Beautiful Curse by Jen McConnel Review and Blog Tour

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Today I’m taking part in the BEAUTIFUL CURSE blog tour hosted by YA Bound Book Tours. I’ve gotten the chance to read and review Jen McConnel’s great take on one of my favorite myths – Cupid and Psyche.

The Review

Beautiful CurseTitle: Beautiful Curse

Author: Jen McConnel

Publisher: Swoon Romance

Publication Date: December 2014

Genre: YA Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

Sixteen-year-old Mya Jones is cursed.

She is, hands down, the most beautiful creature on earth. But beauty can wound, and Mya finds herself reviled and shunned by her peers. If there is even a chance that she could start over, Mya longs to take it, no matter the risks.

So when the strange Mr. Merk offers her a new life away from home, Mya is hesitant but hopeful. Only she didn’t count on the mysterious Ross, or her feelings for him.

BEAUTIFUL CURSE is a contemporary retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid.

Review

If you’re a retelling fan, this is a great book for you to read! I love the Eros and Psyche myth (also related to my love of East of the Sun and West of the Moon) so this was a no brainer when I saw the chance to sign up for the blog tour and review.

The book focuses on Mya, who wakes up her first day of her junior year of high school and is suddenly freakishly gorgeous. You’d think that would make high school fantastic, but it doesn’t. The boys all want to…well, you know… and the girls hate her. Even the teachers seem to despise her, with a few exceptions (and I love the way McConnel sorts out the teachers so a few are immune to her “charms.”

She is dealing with a lot of family drama as well, and believes her beauty may be the cause of it. Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, she finds out she’s been chosen for a special school, and that’s where things get into the retelling more seriously. The palace and its occupants are quite well done and very intriguing. If anything, my complaint is that we don’t see enough of it and Mya’s time with her teachers and servants.

Ross, despite not seeing him at all, is an interesting and warm character, though he does sometimes act far older than a man you’d expect Mya to be interested in. While the romance here is sweet, it is also my only complaint with the book. Mya and Ross suffer from insta-love (IMO) and I really wanted to see their interactions and see how they could have fallen in love with words and tones of voice and such. Instead, she’s got a crush on him after meeting him only twice.

Once Mya breaks her promise not to look on him, she seeks out help and must perform some impossible feats. I love where the author has Mya meet Aphrodite, and I enjoyed their interplay. In some ways, I found the tasks too easy to perform, but they made sense with the story and the character.

Mya is a well-drawn character, as are all the supporting cast. The author has done a great job of creating a believable world for these characters to inhabit, as well as a great underlying and subtle message, and I actually liked the bittersweet undertone to the ending. If you like retellings, definitely pick this one up!

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20706772-beautiful-curse?ac=1

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Curse-Jen-McConnel-ebook/dp/B00O2JKYGU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417376141&sr=8-1&keywords=Beautiful+Curse

Book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

About the Author

jen mcconnelJen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).

She is also a former reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and proud member of SCBWINCWN, and SCWW.

A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she also holds a MS in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. When she isn’t crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga.

Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.

Author Links:

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Thorn by Intisar Khanani

20558124Title: Thorn

Author: Intisar Khanani

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: May 2012

Pages: 246

Genre: YA Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

Thorn has received a Badge of Approval from Awesome Indies.

Review

First of all, I LOVE this cover. I also love the story of the Goose Girl, so the combination alone had me picking this up. It didn’t disappoint!

I really enjoy the backstory that the author has given Alyrra. She’s created a complete world, and her attention to detail was very well done. I liked Alyrra’s relationships and the way that the author created a life that made the reader believe she wouldn’t mind being sent to another land. I also really loved that Alyrra, while angry at first about the change in fortune, comes to see it as an opportunity rather than a curse. The way she handles the switch between handmaiden and princess also works well, as does the inclusion of the villain. It helps to carry the story further than just a jealous maid.

The prince and the supporting characters are well done, though I must admit that I wanted to know more about the Snatchers, as well as the Red Hawk and his place in Alyrra’s life. I wanted to see what she would have done in the end about the things she saw as a commoner, and I wanted to see how she handles the transition back into her own face. After all that’s happened, I imagine it would be difficult.

I had some moments where I wished for a little less whining and avoiding the subject from Alyrra as she decided what to do, esepcially since she spends most of her time professing that she doesn’t understand court politics, but she obviously does. I suppose it could be said that she learned them gradually, but it didn’t seem that way to me. First they weren’t obvious, then they were there. I also wanted to see her reach out to her friends at the stables more quickly and with more feeling than she did at the end.

If you like retellings, especially of the Goose Girl, then you’ll really enjoy this one. I look forward to seeing what else the author puts out.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20558124-thorn?from_search=true

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Thorn-Intisar-Khanani-ebook/dp/B00869SADQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412285263&sr=8-1&keywords=Thorn

Book was purchased by the reviewer.

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

17679368Title: The Captive Maiden

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Publisher: Zondervan

Publication Date: November 2013

Pages: 302

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

Happily Ever After…Or Happily Nevermore? 

Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke’s son, Valten–the boy she has daydreamed about for years–and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

Review

I am in love with Melanie Dickerson’s retellings of fairy tales. The latest installment, THE CAPTIVE MAIDEN, is another version of Cinderella. It is set in the same world as the other books, which is nice. I enjoy the overlap between the characters and the world that continues from one book to another.

One of the things I like best about this series is that they are retold in a realistic medieval setting, without magic. In that respect they are a nice change, when retellings often feature magic in a different form (not that I don’t love those as well!)

The main characters, Valten and Gisela, are both well drawn characters who have their own problems, and I think in this case their personalities and problems are realistic. Valten has spent the last two years trying to soothe his wounded pride. In a previous book, THE FAIREST BEAUTY, his younger brother steals the betrothed he was duty-bound to marry. While he admits he didn’t love her, it hurt his ego that the brother steals her. Now, two years later, he’s a tournament champion and no longer finding it the life he thought. He’s restless and unsure what his purpose is.

Gisela is living as a servant under her evil stepmother’s thumb. Unloved and lonely, she has learned to take solace in her father’s dwindling stock of horses and in convincing herself that she doesn’t care about anything. In allowing herself to care for the memory of Valten as a teenager when he bought his horse, and then in truly caring about him after he helps her in the town square, she opens herself to hurt and romance.

The balls where Cinderella appears and no one recognize her are not featured. Instead, the author handles it in a realisitic fashion. I enjoyed that Gisela wasn’t a simpering pushover, but struggled with her feelings. However, I was disappointed that she became so “soft” so quickly, and the way she is kidnapped in the middle of the book I found hard to relate to her character.

The ending was a bit long at times, and I will admit that I skimmed a few parts. However, the character development was well done, and I liked that Gisela did have a backbone.

The book does have strong Christian themes, so if you don’t like that, be forewarned. If you do enjoy Christian fiction, they were well done and not at all overbearing. The fit the time and theme of the story.

Overall, the book was well done and enjoyable. It is a quick read, and fans of fairy tale retellings should enjoy it, as will Christian fiction and historical fantasy fans.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17679368-the-captive-maiden?from_search=true

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310724414?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0310724414&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-captive-maiden-melanie-dickerson/1114852664?ean=9780310724414&itm=1&usri=9780310724414&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

 

Book was purchased by reviewer.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

bronzeTitle: Strands of Bronze and Gold

Author: Jane Nickerson

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication Date: March 2013

Pages: 352

Genre: Young Adult Historical

Book Summary (from Goodreads.com)

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tal

Review

Fairy tale retellings are a sure way to get me to read a book. I also like it when an author tries to make the fairy tale work in real life, no magic or fairy godmothers. In Strands of Bronze and Gold, the author uses the antebellum south and a plantation as a way of retelling the tale of Bluebeard.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Bluebeard married several times and kept a room locked. He always told the wives that the room was off limits. They could do as they liked, but not go in there. The wife would steal the key, open the door, and find out the other wives had been murdered in the room. Once they found this out, he kills them. The last wife gets smart, and begs for time to say prayers until her brothers, coming to visit, get there. She locks herself in a tower, the brothers come and kill the evil husband. That’s the quick and dirty version, anyway. If you want to read the full version, click HERE. I’m sure the message was something about feminine curiosity and whatnot, but it always seemed like a strange fairy tale to me.

This book takes that theme and makes it into a mystery, which I really enjoyed. You know something is going on, but you aren’t sure what. I might have liked it better had I not known it was based on Bluebeard, just because it immediately gives some things away. (You know the basic bones of the past, etc)

The main character, however, I felt a bit confused by. Sophie starts off very young and acts like it. Her reasons for going to de Cressac, who is her godfather, make sense for the time. Even so, it’s a little ick-inducing once you get farther into the story and realize de Cressac’s love of strawberry blondes. Sophie does make a significant change and matures quite a bit before the end of the book, and does so in a plausible way that I really liked. But she felt so much older at the end that she might even have matured too much, considering her age. Its a minor complaint, but when you go back and read a few pages at the beginning, the character is drastically different. At the same time, it is an appropriate change, considering everything that happens to her.

The author’s take on de Cressac is also well done. She paints the older man well, and despite Sophie’s immature crush at the beginning, she does make the whole thing believable, especially considering the social norms of the time. I also enjoyed the ending, which I won’t give away, and de Cressac’s part in it. The housekeeper’s blind eye was a bit hard to believe, but I suppose when the villan is supposed to be so charismatic, you can almost ignore that.

My biggest complaint is the strange undercurrent of social commentary that the author placed in the novel. In the midst of the gothic, creepy feel of the novel she tries to insert bits about abolition and slavery. While the time period if correct, and Sophie may very well have had the opinions she did as someone from the North coming South, it seemed jarring. At times it worked, and at other times it took me out of the story. It isn’t necessarily badly done, its just odd for the novel, for me.

Overall, the book is a good retelling of a less popular fairy tale. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, I would recommend it.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13721341-strands-of-bronze-and-gold

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307975983?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307975983&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strands-of-bronze-and-gold-jane-nickerson/1110181034?ean=9780307975980&itm=1&usri=9780307975980

Book was purchased by reviewer.