Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

queenofheartsAs Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

It has been a long time since I’ve read a novel where I genuinely dislike almost every character.  I understand why this was necessary in a novel like Queen of Hearts as it is the story of a villainess becoming who she is meant to be by the time Alice arrives in Wonderland.

However, I couldn’t quite get past the feeling that all these characters needed a good slap.

Seriously.  Not only is Dinah hardly likable until the events at the end of the novel, but she is a spoiled brat who has some serious daddy issues.  Now if this had been done in a way to make her more sympathetic as a character, then I would be fine with it.  But it is almost as if Dinah is all hard edges and no smooth curves.  The King of Hearts is just as bad, a petulant adult still steaming from a past transgression and taking it out on his oldest daughter and doting on his illegitimate offspring despite the traditional lineage of the throne.

(^^^Seriously, the cover is absolutely gorgeous and it really does look like it could be the companion to the limited edition Queen of Hearts doll by Disney.)

Speaking of Vittiore, she is about as flat as a cardboard cut out and it was fairly obvious from around halfway through that she was simply a plot device and another way for Dinah to be enraged.

I think the only characters that really redeemed anything about characterization in this novel was her younger brother, the Mad Hatter character, who suffers from a sort of mental illness rather than mercury induced mania that Victorian hatters were known to succumb to.  Harris, the white rabbit character, I also found endearing, but he was very simply the same embodiment of the follower that he would be in the original novel.

I think the world building was the strongest point in this novel, as I really enjoyed the different aspects of the Court of the Hearts and the different rankings of Cards (which served as Security, Torturers, Accountants, and Soldiers), and the Black Towers.  That was the only part I found to be significant to the plot, as the rest of the novel sometimes felt like Dinah was just complaining to her long-time crush, Wardley.  Who, by the way, is so obviously uninterested that it made Dinah seem more like a mooning preteen than a teenager and future Queen.

The entire novel really just felt like it could have been a prequel short story in a lot of ways, or maybe a short novella.  However, as I am a giant Alice in Wonderland fangirl, Oakes can count on me reading the next installment, out January 2017.

I’m going to give it around 3 Bards as I found it average but with potential.

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Book Review: Get Even by Gretchen McNeil

GetEvenBree, Olivia, Kitty, and Margot have nothing in common—at least that’s what they’d like the students and administrators of their elite private school to think. The girls have different goals, different friends, and different lives, but they share one very big secret: They’re all members of Don’t Get Mad, a secret society that anonymously takes revenge on the school’s bullies, mean girls, and tyrannical teachers.

When their latest target ends up dead with a blood-soaked “DGM” card in his hands, the girls realize that they’re not as anonymous as they thought—and that someone now wants revenge on them. Soon the clues are piling up, the police are closing in . . . and everyone has something to lose.

I’m yet to  be disappointed by any of Gretchen McNeil’s novels.  I really should read her novels as soon as I get my hands on them, but for some reason they always get put on the backburner.  I blame the fact that I have two bookshelves in two different rooms, and the ‘M’ books are in the other room.  Anyway, I’ve had a copy of this since May 2014 and I’m so bummed I didn’t read it before now.

I’m a sucker for a good private school story, because it really does create an isolated world for which all of the crazy drama can occur.  Get Even did NOT disappoint in this category.  I really love how McNeil creates so many individual characters within this story.  Not only do the four main characters stand out individually from one another and have their own unique voices, but even the secondary and supporting characters are so vividly created that the novel just flies by and it almost felt like I was watching a much more devious episode of The O.C. (am I showing my age here? The O.C. was AWESOME.)

I’m torn between really liking what the don’t get mad girls do in the story and thinking that it is still a form of bullying.  Essentially the main four are absolutely 100% against bullying and only choose targets that have somehow done something to deserve their punishment.  But again, I struggle with the fact that they are bullying the bullies to some extent, which really kind of makes the cycle repeat.  However, McNeil is such a strong author, I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t intentional.  I still found all of the members of DGM pretty relatable and I think that each character has a little bit of everyone in them.  There is always the rebel, the shy one, the overachiever, and the dramatic one.  It isn’t as black and white, of course, but there is a little bit of each girl in a lot of people I know and went to high school with.  So again, the characterization was spot on.

