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The End of Oz by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Ding Dong – Dorothy is Dead. I watched as the Emerald Palace crumbled to the grouns, burying Dorothy, the Girl Who Rode the Cyclone, under the rubble. And now that the rightful ruler, Ozma, has been restored to the throne…Oz is finally free.

My name is Amy Gumm. You might remember me as the other girl from Kansas. When a tornado whisked me away to the magical land of Oz, I was given a mission: Dorothy must Die. But it turns out girls from Kansas are harder to kill than we look. Now the Road of Yellow Brick is leading me away from Oz to the dark world of Ev, where I have a new, powerful enemy to deal with: The Nome King. And – surprise – he has a gingham-clad bride. With my magical shoes and a shrinking group of allies, I have one final chance to fulfill my mission, and save not only what’s left of Oz, but Kansas, too. As the line between Good and Wicked blurs even further, I have to find a way to get rid of Dorothy once and for all – without turning into a monster myself.”

REVIEW: Although I have always loved the premise of this series, the books have been a little bit up and down for me, often seeming rushed and a little cliche. Yet, it is a credit to them that I have always been hooked and wanted to know what happens next, even if I have found flaws in the book. ‘The End of Oz’ is the final book in the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series and picks up right where the previous book, ‘Yellow Brick War’, left off. At this stage in the story, Dorothy is believed dead, Ozma is the ruler of Oz and Amy was trying to start over at home with her mother in Kansas. But with the arrival of the Nome King, everything turned upside down, and Amy is now back in Oz with her high school enemy Madison and love interest Nox. As the yellow brick road leads them into Ev, they discover that not only is Dorothy alive, she is engaged to marry the Nome King. Having the perspective of Dorothy in this novel is interesting, and the reader ends up finding her strangely likeable; doubtless, she is evil, but she shows some compassion, and is highly intelligent. We are, of course, still rooting for Amy, particularly as the relationship between Amy and Nox begins to blossom. As I have mentioned in reviews of the previous books, the developing relationship between Amy and Nox is probably my favourite part of the series, due to the fact that it has not been rushed and has been slowly built upon throughout the books, making it more believeable. I especially loved it in this book, when the two finally admit their feelings for one another. As the race to kill Dorothy becomes more and more urgent, the group face ever more threats, and the introduction of the character of Lanadel as their ally adds to the enjoyment of the novel. I don’t want to give away too much, as I really enjoyed the ending and felt it was a fitting way to end the series – though a suggestive cliffhanger hints that it may not actually be the end after all. Although once again, I felt that the story was rushed in places, I really enjoyed it and felt that it provided the perfect ending to the series.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole…and before the roses were painted red…The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.”

REVIEW: I’ve been wanting to read this reimagining of the story of the Queen of Hearts for quite some time, and was really excited when I picked it up on my birthday book-shopping trip. This novel tells the story of Catherine, Lady Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. In this version, however, Catherine is a very a likeable character; a young woman who wishes to run away from her life as a member of the nobility and use her exceptional talents to set up a bakery with her maid, Mary-Ann. This dream appears to be dashed, however, when Catherine discovers that the perfectly kind but extremely foolish King of Hearts wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, a fact which her parents are all too delighted by. Upon fleeing his initial proposal Catherine meets the King’s new court jester, Jest, a handsome and mysterious young man who captures Catherine’s interest at once. As the Kingdom begins to grow in fear after a series of Jabberwock attack and the King’s intentions grow increasingly serious despite her attempts to slow things down, Catherine’s dreams seem to be becoming an increasingly distant possibility. Her relationship with Jest develops throughout the novel in a way that draws the reader in at once and makes us desperate for the two to find a way to be together, removed from the world they know so that each of them can realise their dreams. It is difficult to write more of the plotline without giving away spoilers, but it is easy to see how Catherine developed into the infamous Queen of Hearts, a villainess we are familiar with from her many depictions in book and particularly in film. Even knowing what she will become and witnessing some of this transformation towards the end of the novel, the reader still sympathises with Catherine. I am really hoping that there will be a sequel to this novel, as it is definitely one of my favourite Wonderland-set novels that I have read, and I’m eager to find out what happens next now that Catherine is the Queen of Hearts.

