Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Retellings I’ve Recently Added To My TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is “Books in X Genre I’ve Recently Added To My TBR Pile.” Because I’m a retelling fanatic, I’ve chosen to focus on books that put a new spin on well-known stories.

1) Marian by Ella Lyons: Robin Hood retellings will always be my favorite retellings, which is why I was so excited to find this LGBT take on my favorite hero(ine).

2) My Fairy Godmother is a Drag Queen by David Clawson: In this contemporary reimagining of the Cinderella fairy tale, poor, downtrodden Chris falls for his wicked stepsister’s charming boyfriend.

3) Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George: Although I’m not very familiar with the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, this retelling of the Shakespearean play intrigues me because it’s set in New York City in the Roaring Twenties.

Book cover for Marian by Ella LyonsBook cover for My Fairy Godmother is a Drag Queen by David ClawsonBook cover for Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

4) Bull by David Elliot: Written in verse, this retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, from Greek mythology, is supposedly hilarious and twisted.

5) Sway by Kat Spears: My only knowledge of the play Cyrano de Bergerac comes from watching the children’s TV show Wishbone, but that’s all it takes for me to want to read this modern spin on the classic about a guy who falls in love with a girl who he’s charming on another guy’s behalf.

6) Ensnared by Rita Stradling: This sci-fi retelling of Beauty and the Beast comes with a warning that the book contains “adult situations.” Color me intrigued.

Book cover for Bull by David ElliottBook cover for Sway by Kat SpearsBook cover for Ensnared by Rita Stradling

7) The Humming Room by Ellen Potter: This is the first book I’ve found that’s claimed to be inspired by The Secret Garden, which was a childhood favorite of mine.

8) Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh: I’m not sure if it’s intended to be an actual retelling, but Ivory and Bone‘s synopsis touts it as “a prehistoric fantasy – with allusions to Pride and Prejudice,” which catches my attention.

9) Black Paper Mask by Lauren Gattos: I confess to being kind of confused by this novel’s synopsis, and I’m not certain if it’s meant to be a retelling or a sequel, but I’ll give any book a try that’s related to The Phantom of the Opera. Especially since this particular book’s synopsis calls it a “feminist revision” and a “gothic romance.”

Book cover for The Humming Room by Ellen PotterBook cover for Ivory and Bone by Julie EshbaughBook cover for Black Paper Mask by Lauren Gattos

10) The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson: I’m somewhat wary of Dickerson’s fairy tales – the ones I’ve read so far have been too light and innocent for my taste – but this Swan Lake/Robin Hood mash-up has piqued my curiosity.Book cover for The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

 Are you a fan of retellings? If so, what are your favorites? Let me know in the comment section below!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books to Get You in the Mood for Summer

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is a Summer Freebie, so I’m featuring books that will get you in the mood for summer.

Books Set at the Beach

1) Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler: This book’s cover and synopsis hint at a breezy beach read, but don’t be fooled – Twenty Boy Summer packs a punch. This moving story about friendship, loss, and healing is told from the point of view of a girl mourning her first love as she spends a summer with her best friend’s family on the shores of California.

2) Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen: Reading Along for the Ride always makes me yearn for a trip to the beach, as it follows a girl named Auden who spends the summer after her senior year with her dad and new stepmom in their seaside town. It’s a fun, relatively light read with boardwalk boutiques, new friendships, and a budding romance.

3) The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson: This book has a sweet, delightful protagonist, who also happens to be a homeless teenager living on the streets and beaches of California.

Book cover for Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah OcklerBook cover for Along For The Ride by Sarah DessenBook cover for The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson

Stories of Magic and Wonder

4) Summerland by Michael Chabon: When I was a kid, summer felt like a time of infinite possibilities, as though anything could happen. Summerland, whose pages are full of faeries, baseball games, heroes, and a battle between good and evil, embodies that feeling perfectly.

5) Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon: This is the first magical realism book I ever read, and the wonder and joy of it have lingered with me for years. It follows the adventures of a young boy in his marvel-filled hometown of Zephyr, Alabama, and something about it just feels like summertime to me.

