Beautiful Curse by Jen McConnel Review and Blog Tour

YA Bounk Tour Buttonbeautiful curse new banner

 

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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Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

91mVuKxQdoLTitle: Fiendish

Author: Brenna Yovanoff

Publisher: Razorbill

Publication Date: August 2014

Pages: 341

Genre: YA Horror

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten.

Now she’s out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.

When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.

Review

Yovanoff’s other books have been on my to-read list for awhile. But this one appeared during a trip to B&N this weekend, and I loved the cover and was in the mood for something creepy. When the first line tells you the MC has been trapped in a cellar by roots for ten years, well, it doesn’t get much creepier and intriguing than that, right?

The book was enjoyable, and while I didn’t find it scary at all, parts of it were creepy and disturbing. At least, the beginning was. I will admit that being dropped into the middle of Clementine’s world, with mention of craft and crooked families and fiends, was jarring at first. It was explained over the course of the book, but I found myself at times wishing for some more explaination. I mean, boys found a girl pinned in a burned out cellar with her eyes sewed shut. While there was some cursing and some fear, there wasn’t nearly enough for what I would have thought. It both confused me and set things up that this place was outside of “normal” reality.

The magic in the book is also not fully explained, and I ended the novel still unclear about the star and its five points and the system itself. I wished for more, because I think it would have made the whole thing better and maybe made me love the characters a little more. For most of them, I felt like it was a love them or hate them kind of thing. I liked Clementine and Shiny. Rae and Davenport and Fisher all were a little blah for me.

I also had a hard time with Clementine. She is put in the cellar when she’s 7. She comes out 10 years later. There’s a lot of talk about how she can’t fit into her skin quite right, but she never really comes out with a seven-year-old’s mentality. I mean, she’s singing Farmer in the Dell not long before being locked up and going over her numbers, and then she comes out, thinks about things, says some vague things that sound like she was “out of body” while imprisoned, and then she’s acting like a normal seventeen year old. Especially since halfway through the book she’s got a romance going. When you forgot about the beginning and the age, it works. When you really think about it, its weird.

I have to say one thing I truly adored, and that was Yovanoff’s prose. Its beautiful. The first three pages alone I went back and reread more than once. Her words just shine. Throughout the book there were little sprinkles of fantastic lines and descriptions, and that I loved. I wish I had loved it more, but I will be going to check out her other books soon! If you enjoy dark fantasy, I’d suggest you give it a try.

Ratingstarcolorunlabeledstarcolorunlabeledstarcolorunlabeled(But four stars for the prose!)

Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18667948-fiendish?from_search=true

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1595146385/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1595146385&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fiendish-brenna-yovanoff/1117163910?ean=9781595146380&itm=1&usri=9781595146380&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

Book was purchased by the reviewer.

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.

Book Highlight: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

Book Highlight!

Gates-cover-FINAL-med

In the Labyrinth, we had a saying: keep silent, keep still, keep safe.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her.

Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power.

Praise for Gates of Thread and Stone

“Lori M. Lee excels in building a world of intrigue, oppression, and magic amidst a Labyrinth setting as twisted and winding as the secrets hidden inside her characters’ hearts. Fans of strong heroines who don’t need a boy to hold their hands, action-packed fighting scenes, and whispers of steampunk and mythology, will find themselves wishing they, too, could manipulate the threads of time, if only to stay inside the story a little longer.”-A.G. Howard, the SPLINTERED series

“Inventive, romantic, and gripping. I was hooked from the first page!”-Amy Tintera, REBOOT and REBEL

 

About the Author

lori_small

Lori is the author of young adult fantasy Gates of Thread and Stone, coming August 5, 2014 from Skyscape. She has a borderline obsessive fascination with unicorns, is fond of talking in capslock, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, kids, and a friendly pitbull.

Links:

Preorder Links:
 

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

15702859Title: The Winter Witch

Author: Paula Brackston

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Publication Date: January 2013

Pages: 340

Genre: Young Adult Historical/Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

In her small Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has never spoken, and her silence as well as the magic she can’t quite control make her a mystery. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Bevan, the widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumours that swirl around her. After their wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it, while slowly Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything.

Review

I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. The premise sounded intriguing, it was historical with some magic, set in Wales, had witches and romance and seemed like a great novel. And it wasn’t bad. Not really. It was just very. very. s  l  o  w.

It starts off well enough. We’re introduced to the slightly mysterious Morgana the day she is to be wed to a man she’s barely met. She doesn’t speak, and there is a hint that there may be something magical about her. Despite her silence, she has very strong opinions about many things. The character is one that starts out likable, and one I wanted to get to know better. The problem was that I don’t feel like I ever did.

Cai, the man who marries her, is another character that we want to like. He actually seems a little easier to “get to know” than Morgana. I don’t know if that’s because he talks, or because of the way his narration is done, or if its just me. That being said, he never develops as much as I’d like either.

Their relationship is set up to have problems. Its an arranged marriage, he does it because he has to in order to keep his position in town, she does it because her mother talks her into it. They both dance around each other for what seems like hundreds of pages. She can’t talk. He doesn’t understand. She acts like a stubborn child, then feels bad, he forgives her though he’s not sure why she did it.

I actually skimmed and skipped most of the middle of the book. The themes of misunderstanding and guilt and more misunderstanding, mixed in with some comments about how much they are beginning to like the other, are overdone for me. What I’m sure was meant to be a slow build up of a relationship just fell flat. The ending wasn’t bad, but some of the twists are easy to see, and the very ending seems totally unlikely. Enough that I had a hard time feeling horror or threatened at all. The villain and the reasons behind it are very loosely done. For a long time you aren’t really sure if her motives are what you think, and they are easy to figure out. I had a hard time buying into them, personally, so it made it difficult to feel anything for the villain.

