all of the meat and potatoes of a good story with enough depth of conflict and emotional gravitas to keep the readers’ interest. The twist of making the Cinderella character male, and the Prince a Princess, while throwing in the political climate surrounding magic and those who use it was interesting. Making his status as a magic user the source of Cynder’s downtrodden life was really intriguing. Princess Charmaine is actually an interesting character to follow, and the way she looks at and regards the other characters is an interesting lens through which to view the story. However, she herself at times seems a bit two dimensional. You want her to step up and be the hero of her story, as the Prince would be in the original story line, but she seems to end up flowing with the story rather than driving it along. She has great moments of intrigue occasionally, especially when plunged into romantic situations, but she lacks the gumption you would want from the hero of the story.

While the concept of this reversal of the fairy tale is an interesting one and it was overall a pleasant read, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed with the world building. Turning this classic fairy tale upside down and inside out presented a chance to create a whole new fictional universe, but I feel like it was a very large missed opportunity. Instead of being new it ended up being simply a modern day wherever, with modern technology like cameras and TV, but for some inexplicable reason they ride around in carriages, and there happens to be magic. It’s very difficult to get a mental picture of the kingdom. Are they a castle province in the middle of an American-like township, with modern apartments and businesses, etc? Or are they in an old timey British-like town with old architecture, and traditional crafters and artisans? It’s almost like Armitage took a bunch of elements of older fairy tale worlds, threw them in a blender with some modern day elements and hit frappe! The last thing you want to do with a first in a series is make it difficult to imagine how the characters fit into the world. I enjoyed this one enough to try the next in the series but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for stronger world building.

3 out of 5 stars

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Review of “Stray” by Elissa Sussman

Stray by Elissa SussmanA review by Maria.

Stray, a debut novel by author Elissa Sussman was an absolute delight. Reminiscent of the Disney and Grimm stories most children grow up with.

I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.

Princess Aislynn and her peers at the elite academy recite this mantra over and over to keep them on the path set before them. This is the path to grand balls, suitors and a marriage to a husband they will be obedient to and protected by. Their path cannot allow for any common fancies or trysts along the way and absolutely no magic!

Even though girls have ability to do magic it is reserved for the fairy godmothers assigned to every girl for her lifetime. If a girl displays too many acts of magic in life, she is redirected. While fairy godmothers are allowed magic, they were redirected to their station in life by straying from their path and becoming unsuitable for royal society.

Aislynn is prepared for her coming out ball and is excited to find a suitor. But a terrible mistake happens, and Aislynn is shunned by her peers even though she is a royal and is redirected to becoming a fairy godmother. Fairy godmothers are one of the lowest stations in society, slightly above servanthood or becoming a stray. Servants are indebted for life and have magical bonds tethering them to their post. But strays are girls that just vanish, never to be seen or heard from again, either thought to be kidnapped by the rogue queendom or killed.

Aislynn is sent to godmother academy where she must learn how to clean, mend and other chores she’s never had to do before. She also has to do magic the right way, easy and fluid, not big bursts of magic like the episode that got her redirected. She is given her own royal girl to guide as a fairy godmother. Aislynn also finds support in a boy named Thackery. This friendship grew despite a rocky start and helped Aislynn through her toughest moments as training for a fairy godmother. She also uncovers some of the more unpleasant sides to being a fairy godmother.

I adored this novel because while it had all the trappings of a happy fairy tale, it became very dark very quickly. The story flowed very well, but many elements to the world unfolded slowly. Lacking knowledge of this world was maddening at times, but the author always revealed things in due time. Sussman has made a very in-depth  world while still building on magical themes most are familiar with.

The connections in this book were wonderful as well. Even though we barely got to know Aislynn’s parents or fairy godmother for most of the book, her connection to them was painted beautifully though memories. Bridget was an interesting friend who took pity on Aislynn when she needed it most, all because Aislynn showed her the courtesy of remembering her name. Thackery took quite a while to come around and be the male love interest of this story, mostly because Aislynn pretended to be someone else when they first met. But eventually that love story did start to develop slowly and beautifully and Thackery carried his own as a romantic.

If you grew up loving fairy tales, you won’t want to miss this novel!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Dorothy Must Die” by Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle PaigeA review written/summarized by Amanda.

Every month, our club votes on the book that we want to read for that month. October’s winning book was Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at October’s meeting.

Spoiler-free Synopsis:

Amy Gunn is a typical teenage girl, living in present-day Kansas with her mother and their pet rat Star. Like the rest of the world, she grew up with stories of Dorothy Gale and her fantastical trip to the Land of Oz. She saw the movie, read the books, heard the famous song about the rainbow over and over. Also like the rest of the world, she believed that it was all make believe, until a tornado (yes, a tornado) picked up her trailer from the park that she calls home and deposited it in – you guessed it – Oz, where Amy quickly discovers that the legendary land is not at all like it was supposed to be. It turns out that Dorothy returned to Oz and was still there, wreaking all kinds of havoc. Oz is not what it used to be. Good is wicked. Wicked is good. And it’s up to another girl from Kansas to put things right… if she can figure out what “right” really is.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

October’s hostess chose this book because she thought the premise sounded promising and that the club would enjoy it. She also liked “the unique take on Oz”. Club members voted for it out of love for fantasy stories and because an “original viewpoint of a familiar story was compelling”.

During the discussion, comparisons were drawn to a book that the club read earlier in the year, John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. That book is also a retelling of classic tales, many that were darkly twisted and very different from what we are familiar with. Particular attention was drawn to Connolly’s version of Snow White, now portrayed as a cruel and grotesque woman who uses the dwarves as her personal slaves.

What We Liked:

Amy is a headstrong young woman who doesn’t fit in at her school. She even has an archenemy. She doesn’t have any friends and her relationship with her mother has deteriorated over the last few years. Despite all of this, she is determined to graduate high school with top grades and escape Kansas for good. She isn’t without bitterness but she doesn’t let it affect her long-term goals, which is admirable. The individuals that she meets in Oz are unique creatures with serious issues of their own – Indigo, a Goth munchkin with a BIG attitude, and Ollie, a flying monkey who wishes to change his species’ fate. And then there’s Nox, the handsome, solemn boy who only seems to add to Amy’s confusion – and Pete, an eccentric boy who claims that Oz needs Amy’s help, but disappears at inopportune moments. YA skeptics shouldn’t worry—Paige doesn’t follow the usual YA romantic tropes with this story, which is much appreciated.

What We Didn’t Like:

The story ends on an extremely abrupt note. Even knowing that a sequel is in the works, the ending seemed to come from nowhere and didn’t feel like a natural stopping point. While the majority of the story moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged, there are some scenes in the middle that drag on a bit too long. Amy also has a tendency to swear but the profanity doesn’t sit right with the overall style of the story, or with Amy’s character.

As a group, we really enjoyed this story and are looking forward to reading the next book!

Fangirl rating: 4/5 stars.

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