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Splintered by A.G.Howard

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no-one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…”

REVIEW: I’m sure frequent readers of this blog have gathered by now that I enjoy retellings of classic stories and fairytales, and I have a large stack of Alice in Wonderland retellings ready to get through on my bookshelf. Splintered was one of these books. It tells the story of Alyssa Gardner, a bold young woman who finds herself isolated from most of her peers due to her ability to hear the words spoken by insects and plants. The only people she lets herself be close to are her father, who is still devoted to her mad mother, her best friend and work colleague Jen, and Jen’s older brother Jeb, who has always been protective towards Alyssa, but whom Alyssa has always wanted much more from. After an incident at the institution where her Mum lives, Alyssa finds a series of clues and objects linked to Wonderland which she believes will cure her mother’s madness. During an argument with Jeb, she accidentally lures him into Wonderland with her, plunging the two of them into great danger. Although the pair begin to learn much more about themselves and each other, leading them to confess their feelings for one another, things are complicated by Morpheus, Alyssa’s dangerous but attractive guide to Wonderland. As Alyssa completes an increasing number of tasks that we recognise as stemming from the original story – for example, her emptying of the Pool of Tears – she begins to uncover more and more secrets about her heritage, and finds a way to break the curse of madness that has plagued the women of her family ever since Alice Liddell.

This book was clever and imaginative, and the storyline was more unusual and different from many of the usual formulaic reproductions of the Alice story. There were some parts of the book that I simply enjoyed less than others; I loved the development of the relationship between Alyssa and Jeb, and the conflicting desires Alyssa felt for the two men in her life. There were some elements of Wonderland itself that I enjoyed less; for example, the moment when the flowers turned into zombie-like creatures and chased Alyssa and Jeb in an attempt to eat them. I can’t pinpoint what exactly about this book didn’t quite hit the spot for me, because I did enjoy it, and the writing style was good with vivid description. I am intrigued to see what the further books in this series have to offer for this tale.

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

 

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Fathomless by Jackson Pearce

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Celia is a harbourer of memories – she can see into the past. Knowing what has already been has always seemed so insignificant to Celia – until she meets Lo. Lo’s memory is drowning in the vastness of the ocean. She is transforming into a nymph, an ocean girl, a mermaid – terms too pretty for the soul-less monster she knows she’s becoming. When handsome Jude falls into the ocean Celia and Lo rescue him. But soon they find themselves competing. Celia for Jude’s love, Lo for so much more. There’s only one way for Lo to earn back her humanity. Persuade a mortal to love her…and steal his soul.”

REVIEW: After hearing this novel described as a retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, one of my favourite fairytales (and Disney movies) of all time, I knew I had to check it out. Pearce’s novel operates as a split narrative, told by Celia and Lo independently. Celia is a young girl with special powers that allows her to see into people’s past upon physical contact with them; and despite her sisters, Anne and Jane, having similar powers relating to the present and the future, she feels isolated from them. Upon meeting Lo, a peculiar girl who emerges from the ocean and walks on bloody feet, Celia finds a purpose. After the two girls have rescued a boy named Jude from drowning, Lo and Celia form a strange bond as Celia tries to help Lo remember her past life, before she was an ocean girl destined to one day become an ‘angel’. As Lo remembers more and more of her former self, her narrative also develops to include Naida, the girl she used to be and whose desperation could destroy both Lo’s life and Celia’s. The two girls battle over Jude despite his budding relationship with Celia – Lo needs the soul of a male to ensure that she can revert back to her human self, Naida, and this is what she so desperately craves. However, the two of them work together to uncover more about Lo’s past and more about the mysterious angels that Lo’s sisters of the sea seem so sure will save them. It is hard to say much about the strange but captivating tale without giving too much away, but it is a very enjoyable story that gives a dark dimension to the traditional mermaid tale and sends through messages of love, friendship and sacrifice. I would definitely recommend it to fans of fantasy and fairytale, although I did sometimes feel that parts of the story were a little rushed or lacked full explanation, which could make parts of the often complex plot difficult to understand.