Their romance is sweet, and the end is definitely a Happily Ever After, but I must admit to being disappointed by this book. If you enjoy slow romance, with a little magic mixed in, this is a good one. Otherwise, you might want to steer clear.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15702859-the-winter-witch?from_search=true

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250001315/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1250001315&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-winter-witch-paula-brackston/1111298362?ean=9781250001313&itm=1&usri=9781250001313&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

Book was purchased by reviewer.

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

10637748Title: The Pledge

Author: Kimberly Derting

Publisher: McElderry Books

Publication Date: November 2011

Pages: 323

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she’s spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It’s there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she’s never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.

Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can’t be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country’s only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

Review

I had a hard time rating this book. Not because its bad. No, its a good read. My problem is that I wanted it to be something more than it was. I loved the fact that Derting has taken the ideas of a fantasy world and a dystopian world and melded them together into something really unique. I loved that. I also loved the idea of Sabara’s succession and how that works. The possibilities for that to be complicated and really dramatic are fantastic. I even loved Charlie and Brook and Angelina. My problem was that when I got to the end, something was missing.

The beginning of the novel starts well enough. When the languages change, it takes some getting used to to understand that they’re speaking the Vendor language when its italics, and Englaise when it wasn’t. But you get used to it and move on. There were a few times when I had to remind myself that it was part fantasy world and part dystopian, which I really enjoyed. The interaction between characters was good, and I liked the relationship that Charlie, Brook, and Aron all had. I just wished there had been more. Charlie’s relationship with Aron wasn’t well defined enough for me. He’s important, and yet there’s nothing that happens between them to make you really believe that. With Brook its more concrete and defined, though she accepts the revelations about Brook at the end a little too smoothly for my taste.

What really troubled me was Max. Her romance with Max is swift, complete, and sort of out of left field. She has feelings, she flirts a little, but spends most of her time running and being afraid of his motives, then suddenly they are deeply in love. I wish there had been more to it than that.

Also, while I realize this is part of a series, I found myself when I neared the end, wondering how they would resolve the conflict with the queen in such a short span. And the whole scene was rather anticlimactic. They make a huge fuss over everything and how strong the Queen is and her will, but it doesn’t seem to take more than three pages to defeat her. Maybe in subsequent books (and its hinted at in the epilogue) this will be explained. I hope so, because it was a little too easy for me.

I’m interested to see where this goes, but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to run out and get the next books right away.

All the same, it was a good read, and fans of fantasy and dystopian fiction will enjoy it. Try it out!

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10637748-the-pledge?from_search=true

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1442422017?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1442422017&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pledge-kimberly-derting/1101914796?ean=9781442422018&itm=1&usri=9781442422018&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

Book was purchased by reviewer.

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

toadsTitle: Toads and Diamonds

Author: Heather Tomlinson

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Publication Date: March 2010

Pages: 288

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads.com)

Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family’s scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.

It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.

Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province’s governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters’ fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

Review

This book I found really exciting. It was on sale, and it looked to be a fairy tale set in India. It looked exotic, and the possibilities for it to be retold were exciting. And, to be fair, it was a good book. But after reading the whole thing, with visions of India in my head, the authors acknowledgement page at the end really turned me off.

First, let’s talk about the book. It is a retelling of the fairytale (whose name escapes me) about the two sisters who live with their widowed mother. One is kind a good, the other is mean and cruel. The kind sister goes to the well to get water and meets an old woman who asks for a drink. When the girl gives it to her, she tells her she’s sweet and gets a reward – roses and jewels shall fall from her lips when she speaks. When she returns home, she tells her sister and mother, and the mean sister goes, expecting something equal. She is nasty to the old woman (who’s really a fairy) and instead is cursed to have snakes and toads fall from her mouth.

This book takes that tale and puts a different spin on it. I really liked that the girls, who aren’t sisters but might as well be, both suffer the same fate, but it isn’t because they’re bad or good. Now, the sister who receives the jewels and flowers is of course the sweet and beautiful one. But the one who receives the toads and snakes eventually learns that it isn’t as much of a curse as she thinks. She does, however, spend most of the book thinking its bad and she was cursed because she is a bad person. What she said at the well wasn’t the kindest, but it wasn’t nasty or particularly cruel.

The story is told in dueling narratives. Each chapter alternates between Diribani and Tana. This works fine, except that the chapters begin slowly, and by the time you’re really invested in what’s happening to that character again, the author switches chapters. This would be fine, but she doesn’t pick up exactly where she left off, so you’re left a little disappointed at times.

The romance woven through is also scant at best, but suddenly becomes the girls’ reward at the end. I wouldn’t have minded, except that their interaction with their “loves” is little to none throughout the book, especially for Tana.

Still, the author’s descriptions and her characters are well done, although I found her main characters sometimes less interesting than her secondary characters. They had a tendency to think over their problems constantly, and it got to be a case of “beating a dead horse.”

My biggest issue, and the one which turned me off completely after I finished, was the author’s note at the end. The book is set in a world that looks like India, smells like India, but the author says that it isn’t India. Instead, she claims it’s a fantasy world based on India. To me, it just seemed like she decided that it was too hard to make it fit into historical India and Hinduism/Islam and took the easy route. I was very, very disappointed.

That being said, if you enjoy fairy tale retellings and literature set in a more exotic place, this would be a good one.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6892626-toads-and-diamonds

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805089683?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0805089683&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/toads-and-diamonds-heather-tomlinson/1100358727?ean=9780805089684&itm=1&usri=9780805089684

Book was purchased by reviewer.