WHY didn’t we get to see who the killer was at the end?! See, I can’t even say SPOILER ALERT, because it isn’t a spoiler!  It is a cliff hanger, and a major one at that.  I am going to be waiting impatiently for Get Dirty, and while we wait, you should check this book out too!

BUY THIS BOOK

Amazon| Flyleaf Books | Barnes & Noble

4 Bards

fourbards

Book Review: A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.

Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept.

As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

Oh how I do love a good Fairy Tale Retelling!  This book pretty much had me hooked at the beginning with this particular quote: “….awkward strangers who said they were princes and did not realize that you were only meant to kiss princesses when they were awake.”  What better than a Princess who is rather disturbed by the fact that hundreds of now dead strangers came into her bedroom and kissed her while she was asleep?  Now I just need Snow White to go around and accuse her Prince Charming of necrophilia!

So the brilliant thing that Thomas did with this retelling is that she didn’t try to re-hash all of the possible ways or reasons for the Maleficient character, in A Wicked Thing known as Celestine, for cursing Aurora and her family, she took the story in the direction of what the future could hold for Aurora.  I think that by doing this she made her narrative that much stronger.  I mean she answers the questions that the fairy tales don’t ever answer: What happens after she wakes up?  Obviously the story states that she and her true love live “happily ever after,” but what if that isn’t what Sleeping Beauty wants?  Doesn’t she get a choice?  I absolutely adored those possibilities being explored in this novel.  Kudos to Thomas for giving Aurora her own agency.

Too many female fairy tale characters are not given the ability to make their own decisions in reaction to what is happening around them, and they tend to accept what is happening as fate.  To be fair, Aurora questions everything, but it takes her a bit to really gain the independence to fight against what has been planned for her.  I think that this was a very realistic development of character throughout the narrative.

While the aspect of “true loves kiss” was included in A Wicked Thing, romance, delightfully, really doesn’t play a large role in this novel.  Aurora is too busy trying to find her way and decide who she really wants to be and who she is to really bother with the fickle men that surround her.  I was so pleased by the fact that Aurora is really a heroine who wants to do things for herself, no matter how naive she may be about the new world she woke up into.

Super excited for the second installment, but alas, will have to wait until 2016!

4.5 Bards

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Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

I am having a serious love affair with Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, and I think that this gif speaks for itself:

Anyway, my whirlwind experience with this series is one that on one hand, I really wish I had discovered these books sooner, but on the other hand, I am super grateful that I didn’t start reading these novels until after three of the books were released so I could have the pleasure of binge reading them.  Plus, Fairest now comes out tomorrow so I have Levana’s story to hold me over until Winter comes out in November (so far away!).

Back to the actual review:
I will say that at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like Cress a whole lot as a character and narrator.  Why? Well, her voice was not nearly as strong as Cinder’s or Scarlet’s, but as I continued through the first few chapters, I began to realize that this was purposefully done by Meyer in a way to illustrate just how, no matter the age of a person, being kept in almost complete isolation can really change your perspective on the outside world and your ability to socialize, etc.  Although Cress adapts extremely well to her circumstances, and the friendship that blossoms between a thinker like Cress and a vain do-er like Thorne was a lot of fun to read. cressgif

As for the rest of the Lunar Chronicles crew: there is some heartbreaking scenes that involve Wolf and Cinder that really just felt like a big punch in the gut.  It is so wonderful that Meyer continues to follow her own mythology of the half lunar/half wolf hybrid, especially the human and animal aspects of mating/love.  This novel definitely follows more of the “journey” trope than the other two novels, where two characters literally trudge across a desert, and cross the area of space between Luna and Earth a few times.  Either way, Cress really blew the entire Lunar Chronicles world wide open.

I cannot praise Meyer’s storybuilding enough.  When I start reading her novels it really is like I’m there completely and I, too, am in the Rampion, in the Sahara, or New Bejiing Palace.  It takes a lot to really draw me in like that, especially with fantasy, but I really think that she is at the top of her game, and my heart is absolutely broken by the fact that this series is almost over.

Who all was excited by the ending?  I WAS. So ready for Winter!

5 Bards.

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