6) The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This second book in the Raven Cycle Quartet will always be my favorite of the series, with its powerful dreamers, whispering forest, fantastical quest, and steamy Virginia-summer setting.

Book cover for Boy's Life by Robert McCammonBook cover for Summerland by Michael ChabonBook cover for The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Tales of Hijinks and Last Hurrahs

7) My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp: Most 18-year-olds spend the summer after high school graduation hanging out with friends or lounging by the pool. Not Lulu Mendez from My Best Everything; she uses her time to raise money for college by engaging in an illegal moonshining operation. (Read my review here.)

8) Kill All Happies by Rachel Cohn: This hilarious story about a graduation bash that runs wildly out of control takes place in an abandoned theme park and is absurdly fun.

9) FML by Shaun David Hutchinson: FML is another an end-of-school-year-party book, one that will have you wanting to throw a crazy blowout of your own. (Read my review here.)

10) Why We Took The Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf (translated by Tim Mohr): This road trip book follows two teenage boys who steal a car and take off on a crazy jaunt through Germany.

Book cover for My Best Everything by Sarah TompBook cover for Kill All Happies by Rachel CohnBook cover for FML by Shaun Hutchinson Book cover for Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Let’s chat! I’d love to hear what books put you in a summery mood – drop me a comment below!

In Which I Express My Frustration Via GIFs: A Review of In A Gilded Cage by Mia Kerick

In A Gilded Cage Book Cover In A Gilded Cage
Mia Kerick

Lucci Grimley is indeed alluring—crowned with a mane of long blond hair, and blessed with an enchanting musical talent that draws a brave rescuer to a high tower hidden in the forest.

However, this modern-day Rapunzel is a young man, sold as a child to the wealthy and childless Damien Gotham for the price of a fast car and a pile of cash. And Lucci’s heroic prince is William “Prin” Prinzing, a handsome college student and star soccer player, hired to care for the grounds of the lavish Tower Estate. Prin climbs an extension ladder rather than a long golden braid to gain access to Lucci’s second floor bedroom window, ultimately penetrating the secrecy surrounding the cloistered young man.

Friendship, and soon romance, blooms. The tower captive eagerly gives his loving innocence to his brave rescuer, which sends the strict and reclusive Gotham into a frenzy of jealous rage. With Prin, Lucci gets a taste of real life, and he wants more. Together, the young men must face Gotham’s ruthlessness and pay the price of liberating Lucci.

 

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Fair warning: this is going to be a rant.

I went into In A Gilded Cage fully expecting to love it, as the description makes it sound like exactly my type of book. Not only is it a modern-day retelling of Rapunzel, it’s also a male/male romance. What more could I possibly ask for, right?

Well, for starters, I’m not sure “romance” is the right word for the relationship between the book’s two protagonists, Prin and Lucci. To me it’s less a love story and more the story of one person taking complete advantage of another person’s vulnerability and innocence. Allow me to explain.

Lucci is the adopted son of a ridiculously wealthy – and hideously controlling – business mogul by the name of Damien Gotham. Gotham is a total creep and actually bought Lucci from his parents when he was a young boy so he could “lift [Lucci] out of squalor and place (him) in surroundings befitting [his] beautify and potential.” To Gotham, lifting Lucci from squalor essentially means imprisoning Lucci in Gotham’s mansion and controlling every single move he makes for the rest of his life.

Gotham isn’t just your run-of-the-mill, over-protective helicopter parent – he’s legitimately crazy and abusive. Lucci is isolated from the world, with only Gotham for company. Gotham dictates how Lucci spends every minute of his day, how he talks, what he eats, even how much water he may drink. His standards for “appropriate” behavior are unattainably high, and the punishments he doles out when Lucci can’t measure up are imaginative and horrible. And don’t even get me started on how far over the line his physical relationship with Lucci is. Yick.

via GIPHY

I hoped things would look up for poor, victimized Lucci when his “prince charming” showed up…but nope. The relationship that develops between William “Prin” Prinzing and Lucci makes me cringe just thinking about it. Even though Lucci’s almost 21 during the main events of the book, his isolated upbringing has left him so innocent and naïve that the relationship between him and Prin feels like the relationship between an adult and a child.