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Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Eliza Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich. But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth…Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival? And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley’s work, so despite the fact that this, her first historical fiction novel, is clearly intended for the child/young adult market, I was eager to read it anyway. This novel tells the story of Eliza Camperdowne, a young girl from a ruined gentry family who is her family’s only hope of achieving greatness under the reign of Henry VIII. After a failed betrothal to the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, Eliza is sent away to be educated in the art of courtly manners at Trumpton Hall, the home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Trumpton Hall, however, is also home to Eliza’s confident, beautiful, reckless and often rather spiteful cousin, Katherine Howard. Katherine and Eliza instantly clash, and matters become worse when Katherine and the music master, Francis Manham, make Eliza the victim of a cruel joke. When the time comes for the girls of Trumpton Hall to be sent to court, however, it is only Katherine and Eliza who make the cut, and the two of them are forced to at least try and get along as they share accomodation and serve the same Queen, Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Unbeknownst to Eliza, who is struggling with her own feelings and engaging in her own flirtation with the illegitimate but charming servant of the King, Ned Barsby, and earning the admiration of Will Summers, the King’s Fool, Katherine is doing some serious flirting of her own. Eliza is both stunned and horrified when Katherine announces that she is to marry the King; Eliza herself had reluctantly decided to fight for the position of King’s Mistress, in order to help her family’s prospects. As a Maid of Honour, Eliza now has to work even harder to play the court game, and distances herself ever farther from her beloved Ned. When the whole thing comes crashing down around them with the discovery of Katherine’s adultery, it is Eliza who stays by her side, despite all their past bitterness and rivalry, and as Eliza achieves her happy ending she realises how foolish she was to have been jealous of Katherine in the first place.

This is a well-written story, very imaginatively written,  and it does evoke to some extent the dangerous, rumour-filled atmosphere of Henry VIII’s court in its latter years. I do feel, however, that the book was spoiled for me by some of the adjustments that the author chose to make to the historical facts. I do not blame Worsley for doing this, and in light of this novel’s intended audience I understand why the story was made simpler and some of the more lurid details removed. For example, instead of writing separately of Katherine’s affairs with the music master Henry Manox and her later, more serious affair with Francis Dereham, Worsley combines them into one person; a music master named Francis Manham who later attends on Katherine at court and continues a reckless affair with her there. Thomas Culpepper is not included in the tale at all, which I did find somewhat surprising even in consideration of the audience. When I removed myself from my mindset as an historian myself, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt it was an easy to read and engaging tale, and would be a good introduction to history for younger girls; I feel it would inspire many of them to pursue studies into the Tudor period, and this I think is the books most admirable quality – it serves as a source of inspiration.

 

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Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “As the crown princess, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers and dances at party after party in their father’s palace. But their evenings do not end when the guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone’s palace. There the girls are cursed to dance each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill. Many princes have tried – and failed – to break the spell. But then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse they’ll need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles, and, of course, true love.”

REVIEW:  I always enjoy a fairytale retelling and this novel, based on the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, is an imaginative and engaging story based on this classic tale. The story focuses mainly on the characters of Galen and Rose. Galen is a young, orphaned soldier recently returned from war who seeks out his Aunt and Uncle to give him a new home in the Kingdom of Westfalin. Galen is welcomed with joy by his Aunt but with much more reservation by his Uncle, still wounded over the loss of his own son in the recent wars. He is reluctantly offered a job with his Uncle as an under-gardener at the palace, tending the beautiful and infamous gardens of the deceased Queen Maude. These gardens are now roamed by her twelve beautiful daughters, and Galen develops a particularly strong attachment to Rose, the eldest daughter. But the twelve sisters are hiding a dark secret which they cannot speak of, and which is constantly perplexing their father and the members of their household. Every night the girls appear not to move from their beds; but every morning, their dancing slippers are worn threw and their gowns strewn across the room. Increasingly growing in despair, particularly after their nightttime exertions begin to make the girls unwell, their father the King announces that any prince who can solve the mystery may choose one of his daughters to marry, and will rule Westfalin alongside her upon his death. Many Princes try and fail, but as they all soon after find themselves killed in supposed accidents, the girls find themselves under an increasing suspicion of witchcraft that places the whole kingdom of Westfalin under an interdict that forbids any religious ceremonies. Galen is the only person left willing to try and find a way to stop the curse, due to his growing love for Rose, and this leads him along on a terrifying adventure with the twelve princesses from which there seems to be very little likelihood of escape.

This is a well-told, entertaining and beautifully written story which truly captures the atmosphere of a fairytale. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am very much looking forward to reading more of Jessica Day-George’s fairytale retellings.