Lucci doesn’t understand what friendships are, let alone sexual encounters. At one point when Prin is sticking his tongue in Lucci’s mouth, Lucci pulls back and innocently asks, “Is this the way of friendship, Prin?” He honestly has no idea what’s going on. Lucci doesn’t even know the names for his various pieces of anatomy – he calls them his “man parts,” for crying out loud. It’s such an unequal relationship, where Prin has all the knowledge and power and Lucci is just trustingly going along with whatever Prin tells him.

Prin knows something’s not right with Lucci’s home life, but is rescuing Lucci his first priority? No, of course not. He’s more concerned with how far he’s able to get with Lucci sexually. He’s basically like, “Hey, I know you’re being abused, and you have zero concept of the world beyond your creepy dad’s house and his carefully-selected servants, but rather than doing anything REAL to help you, I’m going to feel you up in my truck instead. ‘Kay?”

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The sexual scenes are intensely uncomfortable because they almost feel like instances of statutory rape. It doesn’t help that every time Prin and Lucci have a sexual encounter, Lucci compares the experience to his interactions with his adopted father. For example, there’s a scene where Lucci runs his hands over Prin’s bare chest while envisioning his father’s chest hair. And then there’s this gem from one of Lucci’s POV chapters:

“‘I notice that [Prin’s] hands are trembling as Father’s often do when he gives in to his need to touch me.’”

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I felt like screaming at Prin for so much of this book. It’s like, dude – can we remember that Lucci’s father makes him cuddle with him in bed at night, naked? And that he withdraws food and water from Lucci if he feels Lucci is not appropriately affectionate during those cuddle sessions? And forces Lucci to kneel on a grate for hours as punishment for other minor “infractions”? With all this in mind, do you really think sexing him up is your best course of action? As opposed to, oh, I don’t know – HELPING HIM ESCAPE?!

Even if Lucci and Prin were both happy, healthy, well-adjusted people, I’d still wince at their love scenes, which are mega-awkward and not sexy or sensual in any way. Please, share in my horror and discomfort with this quote about Lucci’s second-ever erection:

“‘It is happening to me again, Prin.’ I take his hand in mine and press it to the stiffness of my private part.”

And how about this:

“I pull him down so his privates dangle before my face, and I open my mouth more eagerly than does a baby bird to his mother.”

via GIPHY

The scene that really pushes me over the edge, though, is the one where Prin takes his sock off and wipes Lucci’s mouth with it after fellatio. Yes, you read that right – he uses his dirty sock, which was just on his sweaty-ass foot while he was doing yard work, and uses it to WIPE LUCCI’S MOUTH. *Gags*

via GIPHY

If there’s one saving grace in In A Gilded Cage, it’s the presence of Prin’s awesome parents. They don’t have a huge role in the book, but the few scenes they’re in are pretty great. What I appreciate about Prin’s mom and dad is that they’re fantastically supportive of Prin and very much in love with each other. Their lives aren’t easy – they got pregnant and married at 17, live in a trailer and work long hours as custodians – and yet they’re blissfully happy and still full of love for one another after so many years and hardships.

Still, my fondness for Prin’s parents isn’t nearly enough to redeem the rest of the book in my eyes. The serious issues with the supposed “romance,” as well as the amount of cringing I did while reading, make In A Gilded Cage an absolute “no” for me.

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist Book Cover Flame in the Mist
Renee Ahdieh

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn, comes a sweeping, action-packed YA adventure set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan where Mulan meets Throne of Glass.

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she's within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she's ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Penguin Random House and their First to Read program for the review copy!

Flame in the Mist, you had me at “dangerous gang of bandits.” Authors, publishers, listen up – if you ever want to get me to read your book, all you have to do is make the slightest mention of thieves, bandits, or other disreputable rogues and I will be at the bookstore or library in a flash. These sorts of characters are my kryptonite, and the ones in Flame in the Mist are especially delightful.

Flame in the Mist follows the adventures of Hattori Mariko, a young woman whose traveling party is attacked on the way to Mariko’s wedding. Though she survives, Mariko is presumed dead, and she takes advantage of the newfound freedom this brings from obligation and expectation. Disguising herself as a boy, Mariko strikes out in pursuit of the Black Clan, the notorious band of thieves she presumes to be responsible for the attack. Her hope is to bring them down from the inside, and thus prove to her family that her worth goes beyond that of her value as a bride.

The Black Clan members are everything a rascal-loving reader could wish for. First off, there’s Ranmaru, their leader. He’s young, sharp, and canny, too clever by half. Then there’s his right-hand man, Ōkami. Known as the Wolf, Ōkami is the Black Clan’s deadliest warrior. He’s enigmatic, dangerous, and aloof, and his interactions with Mariko are my favorite parts of the book. The two needle one another constantly, and Mariko is both annoyed by Ōkami and drawn to him.

“‘If you were me, you would have done the same thing.’ She could not prevent her voice from quavering on the last word.

‘No, I wouldn’t.’ Ōkami’s dark brows lowered. Shadowed his gaze. Something tugged at his lips. ‘I would’ve succeeded.’”

Mariko herself is an interesting character, though I’m not sure I can truthfully say I like her. She has certain traits that I respect, and I could sympathize with her, but there’s something about Mariko that kept me from fully connecting with her. I did appreciate that she seems like a real person; not annoyingly inept, but not unrealistically capable, either. I like that she knows her own limitations and goes about finding ways to work around them. Likewise, she is able to acknowledge disappointing truths and deal with them accordingly. She’s smart and a quick study, but still errs and misjudges from time to time. She has weaknesses and flaws and frustrations, the most interesting of which is her resentment of the strictures placed upon her as a woman. She aches to prove herself and rages against her femininity like a trapped moth beating its wings against a glass jar.

“Mariko suddenly felt acutely aware of her appearance. Almost self-conscious. A feeling she disdained.

So much like a girl, despite all her efforts to the contrary.”

During Mariko’s time with the Black Clan, she attempts to insinuate herself into their ranks. She’s at a disadvantage among the older, tougher men but does everything in her power to show herself as willing and able to contribute. At the same time she works to unravel the mysteries surrounding the band. Ranmaru and Ōkami are particularly inscrutable. You get the sense that everyone in the book has secrets, and everyone is lying. You’re always trying to keep up and figure out who people are, what their motivations are, and whether they can be trusted. This constant second-guessing kept me engaged from beginning to end, so much so that I read the entire book in one sitting.

“That same awful feeling of being mocked took hold of Mariko. Vicious, unrelenting hold. Making her feel so much smaller than those around her. So much less of everything when all she wished was to feel taller and stronger and braver. So much more. It made her afraid to be herself. Afraid these men would see how every step she took each day was a lie.”

One last thing worth mentioning about Flame in the Mist is that it’s set in a magical version of feudal Japan. This means there are samurai, and bloodthirsty trees, and shape-shifting, and tea houses, and beautiful, mouth-watering descriptions of Japanese cuisine. I’m hopeful there’ll be even more of these things in the second book, which I will certainly be reading. There’s so much going on in the world of Flame in the Mist that I want to soak in as much of it as I can!

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

The Love Interest Book Cover The Love Interest
Cale Dietrich

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for the review copy!

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

When I first heard the premise of The Love Interest, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy immediately. A novel about teen spies that pokes fun at the bad-boy-good-guy-love-triangle trope, and turns that trope on its head by having the two guys fall for each other? There was no way I could pass that up.

The Love Interest’s protagonist is Caden, a young man who’s spent his entire life being honed into a sweet, romantic, approachable “nice guy.” You know the type – the kind of guy who’s super cute in a clean-cut, non-threatening sort of way, who will bring you flowers, help you with your homework, charm your parents. The one who’s respectful, dreamy, and friendly. The kind of guy you think is way too good to be true – and, in Caden’s case, is.

Caden, you see, is no ordinary teenage boy. He’s an agent for a secret spy organization known as the Love Interest Compound, which trains kids to become either Nice guys or Bad boys. Once they’re through with training, these Nices and Bads are sent out into the world to compete for the affections of a Chosen, someone who is expected to become influential one day. The idea is that one of the Love Interests will win the Chosen’s heart, putting him in a position to mine the Chosen’s secrets, which the LIC will one day sell to the highest bidder.

What I Liked:

1) The tongue-in-cheek look at romantic stereotypes: Caden and his Bad rival, Dylan, are expected to adhere to the archetypal love interests portrayed in Young Adult fiction and teen romantic comedies. Dyl is required to act broody, tortured, dangerous, and scowly, whereas Caden is meant to be easy-going, good-natured, and supportive. Dyl is armed with a leather jacket and motorcycle; Caden’s supplied with a charmingly run-down pickup truck and a plethora of plaid button-downs. Even their physical attributes need to meet specific criteria:

“Bads can be as buff as they want, the bigger the better, actually. For a Nice, the aim of the game is lean. I need to look friendly and cute, but when I take my shirt off I need to be ripped. Just in an approachable way that doesn’t look like I work out much. Like these muscles happened accidentally, the result of playing outside with a golden Labrador or good genes or something like that.”

2) The fact that neither Caden nor Dyl fully fit their assigned personas: Part of what makes The Love Interest so entertaining is that watching Caden and Dyl play their respective roles is like watching someone try to fit square pegs into round holes. Being the laid-back, cheerful boy-next-door doesn’t come naturally to Caden, who has to bite back pissy retorts and refrain from ever asserting himself. Likewise, Dyl is too goofy and adorable to be a true Bad. It’s refreshing that he isn’t the quintessential tough guy, even though that’s exactly what he’s supposed to be. This disconnect between the characters’ required roles and their natural tendencies allows the book to play around with the tropes without getting mired in them.

3) The way the book flips gender expectations/stereotypes: As a woman, I found it fascinating to see the male characters in The Love Interest subjected to the sort of unrealistic expectations that women typically have to deal with. Dyl and Caden have to embody the ultimate fantasy boyfriends – even if it means going against their own desires and past their comfort levels. They’re treated like pieces of meat, constantly poked and prodded and critiqued, valued only for their looks and ability to adapt to whatever their Chosen wants. They get surgeries to alter their physical attributes so that their appearances match the Chosen’s tastes. They’re told their own opinions and interests don’t matter. Their diets are carefully monitored to ensure they keep their physiques drool-worthy. They put a lot of work into cultivating the right persona and image. All of this draws attention to the utter ridiculousness of living your life within the bounds of someone else’s opinions, which I found quite interesting.

“Her mother raises one hand and places her thumb under her chin, inspecting me like I’m a piece of art. Which I guess I am. All I’m missing is the doctor’s signature on my ass.”

What Could’ve Been Better:

1) The required suspension of disbelief: I had all sorts of questions about the logic behind the Love Interest Compound’s operations. Why teenage spies instead of adults? Why must the spies force themselves into stereotypes? Why are love interests always sent on missions in competing pairs, instead of going on solo missions? The author attempts to explain all of this in the beginning of the book, but I never entirely bought it. Several aspects of this story stretch credulity to its breaking point, though I was willing to overlook said aspects for the most part.

2) The plot holes: While I could mostly deal with the dubious nature of the book’s overall premise, there were a few plot points later on in the novel that nagged at me. For example, Caden is supposed to be posing as his Chosen’s childhood friend who moved away but has now come back several years later. I expected his Chosen to engage Caden in conversations about their shared history and catch him in a lie at some point, but she apparently never cares to bring it up. What about the questions she would’ve inevitably asked him about his family? Their old friends? His experiences while they were apart? I was also bothered by one of the plot twists in the second half of the book. It felt like was just done for dramatic effect and shock value, without really being needed or earned, and it was resolved so easily that it seemed superfluous.

3) The romance: While I had a fun time reading The Love Interest, I found myself wishing for a little…more. More drama, more edge, more physicality between Dyl and Caden. The book felt like it went by really quickly, and I would’ve liked to delve deeper into the relationships among Dyl, Caden, and their Chosen.

Although The Love Interest didn’t fully live up to my dreams of The Ultimate LGBT Love Triangle of Awesomeness, it still ended up being a fun read. Anyone looking to have a chuckle at YA archetypes’ expense should certainly give it a go.